Garden Season Has Begun!

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Today I got a great surprise.

As I was puttering around the yard on a rare dry and above 40 degree winter day, I discovered it on the sunny side of the house, next to the concrete basement wall, the warmest spot in the yard.

My first daffodil of spring!

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Of course, the first blooms were my lawn crocus. The fall before last, I planted several dozen crocus and grape hyacinth bulbs around the Kwanzan Flowering Cherry trees in the parking strip. This fall, I planted about 80 more, so I’m hoping for a great display.

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The front flower bed is a very busy place where more crocus are blooming, and hyacinth, daffodils and tulips are popping up

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I got a little crazy today and decided to add some summer color by planting 3 peony, 8 Dahlias, 13 Asiatic Lillis, 30 Gladiolas and 50 Ranunculus.

The spring blubs (around 700 or so) already there will start with the crocus bloom in February then transition to the lavender, pink flowering dogwood, roses, summer bulbs and end with the Dahlias blooming through the first hard frost in the fall. It’s practically a mine field out there trying to walk more or less dig to plant anything, so I’m calling that flower bed full. I’ll be adding a few tulips and daffodils to the smaller bed on the other side of the front walk to compliment the lavender, roses and day lilies.

About a week and a half ago, I took advantage of another dry and above 40 degree day and ordered a load of Tagro. (it’s good poop) I got all the garden beds and containers out back weeded, cleaned out and topped off. I used the rest of it to top dress the blueberry bushes along the North fence.

This was after my friend Daniel helped me (helped means he did most of the work) put up a chain link fence to protect the garden from the dog and chickens.

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I also pruned all the fruit trees and rose bushes and wrestled with the Loganberry bush to get it trained where I wanted it to go. I also relocated a Marionberry bush next to the other one which I’m training up trellises on the back of the garage.

While picking up fence material I scored a very inexpensive, big, beautiful Crabapple tree that still had berries on it, which is now budding out.

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I also scored some rhododendrons, so now the boring corner of the yard will have fabulous color.

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I’m also planning on adding a bird bath, some shiny things and making it the fairy corner since it’s so close to the Hawthorne.

Oh, meet my new assistant…. (he looks an awful lot like my friend Knut)

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I have a few more photos available on my Flickr page

This is the best gardening start I’ve had this early in the year and I’m pretty darn happy about it.

~L



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Saucy! (from scratch no less)

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I had very good luck with tomatoes this year, despite the cold, frozen spring and virtually non-existent summer the extra effort to raise them from seeds under growlights and on heat mats in the basement, then move them to the greenhouse, then transplant into large containers using wall-o-water insulators paid off.

I’m one of the few people up here than managed to get two good harvests. The woman who came to interview me and photograph my urban farm for a book she’s writing said she hadn’t seen any tomatoes like mine between BC and San Francisco.

Here’s the first harvest. They are San Marzano heirlooms I purchased from Territorial Seed Co.

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The first thing I did was lightly score the skin off the bottom of each tomato; it only takes a few seconds.

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Then I dipped the scored tomatoes into a pot of boiling water for 30 seconds to loosen the skin. I used a colander/basket here but you can use a slotted spoon or skimmer.

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A quick dip into a bowl of ice water stops them from cooking and keeps you from burning your hands.

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The skin slips right off and then you just cut out the stem. San Marzanos have virtually no core and very few seeds; so this is a super easy process.

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You can squeeze the seeds and juice out of the tomatoes if you want it to take less time to cook down more quickly.

You can also skip the skinning step and run the sauce through a ricer after it’s cooked to get seeds and skins out.

Now it’s just a matter of cooking the tomatoes down into sauce (it thickens as the water cooks out)

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You can see a few seeds in the sauce; when I make marinara, I run it through a ricer to remove them. (it’s not necessary; it’s an esthetic thing for me)

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The next step for any sauce is the onions and garlic; even better if home grown. I had a good harvest of both this year. I chopped them up and sautéed them in olive oil until they caramelized. It’s not necessary to do so, but it sure makes for a richer more complex flavor if you do.

