Monthly Archives: October 2016

Bits and Pieces

If you follow this blog, you probably think that after we got the garlic planted, all 5100 cloves, we packed up and went on vacation. My neglect in writing can be better explained by the fact that we have so many projects going on that I have had problems deciding which ones deserve a post and which ones just need to be done. This morning I’ve decided to share some bits and pieces of what we have been up to.

One of the things I’m not sure that I have mentioned on this blog is that I am a big fan of natural medicine.  I love to grow herbs as well as identify and harvest wild plants for medicinal purposes. I have containers filled with various dried herbs, oil infusions and tinctures. This being the case, when I spotted young mullein growing in the area that we would be tilling up to plant garlic, I decided I had to save it. You can learn more about mullein from herbalist Jim Mcdonald at this link .

There were a lot of mullein plants so I decided to harvest some and transplant some in a safe, out-of-the-way, location.  Since mullein is a biennial plant the transplanted plants will come up next year and complete their growth cycle, getting very tall, flowering, and then going to seed.

The harvested leaves have been dried and stored and the roots are infusing in oil and some being turned into tincture.

First Year Mullein plants

Our strawberries were so productive this year that we decided to expand. Earlier this summer my husband tilled the area where we would plant more strawberries. He then put a layer of rotted horse manure on top. He tilled in the horse manure, along with the weeds that had grown up, when we were ready to plant. I assisted with weeding the strawberries so that he could identified the runners and cut them from the mother plants. He dug the roots out of the ground and transplanted them in the freshly worked soil. In total he added 100 new strawberry plants. He then mulched them with straw so they are ready for winter.


We had a VIP visit us a couple of weeks ago. We have been dreaming of meeting this person for many years and in January of this year we learned that, if all went well, we would be enjoying his company this fall.

Things did not go exactly as planned, since our first grandchild, Jackson was born on June 15 of this year even though his due date was not until September 17th. He weighed a mere 2 lbs. and spent the next three plus months in the NICU being tended to by a skilled team of doctors and nurses. Thousands of prayers have been said for this little guy with hundreds being sent from our house alone. I have been, and continue to be, amazed at the strength and fortitude of his parents. God is good!


Since the day of his visit was cool and rainy we were not able to introduce him to his future playground and learning center (our farm). We did, however, enjoy much cuddle time, and he even bonded with his papa while watching online tractor pulls.

The asparagus bed is another area that we have prepared for winter. We cut the tops of those that were mostly brown. The plants that still had a lot of green we did not cut. We weeded the entire bed and my husband has been working on mulching them. We decided this year to use dried leaves, as mulch for the asparagus, as we have many.


My husband also put up plastic wind break on the north and west sides of the bees hives to help protect them this winter.


We had some blueberry bushes we wanted to move. After we moved them we mulched all of the blueberries with pine needles, placed individual fences around them to protect them from the deer, then we added a layer of wood mulch to keep weeds down.


We have a total of 25 blueberry bushes all ready for winter.


This time of year our focus really is being ready for winter, and other activities have included staining our deck before we started to store our firewood on it. We have also begun cutting firewood but have a lot of that to do yet.

My husband has also begun winterizing equipment (lawn mowers, rototiller) before storing them for the winter.

Autumn around here is just as busy as spring and summer. Nope- no time for vacation. 🙂



A Year In Growing Garlic (Part III)

On Thursday as we continued to prepare for planting we made a couple of “executive” (meaning my husband and I agreed) decisions. The first one is that we will not plant Spanish Roja garlic this year. We decided this because this variety does not store well and thus does not meet the standards that we have set. It seems to start going bad within three months of harvest even when properly stored, while the other varieties will remain fresh for 5 or more months when properly stored.  The second decision we made is that the chickens would stay inside the chicken yard while we were planting.


While the chickens have a large penned area, most days we leave the gate open and they are free to roam our farm. We know all too well that when our chickens spot freshly tilled soil or straw piles it is a free-for-all, they scratch and peck and then nestle their whole bodies into the soil or straw without a care for what they may be destroying. So for the next few days, until we are done planting, and mulching with straw, and the straw hopefully gets rained on and matted down so it is less appealing to the chickens, we will keep the chickens in their pen, and save ourselves a lot of grief.

