Homemade Witch Hazel

Sometimes I buy plants because I want to try my hand at using them for the mainstream product associated with the plant name. Well, maybe just one time I did that? I don't know how long ago I bought a witch hazel tree (H. vernalis), but I put it in a big pot when I got home and never got around to making the skin astringent I'd intended.

I {finally} put that sucker in the ground (it outgrew the pot a looong time ago--oops) and decided I should prune it a little. Since I had a branch I might as well make witch hazel, right?

After a few hours on the internet (over-research much?) I settled on the second set of instructions in this post.

Black Walnut Ink

What does a stay-at-home-mom do between baby wrangling and printing posters for a couple of upcoming shows? Simmer walnuts on the stove to make ink, of course!

Mabel has been helping pile up the walnuts in our yard, which then go into one of my big enamel pots (formerly used for canning), are covered with water, and then the liquid is reduced in half. I also gathered some goldenrod to add to one of the batches to see if I could get a bit of a yellow hue to the ink. I didn't gather enough goldenrod and the plants are at the end end of their season here anyway.

The result is a beautiful warm brown. I've bottled some up to take to the Handmade Market, saved a quart for Charlie to use as a wood stain, and have another batch I'm reducing even further to make it really saturated.

Want to make your own? Follow the instructions over on You Grow Girl! Gayla takes all the guess work out of the process!

Respect your Elders

There is one blueberry bush in our yard (of about 10) that has berries on it. I suspect that's because it's tucked beside an elderberry and the birds have been so distracted with the elderberry they haven't noticed the blueberry. Whatever the reason, it will have a nice-sized harvest when/if they ever ripen.

Yesterday I went to check on it and saw the elderberries are ripe! I'd had it in my mind that they'd be ready sometime in August. I guess that needs a mental correction? Anyway, it seems early to me. I harvested about 3/4 of the clusters from the 2 largest bushes. There were enough clusters that were nearly bare to tell me there have been ripe berries for a few days at least. The remaining unpicked clusters are mostly green and will be harvested in a couple weeks, I suppose.

Earlier in the spring I saved a few flower heads for use as herbal tea. Now I have about 2 cups of fresh berries. I'll probably dry half and syrup (You can verb 'syrup' right? You can verb 'verb' right?) the other half. Elderberries have historically been used for prevention of winter ailments, they're packed with vitamins (A, B, and C) and immune boosting antioxidants.

Later today we're going blackberry picking! Any berries in your neck of the woods? What's lookin' good?

For those interested in growing elderberries, one of my bushes was started from a twig I simply stuck in the ground. I believe it is Black Elderberry (Sambucus nigra). The other is one I purchased from Gardens of the Blue Ridge and is the North American native elderberry, Sambucus canadensis. If you're interested in purchasing one, I can't recommend them highly enough.

Mulch it good

When I first got into veggie gardening we talked about buying a tiller and working the land that way. Since permie school/hippie camp, I've come to know, love, and totally rely on building mulch beds. Remember how I do it? Start by suppressing grass and weed growth with cardboard.

Pile on layers of mulch in a variety of forms. We have a hill of decaying shredded woody material so I use that, grass clippings, leaves, chicken litter....whatever is free and handy.

Water well, add soil/finished compost in pockets throughout the deep mulch and plant directly into the soil.The next season that whole mound you made will be beautiful, dark, rich compost, full of worms and ready for growing.