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Friday, April 29, 2011

Grain Mill Stand

So the last thing I had on my to do list for this week was make the alcohol stove for the bug out box.  Did I do it?

No! I was too busy building this!:

The mill is bolted to the stand (has to be bolted or clamped to a surface), and then we have the flour bin on the flour shelf, and then underneath it is the grain bin on the grain shelf.

Steve used it tonight to crack about a half pound of malted barley because tomorrow is a brew day.

So that's malted barley in the hopper there.  He was well pleased with how it turned out.  I was well pleased that he was well pleased. It really seems to be a great mill, and we're both really happy with it, which is important because we're both going to be using it for different purposes.  I'll be milling flour with it, and he'll be cracking malted barley with it.  Next fall he'll order a fifty-pound bag of malted barley and crack it at home, and this will bring his brew costs way, way down.  He'll already ordered a couple pounds of hops direct from a hops grower in Washington, which he says will last until December in the freezer (he doesn't brew during the summer- it's too hot).  The only other thing I might use it for is cracking corn for chickens, but first I have to get chickens, and then I have to get a corn and bean auger for it.  If you're curious about that you can go the Country Living Grain Mills website and there's a video that shows how to install it.

One other thing I want to show you is that on the flour bin, we decided that having a cover with a hole in it for the flour to drop through would be a good idea to keep the dust down because we wanted to keep our mill in the house.

Some people mill in their garage because of the dust, but I'd rather clean up than have garage dust and spiders falling in my hopper, you know?  We'll see how well it works when I grind our first flour, which will be a couple of weeks yet; the wheat is still doing thirty days in the freezer, which will kill anything that might have hopped aboard it, like weevils.

Tomorrow is Saturday, and I've a date with Rae and her mother-in-law KT to go to the Canby Master Gardener Show.  This is my first Master Gardener show and I'm pretty excited about it.  Then also this weekend, Steve and I are going to HD to get a big bunch of lumber and bring it home in a rented truck so that I can get started on the breakfast and dining nooks next week.

But I promise I'll get that stove put together soon, maybe Sunday even, because it's the lynchpin in the bug out box.

I guess that's really more a promise that I'm making to myself.

Husbandly Duties, Prince William, and Tom Petty

My husband takes some of his husbandly duties seriously and some not so much.

His role as Lord Protector is one of those not so much ones.  The night before last I checked the perimeter, which is his job as the great big silverback of our small band, and found the front door completely unlocked and slightly ajar at eleven o'clock at night.  He was already in bed.  Some Lord Protector.

He's very good at getting stuff down for me or picking up the heavy stuff, but he doesn't miss a chance to say something along the lines of, "oh, I need a big, strong man to pick up this heavy box because I am just too weak," or, "I'm too small to reach it," in mincing tones.  It makes me want to hit him, but I know he likes the fact that I need him because he's bigger and stronger than I am.

But his role as court jester he takes very seriously and is probably the major trait of his that lead me to marry him.  If I'm grumpy he always keeps at doing or saying something silly and then when I smile or laugh he says, "there it is!"  Sometimes he's just funny.  This morning he said, "guess what song I have stuck in my head?"

To which I reply, "Don't tell me!  Because your MO is to tell me the song so that it gets stuck in my head and is no longer in your head because you've passed it on.  Don't tell me!"

So later in the morning he decides to do it as a joke.

"I wonder if Prince William is thinking about Tom Petty today," he muses while getting himself a snack of sunflower seeds, casually throwing down the seeds.

I confess I walked right into it.  "Why is that?" I query.

"Oh my, my. Oh hell yes. Darlin' put on that wedding dress!" he answers, passing on the song and making me laugh.  He grins at me, pleased with himself.

My groom amuses me.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Chipping Away At The Goals List

I am crossing off another item from my goals list today because my lovely groom and I finally got around to replacing the last light fixture in the kitchen yesterday afternoon. I am going with track lighting because it is the least expensive way to get a lot of lighting where I need it.  Real honest-to-goodness recessed lighting would have been swell, but it would have also required a swell budget, which we don't have, especially when cheap track lighting will get the job done and we can do it ourselves.

I can hear Steve scurrying around the kitchen as I write this post, his steps purposeful and quick.  Today is a bottling day, and getting the beer safely into the immaculately clean bottles is always a stressful time for him.  The slightest bit of bacteria could ruin a whole batch of beer, which aside from being a frightful waste of materials, time and energy, would also be a tragic waste of beer.  But that is why there is a big stainless steel fermenter on the counter.  That's Bubbles, and she's holding a German-style steam beer (called Dampfbier in German).  Steve has figured out that by using a one foot hose instead of a much longer one, he can do the bottling by himself and doesn't need me to help (yay!), in addition to saving on hose costs.  He puts the full fermenter on the counter over the dishwasher the night before he bottles so that the beer can come to room temperature and so he can bottle over the open dishwasher door, which does a great job keeping the floor clean.  All he has to do when he's done bottling is close the door and it pours into the dishwasher anything he's spilled on the door.

Very soon I'll be able to get started on the breakfast and dining nook projects.  I finished the plans today for the dining nook up until the molding pieces so that I could put together my lumber and materials estimate.  The molding can wait because I'm not sure what I want to do with it exactly and molding is small enough to fit in the back of the car.  I tell Steve that this weekend after I come home from the Master Gardener Show with Rae and KT that I want to go to Home Depot for my materials so that I can start my projects next week. "Oh so if I want to brew beer while you're gone Saturday morning, I need to go to Steinbart on Friday afternoon," he says, which suggests dinner in Portland to me.  I mention this to him.  "Sure," he agrees, "we can hit the food carts at that one corner."

So that leaves only ordering the water filter, making the alcohol stove and copying water filtering pages from my hurricane book left on my list of major to-dos for this week.  I decide on Doulton water filters because Doulton has been making them for a very long time, and they are used by both the US and British militaries for treating water.  In 1835 Queen Victoria had commissioned Doulton to make water filters for her household, so yes indeed, they have been making them a very long time.

