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Archive for the 'Family and School' Category

March of the Seasons and Halloween Fun

October 30th, 2010

The days come and go…  I seem to remember one of my grandmothers, while visiting her in a nursing home more than a decade ago.   She kept repeating, “Time and tide waits for no man…”   

And she would smile when I asked how she was.   “About as fine as could be I suppose…  Time and tide waits for no man…” and she would laugh a little.  She was 99 years old, and passed away a few months later.  She had a remarkable memory for verse, poem and song.  One of these days I’ll share some of them.

 We decorated around the house the other night… it was fun.  Putting up spider webs and lights.  I don’t remember such festivities for Halloween while growing up, but that’s okay. 

It was also the first “freeze” of the fall season the other night.  I went around getting the house and a few other things ready this week, and then picking green tomatoes and bell peppers… sad to see the garden fade away, and there’s even some lettuce and beans still growing.   The chickens are having a great time pecking through the litter- they’ll be great to keep the garden area mulched.   A few of the plants were hit pretty hard by the frost. 

Everything changes…   but it looks like the week ahead will be nice still, so we’ve had a gentle transition to colder weather this year.

It’s fun to wander around to see how different the landscape looks.  The leaf colors have given way to browns and yellows.   A lot of leaves on the ground, but the majority are hanging on.  The boy loves to play and the dog is more than willing to accomodate his spirit…

I’m still working on a few things at home that have focused my attention elsewhere this year.   I just haven’t had time to get around and visit, or even get outside as much as I would like.   That will change too eventually!  I hope you are all doing well.   Enjoy the season and have a Happy Halloween…

And late entry,  isn’t this great!?  I strung one of the webs where he wanted it in front of his room. The spider theme was his own idea…  makes for an interesting hallway at night! :)




July Ramblings

July 20th, 2010

A few days ago the chickens were hanging out in the shade with temperatures in the coop over 100 degrees.   And then rain, sweet rain.   And then more rain.    Two days ago I began to write, “a passing storm and raging winds, and then a gentle breeze, drizzle and clouds.  Just what the garden needs, and a respite from the heat…”

I saw this early before dawn… it was quiet and a beautiful orange light was all around.   I just had to walk further.

Then I saw this, slowly building to the southwest…

The clouds billowed upward and outward, forming a classic thunderstorm, with the rumble of thunder in the distance.

Soon it became this…

The barn swallows have another nest full of three more fledglings, and a dry perch to watch the rain pour over the gutters.  Methinks there’s a clog somewhere down the line… I cleaned the gutters out not long ago, yet heavy rain pours over.

So yesterday it was another huge storm of wind, rain and hail, and then today more heavy rain!  The clouds are nice in terms of cooling things off, but we’ve had quite enough water for the time being thank you very much.

I remember years ago being surprised to realize that a lot of folks have not experienced heavy thunderstorms before.   Of course that’s what I’ve always remembered about Missouri summers.    Brief storms  with thunder, lightning, showers and blessedly cooling weather.   Then back to the humid and hot.

With a little cooler daytime temperatures we  seized the opportunity to catch up on weeding and pruning.

This was a shrub rose gone wild that I’ve been meaning to cut out for weeks.  It had several more branches just like this one,  spreading out more than twenty feet in all directions!   It’ll come back unless I put something on the stump to kill it.  And the flowers?  Inconspicuous little white things.  I’m not sure where this rose came from, but it doesn’t have a place here anymore.

The young boy is really a great help around the place.   Now I understand why farmers of old had such big families…

Later the boy enjoyed a break with his Shiba.  Although that little dog likes to think he owns everything around here…  he’s a funny little guy, and a good watch dog.  He lets us know when anything out of the ordinary happens or someone comes down the gravel drive.  They are cute together…

Here’s a picture of the shiba when he was a puppy…    A few years ago I described how he adopted us from a little Japanese pet store in 2002.   We call him Kuma, which is short for Kuma no nuigurumi  or Teddy Bear in Japanese.

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This week it was also time to check on the bees.  I’ve got just three hives and a small nuc (nucleus hive) going. Earlier in the spring I had a hive with a drone-laying queen, and she eventually disappeared. Before the hive was queenless too long I solved that problem with the help of another local beekeeper.

We combined that hive with a nuc and a new queen, using a screened divider between them for a week. That gave the failing hive time to become acquainted with the new queen and other bees, and then after removing the screened divider, the hive became one, joining forces to work together.   Since that time they’ve steadily increased their population and look great now.

