Thursday, December 29, 2011

They Call Me By a Number Not a Name...

    This title come from an old Flatt and Scruggs bluegrass tune.  I once considered this tune to be my unofficial theme song as I was anxiously waiting to finish my seven year term of indentured servitude in the Air Force. "On this old rock pile...with a ball and chain..they call me by a number not a name.  When I've done my time.. when I've done my time...with an aching heart and a worried mind."

   My ducks are probably quietly quacking this song now as a new indignity has entered their lives.   I bought some numbered leg rings to put on the ducks and chickens to make it easier to tell them apart.  Popeye (the drake) is pretty easy to recognize due to his distinctive curly tail feathers (hen ducks don't get them) and the fact that he is significantly larger than the two hen ducks. However, Olive Oyle and Sweetpea look very much alike. Olive Oyle is only slightly larger than Sweetpea. Just in case Sweetpea catches up in her growth someday I thought the numbers would be helpful.  I also put them on my new chickens although there are only two which look a lot alike.  I have three Cuckoo Marans,  two of which have very similar plumage.  I also have two Americaunas but one is reddish brown while the other one is mainly white. However, I expect to add more chickens at some point so it will be nice to easily tell the older ones from the younger ones.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Great Duck Pen Mystery

   I've been very perplexed with a recent development in my duck pen.  I have three fawn and white India runner ducks.  They don't fly. They run around a lot but I've never seen them fly and they're not supposed to be able to fly.  Yet somehow poultry poop has been magically appearing on the roof of the little duck shelter within the duck pen.  I had briefly kept a chicken in with the ducks some months ago and the chicken would occasionally roost on top of the duck shelter resulting in an accumulation of chicken poop on the top of the shelter.  I built a new chicken pen several months back, moved the chicken to her new digs and the rain had quickly erased any evidence that the chicken had ever lived in the  duck pen. But now the poop has mysteriously returned.

   About a week ago I took custody of an additional 5 laying hens that my daughter-in-law Beth had been raising. They've been living in the new chicken pen with my old Rhode Island Red hen. The old hen has been a bit territorial and has the new hens effectively cowed.  I've gone out there several time after dark and found the red hen roosting in the chicken coop by herself while the young hens were sleeping on the roof of the goose shelter (as of yet unoccupied) in the rain.  Each time I have moved them one by one into the chicken coop and hoped that the old biddy would soon figure out that she no longer had a private room.  A few days ago I went out to check on the chickens to see if they were finally roosting in the coop where they belonged.  I didn't see any chickens asleep on the roof of the goose shelter so I was hopeful that they had finally worked out their pecking order.  When I looked in the chicken coop to my surprise I only saw the old red hen.  I looked in the nest boxes and still found no young hens. Yet I could hear them making the kinds of quiet little chicken noises that they make when they are roosting.  I looked everywhere in the chicken pen and couldn't find the chickens but yet I could hear them.  Finally I listened carefully and looked up to discover five young hens roosting on the wire roof of the duck pen right above the duck shelter.  Obviously I am going to have to do a bit of a rework job on the chicken pen to preclude any of my chickens flying the coop.

    I took some evidentiary photographs but they are unavailable at the moment so I will add them in a few days

Saturday, December 10, 2011

My First Attempt at Sushi

    As I was exploring Cash and Carry the other day I noticed they had the seaweed wrappers (sushinori) used in sushi and I was inspired to give it a try.  Fortunately, I had watched my daughter (Sarah) make California rolls once so I had somewhat of an idea. There were also concise instructions on the package of sushinori.  My first effort turned out very lame, but subsequent rolls were passable. I'm sure its obvious which plate is the first and which plate is the last.

    The biggest problem I had was getting the rice the right consistency.  The instructions started with rinsing the rice until the water wasn't cloudy.  I did that and then cooked it according to the instructions,  However, the rice turned out a bit dry and I had to microwave it with a bit of water to soften it up a bit.  I'm not sure where I erred in following the instructions but fortunately I was able to fix it. Alls well that ends well.

