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Belle Terre’s Blog is Moving

Time for some change in our lives.  We’ve relocated our blog to our very own address (how fancy!).

If you are a Belle Terre blog email subscriber (or would like to be), please click here and scroll down to the bottom of the page to re-subscribe.

Thanks ever so much 🙂

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Eco-Friendly Shipping

As we are catching our collective breaths after a hectic holiday season, we are taking this opportunity to evaluate what we could have done better in fulfilling our mission of bringing you great all natural soap and lip balm, with excellent service while creating no carbon footprint.  One are we can improve on is reducing the footprint of our shipping process for our internet customers.

This year we have used USPS Priority Boxes.  You know the ones with the cool slogan, “If it fits, it ships!”.  This was great for us for a lot of reasons.  The boxes cost us nothing so we could stockpile without any expense, we could pay for shipping online and print off the labels at home, and we didn’t even have to go to the post office since we could leave the packages in the mailbox for the postal person to pickup.

However, there are several downsides to this process.  First, the USPS boxes do not indicate that they are made from recycled (post-consumer or otherwise) materials.  Secondly, the fact that there are only a few different sized boxes means that we frequently had to use a lot of packing materials for orders that were just slightly too large for the small box.  Finally, the envelopes don’t have any padding so we couldn’t use those since we were concerned about the products arriving safely.

For 2011 we are going to mix it up a little.  First, we will continue to keep and reuse the packing material that our suppliers use in sending us the ingredients we use to make natural soap and lip balm.  We hope this will allow us to not have to buy packing material although it will make for a cluttered garage =-).  Secondly, we have found some shipping supplies that go by the name Caremail.

Caremail is a line of products made by Duck.  Available Caremail products include packing tape, padded envelopes, boxes, packing material and craft paper.  We are going to start out using the padded envelopes for select orders.  These envelopes are made with 95% recycled content and 55% post-consumer reycled content.  Also, these padded envelopes are plastic free.   This means none of the bubble wrap or lining which is super cool to play with but really sucks for the environment.

Our plan is to use the envelopes for a while and if all goes well, expand our use of Caremail products.  If anyone out there has any further suggestions on how we can improve this process further please let us know.

Thanks & stay clean!

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Updates

It’s been so long since I’ve posted, I have quite a few updates.  First, the soap rack (on ongoing project since April) is finally complete and is, in fact, holding all the soaps that we just posted on our etsy site as well as a few others that are curing.

Here’s a closeup of some of what’s curing:

And the finished product:

Moving on to the garden…we have harvested a few things so far.  We had lettuce for quite some time first in our cold frame and then directly from the garden until weather started consistently hitting 80.  We managed only a small number of sugar snap peas (always my favorite) before the heat became too much for them.  Next year I’d like to put them in quite a bit earlier.  I aslo hope to plant another crop at the end of the summer to make up for what we didn’t get this spring.

Just this morning Wayne harvested the beans that we had in the front flower bed.  I’m not sure of the variety, but they are black beans and even raw they are wonderfully sweet.

The big thing we harvested so far is our garlic.  We had planted three beds in the fall and just recently finished pulling it up.  You can see some of it drying on our soap rack (the only cool convenient place we could easily find).  We’ll likely save some for seed for next year and should still have plenty of garlic to last us through.

Wayne has also put in the tomatoes, peppers, basil, and eggplant.  We have  lots of green tomatoes starting, and the peppers look like they’re not too far behind.  The beets he put in are having trouble with the tough soil and are mostly growing above ground.  We’ll likely have to pull them up.  Oddly enough, the potato volunteers seem to be thriving in the same soil.

While my focus lately has been on Belle Terre, Wayne’s has primarily been on the land.  He’s been out there at least one day each week working on clearing.  He purchased a scythe in hopes of being able to handle most of it himself without the benefit of gas powered equipment.   I was (am) quite nervous about that choice.  A large swinging blade just doesn’t seem incredibly safe.  He keeps reminding me that tractors could be dangerous as well.

