Herbal spotlight: Echinacea (purple Coneflower)

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Bumble bee on one of our Echinacea blooms.

Here at Whimsical Moon Farm, we grow many of the herbs that we use in our handcrafted soaps. We also grow herbs for culinary uses, health and healing, and for the pollinators. We enjoy attracting honey bees, butterflies, and many different bird species. Among the herbs you can find in our gardens, we grow sage, rosemary, oregano, parsley, thyme, chamomile, lavender (lots!), and Echinacea.

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Echinacea purpurea flower with butterfly.

One of my favorite herbs is Echinacea purpurea and E. angustifolia. It loves the sun and is a native wildflower here in the United States. Not only does it produce beautiful flowers that attract all types of pollinators, but it is an excellent support for the body’s immunity. Tinctured roots and teas made from its leaves and stem help strengthen the body’s ability to resist infection.

With flu season upon us, I always try to have on hand Echinacea capsules, teas containing Echinacea, and lots of tincture from last Fall’s root harvest. At the first sign of a tickle in my throat or a drippy nose, I begin taking the capsules as directed on the bottle or dosing myself with a dropper-full of tincture with each meal. (Dose 1 – 3 ml, up to 5 times a day.)

The roots of the plant can be harvested around the second or third year. I usually take a piece or two off of each plant in the Fall when I divide the root clumps. The fresh root can be chopped up and placed in a pint or quart mason jar. I cover the root pieces with 80 proof, or higher, Vodka making sure the pieces are completely covered. I cap the jar tightly and store in a cupboard, away from sunlight. I try to give the jar a shake each day for 14 to 21 days. When it’s time to decant, I pour the liquid through cheese cloth into a clean bowl, making sure to press the remaining pulp to get all of the good medicine.

I prefer storing the tincture in small brown or blue bottles with dropper caps. These can be purchased from many sources, but I usually get mine from Mountain Rose HerbsBe sure to cap tightly and label with what the tincture is and when it was bottled. The shelf life for the tincture is 1 to 3 years, but many herbalists believe it stays good for many years, if kept tightly capped and stored in a cool, dark place.

I often dry the flowers to use in my handcrafted soaps as they add beautiful bits of color to the bars. But more often than not, I allow the flowers to remain on the plant for the butterflies and bees flitting around the gardens in the Fall to enjoy.

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Echinacea purpurea

May this season be a healthy and vibrant time of year for you!

Please check out our handcrafted soaps at Whimsical Moon Farm.

 

 

Mischief, Mayhem, and Chaos on the Farm!

The three Furies (although furry, as well) Ichabod, Ozzy, and Piscus.

Yes, it has been a busy Autumn. Beside the usual fall chores around the homestead, we have acquired a few new residents to our farm. When Bella lost her sister, Pookie, a few months ago, she seemed inconsolable. Of course, I figured she needed a buddy. We visited our local animal shelter, and well….found a sweet little kitten. With two other siblings we just couldn’t separate.

A few weeks later, there was a knock at the door and two young ladies stood on my porch with a tiny black kitten. “Is this yours?”

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Ophelia. The little princess that rounds out the bunch.

As soon as she was placed on the floor, she claimed our home as hers. She immediately made her way to the food dish. The boys clamored around her and impatiently waited for her highness to finish eating. She licked her paws, cleaned her face, and promptly fell asleep in the dog’s bed.

The kittens grow daily, it seems, as they create chaos, mayhem, and mischief all throughout the house. Bella is fine, as long as they stay out of her way. She has taken a special liking, though, to the little princess, Ophelia.

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Bella, the matriarch of the bunch, seems nonplussed with the new additions. As long as they stay out of HER chair.

Early in August, we noticed a sign at our local Tractor Supply store. Fall chicks are here! We had already considered adding a few more chickens to our flock as we wanted to continue our small egg business next spring. I already had an idea of what breeds I would like to try, and we were happy with the chicks available. We came home with six new additions.

We purchased 3 Silver Wyandottes (or so we thought!), 1 Black Austrolorp, and 2 Brown Isas. Good future egg layers with sweet temperaments.

As the chickens quickly matured, we realized that our Silver Wyandottes were displaying unusual feather manifestations on the top of their little heads. After considerable research (thank you Google), I discovered our Silver Wyandottes were not what they seemed.