   I've been busy at work filtering beeswax and making candles.  I really enjoy making candles but I've about made enough to do me for another year.  I think I have enough dipped tapers to last us into April or May.  Lately I've been trying to crank out beeswax nativity sets. They look really nice, but a few of the figures are a challenge to get right.  I've poured a lot of Wyoming donkeys and cows as Quentin calls them. Those are ones missing part or all of their ears due to frostbite.  Its taken a bit of practice to learn how to get them out of the molds without breaking of part of an ear or two.

    Tomorrow marks my second full week serving in the bishopric.  The biggest lifestyle change has been the need to manage and schedule my time better.  The service is rewarding, but I'd rather serve somewhere that doesn't involve being in charge of so much stuff.  I really can't complain. They left me alone in Primary and scouts for about eight years.  I still get to participate in scouting now, just in a different capacity.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Stalking the Wild Yeast

    Lately I've been taken with a desire to learn how to bake bread. I've always been a big bread fan. I loved all of the different breads I tried in Italy and I really love the "artisan" type breads you can buy now like the pane pugliese they sell at Costco.  However, I'm quite certain that the bread would taste much better if I were able to make it myself.  Also, I don't like the idea of my quality of life being linked to closely to the continued existance of Costco

    I decided to take my budding obsession to the public library where I checked out a book entitled "52 Loaves".  The author was extremely obsessive (not merely mildly obsessive like me) and went on a one year quest to learn how to bake a particular type of bread that he really liked. He baked a loaf of what he called "peasant bread" every week for an entire year.  His journey of discovery included, among other things, trips to Morocco and France, a homebuilt outdoor clay oven, a week of baking school at the Ritz Hotel in Paris, a week of baking bread in a French monastary, and the capture of his own home grown sourdough starter known as a levain.  While I'm not planning on taking a class at a fancy hotel in Paris, I do think the idea of capturing my own yeast culture sounds pretty cool. Everything is better homegrown.

    So where does one go to hunt for wild yeast?  Fortunately, I didn't have to go any further than my backyard as wild yeast grow in abundance on many types of fruit.  The instructions in the book suggested using a couple of apples.  One of the apples is cut up into one inch cubes while the second apple is peeled. This is place in a jar with about a cup of water. If tap water is used it has to be poured into a jar and left open for 24 hours before use so that the chlorine can offgas.  The mixture is stirred daily and after three days it should be a bit foamy.  At that point the water is strained off and some flour and more water are added and Voila, you are a yeast farmer.  Needless to say my little science projects are sitting on our kitchen counter as I write. I'm at day two at the moment.  In order to hedge my bets I'm also trying a similar experiment using some of my grapes.  Linda has developed a great deal of patience over the years with my numerous hobbies.  This has stood me in very good stead in this latest endeaver.  I think she feels this is pretty harmless compared to the possible construction of an outdoor clay oven in the backyard.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Ward Talent Show

   On Saturday night I played my fiddle at our ward talent show with James playing guitar. We played "King of the Fairies" while Brie Gidewall and Angelia Harper danced.  I would have asked Sophia and Annika to dance but they are inconveniently living way too far to the east. James and I were only able to practice together with the dancers a short time before we performed. Amazingly, it turned out very well. It was a big help that everyone's attention was riveted on the dancers which diverted their attention from the fiddler.  I think people enjoyed it almost as much as the synchronized swimming skit which was absolutely hilarious. (You can check out the skit on You Tube by searching SnychronizedSwimming-SnohomishWard.)
Sorry, but I didn't get any pictures of me playing or the girls dancing.

    I have been doing my best to try to use up my supply of barter pumpkins.  I made pumpkin pies a few days ago and another batch of pumpkin soup this afternoon.  My first effort at squash soup was seasoned with dried thyme, garlic and onions.  This time around I used onion, curry, tumeric, and nutmeg.  Linda said she liked this version better than the first one.  I had looked through about a dozen squash soup recipes on the internet and found quit a bit of variety in the spices used. I reached the conclusion that squash soup is a very flexible dish.

