Horti Honey's Blog of Yarn, Plants, and Life

Sarah Humke examines life through fiber tinted glasses….

Autumn Harvests October 24, 2014

Fall is a busy time around here.  The farmers are in the fields hurrying to get the corn and soybeans harvested before winter comes.  The combines and tractors run 24/7 in years that there is a lot of rain or bad weather.  Everybody is trying to get their homes and yards ready for the onslaught of colder weather.  Leaves and temperatures are dropping, adding urgency to everyone’s preparations.  The weather people on TV and radio begin whispering that dreaded word: snow.

Here it’s been both the same and different.  I’ve spent some time doing this:

The view from the driver's seat.

That’s a picture taken while I was combining.  It’s one of those jobs that is very boring but very important.

I’ve also been making a lot of these:

autumn 7

Those are pears in medium syrup.  Yes, the pears that Elise and I picked when I went to Kalona are finally ripe.  I have two crates finished and two crates still to go.  I’ve put up about eighteen pints and half a dozen quarts so far as well as a bunch of different jams and such.  I’ve also put away a few gallons worth of pear juice for making pear jelly later on in the year.  Last year, the pears from this tree were very small and difficult to work with because of the drought.  This year, they are huge by comparison and very, very juicy.  One of the interesting things that I have learned from working with so many pears this year is that pear juice is very fragrant when being cooked.  It really smells lovely, though not especially pear-like.

Autumn 4

The above photo is of apple and pear juices.  As you can see, they look very similar.  Different batches of both juices will be different colors of pinky-gold.  Thus, it’s really super important to label them.  Here’s how I label my canned goods:

autumn 6

I’m fairly simple in how I label my canned goods.  What’s in there and the month-year.  I don’t write down the day it was canned as it just takes up space and time and isn’t usually all that necessary.  Some people do in case there is a “bad batch” of something, but for me, often having the day on it would only narrow it down to two or three batches (and that’s if I’m not in the full-swing of canning that day!).  Sometimes I don’t put what’s in it if it’s something like plain green beans or my standard sliced pickles.  Everything else though, gets labeled to avoid confusion.

Before I started in on the pears, I was working my way through the rest of the apples.  One of the jams I tried for the first time was a lovely cardamom and apple jam.  The flavors blend remarkably well and the cardamom adds an exotic kick to the more plebeian apples.  I’ve also seen one for pears with cardamom which I will try, but I’m a little worried that the more delicate flavor of the pears will get overwhelmed.  So we’ll see about it.  In the photo, you can see the cardamom pods still in the jam.  I also do this with vanilla pods when cooking with them.

autumn 8

I’ve not been doing a whole lot of knitting or crocheting.  I’ve been working on some Christmas socks when I have free time and a crocheted blanket when I’m sitting watching tv shows.  My sweater in progress has been sidelined for the moment as the holidays are approaching and that knitting needs to take center stage.


Exploring the Orchard Road October 8, 2014

Over the summer I had heard that a new kind of mason jar was entering the market.  I had not gotten a chance to actually hold one in my hand until last week.  I just happened to check out the canning section in the Blain’s Farm and Fleet in Cedar Falls and low and behold they were carrying them!  Now, before you all get started, I know that the fact that I have canning sections regularly in stores around here is a blessing that many people don’t have.  In fact, that I pretty much expect most grocery and farm stores to have a canning section speaks volumes about where I am living and how people view canning here.  Canning and preserving have never stopped in the Midwest.  Thus, the canning a preserving sections of the stores have never disappeared like they have in other areas of the country.

However, I was still surprised to see this newest jar in the mason market in Cedar Falls.  I figured that it would be a coastal thing for the more (for lack of a better word) trendy canners in the bigger cities.  So I was excited to pick some up and give them a try.

