The Best Spice Jars Ever Made

For years I have searched for the perfect spice jars, or, at least some that I could work with. Most spice jars that I have had were not all that convenient to use. They either had a small opening, making it difficult to fill and impossible to get a teaspoon into or they were not in a convenient holder and were too hard to find at a glance and they were always in the way.

This is a jar from the set I bought last year. I can't get a teaspoon into it. What am I suppose to do with that? If I need 2 teaspoons of something I have to use the 1/2 teaspoon 4 times! What if I need a tablespoon? I always make a mess filling them. I don't like the way they open anyway and they are hard to find at a glance.

I recently visited a friend's place, and found the perfect spice jar! It's metal and has a glass top.

These spice jars have a pour and a sprinkle area on the side of the lid.

They also have a large mouth. I could get a tablespoon in there, easy! They are easy to fill and with the name painted on the lid, they are easy to find at a glance.

All of these things are good, but that is not what makes this jar so special. This jar is MAGNETIC! You can put a metal plate on your wall for them to stick to or you can just attach them to 

anything metal.

They stick to my microwave! I could keep them there but that's not the best place to keep them.

They stick to my coffee maker. (Probably not a 
good idea.)

I can stick them on my oven!

I can stick them to my freezer! 

I can even stick them to my car!! (Maybe not.)

I stuck all of them to my refrigerator! They are even in alphabetical order. I can read the name at a glace because I painted it on there myself. There's lots of room and I can see what is inside.

Another good thing about these jars is the price. They were only $2 each! I'm going to get a lot of them and keep all kinds of things in them, stuck to the refrigerator. I LOVE my new space jars! 

Soap for the Craft Fair

I have been making soap for the Craft Fair on Dec 4th. I made three small batches just this morning and a few last week. I am cooking it so it will be ready to use. Soap making is fun and so addictive!! I took this picture (above) of my soap last year. It's for my book on "Making Organic Soap at Home" that I have for sale on my farm site. I like doing photo shoots of things. It's a fun hobby!

This is one shelf in the soap closet in the bathroom where I dry all my soap. It contains strawberry, lilac and "blueberry pie". The strawberry is not as pink as I would like. It's a bit too peachy buy I have always had a problem getting a good strawberry soap colour. I have had good, pink soap before but it always seems to be something other than strawberry. When I aim for real pink, I can't get it. Oh well, "Murphy's Law". If anyone finds out where this "Murphy" lives, please let me know. I have a thing or two to say to that fellow!

The "Blueberry pie" soap is my favourite this year! It was a rebatching experiment to save a soap with a colour that I did not like. I am very happy with the way it turned out! 

This is the other shelf in my soap closet with this year's soap on it. It contains "almond biscotti", coconut, "healing herb" and "sweet orange". The "healing herb" soap is made with oil of oregano and thyme - both natural antibiotics. Some of these soaps are made with milk, which is why they are browner.

The "almond biscotti" is my favourite soap scent! It's amazing and always sells out first.

These are for the craft fair at Base Borden on December 4th. I now have all the pumpkin pies, brown sugar body scrub and soaps completed for the sale. I like to have it done ahead of time. I am a bit rushed this year, but next year I am going to start in January making things for the fall sales! I always say that...

Homemade Laundry Detergent

I made my own laundry detergent yesterday! Many of you have been making it for years, but this was my first attempt. I didn't make a lot, only about 10 litres, being a trial first time and all.

I had a very hard time finding washing soda. I did have a little in a box that came with the house a few years back. I kept it, having the plan to make my own laundry detergent way back then and knowing I would need it. The amount in the box was exactly what I needed for this, smaller recipe.

I bought soda for adjusting pool ph to use instead. I have read that it can be used, as well, but in a much smaller dose. I had just enough washing soda for this recipe, but I will need to use the pool ph adjusting soda the next time I make laundry detergent. (I have no idea what this stuff is really called! lol!)

The ingredients you need to make this recipe are: water, washing soda or pool ph adjusting soda, Borax, Dawn dishwashing liquid, grated hard soap and water. Any hard bar of soap will work. Some people use Ivory. I make my own soap, so that's not difficult. What I used for this particular recipe was a "laundry bar" that I purchased specifically for this application, but next time I am using my own hard handmade soap. I grated the soap bar by hand, but you can use a food processor. (I have one, just too lazy to get it set up, wash all the parts because I don't want to put soap into the dishwasher, then put it all back together again.) Most recipes do not use Dawn dishwashing liquid but I have read that it makes a big difference in the grease cutting and stain removal power of the detergent, so I added it.