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After they are caramelized, I deglaze the pan with some red wine and pour into the sauce (not necessary, but it sure does make it taste amazing)

One joy of home made sauce is adding whatever you may have around the house. In this case, I had some ground meat and sausage in the freezer which I browned with more onions, garlic and pepper.

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I also had some pulled pork in the fridge which I added straight to the sauce.

The final step was fresh herbs from my garden; even the “bay leaf” came from the Bay Laurel tree in my back yard. Although not true culinary bay, it imparts the same flavor if used sparingly. I also add a few red pepper flakes to offset the sweetness of the tomatoes and give it a bit of spice.

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I was out of cans, so I just poured sauce into freezer bags for later use.

A few days later, I harvested a second batch including my larger Juliets and some Brandywines and made a lovely marinara; no meat. Although I skinned the tomatoes and squeezed the seeds out, I ran it through a ricer before adding the onion, garlic and herbs, which created a lovely sauce with a beautiful texture.

Honestly, I don’t think this is any more work than opening up a bunch of cans of sauce/paste/tomatoes and it’s so much healthier, tastier and better for the environment.

It’s so nice to have tasty, home made sauce in the freezer to heat up on a cold winter night for a taste of summer harvest.

~L



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Cold, Wet Gardening

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After three weeks of not being able to mow or garden (rain-STP-rain) I finally got out into the yard yesterday.

The grass in the back was a total jungle. It was finally dry enough to mow by about 7:00 PM. (note to self, replace more grass with something else; there is still too much of it out there)

One thing about our crappiest summer ever (seriously, only 78 HOURS of temps over 80 degrees so far the entire summer) is that the cherries like it. (along with our butt cold winter) My Lapin cherry tree is loaded. (I already ate all the Royal Anns)

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My tomatoes, lovingly started in the basement under grow lights and on heat mats, then moved to the greenhouse; then moved outside in protective wall-o-water insulators are growing vigorously.

Now we just need some heat so that these lovely Juliets will turn red. These were my favorite tomoatoes last year, they are a parent to the popular grape tomato.

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If we ever get any warm days, the blueberries will be ready…

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The cold weather crops (broccoli and peas) are doing well.

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It’s taking every bit of self control I have not to snap off these beautiful asparagus spears when they pop up; but I know if I leave the bed alone this year, I’ll be harvesting more than I can possibly eat on my own for years to come.

I’m glad I paid the money for two year old crowns so I only have to exercise this much self control for one season (best to hold off on harvesting until the 4th year)

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My Liberty apples are the only ones (out of three varieties) that are fruiting well.

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My Braeburn apple is badly infested with Apple Scab due to the cold, wet miserable excuse for a summer we’ve had (Liberty is resistant) I may end up pulling that tree out and planting a resistant variety. The Summerred apple never bloomed at all (we got a hard freeze at bloom time)

Yesterday, I had to spray some copper on the apple trees. You can’t really treat scab once it breaks out, but I want to keep it from spreading.

It’s just been a rough year all the way around for fruit trees; many of the trees that did bloom/pollinate dropped their fruit almost immediately.

My plum tree dropped it’s fruit and is now covered in aphids, I had to hit it with some organicide yesterday.

Oddly enough, I am getting some peaches which are considered a warm weather fruit.

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I am very lucky that my roses aren’t succumbing to blackspot or powdery mildew. They are looking very good this year (they’ve certainly had plenty of water)

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The lavender out front is doing well. I’m hoping that it will grow large and bushy and fill in the gaps this year, so folks won’t stomp through my flower beds to steal tulips next year. It stayed pretty small and spindly last year and a lot of it died over the brutally cold winter.

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I have some more photos here (make with the clicky clicky on this link to see them)

~L



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Urban Farm Update

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Despite the cold and torrential downpours spring has arrived in Tacoma, as evidenced in gardens all over the city showing off fabulous displays of daffodils, cherry blossoms and other lovely blooms.

I am (for the time being) no longer “the house with the lions”; I am “the house with the daffodils”

From Drop Box

The crocus I forgot to plant in the fall and found and unceremoniously plugged into the ground in the spring are happily poking up out of the lawn around the cherry trees.

From Drop Box

The other late planted daffodils and tulips I put in the side yard are coming up as well.

