Rosey the Riveter

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Homemade Red Wine Vinegar

So it's been forever since I've posted.  I get the 'bad blogger' award.  Hoping to rectify that with a quick post to share my latest project.

I've been making my own apple cider vinegar for awhile, and I just started a new batch with the drops from my neighbors apple tree (I only use organic apples for vinegar).  When I opened up my old jar to dig out the mother (or SCOBY), I discovered she'd reproduced... which gave me the opportunity to try my hand at making some Red Wine Vinegar.

I just took the second mother and added her to a jar of homecanned grape juice.  I topped it with cheese cloth, and hopefully I'll have some great RWV in a couple of weeks!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

In Bloom

Every February, I curse the Knock-Out Roses that came with the house.  I hate pruning them, and no matter what I wear, I always get cut up.  Last year, they suffered terribly with what I now know is Black Spot (thanks to my Master Gardener training!  Knock-Outs are supposed to be highly resistant.  HA!).  This year, they appear to be rewarding me for my diligent care.  I have never seen so many blooms.  The yellow roses by the front steps:

 The container I assembled between the garage doors.
 The pink Knock-Outs around the maple tree (with blueberries in the containers):
Me playing with my Aperture Setting:

 More pink Knock-Outs around the Crepe Myrtle:

 One of the last Azalea's:
 More Azalea's, from the bush that had been languishing in full-on sun.  I moved it this Spring, and it is thanking me profusely (more Aperture playing):
 The Garden.  Sam the Scarecrow came home with me from the thrift store yesterday:
 Chives blooming, as well as German Chamomile:
Yarrow, a gift from a friend:
The Amarylis that I planted out front in the daffodil bed.  I am relieved it made it through the winter.  It has thrown off 4 babies that I will separate after they are all done blooming:
We are in the throes of Strawberry Season here.  I picked my 55th pound of the year today.  So far, they've all been either made into low-sugar Strawberry Jam (I also tried Strawberry Chocolate Mint and Strawberry Lemon Verbena) or dehydrated.  I will freeze less than I did last year, but I do need to go get more and freeze some.
Happy Spring!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Here's the Buzz...

Got in the hives today.  It's been about 3 weeks since we last checked on the bees, so it was time.  I wanted to make sure they weren't building any swarm cells, and I was also curious to see if they were storing any honey.

Our neighbor, Tom, who is in 3rd grade, wanted to tag along.  So he suited up and joined right in.
His Mom is afraid of bees.  She stayed far away. 

We were pleased to see lots of larvae and eggs.  We had to add another brood box because I wanted them to have enough room.  There's a box of honey which was left from last winter, and another box that they are filling but haven't yet capped over, and another one for future stores.  I think we're in good shape.  After the honey flow, we'll make a split and get back to two hives.

It makes me happy to know the bees are thriving.  I wish we hadn't chose the hottest day of the year to get in, but it's good to know they aren't planning on swarming anytime soon!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Why CSAs Just Don't Work for Us

Every year around this time, I get asked about CSAs.  "How do you feel about them?"  "Which are the best to join?"  "How do they work?"  "Are they worth it?"  My answer to all of these questions is the same.

"It just depends."

For those of you who aren't familiar with the term, CSA stands for "Community Supported Agriculture"  The premise is that some time in the winter or spring, you can join a CSA by sending the farmer cash, which is exactly what he (or she) needs to buy seeds and fencing and all the other various expenses that come with farming.  In exchange, you get a weekly portion of the harvest, which you are responsible for picking up at a designated place and time.  CSAs are a great way to support local farms.


There's always a 'but', isn't there?

Despite my attempts to find one that works for our family, I haven't been able to.  Here's why:

#1.  I cannot be tied to a weekly pick-up time, especially during the summer when vacations and day trips and canning demand that I not be committed to any form of schedule.  Furthermore, the cost of time and gas to even get to the pick-up site must be considered, and in many cases it is not  insignificant.

#2.  I would say my family is more open to trying new foods than the normal family is.  And I am certainly more familiar with cooking from scratch than the average home cook.  Yet in every box, there is always SOMETHING that we just won't eat... or, something new that we try and don't like.  This is just wasted food, and I hate wasting food.

#3.  In my experience, the amount of food you get in a CSA box pales in comparison to the amount of food you would get if you spent the same amount of money at the farmer's market.   (Perhaps because sorting the boxes is more labor intensive?  I don't know.)