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They are actually, ahem, Silver Polish chickens. The ‘punk rockers’ of the chicken world.

https://www.mypetchicken.com

This is what our chickens will eventually grow up to look like. (Image from mypetchicken.com)

Not exactly what I originally had in mind, but I laugh every time I go out to their chicken coop to attend to them. They are flighty, erratic birds with friendly dispositions when they settle down. They lay white eggs, instead of my favorite brown eggs, and are not known to be as productive of layers as I had hoped, but they certainly do bring a particular ‘Whimsy’ to our farm.

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The young pullets graduating to their new home.

So, Whimsical Moon Farm continues to grow with each season. Signs of Autumn surround us as the raised garden beds slowly get cleaned out and orange and red leaves fall from our maple and locust trees around the property. Mornings are cool and misty and the days grow shorter and less intense.

A fat, pumpkin colored spider, bumblebee on a late Echinacea bloom, and Mosey inspecting newly harvested corn field.

Autumn has always been my favorite season of the year. As always, I look forward to the cooler weather, sitting around the fire pit drinking hot cocoa of an evening, and finding quiet, less frenzied moments to curl up with good books and write in my journal.

Here’s to a Whimsical Moon Farm Autumn season.

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Autumn, ready for Autumn.

Take a peek at our soaps! Whimsical Moon Farm

 

 

 

Harvesting Gratitude on the Farm.

“Tears are the summer shower to the soul.” —Alfred Austin

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Lightening bugs on a hot summer night after a storm.

It has been a while since I’ve had the opportunity to sit down and write a blog post. It has been a difficult summer so far. Outrageous thunderstorms with incredible wind and crazy rains; the bitter loss of a beloved farm cat who was hit by a vehicle and left on the side of our road; and battles with our intermittent satellite internet have all heaped frustration and stress on our farm and household.

Our creek has flooded its’ banks several times this growing season, destroying crops and causing undue wear and tear on our land bordering it. Standing pools of water in our large garden area rotted the newly planted strawberry rows and compromised our asparagus beds. Thunderstorms came rolling in one after the other causing power outages, messed up satellite reception, and downed tree limbs the size of a goat shed. Such a mess!

Kayla planting asparagus in the big garden and Kayla holding a gnarly rhubarb root about to go into the ground.

The most difficult part of farming for me, I think, is finding the positive in these difficult times. So, after taking off my grumpy-pants, Kayla and I decided to plant gratitude along with the seeds and roots we re-planted in the garden and raised beds. We created opportunities to discover reasons to be grateful (even without internet. HaHa!)

A baby cardinal in our maple tree, dandelion fluff, a bullfrog in our impromptu pond, beautiful sunsets, and the first strawberry growing in our pots on the front porch.

One afternoon, while barbecuing cheeseburgers, we discovered a baby cardinal newly fledged from its’ nest. A tiny mohawk crest on its’ head.  We listened to the bullfrog chorus each evening calling back and forth in the ‘pond’ that had formed in Farmer Matt’s soybean field. Kayla was thrilled when she discovered the first tiny strawberry growing in one of the pots on our front porch. And the summer sunsets are gorgeous.

We made it a point to slow down on our walks and listen carefully and observe deeper. We were thrilled when we discovered a cicada hiding in a basket near the chicken coop and the farm cats continued to amuse us in so many ways.

Cicada in the basket, kissing kitties, tree frog on the porch.

This summer season continues and we are grateful for satellite internet that currently works. We are thrilled to see vegetables on the vines each time we go out to the raised beds to harvest. Cucumbers, yellow squash, cherry tomatoes, Swiss chard, lettuce greens… the list continues and we are thankful for tasty summer salads. We enjoy stacking new rows of canned sauce and jam jars on the pantry shelves. We love the sunshine and we love watching the chickens peck in the tender grass for bugs and tidbits.

Living on the farm can be tenuous and difficult at times, but isn’t that just part of being a curious soul in these human bodies? That’s what Kayla and I believe.

Sunflower, romaine lettuce, cherry tomato, and Ginger-Roo, our resident rooster.

“Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.” —John Lubbok, ‘The Use of Life’.

 

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In loving memory of our beloved farm cat, Pookie!

Please check out our website at Whimsical Moon Farm!

 

Our Herbal Farm Start-Up!

Whimsical Moon Herbal Soaps

We here at Whimsical Moon Farm have been hard at work crafting a cottage business to highlight our desire to live independently and with the seasons. Creativity and craftsmanship are integral in our foundation of this endeavor.

With that said, we are practically bursting from the seams with excitement as we have just opened our very first on-line store. All of our products are hand-crafted using herbs that we grow here on the farm and made with lots of whimsy and love. Here is the link to our business site:

Whimsical Moon Farm

Please feel free to browse our products and send us a note if you have any questions.

