How to Make Lavender Oil

Lavender is one of my top aromatic plants to use in my gardens so there is an abundance of it around every year. After years of procrastinating I’ve finally set out to make my lavender oil. At the outset I didn’t think it would be that hard and luckily it seemed to be a fairly easy process.

Having some lavender oil around during the winter seemed like a great idea. Every time I mow I always grab a few sprigs of lavender and crush / rub them in my hands and take a huge waft of the scent. Besides just the aromatic properties lavender oil has been used for centuries as moisturizer. I wonder if this will cut down on Cara’s massive lotion allowance, probably not.

So it my research in to the processes of making lavender oil I found several techniques. I’m going to run through all the techniques and then talk about my experience making the lavender oil.

Side note: These techniques will make lavender oil and not lavender essential oil, it’s important that is clear to you. And you can also grow lavender using grow tent packages.

STEP 1| DRY YOUR LAVENDER

It’s very important that your lavender is completely dried out before you begin to infuse any oil. If you fail to properly dry out the lavender sprigs then it becomes likely that your lavender oil will become rancid.

 

Luckily drying lavender is a very straightforward and easy process.

  1. Cut your lavender off with hand pruners or scissors. Make sure to cut off at least 6 inches from the lavender.
  2. Use some a rubber band to tie the lavender together at the base of your cuttings. We will use a rubber band over twine because as the lavender dries it will shrink slightly in size and we don’t want it to fall apart. You may see some pieces fall to the ground despite the rubber band, you can either take enough cuttings that this doesn’t matter so much or you can re-attach any fallen sprigs.
  3. Hang the lavender cuttings upside down in dry warm spot that will see direct sunlight as you let it sit there for the next 12 to 14 days.

That’s all it takes to dry out your lavender and now we can begin to infuse our oil with the lavender.

It was a surprise to me to learn that the purple flowers don’t hold all the scent of the lavender. In fact if you like you can separate the flowers from the stems by using tube of rolled up newspaper and roll them on a table (back and forth). The purple flowers can be used on their own for eye masks or drawer sachet.

LAVENDER OIL TECHNIQUE – COLD OIL INFUSION

You will need some supplies:

  • Large Jar – used to infuse the oil with lavender
  • Cheese cloth or muslin – to strain with
  • Large bottle – to store your fresh lavender oil

Ingredients Needed:

  • Dried Lavender – enough to fill your jar with
  • Mineral oil or Olive oil – enough to completely cover the lavender inside your jar

Clean out your jar and completely dry it, then place your dried lavender into the jar. Pour your oil over the lavender until it is covered completely.

Place your jar in a window sill that will see a good amount of sun, it will sit there for the next 3-6 weeks. The sun over the next month or so is what will release the parts of the lavender plant that will infuse the oil. Once you’ve decided the oil has sat there long enough pour it through your cheese cloth into your last bottle.

Certain instructions I found called for lightly crushing the lavender with flowers still intact and then putting them in to your first jar. I also discovered instructions that suggested shaking the jar on a daily basis. The slight crushing makes sense, but the daily shaking of your lavender oil seems like an unnecessary step that I did not follow.

LAVENDER OIL TECHNIQUE – CROCK-POT INFUSION

Just like the other technique you start out with dried lavender cuttings but this time you fill you crock pot with 1 half cup of lavender to 1 whole cup of oil. Set your crock-pot on low and let it steep for the next three hours. Let the oil cool and strain it through cheese cloth. This technique sure seems a lot quicker but I think I like the old school method I mentioned first. I would probably go with the crock-pot method for lavender oil if I was trying to make a large batch of it all at once.

WHAT OIL TO USE FOR LAVENDER OIL

I stuck with olive oil since we always seem to have an abundance of it but there where some other suggestions that I found through me research.

  • grape seed oil
  • jojoba oil
  • sweet almond oil
  • sunflower oil

As long as you stick with a natural oil that doesn’t have an overpowering scent of its own you will probably be safe. I even saw a recommendation for witch hazel oil, the main benefit was that if you were going to use the lavender oil as a lotion the witch hazel would act as a natural skin toner.

 

HOW DO YOU STORE HOME MADE LAVENDER OIL

Simple answer, anywhere you want. Pick out a bottle that you like and store away, lavender oil should last you a life time in any bottle. Stopping by a second-hand store or antique store to find vintage perfume bottle would be very classy, but I’m probably just going to keep mine in a Ball mason jar.