I decided, therefore, that I would take the money that would normally be invested in a CSA, and still give it back to the local farmers.  However, by shopping at the Farmer's Market, *I* would be the one to choose which foods I went home with.   I get to choose not only what veggies I want, but also what varieties of those veggies I want.  No wasted food.  I get to chat with all of the farmers, not just one.  If I can't make the Farmer's Market on Wednesday, I go to the one on Saturday.  For bulk purchases, I attend the produce auction which also supports local farmers.

Sometimes I feel like a real heel when I tell people we don't participate in a CSA.  But... (there's always a 'but', isn't there?)  ... it's what works best for us.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Dandelion Jelly

I've been wanting to make Dandelion Jelly for awhile, and I decided today was the day.  I braved the drizzle and gathered my dandelions, with a little help from the neighbors' yards (do not gather them from the side of the road, and make sure they haven't been sprayed with any 'cides').  I gathered about 4 cups of flower heads, and came home to remove the green parts (they can be bitter, so you don't want them in your jelly).

Once you have 2 cups worth of 'fluff', bring 2 1/2 cups of water to a boil and add in the dandelions.  Let boil for 10 minutes.  Then, using a jelly bag or coffee filter or what have you, strain out the liquid.  You should have 2 cups of dandelion juice.

Now, there are lots of recipes for Dandelion Jelly online, but I wanted one that was low in sugar.  So I decided to use the "Nana's Dandelion Jelly" recipe from the Pomona Pectin cookbook.

I brought the juice back to a boil, added 1/4 cup of lemon juice, and 2 1/2 tsp of calcium water.  After returning to a boil, I added in a mixture of 1/2 cup sugar and 2 1/2 tsp of Pomona Pectin. Again, bring to a boil, stirring all the while, and then remove from heat and jar them up for canning.  Process for 10 minutes.  I ended up with 5 4-ounce jars.

They are a pretty golden color (some people add yellow food coloring... but why?) and taste like spring!  Because this is a low-sugar recipe, it doesn't taste as much like honey as the full-sugar recipes do, but I am ok with that!  It felt good to play with jars again, and I am very excited that Strawberry Season is only about 3-4 weeks away here.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

A Walk Around the Homestead - March 2014

It's been almost two months since I've posted... been a busy bee!  My latest endeavor, becoming a Master Gardener, involved classes twice a week for 12 weeks.  We just 'graduated' as Interns, and now we need to complete 50 hours of volunteer time before we are considered full-fledged Master Gardeners.  I absolutely loved the classes, I learned a ton, and met some really great people. 

That's the happy news.  The sad news is that we lost not one, but both of our beehives.  There was plenty of honey left, but lots of dead bees.  Not sure if it was the cold, or what, but I know they didn't starve, and I know it wasn't Colony Collapse (CCD), because that's when the bees just up and disappear.  Thankfully, the Nuc that I'd overwintered on my deck was thriving, so that got moved into one of the hives.  They now have lots more frames of drawn comb for eggs, storing pollen, and collecting honey.  Once the weather warms, we will go ahead and do a split and  be back to our two hives.  Because they won't have to waste time and energy drawing out comb, I am optimistic that we will be able to harvest some honey this year.  We won't be able to raise any Nucs for new beekeepers, but I'm okay with that right now.

