Sunday, December 2, 2012

Soap Making

We are finally starting to sell our soap in local stores around town! Jeff and I are very excited about this new project. I've been designing label art and coming up with soap recipes, he has been making the soap. Each label is funkified with a picture of one of my many art pieces. The soap has a rustic, groovy look to it. Every batch of soap is formulated to contain 6% extra oil in the soap to create a lotion-like and luxurious feel. Our bars of soap are aged 4 weeks so that they will last longer when our customers take the product home. We've been making soap for ourselves, family and friends for the past 6 years and have developed our skills to the point that we feel ready to sell our soap to north-western Montana and northern Idaho.

If you have any questions about purchasing our soap or the soap making process please feel free to e-mail me at

Sunday, August 28, 2011

End of Summer

A post full of pictures as we look towards fall and winter. Since we've had a couple weeks of 80 and 90 degree temperatures each day and no rain, I am ready for snow.

The garden is doing pretty good! Mostly we've had lots of success this year. A couple challenges, but we've got good ideas for next year to prevent the same problems.

This picture shows two issues: crowded unruly tomatoes and a cabbage patch that we gave up on due to moths (note the chicken tractor in the background). Our solution for next year is to plant our row of cabbages down the middle of a bed and then a perimeter of tomato plants spaced a bit further apart (2.5-3 feet). The tomatoes should deter some bugs and the cabbage won't need to be touched until fall. This way it should be easier to keep the tomatoes pruned and orderly.

Another issue, we got powdery mildew on our winter squash pretty badly this year. I think that the powdery mildew happened due to us watering at night (we knew better than this but neither one of us likes waking up at 5 am to garden) and crowding the squash. Next year spacing will be 3 feet apart and we'll trellis cucumbers to save space in the cucurbit bed. We'll try harder with the morning watering, but until we decide to invest the money in an irrigation system we won't be perfect. Fortunately, I think the winter squash will be OK. It is ripening in the greenhouse right now.

We've harvested half of the potatoes and decided to let the other potatoes get a bit bigger. We also harvested our spring planted carrots. I would estimate that we got 30-40 pounds or more. We have an equal amount of carrots still growing in the garden for harvesting this fall.

Despite a very slow start, the shade bed is hanging in there and filling in just a little bit more each day. I would eventually love for this bed to be chock full of gorgeous plants and looking lush.

We have been so focused on improving our outdoor gardening techniques this year that the greenhouse has fallen a bit by the wayside. Again, we will eventually invest in an irrigation system out here which should make things easier. I tried to start some seeds in here during the middle of summer. Temperatures got too hot during the day so that even when I watered in the morning, the seedlings had died by the afternoon.

A comparison picture to show what our front planted bed looked like 2.5 months ago and what it looks like today. I miss the spring green grass! We've let our lawn go dormant this summer. It's too much effort moving sprinklers around just for grass.

Annuals are helping fill things in this year. Next spring I will be adding more lavender, some rosemary and more mums. I've got clippings going right now inside the house that I plan on tending to all winter.

Always looking towards the future, here is the plan for the berry patch. We amended and tilled the soil, adding nitrogen and sulfur to optimize fertility for the plants and pH. In the next few weeks we'll get the fence up! As soon as the ground thaws in the spring, we'll plant everything out.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Mid-Summer Day Dream

Ta-dah! So much bigger and better than last year. We just got our soil test back from our local extension office. The results were: very high nutrients, excellent pH - do nothing!

We just got back from vacation and have some catching up to do with harvesting. It's amazing how much everything grew.

The flowers are going crazy. Lots of bouquets inside the house.

We're harvesting plenty of carrots and beginning to regularly get ripe outdoor cherry tomatoes. We spaced the tomatoes too close together so harvest is a bit hard. Next year we'll do 2 tomatoes across each bed and stagger the cage placement. We also need to be a lot more aggressive about pruning early on in the season. We love our scarlet nantes carrots the best but also enjoy purple haze. The purple haze carrots ripen pretty quickly and have a lovely color gradient from purple to orange and then yellow.

The fennel is ready to harvest. The celery is doing well as are the brassicas. We're just about done harvesting kohlrabi and ready to try for a second planting.

Our first crop of ever-bearing strawberries has slowed down considerably. Hopefully we've got enough season left to get one more crop. We enjoyed eating fresh strawberries so much that we didn't freeze and preserve any. Behind the strawberries, our rhubarb is growing very well and the garlic is just about ready to all be harvested.

