Monday, August 15, 2011

Harvesting Herbs

The honey harvest is in and we are hot and sticky all the time now. I've been experimenting with honey cocktails a bit this summer. This one is our lemon herb tea leftover from samples at the market. I added some honey which had been liquified in some hot water first to help it mix in better. Then I added an ounce of sloe gin that a relative in England had made and brought as a gift. It's made by steeping sloes in gin for a couple of months. I've also added cassis which is made from black currants and I made my own gooseberry syrup from our very small harvest of gooseberries this year. The syrup didn't have alcohol so it was good for the kids too and we could add vodka if we wanted to. I've also used our 5 mint tea as a base for adding to and it's lovely and refreshing.
We've also been tasting some meads which has been lots of fun and is inspiring us to try to make our own. We bought some delicious ones in Vermont when we were on a family road trip at the end of July. We really like the ones that are just honey without any fruit added. You can taste the flavour of the honey better that way. We loved a sparkling one called Melissa from Honey Gardens.

This is a dragonfly landing on a mullein. We were harvesting wild herbs in our field when my honey man spotted this lovely sight. I had a hard time getting a photo because it was quite windy and the mullein was really swaying back and forth. We use the wild mullein in our Queen Bee's Luxury Lotion, all of our lip balms and several of our herbal salves. We make an oil infusion out of it the same way we make all the oil infusions. We pack a mason jar full of fresh herbs and then fill it up with organic sunflower oil so that the herbs are submerged in oil. Then we leave it sitting in the sun outside for 6 - 8 weeks. The heat of the sun gently extracts the healing properties of the herbs into the oil. When we're ready to use the oil we strain the herbs out. The oil is stored with the herbs in it in a cool dark room.

Here's Hazel holding a freshly picked St. John's Wort plant. We tried to get the kids to help us harvest herbs that day but it was so hot all they did was whine about going to the beach. This was a happy moment before we headed back to the house to get our bathing suits on. We harvest the whole St. John's Wort plant to make our Blues tea and just the flowers to infuse into oil for our Aches and Pains muscle rub.

This is the field of buckwheat in full bloom. We got the seed from the Ottawa farmers' market in the spring and had someone grow it for us so we can try again to make buckwheat honey. Last year we tried with no success but we're hopeful that this year we'll have lots of strong black honey once it's finished blooming. A beehive will only work on one type of flower at a time and will keep on it until it's all finished blooming. That's how we can tell if we've got a honey from one type of flower.
This is the lavender in full bloom at the Prince Edward County Lavender Farm. Our bees have been making lavender honey there for a couple of years now. You can buy our lavender honey from us or from the lavender farm. It's the opposite of buckwheat honey - very light in colour and flavour. And, no, it doesn't taste like lavender but it is delicious.

This beautiful photo of my honey man hard at work was taken by Crystal Allbright who was visiting our friends at the Bloomfield Bicycle Company where we keep some of our beehives. She took a whole bunch of nice photos of him but I really like the way the smoke is wafting around in this one.

I'm enjoying Mary Jane's blog Raising Jane. It's all about all things farmgirl. I've added it to my 'favorite things'.

Monday, July 4, 2011

A Swarm in June is Worth a Silver Spoon

It has been too long since I've posted so I think I had better make several posts so they don't get too big. This one is all about the bees. Not just honey bees but other pollinators as well.

The first photo is of a swarm of honey bees getting ready to land in a tree. They are flying around in what appears to be controlled chaos. It took about ten minutes or so for them to fly up out of the beehive and over to this tree near our driveway - about 40 feet away. They make a really loud buzzing sound and fly in a swooping circular pattern. They all move together as a group and settle onto something - usually a tree branch. This particular swarm actually decided to go back to the hive. I guess they decided conditions weren't right to move house at that time. We had never seen that before so I took a photo of them all crowding back into the hive. My honey man then went in and split the bees into two hives to prevent them from swarming again. When a hive swarms the old queen goes with them and a new queen is left behind with lots of bees and all the larvae to hatch out. They swarm because the hive is really strong and it's getting too crowded. It's good to catch the swarm so you have another hive but it's not always possible. Sometimes we catch them and they decide to leave again anyway. 'You never can tell with bees.' A.A. Milne

This photo of a bee being eaten by a spider is just because. This is the second time I've seen this recently. I wonder if bees taste like honey?

I left a patch of wild motherwort growing in my garden because we use it in our herbal tea, Femininitea which is for PMS and menstrual cramps. Motherwort is a natural sedative which is safe for women to use when pregnant or nursing. It has a bitter taste so we blend it with bee balm as well as cramp bark, bayberry bark, and raspberry leaves in our Femininitea which gives it a flavour similar to earl gray tea. This is a bumble bee on the motherwort flower.

Here is a honey bee collecting pollen from a gorgeous pink climbing rose. I posted a similar picture last year too but I can't resist.

Here is a very strange looking long legged bee or some kind of insect on a purple bachelor's button. I haven't figured out what it is yet but it is new to me. Anyone know what it's called?

