Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Unusual Garden Friend

This lady lives in my garden! I took this picture of her yesterday. She is a Garden Spider Argiope. They are also called "corn spiders".

Garden Spiders are not harmful to humans and eat mosquitoes and any other bugs in the garden, most of which eat your plants. I'd love to have one living in my rose bush next June when the rose chaffers make their appearance or in the hibiscus plants when the sawflys show up! I wonder if I can move one to the rose bush in the spring...

They are not at all aggressive and will usually only bite you if you handle a female with an egg cocoon in the web. Even then, the bite would be no different than a wasp or bee sting. They are not poisonous and reports of them biting humans are rare. They prefer not to leave their web unless absolutely necessary. They spin the most beautiful webs with a "Z" across the middle, which can sometimes get as big across as 2 feet! This dense center section is consumed every night and rebuilt in the morning.

The female builds the webs and lays the eggs around the edges of open sunny fields. They tend to stay in one place most of their lifetime, which is 1-2 years. They mate once a year, after which the male dies and is consumed by the female.

I have seen several of these around my field and back garden this year but this lady is the biggest I have seen so far. Isn't she beautiful! I leave them alone as much as possible, but come on, I have to pick the ground cherries!

I have a lot of garter snakes too, and love them! I just wish Shadow and Abby (the kitties) would leave them alone. Abby, in particular, seems determined to bring them home with her! Bring the mice home dead, leave the garter snakes, please.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

WIld Grapes

We have wild grapes! We have probably always had wild grapes and I just didn't know it. We have a large grapevine on our old TV antennae attached to the back of the house, but I have usually cut it down every year. Last year I left it alone, mostly due to a lack of time and energy to deal with it. (Last year was the "year of the dogs" and a lot of things got "left alone".)
This year I discovered grapes on it and the world of wild grapes opened up! It is covered with them, but there are even more growing and fruiting on a few back fence areas that I didn't know were there. At this time of year our back fence is unapproachable due to the goldenrod and blackberry bushes. With the hope of wild grapes in mind I blazed a path through the weeds to the fence and found several enormous vines filled with grapes!

Half are ready now and half still need to ripen another week or so. Next week on Monday morning I will go grape picking again. The grapes growing in sunny areas are all ripe now. It is the ones in the shade against the woods that need to ripen a bit longer.

The picture at the top is what I picked now. I will probably get at least half that again in another week! This is about 13 pounds of grapes. We weighed them at 11 pounds, then I found about 1/4 of a bucket more and added those. So I am estimating it at about 13 pounds. That's the minimum amount needed to make 5 gallons (23 litres) of wine. Since I know there are more coming next week, I am going to wait. I do have some older, extra large 6.5 gallon carbuoys that I can use for this and make even more wine. I will also make some wild grape jelly (recipe below) but we don't eat much of it so I won't be making a lot. Some wild grape jelly I will make in fancy jars and use for gifts.

We have truly been blessed with an abundance of wealth here on the land The Lord has given us! He continually amazes me with His gifts daily! There is just so much here in the way of herbs, fruits, mushrooms and wildcrafting abundance!
This is the rapsberry wine I just racked into the secondary fermenter yesterday! It's such a fabulous colour! I am collecting wine bottles and large, 100 bottle wine racks in the basement. When this summer's wine is all bottled, I will have 100's of bottles of wine aging!

What I like about the natural organic wines is that they still contain all the properties of the fruits and herbs, all the phytochemicals that make them so healthy.

Wild grape jelly recipe:

3 lbs wild grapes, stemmed
3 cups water
4 1/2 cups sugar
1 (85 ml) package liquid pectin

  • In large saucepan, crush grapes with potato masher; pour in water and bring to boil.

  • Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes or until fruit is very soft.

  • Transfer to jelly bag or colander lined with a double thickness of fine cheesecloth and let drip overnight.

  • Measure juice (you should have 3 cups/750 ml) into a large heavy saucepan; stir in sugar.

  • Bring to boil over high heat, stirring constantly.

  • Stir in pectin.

  • Return to full boil and boil hard for one minute, stirring constantly.

  • Remove from heat and skim off foam with a metal spoon.

  • Pour into sterilized jars, leaving 1/8 inch headspace.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


I am looking for some valerian herb plants but am having a hard time finding any at this time of year.

I would love to trade with someone in Canada for some valerian plants. It's not the red flower valerian I am looking for, but the valerian root herb with the white flowers (Valeriana officinalis).

If you want to trade small pieces of plants that will fit into a bubble envelope, please send me an email. Let me know if there is something in particular you are looking for, I might have it.