The Orchard Road family of jars

The Orchard Road family of jars

Orchard Road seems to be making only jars and lids/bands at this point, compared to the mega company Ball (a subsidiary of Jarden Home products which also owns Kerr and Golden Harvest brands of mason jars) that makes all sorts of canning and cooking equipment as well as publishing numerous books.  I decided to do a head to head comparison of the two brands to see if there was much of a difference.

The very first thing that you notice is the packaging.  The jars come in very sturdy, very reuseable boxes.  Major points here.  These boxes are strong enough that you could stack them with filled jars inside and not worry about the lids being compromised.  They were even better than the old school Ball and Kerr boxes that those jars came packaged in.

Very sturdy cardboard and well made boxes.

Very sturdy cardboard and well made boxes.

There wasn’t really a big difference in sizes except that the jelly jar (the half pint) was a little taller and thinner than the Ball half pint.  The Orchard Road jars feel sturdier than their Ball counterparts, more like the pre-1970’s Ball jars.

Orchard Road half-pint on the left, Ball on the right.

Orchard Road half-pint on the left, Ball on the right.

Orchard Road Pint on the left and Ball on the right.

Orchard Road Pint on the left and Ball on the right.

Orchard Road quart jar on the left, Ball on the right.

Orchard Road quart jar on the left, Ball on the right.

Orchard Road widemouth pint on the left, Ball on the right.

Orchard Road wide mouth pint on the left, Ball on the right.

Orchard Road wide mouth quart on the left and Ball on the right.

Orchard Road wide mouth quart on the left and Ball on the right.

All the jars take standard mason jar lids and rings in both regular and wide mouth. I purchased some of the lids but none of the rings as I would assume that they would work fine (though if you have found differently let me know).  The lids were graphically appealing with their bold writing and clearly demarked area for noting what is in the jar.  The lids don’t have the little “button” in the middle like Ball jars but are more like the Wal-Mart Mainstays where the entire lid is sort of domed.  Thus, they don’t make a little “ping” when they seal more like a loud “thwack”.  However, the lids worked on both the Orchard Road and Ball jars just fine.

Orchard lid open

Ball wide mouth lid on left and Orchard Road wide mouth lid on right.

Ball wide mouth lid on left and Orchard Road wide mouth lid on right.

The jars are visually clean, without a lot of ornamentation on them.  This is nice for a number of reasons.  To start, it’s simply cleaner visually.  It also leaves the focus on where it should be, the food in the jars rather than the decoration on them.  Another reason is that they are easier to clean.  I have had to clean calcified gunk off of many older jars and all the nooks and crannies of older jars makes them a pain in the butt.

Orchard demo

Now for the parts that I am not a fan of in these new jars.  First, they are more expensive. Something on the order of twenty percent more than the standard Ball jars.  Add to that the lack of lids and rings it makes them more expensive still.  Next is that they are sold in boxes of six.  If you are canning a lot, this is simply more boxes floating around the house.  My final issue is simply that they are made in China.  If something is going to be more expensive, I would at least like them made in the USA.


Who knew cabbage and honey were so similar?

There hasn’t been a lot of knitting content of late as there hasn’t been a whole lot of knitting done.  Mostly it’s been about getting food into jars.  Lots and lots of food.  The past weeks have been the apples.  At one point the porch was loaded with apples and the honey still in the combs.  Wow did that ever smell awesome!  If they could make an apples and honey scented candle that actually smelled like our porch it would sell like crazy.  I’ve been making some good smells myself.  Applebutter, applesauce, apple pie filling, apple juice, apple jelly and caramel apple jam.  I would estimate that I have gone through ten bushels or so thus far.  The apples are all from unsprayed trees thus have the usual assortment of critters in them.  Makes for some extra work when processing them but they are still tasty and useable.