I've been making bouquets for the farmers' markets again for several weeks now. This picture is from the Evergreen Brickworks Market. We also sell the bouquets at The Stop's Green Barns market. I use a combination of wild flowers like daisies and bladder campion, herbs like mint and oregano and garden flowers like bachelor's buttons and spurge and leaves like hostas. The varieties change over the season but I always mix them all together. 'Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them.' A.A. Milne

We have discovered these amazing organic beekeeping podcasts. I especially enjoy the fat bee man.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Road Trip

I love the idea of a secret garden and when I stopped by a friend's house to get some rhubarb last week and she wasn't home, I couldn't resist taking this photo of her beautiful garden.

We went on a family road trip a couple of weeks ago to get some things we needed, sell some products and have a visit. First we drove to Les Cedres, Quebec to a farm called Les Huiles Naturelles de L'Amerique. This is the farm where we get the certified organic sunflower oil we use in many of our products - from lip balm to herbal salves to sunscreen and even our Old Fashioned Farm Soap. We gave them a bar of the Farm Soap to try since it's made from their own oil. We got to see how the oil is pressed which was really cool. The husks that are left over are fed to goats and sheep!
We were heading to Ottawa next to visit family and as we drove past Vankleek Hill we saw the sign for Beau's Brewery and decided to stop in for a visit. We got to taste their organic beer including one called Beaver River. We both liked the Lug Tread the best and bought some to take home with us.
Next stop Ottawa to stay overnight and go to Almonte the next day for Handmade Harvest, a fun and busy craft sale we were trying for the first time. This photo is our display at the sale. I went to the craft show with the products while my honey man took the kids to the Ottawa Tulip Festival with my dad. I met them in the evening for a picnic and the movie Fantasia at dusk with the parliament buildings in the background. That was very surreal.
The next day we went to pick up some silver hull buckwheat seed from the Ottawa Farmers Market for our attempt at buckwheat honey. We know someone who will grow it for us and we'll put our hives on the field. We tried this last year and didn't get buckwheat honey. It's easy to tell if you've got it because buckwheat honey is very dark - almost black and has a distinctive smell and taste. The farmers market had a petting zoo that the kids loved. We also bought some amazing hand made ice cream with bananas caramelized in butter, some bison jerky, and a herbed pecorino cheese.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

You know spring is really here when the thunder storms arrive. Right before sunset yesterday we were lucky enough to notice this giant rainbow over our field. It was so exciting for our rainbow girl! She was already wearing her rainbow T-shirt too.

These maple scones are from awhile back when work group made lots of maple baked goods to sell during Maple in the County. We made cookies and cakes and all kinds of other delicious things. We're saving up for something great - we just haven't decided what yet.

The beautiful pear pie was made by our six year old son Rowan and the recipe is from 'The Book' the kids version - Simply in Season Children's Cookbook. Rowan has been trying all kinds of recipes from it and we've all enjoyed the results. It's actually called a pear pancake but it's kind of like a giant popover. It's a new favorite for us and has been tried with apples and berries. It puffs up in a very exciting way.

I've been working on a new recipe for a liquid shampoo lately that's been taking up a lot of my time. I'm trying to make a shampoo that doesn't contain any mysterious ingredients of unknown origin. It's turning out to be quite challenging. I want to include some honey and herbs but first I'm working on a basic recipe. This photo is what the shampoo looks like while it's cooking. I'll post more photos once I have something more interesting to show.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

First Flowers of the Year

The bees are out and looking for flowers. All we have for them so far is a small patch of crocuses. I think I better plant several hundred crocuses this fall. They're so exciting for us as well as the bees.

Here are two soaps that are relatively new. The Old Fashioned Farm soap is made from fat that we rendered into lard. We wanted to make a local soap since usually our soap is made from olive oil from Italy and coconut and palm oils from the Caribbean. So, we used fat from John Nyman in Prince Edward County, organic sunflower oil from Quebec and beeswax from our bees. We scented it with rosemary essential oil just in case it smelled like meat - it didn't. Once the soap had cured the smell was just.... soapy. We're really happy with the way this soap turned out. The bar is hard and lasts a long time. It's very soft on the skin and lathers nicely. Since the price of imported oils is rising rapidly we may start making more variations on this local bar of soap. I want to try rendering the fat over a fire this summer since it does smell up the house quite a bit.

