I’m Growing My Own Tea!

I adore tea.  Black, White, Green or even Oolong.  Offer me a cup of tea and I will be your friend forever!

I enjoy drinking herbal teas also, but nothing can beat a cold glass of lemon balm leaves steeped in white tea on a hot summer day.  Ahhhhh  🙂

I thought I was doomed to continuously spending lots of money on my tea habit until I found out that I can actually grow my own tea plants.  Happy Dance!

Until a few months ago, I thought all tea plants were tropical!  Nope!  Shows how much I don’t know. In fact, a lot of tea plant varieties can withstand freezing temperatures down to 0 degrees and grow well in zones 7 – 9.  Seriously!

One Green World, Korean TeaThen I saw these Camilla Sinensus v. Sinensus (that’s the official name of a tea plant that comes from eastern and northern Asia. Camilla Sinensus Assamica comes from India and regions surrounding it) plants for sale on a website called One Green World, and I just couldn’t resist.  The Sochi variety and the Korean Mountain variety of tea can both withstand the coldest temperatures that we get here on our homestead, so that means I can grow tea!         Oh Joy!

So, I bought two tea plants, one Sochi and one Korean Mountain, and they arrived a few weeks ago.

How to grow camellia sinensus

This is how the tea plants arrived. They were so well packed that I don’t think any leaves were harmed! Thank you, One Green World, for sending me such beautiful plants!

Can you believe the size of these plants?  From root tip to leaf tip, about three feet tall!  I certainly wasn’t expecting them to look so good!  Now, I am not a spokesperson for this plant nursery, nor have I been compensated in any way for saying this.  I just think that when a business makes a happy customer, they should be commended.  Kudos!

Growing green tea

Here is how the tea plants came from the nursery.

The plants came in plastic pots, where they had to stay for a few days while I went into town to get some newer, larger ones.  I took them out of the box and set them upright, but kept the plastic sleeve over the pot so the roots wouldn’t dry out.

Because I want to plant these into the ground near our new home, for now they will have to live in pots until most of the building is done.  The plants like to get some sun and enjoy partial shade, but harsh summer afternoon sunshine is not their “cup of tea”.

Yes, I just said that.  😉

How I am growing camellia sinensus

Look at the root system of these plants – very well established. I just teased the roots a bit before planting in the new pots.

I can’t wait to harvest some tea and try it, but I am going to wait until the plants are better established in the pots.  They both have some new growth already, but it is still early and I would assume they have some shock to go through from shipping, so I am going to let the roots “steep” (holy cow, 🙂 I am on a roll) in their new soil for a while first. After a few weeks, once the spring temperatures are more stable, I will give them some of my homebrewed kelp fertilizer.

I did some research on how to grow the tea plants, and apparently these plants like a fairly acidic soil that well drained and can be kept moist, which is what we have. They also like to have part shade if your afternoons are hot, which is just the kind of conditions that my new elderberry plants wanted – so I may end up putting them next to the elderberry bushes.  Mmmmmmmm… elderberry green tea sweetened with stevia…

Speaking of my elderberry plants – they are already beginning to leaf out!

How to grow camellia sinensus v sinesus

The elderberries are starting to get leaves. This is a branch of one of the larger plants. All four plants did well through the winter, so I hope to harvest more elderberries this year and dry some just for my tea!

Once the tea plants are established, I will harvest some of the growth tips and try my hand at preparing the tea leaves into either white or green tea, depending on how the leaves are processed. Maybe even oolong or black tea. I hope to post that process soon, but I don’t want to shock the poor plants right now any more than the shipping may have.

How to grow Tea

These plants have plenty of room to spread their roots, and I hope to be able to plant them in the ground next fall, when (hopefully) there won’t be as much construction traffic going on.

However, I have read that it is necessary to harvest the new tea leaves as soon as they appear, before they get too big and not useful. Harvesting also helps to prune the plant and keep it at a reasonable height, as some can grow more than 15 feet tall, and I certainly do not want to climb a ladder for my tea!  After doing more research, I found that harvesting the tea leaves four times a year would not be unreasonable, starting with what the Chinese call the “first flush” n the spring, and ending sometime in August, so that I don’t disturb the fall flowers too much.  I think my honey bees will just adore the tea leaves!