Some of the lettuce is starting to go to the seed. At that point it becomes chicken food. Behind this is a relatively new planting of carrots. Even further back are the peas. They are covered in snow peas and sugar snap peas.

The shade garden is growing slowly but steadily. I imagine that next year or the year after this spot might look quite lush.

The elephant garlic is about ready to harvest. The black currants are in and ripe! These are pretty good for fresh eating, but we're looking forward to using them to make wine. We're getting a couple raspberries as well. These beds are looking pretty wild because we're moving everything out of them next spring when we plant the berry patch.

We're going to be up to our eyeballs in potatoes!! It's time for us to start acquiring bins, sand and burlap bags for storing our potatoes. Growing these is the easy part, now we've got to learn how to store them properly so that we get potatoes all winter.

The cucurbit bed is amazing! Last year we had some difficulty with squash not getting pollinated (I'm not sure how that happened given that we raise bees on our property) and/or blossom end rot. This year we're getting bunches of patty pan, yellow crook-neck and zucchini squash. We've also got butternut squash and sugar pumpkins that are doing well. The cucumbers are growing more slowly but starting to fruit. Note to self - next year we should plant the squash at the same spacing (i.e., 2 ft apart) but the cucumbers need to be a lot tighter (i.e., 1 ft apart).

The corn is starting to tassel. Maybe we'll get a couple ears of corn... not sure what is going wrong here. We have excellent soil fertility for corn, is it just too cold at night?

Our beautiful harvest from last night. We had meatloaf (locally raised beef) with shredded carrots and zucchini, sauteed patty-pan with onions and fennel, mashed potatoes and rhubarb crisp. Delicious!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Free Bantam Rooster

Free 3-month old bantam rooster to a good* home. Perfect for the person** who wants a 5:00 am wake-up call and frequent reminders throughout the day to stay awake.

*Highly liberal definition of "good home".
**A teenager would be an acceptable substitute for a "person".

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Don't Misunderestimate Us This Year...

A bed by bed tour of our veggies.

The corn is only a couple inches high. We've had cool weather and lots of rain recently. I'm not holding my breath on the corn. It just might be too cool in our area. The aluminum foil polls are remnants of our crow-deterrent system. Basically, I strung sheets of aluminum foil across the corn - despite the white-trash aliens come hither look, it worked.

I mulched around the cucurbits with black landscaping fabric. Last year our cucurbits didn't do so well - maybe because of cool soil temperatures? Hopefully this helps a bit. Already the plants look bigger than at this time last year.

Our peas are starting to bloom. They're still pretty short, I thought these were supposed to get quite a bit taller? Behind is an empty patch that was recently seeded with beets, carrots and more beans. Originally we planted lima beans and then changed our minds before they had even germinated. At the far end of this bed is our little patch of outdoor lettuce. This is just starting to go.

Our middle bed is doing great! The strawberries are starting to ripen, the rhubarb has produced enough for several desserts and the herbs are also doing well. The asparagus is doing about as well as we expected for it's second season and the garlic we planted last fall is trucking along.

The 8 foot row of chives deserves it's own picture. I am planning on dividing some of these to plant in the landscaping in the front of the house. These were the first things I started from seed for our garden after our offer on the house was accepted about 2 years ago.

Picture proof that are strawberries are ripening.

Grow potatoes grow! We're growing german butterball, yukon gold, red pontiac, purple viking, delicata fingerlings and a mismatch of leftover potatoes from a few friends.

We've been getting a steady harvest of radishes that were planted between rows of carrots. We spaced the carrot rows 1 ft apart. I think next year that 18 inches would be better if radishes are to be inter-planted. The tomatoes are all doing well and have set a fair amount of fruit. The volunteer potatoes growing up between the tomatoes are also doing well, thanks for asking.

Our final veggie bed - the brassicas, etc. From foreground to background we have: Leftover leeks from last year, fennel, celery, broccoli, onions, broccoli, onions, kohlrabi, onions, cabbage and a bit of rainbow swiss chard for kicks. This bed loves the weather!

Look closely - the broccoli is starting to form heads! We have two rounds of broccoli out here. One group that I started in mid January and transplanted out to the greenhouse, then out to the garden. I think I might follow this cycle again next year because these plants are a month or more ahead of the rest of the broccoli.

