Friday, October 21, 2011

Making balms

A variety of herbs still growing in our garden in October.
 I can't believe I'm still able to harvest a handful of lavender, yarrow, calendula, and lots of other herbs this late in the season.  These get separated into paper bags, or bundled and hung to dry.  When they are nice and crispy, I pack them into jars and fill the rest with olive or almond oils.  After about 3 weeks, I strain the oil for use in the products I've been making.  It is a very time-consuming process (Mike recently asked my why I can't seem to do anything that is actually cost-effective) but it is rewarding.  Every step is relaxing and aromatic, and it feels good to know I'm using organically grown plants right out of my own yard.

The down side is that the pantry is small, and there really isn't room for my new enterprise.  A table just inside our front entryway is piled high with containers of oils, beeswax, honey, essential oils, and tools.  I bring what I need to the kitchen for each project, then pile it all back on the table, with no organization at all.  The kitchen floor is spackled with cocoa butter and wax, which doesn't mop up.  I need to use a straight-edge to scrape it up, and it never seems clean.  I still haven't figured out how to clean the waxy residue off of the bowls, spatulas, sieves and mixers I use to make lotion and balm.

But, it's all worth it.  I spent the better part of yesterday making a balm from beeswax, shea butter, cocoa butter, honey, vitamin E, glycerine, olive oil, and essential oils that will make a nice gift for a friend's baby shower this weekend.  The wax makes it a barrier cream, to prevent baby rash, while all of the other ingredients are nourishing and soothing.  It would also work well for gardeners, crafters, and anyone needing extra protection and moisturizing for hands, feet, elbows, etc. (It would be great for mosaic artists and those working with cement.) I am very pleased with the outcome.  Here is a photo of the balm in the tins:
Today, I finally have a working printer, so I will be experimenting with creating a label.  I've been researching companies that print labels, but for a small line of products like this, nothing is really affordable.  So, at least for now, I have to figure out how to make them myself.  I really want my products to look homemade, but pretty and professional.  Presentation has never been my strong point.
Part of our squash/pumpkin crop.
We have pulled in almost all of our pumpkins, so there isn't much left to do in the garden.  Mike has been mulching on the weekends, and I plan to start putting chickens in the veggie garden to turn the soil.  I have a pile of tomatoes and zucchini to freeze, and the rest is finally done.  We butchered the turkeys last week and our freezer is packed full.  We traded one turkey to Barnyard Gardens for some chickens, plus they always do the butchering for us.  We have decided not to raise turkeys next year.  It is far too expensive, and quite a bit of extra work. 

Well, that's the homestead report for October.  The misty-rainy season is in full swing and the hard work is over.  It's a good time to make art, soap, balm, lotion, and today I'm making bath bombs, and nursing a month-long cold. 

Monday, October 10, 2011

Autumn Homestead Update

Fall tends to be one of the busier times here on the little farm.  I am usually scrambling to prepare for art exhibits, starting to create some smaller items for holiday sales, and dealing with the harvest, all while my husband and daughter are getting back to their school/work schedules and all of the extracurricular activities that come with it.

By now, our tomatoes are dwindling, and I've been removing the spent plants from the greenhouse, making room for a fall crop of greens.  We planted winter broccoli and cauliflower, plus salad greens.  We've never done a fall planting before, mainly because it has always been so much work just getting the harvest finished, let alone dealing with replanting.  I thought planting in the greenhouse would mean the veggies were protected from predators (all of the greens in the raised beds have now been munched away by deer) but I have been fighting a whole gang of caterpillars instead. 

The deer have been very audacious, coming into the fenced garden surrounding our house, eating our raspberries and grapes.  The other morning, I was wholly entertained watching Mike chasing a deer around out there in his underwear and t-shirt, barefoot, waving a plastic yellow softball bat.  These are the memories we will cherish forever.

We have a lot of grapes (though less each time the deer break in), and I have no idea what I'll do with them.  I'd love to make wine, but I'm not up to buying equipment and taking that on this year.  We could vitamix them, but what about seeds?

Our first hive was invaded by yellow jackets.  Within about a week, the yellow jackets drove out the honey bees and ate almost all of the honey.  The hive never did produce much honey, so I don't think it was healthy to begin with, but we were very upset by the loss.  We are just hoping the other two hives are safe - they look ok.  I've been trying to salvage beeswax from the dead hive, but it's full of brood, and a bit papery.

Now and then, I find time to make lotions.  I infused almond oil with lavender for my most recent recipe.  I didn't use any essential oils, so the lotion is subtle and simple.  I'll give you a little rundown:

First, I melted beeswax and the lavender-infused almond oil, while letting some borax powder dissolve in water:
Then I mixed them together while both were hot.  I put the mixture in a blender I use only for lotions.
Once it was nicely whipped, I poured the mixture into jars and let it cool:
The hardest part about making lotion is planning ahead.  The infusion takes a few weeks, and then it's just a matter of having the materials on hand and the right tools.  The rest is very simple.  It has a nice, mild lavender smell, and the beeswax/almond oil texture feels luxurious on my hands.

My printer has broken down, so I need to get a new one.  Then I can print some labels and get my new products ready for the holidays.  Even if I can't sell them, they will make great gifts.  I helped
Anouk and her friend make melt & pour glycerine soap the other day.  We added our honey and some sage oil.  I used one to wash my face this morning, and it is the best facial soap I've ever used.  Anouk is going to make her own products and call them "Little Tendrils."