In the meantime, I am dreaming of all the types of tea add-ins – rose hips, madrone berries, dried elderberries, lavender flowers, dehydrated orange peel, dried mint and or lemon balm leaves…  the possibilities are endless!  Of course, to sweeten the tea, I have my faithful stevia plant or my yummy honey from our bees!  I think I am going to collect a bunch of beautiful jars with the bail top lids so I can store the tea and all these flavorings.  Won’t that look pretty on an open shelf in my kitchen?

This is going to be so much fun!

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Update on our Building Plans

Yes.  I know.  I haven’t posted anything for a while.

We have been busy, busy, busy.

Yeah – snow.   Yippee… not!                          But seriously, the winter that we stay up here the whole time in our tiny cottage, we have had record rain and lots of snow!

 

We have also had lots of rain and snow, computer problems (darn hackers), along with limited data availability to blog because we are using up all our data researching stuff for our new home!

We are preparing to submit our plans for the second time to the plan checker for our county soon. We are building with a product called Faswall, which is an alternative building product, so the county is being a bit nit-picky with their code requirements.  The only thing holding us up right now are the corrections for electrical plans.  We gave them to the guy we thought was going to be our contractor about a month ago who said he would do the corrections for us, but he has yet to get back to us on them. Perhaps this is a sign that we shouldn’t hire him.  The electrical plans were mostly done the first time we submitted.  So, to keep the ball rolling, we are contacting another guy to see how much he will charge to complete the electrical plans for us. Harrumph!The newest house plans

In the meantime, we have been doing a lot of planning and shopping and dreaming.  First, we saw this building in Sonora, California, that we just fell in love with!  Since we will have quite a bit of retaining wall, built with concrete block, we really liked how it looked with the gray brick.  Stunning!  So, we went searching for gray brick to use as wainscotting on the outside of the house, accents for the top of the retaining walls and bricking up some columns.  We will also use the brick for the facing of the masonry heater inside.

Believe it or not, even though gray is becoming one of the more traditional colors for brick, we had a hard time finding some. We finally found this brick at a brick yard in South Sacramento.  It doesn’t have the variegation of light and dark gray that I like in the picture above, but it does have some variety and it is fairly rustic looking, so I think this is what we will end up with!

Gray Brick

I think it’s beautiful, what do you think?

Then, while in Sacramento, we went to IKEA to shop around looked at their kitchen cabinets.  My sister remodeled her home a few years ago, and used IKEA cabinets in her kitchen and has been very happy with them.  In fact, I helped put her cabinets together! Since we are building our home on a strict budget, the cabinets are fairly easy for the do-it-yourselfer to install, and they wear well, we are ALMOST certain we will use these.  In fact, here is a computerized picture I drew up on their website tool of what our kitchen could look like with the IKEA cabinets.

I love the way this kitchen looks. Gray cabinets, classic subway tile backsplash, medium brown wood floors.  The range, refrigerator, vent hood and dishwasher will all be stainless steel.

The only problem is that we haven’t decided what color to use.  The style of this cabinet comes in gray or off-white.  I know that gray cabinets are becoming all the rage, which is one reason I am reticent to use them, but we only have one window in the kitchen, and that window faces north and is covered with 12 feet of patio cover, which would make the kitchen fairly dark.  Yes, we are installing one of those solar tube thingys (don’t know which one, yet) over the kitchen island, but with dark wood floors and gray cabinets, we are afraid that the kitchen would be just too dark!

Old kitchen

I loved my old kitchen in the valley. This is a picture of the breakfast nook right next to the kitchen, which shows the white cabinets and wood floor. I am thinking that white cabinets might actually be the way to go,.