The Beer Bar is a project that has been in the works for a long time. Our friends over at Brewers Crap have been bugging us to make a soap for them to sell for a long time. They sell nifty products made from the waste from brewing beer. This includes using the grain sacks to sew beer different kinds of bags. This soap contains the spent mash from brewing beer, a bottle of beer, hops that we grow, and honey! It's scented with a blend of ginger, orange, bay and fir. It's another 'manly' soap. Both of these soaps are available on our website

Also, we're madly cleaning our house to prepare for the Green Homes Tour. It's April 10th and is organized by the County Sustainability Group. We built our straw bale home from 2004-2006. We moved into our house in December of 2006 just in time for the arrival of our daughter Hazel. We've been delighted with the warmth of our house in the winter and it stays nice and cool in the summer. It was a completely new experience for us building a house but we're very happy with the way it turned out. We will have a slide show of photos of the building process during the tour and can answer all kinds of questions about the house.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Presenting Tea Party Tea

Today I am happy to introduce our long awaited herbal tea for kids - Tea Party! It's a delicious and nutritious blend of sumac, red clover and elder flowers. The tea has a beautiful red colour and a fruity flowery flavour. As promised I'm posting the photo of Hazel's tea party with the bear and the drawing I did from the photo for our label. It will be available for sale on the website this afternoon. This weekend we'll be at the Seedy Saturday in Ottawa with our wares for sale and we'll be giving out samples of Tea Party tea. We had a great time at Seedy Saturday in Picton last week. We didn't have our table set up but went for fun and got some great seeds - some from the swap table and some we bought. I took lettuce seeds I had saved as well as coriander and nigella.

My honey man has been working on a project to turn an old Victrola cabinet into a honey liquidizer. When we have honey that crystallizes in the bucket we have to warm it gently in order to make it pourable so we can bottle it. We don't want to heat it too much or that destroys the beneficial properties of the honey. We had been putting the buckets into a sink of hot water but our well has been dry since July and we have to buy water to fill the cistern so this seemed like a waste of water. So, my honey man came up with this ingenious plan to insulate the victrola cabinet and put a light bulb in the bottom. We use a thermometer to monitor the temperature and a dimmer switch to control it. I am happy to say, after a minimal amount of head scratching - it works!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Happy February

These rainbow fingerless gloves I made for myself out of the leftover yarn from Hazel's birthday hat and scarf. Rowan likes them so much he wants a pair in green and yellow. Of course it's still too cold out to wear these much but the time is coming!
This giant echinacea flower is at the Brickworks Market in Toronto. We are now going to two farmers markets in Toronto every Saturday. It's slow going this time of year but we are trying to make the most of the drive to the city. The Brickworks is another beautiful urban renewal project like the Green Barns.
This bee valentine is from Hazel and I just found it funny that this was the project they did at school - Bee Mine!
I got this amazingly cute honey pot from a friend recently. Thanks Lori!
Also, I've been lusting after these dresses at Dear Golden. I think I'll have to try sewing a dress from a vintage pattern one of these days.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Tea Party

I got this sweet little box garden from Santa in my stocking and had to share this photo with you. The garden comes flat and you fold it into this box shape. It's black and white and you get to colour it yourself. Hazel and I did this together with coloured pencils. Then you sprinkle the seeds onto an absorbent pad and water gently. The seeds that came with it are cress which was lovely and spicy. Unfortunately I didn't get another photo of it when the cress was tall and green but I love this one of them just coming up.
The box garden is available at Kelly's Shop in Picton, Ontario.

I'm thrilled to share these photos of Hazel from a photo shoot we did for our new tea that's coming soon called Tea Party. These photos are not the exact one I'll be using for the drawing but I'll share that photo and the label once it's ready. The tea is a reddish colour and fruity tasting. It's healthful and delicious. Once the recipe has been finalized I'll share which herbs are in it. In the meantime I will say there are flowers in it and it's beautiful. Hazel was very cooperative but did consume quite a bit of sugar in her tea while I was busy snapping photos. She told me she promised to be nice though. Sigh. I can see she's got the message that sugar makes you grouchy.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Happy New Year 2011

Well December passed me by in a whirl of Christmas sales. I didn't have a spare moment to blog about it but here are a few of the highlights.
One of a Kind Christmas Show, Toronto - We did the whole 11 days for the first time. Ten hours a day talking to people about bees, honey, herbs and whatnot... My honey man is so handsome in his suits and is such a great talker - he really wows the ladies. We did really well, sold out of some things and had a great time. I made lots of amazing trades too which is always fun. Check out Sartoria's cashmere and merino goods and Fierce Bunny's angora bunnies. I got my favorite hat ever from Wildhagen.
Busy Hands Holiday Sale in Picton - This is our annual sale in our own town. It was packed with people and had a really relaxed friendly feeling. It is so exciting to see how it's grown since Vicki and I started it 8 years ago in our kitchen when we lived together. We had 43 vendors this year all with handmade goods from Prince Edward County.
As further proof of my obsession with pumpkin pie I made a pumpkin pie soap for a competition at the One of a Kind Show. The theme was love. I had a little sign on it that said 'make pie not war'. The crust is oatmeal chamomile honey soap and the filling is pumpkin pie soap. I didn't get a picture of it at the show but here it is all cut up for my family when they visited at Christmas. I can't wait to take a bath with my slice.
Since Hazel's birthday is Christmas day we have a tradition of making her a gingerbread house as her birthday cake. She had a great time decorating it this year for her fourth birthday.