I got a handmade wooden pinhole camera for my 30th and now, with a month left before I turn 40, I have gifted myself this beautiful handmade alembic copper still from Portugal.
I’ve been doing a lot of wildcrafting this season and have been experimenting with D.I.Y methods for making plant hydrosols aka floral waters (although not only using flowers) from plant materials grown in my garden. Having tried and tried again repeatedly and having achieved some successes, but still not completely satisfied with the results, I got the crazy idea to buy an old-fashioned copper still and do it up proper. [I will write about what I learned through these experiments at another time.]
T-minus just a few days before we leave on our 10 day desert trip and the madness is in full swing around here. I am never again going away on such a long trip at the height of planting season. Lesson learned. Still, I figure I will stop fussing and fretting about my own garden once I am out there in that giant desert garden with so many amazing plants and landscapes surrounding me.
While I have a heightened interest in desert plants in general and probably know more than the average person visiting the American Southwest for the first time, I also know from other trips that stepping into that landscape is going to feel a bit like walking on the moon with alien lifeforms aplenty.
About a month ago I started to prepare by purchasing books related to the plant life of the Southwest. I tried to get a good general plant identification book, but alas the one I wanted, A Field Guide to the Plants of Arizona by Anne Orth Epple, was not available. I am hoping to pick up a copy somewhere on the trip. Perhaps the gift shop at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix will have a copy in stock. We specifically decided to make this public garden our first stop of the trip so that we’d have a chance to see Sonoran desert plants in an educational context. After all, I don’t expect to see conveniently located name tags once we’re out in the middle of nowhere!
While I will always promote gleaning your gardening gear from the recycling bin or second-hand via garage sales and thrift stores, there are times when buying new is required. A lot of gardeners looking to save money have been turning to the dollar store over the past few years, especially since many chains have been expanding their gardening aisles and selection has grown. For that reason I have put together a guide to products that I have purchased in my local stores and have found to be useful and of decent quality. Oddly enough, much of the best garden gear is not found in the actual gardening aisle so it helps to think outside the box and look around the entire store for objects in the housewares, craft, and stationary aisles that might suit your needs.
- Plastic Dish Pan Basin: These bins are fantastic for a variety of purposes and I keep a few on hand. I use them to mix up and moisten seed starting soil (and other potting soils, too) and as a working surface for filling pots. They can also be used for bottom watering delicate plants and as a wash basin for soaking and cleaning used pots. Brand new cat litter pans also work well for this purpose, although the dish pans tend to be deeper.
For the Cook:
Schmidt Brothers – 15 PC. Knife Set with Block $165.32 CAD: This sleek knife set probably won’t cut it in a professional kitchen, but it is a good deal and well above average for the home cook who doesn’t mind putting in the extra care that is needed to preserve the beautiful acacia wood handles and block.
Cuisinart Cast Iron Enamaled Dutch Oven $60-130 US: If you want the best dutch oven that will last a lifetime, get a Le Cruset. You really do get what you pay for. But for those of us who can’t make that investment, a more affordable Cusinart pot is a reasonable alternative. I have two: a 3-quart and a 5-quart that I got on sale at Winners, the Canadian TJ Maxx. I honestly didn’t realize how useful these pots would be until I got them. The smaller of the two quickly became my go-to pot and is used daily, if not multiple times per day. The white enamel interior has suffered some staining from added use as a jam making pot (I hear that Le Cruset pots don’t stain as easily as they have more layers), but other than that it is in really good condition and I expect to get plenty more years out of it.
GreenPan Non-Stick Fry-Pan Set $82.77 CAD We’ve tried a handful of “eco-friendly” ceramic, non-stick pans over the years and like all cookware it comes down to this: you get what you pay for. All of the cheaper pans we tried were crap, losing their coating quickly with careful use, or simply not working at all. We bought a 2-piece set of GreenPans very similar to this about 3 years back and they’ve been great. Although, there is some noticeable wear and tear, it’s in keeping with what you’d expect with daily use. I do agree with some consumers that they can be difficult to clean, but beyond that we’ve been really happy with ours.
For the Home Baker
Good to the Grain: Baking with Whole-Grain Flours by Kim Boyce $19.77 US: This is our go-to book when we are baking from a recipe at home. No other baking book has seen nearly as much use as this one. While I have been baking primarily with spelt flour for years now, when I bought it in 2010, this book really pushed me to start experimenting with other overlooked grains such as buckwheat and barley. I also like that many of the recipes aren’t sugar-heavy. P.S. I have tried all of the scone recipes and while I tend to cut back further on the amount of sugar used, they are all really exceptional. This book is worth it for those recipes alone
Brass Frond Earrings $45 US: This Australian jewelry designer makes gorgeous and sustainably produced wearable art that is inspired by nature. Her work reminds me of walking along a beach or through a field picking up little bits of water-worn glass and pebbles or beautiful leaves and putting them in my pocket to be rediscovered later. I love everything she makes and splurged on a pair of these simple oxidized silver twig earrings a few months ago so I can personally attest to the quality of her work.
Water Right’s Ultra-light Drinking Water Safe Polyurethane Hose $59.95 US: No, it’s not cheap, but it is worth the investment. I was convinced to take the plunge back in September when I had the chance to hold one in Margaret Roach’s garden. I could not believe how light, yet sturdy it was. A local shop had them on sale and I was lucky to get the last in my preferred colour, olive, as they had very nearly sold out the previous day to attendees at our workshop who were also sold upon seeing them in real life.