Monday, December 1, 2014

Scenes from the winter homestead

Just two pictures today, totally random and not connected.

First, here's one that would be great for a 'caption this photo' contest. Ever feel like you can't fit in? Trying to make yourself smaller so as not to draw attention to yourself? This egg is in the same boat. Or should I say, ill-fitting egg crate.

Second, a glimpse into our sun room, aka lemon farm. OK, it's just one tree but those 4 lemons are home grown, flower to fruit. Turns out that hand-pollinating is key. And there are key limes in the same pot, the first set of which we just got to set fruit, keep your fingers crossed. This orchid is the first of its kind that I have gotten to re-bloom for me. Oh cheerful sight!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Stay calm and remain purple

Here's a secret I'd like to tell. I love Advent better than Christmas. Advent's the journey, the seeking, the waiting. I have to give credit to my parents, who really did a nice job building that sense of anticipation, with the decorations slowly increasing over the weeks, only to culminate in the fully decorated Christmas tree that appeared in our house no sooner than on Christmas eve, around 5pm. This is the time, as I will have you know, when the Christ child delivers presents to German children. It must be that Baby Jesus, Santa and Father Frost and whoever else is in on this global game of sneaking and scheming, have split up the geographical areas and delivery times to make it all feasible? That is what I tell my children to explain the difference in my culture growing up, and theirs, which needed to match that of their school mates and friends.

But back to Advent. I like to have an advent wreath or other seasonal vehicle for four candles every year. We usually craft it together now, the kids are old enough to help. This year's version recycled the log tea light stands the husband made last year:

And back to the meaning of it all. We shall light one candle more each week, as we wait. And wait we will. With music, hot cider, cookies, and reading stories of St. Nicholas. In this sea of red and green and golden and glitter and shiny instant gratification, we are going to:

Friday, November 21, 2014

{this moment}


{this moment}
A Friday SouleMama ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments for all to find and see 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

A visit to a foreign world

Sometimes you just have to break out of your world, and go visit someplace else. Except there is that pesky carbon footprint thing, and that money thing, and that time thing ... so we 'get away' to a few local hide-outs once in a while. This time, we went to South America. And by that, I mean the excellent Maya exhibit at the Boston Museum of Science. Insta-transport into a totally foreign world. 

We learned about glyphs, kings and calendars. We sat for a while (too long, say the littles - too short says the oldest) drawing, reading, learning, in the peaceful darkness of the exhibit.

Then we took a quick stop in the tropics on the way to lunch - the butterfly room is always a treat for the senses. Then, from far away across the world, we smelled good things to eat.... and went to have lunch before returning to our own little world.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Just puttering

We're all coming off a mighty high of activity, weekends filled with a birthday party for the middle, and a concert where the oldest played, and a visit from the grandparents, the 25th anniversary of the wall in Germany being broken down... altogether wonderful stuff. But phew, I'm ready for a little rest before the holiday flurry sets in. Talking about busy, here is the bee hive cake I made to order for the birthday:

In the gardens, clean-up is ongoing, now that we are seeing the first frosts. It is always such a nice surprise to find a few leftover scarlet runner bean seeds, like pearls on a string.

Together we can(ned). In this case about 30 quarts of apple sauce, made from 2 bushels of utility apples bought at my favorite local orchard. This should get us through the winter nicely.

So we're putting up, and puttering around, clustered around the wood stove these days, because we've resisted turning on the heat just yet. Hope you're staying warm, too!

Friday, November 7, 2014

{this moment}

{this moment}
A Friday SouleMama ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments for all to find and see 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

That's a wrap

This has been a weird bee season for me. I had split my 2 hives into three earlier in the summer, and things had been going fairly well before August. But after we came back from our travels, again, there was no honey in those supers and two of the hives were very light on stores. One of them was in the middle of what might have been a supersedure, or the remainder of a hive after a swarm had left, hard to tell. No honey, no brood, no queen, I think they may have swarmed. I tried not to mess up the existing swarm cells and decided to feed heavy syrup to support them. Alas, a new queen never did make it, and the hive succumbed to some crazy robbing attacks. I ended up finding a ton of drowned yellowjackets in the feeder. They came in the bottom entrance and fought their way all the way up to the top feeder, so that was not a good sign at all. I watched that hive slowly die and cleaned it up today.

Very not very fun, seeing this pile of dead bees. Sigh. 

I had made some candy boards, just to prop up the two other hives and add them to my layer structure that worked well last winter. Here they are. It's basically a 2in frame the size of a super, with 1/2in hardware cloth as a bottom. In that, I smeared a mix of sugar (10lbs), water (2 cups) and a tad of vinegar (2/3 Tbsp) and HoneyBeeHealthy, which dried into a solid mass. I blocked out holes so the bees can access the top entrance and for condensation to go through the hole in the inner cover, like so:

I put this candy board on top of the 2 deep super I'm trying to overwinter. Then followed the inner cover, and on top of that goes an empty super filled with straw. I staple window screen to the bottom to keep the straw in place. You see the straw boxes in the front, but the hive next to it still has the feeder on. I took that off, with almost a gallon of syrup left in it. Lesson: Bees can only take syrup during warm weather, and that seems to run out around the middle of October around here.

Then on top of that, I put the outer cover. The whole sandwich tower was then wrapped in roofing paper. A job much easier done by 2 people, but today I was alone and wasn't feeling well to begin with. The bees don't like the stapler and who can blame them. They also don't like scary large flaps of tar paper flopping around in front of their entrance. I just don't like doing this job because it requires me to let go, lose control, let them do their thing. For me as the beekeeper, it's just wait and see from now on until March. Nothing more I can do for them.

