Thursday, July 28, 2011

I may have a problem

My daughter was impressed with how little knitting I was bringing on a camping trip. . . until she realized it wasn't just the small red tote. The backpack is coming, too.


Sometimes jam making is about, well, making jam. Making jam for toast, for the "Mommy, I'm hungry. I want a peanut butter and jam sandwich," times, for thumbprint cookies if you're lucky, and so the larder shelves reflect orderly, jewel-toned preparation for the future.

Then there are times to capture an essence, a moment, or a tiny, perfect harvest. This is the total yield from one day's picking of "Tristar" strawberries, made with Christiane Ferber's three-day Mes Confitures method. Concentrated sunshine, just enough for very special giving.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Hackey Sack, Anyone?

This hat
was designed to use up bits of yarn. The two ounces of handspun, naturally-dyed yarn from a workshop used for it has been sitting, unused and unworn, for longer than I want to admit. Even if I feel that this hat looks like something someone much more committed to hippie fashion than I might proudly wear, at least the yarn is a garment now, not just a skein.

Besides, camping trips are just made for this sort of look, right?

One bad egg

Any false move lifting this egg from the nest box and it would have broken wide open. The shell felt like very thin, very brittle leather. If I knew which hen had laid this parchment-shelled egg, I'd know which hen was reaching the true end of her laying life. Then I suppose the cull-or-not-cull decision would have to be made.

But I don't know, and spying on the hens probably isn't going to happen. We're probably just going to wait until all of the hens are showing signs of age. Personally, I'd rather cull the entire flock and start over with new chicks in the future versus pulling out only one hen now. Besides, that way, the flock's balance of personalities can continue to balance one another as well as they do currently.

As I've written about before, deciding to keep backyard poultry inevitably raises questions like this. I know what my decision is already, as I also know that I don't have to cull too soon. The weak-egg layer can coast a bit more. I'll up their oyster shells to help and patiently wait for the younger birds to catch up. Then they'll go on to their next stage, and the chick to hen to egg layer cycle will begin again.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Two done

A sweater with handspun yarn as some of the colorwork, proportions and shaping figured out on the way, along with a fully-handspun (except for the ribbon!) hat. Now, on to other not-yet-done knitting.

If you look away

Two things happen: squashes almost as big as the girl, and the little ones grow up too fast!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

I dragged a couple of the kids along with me tonight to the Urban Agricultural Zoning Update for a neighboring city. It was pretty neat, both because we got to see Eric in professional action and also because the interest in urban agriculture was palpable.

In my family we have a joke that whatever I'm interested in will crest in popularity two or three years later. Not so much the vegetable gardening, that's been around forever, but in the whole "Now I call it a farm" approach to growing things in urban areas. Bees, chickens, other livestock, plus extensive gardening I guess. I call it "Zeitgeist surfing," and if I could only figure out a way to cash in on my prescience, well, we'd have a redecorated kitchen and my bedroom would have walls.

So anyhow, familiar faces (Esperanza, Lisa, and the 4-H crew) and new faces but old names (Rachel) were there and that was pretty great. There was such a crowd that I couldn't hear all of the questions being asked in the break-out areas, and the two tables dedicated to livestock questions were getting heated, with some animal-rights folks and evangelical vegans arguing that the city should disallow the rearing and slaughter of meat animals, and some just plain randomness, so I wandered around a bit and overheared folks talking and making connections.

At then end of it, I asked one of Eric's coworkers if she'd like to come and see the garden, and gathered up my by-then cheerfully helping children and toddled back across the water to our town. A good night. The next few council meetings are going to be Very Interesting in that town.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Just Pay Attention

Tuesday morning started with a wander around the garden. Most mornings, if I'm really lucky, start like that. Everywhere I look, if I pay attention, interesting things peep back at me.

So from thirsty chickens to volunteer pumpkins to pernicious weeds, from galumphing nasturtiums to less-enthusiastic flowers, beans ready to harvest entwined with spontaneous Sour Gherkins, it all ended up with a large box of goods for the community food bank.

Mornings like that give me strength to face my days.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Kale for Harvest Monday - Surprised?

Almost a pound and a half of Lacinato kale for dinner tonight. I just move through the garden, pulling off two or three leaves from each plant. That's a great method until bolting really hits. Then, if the plant isn't hopelessly bitter, pulling the whole shebang is probably best.

We introduced a couple of neighborhood kids to kale served with caramelized onions and feta cheese tonight (plus wholewheat pasta with garlic and parseley and some bakery bread donated by a neighbor, with just-picked berries for dessert). A very low-cost and high-yummy meal, and there was some left over so I think everyone got enough. There's always enough kale here!

