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Sunday, April 22, 2012

R. I. P. Gus

"Aw crap!" I heard Steve say as he shut off the mower.

"What?" I said, thinking he hit something hard and banged up the blade.

"I think I just hit Gus with the mower," he answered.

"Oh no!" says I, running over to where Steve was looking intently at the grass.

I was just thinking yesterday that we should be seeing Gus soon because the weather turned pretty warm. It was in the upper seventies and today was supposed to be as high as eighty.  But unfortunately, the mower found Gus first.

There lay our hapless garter snake, all in one piece, but definitely injured. He wasn't moving, and his head appeared to be tucked under his body, so we couldn't even see how bad that was.  I was completely bummed.  Gus and I have been coexisting peacefully for a couple of years now.  We'd startle each other periodically; an involuntary screech would well out of the limbic recesses of my brain and carry me off a couple of feet; Gus would slither silently in the opposite direction.  Then after my fluttering heart settled downed somewhat, I'd return to that part of the yard where'd I been working, mindful now that I could run into him again and to not freak out when I did.

I liked having a garter snake in the yard because they're good for getting rid of bugs and whatnot, and it's really too bad we lost him because he was just getting big enough to start eating moles and voles.

"Do you think he could be rehabilitated?" I asked.

"No.  I guess we'd better put him out of his misery."  With this, the tail end of Gus starting whipping back and forth, and I realized that he was awake again and probably suffering.  I hurried to the garage and came back with both shovels.

Which one do you think I should use?" said Steve.

"Whichever you think will do it fastest," I replied. "That's why I brought them both."  We both knew I was not up to this task.

He quickly chose the contractor's shovel with the flat edge and dealt Gus several quick blows, chopping him neatly up.  I wanted to cry but I didn't, because I was completely bummed about losing my snake. We decided to leave him where he lay, to return to the earth eventually.

Rest in peace, Gus.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Homesteading Update, 17 April 2012

One of the unhappy by products of living where there is abundant rain is the fact that the weeds love it, and they tend to grow faster and heartier than do things you want to grow.  For example, if my apple trees grew as fast as the weeds do they'd be pelting me with apples by now, much like the apple trees in the Wizard of Oz.  Of course, in my neck of the woods, part of the reason the weeds get so big is that it's always raining, which deters one from getting out there to do something about it.  I'm not exactly afraid of rusting, but neither do I dig getting soaked.  Consequently they have quite the toehold on the garden this spring.

Well this past weekend was really nice, weather-wise, so it was all about weeding and planting blueberry bushes and staking up hops plants.  The asparagus are really coming on strong so we've been eating a lot of that.  And really enjoying it; if you like asparagus and you have the space, I'd really encourage you to plant them because they are so much better than store-bought, and you know what? They're a lot cheaper, too.  The asparagus has me planning a lot of perennial vegetables for the next place; stuff you plant once and then are able to harvest year after year just makes a lot of sense, both in terms of your time and money, and let's face it, your back as well. And in difficult years, perennial vegetables might be what gets you through.  I think they're a good investment.

Once the weeding was done for the weekend we made sauerkraut. Steve was going to put some on the grocery list, but I said, no let's make it again.  So we bought twelve pounds of cabbage, which is five or six heads.  I have to figure out how to get the cabbage to overwinter in the garden so that I can do this from home grown; January King fares really well, but I always plant it too late.

Anyway, while I quartered, cored, sliced, and then shredded cabbage in the food processor, Steve, the Fermentation King, figured out the proper proportions for the rest of the ingredients.  I noted to him that I was getting way ahead of him on the cabbage and that he needed to hurry up.

He frowned and snapped, "Dude! I'm working!" somewhat indignantly.

I laughed and he scowled.

"I'm not laughing at you," I said. "I'm laughing because in ten years of marriage, this is the first time you've called me 'dude'.  It makes me feel good.  I must be a good buddy of yours," I finished, by this time on the other side of the kitchen to give him a kiss.  He grinned at me.  "Well you are a good buddy of mine."

I went back to shredding cabbage and he was ready with the salt.  Since I was leaving the hard part up to him, he got to decide what kind of sauerkraut to make, which turned out to be Weinkraut.  For every five pounds of cabbage, he added three tablespoons of pickling salt, and since we were mixing in different seeds, he decided to do that in layers.  The first layer got caraway seeds, the second layer got juniper berries, and the third and final layer got celery seeds.  Then he smacked it all down with the business end of his fist.  By the time we got the crock stones on top of the cabbage, it was already exuding enough liquid to keep it covered.