You can add some fragrance oil, if you want to. I left mine unscented.
You will need a large bucket. This recipe makes 10 litres, so you need a bucket that will hold that much and some, so you have room to stir vigorously. You will also need a large pot for the stovetop and something that measures 1/2 cup.

This is the simple recipe:

1 cup of grated soap or store bought Ivory soap flakes (also hard to find).
1/2 cup washing soda or not quite 1/8 cup of pool ph adjusting soda
1/2 cup Borax
1/4 cup Dawn dishwashing liquid
Bring a quart of water to boil on the stove in a large pot. Add all ingredients except the Dawn, slowly while stirring well. Stir in the boiling water until very well dissolved. Pour into bucket.

Add enough water to bring the amount up to 10 litres and stir vigorously until well blended. Let sit overnight. This should be a gel by the next day. Add 1/4 cup Dawn dishwashing liquid and stir vigorously. If you add the Dawn with the rest of the ingredients, it stops it from gelling as much as it should. Add fragrance oil at this time. Pour into usable size containers. Shake before using. Add 1/4 - 1/2 cup of this to a laundry load, depending on size of load.

It was quick, easy and cheap to make! I will find out very soon how well it works.

Harvesting Grapevine for Wreaths

Yesterday I started cutting some grapevine for wreath making. I plan to make some evergreen wreaths to sell at the end of our driveway or on our corner. I made a few last year and was happy with the results, so I am making a lot more of them this year, if possible.

You can read directions on how to make your own evergreen wreath in a previous post on this blog: "Making An Outdoor Evergreen Wreath"

The picture at the top is the pile I cut from the end of our driveway yesterday. I still need to strip the leaves, coil and wire them before they dry hard. There is a bit more grapevine there and it needs to be cleared so that we can see the road when pulling out of the driveway.

This is the grapevine on the fenceline with the forest. We have a lot of it! I can cut grapevine in the county forest too, although it's not on our property. I don't think anyone will mind.

It grows all the way into the tree tops!
Yesterday I managed to score these great pinecones from a strip mall nearby! You never know where you will find useful things if you keep your eyes open to the gifts around you!

We have lovely, large acorns from our own oak trees to add to them. I have considered painting the acorns with red spray paint for the Christmas wreaths. I don't know yet if I will do that or not. I'm just thinking about it.

Today I need to get those wreaths shaped and wired to dry. I will, at least, get that much done. I also want to make some soap with the purple soap colour I made from chichiquelites yesterday. I have everything I need, except for the time.

Today is Thanksgiving, here in Canada. We are very thankful to the Lord for all that He has given us! Praise The Lord! 

Hope & Discouragement

Gardeners are a tenacious lot. We do get discouraged, but there's always next year, a renewing of hope and plans for the future. We know that everyone can't grow everything. It's just not possible to grow everything!

I can't seem to grow peppers. I so want lots of those big, colorful bell peppers - red, yellow, orange, green and ivory - but I just can't get any! I start them indoors, as needed for such a short growing season, but I still don't get much in the way of fruit. My plants didn't get more than about 6″ tall last year. It was a cold year I guess. This spring I am going to install a cold frame, so maybe, if time and heat are the problem, that might help. Maybe I'll just never be able to grow peppers. I bartered all over the internet to get just 5 Bianca Pepper seeds. I really pampered those babies! They didn't have any fruit yet when the frost took them and I'll probably never find any more of those seeds.

I started 2 doz luffah plants from seed, early on the window sill last spring. I babied those plants until they were hardened off and transplanted in the back field. They got about 4″ long and never did anything else all summer long. I had such great plans for those too!

I'm growing them again this year, but on the south deck railing with chicken manure. That chicken manure is great stuff! 
I learned the hard way that, yes, carrots do have to 
be thinned…

Last year I planted about 2 doz jack-o-lantern pumpkin seeds in the wild pasture for Halloween. They got no bigger than about 6″ long. I guess these things need feed and attention? Who knew! I'm planting them again in the front garden next to the road for people to see this year, with chicken manure and marigolds to attract bees - and maybe some attention from me, like vine pruning and hand pollination (prayer, music, fanning in the heat…)

Do you think it would help if I posted pictures nearby of what a great pumpkin should look like? Take this one, for instance. Well, not necessarily THAT big, just big, you know, for Halloween jack-o-lanterns. If I wanted pumpkins for pie, I'd plant buttercup squash. (Wait, I do plant buttercup squash, and for pie too!)