In celebration of opening our cottage business we are having a random drawing to win a gift box of our soap products. We will be drawing a name on Wednesday; December 1st. If you would like to participate, you can leave a message here on this blog or like our Facebook page and your name will be placed in our highly technical hat for the drawing.

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This gift box you can win!

We look forward to fulfilling each and every order with gratitude and sincere joy!

Thank each and every one of you for giving us a peek.

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Whimsical Moon Farm…open for business!

 

OH! You’re One of Those Farmers!

 

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Harriet greeting the morning, “I’m a farmer!”

So, there I was standing in line at the local Tractor Supply store, my cart loaded down with a 50 pound bag of Layer Pellets, a 50 pound bag of Scratch Grains, a small bottle of liquid wormer for the farm cats, and a diet cherry cola.

“Are you a farmer?”

I turned around and there sat a bright-eyed, smiling little girl in the basket of a shopping cart. Her mom was impatiently paging through last months issue of Capper’s magazine. “Don’t bother the lady, Cindy Lou.”

“Well, yes I am,” I told Cindy Lou and winked at her as I turned back into the line.

“Do you grow lots of corn like my pop-pop?” Cindy Lou asked.

I turned again and smiled at this darling girl. “No. I grow vegetables and herbs for the farmer’s market and my family, and I have a small flock of laying hens.”

I heard Cindy Lou’s mom snort from behind her magazine as she mumbled “oh, one of those farmers.”

“Next please,” the cashier said. I really wanted to ask Cindy Lou’s mom what she meant, but it was my turn to check out. I pushed my cart up to the register and moved the heavy bags around so the cashier could scan them. By the time I was finished paying for my items, Cindy Lou and her mom had already moved to a different register and I needed to get out of the way for the next customer.

By the time I got back to the farm, I had worked myself into a dither. What did Cindy Lou’s mom possibly mean with her snorting comment? Did I own or lease 250-300+ acres of land and plant it in agri-corn and soybean subsidized by government programs and supplemented by herbicides and pesticides? No. My tiny farm sits on 4+ acres right smack dab in the middle of those vast corn fields and I grow vegetables and herbs. I prefer not to use chemicals but rely on permaculture techniques, crop rotation, and just plain weeding and observation. Did that make me one of those farmers?

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One of many raised vegetable beds.

I continued to consider my position as a farmer. What are the requirements and standards? Did I have to be raised on a generational farm to call myself a farmer? If so, I was again out of luck. I grew up in a small mill town on the banks of the Columbia river in Washington state. I grew a scrappy little herb garden in my mom’s old iris bed. I did want to grow up to be a farmer, though.

 

SONY DSC              The Columbia River gorge as seen from the Vista House near Corbett, OR.

How did I decide to call myself a farmer?

Well, I roll myself out of bed each morning at the (ass) crack of dawn with several of my chores staring me in the face. Mosey, the St. Bernard licks my hand while the two Chihuahuas, Winter and Autumn dance around my feet, eagerly waiting to be fed. The cats need to be let outside as they chase each other from one end of the house to the other, and I must put a pot of coffee on the stove. Strong (fair-trade) coffee just makes sense on the farm. For me, it’s a necessity, not just a fancy.

The mornings are cold now and I have to make sure the chicken’s water isn’t frozen. I grab a couple scoops of layer pellets and grain scratch to toss in their bowl, and I gabble and cluck at the chickens as I clean their nest box and check for eggs.

During the summer time, I try to get my garden and outdoor chores completed early  in the morning while the temperatures are moderate. Now that Winter is knocking at my door, I still try to get as much done in the morning as I can so I can get back into my toasty kitchen and determine what needs to be done for the rest of the day.

As one of those farmers, I have learned how to tolerate dirt under my nails, random chicken feathers stuck in my hair, and ‘farm fresh’ as my new favorite fragrance. Work gloves are my go-to accessory and muck boots and garden clogs now sit  forefront in my closet while the designer heels and loafers are piled way in the back gathering dust. Heavy duty Carhartt pants and t-shirts or flannel shirts round out the ensemble topped with a baseball cap; my hair pulled in a long pony-tail sticking out the back.

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Dusk on the farm.

More importantly, being one of those farmers isn’t about what I can take from the land, but what I can give back. How can I make this tiny piece of earth a better place than it was before I began calling it my farm?

I have chosen not to use herbicides or pesticides on the land, but choose to restore the earth with compost and manure, cover-crops, and vermiculture (earth worms). I plant only heirloom and traditional (open-pollinated seeds) so I can both save the seeds for next year’s gardens and be assured that I am not eating genetically modified organisms. I consider rebuilding the soil on the farm just as important as feeding my family and my animals.