Container Garden – How to Guide

HOW TO USE CONTAINER GARDENING

Adding beauty to a patio, garden, or apartment with a container garden is one of the top pics for a gardener with a black thumb. Traditionally container gardening is used by people with little or no space for gardens, but it also have large advantages for novice gardeners because we use annuals and not more expensive perennials. These potted garden are wonderful way to bring bold color to often naturally toned patios, entryways, and decks. Even though container gardens take some maintenance such as watering and feeding they are very easily maintained when compared to standard gardens.

HOW TO CHOOSE THE CONTAINER FOR YOUR NEW GARDEN

Long gone are the days of our parents and being regulated to using the standard terra cotta pots and formal urns. Today there is a huge market of custom pots that include wild ceramic glazes an exotic materials with beautiful finishes. If you are interested in some of these I suggest looking at these great options from Amazon.

3 STEPS TO FIGURE OUT WHAT CONTAINER IS RIGHT FOR YOU

  1. Style – What style is your home and what style is your garden. A craftsman style home with a garden that has clean geometric lines wouldn’t look right with the same stone planter box that looks right at 3 story Victorian home in New England.
  2. Size – You probably have an idea of where you want to add your planter, maybe its on your back patio or along the front walkway. Lets use a back patio to express this idea. If you back patio is only 100 square feet  and just big enough for to Adirondack chairs then a four-foot tall glazed ceramic planter wouldn’t fit at all.
  3. Material – Part of what material you choose is included in the style part and the size decision, but you want to think of the material when you consider the elements your pot will be exposed to. If you’re in a norther climate you would probably want to store your pots indoors during the winter months. Gardeners in southern climates will want to watch out for materials that might bleach due to sun exposure or heat up and fry the roots of the plants inside them.

You can find containers that where never meant to hold plants and some of the best pots I have were never meant to be. The most important thing to remember when choosing your vessel though is that it must have holes in the bottom for drainage. If you’re considering planting a small bush or tree in your planter you will want to make sure that the container has enough weight to make sure the entire garden isn’t top-heavy and susceptible to tipping over.

DESIGNING YOUR PLANT AND CONTAINER LAYOUT

The first thing you need to decide is how many containers you think you’ll use. One container can make a statement and several can create a flowing wall of color. If you’re considering more than one planter in near to others you will always want to use odd numbers. We could get into the psychology behind why people find odd numbers more appealing but for now just take my word for it.

When you begin to select plants you will want to think about a color scheme and think three dimensional about your choices. If you go with several containers bunched together you may want repeat a plant through all the containers or even use the colors from each pot to set off the other pots.

RECOMMENDED PLANTS FOR A CONTAINER GARDEN

When you begin to select plants for your garden you will want to make sure that you’re choosing plants that are going to thrive in your climate zone. If you don’t know what climate zone you are in you can take a look at our climate zone map found here. Will you leave your containers outside over winter or will you bring them indoors. If your going to leave them out then you will want to go with annuals. Annuals are great for many reasons, you get access to exuberant colors your might not be able to use with perennials and the cost can be lower than perennials as well.

Herb gardening in containers is a great option as well. I love having a couple of pots with herbs in them right on my back patio. My container setup allows me to just walk out back any time I’m cooking and get fresh herbs. Rosemary, thyme, oregano, and basil have been used in this type of gardening for 100′s of years. You will want to avoid herbs like tarragon and dill though as they don’t like being grown in container gardens.

MAINTAINING YOUR NEW GARDEN

Any time I meet with someone about a new garden design I make sure to ask how much maintenance they are ready to take on. With these gardens the time caring for them is low but some care is needed. If you live in a warmer climate that doesn’t experience frost then you can use tropical plants that will last over a longer period and add a big punch of color. In northern climates perennials offer a good return on investment year after year if you bring the plants in over winter. If you’re lacking on indoor storage space and really want to save your perennials you can dig a whole deep enough that the when you place your container in them the plants sit flush with the ground and then back fill the hole. You will need to check water conditions at least once a month. If you’re not the kind of person who will remember to check the water or doesn’t want to break out the hose then you may want to consider succulents. Succulent plants include cacti and sedum and can a great option for dry arid climates as well.

ADDING MORE HEIGHT

Taking advantage of climbing vines is a technique that is often ignored by most gardeners design for plots. Bringing in a small trellis allows you to add tropical plants like bougainvillea, mandevillia, or jasmine. These tropical plants can add some serious flower power. Just like other tropical plants you will want to bring these in during the winter, but they can add some beauty to your home during the cold winter months. If you’re not crazy about bring you plants in to your home during the winter you may want to take a look at hardier plants like clematis or boston ivy which can be taken into a garage or shed during the winter months.