I did get a lot of great sugar snap peas, but not nearly enough. We've eaten them all already! Lots more going in next year, ditto for the yellow wax beans - all gone already!

In life, as in gardening, there is always next time. Never get discouraged! Lots of things did well for me, just not those. All people and all gardeners have disappointments! Life goes on.

I grew a few great acorn squash, peas, beans and way too many potatoes. I got some great asparagus from the old bed, rejuvinated by me with mulch and chicken manure :) That chicken manure is great stuff!

Many exciting things were planted last year, for the future, that will do well, I think. I planted 50 asparagus from seed, everbearing strawberries, raspberries and a whole row of perennial hibiscus to sell - maybe, I like hibiscus too. I may sell some, but I do like hibiscus!

I'm growing many exciting new things this year, like my own chicken feed, if I can save it from the wild birds. I am planning to include sunflowers, amaranthus, millet, flax, poppy seed and a few other wild things. It will be loads of fun to grow and make!

We gardeners are a hopeful and tenacious lot and that chicken manure is realy, really great suff! It's my very own. I grew it too.

Making Soap

Homemade, natural soap is a luxuriant pleasure to use. I make a large variety of soaps, with many ingredients grown right here on the farm. Some of my soaps are vegan soaps and are made from all vegetable oils. Other soaps are made from animal fats, which make them harder and longer lasting. I specialize in herbal, healing soaps made with oils, infused with herbs directly from our own herb garden.

We are gearing up to make soap that will be ready to purchase for Christmas and should be ready in mid November. Handmade soaps make great stocking stuffers or buy a dozen different bars as a special present. Soap is a gift that anyone would love, male or female, and is impersonal enough for the office party. I sometimes make special scents, like peppermint, for Christmas soaps.

To answer the question most asked by our customers. Yes, we use lye to make soap. To put it simply, without lye there's no soap - period. If the ingredients say "sodium", that's lye. Sodium hydroxide is lye and it is a natural ingredient made from hardwood leaves or ashes (we buy our's). The term "natural" has been mistakenly used to mean "good for you" when that is not necessarily the case. Lye is a "natural" ingredient that is dangerous and can cause sever burns if one is not careful enough in it's use. After it goes through the soap making process, it is no longer lye and is not at all harmful. The combination of lye and fat under very specific conditions, causes a chemical reaction called "saponification" which makes both the lye and fat into one item: soap. It is no longer lye or fat and doesn't contain either one. Superfatted soaps have some fats added in after they become soap. Glycerin is a byproduct of this chemical reaction. The glycerin is what makes homemade soap soothing and moisturizing.

My homemade soaps contain all of the moisturizing natural glycerin produced by the soap making process. Most of the glycerine has been removed from commercial soaps and sold separately. Glycerine is used in the manufacture of weapons and explosives and is worth more than the soap. This is one reason why commercial soap dries your skin. Other reasons for this are the additives to preserve it's hardness in water, colour it, make it produce more lather, etc. etc. All of these additives are unnatural chemicals and are not gentle on your skin. So called commercial "glycerin" soaps have only a fraction of the glycerin added back into them during their manufacture, then boiled with alcohol to make them clear. None of this comes close to the soothing use of handmade soap in it's natural state.

An additional "plus" for homemade soap is it's benefit to the environment. It does not contain phosphates and is safe for the water supply - perfect for camping. It is also safe to use on pets.

My herbal healing soaps contain thyme and oregano, among other things. Thyme and oregano are both antibiotic and anticeptic, which make them excellent healers of acne and other skin problems. Try the healing herbal soap for a few weeks and make up your own mind.

Another useful soap that I occasionally make is Coffee, for hard to clean shop hands. Coffee soap will remove even gasoline smells from your hands.

