Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Kathy's Pickles

This is my first batch of pickled cucumbers that I picked from 
our garden along with the home grown dill for flavoring.

We planted pickling cucumbers and trying to pick
them small so we have a lot of pint jars.
I washed and cut up the cucumbers, some were
small spears and some were crinkle cut

I added pickle crisp, spices, my dill, 
garlic and the cucumbers, filled it with 
brine and let the pickling begin.

This is our small hot water bath canner.

They will sit for a week and then I'll get to see if 
they taste as good as I hope!

Day 1 vacation Saturday:  Chicken butchering/pickling
Day 2 vacation:  Breakfast at Denny's and trip to the river 
Day 3 vacation:  laundry, thrift shopping, gardening
Day 4 vacation:  Quilt Shop Hop for the Row by Row patterns
Jackman's Fabrics (Creve Coeur MO)
The Quilted Fox quilt shop (Frontenac, MO)
Merrily We Sew Along quilt shop (Valley Park, MO)
All are the St Louis County area
Yard Work: weed whipping, gardening 
Shopping:  Supplies at Wal-Mart 
Canning:  making pickles

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

River Day

It was a river sort of day, a combination of my birthday and
Father's Day both on Sunday during a week when I am on 
vacation and had nothing more than relaxing on my mind.

I am not a huge fan of the boat ride.  It is not like on a nice,
calm and deep lake, not here.  The river will suddenly drop to
a few inches of water where you can see each and every river
rock, including the gravel, as you are flying over them at a
really fast speed.  You can't use a prop, rather a jet is required
to get you up on plane and skip over rocks and hopefully the
semi-submerged logs from trees downed by storms or as 
the bank gave way.  Some of the root wads are huge, and
some you can't imagine how the tree is still standing, most of the
root hanging over the bank in a tangled mass.

You can see how they lean, farther and farther over.
Some are small like these, but others are massive and you hope
your boat isn't in their way if they fall.

On this stretch of river it is more quiet.
The canoes and kayaks haven't taken over the river, 
full of people that have not educated themselves on the
rules of the road as it were.  I think the canoe outfitters
should give them a course on river safety to keep them
and the power boaters happy and safe.  They need to be 
accountable to some degree, not just send people out 
who have no clue about boats.  That is when they tip 
and get themselves in dangerous places or do things
that are unsafe.  They also don't understand they need to 
share with the power boats that can't just stop like a car
so if they tie themselves together and take up the entire
river-especially around a blind bend, there's trouble.

It was only a couple of years ago a landowner got tired of 
the teams of people stopping on his land, leaving trash and partying.
(legally they have the right to be there if it is 
below the high water mark).  A confrontation occurred
and the owner killed him.   This was in the high canoe-kayak
area that has been inundated with drinkers, drugs, nudity, etc.
Not the family friendly canoe trip.

With a little respect that could have been avoided.

Our beaches are nice, some gravel and some sand.
Generally everyone gets along.
Hopefully it stays that way.

It's really pretty and relaxing (except for the ride).
There are eagles, sea looking birds, turtles, herons
and lots and lots of pretty shells to collect.

All this to see and yet I saw a boat go past where 
the driver was the only one looking at the water.
Everyone else in the boat had eyes on their phones 
where there was so much to see if they just looked 
around.  Sad really.  I think riots would break out if
we lost cell communications and all internet.
How would they survive?

This is one of the results of our recent floods.
The bank has all but gone and this house is doomed to 
fall into the river.  Some did and some are being 
renovated.  You can still see debris high in the tree tops
where bits of dock, houses and junk still dangles since
the water receded.  

If you can see the blue awning to the left on the beach, 
this is also a place where people camp.  Either day camping
or for the weekend.  If we plan to be there for the day we bring
the collapsible awnings, chairs, side tables, bbq, coolers, etc.

The kids float on rafts, watch the minnows try to nibble on their toes
and see who can get more dragon flies to land on their fingers.
I plop my chair about waist deep, just enough to keep my drink out of
the water, and attach a small umbrella to the back of my chair to 
avoid the sunburn.  We cook or bring a picnic lunch, arriving early
to stake out our claim. 

I hate the ride but love the beach!

