Sunday, June 21, 2015

Summer Solstice 2015 - Garden Update

This week's garden post starts on Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year.  My husband found a group of insects clustered together while he was trimming trees and shrubs.

 It was larvae evolving to a bright orange beetle - it is a type of ladybug.  Chilocorus stigma

Next is a vegetable garden status update. Our experimental "cat's cradle" tomato cages made with fence posts and twine is working great even as the tomatoes start to get large and heavy!  I took the tomato plant pictures immediately below a week ago.  I have pictures taken from today Summer Solstice to compare the growth.

This is an excellent year for tomatoes.  Our vines are overflowing!

The peppers are doing well.  We have both bell peppers and jalapenos.


The cucumbers are growing up the trellis.  This is a good year for them.

 The squash and zucchini are starting to wind down and the squash bugs are starting to make an appearance, but they are still producing some fruit.

Here is a picture of the herb garden.  The honeybees are constantly buzzing around it, they especially love the catnip and basil flowers.  These same bees keep our vegetable flowers pollinated.  Asparagus continues to grow on the top.  We have rosemary, chives, basil, dill, parsley, oregano, catnip, and bay plant.

These pictures were taken today on Summer Solstice.  You can see that the tomatoes have continued to grow.  My husband added another row of twine today to hold them up.

 Our typical harvest about every other day.

 We harvested the cabbage today.  We didn't plant very many this year.  I plan to chop them up in a food processor.  My goal is to make sauerkraut.   Hopefully I'll get to make the sauerkraut this week.  Otherwise they will get frozen and used in stir-frys.

I harvested garlic several weeks ago.  They have been drying for a couple of weeks.  I cut off the ends - they are now ready for use in cooking.  The jalapeno peppers were harvested today. 

I'll make jalapeno poppers for my husband for Father's Day today - they are now his new favorite snack.  The hardest part is frying up the bacon and cutting up the jalapenos.  

I use the following recipe:  

I made the poppers several weeks before and they turned out excellent.

Around the yard now.  The Vitex is blooming now - it blooms most of the summer.  This small tree is a magnet for bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies.  They come in several colors and grow to approximately 20 feet tall.  They are drought tolerant but they grow lots of branches and require constant pruning. 

We found a dove nest in our Japanese black pine tree.  Unfortunately we think the doves abandoned it.

I found this five lined skink in one of my patio pots this morning.   This is a more unusual visitor to my yard.  In fact, this is the first one I have seen around here.

A nice morning on the front porch.

We had a beautiful sunrise in my neighborhood this week.  I loved the sunrays.

The echinecea (aka purple coneflower) is blooming now.

I also have another variety of daylily blooming now.  I really like the curly leaf on this one.

We had beautiful clouds this week after getting another 2" of rain.

I'll end the post with a picture of a blackberry cobbler I made this past week using our our harvested blackberries.  We harvested 13 quarts of blackberries this year from about 5 bushes.  I think the huge amount of rainfall in 2015 sharply curtailed our harvest this year.  I tried a new blackberry cobbler recipe I found on Youtube.  It reminds me of a dump cake recipe. It is easy and good and I highly recommend it.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Making Coconut Oil Soap - Easy Recipe!

I saw a recipe for making soap that was much easier than the ones I had made previously so I decided to try it.  It is from Becky's Homestead Youtube channel.

The recipe appears to have turned out perfectly.  I decided to put it in a blog post so that I will remember it and others who are interested can try it too.

First I collected all the ingredients.
54 ounces of coconut oil
24.25 ounces of distilled water
9.7 ounces of lye
2 ounces total of essential oil
1 ounce approximately vitamin E

 24.25 ounces of distilled water

 9.7 ounces of lye

When making soap always pour the lye into water.   I do this step outside because of the toxic fumes that form.  Also, don't forget to wear eye and skin protection.  The lye will burn anything it touches!

 The temperature on my batch spiked at 180 degrees.

Wait until it comes down to 100 degrees and then add melted 54 ounces coconut oil.  I purchased the 54 ounce container so there is no need to weigh the ingredient.

Mix with a hand mixer until trace phase where there are thick ripples in the mixture.

 After the trace phase I gave the mixture a big squirt of vitamin E - approximately 1 ounce.

Add essential oil next.  I made soap with two different oil combinations. 

First I split the entire mixture into two separate batches.  Then to each batch I added 1 ounce total of essential oils.  In this case I prepared the following:
Batch 1 got 0.5 ounces of eucalyptus oil and 0.5 ounces of sweet orange oil.
Batch 2 got 0.5 ounces of sage oil and 0.5 ounces of lemongrass oil.

 Pour the soap into molds.  I use the flexible rubber molds.  It is easy to get the soap out after it sits for 24 hours.  Then let the soap harden for 24 hours.  Keep the soap warm as long as possible by covering the soap molds with towels.

After 24 hours remove the soap from the molds and cut up the soap and or trim it as necessary.

 Both soap batches smell wonderful so the combinations I tried are keepers.

 Let the soap cure for 5-6 weeks and the soap should be ready to use! 

Friday, June 5, 2015

Early June 2015 - After the Texas Floods - Harvesting & Daylily Season

Harvesting has begun in the garden - this is a great year for squash and zucchini.  The tomatoes are also starting to ripen!

Ready to make some salsa!

We've waited too long to harvest the artichokes and they are now blooming.  They are beautiful.

We harvested onions this week.  This year's harvest has not been as robust as in years past.  I think the onions did not get as big because of the rain.

After several weeks of drying out the onions, we cut off the tops and roots and stack them by single row separated by newspaper in a laundry basket (plenty of aeration).

For memory's sake, this is what it has been like around here for the entire month of May!

A yellow mushroom sprang up after the rain.

The rain ensured a pretty daylily season.

Sunny day.

I ordered my daylilies through the mail from Gilbert Wild and Son Co.  They have an infinite number of varieties.

I found this strange beetle today in my blackberries.   It is an Eyed Click Beetle, Alaus oculatus.  Read about it here.

 It was full size - about 2" long.

First spineless prickly pear bloom of the season.

The hen chicks continue to grow.  We have been keeping them inside, but now let them out a couple of times a day to look for bugs and get some sunshine.  We hope to move them out permanently to the chicken tractor in a couple of weeks.

Our hen, Joanie, is approving of them and does not peck them at all.  We think she has been very lonely since the bobcat killed her friends last year.

Hunting for bugs.