I also occasionally make foot soaps with a salt scrub instead of pumice. Salt will scrub off the dead skin while losing some of it's own sharp edges as well. This makes it a safer and much more gentle scrub for feet that are already in bad shape.

i make soaps with oatmeal for a facial scrub, sometimes with vanilla and also make beauty body bars that smell nice. Some have our own blend of scent called "Providence".

Edible Wild Mushrooms

"Shaggy Mane" Mushrooms are blooming like crazy right now in September. They are only good for an hour or so after picking, so we don't sell them. I have considered selling jars of starter to those who want to grow these themselves. These are delicious as babies, prepared in casseroles, especially with fish. Due to their high water content, they don't do as well sauteed.

They aren't here for long, though, so we take advantage of it while we can.

While these are not the "Alcohol Inky Cap" shaggy mushrooms, it is not recommended to drink alcohol while eating them. They can sometimes contain a substance that prevents the body from detoxifying alcohol and can cause tingling, flushing and rapid heart beat. These symptoms disappear after a few hours.

The shaggy mane mushrooms do not keep well. They start to dissolve into an inky liquid just an hour or so after picking. The enzyme that causes this can be destroyed with heat so I cut them in half and flash fry in the skillet. They can be frozen after a quick fry, or so I have read. Our's never last that long. 

These mushrooms are also known as "ink" mushrooms and, indeed, do produce a black ink when mature, that has been used for writing and drawing, in the past. I have not tried this, but may do some mushroom drawings with the mushroom ink. Interesting concept...

My Pie, Wine & Jam Garden

Last fall I started a garden mainly for pie, wine and jam berries and fruits. Knowing that most berry bushes take about three years before they start to produce, I looked around for something faster. I found the chichiquelites (garden huckleberries) and ground cherries (cape gooseberries). These are quick growing annuals, going from seed to berry in one season. These were great this year and we had a bumper crop. I have these seeds for sale on our new farm site, if anyone is interested.

This summer I began collecting other types of fruits and berries for later production.

Also fast producers are strawberries and rhubarb. Both are "next year" producers. We like plain rhubarb pie, but strawberry rhubarb is good too. Strawberry freezer jam is fabulous!

If you plant some strawberry babies now you'll get a few berries in the spring. You will also get all the plants you could possibly want in the form of runners by fall for producing berries the following year! They reproduce at an astounding rate! If you want the large berries like the ones you buy, plant June bearing. The everbearing ones are here and there and smaller.

I planted three 20' rows of strawberry babies this past spring. I had the plants, so I put them all in. Some I got in a trade and the rest I got from cleaning out my MIL's garden. I'm overwhelmed at the invasively growing strawberry bed now! It's taking over the entire garden and the runners are so thick, I'm going to have to clean them out next week! I'm turning them back as they try to grow out into the field and lawn. I don't know how we are going to pick berries in that next year!

If you plant some rhubarb now, you'll get some big enough for small cuttings next year. I got several pies from just two large plants this year, so I planted an entire 20' row of rhubarb roots in July. It's growing well and I might get a small cutting from them before the frost takes it all. It's a lot of rhubarb, I know, but I had the roots from cleaning out my MIL's, so I planted them. I can always sell the extra stalks and give some to the Salvation Army Soup Kitchen in town.

I think, sometimes, I tend to overwhelm the Salvation Army Soup Kitchen with produce. I don't know what they did with the boxes of zucchini I gave them this year. I think I'll plant less next year, but I always say that...

This is the row of rhubarb that I planted this summer. It's planted right against the green onions at the other end and the basil at this end, since both of those will be gone next year. It goes all the way down behind the onions.

One of the most interesting berries I planted this year is the 'Haskap' honeyberry "Borealis'. They were recently developed by the Univ of Saskatchewan. Here is information about them. My Haskap berry bush baby was a gift from Mike and Joyce, followers and friends who lives sort of nearby. They came for a visit one day and brought it with them. (Thank you Mike and Joyce!) I only have the one of that variety so it gets special attention!

You need two different varieties of Haskap honeyberries to get the large berries which are very similar to blueberries, or so I have read. I have since received some honeyberry seeds for 'Borealis' and 'Bluebell' varieties in a trade from a friend, Evelyn in Alberta (who also sent the Saskatoon berry bush mentioned below. Thank you Evelyn!). I have the honeyberry seeds sprouted and growing in the kitchen. The seedlings are tiny now and I think I will keep them indoors under lights for the winter this year. I don't know if that's a good idea or not. Perhaps I will plant a few of them in the garden and keep a few indoors, just to be safe.
I realize that they are hybrids and probably won't all breed true to the parents. It's ok. I like experimental gardening!