    On the subject of pumpkin pies, I have found a very good use for excess pumpkin pie filling. I always seem to have extra filling left over.  The last two times I made pumpkin pies I used the extra filling to make a pumpkin bread pudding. I just added some raisens, bread and some extra milk and or cream.  Both times it turned out very well. I think I liked it even better than the pies.  

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Homemade Hot Sauce

    About a week ago my good friend Terry Johnson shared the bounty of his garden and gave me a gift of a bag of various hot peppers and a bucket of tomatillos. He knows I'm an obsessive canner and knew I would find something to make of them.  The tomatillos and a handful of jalapenos are still waiting to be made into salsa verde but I cranked out a batch of hot sauce last night.  I'm not really a big hot sauce fan, but we do have several of those in the family so it seemed a good use of the hot peppers.  Sadly, I don't recall the names of two of the peppers, the long skinny curly red ones and the roundish red ones.  I'll have to ask Terry the next time I see him. Most of the peppers were either jalapeno or serrano peppers so I'm sure the hot sauce turned out pretty spicy regardless of the variety of the red pepper ingredients. You can tell I'm not a big hot sauce fan as I didn't personally sample my product.  Linda was complaining that her eyes were watering just from the peppers being cooked.  I actually wore rubber gloves to cut up the serrano and jalapeno peppers.

    I found my hot sauce recipe on the internet on a website entitled "Not Your Ordinary Homestead" The recipe goes as follows:

50 jalapeno peppers, sliced (obviously I used a mix of jalapenos, serranos, and two unknown varieties)
6 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup of onion, minced
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/2 teaspoons salt (omitted for the benefit of those in the family for whom salt is poison)
4 cups water
2 cups distilled white vinegar

    Sautee the onion, garlic and peppers in the oil for about five minutes, then add the water and cook for about twenty minutes until everything is soft. Let the peppers cool, then whiz it up in the blender, adding the vinegar gradually.  I have to admit that I just put the vinegar in all at once and blended it a bit longer.  The recipe was supposed to make about six cups and I ended up with a little more than eight. I canned 4 pint jars of hot sauce and put the remainder in the fridge to be added to my next batch of salsa verde. It came out a light orange-yellow color because of the mix of the green and red peppers.

   Speaking of orange-yellow, I baked a couple of pumpkin pies using one of the sugar pie pumpkins I got in trade a week or so back.  I used the recipe from the bottom of my ceramic pumpkin pie pan.  I will include the recipe later as part of it is still covered up by pumpkin pie.  They turned out so well that I have determined to bake and freeze the remaining sugar pie pumpkins over the next month lest any of them go to waste.

   The apple pie on the right was destined to settle a debt with one of my boy scouts. I used a mixture of Melrose and Ashmead's Kernal apples.  I love the flavor and texture of the Melrose apples but they are a little too scab prone.  Some years they turn out okay and others they are a scabby mess.  This is the first year I have harvested  any of Ashmead's Kernal apples. They were a nice combination of sweet, tart, and crisp and they were completely scab free. I just delivered the pie last night so I don't have any feedback on how well the apples worked in the pie.   

Saturday, October 29, 2011

A Different Kind of Princess.

       In September this year Linda and I went to Disneyland and had a wonderful time hanging out with children and grandchildren. I was very grateful to Beth and James for inviting us to come along and their patience in putting up with my snoring as we shared a hotel room. My wonderful little granddaughters (both Kangs and Tunnells) were pretty obsessed with all of the disney princesses and spent a lot of time collecting autographs and posing for pictures with their favorite princesses. While I enjoyed watching all of the little girls have their special moments, I didn't feel the need to pose with a princess myself.  I guess a Disney princess is not really my kind of princess.  The past two days I attended the Washington State Beekeeepers annual meeting in Federal Way, Washington. Among other wonderful "bee geek" delights I finally met my kind of princess...a honey princess.  I posed for the picture below to show my grand daughters that there are some princesses out there that can impress me.  Allison Adams hails from Plano, Texas and has been keeping bees since she was 13.  She currently works as an elementary and high school art teacher.  Even better, she also plays the penny whistle.  She showed pictures of her wearing a "bee beard" with a big princess smile.


