Greeting the Dawn

This morning greeted me with a lovely sunrise cresting above the neighbor’s farm. The past few days have been drippy and dreary, so it was a delightful surprise watching the vibrant colors as I sat on my front porch sipping my hot orange-spiced tea. An aromatic Apple-Fritter Bread Pudding was baking in the oven, and I could smell the sweet spices wafting through the screen door. What a lovely way to begin another day on the farm.

I was able to get my  flower bed dug recently and planted with flouncy peonies, delicate bleeding hearts, and several day-lilies that survived the move last year from Virginia.  I intend on adding sunflowers, hollyhocks, and lavenders as the season progresses.

I hope to get the main garden turned over before the alien chives take possession. Late last summer I had planted a buckwheat cover crop to break up the sod and enrich the soil but in the process ended up with wild chives taking over the garden. I have a feeling I will be spending a lot of this growing season heavily mulching around the vegetables in hope of suppressing this crazy chive action.

As the first day of Spring draws closer, I find myself spending a lot of my  time outdoors enjoying the fresh air and walking the property planning where I will be digging up herb beds and establishing more vegetable growing space. I remember I still need to clear the area where the future chicken coop will be standing and I really need to get the compost pile turned over and add more brown plant material to help it wake up.

For the time being, sitting on the porch watching the sun rise is a great way to hang out with Mother Earth.

 

 

 

 

Crazy Cat Lady Alert!

It’s official! I have joined the ranks of the ‘crazy cat ladies’. It all began just a few short weeks ago with a handful of kittens we found in our shed. Tiny, cuddly, sweet, purring little kittens.

NOW….they have taken over the house! Not-so-tiny, cuddly, sweet, purring terrorists. Did I mention that they purr when they attack our feet? Our toilet paper? Our St. Bernard? All of our dogs just want to say, “please, send help.”

Nothing is sacred. Nothing is beyond the reach of these sweet, purring, destructive, rangy beasts. RANGY!

My futon is no longer my sacred space. You can now find me napping with two chihuahuas, four cats, and me, clutching my pillow as I am hemmed in on all sides. If I should dare roll over, the wave of kittens only shifts with the flow, while I seek for a place to put my feet.

I am pleased to announce, though, that the kittens have been earning their keep. What I thought was a catnip mouse being tossed around by Sweetums, upon closer inspection was actually a “live” dead mouse. As in, not a catnip toy. After getting over my initial horror, I felt a sense of pride that our little Sweetums was growing up to be a big boy cat.

Our girls, the puffy princess, aka Whimsy, and the tortoiseshell twins Pookie and Bella Boo, have also followed in the paw steps of their brother and are blossoming into serious mischief contenders.

I can now honestly appreciate the title of “crazy cat lady”. It’s not the lady, necessarily, who is crazy. Just let me put this up for debate: those cats are absolutely nuts! For instance: they prowl through my houseplants like they are in the jungle; they climb my furniture like it’s a jungle gym; they have WWE kitten smack-down on my living room rug; they confiscate all of my favorite writing pens; AND they pounce on my toes when I am sound asleep. I rest my case!

However, they have romped and cavorted into my heart with their little purrs and cuddles and have become an essential part of Whimsical Moon Kitten (Herb) Farm.

 

 

 

 

 

My Herbal Path

Farm sunset

While browsing the aisles of a small, family owned local bookstore one day many, many years ago (when I was in junior high), I ran across a book titled A Pattern of Herbs written by Meg Rutherford. It was a simple book with delightful line drawings of each plant and descriptions explaining their use, how to grow them, and their history.

As I look back on my experiences with herbs, this book always stands out for me as the moment I realized I wanted to be an herbalist. I didn’t have much exposure to herbs, other than the pale, dried cooking herbs in mom’s kitchen cupboards and the lavender sachets in my grandmother May’s nightie drawers, but I read this book from cover to cover many times and decided I wanted to grow an herb garden.

Mom pointed to a tiny, hard-scrabble old gladiola bed on the east side of our house and cheerfully told me I could grow my herbs here. I spent many hours digging that patch of dirt, sifting the stones and pulling the dried-up grass, preparing it for the packets of seeds I had purchased recently with my allowance.

I remember planting marjoram, chives, sage, thyme, oregano, and marigolds. I thought the marigolds were pretty. I honestly don’t remember how long I cultivated that tiny herb patch, but I do remember the magic of watching the seeds sprout and tasting the herbs as they grew into scrappy plants.

It wasn’t until I was pregnant with my first child that I became reacquainted with herbs. I had been gifted a subscription to Mothering magazine and each quarterly issue often featured herbal applications and how to use them in my home medicine cabinet. I immersed myself in herbs that would benefit my pregnancy and soon those herbs that were beneficial to babies, then children.