Now, the truth is that I love white kitchen cabinets.  I had white cabinets in the house we had before we move up here to our homestead and absolutely loved them!  We had medium dark brown laminate floors and I was obsessed with that combination. The problem?  I want a farmhouse sink.  The one IKEA sells.  The farmhouse sink is white white but the cabinets are just slightly off-white.  Yes, IKEA sells cabinets that are white white and would look good with the sink, it’s just that the style of the white-white cabinets are not mine.  They are just too modern for me.  I am more of a traditional gal.  Wood stained cabinets?  Well…  I don’t think they would look good with wood floors.  Too much wood for me.

What would you do?  I could sure use some advice on this one!

Another decision we have been researching (and researching) is the solar system that will power our off-grid house.  We attended a large “home show” in Sacramento, CA and a smaller one in Chico, CA and talked with quite a few solar companies.  Let me tell you, about 95% of the solar companies out there are for grid tied options only…  they don’t do off-grid.  In fact, some of the smaller companies who said they would do off grid didn’t know as much about off-grid solar as we do! When we started asking them questions about their systems and they talked to us about micro-inverters, we learned to politely walk away.  You don’t use microinverters in an off-grid application.  One guy even tried to tell us he would use the new Tesla Powerwall.  Well…  Um…  No.  We talked with Tesla representative last fall (after being on their list for almost a year!) and the Powerwall is NOT to be used for an off-grid application.  We politely walked away from that guy also. We have been dabbling with solar power on the homestead for several years now. We are running a 5 cubic foot freezer, our satellite TV receiver, flat screen TV, lights, a small refrigerator, and laptop and cellphone charges on a less than 1 kilowatt system with some generator back-up. (SEE HERE and HERE) We did find four companies that we feel would do a good job with our solar system, so to get a fair bid, we are asking each to give us a 4 kWh system to include everything needed for a complete off-grid situation, along with installation on a two story standing seam metal roof.  So far we have received only one bid.  We have also seen some pretty nice solar electric “kits” at online stores.  Renology is an online alternative energy store that has quite a few off-grid options.  Here is one we like:   renogy-4500-watt-48-volt-monocrystalline-solar-cabin-kit.  Another company Wholesalesolar has kit that is a bit more expensive, but may be more complete as it includes mounting racks: the-lodge-4.68-kw-18-panel-astronergy-off-grid-solar-system.  Of course, we would have to hire an electrician to hook it up for us, and that would add to the cost, so before we were to commit to something like that we would also need to get a quote for installation.  Plus, we would still have the cost of the batteries to back-up the whole system.

Decisions, decisions, decisions!

Right now we are also in the process of building a shed over our water well so that it can enclose the well head, a 500 gallon holding tank, a pressure pump and a booster pump.

You can see where the actual well head is with the concrete surrounding it. We plan to incorporate the concrete in a larger slab about 8 x 10, that will house all the pieces and parts of our water system that will supply both our house and our fire sprinkler system.

We had a local contractor (he is a fire sprinkler installer) give us a quote on a system he would install for us, including the water requirements (pump, booster pump, holding tank, pressure pump) and the requirements for the sprinkler system.  He said he would use all USA manufactured parts (something we desire if at all possible) and explained what we would need for the whole system to be up to code.  This is a bit tricky because of the required fire sprinkler system in our house which has certain pressure requirements, along with the water for the house.  Well, believe it or not, he lied to us about what we would need! He gave us the cadillac system with integrated this and that, and told us that it was code. When we called the county to verify, we realized that the chump was trying to over-sell us!  Arrrrruuuuugggggghhhhh! That was about two months ago. We found a company from a neighboring town who will do the job for a lot less. Then we had a local pump and well guy come up that said he could install just the water system (not the fire sprinkler system) and would send the quote on-line in a week or so, but never did. That was over a month ago. We don’t want that quote anymore.  ;(

What is with these guys?  Apparently we are on mountain time!

We found another guy who actually showed up when he was supposed to, gave us a quote we liked, lowered the quote because we are doing some of the work ourselves, and has returned every single one of our phone calls.  I will be proud to recommend him for any locals and I will show you his work when he is done.