I grow a variety of different types of vegetables, herbs, and even flowers in my gardens as I follow a permaculture system of maintaining diversity and building miniature eco-systems in each bed. This means I try to create habitats for the birds, beneficial bugs, and butterflies to help me sustain a healthy, co-operative farm. With permaculture I tend to plant my seedlings closer together so that as they grow they create a canopy that will reduce evaporation and block the weeds. (Generally.) I rotate my crops from season to season to maintain healthy soil and hopefully fool the invasive insects into thinking dinner is no longer available here. Plus, I grow many different types of crops in the same place. For instance, I have learned that I can grow sweet corn with pole beans and squash in the same bed. As the corn grows taller, the pole beans grow along the corn stock and the squash with its broad leaves ramble around the base of the plants which again hinder weed growth and reduces water evaporation. This technique is often called planting ‘the three sisters’ and is credited to our Native American elders.

As I focus on what I can do to create a healthier farm, I attempt to maintain mindful consumption and conservation. Waste is such a huge issue for me and I find myself not only recycling every little thing that I can, but trying to figure out other uses for items that would ordinarily be tossed in land-fills. Admittedly, this is not always possible to do, but I limit my purchases of items that I realize will end up being tossed and try to use things to their maximum output. If I must throw it away, I want it to be as small, used up, and compact as it can be.

As I work towards a simpler lifestyle, I have found so much stuff that no longer benefits me. As I decide what needs to go I always try to ask around to see if somebody else could use it. If not, I pass it on to Goodwill or one of the many ministries at the local church.  When contemplating a purchase, I spend time determining if this is an absolute necessity or just a passing whim. I have come to realize that each purchase I make has an impact on the planet. Will my money benefit or diminish resources on this tiny piece of earth I leave for the next generation?

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Wildflowers growing in our barn lot.

I have found that this farm has helped me to reconnect with the land. It has challenged me to learn new skills and to create a more socially responsible lifestyle. Whimsical Moon Farm has pushed me to be more creative and passionate about what I value and how I display those values to my family, friends, and community. I am absolutely doing what I love while I live in alignment with nature and the seasons. If this makes me one of those farmers, than I embrace that calling wholeheartedly.

 

Please feel free to check out our new Whimsical Moon Farm website featuring hand-crafted herbal soaps and products crafted right here on this farm.

Whimsicalmoonfarm.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hallow’een Whimsy!

Pirates in East Cornfield, a pumpkin witch at Metamora, IN, and a toasty All Hallows’ Evening bon fire.

Hallow’een has always been one of my favorite seasonal celebrations. It marks the very end of the harvest for us here on the farm and it provides me an excuse to be creatively ghoulish. I have as much fun carving Jack O’ Lanterns and decorating the yard as my daughter Kayla.

As we light our bon fire and get ready to barbecue some weinies and burgers, we can feel a definite closure to the summer season as we pull our jackets tighter and warm our hands around the fire. We know that Winter will be knocking on our door soon, along with snow and freezing temperatures. But right now, we enjoy the riotous golden colors, the crisp fresh air, and spicy pumpkin cheesecake with tart apple cider. Oh yes!

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 Our little farmhouse in all its Autumn glory.

It seems like the maple trees turned orange and yellow overnight and we find ourselves shuffling as we walk outside, kicking up crisp leaves and giggling like the ‘mature’ adults that we are. Most of the major preparations for the Winter have been completed and I for one look forward to the quieter, calmer season of introspection.

My daughter Kayla reminds me (often) that her favorite celebration is only 53 shopping days away. But I feel confident that she will stay busy as she prepares for the holidays. She enjoys the process of creating gifts and special seasonal cards for her family. Her special needs require that we begin early, so that each card and gift has been crafted just the way she likes. Hallow’een is our special reminder that it is time to get creating.

This is Kayla patiently waiting to roast her hot dog, our old maple tree showing off its colors, and a passel of lazy farm cats.

One of the biggest enjoyments for me living on this farm is actually experiencing the seasons both in work and play. My daily life is intertwined with the changing seasons as everything ebbs and flows, withers and then blossoms again, resting and preparing for the next season of growth.

Whimsical Moon Farm has moved into its season of cozy retreat.

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Captain Jack wishes you an abundant All Hallows’ Evening!

