Saturday, February 27, 2010

Sick and Salads

No, not sick of salads! The recent sunny days interspersed with rainfall have made the lettuce do what it does about this time every year -- bounce into glorious, ruffle-headed life. If it weren't so sandy-muddy from the rain and the shovel-wielding children, I'd eat it standing in the garden. Maybe. . . mulch next year? anything to keep the splashy sand out of the inside of my beloved Tom Thumb headlets. I had to toss the Tom Thumb from my book club salad because I just couldn't get it clean:

So I wash carefully and have a salad for lunch, but often not one for dinner because I'm wiped out, because I'm not sleeping because sick children still wake their parents up at night even when they're getting to be big little kids.

He looks to me as though I've set him out for recycling. A lot of today was spent asleep, and he seems to still need it. I have my fingers crossed that there are no sore ears or throats tonight, and I will make enough salad for two meals tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Handsful of help

Remember last summer, when the soil was not holding water for anything? And wasn't it funny when I didn't have an irrigation system and pretty flabby soil?

Well, what a difference a few months, a few loads of horse manure, and a whole lot of imported soil can make.

They were so big they looked like snakes in her hand.

All tucked in, they filled up her hands.

And when set free, they almost ran away. Each worm, at one point, was as thick as my little finger. They left visible tunnels when they pulled themselves into the newly-turned bed. Between these guys and the other work on the soil, at least this bed is going to become more fertile.

And I'm going to have Tat Soi seeds if the weather holds -- the rain had me wondering if the bees were going to get out there to pollinate.

First snow pea blossoms. If I had found my seeds today, the bare spots in the garden would be filled. Without them, we'll still get peas, and maybe even enough to have "extra" rather than eating them all at once.

Am I the only one hearing spring murmuring around the corner?

Making do

I'm not done with even one of the three baby sweaters that I need to do pretty much right now, if they're going to get here before the babies' arrivals. Maybe I need to let go of (in two cases) finding The Perfect Baby Sweater and realizing that "finished" trumps "ideal and still unrealized" almost every time!

That attitude helped me get out and run today. Raining -- again, and I wasn't feeling overly motivated, but it just doesn't matter. Since I'm not running for time, except in the "more time to live" sense, I can just call it discipline practice, and it counts.

That whole idea of discipline is relatively new to me -- I didn't get it, really get it, until I started having children. Along with some other shifts (hey, I do need some time alone or I go crazy! Who knew?), I began to deeply appreciate the beauty of just doing the work at hand, just showing up over and over and over. So in my world, that ends up looking like running in the rain. Even though I claim to be capable of regular exercise without concomitant increase in fitness, it's not true. Three miles wasn't terrible today. So. Something works sometimes.

I felt a little tight when I got home, so some yoga poses seemed called for. There's only one problem in my house:

Fred thinks that anyone on a yoga mat needs repeated "bonks" from his very hard (and possibly empty) head. Nothing quite as relaxing as easing into a deep Down Dog, hanging your head there, eyes closed, focusing on breathing, when "Bonk!" right against my forehead, my elbows, my legs. Between him and Caterina doing yoga under me, well, it was enough just to show up.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Bees and tomatoes and beauty

Before the weather remembered that it was February, I did get over to my friend's beehive. She's been very patient with me, but would like to actually get some honey from her hive. If this hive doesn't step up, I may be reduced to sneaking filled frames over there to "find!"

One picture first -- this is how you can tell that a hive has been robbed of honey.See how the edges of the cells are rough, as though some little mandibles have nibbled the cappings away?

That was from one of my hives, the "dead" one.

In front of my friend's hive, there were a couple of drones dead -- I couldn't tell if there was anything disease-wise wrong with them, but they didn't look right. Perhaps they'd been preemptively pulled due to Varroa mites.

Inside, the hive looked relatively quiet:

I found some really wonky comb, and cut it off, but then saw that most of it looked pretty good. This is comb that was tied in (you can see the remains of the rubber bands in the picture above) from the top-bar hive last summer. Flat caps are worker brood, raised ones are drone brood:

There was enough brood to make me think the queen is doing well. I would have liked to reverse the hive bodies, but right about then I felt what I was pretty sure was a bee in my bra. That's a phrase I've never really wanted to use! Anyhow, that took the starch all out of me, and all I wanted was to get inside and disrobe.

