Friday, November 28, 2014

Not tonight, dear, I have a headache.

After we let the chooks out yesterday morning we played "Easter Egg Hunt" for a little while. We came up empty-handed, but I know there is a pile of eggs waiting for us out there somewhere! Since the chooks all free-range, sometimes the girls get the idea they can lay eggs wherever they want. If that happens, they can often be retrained by keeping them cooped up for several days in a row.

As we were hunting for our diamonds (they have 40 acres over which to roam, but they keep it within about five acres), I glanced over at the run and noticed there were seven girls in the pen with No Roosters. Aaha!! That was half of the girls, so I shut them in the run and we started looking for the other hens. One by one we got them back in the run with nary a rooster. Man, you could tell they sure enjoyed meandering about in the run without being hounded by "the boys"! Here the girls are enjoying a peaceful breakfast. Rare indeed! 

Bottoms Up!
I think I've discovered where the toast "Bottoms Up" came from! Hopefully a relaxing day or two sans roosters will help the girls remember where their egg home is.

Below are most of the boys, outside looking in. Missing their girls. :) They hung out there All Day. It's almost sad. Almost. 
"The Boys" worrying about their girls.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

This is simply for the birds!

I’m having a much appreciated day off. It’s just this side of bitter cold outside, and that often turns my mind to the birds and the bees and what I can do to help them out through the winter.

Let me back up a bit. All year long, I save for the birds. If I have something suet-ish that is starting to get stale, I tuck it away in the freezer, anticipating winter and its lack of available bird food resources. Because I’m over 50 in people years, I try to remember to label everything - because if I sleep, I will forget. When I’m ready to cook up a batch of suet, I know it will help me remember that what I’m looking at in the freezer really is saved for the birds.

Now, on to suet making. It's been a long while since I made suet and I don't have a saved recipe, so I turned to that handy dandy what-would-I-do-without-it internet and did a quick search for some suet recipes. Every one I read was different, so I decided just to wing it. Kinda appropriate, since this is for the birds, eh? Heh, heh.

I won’t know for a while whether I have enough of the binding ingredient, lard or peanut butter, but if it is an utter failure, I have chickens. They will be very happy chickens.

Here we go!

Gather your ingredients. Much like some of the soups I make, this could just as well be called refrigerator suet. I used the freezer ingredients I had set aside but then I just starting shopping for anything that I thought the birds might like. This batch I used: peanut butter, lard, graham crackers, cranberries, prunes, chicken scratch, cornmeal, oatmeal, and tortilla chips. 
Did I say popcorn? No. Remember my forgetfulness? Guess I'll use that in the next batch . . . if I don't forget!

Time to assemble. Start melting the oil-based ingredients. I added the peanut butter and lard and some Crisco to the pan on a very low heat. 

I actually had some real-live lard saved some from a roast I had made several weeks earlier. It was excessively fatty so I started removing the fat to throw away but decided “Hey! I can use that for something!” Today it got used. Woo hoo! I love it when a plan falls into place. Yes, it’s the little things…

After that, it’s just a matter of throwing everything in there, stir it up, and press it into a parchment-lined pan.

I pressed everything down really hard with the back of my spoon and then got the brilliant idea that I should press one pan into the other. I got another piece of parchment and put on top of one pan, then squnched one pan on top of the other, pressing down on all sides. That helped a lot, but I still went over it again with my hands, especially on the corners. I figure they will be vulnerable to crumbling.

And that’s it! Now to let it sit and dry for several hours, then cut to fit the suet hanger and I’ll be making some birds happy in no time! 

Monday, October 13, 2014

It Pays to Speak Up . . . Literally.

Back in the ‘80s I took a college class that taught the pros of being an advocate. It seemed a silly assignment to me at the time, but I dutifully followed this particular homework instruction and wrote a letter to the organization of my choice about something I believed in. That was about as constricting as the assignment was. Full range of options there. Seemed no way to fail but to not write the letter. I wish I could remember that teacher’s name, because she did me a good service. I did indeed learn that if I had a strong feeling about something, it was probably worthy of a letter and the input more valuable to the company than I realized.

About 15 years ago, the hubs and I moved onto our 40-acre slice of heaven and began gardening on a very small scale. Still, we had surplus food so I taught myself to can. As one who cans (and is a rather obsessed recycler), I covet glass jars, especially those that can be used for canning. And so developed my allegiance to Classico pasta sauce. 

