Sunday, October 30, 2011

Project - Make Lavender Oatmeal Soap

“Anyone's life truly lived consists of work, sunshine, exercise, soap, plenty of fresh air, and a happy contented spirit.” - Lillie Langtry

Making your own soap at home, like cooking from scratch, is a great way to know and control the ingredients used, and add healthy alternatives from your herb garden and kitchen cupboard.  And it doesn’t have to be difficult, expensive or time-consuming.  It is certainly possible to make your soap completely from scratch and there are many books and resources to teach you how.  If you want to keep it simple, though, an easy alternative is to use a melt-and-pour soap base and soap molds, which you can buy at craft stores or from many online suppliers.  Soap bases are available in many varieties, including clear glycerin, cocoa butter, honey, oatmeal, olive oil, shea butter and, my personal favorite, goat milk.   Goat milk soap is soothing and moisturizing, and when you add all natural ingredients to it, can be very beneficial to dry or sensitive skin.  Lavender and oatmeal are also beneficial to the skin.
To make melt-and-pour lavender oatmeal soap, you will need the following:
  • 1 lb. melt-and-pour goat milk soap base (or other variety of your choice)
  • ¼ cup dried lavender buds
  • ¼ cup old-fashioned rolled oats (don’t use quick-cooking or flavored varieties)
  • large knife
  • microwave safe measuring cup or bowl
  • microwave
  • popsicle stick or other stirring implement (creates less bubbles than a spoon)
  • soap mold or molds which will hold a total of a little over a pound of soap (since soap mold sizes and shapes vary widely, this may be anywhere from three large bars of soap to half a dozen or more guest sized novelty soaps)
First, cut the soap base into chunks of about 1 ounce each (soap base often comes with pre-scored lines for cutting). Microwave the soap in the bowl or measuring cup, stirring after each 30-second interval.  Microwaves vary, but this will probably take 2 to 3 minutes.  When you are able to dissolve the last of the lumps by stirring, it is ready.  Stir the lavender buds and oatmeal into the melted soap base.  Pour the mixture into your soap mold or molds.  Let the soap harden for a couple of hours or until completely solidified.  Remove from the mold.  If the mold won’t release the soap, put the whole mold into the freezer for about 10 minutes, then try again. Wrap the soap immediately in plastic wrap.  This kind of soap does not have to cure, so you can begin using it right away. The soap will have a scrubby texture which is excellent for washing your hands after garden chores. 

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Bee Friendly

“The solitary Bee, Whose buzzing was the only sound of life, Flew there on restless wing, Seeking in vain one blossom where to fix.” - Robert Southey
Butterfly and hummingbird gardens are quite popular, and many gardeners select plants with the purpose of attracting these beautiful pollinators.  Gardening to attract bees does not always hold the same widespread appeal.   This may be due to some misconceptions. 
First, many people associate bees with stings and prefer not to have them around.  The fact is that bees very seldom sting aggressively, but rather use it as a last defense.  Even should a sting occur, only a very small minority of people suffer from a life-threatening allergy to bee venom. 
Second, some may think the only way of helping bees is to be a keeper of honeybee hives.  Not all gardeners have the time, space, resources, or even the desire to do so.   However, honeybees aren’t the only bees around. There are about 4,000 native species in the United States and about 20,000 worldwide. Native bees can survive just fine without human attention, but there are things we can do to help them.
Why be concerned about helping bees?  Many species of bees, including both honeybees and native species, are experiencing a population decline.  It is estimated that bees pollinate about a third of the world’s food crops.  Aside from that, the buzz of bees around a blossoming fruit tree or patch of blooming flowers adds another dimension of pleasure to your fragrance garden, appealing to the ears as well as the eyes and nose.
What can you do to help native bees? First refrain from harming them with pesticides; then help them by providing food and shelter. Some ways to appeal to bee preferences include:
·        Choose plants native to your area
·        Single, rather than double, flowers, and flowers with short or no tubes make nectar more accessible
·        Garden with fragrant plants
·        Choose plants in the mint family – mints, balms, oregano, sage, and lavender, for example
·        Bees love flowers in shades of blue, purple and yellow
·        Keep something blooming all season long
·        Don’t overdo the mulch – many bees need to burrow and nest in the dirt
From my personal observation, the plants most attractive to bees in my garden have been raspberry and apple blossoms, oregano, bee balm, lavender and thyme.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Teas for the Tub