So, let me know what you would do about the kitchen cabinets.  I had a friend suggest “kitchens to go” or something like that, so I will be doing more research into that during these next few weeks. Also, I have found a few possibilities at both Home Depot and Lowes.  Even though we haven’t even broken ground yet, I am researching these things now so we have a better idea of the costs involved.  Hopefully we will also be hearing from a few of the other solar companies we have contacted and will get some reasonable bids. There is one company I hope comes in with a great bid because the owner, Loren, has some other very innovative ideas regarding water heating along with the solar electric.

Okay – so now you are pretty much up to date with our lives at this point!  Please leave a comment if you have any ideas, questions, comments…  just click on the comment bubble next to the title of this post, but keep it family friendly, please!

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My New Elderberry Plants

Elderberry syrup, Elderflower pancakes, Elderberry wine…

Do I sound like Forrest Gump – “fried shrimp, grilled shrimp, shrimp fricassee…”?

A couple of years ago Ray and I attended a class on making medicinal tinctures; one of them being an elderberry syrup/tonic.  Since then, I have been wanting to have my own Elderberry plants. Elderberries have become very popular lately as they are one of those “superfoods” that contain anti-oxidants, flavinoids, vitamins and minerals.  And they taste good, too! The berries can be purchased online, but they can be a bit pricey!

Elderberries

This is one of our local “native” elderberry plants. There are quite a few of these bushes along the road we travel to get to our favorite fishing lake. It is just loaded with elderberries!

After learning all about elderberries and where they grow, we discovered that native elderberries grow all around us!  In fact, last year snapped off a sprig of a native bush and tried to get it to root.  It didn’t.  I think I got the sprig at the wrong time of year.  🙁

Since we really wanted some of our own Elderberry bushes and my expertise at rooting woody stemmed plants is obviously lacking, I purchased some Elderberry plants online from Stark Bros. Nursery.  We bought two varieties – York and Nova – for better cross pollination. The plants themselves were cheaper to buy than a couple of pounds of dried elderberries purchased online, so this was one of those “no brainer” purchases!  I still want to try getting a sprig of the local native elderberries to root, but I need to do some more research on how to do this before I try again.

When the box arrived from Stark Bros., I was quite impressed with the size of my new plants.  The stalks were ¾ to an inch wide at the base!  Unfortunately, it was evident that the delivery service may have been just a bit rough with the package, as several new, tender shoots had broken off the main plant.

Hmmm…  I thought.  What if I stick these new shoots in soil?  Since I had some pots and potting mix on hand, I stuck the shoots into the moist soil and waited.

It didn’t take long!  Two of the three shoots rooted, so hallaleuja, I now have four plants!  I still want some of the wild ones, though.  After all, variety is the spice of life!

growing elderberries

These elderberry plants are just gorgeous when they bloom!

We planted the Elderberries where they get strong morning sun but dappled shade in the afternoon, and all four of them grew very well.  The two mother plants soon had beautiful white blossoms.  The blossoms had a faint sweet smell and attracted quite a few different pollinators.

growing elderberry plants

You can see that the beautiful white blossoms fall off as the berries start to develop.

The berries came soon after.  I had about six fairly large clumps of berries on each plant and by September the berries got heavy enough that the plant stems started drooping.  Because of that, and because of the amount of deer mice, rabbits, wood rats, moles, voles and bears (oh my) we have on our property, I figured I had better pick the berries as soon as they looked ripe, which meant that I picked only two or three berry clusters at a time.

When I saw that my berries were ripening, I figured I had better start doing some research to help decide what I will do with them. First I found this post about making Elderberry Tincture, which is what made me want the elderberry plants in the first place, and this post on how to make Elderberry Wine, and this recipe making Elderberry Syrup!

What did I do with the berries?

Since I didn’t have a whole lot of them, (they are very young plants) I decided to dehydrate most of them to use at a later date.  It took only half a day to dehydrate the first and second batches of elderberries.

elderberry dehydrating

Dehydrating my first batch of elderberries. It doesn’t take long!