I had been using Classico pasta sauce long before I canned, but I had noted way back then that the jars they used were an official canning jar. I always thought that was trè cool. So it made sense that I would purchase their product when I wanted a quick and easy pasta sauce that was in all actuality quite good. (This is Not Yo’ Mama’s Pasta Sauce! Ugh; I remember those paltry, pitiful, barely palatable offerings of yore. Bleeyuck.) Well imagine my shock and horror when they changed their jar after lo’ these many years. WHAT? A standard canning lid will no longer fit this heretofore perfectly usable canning jar???! Removing fractions of an inch from the neck of the jar and the cap probably saved them tons of money, but in this day and age of “recycle, reuse, repurpose,” what the Heck were they thinking?!

So, I wrote them. I fussed and fretted and explained that they had effectively in one swell foop lost me as a customer and added dramatically to the landfill.  I was truly shocked at what seemed senseless to me.

Weeks later, I got a letter from Classico with free coupons for my anger. Sorry, guys, I ain’t that cheap. I tore up the coupons and threw them away.

Well much to my surprise, some months later, I received another letter from Classico. And guess what they told me? They were changing back to the old style of jar with the standard canning lid neck! How awesome is that?! Plus, they sent me another coupon for a free jar of pasta sauce.

Power to the People! :)
I’m guessing I was not the only customer they were doomed to lose due to an idiotic change that probably seemed brilliant at the time. Their executives are smart. They tried. They failed. They listened to their customers and they changed. That’s a pretty decent company, if you ask me. 

And now . . . I get to use that coupon! 

Monday, September 1, 2014

Let's talk about sex.

Guinea fowl are a bird that is difficult to sex. 

This means it is difficult to determine whether one is a male (cock) or female (hen). As keets (babies) it is nigh on impossible to tell. And there are only a few clues as adults. By about eight weeks of age, sometimes you can tell by their helmet and wattle. Sometimes. On the male, both the helmet and wattle are usually larger and a tad more vibrant. I have read in a few places that you can identify by feather growth as a keet, but I have yet to substantiate this. As an adult, it is possible to sex by their vent (where the egg comes out), but the nearly sure-fire way to tell the sex of a guinea, once it gets its "voice" (again, at about eight weeks of age), is by their distinct calls. Although the female can imitate the male on occasion, her call is distinct. Some folks say it sounds like "buck-wheat" or "per-quack." That is all in the ear of the listener. But I like to go with what my friend's daughter calls it - "pot rack." Listen to the video below and you can decide for yourself what "Virguinea" is saying. But, one thing for sure, she is a she.

I have yet to capture the sound of the male. Stay tuned for that exciting post!


Sunday, August 3, 2014

Life with David

I broke my scale yesterday morning. Waaaaaa. I didn't think to mention it to the hubs, as I am the main user of it. 

After work yesterday I had to run an errand, which meant I would be late preparing dinner. Trying to help expedite things, David called and asked if I wanted him to slice the onions for the tomato pie. Onions make me cry like a baby and don't bother him much, so he is the Onion Slicer in the family. I was thankful he was planning ahead (or his tummy was) and I told him sure, slice about a pound. When I got home and went into the kitchen to start sautéing the onions, there was a HUGE pile on the scale. Had to be at least 2 or 3 pounds. I lifted it and said "Wow, that looks - and feels! - like way more than a pound. " It was then I realized he had been using the broken scale. I told him I had broken the scale that morning. He proudly announced that he had realized it was broken but had fixed it. I was still staring at the huge pile of onions, but I could feel him behind me beaming at his accomplishment. Then he said, "I wondered why the needle hardly moved on the scale."

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A "sign" that you're in love...

Everybody loves to hate pithy sayings. I've got the humor level of about a first grader, so I almost always love pithy sayings. They are clever, succinct, and always contain some level of truth, from very little to completely. 

What I love to hate are some of those pithy Facebook postings (aka memes). Oh yes, they have a place. I post many myself. Guilty as charged. But sometimes some of them just make me mad, and I have to shake my marbles and say "Really?"

Today I saw a post that, in quite the Pavlovian manner, prompted an immediate head tilt and eye roll. Here's the "pithy sign," and then I'll extrapolate. 

Makes me happy??? Who out there, as did I, rolled your eyes when you read this? You're out there, I know you are. Come on, raise your hands. I know this sounds cynical, but I just somehow don't feel that happy is a significant part of the description of love. Contented? Yes. Certainly. 