I also received three salal bushes a short time ago from Michelle in BC at "My Green Thumb" (Thank you Michelle!) who also sent me some delicious salal jelly she made and loganberry seeds, which are now planted indoors but not up yet. I may need to winter sow those. The salal jelly tastes surprisingly like grape, with lots of flavour!

The salal bushes arrived green and in good shape, all the way from the west coast! They died back some after planting but are still green at the base, so hopefully they will come back next spring and grow. They came in the mail all the way from BC, so they can't be blamed for dying back a bit.

Another unusual bush I received, from Eveylyn (above), is a Saskatoon bush (also called serviceberry) which is doing very well and has grown some throughout the summer. It is even spreading! These berries have all the antioxidant properties of blueberries. Here's the info about them. Scroll down to the "Nutrient and Potential Health Benefits" section. I only have the one bush, so I'm paying close attention to it, too and it's spreading!!

Another berry with good health benefits is the goji berry! Goji berry bushes are slow growers at first but are suppose to do well in drought conditions. With the berry garden in my thoughts, I planted some goji berry seeds awhile back.

I don't use goji berries to make pies but they are a good addition to the berry garden, anyway. I will have some of this seed for sale on my site shortly. My goji berry bushes are fairly small due to a poor start. In addition to being slow starters, mine were left in the tiny pots most of the summer that year, not having started the berry bed yet, and were transplanted a few times, walked on and generally neglected. They'll get a chicken manure boost this fall and will, hopefully, get much bigger next year!

Two years ago I planted three little red raspberry runners that were very big this year. We had a lot of raspberries and I made some raspberry jam that went over well. I got another runner in a trade this year and added it to the ones I have. I am also getting some runners now from my big ones that I will dig out and transplant. I am working on making a 20' row of raspberries too. My garden is 20' long. See my previous post on "Our Raspberries" for recipes.

I did some trading with friends and acquired a couple of gooseberry bushes and one giant gooseberry bush. (Real gooseberries, the green kind, not "cape gooseberries", which is another name for ground cherries). This is not a picture of my gooseberries. I haven't gotten any berries from mine yet, but this is what they look like when I do get them.

This is the giant gooseberry bush. It is drowning in ground cherries, poor thing! I've had to fight them off and protect it all summer! We are all drowning in ground cherries!

I found four more gooseberry bushes growing wild on the property and moved them to the berry garden to live with their relatives. I want a large amount of gooseberries 
next year!

This is an old farm where we live, so I could find just about anything growing here! I'd love to find a buried leather bag full of old coins! Maybe I should get a metal detector! ...Maybe not. I'd get tired of digging up machinery parts. I know the previous owners planted machinery parts all over the place and I just don't understand why. Were they hoping to grow a good crop of tractors? I have large barrel garbage cans near the gardens that are just full of small, odd bits of machinery.

Along with these wild gooseberry bushes, I also found a lot of wild blackberry bushes in that back corner while fencing. These are the first ones I've seen here. I know they are blackberries because they had very large and delicious fruit on them in late August, when I discovered them. I am going to make a row of blackberries in the pie and wine garden too! They fruit later than most other berries, in late August, so this will be a good thing.

On a side note...I have come to hate fencing! It has consumed my entire summer, so I am glad to say that some good did come from it. I found some blackberries! It's not over either! I've still more to do. Buck got out again today. I swear that dog is worse than a goat!! He is too big and heavy to jump high and he doesn't seem to climb, but he digs with huge, flat feet that make great shovels! He can find a way out in the most strongly fenced area. I have seen him systematically checking the fence for a way out. Any tiny little weakness in the fence is taken advantage of. I am starting to think that there is no such thing as Buck proof fencing! He also digs big holes all over the place, but we are, so far, ok with that. We've have stoically accepted it as part of his charm. He falls into them a lot more often than we do. lol. Silly boy!

In addition to the above mentioned berry bushes, I have also received six black mulberry babies (four of which are still growing), two black elderberry babies and two current babies in trades this spring. All are doing well except for two mulberry bushes, one elderberry bush and the currents. They seem to have disappeared, but I am hoping they will come back next year. I can't blame them for hiding after the giant puppy walked on them! They were doing ok in spite of that, then one day they were just gone. I am hoping they will come up again in 
the spring.