From Drop Box

The raspberries, loving the TAGRO are getting ready to go nuts.

From Drop Box

The Lilacs I ordered from Rain Tree Nursery are healthy and growing like crazy.

From Drop Box

Speaking of growing like crazy, the seedlings down the basement were ready to be repotted and moved out to the greenhouse.

From Drop Box

I put them into 4” peat pots (for those who think that peat pots and pellets impede root growth, you haven’t seen the roots growing out of those peat pots) and moved them out to the greenhouse.

The “cold weather” crops: peas, broccoli, lettuce, spinach are just sitting on the shelf.

From Drop Box

The crops that like a little more warmth are on one of the heat mats that I turn on at night. It’s very warm in the greenhouse during the day, but night time temperatures are still dropping down into the upper 30’s low 40’s at night, and that might be a bit of a shock for little sprouts that have been on a heat mat 24/7

From Drop Box

So far, having the heat mat on at night seems to be doing the trick. The sprouts seem quiet happy without my having to haul them in and out of the house to “harden off”.

I will purchase the “wall o water” insulators once I move the tomatoes outside, and will also use some bell cloches for the peppers until the weather finally warms up.

In other news, the chickens learned how to fly over the garden fence. I needed to stop this behavior because once I get those tender young plants out into the garden beds, I don’t want them confused for a chicken salad bar.

As you have seen by previous videos

*gratuitous chicken round up video

If the video doesn’t embed properly in your browser/reader you can view it by making with the clicky clicky here

rounding up chickens is not a one person task.

My friend and neighbor Amy came over and helped me round up the girls and clip their wings.

Here we are determining which feathers to clip on Ginger’s wing.

*photos by K Coats

From Drop Box

and an easy snip and it’s all done.

From Drop Box

Well I thought it was done. MaryAnn has escaped a couple of times. She can get out, but not back in which is weird. I’m going to try using weed cloth staples to tack the flexible fence down every few inches and am going to pick up some taller fence posts as the fence slumps down in some areas (that’s where MaryAnn flew over the one time I was able to catch her)

I also need to put new batteries in my game camera to catch her in the act.

If securing the bottom and top don’t do it, we’ll have to clip the other wing. I still don’t get how she’d be the one who could fly, she is definitely the heavier and rounder of the two.

Yes, the weather has sucked pond water lately. In March we were several degrees below normal and had three inches more rain than normal.

But as this little cell phone photo, taken from the Graffiti Garages at sunset on Saturday night show, this really is a beautiful place.

From Drop Box

~L

Mood: Happy



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It may not feel like spring; but the garden says otherwise

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yes, it’s cold, gray rainy and windy (still) but the danger of a hard freeze is (for the most part) over this week and many of us are in full garden mode.

The roses are going nuts leafing out, They had all last summer and fall to build good root systems, I’m expecting good things from them this year.

My garlic (which I planted a couple weeks ago, not in the fall when I should have) has sprouted, and I’m pretty excited about that. It’s just grocery store garlic I bought and soaked the anti sprouting chemicals off of (mine always sprouts anyway)

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Since I have all this room in the house, I decided to move my starts down into the basement under the grow lights instead of having them cluttering up the kitchen table.

They didn’t do much down there, even under the lights, so I put a thermometer out and discovered that the basement is a steady 45 degrees. Too cold for little sprouts to be excited about root formation.

So I went to Waterworks Hydroponics down on Washington Street (near S 50th) and got some heat mats.

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Now, they are happy little sprouts. (check out my lettuce & broccoli)

cell phone photo of seedlings

the plum tree’s buds are just beginning to break open as are the raspberries.

As I was typing out this blog, my organic Yukon Gold seed potatoes showed up, so I’ll be planting those today. I have asparagus crowns on order coming next month.

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And of course, the front flower bed is creating a cheery, sunny place even on a dreary day.

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This is going to be an awesome spring and an even better summer!

