Sunday, June 26, 2011

Calendula and Chamomile Balms

Our edible garden items have always done better than our non-edible ones.  This may be because we cosset our fruits and vegetables, knowing that we'll have a tasty reward in the end.  Flowers are pretty to look at, but they seem to need a lot of coaxing to just look pretty.

Consequently, we've limited our plantings to flowers that can actually be used for things.  The only ones we planted were calendula and chamomile.  Both have edible petals and can be used to make personal care items.  And, as we've found out, making balms is really easy!

The longest part of the process is creating an oil infusion.  It's still simple, though.  You just lop off some blossoms, put them in a canning jar, add olive oil, cover with fabric and a canning lid, and place in the sun for two weeks.  We did this with both chamomile and calendula blossoms.

After the oil has been infused, the fun begins.  To make a balm, you need the oil, some muslin or cheesecloth, a small saucepan, beeswax, a jar to put the balm in.  I got these nice, wide-mouthed 1/2 pint jars at Walmart.  The beeswax was ordered off Amazon.

First, place your muslin or cheesecloth over the saucepan and pour your oil and blossoms in.  This picture is of the chamomile mush that was left over. 

Next, add a chunk of beeswax.  I used half an ounce for the chamomile and got a soft salve.  I used a full ounce for the calendula and got a harder balm that's still soft enough to spread.

Melt the beeswax over low heat.  I just swirled the pot occasionally to help it along.  It only took a few minutes to melt completely.  If you want to add some essential oils, put them in after the beeswax is melted and you've removed the pot from the heat.  Add them, then swirl the pot a few times to mix it up.

Pour the contents into your desired holder.  I used the canning jar, but you can use tins or whatever you have handy.  If you use glass, you probably want to make sure it's warmed up before you pour hot liquid into it.

After about 20 minutes or so, it hardens up nicely and is ready to go! 

I left the chamomile plain because it smelled so sweet with the honey-scented beeswax.  I added a few drops of lavender oil to the calendula balm, though.  Calendula has a kind of medicinal scent, like common marigolds.

Both flowers are good for treating rashes.  Calendula is also good for bug bites; perfect for summer!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Cream Cheese and Whey

This was one successful experiment.  We had an extra 1/2 gallon of raw milk last week and decided to make homemade cream cheese and whey with it.  I use the word "make" loosely, since there wasn't much effort involved on our part, other than waiting around for the milk to separate.

All we did was pour the milk into a clean, glass pitcher, cover it with a clean washcloth, and leave it on the countertop for a couple of days.  Once it separated into curds and whey, I lined a colander with clean muslin and set it on top of a stock pot.  I poured the pitcher contents into the colander and let it drain.

When it seemed like it stopped draining, I gathered the muslin and tied it into a little sack and hung that from a wooden spoon over the pot.  The whole contraption went into the fridge overnight to finish draining. 

 The next morning, we wound up with this:
 After I smoothed it out and pressed it in the bowl, we got about 2 cups of cream cheese and a quart of whey.  The cream cheese will keep for about a month in the fridge; the whey for up to 6 months.

Unbelievably easy!


Oliver is seriously one of those kids that could get lost in the woods for a week and be found fat and happy.  If it's food, he is going to find it.  We have to put away the dog and cat bowls as soon as he steps outside because he's just as happy to sample kibble as anything else.

Today, he accompanied me outside to water the plants and harvest a few things.  While I was juggling five cantaloupes to bring inside, he was investigating the few tomatoes and one strawberry I picked.  I came back out to see him finishing the berry and grabbed my camera in time to see him take a big bite from a tomato.

He wasn't very happy with the taste.  That one went straight to the compost bin with a large bite mark.

While I was watering, I noticed a rather large wasp excavating a burrow in one of the melon pools.  I was able to get a pretty good picture of her since she was totally intent on her task. 

A few minutes of searching on the internet and I was pleased to discover that she is a Great Golden Digger Wasp, Sphex ichneumoneus.

"The Great Golden Digger Wasp is a beneficial insect, and should be considered an asset in any type of garden. Its peaceful attitude and pest hunting nature, make it a beautiful helper that requires simply a bare spot of dirt, and a healthy population of grasshoppers. Don't run for a weapon or the bug spray if one is spotted. Step back and observe one of the most unique inhabitants in the garden."

This is the second beneficial bug we've identified in as many weeks.  We've spotted a pretty large population of Milkweed Assassins that is making short work of the aphids on some of our plants.  It's great to see them doing their job and I'm thankful that we took the time to figure out what they were instead of assuming they were pests and spraying them down.  We're starting to get the hang of organic gardening!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Over and Out

Our last lesson from Who Am I? is complete.  We've done as much science as we wanted (although we're already looking forward to the next level of lessons).  And Angelicum's annual summer sale began today, so I've ordered Henry's enrollment and lesson plans for preschool.

We are on target for July 11th!

In the meantime, we've been resting on our laurels.  In the wading pool.  One filled with water, not dirt and plants.

What can I say?  Oliver does his own thing in all things.  I should have gotten a picture of the "Warning: Do not let children play in buckets with even an inch of water" sign on the side.  At least they were supervised, right?