This is the largest of my black mulberry bushes. They get huge and I have them growing only about 2' apart. They are getting big now, so I will move them in the spring while they are still dormant.

Ditto for the elderberry bush. This is an elderberry bush but it`s not MY elderberry bush.

Mine is just 1`tall, but it will grow!

I, myself, bought and planted a lavender in the pie, juice and jam garden, not so much for pies but for jelly, juice and drying for sachets/pomanders. Its just one little plant but I have rooted others by laying down the branches and covering them with dirt. They grew roots and I will separate them into their own spots in the spring. I will do the same thing in the spring when they all begin to grow. I am hoping to acquire a 20' row of lavender in the pie garden too.

My berry garden is a "lasagna" garden that is a couple of years old. Every spring I add chicken manure to it and as much mulch as I can come up with. Grass clippings are my main source through the summer, then it gets a generous helping of leaves in the fall. I have also added shredded paper this year, since I had it anyway and Buck found the stash of bags of shredded paper. That was great fun!

I used to keep bags of shredded computer paper for chicken litter and I had quite a few bags left. They make good mulch but it looks odd since it's so unnaturally white. If it works well, I will continue to add it as mulch to the garden. Being made from wood pulp, the paper will need to be supplemented with manure. Wood uses up the nitrogen in the soil as it decomposes so it's not that good for the garden without the chicken manure.

All in all, I think I have accumulated a good assortment of berries for my pie and jam garden! I am excited about what it will produce next year! I can't read about or hear about an edible berry without trying to find someone to trade for one and trying to grow it in my garden! 
I am obsessed!! 

Our Favourite Tomatoes

Over the years we have grown a large variety of tomatoes, more recently sticking with heirloom or organic types. We don't want to grow or eat anything that has been genetically modified.

Although we have tried all shapes, sizes and colors, we prefer the normal, round, red tomatoes. Of all the tomatoes that we have tried, our favorite tomato is grown from seed that I got in a trade years ago, from a fellow gardener who's ancestors brought the seed from Porgugal. We just call them our "Portugal" tomatoes. We never did know the actual variety, if there is one. These may have been handed down through the family for generations. We just don't know.

I have had them too long for them to be GM seeds and I know they are not hybrids, as they breed true year after year.

These tomatoes are MASSIVE! Some as big as my hand. They are meaty, sweet and a great size for sandwiches. One slice is all you need!

These are a large beef heart style tomato, which is hard to find. There are a few more out there but I don't know how they compare to mine.

We love this tomato and nearly lost it last year! The tomatoes did so poorly and had so much blossom end rot, I feared that we would not get any ripe enough for seed. Fortunately, I did have some seed saved from the year before. (The smart gardener never plants all the seed.) I also managed to salvage a few of the ripe "Portugal" tomatoes and collected the seed from those, but not a lot. I do have some, now, on my seed site for sale. This year we will do better :-)

Another favorite tomato is the 'San Marzano'. It's our only paste tomato and is touted to be the best in the world. It's from Italy. We grow these every year and they do make great sauce!

They have a thick wall and very little water, which is why they make such good paste.

We also grow: Matt's Wild Cherry, 'Ailsa Craig' and the 'Manitoba' tomato, recently developed to grow big in the short Manitoba prairie season. It is not a GM seed nor a hybrid, so I am growing it for a few years on a trial basis.

I have just today put the seed for our 'Portugal' tomatoes for sale on my seed site, after determining that I do have a few left that I can spare, but not a lot. So many people have asked for it. I felt like I had let folks down by not selling any of this rare seed. Fortunately, there are now some available, after doing some germination tests. I would like to spread it around so that it does not get lost in a bad year. Anything can happen and I would hate to lose this one completely from our heirloom seed pool! Save those heirloom seeds!

The 'San Marzano' seed has always been there, as they did well enough last year for me to collect some seed. Not well enough, unfortunately, for me to make tomato sauce or paste. I do not have the other three seed for sale due to such poor conditions last year. I am planting only these five this year and hope to have some seeds for sale this fall.

Let's hope for a great tomato growing season this year!

Nothing beats a juicy, ripe tomato fresh from the garden!