So we put a honey super on, and I'll go back another day and switch the lower boxes. After it warms up, that is.

(And yes, it was a bee, but she didn't sting me before I managed to get her out of me. I was very very pleased by that.)

Tomatoes in February?

A front-yard volunteer has decided that it's time to bloom. I hope the weather holds. It's going to be fun to find out what variety is lurking under the lime tree. (Cue horror movie music.)

Lastly, while I'm all about the edible (I sort of get pretty gardening, but not enough to want to do it), I don't think a garden is enough without flowers. These happen to be edible Johnny Jump-ups, but I'm still excited about them.

It's going to be a pretty spring.

Change of the guard

Last year, I grew Japanese Indigo in my garden, and did some dyeing experiments with it on Sheep Shed Studio mill ends.

The first filled bobbins are now all plyed -- 295 yards of about sport weight three ply:

The lighter side is probably truest to color; it's cloudy today.

Because I am not the kind of person for whom details work out, one bobbin finished before the other two. And they looked so even! Anyhow, once I wind those two off to make another one again, I'll finish plying and end up with a bit over 300 yards. I spun this as worsted as I can, and it's crisp -- no bounce, lots of shine. It should make something nice and intricate. Now, if I can only think of an appropriate pattern. Maybe Koolhaas? But who needs another hat?

The really exciting part about finishing this yarn is getting to switch from my Lendrum's stock slider option to the Woolee Winder that Eric gifted me for Christmas. I can't wait to just spin without stopping. And it fulfills my weird flat filled bobbin mania. There's some orange fiber with my name on it upstairs. . .

Friday, February 19, 2010

Running around

After my injury hiatus followed by enthusiastic holiday reading, training starting at the beginning seemed like a good idea. Now I'm at the end of the beginner 5k training, and doing okay. I'm not setting any land speed records, but since the real prize I'm heading for is "middle aged discipline," I'm doing great.

Next, speed work! Sprint until you want to throw up! So. Much. Fun.

Something else that came from discipline (and redoing until it was right)? That's right!! The ribbed sweater is done, done, done.

I got to indulge in Extreme Blocking (which should so seriously be a spectator sport). The teeny tube of ribbing that was this:

Had a date with some water, soap, and pins:

And opened up to fit quite well:

It's an "Action Sweater" (apologies to Mr. Izzard) -- I can run the obstacle course that's the yard:

I like how curvy it looks from the back. All in all, I'm really satisfied.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Chitting and Kitty

It's about time to put potatoes in the ground here, once I figure which bed should be potato ground zero. Sitting in a nice sunny windowsill ought to make them sprout up nicely. Of course, potatoes aren't the only thing that likes to bask in the sun.

Caterina and I even lay on the ground in this sun puddle for about 20 minutes today - a rare island of peace and stillness. I've got some way to go before I'm up to housecat level, though.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

First hive inspection of the year

The cold, rainy weather has, at least temporarily, given way to sunny days following morning fog. Perfect weather, in other words. Morning runs followed by productive days of outdoor work and cool evenings so a fire in our new outdoor fireplace is welcome.

Perfect, as I said. If you're not really interested in bees, you can stop reading now. I'm using this as hive notes as well as general blathering.

This is the weather to finally get into the hives and see what the winter wrought. It takes bees a good 2-3 days to recover fully from an inspection, getting their cracks resealed and generally untwisting their knickers. So it took a few days of nice weather before it dawned on me that I might want to, you know, act like a beekeeper. Yesterday was again mild, with no forecast wet weather any time soon. I put my suit on and fired up the smoker for the first time since October, I think.

One hive, the one on the right in the picture, had been ominously quiet over the last week, and before that I'd noticed how few bees were going in and out. I had also seen the occasional bee with Curly Wing Virus, an indication that there were other problems in the hive. I suspect an aging queen plus a heavy varroa infestation just made the hive dwindle until there wasn't anything going on.

When I opened it, it was like a ghost town. Nobody home. There was some capped honey left both in the super and the top deep hive body, yet there was some evidence of honey-robbing (cappings on honey chewed off jaggedly and empty combs, with nibbled wax underneath) but not extensively. This hive just finally died a week or so ago.