I order the Doulton water filter from FiltersFast through Google Checkout because they have the best price online, the cheapest shipping, and the highest rating of all those sellers on the list (4.8 stars out of 5 from more than 4,000 reviewers).  I also order extra filters, which are pricey at thirty-five dollars apiece, to say the least, because although you can extend the life of the filter by scrubbing the exterior with a stiff brush, Doulton recommends changing the filter at least annually.

Since Steve will be bottling for awhile and I can't get started on the dinner until he's out of my way, I'll go down to his office at the end of the hall and start copying portions of my hurricane preparedness book that I want to keep.  I've promised the book to Tamar and I need to get it to her well before the start of hurricane season on the first of June, which I make a note to myself to do next week.

In the meantime, that leaves only the stove, which I'll work on tomorrow.  I'll need something to do then.

Monday, April 25, 2011

A Day In The Life

Today is Easter Monday, and I am still smarting from being rejected by a recruiter on Good Friday for a job I wanted very much and had interviewed for with three people.  The interview went fairly well, and I felt like I had hope, but was still trying to steel myself for not getting the offer all during the week it took them to call me back.  "You interviewed very well," she said, "but we had four strong candidates and decided to make the offer to someone else."  A year and a half of looking and only two interviews under my belt, and now the second rejection.  Steeling myself for it didn't help.

Steve was taking a break while I took the call.  He quickly came to me and pulled me into a hug.  "If my unemployment runs out and I can't qualify for the third tier, can we go away for a long weekend?" I sobbed.

"Of course," he said gently, hugging me tighter.

God must want me working on my homestead, I've been reasoning to myself.  He doesn't think it's time for a job yet. Still disappointed at having to continue to look for work, I transplanted some escarole and radicchio Treviso yesterday to a couple of the beds I cleaned up last week.  With the days warming when it's not raining, and staying light out longer, it's truly time to get the garden going.  I transplanted twenty-two Amish Paste tomato seedlings today into the paper tubes I made for them yesterday, and separated the pepper seedlings into six-packs, noting that I need to sow some more bell peppers, as three plants won't be enough. Deciding that I need to get the basil and cilantro started, I opted to sow those today as well.  Then I took down my hatchet and sharpened it, and chopped another flake of straw into shorter pieces for my carbon barrel.  My first early seed potatoes are chitting in an egg carton and will be ready to plant in another week or so.  I needed to figure out how to cut straw for the compost pile and grow bags because the straw tends to bind up my shredder.  Watching The Ten Commandments over the weekend, I got the idea to chop the straw instead.  A machete might be lighter and easier to work with, but the hatchet did a fine job.  I don't remember the straw pieces flying all over the place in the movie though.

The rain and clouds have moved on, and the sun and wind have taken their place.  The bees are finally out now that the weather has turned better and I decide that I must get my chickens going and that they and my homestead are more important than having the house just so for when I have to host bunco in June.  I decide to list all the needs and wants for the coop on a piece of paper and that I'll design something based on that and whatever I have in the garage and outdoors.  There are large pieces of chicken wire and hardware cloth lying about in the backyard, and rolls of chicken wire and fencing under the bench, as well as pieces of plywood and lumber in the garage.  I should try to get as much of a coop constructed as I can with the material I have, and only opt to buy hinges and latches and wheels, perhaps.

I come into the house and change back out of my grubbies and get started with mixing up pasta.  Steve comes out and I show him the gigantic chicken egg that I'll use for the pasta because it's a monster and I thought it would be great for making pasta.  "What do you do if you have more flour than egg?" he asks. "Well, I start with just a cup of flour and just mix the egg into the flour until it's the right consistency and then any flour that's left over I use to dust the board," I reply.  Except the egg, which is huge, runs over the side of the mound of flour and I wind up having to scramble it all together and for the first time since starting to make my own pasta, I've mixed too much flour into the dough.  Steve comes back in from taking out the trash and I mention to him thanks for asking, but for the first time since starting to make our pasta from scratch, I've mixed in too much flour.  "It's not my fault," he says breezily and goes back outside again.  I finish fixing the consistency and put the ball of dough under a bowl to rest for half an hour.

Typing this I look into the yard and see starlings, a Scrubb jay, several house finches, and a male robin all getting dinner out of the ground or fighting with each other on the fence.  I'll get my dinner from the yard too, as I decided this morning that the Red Russian kale finally looks along enough to start harvesting a few leaves. I'll supplement them with a few leaves of the January King cabbage that I've left to bolt in the hope of getting seeds.  Dinner will be our favorite pasta with kale, only this time I have some lovely Margenspeck instead of regular bacon for it.

I have so much work to do here that I decide God was right and I don't need an outside job just yet.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Busy Spring

Sorry I haven't written guys- I've been up to my eyebrows in things to do.

We've had a spate of sunny days, which means the ground has been drying out enough to dig, so that's what I've been doing. I've been cleaning up beds and spreading bark in front of the hive so that Steve doesn't have to mow in front of it, even though the girls appear to be really focused on their tasks and don't really bother us.

Then yesterday I starting digging up a new bed.  It's actually an extension of the bed in which the garlic is growing, but I decided that I didn't like where I'd planned to put the tomatoes, so they are going in the new bed.  I spent a large chunk of yesterday cutting up sod and replanting it out front to form better lawn in the bare patches, and need to finish digging the rest of it up so that I can double dig the bed.  I'm hoping to get all this done before tomorrow, which is Easter, because the next few days it's supposed to rain like the dickens, and then shower all week.  Tomorrow is sow seeds indoors and cut straw day.

So much has been happening!  The seed potatoes showed up so I've been hand sewing grow bags from weed stop fabric which I learned from this Instructables video.  I am not putting seed potatoes in the ground, however.  I don't need holes in my bark paths.   I think it was last year that I told Fiona over at The Cottage Smallholder about a method my neighbor in Florida used for growing potatoes.  We had very sandy soil in Florida.  He'd place his seed potatoes in their beds, and then pile them up with leaves as they grew, and when they were ready for digging up, the leaves had pretty much turned to crumbly soil by then and he had no trouble at all finding and digging potatoes.  And they were great spuds!  So Fiona tried it, only she did it in grow bags, and she reported that she grew a lot of potatoes this way.  My plan is to do the same thing, only I'll leave the rubble out of the bag.  I'll grow them on top of the bark in the wider paths, so drainage shouldn't be a problem.  I'm also running out of leaves, unfortunately, so I'll use shredded straw as the mulch medium in which to hill them up.  As long as I keep the roots covered and the black bags fairly closed around the tops of the plants, things should be okay.