   I had a great time listening to some very smart people summarize their recent honeybee research.  I listened to Gloria Hoffman from the USDA bee lab in Tucson, Dave Tarpy from the University of North Carolina, as well as the usual suspects from WSU and OSU.  The best part was that I got to talk to several of them after their formal presentations. It was a wonderful day to be a bee geek.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Tour De Squash Update

     I finally got around to trying out some squash recipes. The first two I tried seem to be serious winners based on Linda's enthusiastic response.  Although I have some concern that her perceptions of them were colored by the "full liquid diet" she has had for the past several weeks.  A lot of things would seem pretty yummy after two weeks of yogurt, chicken broth, and popcicles. The first recipe was pumpkin-orange waffles.  I didn't do this recipe justice because I didn't have orange juice handy and substituted white grape juice. I also didn't have any hazel nuts left from last year to do the fancy hazelnut-maple syrup butter and used plain storebought maple flavored syrup. Linda and I both found the plainer version to be pretty tasty. I'm pretty sure the fussiest child would like squash when its put into a waffle. I found this recipe in a pumpkin cookbook entitled "A harvest of Pumpkins and Squash" by Lou Siebert Pappas. The recipe is as follows:

Pumpkin-Orange Waffles with Hazelnut-Maple Syrup Butter

Waffle Ingredients:
  2 cups all purpose flour
  1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  2 tsp baking powder
  1/2 tsp baking soda
  1/2 tsp ground ginger
  1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  1/4 tsp salt
  3 large eggs, separated
  3/4 cup pureed pumpkin or winter squash, canned or homemade
  1 1/2 cups whole milk
  1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
  1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted

Hazelnut-Maple Syrup Butter Ingredients:
  1/3  cup hazelnuts
  6 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  6 tablespoons pure maple syrup

      The hazelnut-maple syrup butter is made with nuts that have been roasted and had their skins rubbed off, and chopped fine.  Then it is simply a matter of beating the butter and syrup together until it is light and fluffy and adding the chopped hazelnuts.

   The waffle batter is made by wisking together the dry ingredients, then blending the wet ingredients with the exception of the egg whites.  Then beat the egg whites until soft glossy peaks form. Then the wet and dry ingredients are blended together,  then the egg whites folded into the batter.  They turned out very well inspite of my wholesale substitutions and had a nice pumpkin pie kind of flavor.  I used a winter squash called gold nugget that has fine textured flesh but I doubt if it would matter much which kind of winter squash or pumpkin was used.

    The squash soup recipe came from the same book. It was called a "Butternut Squash-Pear Bisque". First of all, I'm not sure what makes a soup a bisque and I didn't have any butternut squash. Also I didn't have any pears, let alone Anjou pears.  Basically, I diced up an onion, sauteed it in butter, added a garlic clove and seasoned it with dried thyme. I then added about 2 pounds of baked Sugar Pie pumpkin and in place of an Anjou pear I substituted a diced  and peeled Melrose apple.  I added a quart of chicken broth, salt and pepper and brought it to a boil.  Since my squash was already cooked, I didn't have to worry about cooking the soup very long.  As soon as everything seemed to be cooked, I added a pint of whipping cream, ran it through the blender, poured it into quart jars, and stored it in the fridge. I later served some to Linda with a small garnish of shredded cheddar cheese.  It is amazing how a little bit of whipping cream can make an ordinary vegetable soup seem almost decadent.  I think I'm going to try and make this about once a week for the next month. This recipe produced about three quarts of soup. Thanks to a bee store swap, I currently have an ample supply of the sugar pie pumpkins. I'd be very happy to see them all put to good use.  
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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