Looking at the 10 day forecast, there appears to be no more dangers of frost until April 5th.  At that point, there is only a 10% chance of it getting below freezing, so I am also optimistic that gardening season has arrived.  Let's take a walk around the homestead and see what's happening!
The daffodils have been blooming for awhile now... about 4 weeks later than normal, since we've had such a cold winter.
I have trimmed back all of the liriope.  We just need to add more mulch, and divide some of the larger clumps.
The peach tree has been pruned, and with no time to spare.  Only a few days later, the blossoms started to open, and it is absolutely gorgeous to behold.  This is the first year I expected to get fruit, so we'll see what happens.
The Mallow is showing signs of new growth, as is the echinacea.  Unfortunately, the bee balm isn't, as I don't think it got enough water last year.   Luckily, I had given some to Mom so I am hoping to be able to take some of that back with me when I visit over Spring Break.
We saved all of our leaves last fall, and after running then through the lawnmower, I used them as mulch in the garden.  There are hardly any weeds, and the soil is so nice!  I will definitely be doing that again.  I've brushed the leaves aside in some places, where I've planted peas, carrots, radishes, cabbages, and pak choi.  I also added some Urea (Nitrogen) and Potash (Potassium), as my soil test indicated I was low on the Potassium (but sky high on everything else.  Go figure!)  Once the plants pop through, I will add a layer of compost and then put the leaves back as mulch to keep out the warm-weather weeds.
I mulched the herb beds with wood chips, and as you can see the yarrow, garlic chives, and chamomile are loving the cool weather.  The jury is still out on whether or not the rosemary and lavender survived this cold winter, and I am not sure if the Stevia and Lemon Verbena will come back, either.
The roses have been pruned, and the bed weeded.  It just needs to be mulched.  I have been having a problem with black spot (yes, on the KnockOuts no less), so hopefully cleaning out the bed will help.  The left container holds a lilac, and the right container holds a blueberry.  Both will be moved at some point!
The chickens have been laying faithfully every since the days have gotten longer,  We are now getting 4 eggs a day.  Rosie, our Lavender Orp, is not laying at all for some reason.  She shows no signs of being an internal layer, having worms, or any other issue, so I don't know what to think about that.
This rhubarb shoot was a complete surprise and made my day!  I was convinced that none of my plants had survived... this is NOT the ideal climate to be growing rhubarb... but I have to try!  This will be the year I can finally harvest some of the stalks, so keep your fingers crossed.
Here is my 'garden ghetto' of winter-sown seeds.  I didn't like the milk jugs I've used in the past, so this year I used clear clam shell containers and it's working out well.
These little sprouts are sunflowers!  I've also got a ton of zinnias, calendula, horehound, feverfew, toothache plant, holy Basil, Mammoth Basil, and plenty of others I can't remember off the top of my head.
 For the first time this year, I decided to try starting some seeds indoors, because the warmer-weather plants don't do so well with the winter-sowing.  Here you see my Juliet Tomatoes and some Heinz Tomatoes, along with some of Abby's Forget-Me-Nots.  I was going to give up on the idea of growing tomatoes (they have not done well for me at all the past few years, as I have early blight in the soil), but I decided to try growing in containers and choosing some resistant varieties.  My friend Donna Rae swears by the Juliets, and I thought the Heinz would be fun for homemade ketchup, so we'll see how that goes.

I will try to be better about posting, now that Spring is here and I have something to post about!!!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Music to my Ears!


A few days ago, in the midst of our cold weather (in the teens for 3 nights in a row... a rarity in these parts), I went out to check on the bees and nearly had a heart attack.  There were tons of dead bees at the entrance.  When I brushed them off, more tumbled in their place.  All I could think was that we'd lost the Nuc... first of all, I've never over-wintered a Nuc before, and these guys didn't have nearly the stores of honey they should have had going into the fall.  I fed them sugar syrup (and, with the cold weather, straight sugar) in hopes of getting them through.  Not to mention, this is the first colony I've had on our property (our other hives are at a neighbors' place)... they are right on our deck, where I can watch them out the window while I do dishes. I am emotionally attached to these bees.  I did knock the side of the hive and was able to hear some buzzing, so I took that as a hopeful sign even though my heart had sunk at the grim prospect of losing the whole hive.

Today, I went out to check on the bees, since it's almost 50 degrees, the sun is shining, and there's no wind... in other words, perfect conditions for them to be out flying around.  And buzzing, they were!  All is right in my bee world... for now! 

Originally, the plan was to sell this hive in the spring, but if they prove to be such hardy beasts that they can make it through THIS winter without succumbing to the cold, or mites, or any other number of calamities facing our bee colonies, I will probably end up deciding NOT to sell them.  Because our original bees came from a wild swarm, and we were able to split them in their first year, these bees have good genetics.  There's a relatively new queen in there, and I've been very happy with what she's doing.  I like the idea of keeping a spare Nuc just in case something happens to one of our other hives.  I don't have any desire to spend the money on the boxes a third hive would require, so a Nuc is a great way to always have a spare queen.  When the colony threatens to outgrow the Nuc box, we can either add another box on top, or split it and make another Nuc to sell.  I have a feeling there is going to be a huge market for local bees this spring, as many of my fellow beekeepers are reporting significant losses already, and we haven't even gotten to February yet (which is, historically, a bad month for hive losses).

We are due for more snow and more cold temps tomorrow, so we're not out of the woods yet by any stretch of the imagination.  But there's still hope for this one!