Then also this week, my grain mill showed up, but I'll leave that for another post.  We're waiting on a couple of square buckets with lids from US Plastics, and once they're in I can start building the stand for the mill, which I want to keep in the house.

So now I need to don my grubbies and get outside for a torturous day of moving earth.  I'll leave you with a shot of my flower border as seen through the garden gate.  This is what sunshine looks like in Oregon.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Homegrown asparagus under Westphalian ham and Swiss cheese

...and arugula and chive buds in salad.  We also had an apple galette for dessert, but nothing homegrown in that.  Maybe someday.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Bee Update 19 April 2011

I got into the hive today, with mixed results.  Long story short, I think all is reasonably well in there, because the bees haven't taken off and are building comb. And they're filling some of that comb with honey.

I never did actually see the queen though, even after looking for the 'rosette' cluster of bees that should have tipped me off where she was.  I also couldn't tell if there was brood or not, and although I could see something in the bottom of some of the cells, I couldn't tell what it was.

Then because I got distracted and wasn't watching what I was doing, one of the combs started to fall off the bar because I wasn't holding it correctly.  I righted it quickly and hung it back in the hive, but if it falls off it will be pretty disastrous. Nuts.

The good news is that I was fairly calm through the whole thing, and I was pretty careful putting all the bars back in and the lid on, so I think I kept the bee crushing to a minimum.

But really so far, I think I've done these poor bees more harm than good, and since their syrup can still felt pretty heavy, I'm leaving them alone for awhile. Maybe by leaving them completely alone, they'll actually be able to grow in numbers and make a go of it.

And if not, I'll try again next year, maybe taking another bee keeping class in the interim.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Homestead Update, 16 April 2011

Today is a brew day, so we went into Portland after grain and yeast. Steve is brewing a stout today, and he's going to use the rest of the hops that he has, including the stuff that he grew last year that's been cooling its jets in the freezer.  The brewables total came to $14.26, which works out to be a little less than $7.13 a case, because he'll get a little more than forty-eight bottles from this batch (maybe forty-nine or fifty).  So even with the gas to get up there and the gas to cook it, the price is still great because he's lucky if he can find a six-pack of beer as good as his for $7.13 a sixer.  Plus, it makes the house smell like brewing beer which is a smell I find slightly more intoxicating than bread baking.

My goodies from our trip to Portland were all the ingredients I need for mixing up Steve Solomon's Complete Organic Fertilizer (COF), which for me were 50 pounds each of canola meal, agricultural lime, dolomitic lime, rock phosphate, and kelp meal.  The bill came to $104, but $55 of that was the kelp meal, which at the rate you use it, will probably last maybe ten years, maybe even longer.  It doesn't take much.  Some of this stuff you use in higher quantities than others, but I'm still counting on this lasting at least a couple or three years, maybe more.  I'm all set for organic fertilizer for awhile.  I also picked up two more Russian Tea plants (Camellia sinensis) and three Cider Gums (Eucalyptus gunnii) because the One Green World truck was at Concentrates today, which was way cool, because it saved me a trip down to Molalla, Oregon, gas prices being what they are and all.

So today is clean the garage day, and go get some galvanized garbage cans to keep the soil additives in day, and then I'm making grow bags for my seed potatoes, which arrived on Thursday.  I'll show you those in a separate post.

I also need to check on my bees for brood, and I'm supposed to making something else this weekend in addition to the grow bags, but I just can't remember what it is I'm supposed to be making.

I hate when that happens.

Homegrown tomato sauce and garlic on Pizza

...for last night's dinner

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Something Fishy

Tonight Steve and I went out for sushi.  We continue to celebrate our friend Karen's birthday even though she is three thousand miles away in Jacksonville because we got in the habit of taking her to sushi for her birthday, and she'd join us for sushi on my birthday in October.  That way, we were assured of getting sushi at least twice a year, and we're still assured of getting sushi twice a year, because we are still taking Karen out for sushi, even though she's not here in Oregon.

I always get a small hot sake, and an Asahi, and Steve usually gets a small Sapporo.  We usually get the expensive seaweed salad because I love it and we only get it twice a year. Our bill usually starts somewhere in the sixties, and once we got into the seventies (I don't know what we were doing that night).  Tonight we eschewed tuna, because we are trying to be more conscious of what's being over fished and what's in season so we can be responsible little fish eaters, so tuna (mmmmm...Toro....mmmmm) was off the menu for us.  We had mackerel instead.  Not sure I'd do it again.  The mackerel, I mean. Not bad, but I liked everything else better, and as I always say, not bad is not a recommendation.  In any case, we had the otherwise usual stuff and number of items and were pretty well packed to the gunwales by the time we finished.  But curiously, our bill was in the upper forties this time....

Can tuna really be that expensive?  We didn't feel deprived, and I honestly didn't miss it because most (mackerel, remember?) everything else was so wonderful.  But twenty bucks lower?

I'm not complaining, but maybe having a cheaper sushi bill is another vote in favor of not eating tuna.  Sometimes doing the right thing can be hard to do.  Like once Steve and I were going to buy breaded cod filets because they were on sale and because I really love cod, but then realized that we didn't know what time of year they'd been fished, or what method was used (some methods are kinder to the oceans than others) or even whether they were Alaskan cod (okay, in season) or Atlantic cod (not okay, at any time), so we didn't buy them.  It wasn't going to save the fish that were already breaded and frozen on the shelf in front of us that somebody else was going to buy, but you gotta start somewhere.

So Karen, if you're reading this: Happy Birthday.  We missed you, but we didn't miss the tuna.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Sky Might Really Be Falling

First let me start off this post by assuring you that I am not a gun-toting, backwoods-living, hard core survivalist, and I probably never will be.  I'm not built that way.  But I do believe in reading signs and taking action- if I didn't, I wouldn't be living in Oregon, and I wouldn't have the garden that I do.  And I probably wouldn't know all you wonderful people.  And I'm not a conspiracy theorist, although I might sound like one.  Really.  I'm not.