Above is last night's harvest. We're up to our ears in lettuce in the greenhouse and have been giving/trading it as fast as we can. I'm loving the barter system. We've got lots of friends who are avid hunters and fisherman who have an excess of wild game, so we've been trading. So far we've gotten a few pounds of elk and venison steaks in trade for tomato and pepper seedlings, a few pounds of bear sausage for a bunch of lettuce and smoked salmon for lettuce. This has made for some delicious meals.

Our ladies were moved over to the future berry patch to help fertilize and prepare the ground. I've been reading Ruth Stout's book - The No Work Garden, and have decided to use some of her principles in the berry patch (namely - mulching with spoiled hay). We have a green manure crop under the hay and will be moving the chickens around this bed to eat some hay, eat the green manure and fertilize. This fall or next spring we'll stick our berry bushes in here.

We got all of our ladies in one picture! We have not lost a chicken yet. We're a little worried about them now that they're out of the securely fenced garden. I think that if a weasel or mink wanted in here, they could do it. Hopefully they stay away until we get the permanent chicken coop up. I'm leaning towards purchasing one on Craigslist and then building our own run. To me, that seems to be the cheapest way to get a nice looking coop. Building projects and the idea of going over budget scares me.. any ideas or plans that you would recommend for building one from scratch?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Lupin Love

Our 30 some lupins around the yard are starting to flower. This is the first time that most of them have flowered. I started one packet of blue seeds and one of rainbow colors about 1.5 years ago. For those of you with a black thumb, this is the perennial flower to grow from seed! Despite my best efforts to kill these plants with epic droughts, they have all survived.

We originally purchased these seeds with the intention of using the plants as a green manure. They fix nitrogen in the soil and they also increase the availability of phosphate because of their acidifying effect on soil. We have very basic soil, so those are all good things for us.

I ended up getting a bit attached to these plants and couldn't bring myself to till them under. After a bit more research, we decided that lupin could also be used successfully as a companion plant around my other flowers. It doesn't need any watering, comes up early, tolerates Montana winters, improves soil fertility and looks gorgeous. What more could you ask for in a flower?

Another low maintenance flower - the viola aka johnny jump up. The variety above is supposedly an annual. This little guy in particular withstood -12 and 2 feet of snow on top of it for months. I wish my apple trees, and ferns had been as hardy!

One day it wasn't here, and practically the next day my bleeding heart was flowering. This was one of my favorite flowers as a kid. The lacy fern-like leaves - the dainty, curvy flowers - this plant should have starred in Alice in Wonderland.

Still waiting on the dianthus to bloom. This plant is getting much bigger than I thought it would! I think I'll be moving around quite a few flowers this year so that the flower bed makes a bit more sense.

Click here to go to Bloomin' Tuesday to see what's coming up around the world.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Let The Sunshine In

Our garden is officially 100% planted. (Unofficially there are some leftover potatoes from our neighbor, some more shade plants, and two apple trees left to plant.)

Above you can see our berry beds. We've got currants, gooseberries, 3 different varieties of raspberries and 2 different honey berries in there. These will get transplanted this fall into the spot of ground we have designated as the berry patch.

We finished planting out the second half of the tomatoes today. The varieties in here include: early girl, cherry sweet 100, chocolate Cherokee, brandy wine, and a chocolate cherry tomato.

Our strawberry bed is booming! There are little green strawberries getting fatter now. We doubled the size of this bed by taking some runner strawberries from the main bunch.

Jeff is very relieved to see that our potatoes are coming up. This is the bed that he cares the most about in the garden. That and the berries, onions, garlic, carrots, fruit trees, rhubarb, cabbage, kohlrabi, fennel, peas.... truthfully, I'm lucky to have a husband who is equally invested in our garden.

Our sugar snap peas are getting bigger and starting to hang onto the fence.

I finished my first week of my master gardener class. In Montana we have an 8 week class that meets once a week for 2 hours that leads to the title of master gardener 1. After this there is another class and then an intensive hands-on course that you must apply to get accepted to. I am feeling very motivated to go all the way through.

From this week at class I learned the importance of soil testing. Based on the information presented, we will be testing the soil from our raised beds and from the ground in our yard to see what we're dealing with. I knew that nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and soil pH affected growth. I did not know that there were things such as cation exchange capacity that could also influence production. I am very interested in the results of the soil test and hope that any deficiencies that come up are easily remedied!