The coolest place in the house is the laundry room, because we don't heat it, so that's where the crock went for the next six to eight weeks. Sauerkraut is supposed to taste the best when it's fermented at cooler temperatures, say sixty to sixty-five degrees (Fahrenheit), because it gives it enough time to develop the flavors you want it to. You can ferment sauerkraut at much higher temperatures, and it will take a lot less time, but the flavor won't be as good.  The first time I made sauerkraut, it was late summer and a little too warm, and the sauerkraut was a little funky.  Not inedible, but definitely funky, and I think I'd rather have funky music than funky cabbage.  I mean, we ate it, but I don't want to repeat it.

Because this is a wine kraut, and Germans frequently eat apples and cabbage together, Steve decided that we'd use some of the Apfelwein that he made; a cup of that went into the crock last night. All we need to do now is let the kraut do its thing in the relative cool and quiet of the laundry room for a couple of months.

Just hopefully not its funky thing.

Saturday, April 14, 2012


Well, well.  The joke is on me.  Last Sunday I installed the bees, and this weekend they are gone.  The queen was released and they done r-u-n-n-o-f-t.  That's $175, down the tubes if you count the cost of the new hive, the DVD, and the expensive raw local honey I bought for feeding them, in addition to the ninety bucks for the bees themselves.

Does this deter me? Does this stop me? No! I'll call my bug guy and have him put me on the list for a swarm when he can get one.

Yeah, I'm disappointed.  But it happens.

This isn't my last bee post.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

What's With Google Blogger?

Is anyone else having issues posting comments?  I find that my Google account info doesn't always follow me and there are very few blogs on which I can comment anymore.

I also find that I'm getting far fewer comment than I used to, but I chalked that up to being boring....

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Back Yard Bees

You know how some things are just easier to learn if you have someone who's experienced showing you the ropes?  This DVD is like that.  I have a couple of beekeeping books that just were not doing it for me.  Both are geared toward beekeeping with a variety of chemicals to keep the bees healthy, and are also geared toward keeping bees in a conventional Langstroth hive. Neither were serving my purposes, and I really had a lot of holes in my knowledge base about keeping bees in my TBH.  The Back Yard Hive DVD is like having someone show you what you need to know about keeping bees in a TBH so that you can be successful.  I learned so much from this thing that I now know what killed my bees.  At least I'm pretty sure I know.  I think what happened was that I had the hive in the wrong place.  I had it out in the sun, and I think what happened was that instead of being able to gather nectar, the bees were spending all their time trying to cool down the hive.  They didn't gather nectar, they didn't have anything to eat, so they exhausted themselves to death. It doesn't make my feel any better about it; in fact, it makes me feel a whole lot worse actually, but now I know better than to put them in the sun.  I also now know that bees work really hard to keep the hive at a constant temperature for the brood, and that you don't want to have too many bars out at once because otherwise you'll cool the hive off too much.  Something else of which I was guilty.

It turns out that keeping bees in a top bar hive is really different than in a Langstroth hive.  Really different.  Lots easier, actually.  The folks at BackYardHive suggest an observation window in your hive so that you can see what's going on without having to get into the hive.  They actually suggest staying out of the hive altogether for the first year, which is right up my alley.  Not sure I'd do that, though, now that I know what I'm looking for.  One of the things that I found most useful is how to tell if your hive's queen is dead.  They tell you what to look for and what you can do about it.  They tell you what to do for your bees in the autumn and how to over winter the bees.  And they tell you that the following spring is when you can finally harvest a comb of honey and how to choose which comb to harvest. There's also a section on how to capture a swarm, if you should be so lucky as to stumble on one.  By the way, Back Yard Hive has top bar hives for sale, among other things, and if you're concerned about not getting enough honey from a TBH compared to a Langstroth hive, you should look at their Golden Mean hive.  It works just like a regular TBH but its proportions are such that you'll get more honey from it.  As in, a single comb of honey from a Golden Mean TBH averages seven pounds. Seven pounds for one comb!

This DVD was way better than a book because a picture is worth a thousand words and you will just 'get it' if you watch it.  If you're considering keeping bees, I really recommend a top bar hive, and if you're going to go with a top bar hive, I really recommend this DVD. And if you're not and just want to watch something interesting and have twenty-five bucks to blow, this DVD fills that bill as well.  I'm really glad I bought it.

I bet this year's bees will be glad I did, too.