~L

Mood: Excited



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Life Goes On…

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It’s been a long time since I’ve done any sort of blog update that wasn’t about food, gardening or an impersonal/general topic (or just cell phone photos so you all know I’m still alive), so I’m going to do a regular update. *note, I’m hoping to get back to blogging on a regular basis

I guess we could start with the “Weekend Update” (“Jane you ignorant slut” – if you’re too young to remember when Saturday Night Live was good, just keep moving, nothing to see here)

I signed my new magazine contract (has it been six years already?) for another year writing and doing photography for South Sound (and sometimes 425) Magazine and got that off in the mail

Friday afternoon/evening, I met the girls for happy hour at Café De Vino and had some excellent wine and bruchetta and a great time. After that, Cherie and I headed over to the Mandolin Café to meet some other folks and listen to music. I made it a fairly early night.

On Saturday, I was up bright and early to finish up the basement project. For the first time since I got all of my mother’s stuff that had to be sorted through, I can easily walk around in there and use it. The counter is all set up with my grow lights for my garden seedlings, the craft/sewing table is ready to be used and the brewing equipment is ready to go (note to self, brew a batch of beer before the yeast dies)

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The things that are boxed, only used seasonally are neatly stacked under the stairs and out of the way. (the “wine cellar” is now on the cool side of the basement as well)

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The bike stable is now in the gear room which I organized a few months ago.

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Here are the before shots of the basement and gear room

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After the basement project was completed, I headed out to Goodwill to find a tacky formal bridesmaid or prom dress to costume up for Carnival and then to Joanne’s to get mask and headdress making goodies.

At goodwill, I found a (fabulously tacky) dress with a beaded bodice, a ruffle and which was short in front and long in back. PERFECT. I found some beads for 99 cents each and some gold/bronze Brazilian leather high heel sandals. To that, I added by “Bad Fairy” wings and was good to go.

Next I hit Joanne’s and purchased materials to make a mask. I think it came out pretty well. I added some feathers to a tiara for a headdress (note to self, next time, more feathers) the fun thing about the mask is that my bangs covered the top of the mask and my hair was up and the feathers on the side blended in with my hair. I looked like some crazy red tail hawk/peacock fairy.

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Here’s the final costume.

Here are Cherie, Nicole and I at TaCarnival

We headed across the street to the event at the Image Crew Studio for their grand opening, which was the hopping party in town. Since it was not a Carnival party we got a lot of interesting looks when we walked in. (but since it was members of the art community, no one thought much of it)

Soon, Cindi, Destini and Carmela joined us and then Daniel and Gayle arrived also all in costume. I think we kind of hijacked their party 😉

When I was trying to walk down the hill in those stupid heels (which were already killing my feet) I had a bit more inertia than I was comfortable with, so I grabbd a signpost, took off the shoes (and pantyhose, not going to ruin them by walking on the street in them) and wandered around downtown Tacoma commando 😉 and no, it’s not the first time I’ve done that and it won’t likely be the last.

Sunday, I was up bright and early to meet Bill for a bike ride. I had a bike of his that I wanted to ride to check out the geometry and sizing so that I could decide if I wanted to Prodeal one or not.

I’ve decided to make the commitment to a completely car free commute (which includes the van pools at work) so I needed to get a bike that didn’t have skinny race tires or a carbon frame (the steep cobbled potholed streets of Tacoma would kill my road or race bike during a daily commute) it also has disk brakes which are a big plus on our steep streets as are the super low gears in the back 11-32).

THIS is the bike I ordered the Scott Sub 20 Hybrid. I will add a rack and panniers, a women’s seat, and switch the pedals out for a combo platform/SPD, but other than that, it will be ready to rock and roll (impatiently waiting for it to arrive)

Her name is going to be Xena (because she’s going to be my road warrior bike) She will join “Blue” (mountain bike) “Flash” (road bike) and “Diva” (triathlon/race bike) in the stable.

After the ride, I headed home and planted my lilacs and roses (I am going to climb up the ladder and bitch slap any roofer or chimney guy who even thinks about tossing something off the roof and/or stomping/setting a ladder up on my landscaping after last time-I am still pissed about that)

Sunday afternoon was Stitch and Bitch where we had record attendance. Every seat in the living room (and a few brought in from the dining room) was filled with people happily knitting, crocheting, card weaving. It was awesome.

