Sunday, July 27, 2008

Honey harvest

I finally was able to get into the hives to check for honey.  I pulled a medium box with 8 frames off the top of Dolly's hive - the last box we needed to pull off this combined hive to get the brood chamber back down to the size where I like to maintain my hives:  3 medium brood boxes.  Because we are in a dearth (very few flowers for the bees to use as nectar sources), we went ahead and fed the honey from 6 of those 8 frames back to the bees.  All we did was cut off the wax cappings, and then set the frames out in the yard where the bees could find them. This allowed me to get the hive back to a manageable size, without depriving the bees of honey they may need.  They have been going wild getting every last drop from those frames.  

From Loretta's hive we harvested one shallow super (shallow box placed over the brood boxes to collect "superfluous" honey) of 8 frames.  The first photo shows a frame with fully capped honey (a thin wax covering over the cells of golden honey).  The next photo shows the process of cutting off the wax cappings so we can extract the honey.  The final photo shows a pile of wax cappings, with the freshly opened cells of honey shinning in the tip right corner of the photo.  The opened frames were then placed into the extractor basket, and we turned the crank to spin out the honey.

The honey from this harvest is delicious.  We harvested 2 quart jars, 6 one pound jars, and 24- 8 oz. jars of honey.  In addition I have piles of beautiful wax cappings to use to make beeswax lip balm and beeswax furniture polish.   I left two more supers on Loretta's hive and three supers on Dolly's hive, in hopes that we might get another harvest of fall honey.  All in all, it was a good weekend harvest from the bees.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Desperate measures, fighting hens, new seeds

The pear crop has been decimated by the birds.  Look at this pile of ruined fruit!  They peck out a hole just large enough to make the pear useless, then leave it to rot and fall off while they move to the next one.  I kept leaving the pears on the tree, figuring I would share the bumper crop with the birds, but apparently they really don't want to share, and every day another 4 or 5 pears were destroyed.  All the apples had already been destroyed.  In desperation today I picked 19+ pounds of still green pears.  Pears are supposed to be picked before they are fully ripe and then ripened off the tree (that reduces the number and size of the gritty stone cells inside).  Most of these, however, were not yet to the proper stage (when the background color of the pear goes from green to yellow-green, but the pear is still hard).  The birds were not waiting, so I figured it was worth a try to just harvest what I could and see if they ripen over the next few weeks.  Keep your fingers crossed for me.  If I get any edible pears the early harvest will have been a success.  I need a plan for next year:  either tent the tree or bag the individual fruit.  A few fruit are still on the tree, maybe I will try bagging them.

Look how calm and lovely our pretty black Pauline looks here, pecking away beside Lou.  Don't let her fool you.  Pauline has been just plain nasty mean this week to Lena and Expresso, who have moved to the big coop.  She doesn't just peck, she grabs and pulls and keeps chasing and following for more attacks, no matter how hard the kids try to get away.  It is hard to watch, but so far there are no lost feathers or blood, so we are trying to let them just work out the new pecking order.   Because Expresso, who is a rooster for sure now, will be leaving us before too long, I needed to get the youngsters introduced to the existing flock.  If I waited, poor Lena would have been all alone against the big hens; at least now she has a friend to hang out with while they work out the kinks of the new social order.

Finally, here are the seeds that are going in the garden as soon as the temperature drops below a thousand degrees.  (OK, just a little exaggeration there.)  Although kales and collards are usually transplanted as young plants, I am going to try direct seeding them.  Why?  Because it is fast and easy and I am all about doing things the easiest way.   If it works I saved a little money and time.  If it doesn't, I go ahead and put in some transplants.  The squash you see there is an Italian variety that is supposed to taste alot like a firm summer squash, but have the keeping qualities of a winter squash.  I think I have enough time to mature some before frost, so I will try a couple of the seeds now.  Lettuces and other fall plants will come later. 

Sunday, July 20, 2008

garden doldrums

Well, we have reached the summer garden doldrums.  Every vegetable has fizzled out in the heat and humidity except the tomatoes, and they are starting to look ragged. Despite the ragged looks, while I was away this week, and in the couple of days I have been back, the tomato bed yielded almost 17 pounds of beautiful fruit.  Have you noticed the subtle change in all the plants, and in the light and shadows in the garden?  Summer is waning, hard as that is to believe.  I have gotten out my leftover seeds and my garden calendar, and am planning what to plant this week in the now empty spaces where the squash and beans grew.  It is time to start putting in the fall garden! 

In the non-edible parts of the yard, the zinnias are flourishing, and I picked a huge bouquet of reds and pinks and oranges yesterday.  A pale purple weed in the bindweed or morning glory family is climbing up the brush pile back near the marsh, making a beautiful picture.  

I had every intention of finally getting into the bee hives today to harvest any summer honey they may have up in the supers, but the little tropical storm off the coast is stirring up the weather just enough to make it necessary to leave them alone yet again.  I hope that there is some honey still there whenever I finally get a chance to look in the hives.  If I had been on top of things I would have taken these honey supers off a month ago.   Look at how large the hives are with all the honey supers on top.  Despite the size of both hives, the bees have again multiplied to a point that they were not able to all squeeze into the hive last night, and I found a clump of bees out in the rain on the front of each hive this morning.  Luckily the rain has stopped, and they were able to dry off and begin foraging late this morning.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

I know, second post in one afternoon, but good

I could not pass up posting this photo of three sliced tomatoes: one that is orange when ripe, one green when ripe, one pink when ripe.  Isn't that plate amazing?  This is why we garden.  That and  the other ripe tomatoes I just dropped into boiling water for less than one minute.  Now the skin will slip right off and I can slice them in half horizontally, very gently squeeze out the seeds, and make pasta sauce with the "meat."