More Green Tomato Recipes

  I made Currant and Green Tomato Chutney last night only I used blueberries instead of currants. I guess it should be called Blueberry and Green Tomato Chutney. I seasoned it a little differently too as I didn't have mustard seed available. I used a combination of powdered mustard and tumeric. I also used lemon juice rather than thinly sliced lemon. The good news is it turned out very well in spite of all my substitutions. It would appear that chutney recipes are very forgiving. The color turned out well too.  I'm including the recipe but I merely used it as a starting point before I made wholesale changes to take advantage of the ingredients I had on hand. This recipe comes from "Stocking Up" which is pretty close to the bible for home canning and food storage. My daughter Lia is the inspiration for my interest in chutney recipes.


         Currant and Green Tomato Chutney

1 1/2 cups currants
2 1/4 cups green tomatoes, chopped
2 1/4 cups tart apples, peeled and chopped
1 lemon, seeds removed, quartered, sliced thin
1 cup onions, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup vinegar
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon mustard seed
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon ground ginger

   Combine all ingredients. Simmer for 20 minutes or until fruit is soft. Pakc into sterilized jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Adjust seals and process for 5 minutes in a boiling water bath. It was supposed to yield two pints but I doubled the recipe and ended up with about five pints.  One curious thing about this recipe is that it didn't specify whether to use red currants of black currants.  Either would probably work, but the results would be very different.
   

  This morning Terry Johnson and his wife stopped by the bee store. For those who have visited the store, Terry is the man in the poster wearing a swarm of bees on his head. In addition to our shared obsession with honeybees, Terry is also an avid gardener and canner.  I told him of my efforts to use up my supply of green tomatoes and how I had made both green tomato salsa and green tomato chutney.  He then offered to share with me some of his surplus supply of hot and sweet peppers and his bumper crop of tomatillos.  I was pleased to learn that tomatillos grow very well in our climate and are not susceptible to the inevitable late blight that plagues regular tomatoes.  Tomatillos do so well here that Terry only planted them on purpose the first year that he grew them. Since that time he has had tomatillos volunteering in his garden every spring. It has simply been a matter of pulling up the ones he didn't want or transplanting them to an appropriate spot in his garden.

     In addition to peppers and tomatillos we also discussed seed saving and I was offered all the scarlet  runner bean seeds I would like.  Terry also informed me that he grew Yin Yang dry beans this year and they did very well despite our lack of normal summer warmth.  I would think that any dry bean which performed well in weather such as we had this past summer is definitely well adapted for the Maritime Northwest. I had already noticed this variety in the Territorial Seeds catalog which listed a maturity time of 75 days.  The beans get their name from the fact that they look like a three dimensional depiction of the familiar Chinese symbol. As one of my children was once fond of saying, "Cool beans!"   

Sunday, October 23, 2011

SaurKraut Completed

   I finished canning the rest of my saurkraut. I ended up with about 5 gallons after I had canned most of it. It reduces down a bit in the process of canning it. The jars in the photo represent about half of this year's saurkraut production. I also purchased two of the old fashioned quart jars with the rubber seals and the clamps so I could put two quarts in the fridge uncanned.  I prefer the flavor of the fresh kraut but it is a great convenience to have most of it canned. Fortunately, my sweetie likes the smell of saurkraut and doesn't seem to mind our house smelling like a hot dog stand for a few days.

    I still need to do something with the rest of the green tomatoes I got from Rachel.  Some of the tomatoes are falling prey to the infamous "Late Blight" so common in the wet Pacific Northwest so time is running out. I hate to see stuff like that go to waste. I'm considering trying a green tomato chutney recipe I found in "Stocking Up"  The recipe also calls for apples and currants. Apples I have, but I pruned all the blossoms and fruit off my currant bushes in an effort to eliminate my Currant Sawfly problem.  I think I can substitute blueberries for the currants and still give the green tomato chutney a try. I'm also hoping to get a batch of green tomato relish done as well.  Linda gave me a nice enamelware cup with the message "I garden, therefore I am."  I could just as easily say "I can, therefore I am."  I seem to have a certain amount of home canning that I just have to do every year.

