Monday, December 31, 2012

The Last Garden Chore of 2012

The garden is covered in snow, and it is very cold.  The year winds down; it's time to complete the chores of 2012!  The last chore, which has been hanging over my head for some time, is to finish the dried beans.  A rather large bucket of 'Jacob's Cattle' beans, still in the pod, has been hanging around in the sun room since October.  I usually get this chore finished in November, but this year I was a little distracted by soap making.  'Jacob's Cattle' is an awesome heirloom bean, used in baked beans, soups and stews.  It's also gorgeous: deep red with white patches, although the coloring is lost in cooking.

There are many ways to shuck beans; most instructions involve putting all the pods in a gunny sack or feed sack and smacking it on the ground, or beating it with a hammer or crunching them with a rolling pin.  This shatters the brittle, dried pods and releases the beans.  We've done this for a number of years now, and I always find those methods messy.  It's just really hard to separate the beans from the debris; even outside, allowing the wind to take some of the chafe, it's still messy.  So this year, I've settled down in front of the TV in the evening and hand-shucked the beans - like shelling fresh peas.  I feel I'm multi-tasking, too, so watching TV doesn't seem as decadent a thing!

It's taken about eight hours of casual hurry, no pressure!  The beans I have produced are very clean, and won't really require any more labour.  Like any dried bean or lentil or such, we'll still rinse them and pick through them before cooking, but one should always do that sort of thing.  I had the big bucket on one side, an empty bucket for the debris between my knees and a small pail for the beans in front of me on a low table.  After a while it's a rhythm, a Zen thing....the work gets done while hardly thinking about it.  I found, after a while, the moment I picked up a pod I could tell if it was good or bad, and sorted beans right on the spot.

Worth the effort? Well, yes!  If we were thinking of selling these they would have to be a ridiculous price, to cover my labor.  But, it's for our use and for re-planting, and enjoyable!  Fresh dried beans are a delight to use; at this age these beans will hardly require soaking before using.  And 'Jacob's Cattle' is a very tasty bean!

So, just as I though I had wrapped up the 2012 gardening year, I discovered that our onions weren't storing very well.  We struggle to store onions: outside is way too cold, the root cellar is too humid (good for potatoes, carrots and beets in sand).  This year we thought we had cured them well, and tried our back bathroom, generally unused, dark and cool, and had stashed the sacks of onions there.  These are all small onions, the left overs so to speak, we were just hoping to use as seed next Spring.  On inspection, I could see that onions were sprouting and I could smell a bit of decay.  So, they must come out of the sacks and be picked through to get out any bad ones if we have any hope of saving some.  I'd better get that done today, if I want the 2012 gardening season truly finished!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Homemade Beauty Products!

Facial Moisturizer, the latest version! Luv it!
You know how one thing can lead to another?  Well, getting interested in soap making has led me on a path that may soon see us buying virtually no bath and beauty products!  It's not like this is any huge epiphany or turn-around; at Aagaard Farms we've been making our own stuff and avoiding unnecessary chemicals for a long time!  We've been using baking soda and vinegar for cleaning for years, making our own jams and jellies with our home-grown fresh fruits, raising and drying our own herbs and beans.  It's hard to believe that even six or seven years ago I was happy to pay $40 for a jar of moisturizer, but not any more!

Like everything we get involved in, I did a lot of research about soap making before I even acquired goats.  I wanted to make sure it was the right move, the right investment in time, energy and money.  As I learned about soap, I learned about skin, about butters and oils, and learned more about essential oils.  I've been using essential oils for years for fragrance.  I haven't worn over-the-counter perfume in a long time, always essential oils in a base of skin-friendly carrier oil, but none made by myself.  Now I know so much more about their qualities for nourishing the skin, improving health, cleaning, removing bacteria, mold and, yes, even viruses!  The teat dip we used on the goats was all homemade and largely essential oils in a witch hazel base.

Our own interest in a green and sustainable life style, and learning about soap making took me online where I discovered a world of #DIY beauty and health products.  Not just soap, but everything you could possibly need from cough drops to deodorant!  Looking to test the market before we were ready to make soap, I decided to make some lip balm and lotion bars from one of my favorite skin care ingredients: hemp oil.  I could see if my Farmers Market customers were interested and I'd have them for my own use!  And hemp oil is a local product: we use 'Manitoba Harvest' hemp oil in our morning smoothies as well as our skin care!  I acquired some lovely bars of natural beeswax from Manitoba's  'Hive on the Hill' and I was off-and-running in the beauty biz.  The balm and lotion bars were well received, and I was gratified that some CSA friends and other people with eczema had great luck with our all-natural products and have been return customers ever since!  And my sensitive skin was quite happy so it was all good!