Stumbling around on Amazon the other night, I ran across a book called 'The Crash Course' by Chris Martenson, PhD, which was published just last month.  It had eleven reviews, all of which were five-star.  Dr. Martenson describes how our economic future is on a very quick collision course with peak oil, which is necessary for expansion and growth, and which is not going to be there.  One of the reviews mentioned that you can take a quick view of the book by watching the videos on his website, which he posts there for free because he thinks that it's important for as many people to be aware of what's coming as possible.  So I did, and I really hope that you will too, regardless of where you are.  What he has to show you is pretty scary, and he doesn't even talk about global warming.  That wrinkle is not part of the discussion.  What is part of the discussion is what's coming, and what you can do to prepare for it, and guess what? Building community, not running off into the woods, is part of it as well.

I've been working these last several years trying to get ready for something.  I keep thinking something bad is going to happen. I don't know what, but it's going to be big and it's going to be bad.  I thought maybe the recession was it, but I don't think so because I still have that feeling that the big bad thing is still out there.  After watching his videos, I have a more concrete idea of what it's going to be. Martenson thinks the next twenty years are going to be very different from the last twenty years, and he says that it's going to start in the twenty-teens.  Well, that's only a couple of years away, right? He starts off by explaining how our monetary system will be part of the cause. He does a really good job of explaining complex economic ideas, theories, and policies, and making them completely understandable.  So much so that I spent part of yesterday moving some investments around in my IRA.  I may do some more.  If you have some time, please watch his videos.  There is no trickery here. In fact, he explains some of the trickery our government uses to keep us all in the dark.  Do you realize that economists have been able to get away with telling us that the recession is over because they don't use the price of gas and groceries in their calculations? That prices in the consumer price index (CPI) are subject to arbitrary valuations placed on things by the practice of hedonics, which basically measures the value of something by our enjoyment of it?  Really eye-opening stuff.

Today I managed to get our grain mill ordered. I've been wanting one for a very long time, and I think that if Steve wasn't planning on using it for cracking malted barley for his brewing, I'd still be trying to make an argument for it, but he relented. I did some research awhile ago and settled on the mill made by Country Living.  I like it because aside from being well-rated, it has a grooved flywheel that you can use to attach the belt for the mill to a stationary bicycle or electric motor, if you like.  It has steel grinding plates, instead of stone, so they'll last well.  The best part is that it's fully adjustable and can go from cracking corn (chicken feed, anyone?) to milling cake flour.  It's not cheap though.  I got mine at the Canning Pantry dot com because the price was pretty much in line with what I saw elsewhere, maybe fifty cents cheaper, and the shipping was free.  The biggest reason I bought it from them was that their prices on everything else I might need for it (spare grinding plates, emergency repair kit, etc.) were way cheaper than everywhere else, including at Country Living Grain Mills.

On the way home from some running around this afternoon, we also stopped to get some bulk wheat at Bob's Red Mill Store, which is in Milwaukie. We bought two twenty-five pound bags of organic white wheat- one hard, one soft.  The next stop was the local grocery store where I picked up eight five-gallon food grade buckets and their lids from the bakery for free.  I'm not planning on long term storage here because I'm going to start grinding our flour.  When I need more, I'll go back to Bob's.  In the meantime, I'm going to try to learn how to grow wheat.  That's why I've had a copy of Gene Logsdon's (author of The Contrary Farmer) 'Small Scale Grain Raising' for awhile now. Speaking of Gene Logsdon: on his blog this morning he wrote about something he thought important and something the media isn't covering.  The price of corn is skyrocketing- it's at seven dollars a bushel right now.  The consensus among corn farmers is that it's going to ethanol producers, which may be the case, but it's a seriously dumb use for corn.  Corn is a heavy feeder, and takes a lot of petroleum-based fertilizer and diesel to bring to market.  Ethanol is a net proposition at best.  I think what's going on is that the oil speculators are whacking out the prices because of the unrest in the middle east.  We don't get oil from Libya (that's more Italy's problem) but that doesn't stop speculators from doing silly things, for which everybody else is going to pay at the grocery store and the pump.

This afternoon when I talked to my hog farmer (I found a pasture farmer!), I asked her what the price of grain is doing to her operation and she said that it was making things a little more difficult but she was more curious how I knew about the price of grain going up.  She was surprised that someone who is not a farmer would be informed that way.  She may be pasturing cattle, hogs, sheep, goats, chickens and turkeys, but she still has to feed some grain.  They are turning some of their pasture over to raising their own organic grain because it's the organic grain that is really going up.  You'd think that with the price of oil rising, it would make organic farming come more in line price-wise.  At least make it look more attractive than conventional farming, anyway.

At any rate, I'm glad that I'm getting my half-hog, ten chickens, and a turkey at this year's prices. And that I have fifty pounds of wheat in the house, and a grain mill on the way.

We may not be able to afford them next year.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Getting It Right (Finally!)

Today I decided it was high time to turn the compost pile.  Guess what I found when I pulled off the plastic cover from the pile?



I didn't add any soil.  That's straight compost!  I finally figured out what the secret is, the same secret that all the books and articles mention: carbon, carbon, and more carbon.  Probably the best help with this particular pile came from the blog Root Simple.  Erik Knutzen had spent some time with Jon Jeavons at the non-profit Ecology Action center on his farm in Willits, California, and posted a very useful video on the blog. (Actually, if you watch it, you might at well watch all the rest of them on several practices they preach at the center. I did, and I learned a lot!)  I didn't put the stakes at the corners, like they do, but I did find the information about keeping the pile in a square shape to be very helpful, as well as moving the decomposing stuff in the middle of the pile to the outside of the new pile, and the still-looks-like-broccoli-and-straw-stuff to the inside of the new pile.  I also think that I'm getting it done more easily with a free form pile and my manure fork- lots less heavy lifting for this old gal with a bad back, which makes a huge difference in how long I last in the yard.  The Geobin is holding some older compost, and I'll let that sit for awhile longer.  Eventually, I'll have to move it all to a new location, because I plan on growing heavy feeding cabbages where the piles are all sitting now.  I figured that if the were going to leach nutrients into the soil, they may as well leach it where I was going to need it.