Still intimidated? I’ve Got The Plants For You!

Ornamental grasses are incredible hardy plants. Their tolerance to low water quantities is great for the gardener that might not remember to water that often. Close your eyes (that will make it hard to read this) and think of a wheat field blowing in the wind. Ornamental grasses can add that same visual appeal to your outdoor space. Finding the right grass is going to be really easy, I guarantee if you take a trip down to your local garden center they will have at least half a dozen choices of ornamental grasses to choose from.

BEGINNING TO PLANT YOUR GARDEN

Once you’ve gone out and picked up your plants and several bags of potting soil we will begin to assemble the container gardens. Before we begin to put this together you will want to make sure that any large pots are all ready in their last place as they will be heavy and hard to move soon enough. Lets use a 12″ tall as an example to express some quantities for filling a pot. First add a 3 inch layer of rocks to the bottom of the container. The stones should be smaller pebbles like pea gravel. Using smaller stones helps prevent our soil from escaping through the hole when water passes through.

Choosing the right potting soil is important to make sure your plants thrive in their new homes. I like this espoma organic potting soil for my plants. A time release  fertilizer may be necessary if you buy poor quality potting soil but if you use the Espoma then you’ll be fine with out it generally. With your potting soil fill up your container to the point where your plant roots will sit. Begin to take your plant out of their containers paying attention to the soil to make sure you don’t break it up. Take your plants and start placing them in your containers, don’t be afraid to rearrange them several time to find out what looks best. Once you have a layout that looks best to you begin to back fill the cavities with the rest of your potting soil to about 1 inch of the top of your container. Water the pot thoroughly and add soil if there is any settling.

HOW TO CARE FOR YOUR NEW CONTAINER GARDEN

This is where the beauty really comes through for us black thumb gardeners, because beyond watering there isn’t any maintenance. With a standard garden you have to deal with pruning and weeding but because we are dealing with annuals and perennials we will avoid all of this headache. We can even remove some of the stress of water by adding some bark mulch. Adding mulch will help keep water that the plants can use later when conditions are drier. When you do water you will want to water early in the morning before the day heats up. I avoid watering at night because having wet plants with cooler temperature is just inviting molds and infections to hit your plants. If your plants are in their containers for 5 to 6 months you may want to apply a plant fertilizer.

The Black Thumb Gardener is here to help you learn the joys of container gardening. We will also try to squash some of your fears when it comes to starting a garden inside of a pot. Check back often to see the latest articles or sign up to the right and get alerts to your email when ever we add a new post.

 

17 Plants You Can Grow From Kitchen Scraps

I love composting all the kitchen scraps I can but when I fill up my compost bin or run low on some vegetables in the garden using kitchen scraps to grow plants is a great activity. I love using kitchen scraps to start new plants as a fun gardening activity with my son, everyday we check and see how the plants are progressing. It’s a great way to come full circle on produce we bout at the market together and cooked together. Starting your own plants from kitchen scraps is really easy and for a gardening nerd like me!

If You are going to attempt this I suggest making sure the scraps you start with are good quality, I like to use organic produce grown locally when I start plants from kitchen scraps.

GROWING LEEKS, SPRING ONIONS, SCALLIONS ,AND FENNEL

You could go out and buy some vegetable specifically for growing but I like to wait till I actually have a call for them in my cooking. With all 5 of these examples you will use the end of the vegetable with the white roots.

Take the left over white roots and place them in a container with a small amount of water in it. You want the roots to be wet but you don’t want the entire thing submerged. Take your container and place it in a sunny window sill. I’ve actually grown green onion scraps in a fairly shady window on the north side of our house, your success may vary. I like keeping some in a window in the kitchen for my morning eggs, and in my office for snacking on (the wife loves kissing me after that). Within 3-5 days you will begin to see new growth come up. Remove the produce as you need and just leave the roots in the water to continually harvest your kitchen scrap crops. You should refresh the water weekly to keep the plant healthy.

GROWING LEMONGRASS

Lemongrass is similar to all other grasses and because of that you just need to place the roots you cut off into a container with water and put in a sunny window. In my experience the lemongrass is a little more dependent than green onions and leeks from above.

After about a week there should be some new growth from your lemongrass. Once you have new growth you will need to transplant the plant from the water into a pot with soil and put it back into the sunny windowsill. You want to wait till your lemongrass reaches a foot tall before you begin harvesting it. Just like before cut off what you plan to use in the kitchen and allow the roots to continue to sprout. It’s just like cutting your lawn, it will just keep coming on if you keep it healthy.