"There must be quite a few things that a hot bath won’t cure, but I don’t know many of them." –Sylvia Plath
Everyday life is full of stress these days.  One of the easiest and most inexpensive ways to relax and relieve stress is soaking leisurely in a warm bath.  Plain water will help, but to take it to the next level, try making a bath tea with your homegrown or purchased dried herbs. 
Make your bath tea by either of two methods.  The first is to steep the herbs in hot water, then strain them off and add the water to the tub. The second and easier method is to place the herbs in a small cloth bag or else tie them up tightly in muslin or cheesecloth, and hang the bag from the faucet, letting the hot water run through it as you fill the tub.
You can experiment with using different herbs, singly or together. Here are some of the herbs you may wish to use.  Caution: if you are pregnant or have a serious health condition, always thoroughly research the herb you wish to use to be sure it is safe for you.
·        Calendula – skin soothing
·        Chamomile – skin soothing, calming
·        Lavender – skin soothing and calming
·        Lemon balm – skin soothing and uplifting
·        Mint – uplifting
·        Rose petals – skin soothing and uplifting
For dry or sensitive skin, you may also like to add oatmeal or dry milk to the bath bag. 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Deer in the Garden

"Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed." --Francis Bacon
The deer population is on the rise.  It is estimated that the number of deer living in the United States has risen from about 300,000 in 1930 to 30 million today.  More deer are being seen in suburban areas as well as in the country.  It’s a good chance that deer may be visiting your yard and snacking on your garden.  When learning to coexist with deer, remember that deer are just like people in a number of ways.
    Deer outside our window
  • Tastes in food vary from one individual to another
  • A starving deer will eat anything, regardless of likes or dislikes
  • It’s hard to keep one out if it’s truly determined to find a way in
My personal experience with deer (in a rural area) is that they mainly come into the garden and close to the house in winter when food is scarce.  Our rhododendron bushes get trimmed of buds as high as a deer can reach each winter.  I’ve also observed them munching on evergreen bushes and any kind of plants they can reach through the snow. When good weather comes, they tend to range out into the woods and fields, although I have noticed that they love apples, lilies and hostas, and I have never even attempted to grow corn.
In the scented garden, the good news is that deer tend to avoid plants with scented foliage - like basil, lavender, mint, oregano, rosemary, sage and thyme.  Lilacs, honeysuckle, daffodils, hyacinths, and carnations and pinks are also on the “rarely eaten” list.  The bad news is that deer are often observed browsing on scented flowers such as roses, lilies, pansies and peonies.
Gardeners use many strategies to try to protect their plants from deer, including fencing and use of various deer repellents. Another approach is the grow plants that deer generally dislike, either exclusively or as barriers or camouflage around the plants they consider to be tasty.
Fawns under the apple tree