As the weather warms up, I should be able to really crank out the compost, now that I finally know what I'm doing.  It only took me two years to learn how!

Homemade Seed Tape, Day Two

The carrot seed in the tissue paper dried just fine over night.  In fact, it all dried just fine, but the tissue paper was much easier to handle than the toilet paper, which actually started separating and spilling seed, so I definitely don't recommend toilet paper.

See for yourself:

Carrot seeds in the tissue paper
Cut tape

Tape on soil. Can you see the seeds?

This was the fastest and easiest I've ever planted such tiny seed.  I barely covered the tapes in soil after laying them, and the tissue tapes were much easier to manage than the toilet paper tapes. 

The proof of the pudding, of course, will be in how they germinate and how well they are spaced.  I'll report on that as it happens.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Good Idea No. 11 - Homemade Seed Tape

I hate wasting seed, don't you?  The idea of sowing a bunch of seeds only to go back and thin them out seems to me like a mighty good way to sell a lot of seed.  I've tried sowing carrots with sand, and I've tried ticking them out with one of those little seed drills that has the graduated holes, and I still wind up thinning the carrots.  So when I read recently (Mother Earth News? I forget where exactly) about a method that struck me as a brilliant idea for saving on carrot seed, I couldn't wait to try it.   What the person recommended from their own experience was to spray down a strip of toilet paper with sugar spray, scatter some seed on it, layer another strip of toilet paper on it, and spray it down again.  So I tried it and the results were less than spectacular.  I'm cheap. I buy my toilet paper at Costco, so you know it isn't the sturdy stuff they use bear cartoons to sell on TV.  It was difficult to move off the counter, to say the least, not to mention made a mess of the counter.  But once I got it up off the stone I could see that the person with the idea was on the right track, even if they never quite made it in to the station.  The Yaya carrot seed was set on toilet paper, and it's drying on parchment paper.

For the Chantenay carrots, I tried something a little different.  I save light colored and white tissue paper for embroidering projects (not that I have time for one), so I grabbed a couple small sheets of that and cut each in half.  Then I brushed the tissue down with sugar syrup using a pastry brush.  Already this was working out better. With the tissue saturated just enough so that it now clung to the counter, I grabbed a chopstick and flicked carrot seed out of my palm in a scatter pattern all over the tissue.  You could probably use a toothpick or a skewer- I grabbed a chopstick because it was handiest.  Any seed that was lying too close to its neighbor was easy to shove over into a vacant section of the paper with the chopstick. Then I carefully matched the second half of the tissue paper over the first, and smoothed it down around the seeds with a saturated pastry brush again.  The tissue paper was much easier to get up off the counter and move over to the Silpat.  And the seeds look good- nice and roomy.

Tomorrow, they should both be dry enough to cut into strips and lay into shallow furrows where I want them.

I can't exactly say no fuss, no muss, but I'm happy about having a fairly east way to get those tiny seeds in the ground without wasting a bunch of them.   Much easier on my back.

Homegrown tomato sauce and onions in leftover goulash soup

Man, I'm glad that soup is gone.  It was good, but I got tired of it.

Seriously Hands On Beekeeping

It seems that every morning since the evening I installed the bees, I've opened their hive every day for one reason or another.  Sunday morning while it was still cold I opened them up to pour some more sugar syrup into their feeder with a turkey baster.  It was a half-assed contraption of a clean leftovers container with a bunch of sticks sticking out off it.  I don't know if they were too cold and lost their footing or they were dying anyway, but I was really dismayed to see a bunch of dead bees in the syrup.

Obviously I had to do something.  I grabbed another short end of the same fence board that I used for the roof of the hive and attached three small equal sized pieces of wood in a triangular pattern on it, the apexes of which I left open for a bee to crawl through.  This morning I removed the death trap from the hive and placed the new feeder in its place, and then upturned the same feeder can of sugar syrup that came in the bee package on the new feeder.  Fortunately I'd had the foresight to mark the side of the can where the holes in the lid were, so I'd know how to line up the can.

I hope this time it works and they'll be alright because I'm determined not to disturb them again until this Saturday when I can check for brood.

Any of you beekeepers out there:  how do you feel about smoking the hive?  I didn't buy one, thinking that I should stick with a sugar syrup spray, but it doesn't seem to occupy them quite as I'd hoped it would.

And how do I keep from crushing the queen?

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Everything's Going To Bee Alright

I spent the better part of yesterday, to the exclusion of everything else, getting ready for bees.  I watched my bookmarked video on how to install bees in a top bar hive over and over, and realized that I'd missed something crucial.  I had nothing planned for feeding the bees during the spring, which I would surely need to do because they had no honey stores.  There were all kinds of fancy bee feeding set ups, but I didn't have a lot of time, so I settled on something free and easy.  I took a fence board scrap from making the hive roof, jammed it down near the bottom of the hive on the sloping sides of the hive, and put a clean tub of sugar syrup in it with sticks sticking out of it so they'd have something to stand on and not drown in it.  After getting that taken care of, I was all set for bees.

Steve stood in the long line at Ruhl Bee Supply in Gladstone to purchase all my gear, while I picked up my bees.  The fellow offered me a sheet of instructions which I declined, because after all, I'd spent the morning studying what I should do.  He stopped me. "This may be different from what you're used to," he said.  It was.  The video had explained how to get the queen cage out of the bee package, how to remove the cork with a dry wall screw, and how to hang the queen cage up on one of the top bars.  In their scenario, the hole in the queen cage was stuffed with candy, and then the cork, and all you had to do was pull out the cork and hang up the cage, and the workers would later eat their way through the candy to release the queen.

The way the bee supplier in California from whom Ruhl gets their bees did it, was to cork the queen in her cage, and attach a mini marshmallow to the top of the bee package with a thumbtack.  In this scenario, I had to remove the cork, cover the hole with a digit so she couldn't get out, and then yank off the marshmallow from the package and stuff it, minus the thumbtack, into the hole. Then, and only then, I could pin the cage to the top bar and get her installed.

