map, gary new duluth

With winter settling in on northern Minnesota – the wood floors seem to creak more – and, I have switched from doing things to planning things. Planning gardens, planning beehives, looking at seed catalogs, attempting to make soap, and going as far as contacting a realtor or two about empty parcels of land in the area. Trying to keep busy seems to be a bit of a challenge and a case of blues has settled in on me – nothing new, mind you, I have dealt with depression for a long while; it is part of me, so I will make peace with it, settle in, and ride it out.

The cold frames are out in the yard, the hives at the house are wrapped up for the winter, we have a tentative agreement signed for placing hives on private land this spring near Island Lake, three batches of soap have been made, and the 2011 seed catalogs have started to arrive in the mail.

Melissa has been busying herself by painting. It started with, I think, the dining room and the wall and window we had to replace due to water damage. This gave her license to paint; this was followed by the living room, then the stairwell and hallway going upstairs, then the kitchen. Midway through the kitchen, a new bed frame was purchased for our guest room; the guest room got a short-notice makeover. The new bed looks nice and only required a small bit of carpentry on my part to make the hecho en México work with our crooked, late-1800s floor. Melissa was back in the kitchen this long weekend. I was in the basement and attic doing long overdue electrical work. We had a few outlets that were put in place, wire was pull from them to locations were power could be tapped, but somewhere along the span of four years, the wiring never made the connection to the power. That changed this weekend and all the outlets in the house are now live. Thanks to lupus, though, my hands and their joints hurt. All in all, with only one breaker being tripped by my pliers making contact from a live wire to ground, it was a success. The successful wiring did offset the blues momentarily.

cold frame

Back to the gardens. I have written about the cold frames in the recent past; I also wrote about my table saw and thumb accident that set me back with just about everything – my day job, hive winterizing, garden winterizing, and the list goes on. The construction of the cold frames was completed a while ago; however, it was not until this weekend that I moved the last two out into the yard. My neighbors, who are all in their own right, nuts, must have thought the same of me. Clearing snow away, to set a heavy wood box with an old window on the top, down on the ground; then filling the box with dirt. Crazy talk, I know.

Gardens. gardens. gardens. I want more next year. We have the front of the yard, but fruit trees will be going out there. Side yard? Melissa wants to put a chicken coop there next year. Other side of the front? That might work. Other parts of the back? There needs to be a balance between garden-space and hound-space, but something can be worked out. All that, and I plan and think, and plan and think. Run an idea past Melissa, then rethink it. I thumb through countless seed catalogs; it would awesome to grow this, or it would be totally bitching to grow that. There is always the space issue, and there is always the issue of our short growing season. With the cold frames, I hope to get a jump on some things this spring.

Don’t drop the soap. Saponification, has it is called, is the process where a strong base (in this case, Lye or Sodium Hydroxide) reacts with very weak, fatty acids (e.g. oils); You get some heat energy released and if the base and the oils were the correct proportions, you get soap. The prep time and mixing takes about an hour and the saponification time takes another 23 hours.

Round one was a hops, oatmeal and beeswax. Melissa has declared this one, so far, the best. Round two was a goats’ milk, honey and tea tree oil; very soft, it has a slight medical smell to it. Melissa gave the process a stab, and only splattered me with caustic goo once. She made a goats’ milk, lime essence/extract and coconut oil soap. She calls it "lime in the coconut". It is a pleasant smelling soap that cleans well.