You see in the foreground an empty top feeder that the bees were cleaning up. After a while I had the distinct impression that the robbers were back and I ended up blocking the top entrances with some wadded up paper towel. Because that entrance leads straight to the candy!
You can also see some clever stacks of that kind of plastic board that lawn signs are made of. A friend gave them to me to slide under my screen bottom boards. I like that solution, didn't require picking up those heavy deep supers to close up the bottom, plus they seem pretty good for insulation!

So hopefully, this is it for bee season in my own yard. Just like last year, I don't feel particularly confident, but only time and the kind of winter we will have will tell.... Luckily I'm the praying type.

Friday, October 31, 2014

{this moment}

{this moment}
A Friday SouleMama ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments for all to find and see 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Two little crafties

We have come a long way since moving into our 'housie' in the suburbs. When we first moved here, the lot looked like this:

and we had a lot of what we simply called The Vine. The Vine was the villain in our landscaping efforts, always working against us, and sprouting seven new sprigs any time we ripped out one. We were very united in our hatred of The Vine. 

Now, 10+ years into this journey, I had to stop on the side of the road to clip a few branches of what we have since learned is called 'bittersweet'. Not sure about the sweet aspect. Even in winding this wreath, the juice of the fruits stung my hands. Wear gloves if you can stand them (I never can, except in beekeeping). 

The other offender does have a redeeming quality more obvious to the eye: Rose multiflora. The weed of roses, an invasive species of dubious ecological value. Grows everywhere and is almost as hard to tame as bittersweet, plus it has thorns! Its redeeming qualities include flowers, which can be made into delicious rose petal jelly, and cute little red rosehips in fall. Which I made into a wreath for the kitchen entrance: 
please ignore the filthy window and screen, I'm more crafty than cleansy

view from the back through the screen
How's that for making those invasives work for me, huh? Haven't I shown them who's boss?

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Oh hi, remember me?

It's been a bit of a hiatus, but not for any dramatic reasons. I just decided that this year should be all about spending time with the kids, and blogging can quickly become another time suck in the day.... but I missed it! This post is just a pictorial catch-me-up on the state of the homestead. Maybe later I'll write a bit more detailed about what went well and what didn't with the chicks, the bees, the gardens this year.

So here we go for now:

In a microburst of a 4th of July-weekend storm, we lost half a tree, and had to take down three more. After renting a log splitter with friends for a day, this is where we are. Warm and toasty as soon as those logs have seasoned a bit more.

The tomato tunnel in the new front garden, still doing its thing! Matt's Wild Cherry Tomatoes, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways: Sweet. Blight resistant. Grow like crazy. Fun for the kids.

The scarlett runner beans were a late season winner. In the spring our resident robin ate all the red flowers. Seriously? But once the bean bushes had more foliage, they cranked out beautiful beans all summer and fall long. My favorite 'magic' trick is to ask a visiting little girl her favorite colors, to which she invariably answers 'purple and pink'. Then I open one of the mature bean pods to show her the beautiful speckled purple and pink beans :-)

My oldest harvested some amaranth yesterday and is in the process of processing it, as we did last year. Though it did not grow as plentiful or tall this year.

The bees - I had made a split, and maintaining three hives through summer. I did not pull honey, will write more about what I think the reason is in a dedicated post sometime. Sadly, the hive to the right superseded/swarmed/absconded/got robbed to death in late September. But thanks to the split, I still have 2 viable hives ready to be insulated for winter soon.

The back gardens are mostly bare, save some late carrots, and garlic was planted and is sleeping below the surface.

The hen house is a busy place right now. This was a stellar chick year for us, not a single loss, and beautiful layers just about cranking up production. Unlike in 2013, I love chicken keeping this year. I had to install an extra egg box and extra roost space, but even with 11 hens in a place designed for 8, we have had no bickering or pecking. A lovely bunch of ladies we have.

First, and last, in the season is always the herb garden. Keeps my cooking fresh even as the dreaded root vegetable season starts....

Thanks for catching up with me a little bit today, it's nice to be back in this space.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Father's day project

Very simple triptych for father's day, on purchased pre-mounted canvas squares. The 5x5in size is becoming too small for this family! How bittersweet.

The background as well as the hand print are done in acrylic paint, should last very well. I put he kids' names and date on with sharpie after all had dried. It was well received and if I make another 2 sets in the coming years, I figure a 3x3 arrangement could look really neat!

Monday, June 30, 2014

Pictorial Update

This season is busy but not. I'm feeling more inclined to be outside, work in the garden or be spontaneous with the littles than to sit at the computer and tell you (all three of you) about my oh so exciting suburban little life.... and isn't that just how it should be in summer? 

Just to let you know all is well, a few updates in images. 

The babies have grown up. We gave away three older laying hens, and our cockerel (young rooster) to a nice person who is trying to hatch eggs and needed more hens ... it was a blessing to have found a place where Cuckoo could even attempt to live a life as a real rooster. We wish him well! May he wake other people every morning at 4:45 :-) 

The pullets are 11 weeks old now. 

First tomatoes (Sungold) and cucumbers (no idea what kind): 

The beautiful scarlett runner beans and some eggplant flowers

Just another gratuitous flower picture: My favorite sunset colored rose.

The promises of raspberries and even a handful of blackberries on a vine that seems to be recovering from The Evil Mildew (not pictured).

The red currents that are left are starting to look mighty promising. Sadly have not harvested a single red strawberry (except a lot of wild ones....). 

We have harvested a bunch of lettuce, garlic scapes, kale, snap peas and herbs thus far. 

And we close with yesterday's ghostly, ghastly visitor: An Eyed Click Beetle!

Friday, June 20, 2014

{this moment}

{this moment}
A Friday SouleMama ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments for all to find and see