A bit of organization

Posted on September 19, 2017


I had some rest time this weekend, and resolved to organize my herbal stuff. There's only so many times I can shift my herb bundles from counter to table and back again before the untidiness drives me to distraction.

I made some space under the counter for all the herbals that will be going up for sale, and the supplies I use to make them. That's all of the essences, the herb bundles for smudging and smoke cleansing, and the little finishes I used on my daily card base. It's been interesting coming up with a storage method for the herbs. The dried flowers are fragile and can't be stacked. Right now it looks like trays are my best bet.

The cupboard isn't appropriate for drying, as there's not enough air flow, so it looks like I'll need more drying screens. Or a workshop! For herbs! Oh dear, maybe we're going to turn into a tiny caravan.

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Ebbs and flows

Posted on September 14, 2017


Time flies. I've had a busy few weeks, dating back to a recent acupuncture appointment. We talked about the possibility of Lyme Disease, which is no joke here in our part of Massachusetts, and since then I've felt a fire growing. Was it the words or the acupuncture treatment? Regardless, my ginger is up and all I know is that my hands want to be full of herbs. Everything else is taking a backseat to figuring out what I can do with my plants in the time I have left this season.

I have some ideas in the works, plans for helping people and selling the things I've been working on. They are so pretty! And we all know that I love pretty things. The more pretty things I sell, the more I get to make. Making and sharing herbs, connecting with people over one of my favorite subjects — this is what I'm after. Instagram is great for pretty things but not so strong on conversation.

At some point the season will die down and there will be time again for sewing, browsing the library, and cozying up to friends and knitting. But now is not that time. There are herbs to work!

Garden update, end of August

Posted on September 1, 2017


It's a good thing the August garden can take care of herself because I did very little this month. Mostly because there was minimal need for my interference. I planted my plants so close together that only the most persistent weeds stand a chance. These I pull up with ease after they grow tall enough to poke through the canopy. After a while one of my growing season goals becomes less about getting every weed out and more about reducing those weeds that are sending out seed heads to make next year a bit easier, so I don't sweat the small fry.

Weeds aside, the garden is (dare I say) blossoming. Each plant is growing with all her might, putting out flowers and packing on the growth. I had to rip out several square feet of toothache plant to prevent it from overrunning my calendulas and the little garden path. Don't be fooled though, there is plenty of toothache plant left.

My calendulas are producing. Most plants I leave to flower for the bees and to save my sanity, but not the calendulas. I pluck every flower and they go straight to my drying screen. When I miss a day, I let those flower heads go by so I can save the seeds. How I love calendulas.

I've been enjoying those plants that you don't harvest until the second year: valerian, clary sage, echinacea (first bloom soon!), and marshmallow. It's nice to see them growing and knowing that I'll get to play with them next year. I have several ashwagandha plants that should be in this category but they won't survive the winter, so I'll be harvesting their roots this year. This will leave me with several big spaces in the beds. Thank goodness! I mistakenly planted my rosemary, thyme, sage, and oregano plants too close to some of the taller plants and they get very little sun. I'll relocate these next year to the empty spaces. This is what happens when you don't know much about the plants you're planting, and you think that blue vervain will stay small and shrubby.

I'm not sure what to do about the oats that are growing. They don't look like they'll produce heads any time soon. Although I know I have most of September before me, I'm not sure anything will come of that cluster of plants. And meanwhile they are disguising all kinds of tall grasses in there. Ah well. I'll just let them go and see what happens.

That bee balm from last month is thriving. Farmer Brittany suggested I cut the plants back to encourage root growth before the winter, so I did. The plants rewarded me with another round of blooms, which I turned into flower essence this week. August is a gift from the garden. I know it will all go by soon, and I'm planning my winterizing activities already, but it sure is good to enjoy it now.

Interlude

Posted on August 28, 2017


We went for an overnight trip to a friend's family lake house in New Hampshire this weekend. It was our first time away from home with the baby, and what a time! There were a dozen farmers there, including two who are starting their own commercial kitchen, which meant an abundance of beautiful food. And there was always someone interested in hanging with the two babies visiting. I'm not a confident water person, but this was just right. Seth went paddle boarding, kayaking, and water skiing while I tried the kayak and hung out on the beach. There was a bit of napping and music and lots of eating. It felt good.

The weekend made me wistful for how I grew up, visiting my extended family often for picnics and playtime, knowing there were adults and cousins around to watch me and for me to watch. Addie loved having so many friends to play with, to encourage her to walk or try to make her smile. Seth and I were able to relax because we knew that Addie was always in good hands. And no one felt burdened by being the sole baby carer because someone would always step in (eagerly!) to give the others a break. Addie, for her part, played and slept like a dream.