Though it would make the Facebook list of the Top 10 Never "Liked" Signs, here's how I think the last part of that sign should actually read: 

Love is about being with a person who....
     ...drives me crazy
     ...infuriates me
     ...makes me want to scream
     ...makes me look at how I need to change
     ...makes me learn to communicate better
     ...makes me learn not to pout... 
     ...makes me ... makes me ... makes me...

"Makes you happy in a way nobody else can" sounds like the perfect little dream world, doesn't it? Oh what a lie we tell ourselves!

Consider these definitions (thank you, Merriam Webster!):

Main Entry: hap·pi·ness    Pronunciation: \ˈha-pē-nəs\
1 obsolete :  good fortune : prosperity  2 a :  a state of well-being and contentment :  joy 
b :  a pleasurable or satisfying experience. 3 :  felicityaptness

Main Entry: content Function: verb, transitive verb
1 :  to appease (quiet) the desires of   2 :  to limit (oneself) in requirements, desires, or actions

To me love isn't about being "happy." Happy is fleeting. Adulthood and responsibilities and different personalities jump in and take Happy by the horns and shake it to the ground and wrestle with it. Thirty-four years into marriage, I have had to embrace what I was taught through counseling: Sometimes love is simply a decision. (Wow. Not what i pictured at age 18.) I don't always "feel" happy. I don't always "feel" loved. But I said "I do" and that is a commitment I have had to stand by when Happy was hiding and Grumpy and Downright Angry took over. 

Love is struggling through a marriage - a partnership - through thick and thin, and coming out of the battle with an intimacy and friendship and bond that is unknown to most. Unless you make the decision...

Monday, April 7, 2014

Cloning a peach tree.

I bought a cloning kit years ago and then promptly hid it from myself. I unearthed it a few weeks ago, so I put it out in a visible location (read: I will trip over it daily) so I would remember to try this technique this spring. What is so neat about cloning is that it is a fast-forward time machine. If you start a tree from seed, it will probably take a minimum of three years before it sets fruit. If you clone an item, you automatically have a plant the same age as its parent in just a few short weeks.

This technique is a variation of asexual propagation called “layering.” Layering allows roots to form on the stem first and then the stem is cut off. The result is a new mini tree that is ready to plant. How exciting is that?! The process should take 6-8 weeks. It is Day One and I already want to go out and see if roots have formed. Waiting is not my strong suit.

In the picture here, I am cloning a dwarf peach tree, Red Haven, I believe. The peach tree is of fruiting age, so I should have fruit this year from this cloned tree specimen.

1. Cut a ring through the bark and remove bark. Should be about 1/2” in height. 2. The end result: cup in place and branch is tied to hold cup as upright as possible, which keeps water in cup. 3. Layering cup. The bottom inch is a water reservoir. 4. Tools needed - sharp knife, rooting hormone, soilless rooting mix, and layering cup with lid. The directions say to moisten the mix after you put it in the cup. I wet it down first so it would be good and moist.          5. Applying rooting hormone. 6. Mistakes happen. The branch on the right side was too close for the cup to close. You need to have about an inch and a half of clearance under the cup. 7. Prune your mistake. Don’t you wish life were that simple? 8. Filling cup with soilless mix. 9. Lid is applied and secured through slots in the cup. Tada! After assembling all the items it took about 5 minutes to do this. Now the wait… 

I checked and this kit is still available. I purchased it from Lee Valley Tools. I don't remember what I paid but 5 cups cost $15 now, about the cost of one fruit tree. I see there are new options since I originally purchased it - a watering syringe and the rooting hormone. It is called the Rooter Pot. Click here to see it.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

The beauty of ornamental kale.

Kale after a frost.
Kale bolting.
Ornamental kale. It fascinates me. It is a relative of cabbage (both are brassicas) but it doesn't form a head. Yes, you can eat it, but it is more bitter than the "edible" kale. It is a great plant for the winter, providing beautiful color when little else is even alive (left photo), much less thriving. But kale will be there, in all its glory.  I took the photo on the right this morning. This is kale blooming (beginning stages). A biennial, it is going to seed and then will have completed its life cyle. If it is anything like turnip (another brassica), it will be great forage for my bees and they will go hog wild for the blossoms. The kale blossoms, in fact, look very similar to a turnip blossom.  I can't wait to see what the bees do with this. Every year I find something else to strew around our property. Turnips, clover, dandelions, buckwheat, sorghum. This fall, I feel quite certain I will be adding kale.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Today I felt like a beekeeper.