Day 1 vacation Saturday:  Chicken butchering/pickling
Day 2 vacation:  Breakfast at Denny's and trip to the river 
Day 3 vacation:  laundry, thrift shopping, gardening
Day 4 vacation:  Quilt Shop Hop for the Row by Row patterns

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Gardens, Bees and Chicken Feet

Summer is a busy time around the Usher place,
never a moment's rest until the gardens are put
to rest and the winter months arrive, more 
quickly than anticipated-- or wanted.

Saturday morning began at 4 AM, preparing to help
 our neighbors butcher their chickens, as they
helped us last weekend.  It is great to share the workload
and set up an assembly line to get the job done faster.

Afterwards it was back home to can a few pints
of Aunt Mary's hot pickles with the pickling 
cucumbers that are starting to come in.
We set up a trail cam to find out what was 
able to penetrate the fencing and bite off cucumber
stems that are about three feet high, past a 
4 foot+ fence in narrow garden beds.
A deer would have trouble, with the beds so narrow,
jumping into the other side of the fence and it would
have disturbed the dirt and other plants.

Truthfully, I was thinking a giraffe, but not sure how
many we had running around wild here.  Or tame for that matter.
Maybe an ostrich or am emu?
Just kidding, probably birds or our raccoon friends, but
I would think a raccoon would eat the fruit, not nip off a branch. 
There was also cilantro bit off from the top, romaine too.

Our visitor, probably the one that comes to 
the porch and eats the leftover cat food.
With black bear now in our area we may have
to rethink that plus our chicken food storage.

I will tell you that the Cornish Cross chickens have the
BIGGEST FEET EVER!  Our neighbors were saving them,
dehydrating for dog treats.  I don't have a dog and not
interesting in eating them so we didn't keep ours.

The flower garden had been doing well with the cool spring and
wet weather but I am having to water now that temperatures have
hit near 100's.  It has helped the vegetables though, peppers have
doubled in size from last month.

I have flowers and herbs planted in the larger garden
for the bees. They have salvia, zinnias, lavander, 
snap dragons and of course the flowers from squash plants
and the tomatillos, elderberry and blackberry plants.

They seem to be doing well and they don't bother
me at all while I am at the garden. They may buzz
but don't sting.  I don't care for them to be at face level
though and I now make sure I keep my shirt tight 
around my waste so they don't fly up.
What would I do then?

Well, it's my birthday so at some point today we 
will go eat --at Denny's--because they send me a 
coupon for a free breakfast which is served all day.
I can't eat the pancakes anymore so I will choose 
something else.  Then it's back to the house for more work.

See you all later.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Little Beek in the Making

Taylor, my granddaughter, loves her bees!
She dressed in my suit and helped her Pops with 
checking the hives and changing out the sugar syrup.
She was fascinated and let the bees crawl all over her,
on purpose!  She's really a country girl at heart!!

She was amazed to watch the bees launch an organized
attack against an ant that was trying to get into the hive.

We had two weak hives that we combined to make one strong one.
To do this we had to put the extremely weak hive box (deep)
on top of the other two deep where the stronger colony was.
To prevent fighting to the death we had to put a single sheet
of newspaper between them and make a couple of slits
in it with a knife.  Since there is no entrance or exit, the
bees had to chew through the paper to get down to the 
lower levels where the exit and entrance are.  By the time
they do this, they are used to each other.

You can see their chewing here.
And it worked!

Now we have put a queen excluder in so she cannot
move up to the top boxes and lay eggs.  The larger boxes
are where they lay eggs and keep honey stores for themselves
to make it through the winter.  The smaller boxes on top are
where the excess honey will be made. 

We have a secondary entrance on the top boxes so the bees can
go directly in there rather than making their way from the bottom.
Except for the queen, they can still access the entire hive.

While the bees fly several miles in search of food, I have
supplied them with a flower bed, elderberry bush, blackberries
and herbs.  Currently they are all over the wild grapes that
line the road, you can even hear them as you walk up the road
towards the vines.

One of the blackberry varieties has huge berries.

I have some nice borage for them as well.

It's time to go up and check the garden, which is where the bees
are.  This is the larger garden that is farther away from the house.
We don't have a lot planted, concentrating on peppers, 
tomatillos, herbs tomatoes and squash.  Pretty soon I'll
be wrapping that duct tape backwards on my hand and 
hunting for squash bug eggs!
Strangely enough, I look forward to this.