GROWING ROMAINE LETTUCE, CELERY, BOK CHOY  & CABBAGE

Just like the scallions, you will take the white roots of these vegetables to grow your produce. By cutting of the stalks or leafs with an inch or more and placing them into a bowl of water with the roots facing down you will be on your way. You want to make sure the roots are in water but you don’t want to submerge the entire plant. Make sure to place the bowl into a sunny window and spritz it with water weekly to keep the top of the plant moist.

Several days later you will begin to see the roots and leaves sprouting. 7 to 10 days in remove the plant from the water and plant it into soil with only the leaves above the soil. Your plant will continue to grow and in several weeks you will have a new head ready to be harvested.

If you want a different way to go with your pant you can try planting directly into the soil, skipping the water staging step from before. Keeping the soil from drying out will be very important that first week.

GROWING GINGER

If you’re looking for an easy plant to grow indoors Ginger is the one for you. Just take you’re a chunk of Ginger from your kitchen scraps and place it into the soil. Make sure the newest buds are facing up. Unlike the other plants we’ve talked about so far Ginger will enjoy filtered light rather than direct sunlight.

Soon enough you will begin to see new growth sprouting up out of the soil, and under the soil roots will begin to sprawl out into the soil. After the plant acclimates to its new home you will be ready to harvest the next time you need Ginger. Pull the entire plant out of the soil and cut off a the pieces you need, and just replant it like you did initially.

As an added bonus for you Ginger makes a great house-plant. Even if ginger isn’t your thing as far as cooking goes you can still get some aesthetic value out of the plant.

GROWING POTATOES

Taking potatoes from produce back to growing is a great way to keep more waste out of the garbage. You can grow any variety of potato you like, it should just make sure the scrap has ‘eyes’ growing on it. With a potato that has a strong presence of eyes you can chop it up into 2 inch square pieces. Make sure each piece has 1 – 2 eyes. After you’ve cut your potato into pieces leave them out in room temperature for a couple of days. Leaving the pieces out allow the cut surface area to dry out and become callous which will prevent the pieces from rotting in the ground.

Note: All the above can be grown using a grow tent package.

Potatoes need a very nutrient-rich soil, so if you have compost you should be sure to incorporate some into your soil before you plant it. When you are planting your potato cubes make sure they are in the 8 inch depth range with the eyes facing the sky. When you back fill your cube place 4 inches over the potato cube and leave the other 4 inches empty. Over time as your potato grows and roots begin to appear you will want to add more soil.

This is a guest post by Richard of real hcg drops hormone. He is fitness enthusiast and a gardener.

Understanding Your USDA Plant Hardiness Zone

One of the first things gardeners should learn is their garden’s plant hardiness zone. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s plant hardiness zone map is the most widely used zone system in the United States. Nearly every plant you purchase, other than an annual, comes with a tag that includes recommended USDA zones for that plant. By matching your garden’s zone with zone ratings on plant labels, you can know which plants should flourish at your home.

The newest version of the USDA zone map was released in 2012. Based on thirty years of weather data from 1976 through 2005, it’s the most accurate and detailed USDA plant hardiness map yet. The current map divides the country into zones labeled 1 through 13, each spanning 10-degree Fahrenheit increments. The lower the zone number, the colder the winter lows in that zone. Each zone gets refined even further into 5-degree increments labeled “a” or “b.” For example, lows in USDA zone 5a usually drop about 5 degrees colder than in zone 5b.

WHAT USDA ZONES MEAN FOR GARDENERS

It’s important to know that USDA zone information is a guide, not a guarantee. Hardiness zones aren’t based on the lowest possible temperature for an area. Zone information doesn’t reflect the lowest historic minimums or possible future extremes. Instead, they average the annual extreme minimums over the 30-year time frame. Severe cold in any given winter – or unseasonably early or late freezes – can set plant hardiness zone ratings on their ears.

When plant growers determine cold hardiness zones for new introductions, rankings refer to the root hardiness of the plant, not necessarily plant parts above ground. A shrub rose, for example, might be rated cold hardy to USDA zone 3. A normal zone-3 winter could kill that plant back to the ground – or at least down to snow and mulch cover. A hardy rose grown on its roots, not grafted onto another, should survive below ground and spring back from its roots. Canes above ground may or may not survive any given year. Hardiness estimates also assume plants enter winter in excellent health.

