There Is Such A Thing As Free Lunch!

I’ve always wondered how I would do stranded in the middle of nowhere with no food for days on end. I never did learn proper foraging skills (bad Girl Scout!) even though I know some wild plants are edible. I just don’t really know what any of them look like. Luckily, you can’t browse too many urban homesteading websites or read too many books without coming across a section on edible weeds. And then you can google pictures of those weeds. Thanks to modern technology, I’m about to eat weeds!  Totally free lunch. 

The other day this little plant I thought was clover grew little yellow flowers. Umm…. I have clover everywhere because, well, I planted it. And it spreads like wildfire. So when my pot with last years lettuce started growing this clover look-alike, I paid no notice-until the yellow flowers popped up. I had to know if I should pull it since it was growing next to my volunteer lettuce from last year’s bolting. 

Turns out, it’s just wood sorrel. 

Turns out, that’s edible. 

Even better, it’s really good!

Sorrel growing next to volunteer cut-and-come-again lettuce

When someone says something is “lemony” they almost always mean it “tastes like dirt with a lemon flavor” to me. Or maybe that’s just my experience with lemon herbal teas! This stuff actually tastes like a squirt of lemon juice!  I was shocked when I chewed up that first leaf. So, it’s going into tonight’s salad along with some of that volunteer lettuce. Totally free greens for my salad!! Didn’t plant it or water it or tend to it in any  way. I love free lunch!

I wonder if the wild violets in the back yard taste as good…

Advertisements

Getting Soapy

Getting Soapy

In my efforts to eliminate icky chemicals in my home and on my body and become more self sufficient, I’ve decided to make soap. So, being me, I started to research because the only thing I actually knew about soapmaking was that I would need fat and lye. I think this knowledge came from some social studies discussion in elementary school about why people didn’t wash themselves but once a week on Sundays umpteen years ago. But it could have been something my great-grandmothers told me in passing as a child too…who knows? 

So I googled (I think it’s neat that when I started school that wasn’t even a word and now it’s a real verb) “soap making supplies” and got awfully confused. The top hits were all about melt and pour bases and the fun add-in bits. I’m an over achiever. I haven’t made cake from a box since I was 12, so why on earth would I want to skip the fun steps in making soap? I want to start from the beginning! 

Five google pages later I figure out that the soap I’m talking about making is called Cold Process Soap. New Google search with all the right words. I looked at all these web sites and got really really tired. I wanted a kit. Somebody please sell me everything I need to make some soap in one box under one price so I can get moving on this project! 

Enter Bramble Berry. Their Natural Soap for Beginners Kit came with everything I needed to start except a stick blender and a spatula. I ordered those on Amazon. Oh, and the kit had free shipping. Shipping oils is expensive! I already had a kitchen scale and gloves, so I looked into ordering the rest of the supplies individually but that shipping charge made the scale free. I ordered the kit. 

The reason I like this kit so much is that it comes with extra of everything except oil, fragrance and colorant. So for my second loaf of soap I only have to order those things. I’m still working on making those decisions, but I do know after round one, there will be more soap made in this house. 

Soaping is so easy! Here are some tips that aren’t in the instructions:

If you don’t mix your lye water outdoors, the range hood works wonders for sucking up the fumes. Mine is recirculating, but I’m short so it blew the fumes over my head. 

If you don’t or can’t go outside, or use the rangehood, put the bowl as far away as you can while still safely stirring. The fumes didn’t seem to have any odor but I sure started coughing when I got a whiff. 

Expect to not be able to move your lye bowl without oven mitts for at least half an hour. My lye got to 175 degrees F using cold water from the fridge which is set to 36 degrees. That bowl was straight from the microwave hot just from the reaction.   And it took forever to cool down. I had a full 30 minute break. Next time I’ll probably start my lye then measure everything else out while I wait for it to cool. 