I have also been experimenting with making sauerkraut.  Ackley, my hometown, is the site of the annual Sauerkraut Days (can you tell we’re of German origins around here?!?), so I suppose that it is fitting.  I was gifted two, new, three-gallon stoneware crocks this summer and each of them was pressed into service.  One has a sweet sauerkraut in it and the other has a sweet sauerkraut with apples added.  Neither are even close to full with cabbage.  I’m guessing that they could each hold about twenty pounds of cabbage (they currently have five apiece).  I learned while doing this that if sauerkraut is going to become a regular thing with me then I might be investing in a big cabbage cutter or a larger mandolin.  I also found that making sauerkraut is kind of like honey extraction in that you get cabbage EVERYWHERE (though thankfully it’s not sticky).  It just goes flying!  However, it was kind of fun and I look forward to the results!

The tender herbs and houseplants are getting moved into the house a little at a time right now.  I’m trying to get them in before freezing weather makes it a necessity, thus allowing for better choices as to where they should go.  I’m also trying to get my mints ready for winter, which mostly means trimming them back.  I will be making lots of mint jelly and apple mint jelly in the coming weeks.  I have also been experimenting with some pineapple sage jelly that seems quite promising.

Not a lot of photos as my canning and sauerkrauting have been lonely endeavors of late and it is difficult to take a good photo when your hands are full!




Kalona October 3, 2014

This past week my friend (and former roommate), Elise, has been back in the midwest.  She is currently working on her PhD at LSU in animal science specializing in goats.  She was back in the midwest to attend and present at the National Goat Expo in Illinois and to see her family.  I wanted to see her while she was home so a plan was hatched to take me down to Kalona with her mother and to go to the small animal auction there.

Oddly enough, I went to a small animal auction and came away with a big box of assorted winter squashes and two bundles of beets.  The beets have already been pickled and the squashes stored for winter eating.  It’s probably a good thing that the auctioneer was so slow as there was a real possibility that I would have come home with an Angora rabbit or two:-)

Iowa has several disparate communities of both Amish and Mennonite spread throughout the state.  One of these communities is around the Lamoni area where I have gone for produce auctions in the past.  Another one is Kalona, which isn’t too far from Iowa City.  Around Kalona there are a number of businesses that cater to both the local community as well as the tourist groups that visit to see the Amish of the area in their horse and buggies driving around.

At one of these, a grocery store, I found the best prices on both Clear Gel and Pectin that I have been able to find, including on the internet.  I also picked-up two big cabbages to make sauerkraut from.


Pectin, lots.

Pectin, lots.

Clear Gel. Did somebody say pie filling???

Clear Gel. Did somebody say pie filling???

Future Sauerkraut

Future Sauerkraut

Elise’s folks have an overachieving pear tree in front of their house.  This years crop of pears was so abundant that it was bending the tree to the breaking point.

Kalona 4

Elise and I spent the afternoon picking pears from this poor tree.  At one point Elise got stuck in the tree.

Somebody call the fire department!  Elise is stuck in a tree!

Somebody call the fire department! Elise is stuck in a tree!

But most of the time it looked like this.

That is me with the very long fruit picker I am very familiar with now.

That is me with the very long fruit picker I am very familiar with now.

Elise’s neighbor grew an unexpected crop of pumpkins and I got to bring one home.  It isn’t pretty, but it’s going to be going into jars, pumpkin butters, and pies so it doesn’t really need to be.

Kalona 78

I bet it’s tasty though!


Off Camera September 29, 2014

I’ve not written here for a while. Parts of this had to do with grad school. Being expected to write nearly constantly caused me to avoid it when I could. It wasn’t just this blog that has felt the inattention, but also friends who I would somewhat regularly write too via either snail or email.

Spring break meant a car trip to Florida to visit friends and to introduce a new friend to lots of old sites as well as see some new ones for me.  I finally got a chance to see the American Gothic house in SE Iowa!  Did you know that they have outfits that you can dress up in and pose in front of the house (pitchfork included!)?

It was a little windy that day!

It was a little windy that day!

Of course the obligatory knitting picture in front of it!

Of course the obligatory knitting picture in front of it!

We went to the beach (as one does) as well as a lot of museums and things like that.

