Rosey the Riveter

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A Walk Around the Homestead

Five days ago, the kids were out playing in the snow.  Today, it is 73 degrees.  Watching the 10 day forecast, I knew it was going to be a great day to be outside catching up on garden stuff, so I got all of my errands run yesterday so I could stay home and soak up the sun.  It's been awhile since I did a "Walk" post, which I like to do every now and then so I can have some record of things.  An online garden-journal if you will.

The crocuses and daffodils are popping through.  I suspected last year they were late varieties and this year confirms it... neighbors have daffodils that have blossomed now, and there's even another neighbor whose daffodils have already gone by!

The forsythia I planted last spring is budding.  I am looking forward to her cheery yellow blooms, although they will arrive earlier here than they did growing up in New England, when they were a birthday present from mother nature.
I had lost all hope for the rhubarb I planted last year, but I was VERY excited to see this little guy.  I couldn't pick any last year, because you're not supposed to harvest (lightly) until the second year.  I would love it if I could get just enough for some strawberry rhubarb jam.  I've been told it doesn't grow well here, though, so we'll see.
The Saturn Peach tree I planted last year.  Peaches produce on new growth, and take a few years, so I'm not sure if we'll get any this year, or not. Regardless, it will need to be lightly pruned in the near future.
The beautiful weather was perfect for turning the compost pile.  It was up to 120 degrees and really cooking until the snow came.  I was surprised at how much it had decomposed since I'd last turned it a few weeks ago.  There's not much left to go, and there were lots of worms, so I am looking forward to adding it into the garden.
This cilantro self-seeded and didn't seem to be affected at all by the snow.

The Lemon Balm clings to life.  I have a feeling in a few weeks it's going to start to really take off.

The Chives and the Garlic Chives are beginning to grow, despite the weed remnants from last summer.

This is celery that I grew last spring from the bottom of a store-bought bunch.  It's the greenest thing here.  Because it's a member of the carrot family, the Black Swallowtails loved it.  So, it stays for the butterflies in spite of the fact that it's not growing nice stalks for eating.

The bird house Stephen designed and built with the girls.  I enjoy watching the birds while I do dishes.  We have a beautiful red-winged blackbird and a pair of cardinals... and lots and lots of brown-headed cowbirds and mourning doves.

According to, we have now bottomed out when it comes to average temps.  February can be a brutal month, but it's also when things start to come alive here in Hampton Roads.  Last year, it was such a mild winter, I'd already planted peas and radishes by now.  I'm going to wait a few more weeks this time around!

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Haul

Yesterday afternoon was the larder swap.  We had 25 people show up, which was less than the last swap... BUT... it was fine.  It was less chaotic.  I got to chat it up with more people. 

At the last minute, I decided to make a batch of homemade peanut butter.  It's a good thing... it was my most popular item!  Here are the pictures I snapped of most of the goodies.  There were some late-comers and I never got a chance to photograph their stuff.
 Pecans, hand made soap, and eggs from my friend Kylene at Roses Ridge Farm
Hot mustard, Southwestern Spiced Turnip Relish and Apple Conserve from Courtney.  I am so glad I tried the turnip relish.  It was amazing...
 Lipbalm, Amish White Bread, Soup, and Room Spray also from Courtney.
 Banana Bread, Vanilla Orange Marmelade, Chocolate Sauce, and other goodies from Peg.
 Vanilla Bing Cherries and brick-oven bread from Jackie. 
 Apples and Pepper Relish from Paula.  The relish is like crack.  Seriously.  So good.
 Lisa's Banana Split in a Jar.  Good Stuff!!!
 Robin's Spiced Grape Butter (shockingly good), Pear preserves, Apple Jelly, and Pepper Jelly

 Donna Rae's Pear Cranberry Pie Filling.  It's going to make an amazing crisp!
Nancy brought so many goodies... Hot cocoa mix, ginger bread butter, Spiced Honey Butter (YUM!), Caramel Sauce, and more...
 Bread and Butter Pickles, Beets, and I forget what the last one was.  These are from Nancy's Mom.
 More of Nancy's things.
 Pecan's from Judi's tree, and Bay leaves, too.
 Seasoning Mixes.  I forgot who had these!
 Balms and Tinctures from Sandy
 Chatting it up before the chaos!