There's lots of harvest shots over at Daphne's Dandelions -- for your

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Fascinating days with bees

Besides the hive in our back yard, I keep an eye on a hive for a friend in her yard. During a routine check yesterday (to ascertain if it was time for another honey box on top of the single super that was there) I made a different kind of discovery. The hive was lousy with bees:

It was also bursting with stores. Honey, pollen, uncured nectar, every frame displaying something. But had not a single egg, larvae or brood. The huge bunches of bees must have been from the capped brood I saw during my last hive inspection, the one that led me to put that honey box on in the first place! Either the queen is dead or ineffective. No queen cells, either. A couple of cups, but not finished ones. Fortunately, it's not all drones, as it was once before. So there's not a laying worker in there.

No probem, thinks I. Time to combine my two smallest hives (the swarm from Esperanza and the feral roof-dwellers) and take a queen from there and put her in the friend's hive. Well, as you can read -- and please do -- over on Lisa's blog, that wasn't such an option as we'd thought. Yesterday's planned hive combination turned into a very different kind of bee work -- less a cut-out than a take-apart. The small hives are okay, but not ready to combine right now.

Plan B. I'd take a single frame of eggs and young brood, along with the attendant nurse bees, from my best hive, and requeen the hive that way. It does push back the development of the hive, because they have to raise a queen (some 15 or so days from today), then she has to fly to mate (20-24 days from today) and then there would be evidence of their success in the week or so following that. This puts us well into the first week of August. My friend may yet get honey from her hive, which I have never successfully managed for her in a few years (!). Bad hive, or bad beekeeper? You decide.

Anyhow, I figured that the big hive was dynamic enough to kill any wax moth on old comb:

So I would exchange this frame for one with teeny eggs and tiny brood on it. Ellie helped smoke the hive before we opened it in search of eggs:

I'm trying out a queen excluder for the first time. I hope with well-drawn frames it won't discourage the bees from storing honey up top. The wires are too close together to allow a fat queen to pass through, but the workers can get up there to put nectar in storage, making it easier for me to gather only honey at the end of the season.

While I was out there, and with such willing help, I checked the small swarm hive. For obvious reasons, we didn't get into it yesterday. It's still quite small; only brood activity on a few frames, but with a laying pattern like this:

it won't be long before the population booms. I may end up combining it with the feral hive, but I'm going to give both of them a chance.

Camera forgotten, I drove off to the neighbor's house with my nurse frame. Leaving my smoker at home made it easy to decide to do a smokeless drop'n'run. One frame has to leave for another to fit, so I pulled a frame of stores from the outside of the top brood box and levered open a spot in the middle of the box, where brood tends to be in hives, for warmth. The new nurse bees should be accepted because they smell of baby bees, and the baby bees should help that hive remember what it needs -- a laying queen. I won't go in and check to make certain there are queen cells, because I'm afraid that I could hurt any one they start. When a new queen should be laying, I'll look for eggs, starting the whole cycle again.

I really really wish I'd had my good camera working (do check out Lisa's blog, because she has great photos). There's always so much good stuff to see, and even though beekeeping is hot, and sweaty, and demanding on my aging back, it's a great way to experience total presence. Even though I feel kind of like the impostor beekeeper (though I've finally found a smoker fuel in burlap that stays lit!), because I'm acutely aware of how little I know about beekeeping, I'm completely absorbed from the first peek to the last "buttoning up" of the hive afterwards.

Changing out of my sweaty bee clothes before going out with friends tonight, I realized how very focusing bee work was for me. The entire time I was "doing bee stuff" this bruise from a fall Friday

wasn't bothering me at all. Talk about apitherapy!

Friday, July 15, 2011

House o'Kale

Somewhere there lurk overview garden pictures, for another day, but last night there was a local gardener's meeting. I raced home afterwards to serve up the lentil soup my eldest had made (talk about wonderful; not only had she made it, but the parmesan rinds she added gave it depth and great savor). I worried a little that it wasn't enough food, but at the foot of the front stairs, guess what lurked:

Sauteed with garlic, this accidental kale made a lovely side dish.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Time for Camera Help

I spent 20 minutes outside today taking pictures for the blog. Peppers, beans, round zucchini, epazote, cucumbers, strawberries, our new dog (yes you read that right), tomatoes. . . and this is what I came up with.

One lousy picture of the Fagioli Pavoni (I think; maybe Stregoni). Pretty blossoms - they're a light apricot in color, but seriously?

I'm pretty annoyed. There's some disconnect between the big zoom lens and the autofocus, and I just need to replace the lens I used before. I miss my Lumix camera. Sigh.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Bee status

Quick hive check today. Four hives. One weak, one huge and booming (that one got a queen excluder and a honey super), one all-medium one acting as the wave of the future and not yet needing a super, and one surprise.

The hive I gathered at night last week? My friend had told me that bees had moved in, and I made some assumptions. Today, when I moved it, I noticed it was very light. Pried up the top -- and there were bees in there, yes sirree.

What there wasn't was manmade frames. The bees were making comb attached to the hive cover. Argh.

It's going to need cutting out, but for now I slapped a set of drawn frames under it and have pretty much decided to combine it with the weaker of the three others. That means finding and offing a queen, unfortunately. Too hot and not enough time to do it today, though.

Just needed to make notes to tell me what was what for the next round of hive inspections.