As I became more familiar with different herbs and confident in their abilities to aid in healing, comfort, and nutrition, I decided to pursue a more structured learning experience and enrolled in Rosemary Gladstar’s course The Science and Art of Herbalism. I acquired many more books for my herbal library (see Recommended References) and soon began preparing tinctures, salves, balms, and teas for myself and my family.

It was when I found a recipe for hand-made natural herbal soaps that I decided I wanted to make my passion for herbs my lifestyle and my livelihood.

As we gear up for the new growing season here on Whimsical Moon Herb Farm, I contemplate the many chores and projects that are waiting for my attention. More garden beds for vegetables, herbs, and flowers need to be turned over. Seeds need to be started under grow lights for planting when the ground becomes warmer. Batches of soaps need to be whipped up and turned out to cure in preparation for this year’s Farmers Market. And a decision needs to be made in regards to an e-commerce site for selling my products on-line.

I have always felt an affinity with herbs and have cultivated a relationship with them for many years now. This season holds many promises for creating, growing, and expanding and I eagerly look forward to the next stage at Whimsical Moon Herb Farm.

Harbingers of Spring

 

I looked out my kitchen window this morning and saw many signs that Spring is just around the corner. Bright green daffodil spears poking out of the muddy soil. Buds sprouting on our cherry tree. A vibrant red male cardinal singing for his mate. Last year’s seed pod tinged with early morning hoarfrost. A pair of bouncing red-breasted robins foraging under the bird feeder.

Nature nudging me with gentle reminders: hang in there, my friend! Spring is in the air and soon windows will be thrown open to the fresh, sunny  breeze and the scent of warming earth and lilac blossoms will waken my senses and bring lightness to my heart.

The days are growing longer and soon it will be time to dig up the garden beds and begin planting the vegetables, flowers, and herbs that we will be growing here on the farm.

 

Lavender, My First Love of Herbs

Lavender

I remember the first time I was introduced to herbs. I was helping my Grandmother May with her weekly laundry, and as we tucked her newly folded night gowns into her dresser drawer, I noticed a small gauzy packet tucked in among her clothes. She called it a sachet, and it smelled faintly of fancy perfume and her herb garden. 

Upon closer inspection, I noticed tiny silver-purple dried flower buds wrapped in that gauze. She told me this was lavender. It smelled sharp and clean. She gave me my own tiny packet of lavender and I felt quite grown up as I tucked it into my underwear drawer. Thus began my love of herbs.

My first batch of natural herbal soap that I crafted was with Lavender essential oil and dried buds; and I have planted Lavender in every garden that I have grown as I moved from place to place, even on my kitchen window sills. As I consider my newest gardening endeavors here in Indiana, Lavender is on the top of my list.

Lavender, or Lavandula officinalus, is a perennial member of the mint family. It likely originated in the Mediterranean, Middle East, and India. The best known is English Lavender (L. angustifolia), which grows between 3-6 feet with dusty blue-green foliage and spikey purplish/pink flowers.

It is often used to soothe headaches and is beneficial in easing the nervous system and the stomach. It awakens the mind and heart after a long winter and can be used to treat depression and lethargy. It is energizing, revitalizing, and inspires hope.

Dream pillows stuffed with dried lavender buds and scented with the essential oil brings soothing, relaxed dreams, and a sound sleep.

One of the many benefits of Lavender that I have only recently discovered, is its ability to soothe minor burns, insect stings, and minor cuts and abrasions. Plus, internally it can ease heartburn and indigestion when taken as a tea.

Lavender is an essential ingredient in herbes de Provence, an important cooking accent to many French dishes. My personal favorite includes the dried buds in Lavender Oat cookies. (See the Recipe Page).

Lavender is a perennial that grows best in a sunny, well-drained area of your garden. Lavender normally is an easy herb to grow, but really does not care for a wet, cold environment. The blossoms, lanky spikes of purplish-pink tight buds, can be harvested once they just begin to open and can be dried for future use or placed in a vase of water to enrich your air with a tantalizing fresh fragrance that will last about a week.

Lavender is easily dried by tying a bunch of lavender flower spikes, about an inch in diameter, and hanging upside down in a ventilated area. You may want to place a clean cloth underneath to capture the buds that fall during the drying process.

For me, Lavender is an essential herb to be included in my apothecary. Both the dried buds and the essential oil are beneficial for many healing applications that come up in my family. It is also one of my most favorite scents for herbal soaps, lotions, and dream pillows.