She was excited to finally be in Florida!

She was excited to finally be in Florida!

We did do some educational stuff while there!

We did do some educational stuff while there!

Seeing her joy in watching the orange pickers made my trip!

My friend kind of freaked the pickers out with the camera so early in the morning until she explained that  she was just interested, not from the government!

My friend kind of freaked the pickers out with the camera so early in the morning until she explained that she was just interested, not from the government!

Orange pickers

I also had the great joy seeing something that I have had a (small) part in organizing come to fruition.  The 2014 Iowa Federation of Weavers and Spinners annual Spin-in featured Deb Robson as the speaker.  Two years ago when the organizers at my guild mentioned that they needed a speaker for the 2014 Spin-in and I just happened to mention that I knew Deb, I doubt that they expected the amazing turnout that we would get.  It was a pretty full house, which for a spinning event in the Midwest, is no small feat.  It was a great weekend and Deb’s talks were well received as well as her class on rare breed wools taught the next day.  It was great to see Deb again under less stressful circumstances.

Deb giving her rare breeds talk.

Deb giving her rare breeds talk.

Full house!

Full house!

I however have been doing all sorts of things of late not at all related to grad school and I am finally over the writing avoidance. I’ve made a (ahem) lot of jams and jellies and pickled things. A lot. And then I moved. I am not the favorite person of my friends who helped me to move right now. I now fully understand why canning has traditionally been the focus of folks more settled than I am currently as jars of food are heavy and a pain to move since they are not really stackable. However, survive it I did and I have even added to the collection as apple season is in full swing here in Iowa.

These are some of my canned goods selection before the move.

These are some of my canned goods selection before the move.

I have still been knitting. I am attempting my first full-on, adult-sized, honest to blog cardigan sweater. Cables and all. I am making it out of one of the few yarns that I have enough of in my stash to make a sweater from. I got it in England at the John Lewis New Year’s sale and it works beautifully for this pattern. If you would like to check it out, here is a link. So far, it looks like a hot mess of strings and parts but I am told that this is completely normal for this kind of construction. I’ve worked on a few socks and other things over the past few months but nothing big to tell you the truth.

The past couple of days I’ve been helping dad extract the honey that we got this year from the bee hives. It is really amazingly light honey and sweet enough just to eat up. I also decanted some previously harvested honey that is much darker into containers smaller than a five-gallon bucket. I think that this was a time that my folks were happy to have someone who owns a wealth of canning jars as we didn’t really want to load all this darker honey into the honey bears. It was a very sticky learning experience and makes me want to learn more about the bees and beekeeping (collective moan from anybody who helps me move).

The lighter honey on the left was the honey we just extracted.  The darker honey on the right is the previously extracted batch.  It's amazing how much it can vary!

The lighter honey on the left was the honey we just extracted. The darker honey on the right is the previously extracted batch. It’s amazing how much it can vary!

The bees, very busy helping to clean out the combs that we extracted as well as the extractor.  By allowing them that honey we hope that it will help them make it through the winter better.

The bees, very busy helping to clean out the combs that we extracted as well as the extractor. By allowing them that honey we hope that it will help them make it through the winter better.

In case you haven’t guessed, I am living at the farm once again, where we are gearing up for the harvest of more than apples and honey. The corn will be coming out of the fields soon and my brother and father have been trying to get things ready for the annual chaos that is harvest. Already the corn choppers have come and gone, leaving behind a massive tube of silage this year (dad decided not to put it up in the silo).

Preparing for harvest.

Preparing for harvest.

The Silage tube

The Silage tube

But really, what has mostly been going on is living a life. A life that may go through more sugar and sock yarn than is typical, but one that is typical for me. I hope that I can share more with you in the coming weeks than I have been. Lately I keep finding myself reading blogs and Ravelry again which I had stopped doing in the depths of grad school.


Already the maples are flaunting their colors.