Learning beekeeping has been quite the process for me. I would have loved to have had a local mentor; I didn’t. Thank goodness for online mentors. They saved my honey on more than one occasion. I do have a few local folks I can ask questions of, plus I read a lot about beekeeping. None of that, however, takes the place of a stand-by-your-side mentor who will come to your apiary, or allow you to go to hers, and take you step-by-step through the process of everything involved in this awesome and wondrous craft. It is possible to learn beekeeping without a mentor (I did), but it is a much slower and more risky (to your bees) path. In the realm of beekeeping, that is most definitely not the best thing.

I’ve been keeping bees for four years now. Every year I have learned a little more and every year I become more comfortable with the tasks at hand. I am learning to take notes. I say “am learning”  because this does not come easily for me. It goes completely against my ADHD bent. But man, has it been invaluable. Duh. So I am learning to be methodical. Yes, me. Organized and methodical. (You would laugh sometimes at what that actually looks like, but this too progresses.) Sometimes it is several weeks between times I get into a hive. How the heck could I expect I would remember what I had done the last time I was in a hive? Can’t. Not gonna happen. I have five hives (soon to be seven!). Imagine if I had hundreds or even thousands of hives. Oy! Notes are imperative, truly. Get in the habit if you are not already.

It is said that an inspection will set the colony back for days. After all, I am disrupting the everyday workings of thousands of bees. With this in mind, I try not to go to my apiary without a plan. What specifically do I want to accomplish when I get into a hive? If I know this, I keep their disruption to a minimum and they can get back to collecting nectar and converting to honey, or repairing what I’ve just torn asunder. With notebook in hand, immediately after an inspection I write down the state of the hive, is there brood, did I see the queen, are there honey stores, is the hive testy? If I see something that needs addressed the next time, I write what I anticipate I will need to do during the next inspection. Before my next inspection, I pull out my handy dandy notebook, refresh my memory with the anticipated necessary tasks, and in one glance I can then set forth to gather any equipment needed for the inspection I am about to undertake.

My inspection back on March 10 noted two things in my notebook: a possible queenless nuc and another nuc that had tons of brood. With those notes, I could think about my options: I might be able to simply add a nuc box to the booming colony or I might prefer to take it from a nuc to a full hive. I gathered both kinds of equipment - standard hive bodies (several, just in case), all the necessary frames, and a few nuc boxes in case I went that route. (I use almost exclusively 8-frame medium equipment, so any frame can be used in any box - nuc or hive body or super, which is a medium hive body.) I keep a tool bag that houses my hive tools, brush, frame holder, etc., so that is always at the ready and always goes with me. For transporting all my equipment, hubby yet again tolerated all my wants and needs and bought me a really cool dump truck sort of cart. It’s not too big, not too hard to pull, and it can hold a lot of equipment, minimizing my back-and-forth trips to the house for something I need but forgot. If you are like me and have your hives near your house, it’s a worthy purchase for around $100.

March 30. I decided to address the booming nuc colony first since it would be the easiest. All my hives got checker boarded on February 18 and I was hoping that did the deed to prevent swarms. I had planned on getting into this hive a week ago, but as often happens, something came up. Delayed maintenance can often spell loss of lots of bees by way of a swarm. I was thrilled to see when I opened this nuc that there was not a single swarm cell! Was it the checker boarding? I just cant’s say for sure, but I’ma thinking it was. And brood - oh my! NOTED: Temperament was excellent and a potential hive for making new queens. Yeowza! This is what you want to see! I quickly took it to a three-high full-sized hive from a three-high nuc. Have you ever taken a plant and transplanted it to a new, bigger pot and then looked at it in its new, bigger pot and wondered how on earth it was ever making it in the size it was in before? That’s exactly how I felt with this colony. Man, it filled two boxes to the brim, full and fat. I added an extra box for honey, hoping with all my might my girls will do as well with nectar gathering as they are doing with expanding!