There were scattered capped, unhatched brood - very few, like 10 per comb face. There were dead bees that had died as they hatched, with no nurse bees to feed them. I pulled them out and didn't see any obvious disease (I checked for AFB and foulbrood) or harm; they just hatched when there wasn't a lot going on. But the pattern of brood supports the "weak queen" theory. No worker bee stepped up and began laying either, as there were no drone combs in evidence.

I cleaned up underneath and sealed the hive against further robbing (that's what the sticks in the entrance in the picture are for). I hope the wax moths wait until I catch a swarm for that hive! Then it was time for hive #2.

This hive was textbook early-spring. And it was feisty. The entire time I was in it, they were humming like a 747. I set aside the top super, then the top deep and went through the bottom deep frame by frame.

A good amount of stored honey, and a good amount of open comb. There were even some un-drawn frames (mostly on the north side of the hive, away from the busy side of the entrance). After I went through the entire box, it was clear that there was no brood in it, so I lifted it off, set it aside, cleaned the screen bottom and replaced that. The bees just loved that, and by that time I was sweating pretty heavily in my suit. I lose more weight by sweating when I do this than I do running!

I put the original second box back on the bottom and went through it, frame by frame. There were a good number, perhaps 5, frames of brood, with lovely full patterns of laying. Just a carpet of capped brood. Then there were frames that had a mix of capped brood, and larvae at different stages, plus eggs. I looked carefully on those frames for the queen, but I didn't see her. She's left ample evidence that she's doing a good job, though. The grouchiness of the bees was the only thing I could hold against this queen. They didn't seem to be stinging too much, but it was annoying to be dive-bombed the whole time I was in the hive.

There was a little bit of drone brood, and I inserted a drone trap near the brood nest. I'll check again in two weeks and see if they've used it. I suppose I'm going to have to put the bees on a routine powdered sugar schedule to keep the varroa down, although I don't have enough hives for one dead one to be meaningful.

The honey super was about half full and half capped. I put the super from the other hive on first, then finished with the orginal one. This hive got a lot of reversing. I'm thinking that two weeks should be enough to catch this spring flow in both boxes. Time to extract again!

Like all outdoor activities, though, it will depend on the weather too. But it feels good to have made a start. I hope to get to the hive I supervise at a friend's house this week also. It would be nice to see a lively group there.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Follwing the Crowd

My mother used to say, "If all of your friends were jumping off the roof, would you?" whenever she thought that perhaps I was being too peer-influenced. Leaving aside the notion that I clearly paid for my not doing so by bearing children who think jumping off a roof sounds like a terrific idea, sometimes crowd-following isn't a bad idea.

Take gardening, for example. I'll probably not ever McGyver my entire yard a la EG, but I can take the best ideas out there and make them my own.

Like starting seeds when it's time. Here's a tray of lettuce, just waiting to get big enough to be bird-proof. New seeds as of this fall, they came up in three days.

After being annoyed at getting shocked every time I touched my light set up, I went out and bought all new flourescent fixtures. Apparently it wasn't the fixtures, but something else leaking, so now I have more lights than I did before, and I just wear tennies when I'm downstairs.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


So, school. We're into the second semester of trying it for the first time ever, and the results have been mixed.

One of the things I'm not thrilled about is lunch-packing. Some days I'm inspired, some not, sometimes cool leftovers get incorporated, some days not. It's no secret to me any longer why the crazy folk who blog about their lunchboxes often only have one child. . .

That said, I have discovered some things. Frilly toothpicks work wonders. Dipping bowls filled with ketchup for tofu dog bits are a hit, as are tiny calzone left over from the night before (made especially small for little hands). And canned Mandarin oranges. Oh, does Ellie love those.

Sometimes I think I get more paid work done with the kids in school; some nights I think that's probably not true, as I spend a few hours grading papers. Some of the problem is me and my lack of focus (hellooo, Tricia!). One night, while distracting myself from the prose as yet untouched by my professorial input, I wandered around some canning blogs.

Genius! It's tiny tangerine season here. So Denise and I got together today to turn a couple of boxes of "Cuties" into future lunch offerings:

Easy, and very pretty. I think they'll be a bigger hit when fresh ones aren't littering the counters, though.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Harvest Monday February 8th 2010

Looking at an overview of the whole garden, I can see both how parts of the garden are filling out and how parts are getting thin -- just a reminder of the rhythm that runs my days. There's plenty of stuff to be gathering, although I did find out why I have so little lettuce -- the sparrows are gathering every evening, apparently, to gnaw at my leaves. Short of sitting out there and shouting and waving my arms, I think I'm going to just have to start some new seeds and get them big before I put them out.