Thursday, July 7, 2011


For those of you who might want to eat more kale, or somehow manage to make other people eat more kale, but aren't quite ready for a big ol' pan of kale and garlic while it's so warm?

I present -- Disappearing kale!

My kids like smoothies for breakfast and snacks when it's hot. I buy .50c going-brown organic bananas from the local place, peel and chunk them and stick them in the freezer. When it's smoothie time, I throw them in the garage-sale blender with some frozen berries, either home-picked or store bought, some milk, some water (depending on how thick I want it to be), and maybe some flax seeds or psyllium husk if I'm feeling extra-crunchy.

This morning, for speed and blogging purposes, it was a straightforward banana-milk-water-raspberry smoothie to begin with:

Nice and smooth. Then, I stemmed three Lacinato kale leaves. Not many, because this smoothie was a) small and b) blueberry-free. The reason that matters will become clear later on.

Using the power of whirring blades, the kale gets pulled under. Aaaaaiiiieeeee. . . .

And then shows up again as greenish specks. Had this smoothie contained blueberries, the kale wouldn't really show.

The kids tried it, but said they didn't particularly want it, even though it tasted fine. I think looks matter a lot to them. I'm actually enjoying it just fine, and the extra serving of "smug" along with it doesn't hurt a bit.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Double or Nothing

We're supposed to be coming out of a heat wave here. While I know that many areas of the country suffer from much more extreme weather, I reiterate -- we're not prepared for this. With neither thick walls nor artifically cooled air, these old Victorians (especially in rooms under eaves) are just hot.

How better to enjoy weather like this than to drive inland, away from any errant sea breezes, and walk around on asphalt all day long? Yes, it's county fair time, and I'll be baking myself out there tomorrow like a crazy person. Let's hope the folks tightening bolts on the roller coasters were sober enough.

Oh, and why not, while I'm at it, throw in a little Eco Wool knitting? I can't stop working on this baby because I have finally (!) figured out how to knit two sleeves on two needles. It took drawing, talking to my sister, and many many rounds of "nope, that's not it, take out the needle and turn it around" before I finally wrapped my head and subsequently my fingers around the technique:

That's not so easy to see. one needle is I believe 24" long, while the other is 60". That way, I can tell them apart. But the shorter one makes spreading the sleeves out for a picture a bit tricky. Folded is a little clearer.

I don't think I'm ready to write up a tutorial, but for me, I divided the sleeves into "fronts" and "backs" and each one has one needle. Two sleeves, one side, one needle. To knit, then, one needle gets knitted across one side of two sleeves, necessitating one yarn change. If I start with the fronts, then I knit both fronts. Then I drop that needle and knit two backs.

It's easier, much easier, than I had managed to make it for a bit. Maybe this will pump up my speed on lots of things, like mittens! Christmas is coming, make no mistake. But first, this and a couple of other sleeveless sweaters.

Crazy for Kale

It would be so great to always be ready for pictures, to always have my hair just so and maybe the dark circles that lurk under my eyes softened a bit. . . but then I couldn't complain that there were no pictures of me, and anyhow, when your most avid photographer is six, you get what you get.

Kale makes me pretty happy.

I pulled about a pound of Lacinato kale out of the garden today -- it's all threatening to bolt, and I'm trying to gobble it up before that happens. So I'm going to share a "recipe" with you. It's more of a suggested approach, because I'm not actually measuring things. When out at a local restaurant, I had their Kale-Seaweed Salad, and it was so tasty I've been trying to match it ever since. There's still something off about my dressing, but I'm close.

If you want to try it, and you have access to kale and either Arame or Hijiki (Arame is less expensive here, and Hijiki tastes better, in my opinion), you can make it right up.

I lightly steamed about 1/2 pound of stemmed kale leaves, then chiffonaded them. Meanwhile, the seaweed was soaking in some hot water. I drained the seaweed and mixed it with the kale. Into that went some finely minced fresh peeled ginger (you might want to try some ginger preserved in sherry, or some shaved fresh ginger instead). The dressing was rice vinegar, sesame oil, and soy sauce. Sesame seeds on top.

And that's it. I find it really yummy and am always amazed at how much kale cooks down to how little. It tastes best cold, but I have yet to make it far enough ahead to chill it. If anyone has suggestions about punching up the dressing, let me know.

Monday, July 4, 2011

What makes a holiday for you?

On lazy holiday weekends, apparently my family likes to:

Gather a fourth hive of bees from friends leaving the hobby, at night, using straps to hold the hive together for the drive home.

It's clearly "seat of the pants" beekeeping.

Then we like to celebrate someone's 6th birthday with coffee and breakfast out:

Followed by a really long walk home, necessitating changes of ride:

Then we might eat something from the garden. This is leek, feta, and lemon quiche:

And today, we topped it off by marching in our hometown parade. It's the kind of parade where half the town is in the parade, the other half watching. Fun, and tiring:

We're all a bit tired. Mikey looks like a kitchen rug:

Happy holiday, everyone in this country.