WARNING: If a garlic farmer ever asks you if you want to “get down and dirty”, participate in “grounding or earthing” ,  or “play in the dirt”, they may be trying to recruit you to plant garlic :).


Friday October 14th was, as I like to say when we are about to start a big project, “Game On”.

The job started with my husband tilling up the garlic bed in the morning. The soil was very loose, with no big clumps like we have dealt with in past years and very few rocks. What a blessing this was.


He also set out the stakes and twine, that we would use to mark the rows, as well as our lattice planting grids.

img_1948 In past years we have used one 8×2 foot piece of lattice to make our four rows. We plant in the rows that had four spaces across this gives us 64 cloves in the ground and then we pick up the lattice and place it in the next (8×2 foot) space in the row. This year we purchased 2 more 8×2 foot pieces of lattice. We placed them end to end in the row and were able to plant 192 cloves before getting up to move the lattice. We found that each row would accommodate eight, 8 foot, lengths of lattice, so our 64 feet long rows contain 512 garlic plants.


We each started out with a bucket full of garlic cloves, our planting stick which we use to make the hole that the clove is planted in, and a foam kneeling pad. Although the foam kneeling pads were comfortable, we abandoned them early on as the  soil was soft enough that the kneeling pads were not necessary. I suspect they also would have negated any positive effects we attained from grounding.


Using our planting sticks we poke a hole about 4 inches deep in the soil and then place a clove in the hole. The clove must be planted root side down/ pointy side up and this is the reason we are on our hand and knees in the dirt planting each clove with TLC. My husband eventually realized that the soil was loose enough, this year, that he could simply push the clove deep enough into the soil without using the stick to make a hole first.


After each of the lattice sections were planted, while my husband moved them to the next section in the row, I cover each planted clove with soil. Since the soil was loose and not clumpy this was done by simple running the back of a garden rake over the area.

It took us an average of 45 minutes to plant one 64 foot row or 512 cloves of garlic. On Friday we planted Red Toch and S&H Silver and ended with 3 full rows and partial row planted. On Saturday we planted Music and Chesnok Red and at this point we have 7 1/2 rows or 3840 cloves planted. With the 20 lbs. of Chesnok Red that are arrived today, and will hopefully be planted tomorrow, we should end up with somewhere in the area of 5000 garlic planted this year.



Once the planting was done on Saturday we mulched all of the rows with a thick layer of straw.  It took one bale of straw per row. Over the winter the mulch will insulate the ground and protect the cloves from extreme temperatures. The rain we got on Sunday weighed down the straw so it will not blow away. My husband also ran several rows of twine around the whole area close to the ground. This will keep the dogs out of the area and hopefully the chickens as well.

My husband and I agree that garlic planting this year has seemed easier than in any of the previous years. Continually amending the soil and some tweaks to our process are really paying off.

A Year In growing Garlic (Part II)

We have been closely watching the weather forecasts as garlic planting time approaches, and due to rain in the forecast for this coming Sunday and Monday, we have adjusted our planting schedule to begin this Friday, October 14 and get as much in the ground Friday and Saturday as possible.

Even though the seed garlic that I ordered this year isn’t scheduled to arrive until Monday, Wednesday was the perfect day to start preparing our seed garlic for planting. It was the perfect day not only because of the timing, but also because I had a couple of volunteers to help. My sister Jamie and cousin Abbey arrived shortly after 9:00 A.M. and since the weather was decent we decided to work outside. img_1942

Our task for the day was to divide the seed garlic bulbs into individual cloves. To do this we peel off the papery skin that binds the cloves together, but leave intact the last skin that covers each individual clove. We found in some cases that last skin would break off while we were breaking the cloves apart. Those cloves were set aside and I will try to use them in cooking before they get bad.