Bunnie cheese; what color is a tomato?

There may have been a time when I would have said "a tomato is red and round."  No more.  This has been a banner year for tomatoes in my yard, where the damp ground has finally found a purpose:  keep the base of the raised beds damp enough to prevent drought stress to the tomatoes up above.  No drought stress, no blossom end rot (where calcium deficiency becomes an issue not due to too little calcium in the soil, but to too little moisture to bring that calcium into the plant).  Each of these tomatoes are ripe: although some are pink, some striped, some yellow, some orange and yes, some red.  I am picking them less ripe than I would like, but if I don't the birds get every one.  They finish ripening in the screened porch, and taste pretty good picked "vine ripe" rather than actually, fully ripe.  Did you know that you should never put a tomato in the refrigerator?  See if following that rule helps the flavor and texture of your tomatoes.

So, what is Bunnie cheese?  Well, the chick I nurtured from big blue egg to great big, crowing cockerel, went to his new home this weekend.  There he will get to be a rooster with Easter Egger hens of his own.   In exchange, although I was thrilled just to find him a good coop where he could live, I was given a gallon of fresh goat's milk!  The photo is of me pasteurizing the milk, which I then turned into a soft, ricotta like cheese using an acid precipitation method (using vinegar or buttermilk, plus heat, to separate out the curds, since I did not have any rennet).  The cheese is amazing, and I have already used it both on pasta with a "fresh sauce" (tomato and garlic sauce made using uncooked, fresh tomatoes, plus fresh basil and parsley), and scrambled in my morning egg.  I did love big, goofy Bunnie, the only chicken I know who liked to lay in his water bowl, but the homemade cheese softened the blow.

 I will be away for the next full week, but will catch up with posts on harvests logged while I was gone and with updates on all the goings on in the hive, coop, and garden when I get back. It's time to see if there is honey in the supers to harvest!

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Cute, but evil

Birds!  Yesterday I fell in love with the little guy nestled in the tomato bed (see the honey bee on the flower to the left?).  His or her brother or sister was hanging out by the pitch fork in a front ornamental bed.  Cute, right?  Till you see what mom and dad and assorted distant relations did to the last two apples and to each tomato, just as it begins to ripen.  The babies are mocking birds who jumped from a nest in the side yard and who are worrying me and their mom by not sticking together.  I don't know exactly which bird is eating the fruit, but I know it is birds!

Pulled out the squash plants today and added them to the compost pile.  With the pickle worms burrowing into the fruit, the squash borers digging tunnels into the base of the plants, the drought sucking the moisture from the fruit just before it ripens, and the powdery mildew, I figured it was time.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Chicken updates; June totals

First, our harvest totals for June from our 2 small vegetable beds and from our pet bees and chickens:  27.4 pounds of vegetables, 25 pounds of honey, and 85 brown (3 different shades) eggs.  (Note that one vegetable harvested, the fingerling potatoes, actually was nestled in one of the ornamental beds in the front yard rather than in the garden beds.)   That brings the totals so far, for the first 6 months of 2008, to 56.9 pounds of vegetables, 265 eggs, and 25 pounds of honey.  For a detailed harvest log, scroll down to the bottom of the blog main page.  Wow, even I am amazed at how these harvest totals are turning out.

I realize it has been a little while since I gave a good update on the chickens.  The little ones are not very little anymore.  They are 9 weeks old now, and about half the size of the mature hens.  When I let them out of their pen they put their heads down near the ground and their tails up in the air and zoom around frantically, making quick turns one way or another and occasionally flying straight up in the air before landing into another frantic run.  Think of a startled rabbit, with feathers.  They then do a couple of mid-air chest bumps to one another and settle down to scratch.  It is quite a 10 second show.  These three eat over a pint of chicken feed a day, plus some scraps and grazing in the yard.  Their growth rate is amazing.  The photos are of Lena (black, clearly a pullet - immature hen) and Expresso (red and blue (gray), probably a rooster).  I did not get a shot of Bunnie today.  Expresso is an Easter Egger (an Ameraucana that does not meet show color standards - hens lay blue or green eggs), and Lena is half Ameraucana and half Barred Rock.

The big hens do try to bully these guys when they are all out of the pen free ranging together.  Lena will get right up in their faces and stand nose to nose, but as soon as they peck at her she streaks away to stand with the other teenagers.  So far there have been no real battles, just the occasional peck and run.  Since it appears Lena is the only hen of the bunch, it may be that she is the only one who moves into the big house.  That will put her at the bottom of the pecking order.  I hope they continue to all get along without any incident, and that adding a new, young hen to the coop doesn't start a true pecking order.  Hilda continues to be the friendliest of the mature bunch, running up to you as soon as you arrive home or come out the back door, making little hen noises all the while, and jumping up in my husband's lap as soon as he sits down.  Lou is warming up as well, and likes to have her chest scratched.  Iridescent black and absolutely beautiful, Pauline is still quite cool, and will not willingly let us touch her.  She also is the enforcer with the teenage chicks, making her queen of the yard and top of the pecking order.

The yard continues to open up new colors and textures each day here in early summer.  Look at these beautiful orange flowers just opening in front of the maturing orangequat fruit (look to the top right corner of the photo for the fruit)!