-TM

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Lavender (Lavandula) – Historical Background and Lore

The use of lavender is nearly as old as recorded history. Ancient Egyptians and Arabians used lavender oils for perfumes and mummification. The linen wraps, soaked in lavender essence, repelled insects, countered unpleasant odors, and may have been believed to be spiritually protective. Some mystics also believed that lavender contributed to long life and acceptance of aging. Cleopatra is rumored to have seduced Julius Caesar and Mark Antony with the aid of lavender. This is logical, since many people of the time smelled strongly of sweat, smoke, and oxen. Even in ancient times, lavender was proven versatile and effective.

Lavender is native to the Mediterranean region, famously in Provenҫe, France. Its name comes from the Latin verb “lavare”, which means “to wash”. It is not a surprise, then, that the Greeks and Romans used lavender to scent soaps and bathwater. People who washed laundry were known as “lavenders” for a time. The Greeks often referred to the herb as “nardus” or “nard”, after the Syrian city of Naardo. It was sold as a curative for insomnia, backaches, and insanity. Lavender is named as “spikenard” in the Holy Bible (The Gospel of Luke), in which its oil was used for anointment as a component of the Holy Essence.

The Romans were gracious enough to introduce lavender to the British Isles, alongside war and conquest. The dried, ground heads of the flowers were used as condiments. Meat was rare and difficult to keep fresh; lavender hid the flavors of partially-rotted food. Lavender evolved in time from a meat preserver to a traditional component of an English garden.

Along the way, lavender played several important roles in Europe during the Middle Ages. It was applied as an aphrodisiac but also to ensure chastity. Sprigs were strewn in homes and other buildings. Spikes were hung on walls and over hearths. Sachets freshened rooms and protected linens from moths. Lavender infusions flavored and scented waters. The oil was known to repel flies. During the Great Plague of London in the 17th Century, people wore springs of lavender or wore gloves imbued with oil to ward off sickness. The insect-repellant properties of the oil also protected against the fleas that spread the plague and likely prevented some disease.

During the 18th through 20th Centuries, lavender provided treatments for various conditions: hysteria, palpitations, hoarseness, palsy, toothaches, sore joints, apoplexy, and colic. It was also used as a carminative, antispasmodic, stimulant, and smelling salt additive. During World War I, it was a go-to disinfectant.

Queen Victoria popularized lavender in England, insisting on having fresh-cut sprigs every day. Later, the Shakers, a sect of the Quakers, or Friends’ Church, were the first people to grow lavender commercially in North America. Lavender is now cultivated and used around the world for culinary, medicinal, herbal, decorative, and aromatic purposes.

-MH

Growing A Farm

Yet another snow storm today. The temperatures are still way below freezing,the sky is bleak, the trees are bare, and the ground is hard. A perfect day to gather my notes and garden sketches, a hot cup of orange spice tea, and consider my Mission Statement for Whimsical Moon Herb Farm.

It is important to create a Mission Statement for your business to provide a road map for your dream and a clear vision of just exactly what your intentions are for your business.

As a cottage herbalist and an herbal soap goddess (:D), embracing plant medicine and an earth centered lifestyle is integral to my purpose and the farm.

The Mission of Whimsical Moon Herb Farm: to create an abundant and prosperous herb farm using sustainable, earth-centered techniques, and living in accordance with the seasons while having a deep connection with Divine, the plants and their allies, and the animals who will be sharing the land with us.

We embrace sustainability, ecology, and service to our community and to Mother Earth. We intend on supporting ourselves by marketing our vegetables; creating natural, hand-made, small batch herbal soaps, body scrubs, balms, and dream pillows; as well as creating (in the works) an on-line and on-farm herbal apprenticeship and an earth-centered herbal school.

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Our neighbors down yonder way.

The farm will  provide most of our fresh vegetables and herbs, and we will be getting chickens this spring and raise them for their wonderful eggs and eventually dairy goats for their milk.

I have come to realize that the way we think, act, and perceive the world is a reflection of the world we wish to inhabit. This farm is my expression of myself: a tree-hugging, Lola Granola, Birkie wearing, eco-bunny, herbal goddess with my sights set on abundance, sustainability, creativity, and connection to Divine.

As Lynn Andrews said, “There is no greater power in the world than the power of living your own truth.”

 

Kitten Chaos

Be careful what you wish for. I’ve heard this idea before and usually shrug it off. Why wouldn’t I want what I wished for?

Now that we’ve been on the farm for almost a year, my room-mate and I thought we should probably consider the idea of a farm cat. A cat to hunt rodents in the barn, to snuggle on my lap while having my morning cup of coffee, and to bask in the sun on the side porch giving our farm the hospitable ambience of coziness and well, an idyllic farm. You know, chickens, vegetable gardens, sunflowers and hollyhocks, an old-fashioned porch swing, and a cat.

