How I Got Started

I started Butterfly gardening many years ago. My yard has been a progression over the years, and has made many transformations. Twenty years ago I experienced Hurricane Andrew. My yard and house were destroyed. We decided not to replace the pool screening and open up the backyard and put in some landscaping. That was the official beginning of my love for gardening in South Florida. I added a beautiful water garden years ago, and have been adding host and larvae plants for pollinators, mostly for the butterfly, for as many years as I can remember. I had my yard certified as a Natural Habitat, through the National Wildlife Foundation. To have a natural habitat you need to provide and meet certain requirements: 1. Provide a food source, 2. Provide a water source, 3. Cover, 4. A place to raise young. I try not to use any pesticides in my yard. I vermicompost and recycle as many of my food scraps as possible. If I had more land I would have a huge compost bin to recycle all my yard cuttings. Basically, I try to lessen my carbon footprint on this earth. In my own little world or backyard I try to provide an ecosystem in my water garden, provide birdbaths, birdfeeders, hummingbird nectar sources, feeders, puddling areas, host plants and nectar plants for butterflies and other pollinators. I am hoping to raise everyone’s awareness of the importance of saving our Butterflies, Blooms & Bees. Without them our world and food source will be in trouble. I hope you all enjoy my journey. I am not a Master Gardener, or Master Beekeeper, an Entomologist, or Journalists. I am simply a Backyard Gardener who is trying to lessen her Carbon Footprint of this Earth.

I hope you enjoy my blogs.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Busy as a Bee!

It has been a really long time since I updated my blog. In February my responsibility for work increased with the launch of Apixaban. There has been very little extra time for writing my blog. Since mostly only myself and family read my entries I figured it really didn't matter that much. I have been really busy lately using the by-products from my yard and my bees so I thought I would give a little update as to what is happening around the yard. I feel like a busy little bee and I have accomplished many projects over the last few weeks. I think it is time I sit down and blog about them.

First of all, the yard is a mess again, very over grown! My new yard guys aren't afraid of the bees but they don't do any maintenance. I really haven't worked in the yard at all. It is just too hot and rainy. Mostly I haven't because the bees have been really irritable because of the heat and rain. This is also the time of year where my hives expand exponentially. I now have 5 hives. I made a split early in the season and all hives are doing very well. The bees are extremely aggressive. I was working the hive one Sunday and when I lifted the bar I immediately had bees sticking to my veil. I have to take breaks from them to let them settle down. They have actually followed me up to the back door. I wish I lived in another part of the country where it was cooler and the bees did not have Africanized genetics, but then there would be other issues like drought, and cold. I think if I wasn't allergic to the bees I wouldn't care but I always need to be cautious. My epi pen and phone are always by my side. I think that this fear is actually preventing me from working in my yard and procrastinating working in my hives. One weekend recently I got stung about 10 times while working the hives. The hives are quite large and the bees are extremely irritable. My mentor wonders if the bees are sensing that I am stressed when I work the hives and that they are picking up on my emotions! I have been trying to bee more Zen like while working the hives and bee at one with my bees. Last weekend I only got stung one time through the glove.

Last year I made my first attempt at making lip balm using my beeswax and honey. I decided to try to perfect my recipe. I also thought that maybe I could make soap with my honey and beeswax. I have so much honey comb in bags in the freezer I have no more room to put anything else. I really need to render the wax and use it in something. That something could be soap and other products. What got me started on this kick was someone was asking for a recommendation for handmade goat’s milk soap. I recommended Megan Paska from Brooklyn Homesteader. I first became aware of Megan Paska when I watched a beautifully made video of her beekeeping. It totally inspired me and I have been following her blog ever since. Megan had a blog about her handmade goat’s milk soap. She was kind enough to share it with me. I have totally been bitten by the idea of making soap and other product that would utilize my honey and beeswax.

I have been totally consumed with the idea of making soap. It allows me to use many of the by products from my yard and hive and be creative at the same time. I have made a few batches of soap since then. My first was a recipe I found on It was a honey and oatmeal soap and was made with olive oil, coconut oil, honey and oatmeal. I did fragrance the soap with lavender and tea tree essential oils. All of the ingredients were organic and natural. I think for my first attempt at soap making it turned out pretty good.

Making soap is both an art and a science. The science, Saponification is when you take a fatty acid (oil) and base (lye) mix them together (saponification) and make a salt (soap). The art is the ability to use my creativity in putting together recipes and then designing ways to make the bars a work of art. I am not really that experienced yet to be too creative but that will come over time. I have been reading several books, watching YouTube videos, and actually went to Jacksonville, Florida to take a Soap Making 101 Boot Camp at the Green Lotus Studios. It was a great weekend as I spent it with a friend that many years ago made soap. She was also excited to make soap again as it had been many years. We had a great time and made two different bars of soap. Besides enjoying the soap making we totally enjoyed each other’s company.

The second batch of soap I made was a Calendula Soap. My husband suffers from psoriasis. I wanted to make a soap that might help his skin. I infused Calendula petals in olive oil in the sun. I also used a calendula tea that I infused in the sun. Instead of using water to mix my lye I used the calendula tea. I incorporated both the oil and tea in my soap. This is a great example of using flowers from my garden and incorporating them in my soap. The soap turned out so pretty. I colored it naturally with Red Palm Oil.

I am hoping it helps my husband’s skin and improves his psoriasis. I also made a goat’s milk and honey soap. It turned out so beautiful. The trick with working with goat’s milk is soaping at very cool temperature. I froze the goat’s milk so that when I mixed it with the lye it would not burn. I kept the temperature below 85 degrees. That required putting the goat’s milk and lye in an ice bath. Normally when you soap with lye temperatures can reach 200 degrees. I put honey is some of the soap mixture and kept some plain. Honey is also a sugar and will accelerate trace and darken the soap. You can see the difference in the color from the top of the soap to the bottom. The soap is now much darker on the bottom that contains the honey and fragrance oil.

Lastly I made Peppermint Chocolate Lip Balm. I infused the Sunflower Oil with peppermint from my garden. I bought a bar of Theo chocolate which is fair trade, certified organic and non GMO. I used beeswax and honey from my hives, castor oil, mango butter, and peppermint essential oil. The lip balm turned out very nice.

I would really like to become an expert at making soap, and other products i.e. body butters, bath salts etc. I love to cook and this is kind of like creating a recipe but for a different purpose. I love the idea of using products from my yard and using them in creative ways. I am going to continue to study and learn the art of making soap. Maybe someday I will open a small business selling my soap and other products I receive from my yard.
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