Alas I have another hive with a failing queen. This hive started out strong, but then simply languished. I have found no disease or other external problems, but the queen is simply not laying enough eggs to keep the population strong.   I will probably order a new queen to replace her soon, and allow the bees to strengthen the hive before winter.

With all the beekeeping challenges this is not a year for gathering much honey.  That’s okay because I’m really trying to build them up going into winter.  But that middle hive is very strong and may yield a small super of honey, so we’ll see.   Here’s a picture of bees fanning at the top opening on the inner cover.

One reason they fan their wings is as a signal for other bees, blowing scent pheromones from a hive entrance or other location so their hive mates know where to go.  But they also fan to cool and circulate the air through the hive on hot days .  Most importantly, the bees will fan to increase the evaporative cooling effects within the hive to remove moisture from the nectar/honey stored within.

After the bees gather nectar from flowers, it is carried in their honey stomach back to the hive, then often passed to another worker bee to process and store within the hive.  During this process the nectar is converted to various sugars by enzymatic action and deposited into the waxy cells within the hive.  But it is very runny and full of moisture at this point… not even close to being honey yet.   Beekeepers call honey which is too runny green.   It doesn’t really become honey until the moisture level is lowered to about 17%-18%.   Then the bees put a waxy cap on the cell and the honey is stored until needed as food.

Because the bees have lowered the water content of the honey, it is very hygroscopic, meaning it can absorb water moisture from the air.   Good quality honey has a very low water content which is one of the reasons it can be stored almost indefinitely without spoiling.    If you’ve ever had honey ferment at home, it’s either because the container wasn’t sealed tightly over time and it absorbed a lot of moisture, or it was too green or allowed to sit open before it was purchased and fermented later.  Of course you could always make mead or use it for baking!  Runny honey just needs to be used a little more quickly.

Everything else is coming along too.  I harvested around 15 pounds of tomatoes and cucumbers out of the garden this morning.  I think pickles are in our future… and tomato sauce!     Seems like the tomatoes are ripening all at once, and I need them to keep going.

Last week I found this lucky titmouse enjoying a feast on a ripened sunflower.

I also planted more squash, and some beets in the garden- hoping they mature in time for a good harvest.  It was the perfect time too with all the rain.    I also planted collard greens which supposedly improve in taste after the first frost.   I don’t know about that, but I enjoy them when cooked and mixed with seasoning.  Does anybody have good ideas for how to use collard greens in the kitchen?  Well I love greens, but I never made them very often.  Maybe in soup?

The sun is back out this afternoon… 96 degrees and hot! Hard to motivate anyone to do anything, even myself it seems. One small step…

Summer Downpour

July 10th, 2010

Isn’t it amazing how the first half of summer explodes with growth everywhere and its hard to keep up with everything?   As we head towards midsummer, the vivid green foliage slowly matures  and begins to dry out to darker colors and browns throughout the landscape.  We’re not there yet, but I’m ready for the grass to slow down a bit more!

Driving home the other day I took this picture just because the clouds looked interesting.  I love the depth of the clouds, and it reminds me of driving out west.  It foreshadowed the rain we’ve received over the past couple of days.  We needed it, and I’m glad it will keep the clover and other summer flowers blooming a little longer for the bees.

It began raining as I worked around the pond, trimming brush and weeds and enjoying the coolness.  But I called it a day after a half hour when I realized the rain wasn’t letting up…  I like seeing the rain around the watershed, and watching it fall on the pond in summer.  A few years ago it we barely received any rain for months and the pond dropped five feet very quickly.  Last year and this year however, the rain has topped it off every few weeks.

Last night there was an enormous rainstorm though, close to 2 inches of rainfall before it finished.  With that kind of rain I worry about erosion and the pond flows out the spillway.  I imagine a lot of insects and organic matter are washed into the pond, and it clouds up for a couple of days and then settles out.

The boy had just climbed in bed with the sound of falling rain outside his window, and then the intensity changed… it became heavier and heavier, drumming on the roof and the gutters began overflowing.   It was amazing really and he said, “I want to see the rain!”   To the kitchen we went, and turned on the outside lights… all the gutters looked like waterfalls, unable to keep up with the volume of water on the roof.

I said, “Do you want to go out there?”  half kidding, and wondering if he would, but he jumped at the chance!   No lightning or thunder, just a good ‘ole fashioned downpour.  He threw on a light windbreaker and went dancing barefoot through the storm…

I watched as he giggled and ran under the gutters, drenched from head to toe.  Just a few minutes of summer fun, and watching him I could remember playing in rainstorms myself as a child.  I almost went out there with him…  almost :)   He was back inside drying out with towels and asleep fifteen minutes later.