Except the cork wouldn't come out the way it was supposed to.  In fact the reason you're not getting video of this disaster movie is that I cussed most of the way through it.  Mildly for me, but still. You don't need to be subjected to that.  I pretty much cussed my way through the whole installation because everything seemed to be going wrong and I was high strung through the whole thing.  It was not a good scene for someone trying to quit swearing, which by the way is a lot harder to do than quitting smoking; that I did over twenty-five years ago.  Quitting cigarettes was easy compared to quitting cussing and I wish to hell I'd never started.  Anyway, the first thing the cork did when I tried to screw in the dry wall screw and pull it out was that it crumbled and wouldn't come out.  I tried it again and same thing.  Then I grabbed the T-pin I'd set aside for pinning the cage to the top bar and tried to pry the cork out, which was even worse, because it just worked its way further into the cage with the queen.  So without really thinking it through, I pushed the cork into the cage, looked to see that the queen could get around it (she could, but in retrospect, what was I going to do if she couldn't?), and then plugged the hole with the marshmallow.  I hung her up on her top bar, set it in the hive, and then proceeded to dump the rest of the bees into the hive.  That part went off fairly without a hitch.  I put all the top bars in, and put the roof on, and then put the bee package on the empty arm of the hive stand so that the remaining girls could find their way to the hive. The girls were finally home, and I was pretty high on the whole experience.

The bees had been quiet on the ride home from Ruhl, and okay once I'd sprayed them a couple of times with the sugar syrup, which occupied them with licking themselves off, but they got loud when I rapped them smartly on the top of the hive to knock them all down to the bottom of the package.  Now they were pretty well agitated. So things were a little hairy with them flying all around as I literally dumped them into their new home, but I felt reasonably safe in my bee jacket and gloves.  Later yesterday evening when the sun was well over the hill but there was still enough light out to see, I went out to check on things.  There were no bees flying around, although there were a few straggler bees outside that were definitely acting as though they were dying. I was saddened by that, but consoled myself with the knowledge that worker bees only live four to six weeks, but bees dying always makes me sad.  I rounded to the front of the hive and peered at the entrance.  And then I saw something that was so cute to me that I forgot all about my trevails of the day:  lined up across the three inch entrance were several soldier bees standing shoulder to shoulder, guarding the entrance.  I was so tickled to see that they were already entrenched in the hive that I went back into the house, reasonably confident that all was going to be right.

Then last night I got to thinking about the queen; if the hole is at the bottom of the cage, then the cork would fall across the hole, and she would still not be able to get out!  I determined that I had to rescue her, and this is where things went south.  This morning while it was still cool and the bees wouldn't be out yet, I suited up to go rescue the queen. I removed the bar on which I'd pinned her the day before, and not surprisingly, the cage and bar were covered in workers. What a dummy- I'd forgotten my sugar spray and my bee brush, so I ran back to the house for those.  I also had to return to the house one more time because I realized I couldn't see what I was doing and needed my glasses.  Steve had to unzip my hood enough so that he could seat them on my face for me.  Back at the hive,  I sprayed down the workers (lightly- you can't just saturate them) and brushed them off the queen cage. To my consternation, the cage was full of workers!  They'd managed to eat through the candy in a single evening, which was a huge surprise to me because everything I'd read indicated that it would take them a couple of days to get through it.  Because the cage was full of workers, I couldn't tell where the cork was, and I couldn't tell where the queen was. I rapped the cage a couple of times and knocked out most of the workers from the cage. Now I could see the cork, which took me a couple of tries to get out. I had to be really careful so that I wouldn't crush anybody, most importantly the queen.  When I finally had the cork out and was able to see what was going on in the cage, there were two workers crawling about.  No queen.  No queen, and I had no idea where she was.  Ohhhhh crap, was all I could think.

So I sprayed the workers down again, brushed them into the gap, and pulling the queen cage off the bar, I replaced it into the hive, and then put the roof back on.  I have no idea where the queen really is, and don't know how many workers I killed in the process of trying to rescue her.  I am so bummed.

As I write this, the morning has warmed up, and the sun is starting to burn off the clouds, and I can see bees flying around the hive. They have food in the hive, and a pollen patty to eat, and facing south, they are right in front of a large patch of dandelions, so there is forage for them if they want to do that. There are ornamental trees in the neighborhood that are still in bloom, and the neighbors have three large apple trees that will bloom shortly.  Then, hopefully, my flower bed will starting putting out flowers and there will be raspberry and boysenberry blossoms, and then peas and eventually peppers and tomatoes and all that.

I've done everything I can as a novice beekeeper. I hope that the queen is alright.  I'll give them more food in a couple of days, and then next Friday or Saturday, weather depending, I'll take a look for brood.  That's if everything indicates that I still have bees.

I should take some consolation in the fact that at the very least, I get to cross off another item from my goals list. In the meantime, all I can do is hope for the best.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Hive Stand

Yesterday was a pretty nice day, weather-wise.  Sun wasn't in the forecast, but we had a lot of it, so I spent  part of yesterday morning finishing up the hive stand.  It holds me up just fine on either side, since I planned it to hold two hives.

So now the hive is all set.  I'll just buy my bee supplies from Ruhl when I pick up the bees.  I think for starters I can get away with just a veil and jacket, and a hive tool, not that I need one right away.  I already have the spray bottle for the sugar syrup spray.

The next post on bees should be all about the installation.

Homegrown tomato sauce and onions in goulash

on homemade buttered noodles with poppy seeds...

with a Mediterranean cabbage salad....

I don't know how authentic it is, but when I do goulash, I always have to serve it over buttered noodles with poppy seeds, which to me seems appropriate.  And then because of the crossroads idea of eastern Europe, I like to serve goulash and noodles with a Mediterranean cabbage salad, which is more refreshing than I can describe.  I first learned the salad from Rima, my Jordanian neighbor in Jacksonville, only she made it with escarole.  I do too, when I can get my hands on it, but Sophie Grigson in Sunshine Food has a recipe for essentially the same exact salad, only with cabbage, so I use cabbage most of the time because it's easier to find and cheaper anyway.