My husband tells me that I am the lady of their nightmares.
When the mommy squash bugs want their kids to be good
she tells them the story of the sticky handed lady who
wanders through the squash fields stealing eggs and 
plastering juveniles to her tape wrapped hands!

Sleep tight and don't let the tape hand bite!

Monday, June 13, 2016

A Wild Rose

This sneaky wild rose climbs the side of our house in early 
Spring, even before I realize how tall it has gotten.  Typically
we would cut it down, it's not good to have it climbing up 
and growing into the siding; however, I left it for the bees.

Another view.
It had so many beautiful blooms that I didn't really want
to lose it until they were finished for the year.  It doesn't 
bloom more than once.

They really are very pretty.
Most of the wild roses don't climb up anything.

They typically just spread out in the woods.

These attract little bees so I figured ours would like it too.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Chicken Processing - Whiz Bang Style

Today we processed our first meat chickens.
I wasn't sure what to expect, having never cleaned
a chicken before.  We studied up and watched some
You Tube videos before undertaking the task.
It went quite well and I was surprised that it
didn't bother me, I thought it might.

We had one thing on our side, my husband's boss
built a whiz bang chicken plucker and it takes a 
lot of time off the job! 

The whiz bang has many rubber fingers inside that
spin like a dryer, plucking all the feathers after 
you put in already scalded chicken.  You have to drop in two 
at a time and within seconds they are plucked.

You can see how fast it moves.

We have an old farm sink with drain boards that we 
set up on saw horses.  We snaked our garden hose through
the faucet opening and added a garden hose sprayer on the end.
Beneath, we attached a drain hose so it would all run through
the sink and down the hill away from the house.

Then the guys brought them over to the sink for us
and we washed, gutted and cleaned them.
We started out doing our own chickens but then
each of us had something we preferred to do.
I ended up being the chicken gutter, my friend Laura
was really good at cutting out the backbone and 
up the breasts.  My husband and Dennis took care
of the chopping plus put them through the whiz bang.

The poultry shears were just a bit much for me.
I don't have the hand spread in order to open up
and close down on the portion that will cut through bone.
I was much better at cleaning them out.
We had buckets to collect everything we were not using
and an iced chest to keep all the meat in.

We had about 26 birds to process and, being our first time,
took us several hours to complete.  We had shade most of the
time but put up an awning to keep the area cool.  

We have a lot of meat in that cooler, which is now
in the garage with lots of bags of ice.  We'll package it all
up in vacuum bags and place them in the freezer.

This was our first experience with Cornish Cross, 
or Creepy Meats!  Never again.
We restricted food so they didn't get as big as those
that are allowed to eat as much as they want,
and they always want to eat.
If you do this, they tend to have problems with 
their legs or hearts.  We would rather have them a 
little smaller and feel better.

If we do this again next year, it will probably be with 
Buff Orpingtons.  We like them better. These cornish cross
just ate, pooped and sat down.  They walked around a little
but not like our other birds.

After we were done, my husband asked what 
I would like for dinner tonight,
Anything But Chicken
I replied!

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Making Our Bed

We are sitting on five acres of mostly wooded land
on top of a very rocky ridge top.  It is the sort of 
place that I would describe to my in-town friends as

living on a gravel road
off a gravel road
off a letter highway,

that is until our county road got paved a few years ago.
We still sit on a gravel road and enjoy everything that 
comes with it:  listening to the crunch of tires as
cars pass by, the never ending dust requiring me to 
wash the front of the house and we won't even mention 
the windows.  You see, if God wants me to have clean
windows, He will make it rain!
(inside too!)

That being said, you can imagine how difficult it is
to plant a garden when we can barely get a 
T-post in the ground; therefore, we build up.
We started with the large garden on the other
side of the house, chopping down trees and 
clearing as much as we could.  Then we built up
soil by layering organic material, the lasagna gardening
method.  This would be leaves, clippings, manure, 
compost and the like.  It took a few years but now
the dirt is so good that you don't even need a trowel 
to plant, just brush the soil aside, just like I used to
see on the Victory Garden PBS shows and never believed.
Well, it's true! 

A lot of our compost came from the horse farm up the way.
They replaced their entire riding ring so it's a mixture of
horse poop, gravel and mulch.  We brought dump beds
full of it home, the pile was about five feet tall, 
if not taller, and very wide.  We use it in the garden,
on our courtyard flower garden wall when planting
new flowers plus it's the dirt we use for any new bed.