The Humble Gardener

echinaceaEchinacea

I was sitting in the orthodontist’s chair when I realized something – I was considered a master gardener (yes, I have adult braces — let’s ignore that and move on). The revelation smacked me as the assistant settled in to remove my rubber bands and explained, “Oh! I’ve been waiting for you to come in so I can ask you a question….what do you think of Zoo Doo? Is all the hoopla worth it? Should I sign up for the waiting list?”

Whoa there, when did I become a master gardener?

The title is emphatically undeserved. I’ve only had a real garden for two years. Yes, I’ve had a “potted” garden for years prior, devoured many soil and gardening books, even got my Bachelor of Science in Environmental Sciences with a focus on soil and land use, but does that make me the go-to gal for advice on manure?

Let’s rewind this a bit. In fact, quite a bit. My love for growing things came about when I was about eight. I meticulously prepped a bed for my vegetables. I weeded, tilled, and worked all day until I had the perfect fluffy bed. When I excitedly showed Dad the fruits of my labor, he said, “That’s great dear, but that spot doesn’t get enough sun to grow anything”. You see, in my ignorance I had only accounted for 2 of the 3 necessary requirements to grow plants (besides a few tenacious weeds, anyway). I’d thought of land (soil, check) and I had thought of water (watering can, check) but I had neglected to think of solar requirements. The spot I had chosen was basically smack in the middle of a grove of rhododendrons. Barely a ray of sunshine made its way through the gnarled branches and thick leaves. My dream of being a farmer was immediately shattered. But only temporarily.

Fast forward about 5 years and I found myself transplanted onto a small island outside of Seattle. My mother had decided that she wanted to garden, and I was determined that she would not have all the fun. But I had no knowledge, no understanding of how to grow things. I just possessed an unexplainable desire. With a bit of whining (as teenage girls are prone to do) she conceded a small plot of my own to grow herbs. Perhaps not as exciting as tomatoes and cucumbers, but still important! And most importantly, less fickle to grow. This is where I cut my teeth and quickly learned growing things wasn’t as simple as scattering a few seeds in the soil, crossing my fingers, and letting Mother Nature take her course – that is if I wanted to cultivate anything other than dandelions and creeping buttercup. I learned quickly that gardening was a series of constant little battles. Is the soil to dry? Oh, I better water it. Is the soil to wet? Then maybe I should mound the rows to keep the roots from drowning. Not getting enough sun? Well perhaps I should chop down those darn blackberries that are towering overhead. And the battle royale? The slugs. Oh those pernicious slugs! The garden turned into a mine field of tubs filled with Miller High Life in the hopes of luring the slimy monsters to their death with the champagne of beers.

If gardening doesn’t teach you anything else, it will teach you persistence. It took me years to unlock the secret to successfully growing plump, tasty tomatoes. And I’m still learning to properly thin the carrots (it just seems such a waste to pull any of them!). And I’ve discovered that it’s not a single-season endeavor to cultivate the perfect soil bed that’s rich with humus and teaming with microbes and mycorrizae. In fact, it can take many, many years.

Regardless of all the “little battles” and the patience it takes to garden, I’m hooked. I can’t imagine at this point in my life not having a garden. Where else can I get dark red, super-flavorful tomatoes that put those hot-house fruits to shame? How else could I pick candy-like sugar-snap peas right off the vine? And how would I fuel my love for cool cucumber drinks on hot summer days? Yes I’m hooked. And I’ll enthusiastically share my love for all things gardening if you dare to ask. But am I a master gardener at this point? I don’t think so. Though it is a title I hope to earn one day. Instead, I think I just happen to be the only person many of my co-workers and friends know that gardens at all. And because of this, I’ve become the de-facto pro.

So back to that question the orthodontist assistant asked me. What do I think of Zoo Doo? You may be surprised to learn that I’m not a fan. Why? Other than fundamentally not supporting the confinement of wild animals, I’m also not confident that manure from the zoo is free of antibiotics and other residue (sedatives, anyone?) that is left over from treating the animals. These left-overs can have a negative impact on the soil biota as well as be translocated (taken up) by the plants you grow to eat. While most of these medications would have broken down during digestion, some simply do not. Heavy metals, such as arsenic and mercury, sometimes used in animal supplements, persist. I’d rather not risk it. Instead, I choose to compost the nitrogen-rich manure from my chickens. Chickens are little poop-machines – so why waste it?  And if you don’t have your own chickens, find a neighbor that does. If they are like me, they always have excess chicken poop. Otherwise, check out Craigslist or reach out to local farmer. It may take a little effort, but it’s well worth it.

Happy gardening.

Guest blog courtesy of Chelsie Johnson at Humble Bee Farms.