Friday, January 19, 2018

Soapy Friday: Back at Bath Bombs

While I am waiting for my new formula cold-processed soap to cure for testing, I've gone back to tweaking my bath bomb recipe.

Every day I'm hustlin'...
I've mostly liked what I've been doing for the past year with them, but they still needed some more attention to get to that "Perfect Bath Bomb". Like that "Perfect Bar of Soap," it takes time with many, many, many experiments and testing in between. I'm SO close.

Anyway, I'm also SUPER excited to use my new biodegradable shrink wrap system I got for Christmas.

Upping my shrink wrap game from 10-to-1 million
I was able to wrap 100 bars of soap in less than an hour with this baby! In the past, this would have taken me hours...like an hour just to wrap 15 bars of soap! It's especially great for bath bombs which are notoriously a pain in the arse.

100 bars of soap in 15 minutes....DONE!
On top of all that, the shrink wrap I'm using is BIODEGRADABLE! How awesome, right? I always hated the thought of making such an amazing, natural product only to package it in environment-harming PVC. Ultimately, I will be putting my soaps in boxes and this will be primarily used for bath bombs and tamper-sealing lotions, body butters, etc.

Soaping responsively for the environment
Speaking of body butters. I made a Valentine's inspired citrus soap to go with my Bombalicious Body Butter. It smells out of this world!  I made it in the same pink grapefruit, tangerine, and lemon fragrance blend.

But a funny thing called a "gel ring" happened when it was setting up. You can see where the color morphed from the right-to-the-left . It went from grapefruit pink to a natural soap/yellow color. It's all good...it actually kind of looks cool!

Gel ring from right-to-left

What it's supposed to look like...oh well

Thursday, January 11, 2018

2017 Garden in Review

2017 Veggie Garden 
Here we are again to take a look back on how things went in the yard and garden for the past year. This is a bittersweet moment, as it most likely will be the last yearly garden review I do for this house and property. We’ve absolutely decided to list and sell this spring.

We’ve gone round-and-round for reasons, pros, and cons to selling now. But it’s mostly come down to quality of life and property values. I could go on, but for now, let’s talk gardening!

This past year really was wonderful in many ways. I’m always surprised at how much we manage to get done.

Winter/Spring


We started out with my usual winter sowing project. I was not going to do any winter sowing this season, but I do need my parsley, so that will get started ASAP. Last year’s winter sowing actually did pretty well now that I am back to doing it in Styrofoam cups and using a soilless seed mix.

2017 Winter sowing

Winter sowing...too many weeds
This past spring’s bigger project was the re-mulching of the garden area. It made a HUUUGE difference in appearance, weed control, and cleanliness in the veggie garden. It was a lot of work, but worth every ounce of effort.

New mulch being hauled in...each wheel barrel at a time

A pile of mulch waiting to be shoveled

Late Spring/Early Summer


In April, we finally finished rescreening the porch. It was another big project that took a lot of time, effort, and planning. Not only did we rescreen the porch with better screens, we tilled down about  18” into the hard-packed clay of the perennial bed with compost, soil improvers, and shredded leaves. After everything was replanted, it took off and did SO, SO, SO, much better over the summer. I need to move one or two things, but I can’t wait to see how it does this year (if we’re still here).

A lot of work, but worth it

So pretty!
May brought us garden intruders! For the record, I first saw that groundhog, then that fox a week later. Neither one has been seen since!

Go away groundhog

Go get-'em foxy!
The garden, the yard, everything was just thriving and I got to finally have a decent bearded iris bloom. Tried to grow kale and chard in the veggie garden, but for some reason they were a fail. Other than that, this past year was the best it’s ever looked.

New mulch standing tall!

The hosta bed got some new plants last year

Beautiful front bearded irises

This year should be better!

Summer


After that blissful, beautiful minute of June, things turned bloody hot and dry in a New York minute! So much so, that our poplar trees started losing their leaves in July due to heat and drought stress. I think we went a good 6 weeks in July/Aug without rain. It was very hard on everything. I started installing Mister Landscaper micro irrigation around the property.