The garden is rocking.  Henry and I went out on Monday morning and picked all of this:

Carrots (they're underneath everything else), green onions, sage, cucumbers, tomatoes, strawberries, and calendula blossoms.  I was very busy all day Monday getting everything here washed/chopped/soaked in olive oil/etc. 

Our CSA delivery began last week too, so I've been roasting and pureeing squash and sweet potatoes for Jane, blanching and freezing green beans, and generally doing more with vegetables than I've ever done before. 

And a new bag arrived yesterday!  It's definitely forcing me outside of my culinary comfort zone.  I have an eggplant staring at me every time I open the fridge, daring me to parmagian it.  Maybe tomorrow.

We've really been trying to eat more organic, "whole" food (but not Whole Foods, which certainly earns the nickname "Whole Paycheck").  Some things are harder to find than others.  Both Henry and Oliver love bagels, but the simplest ones cost an arm and a leg. 

So, since I'm outside my comfort zone anyway, I figured we'd try to make some homemade ones today.  The results:

Real, homemade bagels from freshly-ground wheat, honey, coconut oil, and farm eggs (also delivered by our CSA)!  I was really surprised at how easy they are to make.  They taste wonderful, too.  The boys have already devoured two each with cream cheese.  These are definitely going to become a weekly chore.

And speaking of cream cheese, that's next!  We've got a quart of raw milk set on the counter right now to make in to cream cheese and whey.  It should be finished separating tomorrow and then Henry and I are going to strain out the solids and hang them for cream cheese.  Science!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Moving on Up

In Florida, if it's not hot and humid, it's hot and smoky.
If I had any lingering doubts concerning the arrival of summer, they were eliminated when I looked at our latest electric bill.

After I regained consciousness, I came to terms with the fact that our days of idyll outdoors have come to an end until the fall.  Except for an hour or so in the morning and another in the evening, we're going to be hanging out inside for most of the day.

And that's fine.  I just don't want our days to descend into Super Happy TV FUN Time!!! for hours at a time.

Henry's been itching to get at his Saxon math manipulatives kit.  We're doing our last preschool religion lesson this week.  And, while we still have quite a few pages left in Science Play!, a lot of the "experiments" are things we do all the time (baking, using a solar oven, percussion instruments).  There are maybe 5 or 6 things left that I still want to do.

So, why not move on to preschool?  We'll be able to get a lot done before we break for Advent.  Henry's certainly ready for the lessons.  It just makes sense.  The biggest reason we waited until October last year was because Jane was born in September.

I've already purchased the majority of Henry's schoolbooks.  I still need to pay for his enrollment with Angelicum, but their summer sale should begin in the next week or two and I'll get it then.  If it's anything like last year's ordering experience, we should have our lesson plans before July.

Henry's Preschool Year, Target Date: July 11, 2011

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Pictures from the Garden

Cantaloupe on the vine

Bee and Chamomile

Bee and Cilantro


Calendula infusion (for salve)

June 6 - June 12, 2011

What we're working on this week:


Science Play! - Worms at Work - We're making a worm farm!  Good thing we've got plenty of them in the compost bin.

Who Am I? - Advent - Christmas is Jesus' Birthday - This is our last lesson from the workbook!
  • Concepts of Faith - Christmas is Jesus' birthday.
  • Activity - If we were actually doing this at Advent, we'd be setting up a Nativity scene.  We'll just look at one instead.

More Starfall, more following directions.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

National Academies Press

Have you ever heard of the National Academies Press?
The National Academies Press (NAP) was created by the National Academies to publish the reports issued by the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, the Institute of Medicine, and the National Research Council, all operating under a charter granted by the Congress of the United States. The NAP publishes more than 200 books a year on a wide range of topics in science, engineering, and health, capturing the most authoritative views on important issues in science and health policy. The institutions represented by the NAP are unique in that they attract the nation’s leading experts in every field to serve on their award-wining panels and committees. The nation turns to the work of NAP for definitive information on everything from space science to animal nutrition.
Sounds like they'd have a lot of interesting information to read, doesn't it? Well, they now are offering over 4,000 titles as free PDF downloads. Plus, all of their future reports will be available for free download as they are released.

This is a wealth of information available to all, so add it to your bookmarks!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

May 30 - June 5, 2011

What we're working on this week:


Science Play! - Inside Dirt - This is the first lesson in our new unit, Earth.  Earth as in soil, not the planet.  We're going to put a few spoonfuls of dirt in a jar, fill it the rest of the way with water, then shake it and see what happens.

Who Am I? - Advent - Joseph, Jesus' Father on Earth
  • Concepts of Faith - Joseph was Jesus' father on earth.
  • Activity - If we were actually doing this at Advent, we'd be making a Christmas present for someone.  Instead, we'll work on making a present for Daddy for Father's Day.  Tie-in!

More Starfall, more following directions.

The Simplicity Primer Book Bomb

If there's anything more conducive to homeschooling than simplifying your life in general, I don't know what it is!

One of my favorite bloggers (and a fellow homeschooling mom) has
a new book being released on June 7th.

To help out, bloggers are posting for a book bomb for Patrice. A book bomb is when everyone who would like to buy the book does it on the same day (here, June 7th) so that it gets a boost of publicity on Amazon.

I've actually had this book on preorder for forever, but I'm happy to assist with a post.  And if you've ever wanted an unvarnished look at what it takes to have a farm and a home business, check out her blog!