Sunday, August 14, 2011


How many different types of beans are there? I had no idea there were so many until last winter when I began researching them, looking for the perfect beans to grow. We have always grown yellow wax beans and love them, but hubby is not fond of the standard green beans, so I went on a quest for really good beans. If we are going to devote that much space and time to something, we should really, really like it and not just grow it because, well, you know everyone else does. I mean, what's a garden without beans?

We still grew the standard yellow wax bush beans because we love them, but we also grew other kinds, unusual and different kinds, this year.
One that we like a lot is the "asparagus" bean. It's touted to taste like asparagus and it does! It's delicious! This one is actually called "Gow Dauk Yard Long Asparagus Bean". It's not a yard long but it is long. Each bean is about a foot long, slender and tender and good and it does taste like asparagus! We will definitely grow a lot of them next year! I only have a few plants this year, not even enough for us to eat, just enough to grow seed for a row of them next year. I will probably also buy some seeds next year, if I can find them. I got these in a trade from another gardener.

One of the most promising and interesting beans I planted is "Aunt Mollie's Mushroom Bean". The beans themselves, not the pods, are suppose to taste like mushrooms when cooked in things. Interesting! I only have one plant and it doesn't have beans on it yet, so we may not be able to see if this is true. If we do get a few beans this year, it won't be enough to sell them, unfortunately. Not this year, anyway. If we do get beans and, indeed, they do taste like mushrooms when cooked in things, I might have some seeds for sale next year, maybe. If we like these, I may buy these seeds to plant next year, as well. Again, if I can find them.

Another bean I am growing and we like is an heirloom yellow flat bean from Romania called "Gold of Bacau". It's a fast, tall grower and good producer. I will have these beans for sale in the seed store this year. They did really well. That's them in the picture, growing above the hibiscus beside the deck and covered with beans!

I also grew "French Duet" beans, called "duet" because they are a mix of yellow and green. We liked these a lot! They are slender and tender too and grew very well. I may have these seeds for sale this year, still not sure if there will be enough or not.

I always grow scarlet runner beans, for decoration as well as eating. The young tender green beans are very good. Not sure if we will have these beans for sale this year or not. They sure are beautiful in the flower garden!

We also grew Kentucky Wonder yellow pole beans this year. These are excellent and I might have these seeds for sale this year. I grew these in an attempt to switch from bush beans to pole beans, (much easier on the back!) but they are ready much later so I will still grow both. The yellow bush beans are ready all through late June-July, while the Kentucky Wonder beans come after and are ready in August. Growing both will prolong the bean season.

I planted a few Blue Lake Stringless green beans too but, while the plants are up and growing well, they have not produced any beans yet, nary a one. That one is probably not going anywhere. Must need a longer growing season. Oh well, as previously stated, hubby is not fond of your standard green beans anyway. He LOVES the asparagus beans, however!

The beans that we grow are for eating of the pod. We don't grow beans that are for eating of the seed. Our season is not that long and, frankly, we don't eat them. I have considered growing pinto beans for chili, but we just don't eat enough chili to bother, but I do consider it every spring. It just doesn't go anywhere, maybe next year...

Although I have said here that I will probably have some of these bean seeds, nothing is definite until it is actually in my hands. Such is the life of a gardener.

There are so many different kinds of beans out there that I could not possibly grow them all. I keep looking for the fabulous, the unique and the useful, not just in beans, but in everything we grow! I am thrilled to find the "asparagus" beans this year!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The 2012 Season Wines

I love making wine! Wines of all kinds, out of everything possible! The first thing I think of when I see something at all edible is, "Can I make wine from that?" I have many different wines in various stages at any given time.
This year so far I have made these three one gallon jugs on the counter: Apple, Maple and Mint.

I also have one gallon of chocolate mint in the primary fermentor that was just started last week.

The other wines I have been making are in the 5-6 gallon fermenters. I have rhubarb wine in a secondary fermenter.

I have strawberry wine in a secondary fermenter, as well.

I have 5-6 gallons of rose petal wine in the primary fermenter.

I have enough raspberries in the freezer to make 5 gallons of raspberry wine one day next week. These are red and black rapsberry mixed.

Also in the freezer awaiting their chance to become wine are this year's first ground cherries, just picked yesterday,

and the very first hibiscus blossom petals, just picked today!

The one I am the most excited to try is the chocolate mint! Tea made with chocolate mint is so good! I will probably make another one gallon jug of it before fall, perhaps even 5 gallons, if I can get enough leaves!

