Vanilla Lip Service

I have been in the process of developing some new project ideas to do with my Horticultural Therapy clients. I have a new facility I have started at recently, in which the population I work with a lot of them live in group homes through out the City of Philadelphia.

I have notice they all seem to really appreciate having personal care items, since they do not always get access, or the have the money to shop for them. I made scented soaps with this group right before the holidays- it was a huge hit.

I have been introducing this group to videos on Youtube of how different food/plant products are grown and produced. We have learned about coffee and tea and most recently the history and production of the vanilla bean. This is great video from the McCormick Spice Co     on vanilla

To finish off our lesson on vanilla- we made our own vanilla flavored lip balms

The steps and recipe to do this were easier than I thought they would be- here is how we did it-

Ingredients needed:

organic coconut oil unrefined


olive oil 16 oz bottle

real vanilla bean

vanilla extract


3 gram size lip balm pots ( i ordered these of amazon)

double boiler

Small plastic syringes




Prep …


first a few days before –

Pour oil into a wide mouth bottle add 1/4 real vanilla bean- scraping out the insides and placing it all in the bottle, letting it sit to ‘brew’ for a week. Add 2 tsp of real vanilla extract as well (not the fake stuff)

  1. Take all three ingredients – 2 tbsp coconut oil, 2 tbsp of distilled oil mixture, 2 tbsp grated beeswax, mix them well in a cup

2. In the double boiler over low heat put the mixture in -stir continuously until all is melted and well blended

3. Take pot off the burner and use syringe to pull up the mixture and empty into the lip balm pots. Be sure to keep the pots on a flat heat safe surface. The balm will solidify with in 5-10 minutes and will be done and in a stable form once it turns from clear to cloudy

4. Let them cool completely before screwing the cap in place

5. Be  sure to store as you would any other lip balm- away from extreme heat. ….

These make great gifts- each mixture fills approx 3-4 balm pots







Getting back to my canning roots- Roht Kohl style

I have some red cabbage that has over wintered in my garden from the fall;

At this point too bitter to eat but I did not want to waste it– I seem to have recalled a red cabbage pickled dish my Oma (grandmother in German) would make.

I had to call my mom to ask her what this was called- “ROHT KOHL ” my mother answered with glee- apparently this is one of her favs

I recently received from the Masontops company COMPLETE MASON JAR FERMENTATION KIT – 4 PICKLE PIPES, 4 PICKLE PEBBLES, 1 PICKLE PACKER a pickling set- check out their new take on canning and fermenting click here 

what a great opportunity to try this new product out- if you enter the code MARSHA10 at check out or just click here : ttp://

Here is the recipe I came up with – filled 4 32 oz mason jars
1 large head of red cabbage
1/8 cup Kosher Salt
2 cups brown sugar
8 cups of white vinegar
2 heads of fresh bronze fennel (also from my garden)
1 tablespoon of dried fennel seed
1 tablespoon of mustard seed
1 tablespoon of coriander
2-3 pinches of spicy sea salt (optional)

First I cut the red cabbage into shredded pieces, placed it in a glass bowl and let it soak in water for 24 hours- I placed a heavy plate on the top of it to prevent anything getting in- I love purple color the water turned- I wish I could make it my hair color♥

Then I boiled in a saucepan the vinegar and brown sugar till it became syrupy.

I then added the spices to the boiling mixture.

I sliced the fennel and mixed in with the cut up cabbage- placed them in the jars using the wooden pickle packer from

One note before you fill the mason jars be sure to sterilize them!

I poured the hot mixture into each jar then place the glass pickle pebble on top making sure that the contents stayed completely immersed.

I then carefully placed the silicone pickle pipe on each jar along with the metal screw ring.

The jars are sitting in dark cupboard waiting for their debut of delicious “Roht Kohl” later this month….stay tuned

Be sure to check out all the products Mason Tops has to offer and save 10% by entering MARSHA10 at the checkout– let me know how you make out/


A nickel will get you on the subway, but garlic will get you a seat- Yiddish Proverb


In my travels recently I was at local farm. The farmer was giving away sprouted garlic bulbs- my kids grabbed them and started using them as “magic wands”. That gave me the great idea- I grabbed a bunch and use them for nature play with my preschoolers.

But what next for these garlic bulbs-                              plant em’

Though the bulbs probably should have been planted in the fall, it is almost summer here, but I planted them anyway. Thought it would be good deterrent to keep the pests out of my vegetable garden- we all know vampires not like garlic- so maybe deers and bunnies don’t either? I separated the cloves and planted them an inch apart on the edges of my raised beds–  also threw a couple in my rose beds- was reading that garlic also keeps aphids from roses-

Preserving Boxwood for future projects

So what to do with the leftover live boxwood cuttings from your December programming? Preserve it! Unfortunately, I over-bought live boxwood from the floral supplier last month and I didn’t want the excess go to waste. So I decided to try to preserve it to use in future projects and here is how I did it.

