Wednesday, October 27, 2010

What Do These Bees Know?

Well, we didn't get our first frost the other night, but we will most certainly see one this Thursday night--if not a freeze.

When I went outside to do my chores today, I couldn't help but notice the mason bees were everywhere.  They were on every flower, sometimes more than one to a flower, having a big knockdown drag-out trying to get the last bits of pollen and nectar before the flowers are all gone.  I've never seen so many mason bees before!


What do these mason bees know that we don't know?

There were four fighting over this dahlia.  (I did get to enjoy a few more, by the way!)

And four more on this one!  The little bee at the bottom didn't stand a chance against these big guys.


Here's a moth trying to get in on the action...

There were hundreds of them on my morning glories.

Even in the withered ones!

I have always had flowers wherever I lived, but I have only been a serious gardener for about 7 or 8 years now.  Never have I seen them like this.

According to the mason bees, I'd say we're in for another long winter.

Which reminds me, I need to take the honey bees some more sugar-water tomorrow.  My buckwheat is finally ready to bloom, but it will not make it after tomorrow's frost.  The bees did not get the benefit of it, which really bums me out.  I should have either planted it a couple of weeks earlier or perhaps if I had watered it well during this recent dry spell it would have made it in time.

Well, the hornet's nests say we'll have a big, snowy winter.

And the wooly bear caterpillars say we'll have a never-ending winter.  Ha.  (You really can't trust the wooly bears.  They like to play practical jokes.)

In addition to the asian lady beetles swarming against the south-side of my house on these recent warm afternoons, there have also been dozens of dang-blasted wasps trying to get inside.  I am allergic to wasps and don't want to share my living quarters with them this winter.

The spiders have also been bad.  We sprayed for them this year and I have still seen a few in the basement.  Normally we don't like to spray because of the young'n and the doggies, but after my daughter found a giant wolf spider in her bathtub and nearly clobbered herself trying to get out of there in a big, wet, slippery hurry, we decided it was probably a good idea.

So, if the old wives tales have it right, we will have another hard winter this year.  Last year was one of the snowiest winters we've had here in West Virginia that I can recall since I was a kid.

What ill portents have you noticed this fall?  Do you think we're in for it?  Either way, I'm stocking up!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Very Blustery Day

What strange weather we've had today.  I went over to visit my neighbor for a bit and we heard on the Weather Channel that nearly the entire East Coast was under severe thunderstorm warnings and tornado watches until 9pm tonight (it's 7pm as I post this.)  It was a record-breaking day for low pressure systems since 1968 if I remember correctly what I heard on tv.

The wind was blowing so much I thought I'd better hurry outside and get some shots of our fall color before all the leaves were blown off the trees.  Between the wind and heavy rains, there won't be much left by tomorrow.

This is the big dogwood tree in my backyard.

And the view over to the ridge beyond ours.  The golden tops of the poplars are really pretty this year.

I spotted this big hornet's nest over the fenceline on my neighbor's property.  We were really plagued by large bald-faced hornets this year.  I couldn't leave any apples or tomatoes sitting outside.

They say if the hornet's nests are high up in the trees, we will have lots of snow this year.  Let's hope not, because this one was way up there!

The wind was blowing so hard, Little Boy Blue's wattles were blowing sideways!  He was a bit irritable today with all the wind blowing his tail feathers the wrong way everytime he turned around.  He was very nervous and paced a lot.

Down the fence line in the brushy corner of the yard, I found the chickens working on a new dusting hole.  I'm going to have to come back and fill this one with rocks so they do not create a back door for predators to come inside.

The neighbor's horses came over to say hello.  I gave them a lot of apples last month, so they are usually happy to see me now.

This is the view back toward the main road.  The bees were very busy today with the temps hitting 83 degrees.  Once the rain came through it quickly dropped to 60 degrees.

You can see the storm clouds approaching from the Southwest.  It wasn't long after we quit snapping pictures that the rain and gusty winds came through.  It is still raining pretty hard right now.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


Bye bye, dahlias.  See you next year!

The weather report says our first frost should hit tonight.  I am having my friends from Sunday school out for a bonfire this Saturday and I was really hoping my flowers would stay pretty until then.  All I could do was go out this afternoon and pick the last of them so that I can enjoy them inside.

This was my first year growing dahlias.  They were much easier to grow than I expected and oh boy, did they put out the blooms.

I also covered a couple rows of spinach, lettuce and radishes out in the garden.  Other than that, you just have to accept it and move on.  The first frost draws the line for me.  Winter is on its way.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Eat, Drink and Be Merry

I dreaded it for days--no weeks--prior.  Every time I'd look at them I felt guilty.  But it had to be done.  I had too many free-loading chickens eating me out of house and home and it was time to do some culling.

So Saturday I shipped my daughter off to Nana's house and got down to business. 

We did seven stewing hens in about 2 hours.  A record time for us!  This is our 5th time butchering and you really do get faster as you get experience. 

I think the first 2 or 3 hens I apologized to and thanked them for their sacrifice, but it got easier.  My husband does the killing and plucking (or skinning) and I do the cutting up part.  It's a good system for us.  Honestly, what relief I felt (as I do every time) to have less crazy chickens to worry about.  I had 39.  Now I have 32.  39 chickens are too many for me.  Too much drama!  And I was finding myself filling the feeder far too often. 

When we were done processing our stewing hens, my husband came over to me and said, "you know, when you get married you think you know what makes a woman happy...until you see how she looks at you after you kill a chicken."  My Bright-and-Shining-Farmer.  He knows that getting projects done and worries off my mind is something worth more to me than diamonds.