And let's not forget Lily. This happy dog had chipmunks to chase, Lake Winnisquam at her paws, and a crowd of people to beg for tidbits. What could be better? Four out of four paws from our happy canine.

What’s cookin’ good lookin’

Posted on August 21, 2017


August is providing such an abundance of vegetables, more than I remember. Is it my bad memory? Goodness, my memory is tired these days — like the rest of me! No, it's more likely that we've been consistent in picking up our CSA shares from the farms we frequent. Farmers are generous people and they certainly have been taking care of us. And now that we have a new and chubby, giggly, very compelling reason to sit down to dinner together, I find myself cooking more than in previous seasons.

There's tomato sauce bubbling. I haven't been using our old Damn Fine Sauce recipe. I just chop up several big tomatoes with onion, garlic, bell pepper, and basil, let it cook for a half hour, then pulverize with the stick blender and cook another half hour. It's less finicky so I have more time free to keep an eye on a crawling baby.

Also, there are eggplants, cooked whole in the oven for an hour in their skins, then peeled. These are nice and soft for a certain young miss.

I got up some roasted beets too, which made their way into a jar for fridge pickles, which the baby also loves. Seth is the canner in our family, but there's no time this season for him, or for me to dive in and learn. Maybe if I had become proficient at it before the baby it wouldn't feel so daunting. I know the woman behind Food in Jars has no trouble whipping up small batches in the evenings so it's not impossible to do. But I've only got so much brainpower per day (I'm tired!), and knitting is a higher priority. I'll probably regret it this winter. But I'll regret it from within my warm, cozy sweater, so it's hard to feel remorseful here.

One notable absence from our fridge this summer is green beans. As I predicted, we're not getting the quantities I prefer in our shares. And this coming from a woman with no room in her freezer for them. I didn't end up putting in any seeds this year for them, so I will have to make an effort to get local green beans this year. With all my excitement for beans, you'd think I have some sort of toothsome recipe up my sleeve, but it's not the case. We just cook them in oil, or steam them and eat them with salt. Let's not go overboard here.

August is for herbs

Posted on August 18, 2017

Every morning for the last week, I've woken up and thought to myself, how much will I be able to knit today? I hope it's a lot. But August has other plans of the green variety, I guess! Because when I look back at what I've done, there's been a lot more herb gathering than yarn squeezing.

The garden is giving me loads of spilanthes, aka toothache plant. I wasn't sure what to do with it at first, until I learned that it makes for a quick fix for teething babies. Let them chew on a bud for 30 seconds or so without swallowing. Presto! Numb gums with reduced pain afterwards. And let me tell you, that has saved my bacon multiple times this week.

I've got herbs hanging from the ceiling to dry for medicine at a later date: anise hyssop, goldenrod, motherwort, and holy basil. And there's a jar of blue vervain infusing in vinegar on my counter. I made another batch of flower essences too. I'm also pretty sure there's some calendula drying somewhere. I keep picking the blossoms anyway.

August is surely the herbal month. There is so much more to harvest from the garden before it goes for the season. And despite the heat, I can feel the season turning. It's in the cooler nights, the mornings we have to put a hoodie over the baby's onesie. The ripening corn and tomatoes (oh goodness, the tomatoes!). And yes, in the knitting too.

It’s in the cards

Posted on August 11, 2017

This is such a little craft that it feels almost too small to post. But I figured let's share it and bring some magic into your life as well as mine. This beautiful bit of wood is a card holder for my daily herbal oracle draw. Every day, I pick a card from the deck at random to meditate on, and use this holder to display the card.

The wood itself is a piece of cherry gifted to us from a friend with a lot of scraps from his wood shop. We were planning to use them to feed our wood stove, but some were big enough for small projects. Seth cut this one to my specifications, and I sealed and painted the ends gold, and then finished the whole thing with a beeswax-grapeseed oil mixture.

The cards are the Druid Plant Oracle, which I purchased a few years ago, and which I adore! They have some herb lore in their booklet, and it's fun to interact with my herbs in another way.

We have enough wood that I can make two dozen card displays or more. I was originally thinking of selling them. It's still not off the table, and now that I see how nice the finish looks I kind of want to dive in and make more. But I have yet to figure out how to use power tools safely without another person around to watch Addie. So this is the one holder I've got for now. For now. I can see them in oak, walnut, and maple too. Just beautiful. I love beautiful things.

Happy anniversary, Lily!

Posted on August 7, 2017

Not long after we got married, Seth found Lily on Petfinder and sent me her picture. He sent it six times that day. "How about this one?" He kept saying, showing me that same photo over and over. Any self-respecting dog lover couldn't resist.