After that, Cathi, Jim and I headed over to the park across the street for some poi spinning. Becki thinks that I will be ready to spin fire by an event we’ll both be attending on the 19th of this month, so that will be my first FIRE spin. I am SO excited.

Monday I finally got my taxes e-filed and then started on paperwork to take the sheister that sold me my house to court over the roof issues.

First, Francine and I walked down to the courthouse (exercise and errands in one trip) which seemed to be a logical place to file court paperwork.

Oh NO… Only the district court (way down in South Tacoma) handles small claims, so we had to hoof it back up the hill to go get my truck and haul butt down there before it closed.

I walked in, paperwork in hand with 20 minutes to spare. Yay!

Then I was asked, “Do you have a contract stating that you can sue him in Pierce County?”

Uh… What?

Apparently, even though the contract was executed in Pierce County I have to go up to Everett (Tacoma to Everett on a weekday? That’s beyond the worst traffic nightmare ever) to sue him there because that’s where he lives.

I was NOT amused, but there’s nothing I can do about it.

I guess I’ll wait until I have my new bike and just take the train up. No way am I driving up there during the week.

At least I got all the paperwork together. I have the contract he signed agreeing to make repairs to code according to the pre-purchase inspection, all the pictures, statements from the roofers that the shoddy repairs he had done by some fly by night lackey were not to code (and that the materials used were wrong for the application and applied improperly) and caused the roof failure.

It should be a slam dunk. He’s lucky I’m only doing small claims for part of the cost rather than taking him to real court.

So my time’s been spent on: the day job, the magazine job, the house, my little urban farm and chickens, volunteering, learning to knit and spin fiber, poi spinning, and getting back to playing my violin (and once I’m 100% healed from the fall, masters swim, spin class, and triathlon training). I’m also trying to make an effort to get out for more social events as well (it’s tempting after a long day with a very early wakeup to go home and just chill and be a bit hermit like) I’m excited about getting back outside for some more photo adventures as well.

Life’s been insanely busy, but good.

~L

Mood: Tired



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The Poop on Gardening in Tacoma

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Today, I had a cubic yard (that’s 27 cubic foot bags worth) of TAGRO delivered.

For those who aren’t aware of what TAGRO is, it’s an EPA award winning product made from bio solids from our waste treatment plant.

The thought of using human poop creeps some of the less “earthy” among us out, because they don’t understand the composting process (the “composting/cooking” occurs at a temperature that kills all pathogens. It’s also pasteurized.

Another concern that some have is that it might contain metals. We have several superfind sites here and most of our soil is contaminated by copper, chromium arsenic and lead from the Asarco Smelter. It contains way less metals than our soil does; as a matter of fact, it contains less metals than most commercial products. (*luckily, we have pretty much the cleanest soil in Tacoma up here on the hilltop due to the elevation and winds, but I still prefer raised beds)

To me, it’s the ultimate in recycling. I eat the food, my waste goes down the pipes and it comes back to help produce more food.

It’s FREE if you go pick it up and shovel it yourself and it’s only $8 a cubic yard (that’s 27 cubic feet) if you have it loaded into your truck or delivered (it’s only $15 to have it delivered in Tacoma)

You can also get the potting soil (slightly more expensive per cubic yard). If you don’t want an insane amount of the soil, you can get it in one cubic foot bags at Gardensphere, Portland Ave Nursery or Gray Lumber (just down the Street on the Ave… YAY!)

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I was fighting the weather (it had been violently windy all night/morning and thunderstorms were threatening to pound me and turn my pile into wet mush.

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The first thing I did was top dress my blueberries that run along the North fence.

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Then I finally hacked out all the old corn stalk stubs from the bed I grow my corn in (amazing 7 foot corn stalks which were bigger and better than the commercial growers had this year thanks to the TAGRO) and top dressed it.

*there are tree bits all over the yard from last night’s wind storm.

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Then I topped off all the other garden beds. Some weren’t all the way full and others had been filled with lesser quality potting soil as I’d already used up all my TAGRO before putting in the second set of smaller beds.

I had to work around some herbs and berries that survived the winter so as not to smother them.