It's fairly easy to make, and pretty straightforward:  shred some cabbage as for slaw.  Add some minced onion, maybe a tablespoon or two to start.  Pour about a tablespoon or so of olive oil (extra virgin) and toss to coat the cabbage and the onions.  Add a little salt and lemon juice to taste, and toss it and serve it.  That's pretty much how she taught me- you have to taste for the balance of everything.

German Noodles
This recipe comes from Nita, over at Throwback At Trapper Creek, but has my adaptions for method:

1 egg
1 tablespoon milk, cream, or half and half
1/2 salt
1 cup flour

Beat the egg and milk in a one cup measure and add the salt, and half the flour.  Beat it into something of a batter.  Add a little bit of the remaining half cup of flour until it really comes together.  Dump the rest of the flour on a board (in my case, the island) and dump the batter on top of the flour.  Knead the dough to incorporate the rest of the flour.  Set the dough in a ball shape, dust the top with a little flour, put a small bowl over it and leave it for twenty minutes to a half hour.   When you come back, knead the dough a little, divide it into quarters, and either roll out to one sixteenth of an inch, or use a pasta machine.  Let the large pieces of dough dry a little, and then cut into noodles.   Cook in boiling salted water for about 6-8 minutes.  Drain and toss with butter and poppy seeds.

For the goulash I just used the recipe in the Joy of Cooking, except that I really use a lot of paprika when I make goulash.  I use two tablespoons of paprika when I set it to simmer, and then stir in another tablespoon of paprika right before I go to serve it.  Over noodles. And with cabbage salad.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Keeping Sharp

I've read in a couple of places that if you keep your garden tools sharp, specifically your shovels and your hoes, they'll do a better job for you and you can let the tool do the work, instead of you doing the work.

Since I needed to work on cleaning up my raspberry beds today, I took some time to put an edge on my shovel and hoe.  I got the hoe done pretty quick before I realized that maybe you'd like to see what I'm talking about.

So here is my shovel before I sharpened it.  Pretty dull.

I started with my flat bastard file, but it was taking too long, so I switched to my Nicholson Four In Hand.  This file has a flat file and a flat rasp on one side, and a convex file and a convex rasp on the other.  Because it's fairly small, only eight inches long, it's a good file for sticking in a pocket and taking out with you to file on your tools as you dull them with working the soil.

I used the flat file side, which looks like this:

When you're filing a tool (and this works on hatchets as well, something else I need to sharpen for next fire season), you want to steady the tool so that it doesn't move, and file the edge, holding the file at a forty-five degree to the edge of the tool, and pushing the file away from yourself.  Be consistent about pushing the file on a flat plane; don't rock the file so that it rounds the edge, because you'll never get an edge.

I found on both tools, that leaving the slight serrations that pushing the file in a left direction rather than a right direction left the edge somewhat sharper, so I left it that way.  It didn't have to be fancy, because I was cutting raspberry roots and the soil was going to dull it again anyway.

This is me checking the edge.  When you check the edge, do it as you do a knife; go across the edge, rather than along the edge.

And here's the shovel, all nice and sharp.  Both the hoe and the shovel were a pleasure to work with this afternoon.  I'll definitely be keeping the edge on them going forward.

Bee Update 05 April 2011

I heard from my bee supplier yesterday; the bees will be here this Thursday, which is already shaping up to be a busy day.  Steve's sister and niece are coming in from parts south of here to stay overnight before catching a very early flight to Boston, and my package from the army-navy surplus with the rest of my Bug Out Box stuff is coming that day too.  So I'll pick up my bees on Friday. Maybe Saturday, but one of those two days for sure.

I knew that fondue pot would be good for something

So now that I have a hard date for them, I spent part of yesterday morning bathing the top bars in melted beeswax.  There are opposing views on this practice.  Some folks think it makes the combs that the bees draw out stick to the top bars better, and some folks think it make them stick less.  The real reason that I can think of for doing it is that it makes the hive body smell like honey, and that makes new bees feel more at home.  Citronella is supposed to be good for that purpose too, but I don't have any citronella and I like the idea of beeswax better.  So beeswax it is, but the problem with it is that it's highly flammable, and I didn't relish the idea of heating it up on the stove in the kitchen, which is gas.  Frankly, heating it on the stove scared me enough that I've been dreading this chore enough to put it off until the last minute. But then I hit on the cheap fondue pot that we bought second hand. I don't use the pot for fondue anyway; I have an enameled saucepan I like better for that job, so the cheap fondue pot held a little water and a reused soup can with the wax in it, which worked well.

However, I noticed that the melted wax wasn't really sinking into the wood the way I wanted it to, presumably because I'd just brought the top bars in from a cold garage, so I warmed them in a 250F oven and then put them back in after painting them so that the wax would really sink into the pores of the wood.  This way I hope to have the hive smell of honey, but also leave a good purchase on the wood for the bees' combs. I've never read this anywhere, so I don't know if I'm completely wrong about this, but it makes sense to me.

Melting in the wax

The other thing I need to do to be completely ready for the bees is to finish the hive stand, which is nearly done, but still needs its diagonal supports.  I got one in before it started raining, and then stood up to see that the three and a half inch exterior screws that I needed to fasten the cross pieces to the four-by-fours were poking out of the top of the cross piece.  Too long.  So I need to figure out if my drywall screws are short enough to adequately do the job or if I need to go get some short screws.  The drywall screws should do fine because I'm screwing into cedar here, not pressure-treated lumber, which is what comprises the four-by-four uprights.

Then last, but not least, I need to watch a video I found on how to install bees in a top bar hive.  I need to watch it over and over and over, and then make a cheat sheet of the steps to give to Steve so that he can be there while I do the installation and talk me through it.

If I told you I wasn't nervous about the installation, I'd be lying.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Homegrown asparagus and garlic in pasta

...with bacon, sour cream and fresh ground romano cheese.