Lily, the laziest, hard working dog there is. Sometimes she loves accompanying me to the farm. Sometimes it's a battle of wills to get her in the car. We've been through a lot as the three musketeers: moves, mold, career changes, cancer, the tiny house, and now the baby.

We're not the type to celebrate dog birthdays, but I did want to give a shout out to the sweetest dog on the block, eight years almost to the day we brought her home. She has matured into a lovable beast, smart as a whip, with eyes that seem human. Especially when she gives the baby side-eye! Lily runs to the baby now when she starts crying so she can lick her face, and will allow Addie to mess with her back legs and paws, but not her front. She seems resigned to sharing us with this puppy-like human.

Eight is a lot in dog years for a dog her size. And yet I can't start thinking about her leaving us, not yet. It hasn't been enough time together. But I feel pretty confident in her staying with us a while longer. After all, the oldest dog who lived was an Australian Cattle Dog, and he achieved the age of almost 30.

Do you hear that, Lily-bil? We have another 22 years before us. Party on, my sweet puppy girl.

Plant-dyed yarn

Posted on August 3, 2017

It started with an impulse purchase of some beautiful Cestari yarn one day at my local yarn store. I needed a few more dollars to get my total up to the minimum for a credit card purchase (oh darn, what a travesty!), and I spotted a few skeins of Cestari worsted yarn. I knew the Cestari story from some article I read months ago. Was it in Knitter's Review? Woolful? Ravelry? Well, I don't remember, but it seems that the universe was giving me a nudge. Here's this yarn you've been itching to try. Who am I to resist?

Of the three colorways the store carried, I picked the undyed cream yarn with vague thoughts of dyeing it in the future, a sort of "maybe someday I'll try dyeing with plants," dream. I think I even said that to the store clerk. I had no plans, no idea of casting on with it until I finished the two adult-sized sweaters in my queue. But all that changed when I held the yarn up to my nose, inhaled deep… and got a noseful of mildewy basement.

Something must have gone awry in the chain of processing to store, because normally a farm yarn smells pleasantly sheepy. Not these skeins. They were basement all the way, and my sensitive schnoz told me to wash wash wash before use.

And since they'd be immersed in water anyway…



…I used carrot tops to dye the yarns from cream to a buttery yellow. It's a subtle shift. Maybe they would have turned out more vibrant if I had left them in the dyebath longer than overnight, or gotten the temperature up past 190 degrees. Maybe I should have used more than a pound of tops for 7 oz. of yarn. Maybe our water has too many minerals in it. I don't know! The internet tells me that plant dyeing yarn is imprecise, so it could be my beginner's skills or it could be some factor that is beyond my control.

Even though the color isn't as vibrant as I'd hoped, you can be sure this yarn isn't going to sit around unused. It's cushy and lanolin-y and promises to knit up like a dream. I've never met a yarn that brings back so precisely those early knitting feelings of realizing that I could make beautiful things, and I haven't even gotten it on the needles yet. But I am making plans. Mittens? With a pretty stitch detail? For me? Why yes, of course!

Garden update, end of July

Posted on July 31, 2017

The garden doubled in size last week, seemingly overnight. Seedlings that were mid-calf are now almost waist high, and the toothache plants are creeping over the garden path. The earth sure works her magic, given a bit of sun and rain. It still feels like a miracle every year I watch it happen. This is my fourth year — will it ever get old? Probably not! Not if I'm anything like my Memere (and let's face it, I've definitely got some of her qualities).

There are a mix of things in this little garden of mine. Some are for tea, like the purply anise hyssop in the second photo down, and the catnip that's going gangbusters. Some are for essences, like the yarrow in the fifth photo. There are the ever present calendulas, which are growing from the last of my stock of Apricot Surprise seeds from years past and which I had given up hope of ever sprouting at home. They are my favorites! Then there are the plants like marshmallow (third photo), clary sage, and echinacea which probably won't be ready until next year. I have kitchen herbs with thyme and rosemary and oregano tucked wherever I had a spare bit of ground. And because I can't stop tinkering, I put some bee balm seedlings in today where a few calendula seeds had failed to thrive. It's a bit late for planting, but bee balm is in the mint family and I'm hoping its good genes will kick in and give the plants solid footing before winter.

It must be time to harvest some of these herbs. The blue vervain, maybe? The holy basil and catnip and hyssop for sure. And what do you do with oodles of toothache plant flowers? I sprung them on my mom the other day when she visited and we enjoyed numb tongues and cheeks for about ten minutes (by enjoyed, I mean we ran around with our tongues out, drooling and wishing desperately for water). They might go well in a version of fire cider. I know they have antibacterial properties. The horseradish might disguise the tingling. Hm….

What do you do with all of your garden bounty? Where do you store it? Do you share with friends?