Tomatoes starting coming in as usual. Grew my usual hybrids and heirlooms. My favorite heirloom this year was "Green Zebra"! I found that pruning the tomato plants up a good 10-12” inches from the bottoms helped to really keep the fungus and blight in check.

The start of the harvest

Greed Zebra was a yummy, well-balanced tom
The veggie garden did wonderfully and I found that if I kept a good spraying schedule of spraying the zucchini squash with BT every 7-10 days, the Squash Vine Borers were kept enough at bay to get a decent harvest. My favorite squash this year was "Grey Zucchini" from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.

2017 veggie garden was amazing
Elsewhere on the property – the Japanese Beetles were HORRIBLE last year and all about skeletonized my new, sweet, potted Japanese Maple. This year, I need to get this baby on a systemic program to protect it. Voles are still here and come in waves – they try their damdest to get to my hostas, but my chain mail planting cages have saved every one. I’m hoping this winter’s hard, hard freezes will control some of those bastards this year…as well as flies, mosquitoes, and ticks! We kept a regular fungicide program on the lawn and that made a HUGE difference – no brown spot.

I planted more daylilies, which have suddenly become my new bearded iris obsession! They’re so easy and carefree to grow, plus after a couple of years, they can be divided-up like crazy.

Beautiful spider lily

Late Summer/Early Fall


First, I grew a huge friggin’ 2 lb. tomato last year! I couldn’t believe it. It was an heirloom “Gold Medal” which despite its size, I wasn’t really impressed by the taste. Too sweet.

A 2 lb. monster
Hummers were super fierce this year. We had to put up 2 extra feeders to lessen the fighting. I often wonder what will happen to them when we leave.

Hummers needed more dining space
I was extremely tickled to find some wild Jewelweed growing right down the road from me. I made Jewelweed soap and anti-itch balm which work amazingly well on itchy spots. Can’t wait to make more this year!

Jewelweed jewels
The rest of the yard picked-up and breathed a collective sigh of relief with some rain and moderate temperatures. We actually had somewhat of a “normal” fall this year and regular respites into the 70’s in September.

Tomato windfall

Beautiful front perennial bed

Even more tomatoes!

Front begonias in bloom

Late Fall/Early Winter


We were so tickled to find the most PERFECT family-owned lawn-and-garden center near us this past year. There is a chain of garden center’s up hear called Meadow Farms that have a huge inventory of cool stuff, but they are 95% staffed by 16-year olds who couldn’t and don’t give a rat’s behind about gardening or landscaping. I can’t tell you how many frustrating times I’ve gone into one of their centers to ask a pest or lawn question that only meets me back with blank stares or “let me ask the much “more” experienced 18-year old manager…who doesn’t know and doesn’t give a shit either”.

GRR!

So, you can imagine my thrill to find an honest-to-god garden center with passionate, experienced, life-long garden and lawn enthusiasts that can actually discuss which strain of tall fescue works for our area or which brand of fungicide works for different types of fungus for your lawn…even if you can’t buy it there!

Roxbury Farm...the best lawn and garden center in NoVA!
Anyway, we aerated, limed, fertilized and overseeded the lawn again with a custom grass mixture we bought from them that was AMAZEBALLS reliable and gorgeous when it grew in. All those years we threw money away on friggin’ Pennington’s makes me nauseous.

This spring our lawn is going to look like Augusta National!

Thoughts for 2018:


Really, my plan for 2018 was to NOT have a veggie garden and to only focus on perennials in the yard, but I know if we list the house the veggie garden needs to stand tall and project that “ideal country life” image. Blah.

So, with that, here are some thoughts – Mostly this year will be about prevention and maintenance:
  • Finish removing that creeping jasmine from the property fence
  • Give those Grey Zucchinis another try! Not only were the plants beautiful, but they were good producers
  • Start the potted Japanese Maple on a systemic pest control before June when the Japanese Beetles come in
  • Hit the Japanese Walking Grass week with Roundup when they are sprouts – they are much easier to control that way
  • Consider putting in another Mister Landscaper drip irrigation in the front yard by the peonies
  • Keep up with the vole control




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