Jimmy John’s Philosophy February 18, 2014

Today I was sitting in Jimmy John’s waiting for my sandwich reading one of the many signs that they have posted around the shop.  This one in particular caught my attention as it was made up of “I believe” statements (For full text, go here).  There was one statement in particular that caused me to pause.  It was simply, “I believe… that it’s taking me a long time to become the person I want to be.”

For the very first time in my life, I honestly considered a tattoo.  I guess that it was a good thing  both tattoo shops I passed on my way back to campus were closed still (this was in campus town, there are lots of tattoo shops there, they generally are open at night).

You see, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to “grow-up”.  Being around so many college students it’s difficult not to consider it as they are all faced with some fairly meaningful questions that they feel that they must try to answer as they embark on their “adulthood”.  I often get asked for advice and even though I often feel ill-prepared to give it, I do have to say something.  Many times, what I advise boils down to something like this:

  • Enjoy what is in front of you right now, don’t rush ahead to the next thing.
  • Try to get out and see as much of the world and meet the people in it as you can before you settle down.
  • Don’t settle for less than what you deserve in a relationship.
  • Always write thank you notes.
  • Try to take the high road whenever possible, but always have a strategy in place in case that doesn’t work.
  • Don’t worry about age or grey hairs.  Worrying will cause you to look your age and have grey hairs!


In other areas, I have done my part and assimilated another knitter (with Elise’s help).  This is the epic ten foot plus scarf that she made whilst knitting everywhere, including in class (I am SO proud!).

Kendra with Scarf 2

I promise that normally her eyes don’t glow red.  I think it was the power of a completed project that caused that, or it could have been my camera flash!  Next I will get her on Ravelry…..


8 seconds January 16, 2014

There are days that I feel like I’m on a treadmill and then there are days that feel as though I am on an elliptical machine. In my universe, an elliptical machine is the devil.  Probably invented sometime during the Spanish inquisition by the same man who invented panty hose, SPSS, and stiletto heels.  I cannot use these machines at all.  I have tried two times and the second time I was asked to please leave the gym I was trial membershiping and not come back. I somehow fell off the elliptical  backwards and nearly took out a woman on a machine behind me. This is what happens when I am on one.  It’s like my feet and hands and the machine all work really effectively against one another in order to get me off of it as quickly as possible.  Seriously, I think I would have better luck bull riding than I do exercising on one of these machines (bull riding you only need to stay on for eight seconds!).  Anyway, that is a long winded way of saying that it’s been a little nutso of late and sometimes I feel as though I’ve gotten thrown on my ass in gym full of people.

First off, I finally finished some socks that I started over a year ago.  I worked on these socks in my Psych 230 class (that I thoroughly enjoyed despite myself) but messed-up the toes and had afterthought heels planned that I never got done.  Since I was already ripping them back, I took them all the way back to the heel spots, put in traditional heels and reknit the feet and toes(correctly).  I realized how many socks I had under my belt from the time that I started knitting this particular pair until I (ahem) finished knitting them.  It’s interesting to me how things like Kitchener stitching the toes and turning the heels has really become something kinda second nature to me now.  Anyway, these turned out really nicely and very nearly identical despite, well, everything!