This year promises to be a great wine making year! You can get started making your own organic wines at home with a free e-book that I have written entitled, "Making Organic Wine at Home". The link to download it is in the left column. It's a lot of fun and a great creative outlet. I like drinking the wines because they contain all the phytochemicals and antioxidants of the fruits, herbs and flowers themselves. Making it into wine is just like making juice. There are so many things out there that will make excellent wine!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Homemade Dishwasher Detergent

The next step in my journey to self sufficiency is making my own dishwasher detergent. I have researched it for awhile now and finally came up with a recipe that suits me. There are a lot of different ones out there.

Automatic Dishwasher Detergent
1 cup borax
1 cup wasing soda or 1/5 cup pool ph adjuster soda
1/2 to 1 cup citric acid depending on the hardness of the water. (I used 3/4 cup.)
1/2 cup kosher salt (or sea salt)
Vinegar in the rinse cycle

Use 1.5 tablespoons per load if using washing soda
Use 1 small tablespoon per load if using ph pool adjuster soda

The citric acid keeps the residue from building up on the dishes and makes them shiny and clear, as does the vinegar as a rinse agent.
The salt disinfects, cuts grease and scrubs off the hard grime.

I have not used it yet. I just made it this morning and will wait until after 7 pm to run the dishwasher. (We have a "smart" hydro meter. EVERYTHING waits for after 7 pm unless I get up early enough to finish it before 7 am, which is often the case.)
August 11, 2011 update: This recipe will clump. It will even form a solid clump in a couple of days. That's the citric acid. I broke it all up and worked it with my fingers and spoon until it was a usable finer granuar form again and it's been fine since. You could even let it clump for a few days then run it through the grinder to make it very fine. I didn't bother. If I were going to sell it, I would do that.

Used it this morning. Works great!!! Sparkling clean glasses like I haven't seen in a long time using commercial dishwasher detergent. I used a rinse agent from the store, only because I had it. When it is gone I will switch to vinegar. A rinse agent is important to keep the dishes sparkling too.

Update: Sept 02, 2011: This recipe clumps badly. At this time it is one solid, hard piece. I have to chop it into little pieces to use it. I have read that the addition of 1/4 cup of dry rice will help fix this problem without affecting how well it works. I am making more very soon and will add the rice to it. We will see how it goes...

It does still work well! The dishes are always sparkling clean!

Read a current update on this post.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Wild Choke Cherries

These are wild choke cherries, also called "pin cherries" by some. They are very bitter, but, as with most of the small wild fruits, such as crab apples, they have a lot more flavour than their domesticated cousins. The secret is to use just the clear juice alone and NONE of the pulp, and more sugar, of course.

The choke cherry tree is a nice addition to the flowergarden too, as long as you are going to pick the fruit when it is ripe. If you leave it to just fall to the ground, it will make a mess and reseed in the garden.

The tree is small, not getting above about 8'-10' tall and flowers in the spring. It is really a nice little flowering tree for landscaping with the added benefit of bearing fruit!

We have several of these small trees growing wild on the property. This fall, when they are dormant, I will move one to the new, expanded section of the ornamental garden where it can provide a little shade for a nearby bench.

I also plan to make jelly and possibly wine from the fruits. I make wine from everything! I am always looking for unique wine possibilities. (I started a one gallon batch of chocolate mint wine this morning!)

Below are some recipes I found for choke cherries. Avoid swallowing the pits.

Extracting the Chokecherry Juice

10 cups washed,with stems removed 2.5 L
5 cups water 1250 mL

Add 5 cups (1250 mL) water to 10 cups (2.5 L) berries and simmer 15 minutes. Crush fruit with potato masher as it softens. Drain through a moistened jelly bag. DO NOT SQUEEZE THE BAG!! The clear juice make excellent jelly. If you squeeze pulp into the mix, it will be bitter!(If the juice is to be used for jelly, choose berries that are under ripe as well as ripe, so the pectin content of the juice is higher).

Chokecherry Jelly

3 1/4 cups chokecherry juice 800 mL
4 1/2 cups sugar 1.25 mL
2 oz package powdered fruit pectin 57g

Combine chokecherry juice and pectin in a large saucepan. Bring to a full rolling boil. Add sugar. Boil hard one minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Skim off foam. Pour into sterilized jars. Leave 1/2 inch (1 cm) headspace. Clean jar rim. Seal. Process 5 minutes in a boiling water bath.