It was funny how much the berries shrank!  Holy cow, I started out with about 2 cups of berries and ended up with less than one half cup!  But, I am sure when they are reconstituted, they will taste just as lovely.  Or perhaps I will just include them in a granola bar recipe I’ve been wanting to try.  The seeds inside the berries make them crunchy, which is great!

Maybe I will throw a handful of the dehydrated berries into yogurt! Hmmm… elderberry ice cream?

I am waiting for the day we will have enough elderberries to make a batch of elderberry wine, but of course, I will need a lot more elderberries to do that.  (Sigh)

My second harvest of elderberries. I know it doesn't look like much, but remember, we just got the plants this year!

My second harvest of elderberries. I know it doesn’t look like much, but remember, we just got the plants this year!

Today I harvested the last few bunches of elderberries and made a small coffee cake.  Of course, I cooked it in my Sun Oven!

elderberry coffeecake

Elderberry coffee cake, cooking in my Sun Oven! With some of our own bee’s honey slathered on top, it was absolutely delicious!

It was delicious.  The berries are reminiscent of blueberries, but the small seeds inside give just a little bit of crunch!  It’s wonderful!

elderberry drying

Haha – this is my little pint jar of dehydrated elderberries! Who knew they would shrink up so small!

So, that was the extent of our elderberry harvest this year.  Since I didn’t get much in terms of dehydrated berries, I will probably hoard them over the winter.  Now I understand why the dehydrated berries cost so much!

However, with my four plants and with hopes of being able to root some native elderberry plants, I am sure to have an adequate amount of elderberries in the future!

Do you grow elderberries? Do you cook with elderberries?  Do you have a favorite recipe for a medicinal tonic using elderberries?  I would love to hear from you, so please leave a comment below!

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Terror in my Green Beans!

Have you ever seen one of these?

bull hornet

Um – yeah.  I think they look like the insect equivalent of Freddy Krueger!  It’s called a Bald Face Hornet, or a Bull Hornet, or any number of different names.  Of course, I have a few more off-color names for them that I won’t reveal in this blog because I am a lady, for heaven’s sake.  But let me tell you, these things are menacing!

And they are in my green bean plants!

Thankfully, I have learned the four tones of the different bees in my beans:  The gentle hummmmmm of our honey bees, the annoying buzzzzzzzz of the yellow jackets, the loud “get out of my way!!” vroooooommm that emanates from the carpenter bees and bumble bees, and then the scary, terrorizing, deep and resonating (think Harley-Davidson) rumblerumblerumble of the Bald Face Hornets.

Bald faced hornets in my beans

I have trellised the bean plants to make it easier to reach the beans. So much easier (and safer) than a ladder, and easier to see one of those pesky hornets!

It started about three weeks ago when my green beans were really starting to put on beans.  I had a lot of pollinators buzzing around and was so happy because I knew I was going to have a great crop of beans!  Just like at our home in the valley, the carpenter bees, honey bees and bumble bees are the main pollinators. My beans are planted with cucumbers, amaranth and sugar beets (which are flowering right now), so there is a smorgasbord of pollen for the bees.

Then came the Hornets.

I started having to pick my beans with gloves on, because I noticed that they went toward the movement of my fingers.   Gaaaaaaaaaaa!  They would dart so close to my fingers that I could feel the vibrations of their wings on my hands.  I figured the hornets had moved into the area to pick off the honey bees as they were pollinating, which explains why they were excited by the movement of my fingers.  Which also explains why I don’t see any honey bees pollinating the beans anymore!  I think the bumble bees and carpenter bees are just too big for the hornets to bother with.