Now if you have children or nosy cats, this may not be an option, but I let my soaping pot, stick blender and spatula hang out for a couple days and used the soap left on them to clean them. I figured it was safer to stick my finger in the stick blender head to wipe out the soap chunk once the saponification process was complete. Those blades are sharp so I didn’t want to risk a burn through a nicked glove-or ruin my gloves by poking holes in them. I feel obligated to mention that when you stick your finger in a blender head, make sure it is not plugged in, just in case. I got the Cuisinart with the detachable head. It’s pretty awesome. And I don’t have to worry about getting water in the motor while cleaning-totally worth the extra $20. 

When I get my next batch of oils, I’ll put up a full post on the process! 

The Bramble Berry link is not an affiliate link and they have no idea I posted about their products but they made my life a little easier so I’m a fan. I did not receive any compensation for mentioning their product, I just enjoyed my experience with it. 

The New Lawn

Ever since I bought my much loved reel mower, I’ve been on a search for a new lawn. Frankly, ours is full of weeds and grasses with thick seed stalks that the poor mower can’t cut. In the last 5 years, we have tried 4 times to grow grass in our front yard and are always thwarted by the weather. It’s either too rainy or too dry or too hot here in the summer and our yard looks like this by fall:


Dead as door nail. Gross.  No matter how pretty it was last fall and in the spring, that stuff isn’t dormant, it’s dead. 

Of course, I absolutely refuse to use chemical fertilizers and weed killers and I know there has to be a better solution. Enter our faithful clover patch:

This clover patch moved in the spring after we did 5 years ago. Notice the nice black soil underneath. It started with this:

The clover withered after sustained 98 degree highs and almost no rain for the last 10 weeks. After a single thunderstorm it was back. 

The goal is to plant the clover with fescue to crowd out all the less savory plants and rebuild the topsoil. I won’t need much seed. And $30 got me enough to do the whole yard 4 times over ( which is fine because I will spread it again come spring.)

Clover grows great here. In fact, despite the brutal temperatures and lack of rain, we sprouted 2 more large patches of wild clover this summer. 

My little mower cuts it just fine. Even the flower heads. And I would do almost anything to get rid of those awful seed stalks in the yard. Keeping a “neat” appearance is an HOA requirement and those blasted stalks are definitely in violation. 

Bonus: the clover stays green here 9 months out of the year or more so when my neighbors’ yards are yucky brown, ours will still be pretty. 

I’m crossing my fingers this works. I’ll keep you updated!

This Worm Farming Thing

This Worm Farming Thing

So about 3 weeks ago I told you guys about my new red wigglers. I thought getting the moisture ratio and feeding ratio right was going to be hard. I was so dead wrong!  Easiest pets ever. Seriously. And I don’t have the ideal bin. It’s clear. Apparently I didn’t put nearly enough holes in it because condensation builds up if I leave the lid on. No biggie though because these little guys stay right in when I take the lid off-for a week. Yes, I had an open worm bin under my desk for a week and the dogs didn’t try to eat from the bin nor did any of the worms try to run away. 

I’ve only fed my worms twice since getting them settled in. First they had a smorgasbord of sliced tomatoes and coffee and part of my catnip that I accidentally clipped with the water hose. Today they got a bruised up sliced apple, coffee and some more paper. 

I repurposed a Corningware casserole dish that has a lid as my kitchen scrap pot. It works really well to keep the fruit flies away and it’s conveniently dishwasher safe. Feeding today was super easy. Use hand shovel to push shredded paper to the side, flip over contents of dish. I had lined the bottom with newspaper before adding the food so I didn’t even have to recover the feeding zone! 

The dirt at the bottom of the bin looks heavenly. It smells like the deep forest and I can’t wait to spread it on my plants!

They’re being camera shy!

As you can see, they haven’t been big fans of the catnip and it’s been taking forever to wilt. It sat out on the porch for several days and then when I put it in the dish it perked up like it was growing! I may end up pulling it out if it decides to grow in there. 