As I was running out of my commercial face moisturizer, I happened to get hooked up with Diane Kidman's wonderful herb books.  Her book Beauty Gone Wild' had the recipes that really got me thinking that I could make my own!  Now, I'm not going to share her recipe here, because she works really hard and I think you should buy her book.  The e-book is $4, just four bucks and she deserves it! (And if you don't have a Kindle you can download free software so you can read any Kindle book on any type of computer.  You knew that, right?  And did you know that the Canadian blog/Facebook page Joybilee Farm lists free Kindle books everyday?)  Anyhoo, back in the summer, for a $9 bottle of organic olive oil, I got a couple of big jars of a lovely (although somewhat heavy for summer) facial moisturizer. With some olive oil left over for salad!  Yes, that's right - about $9 for two large jars of moisturizer!  One I kept refrigerated, since the cream contains no preservatives, until I had used up the first.

The time had come for more moisturizer, but this time I know so much more!  Plus, the soap making has had me acquiring different butters and oils, as I became interested in new recipes.  As I could afford it, I've added new essential oils and more exotic ingredients to my arsenal.  So, Diane's basic recipes calls for, among a few other things, a cup of olive oil and up to 32 drops of essential oils.  This time, I replaced some of the olive oil with sweet almond oil and jojoba oil - both known to be very good for the skin.  I also had, this time, rose hip seed oil and geranium oil, replacing most of the lavender essential oil I used in the first batch.  Both the rose hip oil and geranium oil are very good for mature (cough, cough) and sensitive skins!  And wow - do I love this cream!  The smell is lovely but light, the texture is a little lighter but still rich enough for winter, and it sinks in nicely!

My shower routine now starts with a gentle facial scrub of ground oatmeal, honey and a dab of goats milk (all local - love that!)  from my other favorite resource: Janice Cox's 'Natural Beauty at Home'.  The scrub is also fabulous for hands: weather-chapped, goat slobbered, chicken pecked, kitty scratched, chore-doing hands!  I've also made bath soaks, body scrubs, and soon, eye cream from this book!  A great resource.  If you're thinking of making your own, do also check out the fab-u-lous website Fresh Picked Beauty - loads of great stuff!  Another great source, not just for skin care recipes but also loads of other crafts and gardening ideas is Garden Therapy; I've also recently picked up her e-book and follow her on Pinterest too - the good stuff just keeps coming from Stevie!   It's her recipe for easy bath bombs that some of our family will be getting in their Christmas presents this year, along with a little soap, of course!  When I get to it, I'll let you know how the homemade eye cream goes!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

It Must Be December: I've Got Nails!

It's that time of year...the garden is under snow, the chores are minimal and.....I've got finger nails!  Just in time for the Festive Season!  They are not pretty: my cuticles are not groomed, I've got scratches and dings on my hands, the nails are not shaped or painted....but they are there!

As a market gardener and caretaker to livestock, it's impossible to have nails.  During the growing season there is sooo much stress on nails!  I'm constantly scrounging in the soil weeding or harvesting, often without gloves because I just find they impair my ability.  I'm grappling with elastics and bags trying to bundle and portion our produce.  I'm trying to rip into bags of feed, fighting with gates and pens.  Lots of water is involved: hauling hoses for watering veggies and animals, hauling buckets, trying to get into those chicken waters.  Plus the almost constant hand washing as I go from chicken coop to goat pen to making supper to harvesting vegetables; my hands must get washed fifty times a day!  My nails grow fairly well (must be all that fresh goats milk and fresh veggies!), but are always nicked and the longer they are the harder it is to clean them; finger nail brushes just don't reach down that far!  So, during the season my nails are trimmed very short all the time.

Jacob's Cattle bean, waiting to get shelled.
With the arrival of winter, things ease up a bit.  The only chore left from the 2012 growing season is to shell the beans we grew for soups and stews,  the yummy Jacob's Cattle!  I become a bit more of a house wife in the winter, with lots of soap making, baking and such.  Yes, I still have animals to care for, but with the snow and cold weather they are more confined to the coop and barn.  We're not even milking anymore - the goat mamma's are dried off as we assume they're growing lovely baby goats again and we want all their strength to go to that!  I find, even though it's below freezing, I'm still without gloves a bit as I go about my chores.  It's just impossible to do somethings with gloves on, like finding that little strip to tear off a new bag of feed, or trying to get into one of those pressure-sealed chicken waterers.  So my hands are red, and still a little scratched from playing with Doodles or barn kitties and a myriad other things.  I believe they're not as bad as they could be, partly due to our lovely, gentle goats milk soap and our nourishing handmade lotion bars - which I'm applying constantly!

The nails can't last.  As someone with chickens, goats, cats and dogs nails of any great length are a hazard.  I might poke someones eye, or cause myself great pain by catching a nail and bending it back.  But for the Holiday Season, I'll trim them a bit and nicely, maybe give myself a little manicure.  Maybe between Christmas and New Years I'll even put a coat of paint on them!  And then, they'll be gone again....because soon we'll start growing, getting seeds started inside!