Yield: 7 -1/2 pint jars (250 mL jars)

Crabapple and Chokecherry Jelly
4 cups chokecherry juice 1000 mL
4 cups crabapple juice 1 L
6 cups sugar 1.5 L

Prepare crabapple juice by selecting sound, slightly under ripe fruit. Wash thoroughly, cut off and discard any damaged spots. Remove the stem, but not the blossom end. Cut the crabapples in half, or if large, in quarters. Be sure to cut through the core so that the pectin around the core will be readily released. Add only enough water to the fruit so that it is just barely covered. Boil fruit and water in a covered kettle until fruit is soft and mushy; stir often to prevent burning. Crush fruit with a potato masher during the cooking process to reduce the boiling time. Pour hot cooked fruit into a moistened jelly bag. Hang over a bowl until dripping ceases (about 12 hours). DO NOT SQUEEZE THE BAG!! The clear juice make excellent jelly. If you squeeze pulp into the mix, it will be bitter!

Make chokecherry juice, 1/3 from red and 2/3 from fully ripe chokecherries. Wash, sort, and remove stems from chokecherries. Add enough water to cover (about 1 part water to 2 parts chokecherries), and boil until soft, about 30 minutes. Strain through a moistened jelly bag.

To make jelly: Measure juices into a broad, deep pot and boil uncovered for 3 minutes. Remove juice from heat and test for pectin. If pectin test is good, add sugar slowly to hot juice. Stir until all sugar is dissolved. Return to heat and boil briskly, uncovered. Remove scum as it forms. Test for doneness using the jelly test. Remove remainder of scum with a cold spoon. Pour carefully into hot, sterilized pint (500 mL) jars leaving at least 1/ 2 inch (1 cm) headspace. Process in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes. Begin processing time when water returns to a boil.

Yield: 4 pint (500 mL) jars.

Chokecherry Liqueur

2 cups well ripened chokecherries 500 mL
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar 375 mL
26 oz dry gin or vodka 750 mL

Thoroughly wash and rinse a large 40 oz. (1.25 L) glass container with a tight fitting lid. Wash and rinse berries. Add berries and sugar to container. Pour gin over mixture. Seal tightly. Let stand 30 days in a warm place, tipping the container daily until sugar dissolves. Let stand 20 more days. Strain several times. Rebottle and serve.

Chokecherry Wine

3 lbs chokecherries 1.5 kg
1 lb chopped raisins (optional)
3 lbs white granulated sugar 1.5 kg
1 gal. (160 oz.) water 1 gallon
1 tsp (level) yeast nutrient 5 mL
1/2 tsp pectic enzyme powder 2 mL
1 tsp (level) wine yeast 5 mL (Lalvin E-1118)

Use only sound ripe fruit and remove stems and leaves. Crush cherries, but do not break pits and put into straining bag. Put bag of crushed fruit into large pot and cover with 1 gallon of water. Bring to a boil, cover and remove from heat. Let sit, covered for 24-48 hours. Next day, lift straining bag and drain well. DO NOT SQEEZE BAG! Only the clear juice is to be used! Pour juice into primary fermentor and add all other ingredients. Stir well to dissolve sugar. Stir the must daily. Ferment for 5 - 6 days, or until specific gravity is 1.040. Siphon into a one gallon glass jug or carboy. Attach fermentation locks. Rack in 3 weeks and again in 3 months. When wine is clear and stable, bottle. Age 1 year.

***NOTE: As with everything else, I will probably have these seeds for sale in the seed store this fall.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Homemade Laundry Detergent

I made my own laundry detergent yesterday! Many of you have been making it for years, but this was my first attempt. I didn't make a lot, only about 10 litres, being a trial first time and all.

I had a very hard time finding washing soda. I did have a little in a box that came with the house a few years back. I kept it, having the plan to make my own laundry detergent way back then and knowing I would need it. The amount in the box was exactly what I needed for this, smaller recipe.

I bought soda for adjusting pool ph to use instead. I have read that it can be used, as well, but in a much smaller dose. I had just enough washing soda for this recipe, but I will need to use the pool ph adjusting soda the next time I make laundry detergent. (I have no idea what this stuff is really called! lol!)

The ingredients you need to make this recipe are: water, washing soda or pool ph adjusting soda, Borax, Dawn dishwashing liquid, grated hard soap and water. Any hard bar of soap will work. Some people use Ivory. I make my own soap, so that's not difficult. What I used for this particular recipe was a "laundry bar" that I purchased specifically for this application, but next time I am using my own hard handmade soap. I grated the soap bar by hand, but you can use a food processor. (I have one, just too lazy to get it set up, wash all the parts because I don't want to put soap into the dishwasher, then put it all back together again.) Most recipes do not use Dawn dishwashing liquid but I have read that it makes a big difference in the grease cutting and stain removal power of the detergent, so I added it.