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Lavender in the Laundry

And still she slept an azure-lidded sleep, In blanched linen, smooth, and lavender’d – John Keats
Lavender has a long history of use in the laundry.  Its name comes from the Latin term lavare, meaning “to wash”, and it has been used for cleaning laundry at least since Roman times, if not longer.
My own experience with using lavender for laundry was prompted by a case of dermatitis (rash) and the realization that I have sensitive skin.  I now buy only detergents and fabric softeners which are free of dyes and perfumes.  This is good for the skin and most likely for the environment as well, but having clean laundry with no scent can be a little boring.  The solution- use lavender in the following ways in the laundry:
  • Add several drops of lavender essential oil to unscented liquid laundry detergent or unscented fabric softener.  Simply add it to the full container and shake before each use. 
  • Use white vinegar with lavender essential oil added for scent, in place of or in addition to commercial fabric softener.
  • Put several drops of essential oil on a clean lint-free rag or washcloth and add to a dryer-load of clothes at the beginning of the cycle.
  • Replace dryer sheets with homemade dryer sachets.  Purchase empty tea bags from a craft store or online supplier, fill them with dried lavender and seal with a regular household iron.  You could also make them by sewing or otherwise securely fastening a muslin bag with the lavender inside.  Use these through several dryer cycles, according to your personal preference.  Even after retiring from the dryer, they will still retain enough fragrance to use for a linen drawer sachet. 
You can use other essential oils besides lavender in the same way – such as eucalyptus, lemon, peppermint, or orange – whichever fragrance you would appreciate in your clean clothes and linens. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Ramblings on Roses

Some roses are very lush and others are orderly. Each one appeals to a different kind of person. - Victoria Pearson

Zephirine Drouhin climbing rose still blooming in October

A scented garden could never be complete without an abundance of roses.  But there are as many tastes in roses as there are people.  I don’t personally care much for long-stemmed unblemished roses from the florist’s shop.  Their visual perfection and lack of fragrance makes them seem artificial.  Instead, I love wild, rambling roses filling the outdoors with their scent.  If they’re suitable for cutting, very well, but what is on my must-have list is hardiness, easy care, lots of blooms over a long season, and of course, fragrance.  Many of the roses I’ve chosen to plant are landscape or shrub type roses.
One of my particular favorites is Zephirine Drouhin, an old-fashioned scented pink rose from 1868.  Zephirine has almost no thorns and grows vigorously as a climber.   Unlike most roses, it will tolerate a good deal of shade and still bloom profusely. 
Some other roses I’ve grown and liked include:
  • Miniature or groundcover roses - Fairy Pink Cushion, Patio
  • Landscape or shrub roses - Pink Knock Out, Double Knock Out, Royal Bonica, Scarlet Meideland, Fairy
  • Climbing roses - Climbing Blaze, John Cabot, Ginger Syllabub

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Woodstove Words of Wisdom

To poke a wood fire is more solid enjoyment than almost anything else in the world.” -Charles Dudley Warner

Although we’ve been enjoying unseasonably warm daytime temperatures here, it’s still cool at night and woodstove season is not far off. I love having a fire in the woodstove in our family room downstairs, and the dogs want to lie in front of it non-stop all winter long.  If you fully or partially heat your house with wood, you are aware of two things already - wood fires are messy and they dry the air.  Here are my tips about woodstoves:
Ashes - in winter, ashes can be used to melt ice. Just be careful about dumping any live coals and about tracking the mess back into the house on your feet.  You can also add ashes to your compost pile, or mulch them directly around plants that like alkaline soil, such as clematis, delphiniums, lilacs, oregano and many more.
Glass viewing windows – glass stove windows can be a real pain to clean.  The best method I’ve tried so far is to put white vinegar in a spray bottle with several drops of essential oil (any scent will do, but citrus scents have extra cleaning power).  Make a paste with baking soda and vinegar and scrub the glass with this, using additional vinegar to rinse.  This works better than any store-bought product I’ve found.
Dry air – woodstoves dry out the air in your home very quickly.  To moisturize the air and prevent dry skin and breathing problems, keep a full teakettle of water on the stovetop at all times.  Never let it burn dry; you may be surprised at how quickly it evaporates.  To scent the air as well as moisturizing it, make a simple simmering potpourri. Add the following to the kettle – an orange peel, a couple of cinnamon sticks, and a spoonful of whole cloves. Exact measurements are not necessary – the amount of scent you want will be a matter of personal taste.  You can also experiment with adding essential oils or dried herbs to the water in your kettle.