I found one of my artichokes resprouting.

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and the Egyptian Walking Onions my neighbor Steve gave me are doing well.

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After taking care of the beds, I top dressed my grapes and fruit trees.

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My last chore for the day involved a run to Gray Lumber for a few bags of TAGRO potting soil to fill containers. (I didn’t need a full cubic yard)

I like to grow my tomatoes (ordered some heirlooms today) in containers is so that I can put them in the greenhouse around the time of first frost to extend the growing season well into November. (they’re also easier to manage when not in a bed crawling all over everything else)

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As you can see, I moved a LOT of poop…

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It didn’t start to rain until I was done and in the house.

Over the next few days, I’ll need to weed, relocate some strawberries and spread some more bark around the garden beds, planters and on top of the raspberry beds.

My potting bench and shelves for the greenhouse are on their way, as are several heirloom/non GMO/organic seed catalogs (ordered some from Urban Farm today) a grow light and some little jiffy peat pot mini greenhouses to start seeds in.

I had a pretty awesome garden last year, even though I didn’t get started until mid-late June due to not moving into the house until the very end of May.

I am SO excited that I’m able to start from seed this year; I’ll have so much more variety (and no damn Monsanto seeds)

My trees and berries will have been in the ground building fabulous root systems for a full year (I did get apples, cherries, raspberries and blueberries last year) and it’s going to be GORGEOUS when it all blooms (three apple, three cherry, one plum, one pear and one peach as well as the Hawthorn tree which should be healthier and happier this year)

Now I think I need some dinner, advil and a soak in the hot tub.

~L

Mood: Tired



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First Thanksgiving on the Hilltop (or Too Pooped to Post)

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It was a FABULOUS “Day After Thanksgiving Feast/Holiday Kickoff-Open House/Anti Black Friday Protest” last night with about 20 friends.

It is so wonderful to be able to do it in my own home again, instead of that crappy little apartment.

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I’ll post more later, but in the mean time, here is a slide show of the photos, including the feast, decorations and some spinning practice on the new wheel. (because although Francine wanted to make me wait and learn to drop spindle first, she couldn’t resist the siren song of the wheel)

I hope everyone else had a wonderful holiday as well.

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The kitchen of course, is a disaster, but I’m happy and blessed to have friends to dirty it up for.

~L

Mood: Tired



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Soap!!! making it the old fashioned way

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Another fun thing I’ve been working up up here on my Hilltop Urban Farm is soap making.

Not the melt and pour stuff I’ve done in the past (which is still pretty cool) but honest to goodness cold process soap made out of fat and lye like grandma used to do.

* note, do NOT use this blog as an instructional guide. Get complete and proper information or better yet, take a class or learn from an experienced friend. I’ve listed a few of the many resources available at the end of this blog post.

It’s easy to find information in books and on the internet, but I really wanted to see the lye part of the process and see what trace looks like in person before trying it msyelf.

My awesome friend Jada Moon, a local artist and soap maker extarodinarre gave a class at Speakeasy which was well worth it. I walked out feeling confident that I knew what things looked, smelled and felt like when they were done properly. I also learned some good safety hints, which are important when working with lye.

I gathered up all my supplies and ingredients.

A note, you want to use heat resistant glass or stainless steel containers. You can use an enamel pot if it is not chipped with exposed aluminum.

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Then I donned the ever important safety equipment.

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Of course, my friend Francine who came over for the second batch totally ROCKS the mad scientist look.

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Whatever mold you are using gets lined with butcher paper,shiny side up. My first mold was a cardboard shoebox lined with wax paper. You end up peeling a lot of paper off your soap using the wax paper method.

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I later purchased a wooden mold that is bar shaped and has a built in cutting slot which you will see later in this post.

Everything in soap making is done by weight not volume (water can be the exception since it’s not used in the fat/lye calculations)

The first thing I did was the lye/water because it generates a lot of heat and it needs to cool down before being added to the fats.

Very important, always add chemicals to water, never water to chemicals-you do not want to create a lye volcano in your kitchen.