    I had a scout campout this past weekend. We went to Cascade Park as the weather forecast was 100 per cent chance of rain. If you are going to have a miserable campout, it is better to have a short drive home. The weatherman got it exactly right. It turned out to be one of the rainiest campouts I've ever experienced. Our lone remaining eleven year old scout, Matthew Peterson, literally slept on a water bed as several inches of water accumulated between his tarp and the floor of his tent.  Miraculously his tent floor didn't leak and his sleeping bag was still dry in the morning.  I took the easy way out and set up a cot in my old beater cargo van.  It was so nice that I did not have to hang up a wet tent in the garage after the campout.

    Immediately prior to leaving on the campout I was able to drop off my two hides (one elk and one deer) in Marysville, Washington.  I wasted at least several hours last Monday fleshing the deer hide because I had been led to believe that they now needed to be fleshed before they could be accepted for tanning.  As it turns out that information was faulty. The hides only need to be fleshed if you want them tanned with the hair on. If they are going to be made into leather the tannery has a machine that fleshes the hides.  I had mixed feelings in that I was thrilled I didn't need to flesh the elk hide, but felt foolish that I had needlessly expended so much energy on the deer hide.  The only thing I got from the experience was a lot more respect for all of the indian women who fleshed animal hides with stone age tools.  I have not included any pictures of my hide fleshing experience so as to not gross out innocent grandchildren who might look at my blog. 

Canning Catch up

  I'm running behind on my fall canning.  I have two boxes of apples that I want to turn into apple sauce, two big bags of green tomatoes that need to be converted into salsa or relish (thanks to Rachel). Since I've made one batch of salsa already I guess relish is a slightly higher priority at the moment.  I also still have about 4 gallons of saurkraut that needs to be canned and my grapes will finally be ready to juice in about another week. An obsessive canner's work is never done.

   I tried out the green tomato salsa tonight and I like the recipe that I found on the internet. There were a lot to choose from but I had to go with "Linda Lou's Green Tomato Salsa".  I doubled the recipe so I was supposed to end up with ten pints but actually ended up with a only little more than eight.  The ingredients for the doubled recipe are as follows:  Assume that everything that can be chopped is chopped.

10 cups of green tomatoes
3 cups of seeded long green chiles ( I substituted bell peppers)
1 cup jalapenos
8 cups of onions
2 cups of either lemon or lime juice
12 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons ground cumin
6 tablespoons oregano
2 tablespoons salt
2 teaspoons black pepper

   Combine all ingredients into a large saucepan, stirring frequently, cook over high heat until it begins to come to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Then ladle into pint jars leaving 1/2 inch headspace and process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes. I'm including a picture in spite of the fact that Linda has already scooped me and posted pictures on her blog.

    In addition to the green tomato salsa I did my first batch of grape juice.  You will note the deep purple color. This is from a concord type of grape named "Valiant". I planted them about five years ago and it took about four years before they produced any significant amount of grapes. Last year the birds cleaned them out before I realized they were ripe.  This year I kept a close eye on them and harvested them just aas soon as the birds started on them.  I'm not getting a real good grape harvest this year from some of my vines due to our unusually cool weather. The "Interlaken" vines on the arbor over the back deck have a lot of grapes but the jury is still out as to whether they will actually ripen.