Now if these new pullets (all 26 of them) will just start laying here soon...  I really hope I don't have to feed them all winter without recouping any of my costs.  I usually get my chicks in March or April.  I was a little late this year.  Plus I haven't had any eggs for sale in over a month since the older girls began moulting. 

I kept the five Easter Eggers to assure us of eggs over the winter.  They have been wonderful layers all along and I may keep them an extra year or two if they keep up the good work.  Two of them, Kitten and Sunbeam -- they have become pets.  I think they will be with us for a long time.


Once the last of the Black Australorps were gone, Little Boy Blue the cockerel (young rooster) realized his advantage and immediately seized upon it.  He jumped a couple of the EE's just to show them who was boss.  I dislike him already even though he is good-looking.  Rooster attitude just rubs me the wrong way.  I told him he better watch his back or he'd be next in the pot.  Bad roosters make good dumplings!  As long as he doesn't get smart with me I'll allow him to hang around my coop and eat my feed for a while.  This may be the last time I let Murray McMurray Hatchery trick me into falling for their "free" rooster ploy...

Blue Splash Andalusian cockerel

Eat, drink and be merry.  That's the life of a chicken.  They take no thought for tomorrow (Matt. 6:25-26).  They just enjoy today.  Eating, dust bathing, laying in the sun, chasing bugs, eat some more, go to bed early, get up early and do it all over again... Isn't that how we all should be?  And not worrying about things we've put off until tomorrow.  I'm a little jealous of how easily it comes for them.  I'm going to have to start channelling my inner chicken.  Especially the early bird part, because I am so not.

It's been a couple of days now and my daughter has not noticed that there are any chickens missing at all.  She has plenty left to entertain her.

One evening not long ago when we were having barbecue chicken for dinner, my little girl got out of her chair, drumstick in hand and looked out the window and declared, "thank you chickens for my chicken!"  She really likes her chickens, but her statement rings truer than she at this age can quite know.

Always got a chicken in her arms! 

Monday, October 4, 2010

A Little Color on a Dreary Day

It has been unseasonably cold the past few days.  I've been a little under the weather anyways and this dark, chilly day makes me want to take some more NyQuil and go back to bed.

I had to go outside to feed the chickens and get the mail, so Ava and I stopped to smell the roses (and pick some strawberries) along the way. 

These are a few shots of what is still in bloom in my garden this early October.  Knowing that winter is on its way, I'm going to try to appreciate all this color while I still can!  Two more weeks and we'll be looking for our first frost...

Tomorrow will mark two years since my husband's father went to be with Jesus.  He was always one to stop and smell the roses and encouraged others to do the same.  You can see pictures of some of his famous roses and read the tribute I wrote for him last year here.  I hate that my daughter wasn't old enough to get to know him.  He was really an amazing person and more like a father to me than an "in-law".

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Jelly from Wild Grapes

I couldn't get my hands on any Concord grapes this year.  But it was a good year for the wild grapes and I came across a nice cluster of vines attached to a fallen tree which made them very easy to reach!  I've always wanted to try making jelly from wild grapes and this was the year to do it.  I ended up with a peck basket full.

They are small, but mighty!  Wild grapes look a lot like your regular Concord grapes, but they are much smaller.  Their seeds are still large and there is very little flesh to the fruit.  All their flavor is contained in the skins.  They have a deep, wine-like flavor.

Here is a cluster beside a few store-bought seedless red grapes for size comparison.

Once I got them all plucked, I was surprised how many grapes I actually had.  They filled my 8 quart stockpot about 1/3 of the way full.

I prepared the juice as outlined in the Ball Blue Book, adding just enough distilled water to cover them by about half an inch.  This was brought to a boil and simmered gently for an hour or so, until the fruit was well-cooked and soft.

I allowed that to cool enough to handle, then poured it into about 8 layers of cheesecloth.  I like to tie the bag from the handle of a cabinet and let it drip overnight.

Now this is something the Ball Blue Book will not tell you and I learned from my mother-in-law.  You must allow the juice to passively drip from the bag.  Do not squeeze it!  If you do, you will cause your juice to become cloudy.  You can put the pulp back into the pot with a little more water and repeat the process to get some more juice out of it if you want.

Isn't that a pretty color?

Now, yet another thing the Ball Blue Book will not tell you:  for the clearest possible juice, you should let the pitcher of juice sit undisturbed in the refrigerator for 24 hours or so.  This allows the tartaric acid crystals to settle out and they will form on the bottom and sides of your pitcher.  Do not stir or disturb at all.  When you gently pour out the juice, they will stay behind in the pitcher.  Tartaric acid is very sour.  This is the same compound from which cream of tartar is derived.

I made my jelly following the Ball Blue Book recipe.  The first batch I did was with pectin.  It made a gorgeous, burgundy colored jelly.

I had enough juice left over to do a half batch of grape jelly without pectin (also in the BBB.)  It came out very nicely too.  I think next time though, I will dilute the juice by one-fourth.  The no-pectin recipe had a stronger, purer, wild grape flavor as a result of being boiled down.

The flavor of this jelly is so much more complex than that of regular grape jelly.  I like that it has a little extra punch of tartness.  It has a deeper flavor and I've thought hard about how to describe it.  I would say it has a lambrusco grape/tart red cherry flavor.

I ended up with 5 pints and was very pleased with the results for my effort!