Then, one morning, while I was puttering around the tool shed, BOOM! Kittens.Kitten puddle

One fuzzy little face after another crawled out from behind the stack of last year’s flower pots and old potting soil, hesitant but curious. I gently picked one up and ran into the house, waking my room-mate.

“Look what I found in the shed.”

I placed it on her bed and ran back out to fetch the rest of the litter. One, two, three, four kittens. They were old enough to be weaned, but momma cat showed up at the scene of the kitten catastrophe, rubbing against my leg and purring like we were old friends. We figured somebody must have dropped them off and she decided our shed would work just fine for their new home.

It didn’t take them long to get used to our hospitality, taking over the Chihuahua’s dog bed and eating us out of house and farm. Nothing was sacred to them, all was claimed for their kitten antics.Kittens in a basket

We feel confident that our farm now looks cozy and idyllic. Way too idyllic! I’m thinking maybe I should’ve wished for a porch swing instead.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Garden Stirrings

SONY DSC

Mosey reminds me that Spring will get here soon enough. Let’s play in the snow!

 

There is a silence that comes with the falling snow that you can almost feel. Muted and muffled, the morning takes on a fairy-tale quality. Yes, it is snowing today. Again.

Just yesterday, I swore I could feel the stirrings of root and bud as the unseasonably warm air felt heavy and humid, giving a nudge to the great maple tree, the old lilac bush, and the tiny daffodil spear poking out of the moist earth.

I was sketching garden beds in my head and calculating seedling start days as I surveyed my current garden patch. Lists of vegetables and herbs clicked off in my mind. I could visualize the three-sisters garden I would plant soon with sweet corn, pole green beans, and winter squash, just south of the main garden. The side porch flower bed was already blooming in my imagination with hollyhock, nasturtiums, french marigolds, and lavender. I paced a large circular area where my herbal medicine wheel garden would be constructed and planted with Echinacea, sage, chamomile, rosemary, and mints. I could hear the first callings of the Killdeer foraging the scrubby corn fields and could taste the warm air as I breathed deeply, my mouth open and smiling.

But, this morning Momma Earth gently reminded me that February=Winter. I peered across the bare, open fields from my front porch, a mug of hot orange-spice tea warming my hands, and watched the tiny snowflakes swirl and skitter across our narrow farm road, collecting in the ditches and accumulating on my porch steps.

I still have several more weeks of rest and reflection before me. In just a few more months, I will be standing in the middle of my vegetable garden, stretching the kinks out of my back and wiping my brow with gloves caked in dirt, thinking back to this quiet, calm time of resting. I need to remember that each season has its purpose. The snow is beautiful as it blusters past, teasing our St. Bernard, Mosey, to come out and play. Spring will get here soon enough. For now, I will relax and enjoy the calm.

 

 

Spring is coming….soon!

Snow plow
The snow plow moving Winter out of East Cornfield, Indiana.

February second is the day we anxiously wait to see if Punxsutawney Phil (the legendary groundhog) sees his shadow. Legend has it, if his shadow is visible, we should hunker down for six more weeks of Winter. My hope is that he doesn’t see his shadow, as this means we can look forward to an early Spring.

February second also heralds Imbolc or Candlemas. Imbolc, a Gaelic festival still celebrated by many, refers to the “Ewe’s Milk” as this is the time of year many sheep are nursing their lambs. It is a celebration of fire, as the days grow longer and nature begins to waken as the sun grows warmer.

Here on Whimsical Moon Herb Farm, I find myself curled up on my futon with several seed catalogs and a rough sketch of our farm laid out next to me. This spring will be our first full year here at the farm, and at the moment, I have just the one large garden bed turned over. So, I am tinkering with where I want to put my herb beds, the three-sisters (corn, bean, and squash) garden plot, flowers, and the black raspberry patch.

The wind is whistling around the corner of the house and the fields and trees are still bare. Finches, nuthatches, sparrows, and a female red-bellied woodpecker frequent the bird feeders as I continue dreaming about my spring gardens.

February has always been a difficult month for me as it feels like my bones will never get warm again and the days are not long enough yet. I need the sunshine to fuel my batteries and to keep my spirits soaring. Browsing the seed catalogs and dreaming of the gardens yet to be built certainly relieves some of these Winter doldrums.

I think it’s time for a nice hot cup of cocoa to provide a little extra warmth and sweetness to my Spring planning!

 

Hot Cocoa recipe:

Mix 2 tablespoons sugar, 2 tablespoons cocoa (I use Hershey’s Cocoa), and a pinch of sea salt in a large mug. Heat one cup of milk in the microwave at HIGH (100%) for 2 minutes, or so, until hot to your liking. Gradually add the milk to your cocoa mixture; stir really well (moosh the lumps) and then stir in about 1/4 teaspoon vanilla. Top with marshmallows or whip cream.