DIY Deodorant: Round 2

A few months ago, I shared my attempt at homemade deodorant. Well I can say it worked pretty great during the spring. But now that temps are creeping into the triple digits, I need something stronger to get me through the day. Badly. To get me through the last bit of my first tube of homemade deodorant, I concocted a blend of essential oils and fractionated coconut oil and witch hazel. I just rolled that on after I wasn’t feeling so fresh anymore. Thing was, the damage was already done and I really needed to prevent the funk altogether. So I altered my recipe. I included more dry ingredients and more essential oils with antibacterial properties. A lot more!

New recipe:

1/2 cup each organic virgin coconut oil & cocoa butter

1/8 cup each baking soda & organic arrowroot powder (told you I’d do better next time!)

10 drops each tea tree oil and Rocky Mountain Oils Purify blend (smells yummy too!)

Update: after trying this one for a week, I still needed to reapply with temperatures in the 90s. So until fall comes, I’m back to my commercial deodorant unless I want to hold my arms above my head every time I walk outside. I’m going to keep playing with the recipe, and hopefully I’ll come up with something that can stand the heat torture test soon!

Worms!

As a child, worms fascinated me. As an adult, being removed from nature, they kinda grossed me out. But as I try to get back to my roots and start growing my own food and saving money, I needed to find a way to get quality compost or fertilizer to keep my plants healthy-for cheap! Enter the Red Wiggler! Tiny little red worms that will turn my coffee & tea & leftover veggies into compost. And they do it fast. Like 3 weeks fast. I like fast results for a small investment. 

Today I bought a pound of Red Wrigglers. I’ve saved up some vegetable scraps and a couple cardboard boxes and bought some plastic bins. Now I’m the proud owner of a worm farm! With any luck, I’ll have some great compost to add to my plants in a few weeks. Of course, I’ll keep you updated!

Bad Apples

Around here, apples are some of our favorite fruits.  And I can’t wait for the day that I can feed my family from the front yard.  So I decided to plant some apple trees.  In learning about apple trees, I found out that it was going to take 2-5 years for these babies to bear fruit, so I needed to get some in the ground ASAP!  Luckily enough, I had a month’s worth of dog walking income that was exactly enough to buy some trees!

I knew I didn’t want another 2 huge trees in my front yard because then I would have to convince my HOA to let me cut down the maple that was planted when the house was built or have them hanging over into my neighbors’ yards.  Neither of those was a good option, so I had to go dwarf.  Plus, upon submitting an 811 request to have the utilities marked, I found out that over half of my front yard was unsuitable for planting any trees or shrubs or anything that required actually digging a hole in the ground.  In fact, the exact location where I want to plant blueberries and strawberries next year happens to have water and sewer lines running through it.  But back to the apples…

File_000

I picked out 2 spots that were approximately 24 inches away from all these lines zigzagging my yard as required by law and staked the spots.  Then I started digging while my tree roots soaked.  It had been raining for a week, thank heavens, because digging up clay soil when it is dry is a major job.  Soft clay comes up much easier.

I made my holes about 2 feet deep so I could incorporate some soil additive called Claybreaker into the crappy clay soil.  I put the Claybreaker on the bottom and added water to make soup, then added some of the topsoil with the grass still attached upside down to add some more nutrients to the soil as the grass died and started to break down.

Then I positioned the tree and began layering: additive, clay, additive, clay until the hole was almost filled.  I made sure the clay was the last layer on top since it holds water like plastic wrap so I wouldn’t have to worry so much about the soil drying out until I got some mulch.  When all was said and done, I had two little sticks poking out of the ground.

File_005

Yes, it was raining on me, but just two weeks later, I am rewarded by some pretty little leaves on my new trees.

_MG_1755

I planted my favorites: Fuji & Gala.  These dwarf apple trees won’t get but 8-10 feet tall and wide so I’ll easily be able to reach the top without climbing a ladder as long as I have one of those apple-picker things.  And, they won’t grow over my neighbor’s yard so he won’t have apples that might get knocked off in a storm rotting in his yard.  I’m sure he’ll like that and I will love having fresh apples right outside my doorstep!