Dabbling In Dairy

This is my Salton yogurt maker.  I bought it years ago after my Jordanian neighbor Rima taught me how to make yogurt.  When she showed me how to make yogurt the Arab way, it was really the Arab way.  First you boil three quarts of whole milk and one quart of half and half together.  Then you pour it into an immaculately clean bowl that will hold a gallon and let it cool.  When you can leave an immaculately clean finger in the milk for a count of ten, it's cool enough to add an eight ounce carton of plain commercial yogurt to it, which you stir in.  Then you cover it with plastic wrap and set a couple of layers of blankets in a draft free area of your nice warm kitchen, and then set the bowl on the blankets and wrap it up and leave it over night.  Rima always said, "the hotter it is, the sweeter it is," by which she meant that you want to keep it steadily warm through out the night.  She made the best yogurt though- it was so rich and wonderful.  But it wasn't consistent enough a recipe and it made way more than I could get through by myself, although if you always take your yogurt from the bowl with a clean spoon, it will last a long time in the fridge.  So I worked it out for myself: three cups whole milk, one cup half and half boiled and cooled to 110F, a tablespoon of plain yogurt, into an immaculately clean quart jar, pop it in the Salton, plug it in, and leave it for 6-7 hours.  I like it much better than commercial Greek yogurt.

However, I'm not making yogurt today.  I'm culturing buttermilk. I've said it before and I'll say it again: I really love buttermilk. Recently, Steve and I were at a store that carries Bulgarian buttermilk, which is my favorite.  This morning I had the chance to do a taste comparison of the Bulgarian against the swill I usually buy.  It wasn't swill before, but it is now because the Bulgarian is so much better tasting.  Turns out there's good reason for that.  Here's what's in the swill: cultured lowfat milk, salt, modified food starch, mono and diglycerides, carrageenan, locust bean gum, sodium citrate, and vitamins A and D added.

Here's what's in the Bulgarian: milk, sodium citrate, salt, live active cultures.  That's it.  So then I got this idea: I've cultured creme fraiche before- I bet I could culture buttermilk.  So a quick spin around the internet later and I was mixing one cup of the Bulgarian buttermilk with three cups of the organic whole milk I usually buy for my coffee and cereal (and anything else for which I need milk). I also added a teaspoon of salt, because part of what I like about buttermilk is its slightly salty tang.  The whole thing went into my yogurt maker, which I'll leave for twelve hours, and we'll see tomorrow how it turns out.

Just in case you're wondering about that creme fraiche?  Heat one pint of cream up to 90F.  Pour into an immaculately clean jar and add three tablespoons of buttermilk. Leave in a warm place overnight. (In the summer in Florida I'd leave it on the top of the dryer because it was consistently in the nineties in the utility room.) Once it's nice and thick, refrigerate.  Creme fraiche can be whipped, like cream, and it's awesome on desserts because it has a richer, almost cheese-like flavor.  It's lovely stuff.

I'd bet that it's even better made with Bulgarian buttermilk, though.

As an epilog to this post, I put the buttermilk in the fridge at around five-thirty this morning, which means that it was in the yogurt maker for twenty hours.  It was pretty thick, but stirring it in the glass loosened it up to a better drinking consistency.  I think that the next time I try this, I'll only incubate it for six to eight hours, and I'll back off the salt a little- maybe a half-teaspoon for the quart.  It still beat the swill all hallow though.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Cook and Gardener Agree - Homegrown Asparagus Wows

The cook and gardener of a local estate were happily in agreement that homegrown asparagus trumps the stuff shipped in from Mexico this time of year to local supermarkets.

"There's no comparison," said the Cook, when asked about her preference.  "You can definitely taste the difference, and that's attributable to its freshness.  Gardener harvested some for me yesterday, and the rest came in this morning.  What a difference to the store-bought stuff!" she effused.

"Growing asparagus is super easy," chimed in the Gardener.  "You just dig at least an eight inch trench in fertile, well-drained soil, pop in the asparagus crowns, cover them up and wait a couple of years. This bunch appeared to be two-year old crowns.  The spears coming up this spring are way bigger than last year's. Once they start getting thin again, I'll quit harvesting.  But in the meantime, Cook sure knows what to do with them."

Cook later explained that she has a handy asparagus peeler that she bought in Germany when there.  The peeler looks similar to a regular vegetable peeler, except that it's constructed with two peelers opposite each other so that the asparagus is peeled on either side at the same time.  "It's great for peeling carrots really quickly too," she said.

This pair ought to be happy for a few more weeks because it's only the beginning of asparagus season.

Homesteading Update 03 April 2011

I haven't been idle, but I'm not getting much done, so here's an update anyway.

Remember my Room of Shame?  I finally got the new closet doors installed by my contractor.  They are solid core, so I can hang stuff on them, and now they swing out instead of just sliding left or right so that I can actually use the closet for a small office/craft closet (not that I craft- just writing that makes me cringe, but that's what they call those things...I just want a place to stuff all my crap and be able to lock it up).  I can't get to it right now, because other projects have higher priority, but once it's done I can work on turning the Room of Shame into a Den of Comfort for Guests.  But that's a long way off.

Then tonight for dinner we're having the first of the asparagus from my asparagus bed.  This is rather exciting for me.  I know.  What a gardening geek. Actually, I can't tell if it's because I love asparagus and it's the inner foodie in me that's excited, or if it's the gardener who brought forth from the earth that's excited.  Either way, both are getting a share in the booty.

This is a picture of my attempt at producing white asparagus, which is a European delicacy.  The Germans call it Weiss Spargel.  I'll let you know how it turns out, if it turns out.

Then last but not least, I found some nettles growing in the park on our walk this morning, so I nabbed a couple of stems (good thing I was wearing gloves).  I've been looking for nettles as I walk the paths for awhile now and today was the first I'd ever seen them.

I planted seeds for nettles and comfrey a couple of weeks ago (borage, too) but so far nothing has come up.  At any rate, I put the leaves of my specimens in a cup and poured boiling water over them, and then steeped them like a tea.  It's supposed to be a good spring tonic.  They smelled delicious, sort of like a cross between asparagus and celery.  The flavor was weaker than the aroma, but I can see how a bunch of this stuff would make an awesome soup.  If my seeds don't come up, I'll have to try again, but at least I now know for sure they can be had in the park.  I wonder how they'd be with pasta?

I am working on drawing plans for my dining and breakfast nooks, which are taking awhile.  It's good to get all the mistakes made on paper and out of the way so that I can get the construction done fairly quickly and painlessly.  

So not much else is getting done right now.