This week's harvest was a mix of old and new. Half a pound of Red Ursa kale, along with one of the Danvers half-longs.

A veritable boquet of color -- Nantes half longs, Atomic Red, Lunar White, and some Danvers half-longs.

Tiny Tom Thumb heads, just enough for a single serving. The rain has made the lettuce, chard, and spinach pretty filthy with splashed sand all in the leaves. I have to wash very carefully.

While this looks like a respectable amount of broccoli, it's from many plants. The heads are maxing out at 3-4", and I thought the Romanesco ones would be all pointy-swirly. Instead, they're just broccoli. Good broccoli, but still. . . it's not worth it, for the size it takes up. Some day, I'll get big lovely heads. I just have to work on soil fertility. The Calabrese variety plants are enormous, although the heads are wee. Some other year.

So that's it. If you want to see other folks' harvests for the week, go to Daphne's Dandelions where they're listed.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

All Strung Out

I shouldn't have believed the pea packets which said the pod peas would max out around 36". They're easily at five feet and reaching. I knew the snow peas were going to climb, so Denise gave me some tall bamboo poles.

Still, they're not just going to climb poles; it's time for some twine. I spent this morning festooning the beds with peas.

There's sort of a charming, "rigged by drunken pirates" feel to it -- and I'm not done. I swear, next year I'm going to knit some kind of twine blanket/screen because what I'm doing isn't working well. And I don't want to use something non-compostable, and the
cut branches I tried for the podding peas worked fine, but weren't tall enough.


All of the Asian greens bolted at once, even the tiny seedlings. Something must have triggered it. I'm just hoping that the rain holds off while the Tat Soi blooms, so the bees can get out there and do their thing. I'd like to gather viable seed from these babies.

Another wonderful thing for the bees to do over the next week would be to visit this tree:

I'd dearly love some apricots this year.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

About the Eggs

Michelle asked in the comments about the egg totals in the sidebar -- I have a lot more than I expected.

Generally, chickens molt once a year. It's tied to shortening days and the age of the chicken. For a few weeks they lose many feathers -- we think they look like old, ratty couches. During the molt, they stop laying. All that energy goes into making new feathers.

Six of our hens were babies in April, so they're just under a year old. Two of our hens are older -- one is from our original flock, so she's at least four. The other one was a handoff from another flock; she's probably between two and three. I'm not convinced that the old ladies are laying, although occasionally we'll get an egg that seems out of sequence. Maybe that's them. The six laying hens are in full production right now. Chickens lay roughly once a day, but there's some lag, so we don't get six eggs per day. But very often we do.

Another factor in egg production is light. We don't have a supplemental light in our coop, although the roof is made of clear corrugated roofing panels. Unfortunately, it was put on "upside down," and hasn't been fixed yet. So during the rainy season I keep a tarp on it. That lowers the light some, but they don't seem to mind.

I froze eggs in anticipation of not getting any. They'll probably molt next fall, and we'll be short of eggs then, but it's not the case now. Fortunately I have friends and neighbors who take extra off our hands. It's enough to bring the cost of organic food down around what conventional would be, and my people get to eat much more locally. I'm still not sure that the chickens are an even-money proposition, but I enjoy them.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Harvest Monday First of Feb

First week in February (how did that happen?) and the Danvers half long carrots are fattening up. I'm going to spend some time today gluing more carrot "mats" a la Annie's Granny, and then I'm going to fill up another half bed with them later. I'm greatly enjoying them and they're such a slow-growing crop that it pays to be right on top when it's sowing time.

Red Ursa kale is champion this spring. No pests, no powdery mildew, and tasty.

My son helped me harvest spinach. It doesn't taste awful if you add garlic to it, just meh. The citrus just keeps coming -- these are limes. And the chickens are just laying like there's no such thing as winter. Go figure. I'm not complaining; it's great.

First handful of "Alaska" peas. I did get one "Canoe," and both the pod and the peas were bigger. I may plant many more of that variety in years to come. But with stronger climbing supports!

There were the usual "handsfuls" of salads -- just enough to go inside and eat.

So everything is just sort of holding steady. We're going to get more rain, I think, starting tomorrow, so I had better do any wandering around I'm going to do today.