Saturday, October 22, 2011

Our Ducks Now Have Names

   I finally have decided on names for our three india runner ducks.  I've named the male "Popeye", the larger female "Olive Oyle", and the smaller female "Sweet Pea".  The chicken now has a home of its own next door to the ducks and is anxiously awaiting some company from the batch of baby chicks currently being brooded by the Bedlamites.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Baby Chick Day in October

  Linda and I met up with Beth and the Bedlamites this morning at Monroe Feed (located next to the fairgrounds). They are baby chick central and have more varieties of poultry available over a longer period of time than any other feed store in our area.  Our India Runner ducks came from Monroe Feed.  We purchased a total of ten chicks, comprised of  4 Ameracaunas, 4 Cuckoo Marans, and 2 Rhode Island Reds. That should give us a pretty good variety of colored eggs.  The kids had fun helping get the baby chicks but they were really taken with the star attraction at Monroe Feed, a talking parrot named Sky.  He can sing a number of songs to include "I've Been Working on the Railroad." and "I Left My Heart In San Francisco". We were told that the oparrot likes adults better than kids, but he put on a pretty good show for the Bedlamites. You can see that from the photo below that he had John's attention.  Sky is a hard working bird and serves as the feedstore equivalent of a Walmart greeter. He makes a point of greeting customers when they enter the store, entertains them for a while, and always says "Bye" when they leave.

     Britton and Lucy carefully held the box with the baby chicks during the ride home. We then transferred them to their new home in the workshed.  Some of the chicks are destined to move to our house when they are older while some will remain with the Bedlamites in Monroe.

Pickled Beets Update

   I did get the beets done while Linda was gone to Maryland. I just didn't have time to blog about it.  I made a total of 28 pints of pickled beets from my 25 pound bag of beets. I even had enough beets left over to make a big pot of borscht, one of my favorite soups. Even if you don't care for pickled beets you have to admit they are very colorful.  I have already begun distributing them to the various pickled beet fans in the family. I feel a little sad that the Romeros are now living too far away to be able to share home canned goods with them.

   I also got some of my saurkraut canned while Linda was away.  I still have about four gallons left to process.  I finally managed to find some of the old fashioned jars with the rubber seals and the metal clamps. I want to try keeping some of the saurkraut in the fridge without canning.  I like the taste of the fresh saurkraut and I've read that nutritionally it is supposed to be better for you fresh.

Tour De Squash

   I didn't have much luck growing winter squash this year. I believe I can blame that failure on our strange weather and lack of much of a summer. Fortunately, I found a good selection at our local Fred Myers, including many varieties that I'm considering for next year's garden. So far I have purchased the following varieties: Sweet Meat, Kuri; Buttercup, Gold Nugget, and Acorn. The acorn squashes are my least favorite winter squash but they are relatively easy to grow.  The others are all maxima types and are better for winter storage. So far my favorite winter squashes all seem to be maximas. The large squash below is a Sweet Meat. The Kuri is sitting on top of the Sweet Meat while the Gold Nugget and Buttercup are to the right with the acorn on the left.

  Linda usually doesn't like me to leave stuff on her kitchen counters, but has allowed the squash as she considers them to be decorative.  Of course, that leaves me feeling encouraged to add to the inventory. I would really like to incorporate more winter squash in our diet. Its very nutricious and I like it. It really just comes down to finding more ways to fix it other than baked squash.  I've tried adding it to mashed potatoes with good success. I'd also like to try some soup recipes. I'm hoping Linda with eventually decide that she likes baked squash after she gets used to eating squash in other dishes. I guess what it really comes down to is me fixing it myself as its unlikely I will ever persuade Linda to cook more winter squash. She does like it in pies but one can only eat so many pumpkin/squash pies.

  I have grown Buttercup and Gold Nugget successfully in the past with purported maturity days of 115 and  85 respectively. Sweet Meat lists a muturity time of 115 days while Kuri is 85 days.  Acorn squashes mature in a mere 70 days.  This year I tried growing a Sugar Hubbard which is supposed to mature in 110 days. The problem is that you can't start counting those 110 days until it is actually warm enough for the squash to grow. I liked the flavor of the Buttercup and it has a convenient structure in that there are less seeds and they are close to the surface.  The only problem is the 115 day maturity makes it difficult to grow when we get less summer than normal. I'm thinking that either the Gold Nugget or Kuri might be a better choice with their shorter maturity times. I might just have to settle for buying hubbards, sweet meats and buttercups at the grocery store.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Simple Pleasures

    As much as I enjoyed babysitting Lance and Luna this past week it was very nice to come home again. I spent most of the day doing pleasant chores such as tending the garden and the animals, splitting wood, and working my bees.  As is often the case, I'm running a bit behind with both the bees and the garden.  I need to get the rest of my honey off, get the bees fed up for winter, and do some fall mite treatments. Its been a very busy summer.