I also mailed off some (very late) Christmas packages.  I know that this might sound odd, but I honestly prefer to get packages late as it extends the surprise and the number of days that you get to open packages!  I LOVE opening packages!!!!  Anyway, I thought I would share with you how I apply postage to the USPS flat rate boxes.  These two boxes are both the medium size and currently cost $12.35 to mail anywhere in the Continental United States.  I usually start off with a few higher denomination stamps, but the rest are generally valued at around $.05.  I have some as low as $.005 (yes, one-half of a cent of postage. Even the postal workers stopped at that one.) and a few in the $.30 range.   But a lot (and I mean a LOT) are in the $.03, $.04, and $.05 range.  The reason for this is simple.    There used to be a lot more stamp collectors than there are currently.  Many of them are dying or no longer collecting and their collections aren’t worth any more than the postage that the stamps are worth.  However, most people don’t want to fool around with six stamps just to mail one letter, so when sold on ebay or other websites, go for less than full face value for perfectly good postage.  Some of the stamps that I am using are from the 1930’s and 1940’s.  Most are newer, a lot from the 1950’s and 1960’s.  Still, the bulk of the stamps on these packages are older than I am.  Both of them have the same general theme; Old, dead, (mostly) white men.  One went to Alabama, so it got some Civil War stamps thrown into the mix (I thought that it still fit the overall theme!).  When I was mailing off Christmas boxes that were going to be reasonably on time I used a general theme of Christmas Stamps.  It was very festive in a USPS kind of way (which, really, is kind of an awesome kind of way!).



I received an early birthday present from my roommate Elise this week.  I have been eyeing these sheets for months and when I finally made up my mind to buy them at the store, they were out.  She was there and they had them back in stock and she got them and gave them to me right away because it’s bloody freezing in my room and they seem like a good idea in January.


Anytime you can snuggle down in a bed made-up in flannel sheets covered in dogs wearing clothing and a heated mattress pad, you know that you are on the right side of any battle that the world may throw at you the next day.  Plus, bonus cute knitting project bag that the sheets came in!


Speaking of birthday presents, I made one for Elise’s birthday on Monday.  Since she saw me knitting it and had requested it specifically (and it’s cold outside) I gave it to her a few days early.  It is a “Jayne Hat” inspired by the one worn on the short-lived Sci-Fi show Firefly by one of the characters.  I used three shades of Vanna’s Choice that seemed to be there best representation of the colors on our TV screen.  The exact colors used are here in my Ravelry page as well as the actual pattern I used.  It was an easy knit and fast.  I’ve gotten used to making things out of fingering weight yarns so knitting something out of worsted felt as though it was just falling off the needles!


Another knitting project I made was a pair of thrummed mittens.  These were made in response to the news of the impending polar vortex to descend upon our little piece of heaven here in Iowa.  I actually managed to get them finished prior to the big chill actually getting here, so that was actually a new feeling for me!  Once again, knitted in worsted weight wool, these just flew.  They are far from perfect and if I made them again I would make them a little bigger (like one more completion of the thrumming round) but they work and work well at keeping my hands warm which was the whole purpose.  Details of the pattern and materials are here on my Ravelry page.  I’ve had so much fun showing them to people and then turning them inside out and explaining that they are like Uggs for your hands:-)  I know, I’m easily amused.

This was my whole outfit to take the dogs out during the worst of the polar vortex.

If I had been a good girl and updating like I should be, these would have all been a separate post.  But I am naughty and haven’t been.  Though I really need to write more here.  I am doing a lot of academic writing which I sometimes feel as though it is killing my natural writing voice.  Academic writing is extremely dry and formulaic.  I feel that it was designed for people who are not very good writers to be able to get information about their study (or whatever they want to talk about) out without exposing that they suck at writing.  I’m not saying that I am a Neil Gaiman of blogging or anything like that, but I can at least (generally) communicate what I am trying to say.  Often in academic writing, the language is very dense and obscure and there is a ham-fisted approach to using big words in order to camouflage the fact that there is little or no real results from the study (or whatever) that the author is writing about.  It seems to be elitist and it’s no wonder that people who are not in academia often misinterpret what these papers mean.  There’s a whole ethical discussion that I could get into about this (we are supposed to be doing research for the good of the state/nation/world but we often don’t put our results in a language that a lay person could read and understand) but in short it hurts my brain to write too much of it at one go.  I understand that results need to be in a format of sorts, but does is really need to be this????

Also, I start saying things like, “My personal self-efficacy belief as to my ability to maintain ownership of my animal-based fiber headcovering has quickly plummeted.”  That was in response to losing my wool hat.  Seriously.



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