We started a side garden, closer to the house, for salad
items and then transitioning to beans, a few cucumbers
and a couple of tomatoes for good measure.  The larger 
garden had the same but also squash and tomatillos and
whatever else we liked such as pumpkins.  The side
garden is so convenient that we decided to expand it, 
adding yet another bed.  We don't "play" in our side yard.
We have the entire courtyard plus covered porches for 
relaxing.  Then if we need flat ground, the front yard will do.

My husband tilled up a space, leaving room for the 
tractor between beds and the bushes on the side of
our house.  He built boxes and added stakes for
fencing it off from the deer that like to eat their fill.
Then he used the tractor and filled the scoop with that
fine, fine dirt that we still have a huge pile of.

I laid down newspaper as a weed barrier and he dumped
the dirt inside the box while I raked it across and down.
We overfilled and will let it rest before planting. 

So far we have horseradish and potatoes,
kale and collards
dill, cabbage, cilantro, radish,
swiss chard and a lovely violet that I 
didn't want to kill.

We also have volunteer beans from last season,
cucumber, butter crunch lettuce, spinach and
romaine plus fennel.

The poor wormy plum tree is especially loaded this year.
They are not really turning red, it's the diseased wormy ones.

It's so full that the branches are hanging down!

We plan to make every spare area something that will produce.
This is why we have the laying hens, the meat birds and the bees, 
a peach tree and plum tree (regardless of how poor they are)
plus blackberry and an elderberry bush.  The guy up the county
road has planted a veritable orchard of elderberry varieties,
if you call it an orchard.  I'm sure our bees are visiting and 
pollinating ours with all his varieties! 

The bees took my pumpkin area so we may move them between the
end of the large garden and the hives but will need to keep them
trained well so they don't spread all over creation.  

My husband wants to raise rabbits
(yes, for eating)
but I said no, not the pretty bunnies.
I suggested he may want to consider wart hogs instead

Well,  we have butchering day on Saturday, with temperatures 
in the 90s!!!  Then the following weekend we help our friends
who will be assisting us this weekend.   They also raise meat goats 
but I'm not ready for livestock, at least not while I am working.

For now, it's late and I have to clean up and get ready for bed.
Let me hear about your gardens!

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The Queen is Dead, God Save the Queen

With great regret I have to announce that we committed regicide
over the weekend, only out of necessity to maintain the lives
of the colony.  The two original hives, from package bees,
were not progressing as well as our other two, one being much more
weak than the other.  While the bees on the frame above were
working to fill up their frame, the other hive had barely begun
and it was a mess.  The comb was bumpy and had tunnels in it,
not the norm, completely dysfunctional.

We visited a bee mentor who operates a beekeeper shop 
near the city and she recommended that we combine the
weaker hives in order to make one good hive, otherwise
our queen, being weak, endangers the entire hive and
they would not survive.  To do this is a little tricky.

In this example, the bees live in the two big boxes where they 
raise the new bees and make winter food storage.

On top of the two big boxes (deeps) we would stack
smaller boxes (shallows) where the excess honey is stored.
That is the part we get to harvest if the bees make enough this year.

We had to move the big box, where the weak hive is, on top
of these two big boxes.  We put a sheet of newspaper between
the bottom layers and the new deep on top.  You cut a couple
of slits in the paper and since the bees on top cannot get out,
they eat their way through the paper down to the deeps below
where the entrance/exit is.  It takes time to do this so they get 
used to the new bees and hopefully everyone gets along.

Here is the tricky part.
You can't have two Queens.  It would be a battle to the death
between them so we had to kill the weak queen.

We took out frames until we found her, and she is quite obvious,
really large.  Then we had to peel back the comb since she kept
hiding under the tunnels.  All the while, the bees see that we are 
after their queen, and they are not happy about it.

When we found her we had to pinch her to death.  
I apologized, " I am so sorry Your Majesty."
We used the bee hive tool and then ground her into the dirt so the
bees would not still have her smell.

Sadly, this is the queen that my husband saved when they first
absconded when setting up the hive.  It was necessary though.
We'll check back to see how they are doing and hopefully we 
will save this hive.  The other two, purchased as colonies (nucs)
are doing well and we had to add the shallows since they are
building up nicely.