This morning the sun is shining and the air is cool… once again the landscape is refreshed, growing and bursting with life.  It’s time for me to head back out  and see what I can do about it!

Roosts and Berries

July 5th, 2010

It’s that time again where we could use some rain.  We received about 20 minutes worth yesterday which was really nice for a quick refresher.  The chickens hid out in their coop during the rain.   I had to laugh at them the other night.  At first I wondered if I would have to train them to go inside their coop.   Thus far it was a trick or treat affair of offering scratch, chasing them and catching them nearly by hand to get them back inside the other shed.   Now I’ve nearly got the run up and it was almost dark when I went out to close them up in the new coop… lo and behold they were inside on the roosts!

I just installed the roosts that day- removable 2×4’s, wide side up.   So there’s nine chickens on the top roost, and one lonely hen on that lower roost!   They’re packed side by side on a five foot roost… too funny.  I’ll probably put a third lower roost in there.  I imagine when they get even bigger they’ll need more room.

The one hen on that lower roost is Brownie… I think she’s at the very bottom of the chicken  pecking order.  I’ve noticed that not only the roosters, but all the other hens chase and peck at her, and she is a little smaller than the rest.  Probably gets pushed around at dinner time too.   But she’s also a smart one… when I let them out in the morning, she stays behind and finishes eating without being picked on.

The night after this picture, guess who was the first one inside the coop at dusk, and sitting right on that top roost?  Yep.  Brownie… she’s really thinking ahead of the rest :)    And yes, there were ten silly chickens on that top five foot roost, wedged together nice and cozy.

In hindsight, perhaps the coop is a little small for nine chickens.  Technically it has enough “square feet” of space, etc, etc.  But it should probably have been bigger, or used with fewer hens.  Once again- I am reminded about “The best laid plans…”  With that in mind, I recommend checking out some excellent chicken coop plans here because it might help you make better planning decisions than I did!

Looks like I may have to sink another post for the chicken run however.   For whatever reason, one of the end posts really warped over the past few weeks.  I tried to brace it, straighten it and think of how to use it effectively… but it’s supposed to be the hinge post for the gate.   I know it’s pretty common for posts to warp or twist slightly, but not enough to worry about.  This one went crazy and ended up bending about 4 inches from the bottom to the top.   We’ll see…   Heck, I may still use it if the hinges can reach.    If I do pull it out, I  should knock the cement off and take it back!

It’s also time to pick a few goodies, including the ripening blackberries.  We picked some of our own and the boy needed a container… so he borrowed my hat.  Now it has little purple stains inside :)

That morning we had blackberry pancakes! They were tasty… but these were mine.   Yes, that’s an egg in the middle!  I love my egg and pancakes together, even with a little hot sauce, maybe potatoes, sausage…   the boy thinks I’m gross.   Then again his preferred menu is basically white or yellow in color, without involving eggs… spaghetti, macaroni, pancakes, bagels, pizza.   Thankfully he does like a good salad and a few well-seasoned veggies.

Last week I cheated on the wild blackberries by taking the boy to a local farm whose berries are huge. A little sweeter too, and just the ticket for a pie. Don’t you just love summer?!

Beautiful Morning in June

June 30th, 2010

Sometimes you wake up very early, and can really enjoy watching the world come alive. The temperature was in the fifties, and as the sun rose I saw wisps of fog rising from the pond. I walked around with the dog, taking in the sights and as the sun came up it highlighted the mist rising all around.

The yellow lab was fascinated and wanted to jump in the water…   he sat down eventually and relaxed.   I’d like to think he was enjoying it too.

It was calm, and yet the mist was slowly stirring in circles, moving above the surface of the water, drifting across and towards one end, moving as wisps and pushed by something gentle and unseen…

It’s one of those days I love to share with everyone… but only I was awake.  Like many things, it didn’t last. Within a half hour, the air had warmed and the magic was gone. I can share it here with you however, and it’s a perfect day because today is my Mother’s birthday.   Let’s just say she has a few decades on me yet.   I can’t think of a more beautiful day and picture to wish her a Happy Birthday.   If you can think of someone you’ve always known, that puts you at ease and who always offers love and kindness…   that’s her.

One of these days I’ll put her picture here.   Probably with flowers and gardens.  And I’ll share a few stories too.  In fact she still digs and plants with greater endurance than folks half her age. Our challenge is getting her to slow down.   I should know better…    Happy Birthday Mom!  :)



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