You can add some fragrance oil, if you want to. I left mine unscented.
You will need a large bucket. This recipe makes 10 litres, so you need a bucket that will hold that much and some, so you have room to stir vigorously. You will also need a large pot for the stovetop and something that measures 1/2 cup.

This is the simple recipe:

1 cup of grated soap or store bought Ivory soap flakes (also hard to find).
1/2 cup washing soda or not quite 1/8 cup of pool ph adjusting soda
1/2 cup Borax
1/4 cup Dawn dishwashing liquid
Bring a quart of water to boil on the stove in a large pot. Add all ingredients except the Dawn, slowly while stirring well. Stir in the boiling water until very well dissolved. Pour into bucket.

Add enough water to bring the amount up to 10 litres and stir vigorously until well blended. Let sit overnight. This should be a gel by the next day. Add 1/4 cup Dawn dishwashing liquid and stir vigorously. If you add the Dawn with the rest of the ingredients, it stops it from gelling as much as it should. Add fragrance oil at this time. Pour into usable size containers. Shake before using. Add 1/4 - 1/2 cup of this to a laundry load, depending on size of load.

It was quick, easy and cheap to make! I will find out very soon how well it works.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


I have a pink meadowsweet (filipendula rubra, ulmaria) plant in my flowerbed. (It also comes in white.) I have had it for years and only recently became aware of how valuable a plant it is.

It is large and beautiful, as always, but it also has a lot of other properties. The flowers can be used to add a soft almond flavour to wines, beers, jams and jellies. I LOVE almond flavour in anything. Before I developed this severe allergy to sulphite, I used to buy almond sherry and amaretto. They were always my favourite drinks. Now I can add this flavour to my wine too, naturally and without using almonds. There is nothing wrong with using almonds and I had planned to make some almond wine, at some future point. I can now grow my own almond flavour!

In addition to this important property, meadowsweet is also the plant originally used to develop aspirin. In 1897, a chemist called Felix Hoffman discovered salicylic acid could be produced from a waste product of the plant. He was looking for something to help his father's rheumatism and, while the benefits of this compound as a pain-relieving drug had been known for thousands of years, this was the first palatable and acceptable form to be found.

At the time, meadowsweet's official name was Spiraea and the drug that was made from it became known as aspirin. The invented word combined the ''a'' from acetylic acid and the ''spir'' from Spiraea. It contains several powerful salicylates, salts derived from salicylic acid that are chemically similar to aspirin but do not cause stomach bleeding. And, unlike aspirin, it has a positive effect on the digestive system, it protects and soothes the mucous membranes of the digestive tract, reducing excess acidity and alleviating nausea.

It can be used in the treatment of heartburn, hyperacidity, gastritis and peptic ulceration. It is also effective against the organisms causing diphtheria, dysentery and pneumonia. The anti-inflammatory action of Filipendula makes it effective against rheumatic pain without the adverse effects which can cause gastric bleeding, and it also acts to reduce fever.

All the benefits of aspirin without the gastric bleeding!

Meadowsweet likes damp roots and will do well in a bog, but it also does just fine in a normal garden. Mine is in half shade in the flowerbed and we have had a lot of hot dry weather this year. It hasn't even wilted and bloomed beautifully this year! The ideal place to grow it is in a low laying meadow area that tends to retain a bit of moisture. I am planning on making a large area for it in my ditch next to the garden and beside the driveway. I don't use salt so there's no danger of runoff.

I am growing my own natural anti-inflammatory pain killer (and almond flavouring for wine)!

I hope to have these seeds for sale in the farm store this year!

QUOTE: "In my life nothing goes wrong. When things seem to not meet my expectations, I let go of how I think things should be. It’s a matter of not having any attachment to any fixed outcome." - Deepak Chopra

Monday, August 1, 2011

First Onion Harvest

This is not my first ever onion growing, but it is my first harvest. Live and learn. I'm so pleased! Next year I will grow them again, and some red onions and sweet onions and...

I read that the time to harvest the entire crop is when half the onions have tops laying down. Well, 3/4 of my onions had tops laying down. I didn't know the onion tops fell over by themselves. When they first started to fall over, I blamed the deer! lol!

I know they have to cure in the dry shade. These will get the early morning sun so I will have to put up some cardboard to block it in the mornings. I have a monstera potted yesterday beside them that needs to sun blocked until the roots grow, anyway.

When can I braid the tops and hang them from the ceiling to dry?