** Note – We have since learned that it is not necessary to keep the last layer of skin intact.


This is not a hard job, but with large quantities can be very time consuming. It is a job that proves that “many hands make light work”. We probably actually worked for about 3 1/2 hours while we chatted and drank ice tea. We also took a time out for lunch. We split about 25 lbs. of bulbs and the time seemed to fly by. When they had to leave, Abbey said she liked the work we were doing today. Although I thanked them for all their help, I’m not certain that they understand how much help they really were. To put it in perspective, this task that we accomplished in a few short hours would have taken 3 times as long or been a full days work if I was doing it on my own.

Today my husband and I will finish splitting apart the approximately 25 lbs. of garlic that we have on hand so they are ready to be planted over the next two days.

If you are following along, and have decided to grow your own garlic, unless you are growing large amounts, you probably won’t need to recruit help for this task or plan it days in advance. It should be done as close to planting time as possible.

Making Soap

If you area regular reader of Don’t Eat It! Soap blog you may be wondering where all the soap posts have been. Honestly I haven’t done much soap making lately. Summer is just filled with so many other things to do, and having anticipated this I made enough soap last winter and spring to get me through until things slowed down again. I did make one batch of soap this summer, about 6 weeks ago, and I am testing it now. I made this soap by request of a lady who has very sensitive skin. The person who had made her soap in the past was no longer making it for her. She isn’t sure what the ingredients were in the soap that was being made for her, but she knew that it had lard in it. She suspects that the ingredient that causes her sensitively is coconut oil, and I was pretty much convinced when she said my aloe soap (with coconut oil in it) made her break out. I told her it would be trial and error, but I would attempt to make her a soap that she can use.

She described the soap that she was previously using as having no lather, being very soft and “snot-like” when wet, and taking up to a year to cure. I have honestly never made a soap with those properties, but it sounded to me like it may have a high olive oil content. Since my aloe soap also contained olive oil, I decided to play it safe at first and make a soap with lard as the only oil.

Lard (or hog renderin’s as Granny, on the Beverly Hillbilly’s, would call it) has probably been used as an ingredient in soap making since the beginning of soap making, and it is likely what our grandparents or great grandparents used to make soap. My lard soap would be different than theirs for a couple of reasons. Their homemade soap would have been made using wood ash, which is also known as potassium hydroxide, as the lye. Although I have yet to use it, my understanding is that this makes a softer soap than  sodium hydroxide, which is now commercially available, and I use to make my soap. Also they probably did not have scales to measure precise amounts of each ingredient, so the soap may have been very strong and harsh on the skin. I suspect this is why lye soap has a bad reputation.

The only three ingredients in the lard soap that I made are water, lard, and sodium hydroxide (lye). Since this is a test batch I only used two pounds of oil and ended up with eight bars.

Lard Soap

This recipe made nice white bars of soap. My husband and I have each used a bar of this soap and both had the same impression. The soap feels nice on the skin, it does not have a bubbly lather but feels more creamy going on. It rinses off well and does not leave the skin feeling dry. While it would not be my first choice, it is a nice soap.

I will get it to the person who requested it this week and say a prayer that this soap works for her.

With the rain that we had late last week and through the weekend making indoors work my preference, I decided Saturday morning would be a good time to make soap. I knew that I was low on both coffee and breakfast bar soaps so I decided to make the coffee soap this time and will probably make breakfast bar later this week.

The coffee soap is made with brewed coffee, instead of water, as the liquid. It has coconut oil and olive oil, and after the oils are combined with the coffee and lye, I add coffee grounds, sugar and powered milk. Sugar is used as an ingredient in soap to increase lather, the coffee grounds add scrubbing power to the soap, and I have discovered that using powdered or dehydrated milk gives the creamy feel of a milk based soap without having to worry about scorching the milk when adding the lye to it. The best way I have found to add the coffee grounds, sugar and powdered milk is to first mix them with a small amount of water to dissolve the milk and the sugar, then blend it into the soap after the soap has come to a trace or just before pouring it into the mold.

Coffee Soap 24 hours after being poured into the mold

The soap was still somewhat soft on Sunday, but is now ready to come out of the mold and be cut into bars today (Tuesday). It should be ready to use in 6 weeks.