Now it was time to address what I suspected was a queenless nuc. At the entry, the bees appeared lackadaisical - a sure sign something was probably amiss. Watch the outside of your hives, it gives many clues to inner happenings. Inside, sure enough, no brood, no queen. But, thankfully, also no laying worker yet - woooo hooo! That made me happy. My task at hand now was to find a frame of brood in another hive and insert it into the nuc. Not just any frame of brood, however. This needed to contain eggs that were 3 days old or younger so they could make a queen. There is a hive adjacent to this nuc hive. What was its condition? Could it spare a frame of brood? NOTES! Oh thank goodness for notes. I checked my notes from the previous inspection; not stellar notes, but it did say this hive had a queen and eggs and brood were seen. That should not have changed and if not I could steal from it. Now here’s the tricky part. Stealing eggs is simple. But you must steal eggs and not transfer the queen with said eggs. You have to find the queen first and then put her elsewhere. Amazingly (to me!), I found the queen rather quickly. I looked on the frame she was on and there were freshly laid eggs - a perfect frame to steal. I must admit I could have handled removing her a bit better. I kinda “shooed” her off the frame to a frame below. I was afraid to touch her. Afraid I would damage her, hurt her, drop her, squish her - a million thoughts ran through my mind. So I shooed. “Shoo, Queenie, shoo!” Her Majesty deserves better. I will work on this. Did I mention - she is F A T ! Fat must mean happy, right? So my queen is Fat and Happy. I retrieved the frame of eggs, inserted them into the nuc, sealed it, put an empty frame in where the stolen frame was and put that hive back together. Done!

Having notes told me what to look for on this inspection. I went prepared to do just that. I expanded one hive, I found the queen so I could egg a queenless nuc, and I got Humptys put all back together again. When I was done, I was quite proud of myself and felt I had handled this inspection in quite the beekeeperly fashion - something I often feel is sorely lacking. I went with a mission and mission was accomplished. If I hadn’t taken notes, I surely would have been quite helter skelter. If you are not a note taker, I strongly encourage learning this habit. In the apiary, it will save you major effort and take your beekeeping to a more efficient level. Bee well!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Don't kiss your ashes goodbye!

The last hurrah of winter has almost come. You've burned wood. You have ashes. Now what? Don't Throw Them Away!
Wood ash, also known as potash, is an excellent, organic amendment for soil. It is full of micronutrients (calcium, zinc, and magnesium, to name a few) and is an effective and organic way to raise (make more alkaline) your soil's pH. And it's free! This makes wood ash an excellent resource, providing your need soil needs a bit of alkalinity.

Wood ash is a form of potassium. Reflecting on that lovely Table of Elements chart from Chemistry 101, you may recall that the chemical symbol for potassium is "K." This is the K in the NPK ratio on those fertilizer bags. Potassium is a much-needed nutrient for plants, enabling them to use water more efficiently, resist drought and disease, and simply strengthens them overall.

There are only a few caveats to using leftover wood ash in your garden. Wood ash as a soil amendment specifically means ashes from wood you have burned, not ashes from your charcoal grill. Think 'tree only,' and this means as it fell; no treated wood. Also, if your soil is already quite alkaline, forego the wood ash. (What?! Too alkaline? How do I know this?! Now might be the time to become friendly with that soil testing kit you've been threatening to purchase.) And while potatoes may appreciate a good dose of potassium, too much wood ash can cause scab. So use with caution around potatoes. 

Understanding pH
In the world of pH, 7.0 is neutral. Soil that registers lower than 7.0 is considered acidic. If the level is higher, it is considered alkaline, or sweet. Most plants appreciate a nearly neutral soil pH of about 6.5-7.0, but some thrive in an environment that is more acidic. It is critical to know the pH requirements of your plants and how your soil registers. If you apply wood ash willy nilly to your garden, it could mean impending doom for some plants. Raising the pH of your soil is great for tomatoes, for example, but it would be disastrous for acid-loving blueberries or azaleas.

How to apply
Avoid windy days when working with wood ash and be sure to use protective gear. Gloves, mask, and eye wear are all de rigueur. The easiest way to incorporate wood ash into your soil is to compost it. Be careful, however, not to mix in too much at one time or you will skew the pH and scare off those beneficial worms at work. Add a thin layer alternated between those leaves or kitchen scraps. You can also lightly sprinkle wood ash directly on the soil, which will also function as a slug deterrent. If you miss the soil and it finds its way to the leaves of your plants, wash off the leaves to prevent burning. If using for slugs, reapply after a rain.

It's the Bee's Knees
Beekeepers should especially take note – wood ash is excellent for that clover yard you have been coveting. Clover thrives in a pH of 6.5 to 7. If your soil leans toward acids (very common in these parts), it will thank you for broadcasting a light layer of wood ash and repay you with oodles of happy little clover plants. 

If your soil could benefit from a little pH adjustment, now might be a great time to address that issue. So be sure to save those ashes and do some down-to-earth recycling. And, ya can't beat the price!