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This needs to be stirred with a wooden spoon (you can use some plastics and stainless steel, but wood does not conduct heat) (gently, you don’t want to splash this stuff; it will cause nasty chemical burns) until the crystals are fully dissolved. Make sure that the area is well ventilated and that pets, kids or spouses can’t accidentally come in contact with it.

You want to rinse anything the lye water comes in contact with with vinegar as soon as possible to neutralize the pH (ha chemistry class is starting to make sense now isn’t it?). Your wooden spoons will soon look like splinters after the lye eats at them for a while.

The oils, many of which are solid at room temperature are weighed and added to the melting pot (once again, stainless, heat proof glass or enamel with no chips)

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Now you get to gently melt the oils.

When they are melted, you want them about 100-110 degrees before you proceed.

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You want to make sure that your lye has cooled down to the same temperature 110-110 degrees, and then very carefully pour your lye water into your melted oils. You can use a glass candy thermometer for this. More experienced people can feel the outside of the pot and bowls to determine temps.

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Using a stick blender (you can use a spoon, but this next part of the process can take an hour that way)

gently mix the oils and lye water together. Make sure the stick blender is on the bottom of the pot, you do not want to splash this stuff.

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Soon, you will see sopanification (and you thought you’d never use that organic chemistry class) begin to occur.

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Continue to stir until it thickens up to the consistency of custard and a bit dribbled from the stick blender or spoon onto the top leaves a trace of a design. This is the stage called trace.

This is the time to add any essential oils or other additives and mix them in well. You need to work quickly at this point in the process.

Next, carefully pour into the molds you already lined

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The fist mold was a shoebox, which is quite forgiving. The second one is the wooden mold I purchased online (you can make them as well.)

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This is where my second batch got interesting. I created my own base recipe and it didn’t fit into my four pound mold (DUH there was water in it, which make it more than the four pounds of fat which makes four pounds of soap.

I had to hustle and line my shoebox to pour the rest into. Since it didn’t fill the box, I shaped it into a rectangle as best I could. They won’t be pretty bars, but I can use them myself or use them to make hand milled soap.

I also created a bit of a mess which freaked me out a bit as this mixture is still a bit lye heavy and can cause mild chemical burns (I really didn’t want BadKitty stepping in any of it) but a quick wipe and mop with vinegar took care of any danger. Always have your vinegar ready.

After the soap is molded, wrap it in blankets and towels immediately. It will continue to generate it’s own heat as the sopanificaiton process continues (don’t you just LOVE science?) and you want to keep the heat in. Two hours after pouring and molding my soap was 110 degrees (I slid a thermometer under the blanket but did not open the box.

Approximately 24 hours later, you can unmold the soap and cut it (be careful this still has a high enough pH to irritate your skin and you certainly don’t want to touch it and rub your eyes.

You can use a knife, fishing line or pastry scraper

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Now comes the hard part… waiting.

The soap will need to cure for approximately four weeks. During this time you want to put in on a rack with plenty of air space between bars and turn them every day or two.

The lye will continue to interact with the fats and the water will evaporate out.

The bar on the left has been curing for two weeks; the bar on the right is fresh out of the mold and cut

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You can use pH test strips to test the soap (making a slurry of some shavings) during the curing time, but due to the surfactant nature of soap, they are not considered very accurate.

The “old fashioned” test is the tongue test, in which one places the tip of their tongue on the bar of soap. You either feel a slight chemical burn (you wont leave your tongue on their for long if there is fee lye hanging out) or it will taste like soap.

Neither result is pleasant.

If you are in Tacoma I highly recommend taking a class from Jada Moon

There are some very helpful online resources as well.

This is where I got my mold (you can use a shoebox or build a mold as well) and my latest batch of oils.

This company is a great source of essential oils, herbs and cocoa butter.

I used this lye calculator when making up my own recipe. Yes I did make up a recipe on my second time you; you might surprise yourself as well.

I am waiting for this woman’s book, “Smart Soapmaking” to arrive from Amazon; it was highly recommended for learning how to do this safely, I also ordered her milk soap making book.

I will keep you all updated on how this turns out.

Those of you I know well will likely be getting soap for the holidays.

~L

Mood: Thinkin’ Dirty Thoughts so I can use the new soap



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