PUSHING THE ENVELOPE WITH MICROCLIMATES

Your garden’s annual extreme minimum temperature doesn’t limit you to plants rated for that zone. Gardeners tend to be an adventurous lot. We eventually try plants rated outside our growing zone. Nothing wrong with that, just don’t be upset if a plant doesn’t make it or doesn’t perform as you think it should. Extra mulch or burlap wrapping can do wonders. Remember, zones go both ways – cold and hot. Some plants need cold exposure to bloom or fruit well. They survive winter in warmer zones, but forget about blooms or berries!

When growing plants marginal in your hardiness zone, microclimates come into play. Concrete and asphalt in cities collect and hold heat, creating heat islands and mini zones. The same thing happens around your home. Planting sites against south-facing walls or with concrete-reflected heat stay warmer than exposed areas. Protected, sheltered corners do the same. Higher elevations are cooler, but low-lying areas produce frosty pockets much colder than high spots nearby. By using these individualized microclimates to your advantage, you can grow things your neighbors cannot grow. Use USDA plant hardiness zones as a helpful guide, then go ahead and push that envelope.

Composting | A Gardener Without Compost Is No Gardener At All

In 340 B.C. the great Greek historian Herodotus noted that the soils of Egypt were the foundation on which Egyptian civilization was built. Just like ancient Egypt’s civilization relied on the soils so do every gardeners success. Some how people have been able to forget the importance of soil cultivation at times, does The Dust Bowl sound familiar? For gardeners composting is one of the greatest ways they can tend to the quality of their soil. Composting can be an intimidating thing to take on for the beginning gardener and through this article I’m going to try to demystify some of the keys to beginning a compost bin.

BENEFITS OF COMPOSTING

With a compost pile in your yard you will have a constant supply organic material ready to be added to your top soil. By mixing fresh compost into your soil you can amend the soil structure, bringing sandy and clay soils closer to the desired loam structure.

Adding compost to your soil has the ability to regenerate poor conditions. Micro-organisms like  bacteria and fungi help break down your compost into humus. Humus is a nutrient rich material that holds water well, both conditions important to gardens. Some studies have even show that compost can keep plant disease and pests at bay, this can cut your need for chemical fertilizers, and give gardeners bigger harvests.

POLLUTION PREVENTION THROUGH COMPOSTING

A benefit of composting is the reduced need to send spent materials to landfills, reducing the production of methane and leachate. Storm-water runoff is a huge problem and keeping a compost bin reduces the amount of containment’s that will be included in the storm-water runoff. Adding compost to embankments and parallel to creeks, lakes, and rivers can cut erosion. By building your own compost bin you reduce the use of landfills which will help reduce the need to build more landfills.

5 KEYS TO THE COMPOSTING PROCESS

Before anyone takes on starting a new compost pile they need to understand these 5 keys to composting. If you fail to understand these principles your compost can fail and I want every one to succeed. So before you get started lets cover the 5 principles:

  1. Nutrient balance and Feed stock. A good balance between green organic material (grass, food scraps, and manure) and brown organic material (dry leaves, wood chips, branches). Green organic materials contain high amounts of nitrogen while brown organic material has high amounts of carbon. Getting a good balance between these two types of materials may take some experimentation on your part, but soon enough you’ll develop a feel for this.
  2. Material size. If you take the time to tear up, break, or shred the materials you add to the compost pil you will increase the surface area which will allow the microorganisms to feed on the material at a greater speed. By decreasing the size of the materials inside of your pile you also improve the insulation of the pile, making it easier to reach the optimal temperature (see below) for your compost pile.
  3. Moisture levels. A good supply of moisture is needed to help the microorganisms inside your compost. If you choose to compost inside of a closed bin with a roof you may need to water your compost pile occasionally.
  4. Oxygen flow. This is the step you will really want to think about before starting your compost pile. Aerating the pile is important, it allows for decomposition to take place at an increased rate. Over aerating the pile is also a concern though as that could dry it out and stop the composting process. You can use a pitchfork to turn your pile over, you could place pipes underneath your pile, or create a base layer with larger pieces of organic material like wood chips or shredded newspapers.
  5. Temperature. Those microorganisms that are so key to the composting process are pretty picky about the temperature they will work in. Keeping your compost pile in the right temperature range will help speed up composting and crush pathogens and weed seeds. The temperature inside of your compost pile can actually get as high as 140° F. If you don’t keep your pile at a good temperature rather than experience the benefits of composting your experience the downside of rotting.