The other project Wayne has been focusing on is the property’s drainage (or lack thereof).  We visited a few months ago purposefully in the rain to see what the source of the water was in the front field.  As we expected, most of it is coming from a nearby property which has a drainage pipe to the road. Rather than running down the road, the slope of the land causes the runoff is coming directly onto our property and pool there.  In order to divert the water, Wayne dug out a trench, and lined it with fabric and gravel.  The water will now (hopefully) travel directly into our creek instead of overwhelming the field.

My sister and her boyfriend are visiting from DC and we’re excited to take them to see our property.  It’ll be the first time my family (other than my father) as seen our land.  For all my concerns about lack of fertility, the last time I was there the grass was well over my head!  I’ll take some updated pictures when we visit tomorrow and post them soon.

In a fun note, Wayne and I are both enjoying the Fabulous Beekman Boys.  We don’t have cable, so my parents started recording for us on their TIVO and it serves as a wonderful source of entertainment when we visit.

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Organic Grower's School

Once again we attended the OGS in Asheville this past weekend.  And once again, we loved it.   This is the fourth year we’ve attended, but the first year it was held at UNCA.   The conference last year was what prompted my growing love of beekeeping and pushed me to bug David until I got my own hive.   It was my favorite class of 2009.

This year W and I took a pasta class where we learned to make our own homemade pasta.  We both enjoyed the experience and hope to soon try it at home.   W also took a Germination class where he (among other things) actually participated in building a hoop house on campus that was later auctioned off.

My favorite class this year by far was “Organic Farming- What to Expect Your First Year” taught by Anna & Paul Littman from True Leaf Farm.   Anna and Paul are a young couple who decided to leap into farming and are doing quite well.  They shared tons of practical tips including must-have equipment and thoughts about planning your business.  It was refreshing to hear them discuss what they are actually bringing in and how they set goals for themselves along the way (they both still maintain off farm jobs).  They encouraged each of us to discover our skill set and then find a partner who has strengths were you have weaknesses.  I left the class with a mental list of to-dos (a few of which I have actually accomplished this week!), and an overall we-can-actually-do-this feeling which is still resonating.

More than anything else, W and I love attending these events because its so wonderful to be surrounded by like-minded folks.  Its lovely to walk through and just hear the discussions that the other 1500 people are having that attend the OGS and how the mindset is all so similar.  We miss that kind of kinship terribly where we live.  The community just doesn’t exist, but we’re hopeful that we can start establishing it through our example and our actions.

Next up (I hope):

North Carolina State Beekeepers Meeting – July 2010

Southeastern Energy Expo – August 2010

Eastern Apicultural Society – August 2010

The Sustainable Agriculture Conference – Dec 2010

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It's official – I am a beekeeper!

The bees have arrived!

David was kind enough (after some minor harassment on my part) to bring some bees over Thursday night.  He had them in a nuc box and carried it into the garden.  We opened it up by flashlight and moved over a few frames.  It’s a bit awkward because the hive I purchased (which I adore) has only shallow supers, no standard brood boxes so we had to finagle it a bit to get his frames to fit in my hive.  The bees were wonderfully calm while we worked and I left them with only a small entrance for the morning so no one hurried out and got lost.

This morning I mixed some sugar water in canning jars and went out to feed them.  I quickly realized that I needed to remove the entrance reducer and, it being early in the morning, I didn’t feel good about doing it unsuited.  So, I wandered back inside, suited up, and went back out.  It took me about fifteen minutes to get dressed and two minutes to remove the entrance reducer and add the feed, but I walked about from some slightly frazzled bees without a sting.

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I’ve pledged to wait the suggested 9 days before opening the hive up to see if they are settling in and drawing out any of the new foundation, but I’m having trouble containing my excitement.

Perfect timing too – my North Carolina State Association of Beekeepers membership was in the mail box on Friday.  🙂

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Earthship

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Earthship Pictures

EarthShip Exterior

Entry

Earthship Entry

Bathroom

Earthship Bathroom

Bedroom

Earthship Bedroom

Kitchen

Earthship Kitchen

Planter

Earthship Planter

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