What supplies you will need:

  • Boxwood cuttings
  • Citric acid (powder form) –find in the supermarket canning section
  • Glycerin (vegetable based) –find smaller quantities at natural food stores or order by the gallon at
  • Floral dye Absorbit by Design Master, color holiday green – order from floral supplier or buy on Amazon Plastic or glass containers (no metal)- I used big plastic totes

The recipe for the mixture:

  • Ratio of glycerin to water is 1:2, so for every 1 part glycerin add 2 parts water
  • Then add 1 tablespoon of Absorbit and ½ teaspoon of citric acid to your 1:2 solution
  • I cut the boxwood stems and placed in gallon plastic totes in my garage and added the completed solution so that it covered the bottom of the stems at least 3 inches.
  • Place the cuttings in the solution for approximately 3 weeks.
  • Remove the cuttings from the solution and lay out to dry.

I trimmed the stems to cut off the green ends, so your HT clients won’t have green hands while working with the material. The result is pliable preserved boxwood which is great for wreath making.

For another variation, omit the Absorbit dye and the boxwood will turn a golden color as it dries. This recipe would probably work for other woody stems like eucalyptus, willow, myrtle etc.

My clients used the boxwood cuttings this month to create these bird wreaths. As part of the program we also talked about winter birds. 

Bring some signs of Spring into your home this Winter

A great way to bring a hint of spring into your home are to force bulbs. Forced bulbs are bulbs that are grown inside usually in just water, no soil, in a warm place mimicking the warmth of spring. Narcissus tazetta, aka paperwhites are great bulb to force indoors because unlike other flowering bulbs like tulips or hyacinths, the do not need a cold dormant period in order to grow and bloom. The Narcissus tazetta originates in warmer climates, and blooms outdoors Dec-Feb in the southern hemisphere. In fact the bulb could not survive our northern winters if grown in the ground outside.

The plant is in the Narcissus family, same as most of your daffodils, and got the name tazetta, from the Italian word tazza, which means a shallow cup, since the blooms look like little cups.

This month in with my therapy groups we did the following project with paperwhite bulbs, I am sharing the instructions and supply list below hoping you can do the same.

Supplies needed

–Narcissus tazzetta bulbs, or any variety of paperwhite bulb-  can find them at your local indepent hardware store

–Clear container/ glass or plastic

–river rocks or glass stones



–fill container about 1/3 of the way with rocks or stones

–place bulb sprout side up on top of the rocks/stones. Cover with a couple rocks/stones to weight down the roots of the bulb

— put water in your container only to a level directly under the bottom of bulb, do not cover the bulb with water for it might rot.

— place the container in warm sunny spot that receives at least 6 hours of direct light a day.

—watch it sprout and grow, being sure to keep the water level consistent.

It can take up to 5 weeks or more for the bulb to finally produce a flower, so be patient and enjoy watching it grow,

Happy planting

Now is the perfect time to get that vegetable garden started

Now is the perfect time to get that vegetable garden started. What a great way to introduce fresh food to your kiddos. When they play a part in the process there is more of a chance they might eat their vegetables. With little space and effort it is possible to start a small vegetable garden in containers.

Look for containers that are at least 20″ in diameter, the bigger the better. Shy away from decorative pots without drainage holes. Terracotta or BPA free plastic work best. Line the bottom of the container with landscape fabric, it will hold in moisture. Then fill up 10 percent of it with gravel or rocks. Continue to fill container with a soilless mix or a potting mix that is designated for containers. As for the plants, your garden center should have plants that are already growing strong to transplant. Try vegetable varieties that are a determined height, or confined habit of growth, so they won’t grow too large and be unruly.

These varieties are usually called ‘bush’, some varieties to consider are: Tomatoes: ‘Patio Princess’ ‘Tiny Tim’ ‘Yellow pear’ ‘Container choice’ Lima beans: ‘Fordhock Bush’ Snap peas: ‘Bush blue lake’ Beets: ‘Spinel little ball’ Swiss chard: any variety Eggplant: ‘bambino’ or Japanese variety Lettuce: ‘red sails’ ‘tom thumb’ Peppers: any variety Herbs: any variety Another tip is to add a basil plant to the container, the basil enhances the flavor of tomatoes and peppers. Also keep the number of plants to under four, giving them enough air circulation and room to grow. The key to success is to keep your vegetable garden watered well. This means in the heat of the summer watering it every day.

Another great way to do a vegetable garden on a larger scale is called square foot gardening.

Building raised garden beds that are 4’ by 4’ , pre fab versions can be bought at Lowe’s. They are cedar wood which holds up well. The raised beds are superior than just gardening in the ground for many reasons. The soil can be amended each year and doesn’t need to be tilled. Access to the bed is easier and less straining. The raised beds hold higher yields, less weeding involved, and pests.

When picking plants for your raised vegetable garden, choose varieties that will show results sooner, varieties that yield smaller size fruit like cherry or grape tomatoes, Japanese or ghost eggplant, mini bell peppers; so your children are not waiting all summer to eat the produce.

Good luck and happy gardening—-Marsha

Currently Marsha is available for a consultation on establishing your own raised vegetable garden. She has designed and built such gardens for homeowners and schools. Contact Marsha today. email :


garden smile