Funny story:  I enjoy eating the vegetables in my garden while I am working, plucking them off the bush, vine, plant and plopping it right into my mouth.  Mmmmmm…  tomatoes, green beans, strawberries.  Yum!  No – I don’t wash first.  A little bit of dirt didn’t hurt anybody.  Well, one day last week I was picking green beans, eating a few here and there, and when I chomped into one… it gooshed instead of crunched.  I spit it out and looked at it.  I didn’t have my glasses on, but it really didn’t look any different – it was green – but it was gooshy.  I threw it aside and didn’t think about it until the next day when I was picking beans again.  I saw a small hole in one of the beans and wondered, “what in the world?”  Then a few plucked beans later I saw it…

caterpillars eating green beans

Do you see it there? in the foreground? That plump juicy caterpillar that is EXACTLY the same color as the green bean? Um… yeah 😉

Ugh… a caterpillar and, eeewwwwww…  I must have bitten into a caterpillar the other day!

And they were eating my beans!

And that’s what is attracting the Bald Face Hornets!

The light bulb turned on.

Just this morning when I was picking beans I saw a hornet catching a plump, juicy caterpillar that was eating a hole in one of my beans!  So – even though the hornets eat my honeybees, they are also eating the caterpillars that are eating my beans!  So I guess every menacing creature does have redeeming qualities.  I suppose.  Sigh.

watering trough for honeybees

We bought this watering trough for several reasons, but the two most important were to have a place for mosquito fish to live (mosquitoes are horrible here in the spring) and also for our honeybees to get a drink of water!  Click on the picture to get a larger view 🙂

Then, I noticed the Hornets were also menacing my honeybees in their watering pond!  The bees have been using this watering trough all spring/summer, and everything has been copacetic – that is until the hornets moved in.  I sadly watched as bee after bee was literally plucked off the plants by the hornets!  Gaaaaaaa!  This is a sad, sad day, indeed, for the bees.  However, I don’t think the hornets will actually kill enough to hurt the hive.  You see, a queen bee can lay more than 2,000 eggs every day, so if the hornets take a couple dozen bees every day – well – I guess that’s just nature.  Sad, but true.  Not much we can do about it anyway.

So…  “how are my beans doing?” you might ask.

Oh!  Thank you for asking!

Chinese Red Noodle BeansGreat!  Holy cow, these things are producing like hotcakes. They are worse (or as good as?) the zucchini at this point!  We grew Kentucky Wonder beans this year, and they grew so tall that I had to trellis them, because they wanted to grow taller than my ladder could reach.  I have pressure canned two batches of beans already and am about ready to can another batch.  I just adore green beans in a beef stew, or tucked into a chicken pot pie, or just cooked up with some bacon, onion and black pepper.  Of course chicken with green beans cooked in an Asian stir fry sauce over rice just can’t be beat!  Yum!

This year I wanted to try growing some red noodle beans.  Last year I grew some Asparagus Long Beans and really enjoyed it, and learned a lot!  So, this year I wanted to try another variety of the long bean.

Bull Hornets

One of the red noodle beans. They really do stand out, so they don’t get lost in the bushes!

The red beans are great!  Not quite as prolific as the green asparagus beans, but they are a lot easier to find in the bushes due to their nice brick red color!  And with my aging eyes, that is a good thing, indeed!  One thing I learned last year about the Asparagus Long Bean was that one of their main pollinators were ants!  Can you believe it?  Ants, of all things!  Unfortunately, I haven’t found very many ants on my Red Noodle Beans, so maybe that is why they haven’t done as well as the green ones.  I think, just as an experiment, I will try both beans next year side by side to see which one is truly the winner.

green beans pressure canned

I like to raw pack my green beans when I pressure can – it is so much easier and the final product isn’t much different than hot pack!

Something else I am experimenting with this year is the amount of green bean plants to grow so I have enough to pressure can at least 42 pints of beans, which will give us one pint a week for a year.  Yeah – I know – there are 52 weeks in a year, but for the other 10 weeks a year we will be eating FRESH beans.

Until the harvest is done, the jury is still out, but right now I would guess that I will need somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 bean plants.  I’m also not sure which green bean is better.  Last year we tried a pole variety called Contender green beans. They did well, but when all is said and done, I don’t think they will have done as well as the Kentucky Wonders that we are growing this year.

We’ll see!!

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