 When all was said and done, the tables were all full!
 My haul!  Lots of goodies to try.

This is my stuff on the table.  The kids decided they want to make their own stuff to for the next one.  They weren't alone.  So, at the next swap in June the kids will have their own swap on the other side of the room.  We're calling it the "Future Homesteaders Larder Swap."

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Larder Swap Preparations

Sunday is the long-anticipated Larder Swap with my Homesteading group.  It's a ton of fun, but it's also a bit of work.  Deciding what to bring to swap is the hard part.  Some people make items specifically for the swap, but I prefer to bring items that are already in my stash. 

This time, I've decided upon Strawberry Peach Jam, Carrot Cake Jam, Creamsicle Jelly, and Chocolate Raspberry Sauce.  I'm also going to grind some Einkorn, which is an ancient wheat, and also bring a batch of Elderberry Syrup made with local honey.  My goal is to gather a decent mix of items that are also somewhat unique... everyone and their brother in this group makes their own laundry detergent, so that's an example of an item I wouldn't bother bringing.  Some people will bake bread, or bring eggs from their chickens, or homemade soap.  Anything goes, as long as it's homemade/home-grown/home-raised and edible or some sort of bath/body product.

Once I decide what to bring, it's time to label it, identify it, make it all pretty.

We will also bring a copy of the recipe.  This is a new requirement, but I think it's going to be helpful for those with dietary restrictions.  It will also help those of us who want to make sure that canned goods are processed according to current recommendations.

For each type of item we bring, there is a corresponding Swap Sheet.  This is where people will 'bid' on our items.  The first part of the Swap involves time to try samples, and bid on what we like.  The second half of the swap is the most chaotic... when we actually wheel and deal and find the people whose stuff we want and also want our own stuff!  The first time we did this, we had 40 people and it was hectic.  This swap will probably be around 30, which I think is actually a better number.

I can't wait to see what I come home with!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Blessed Bee!

It's been in the 60s for several days this year.  Unfortunately, they've either been rainy or I've had plans... so we couldn't get into the bees.  Finally, today, the stars aligned and we finally got to have a peek for the first time since... well, I forget.  November?  At that time, we weren't sure they had enough honey stored for winter, so we've been feeding them off and on with heavy sugar syrup.

The hives are 1/4 mile down the road at my neighbors house, so I don't get to see them out and about on those nice days.  So when I arrived this afternoon and saw them flying around and in and out of the hive, I was thrilled.  They were all loaded up with pollen!
Normally, there's not such a back-up at the entrance, but during the winter we reduced the size to make the hive easier for the bees to defend.

We were absolutely thrilled to see that we had eggs.  Although we didn't see them, it confirms that both queens are alive and well.  If you click on the picture above, you'll be able to see the tiny eggs in each of the cells.

This picture doesn't do it justice, but I just gasped when we pulled this frame out.  It was absolutely gorgeous.  What you're looking at is all different kinds of pollen, which will be used to feed the brood.  I encourage you to click on this picture and get a better view.

I came home absolutely thrilled... like a mother who got to see her kids after a long separation, relieved to see that they were doing well.

Right about now, I am feeling incredibly grateful and blessed that we got into our hives and found them thriving.  Tonight at our monthly Beekeeper's Guild Meeting, members were abuzz about the number of hives lost.  Many beekeepers have lost multiply hives so far this winter.  The bees just disappeared, leaving behind frames full of honey.  One lost 4 out of 10 of his hives.

Someday it will be us.  Beekeeping is like farming, and some years are better than others.  There will be mites and beetles and Nosema Virus, and probably CCD (Colony Collapse Disorder).  It is impossible to avoid.  But I am grateful that so far, our girls are okay.  They've got plenty of food-stores to get them through the rest of the winter, even if it gets colder (or, should I say, ESPECIALLY if it gets colder.  They actually eat more in warmer weather because they are out flying and not huddling in the hive.)  And we have eggs!  That makes it a heck of a lot easier for them to raise a new queen if something were to happen.  Fingers crossed for the rest of the winter... February can be brutal.