    I also spent a few hours today (Monday 9/5/11) with my friend Quentin retrieving some free carpet from another friend in Woodinville. We're going to replace some of our carpet upstairs and install carpeting downstairs whereever Grandma Cozy would like to have carpet.  Its a real good quality berber carpet and looks brand new.

   My pile of wood to be split is mainly from the Smith Street Mill in Everett.  They are currently milling poplar logs to make pallets for California citrus fruit. For some reason pine and fir pallets are not acceptable for citrus fruits. They have to cut the logs off at certain lengths for them to go through the mill which results in a lot of small pieces that they sell off for firewood.  The current rate is $20.00 for about a half cord of wood. I currently have about one cord split and another cord to be split.  I'm planning to get a fireplace insert for our living room so our firewood usage will hopefully increase this winter.

   My saurkraut is progressing nicely.  I will probably be bottling it while Linda is gone to Maryland.  The only other canning project in the hopper at present is 25 pounds of beets that still need to be pickled.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Here Comes the Judge

    I spent most of the day in Puyallup serving as one of three judges for the honey and beeswax exhibits at the Puyallup Fair.  It was a bit of a drive but a fun experience.  I was very fortunate to have Louis Matej's able assistance to guide me through the process.  Louis is the chairman of the Masterbeekeeper Committee and is one of a handful of master beekeepers in Washington State. I took my camera but got so absorbed into the process that I forgot to take any pictures.

   I felt very well qualified to judge the actual honey and beeswax exhibits,  The criteria are fairly objective so its merely a matter of being consistent. I was a little less comfortable with some of the other areas such as the educational and art displays where the grading is very subjective. I particularly enjoyed judging the honey baked goods which included cookies, corn bread, several different sweet breads, granola, muffins, candy, and an apple pie. We also judged beekeeping gadgets, other hive products (including a honey facial mask), pollen, and mead.  I had to recuse myself from judging the flavor of the mead but they had a willing volunteer who stepped up to take my place for that portion of the judging.

    Having entered stuff in the fair myself I know what it feels like so I wanted to be encouraging.  On the other hand, ribbons are supposed to reward excellence and they lose their meaning if they're given too easily. We gave perfect scores to one of the extracted honey entries, the one pollen entry, and a few of the baked items. They really were flawless. One the other hand , I had no problem finding good reason to subtract points on a number of the honey entries and the candles.

    Unexpectedly, I was given $50.00 and two fair passes as compensation for serving as a judge. This was more than I would have gotten for jury duty and it more than covered my gas and lunch. Also, one of the friendly grange people came by giving away sweet corn.  We had it for dinner this evening and it was about as good as I've ever had. It was definitely deserving of a blue ribbon.

    As much as I enjoy our local Evergreen State Fair, I have to admit that the Puyallup Fair is more of a class act. The facilities are much nicer and newer. I was told that the Puyallup Fair is the 4th largest in the U.S. which is hard to imagine. I'm not sure I'll even get to use my free fair passes with our trip to Disneyland next week. We'll see how much time and energy I have left after Disneyland this coming week.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Peach Chutney and the Joy of Barter

    One of my barter deals literally came to fruition this past week although a lot of vegetables were also involved.  A few days ago I took delivery of two boxes of Roma tomatoes, one box of Marigold apples ( a new variety to me), one box of peaches, 50 head of cabbage, 25 pounds of beets, and three boxes of pickling cucumbers.  That represented about a third of this particular barter deal. The major technical difficulties are the fact that a lot of stuff comes at the same time and that time is rarely convenient.  Needless to say I'm in quite a pickle.  We made a double batch of bread and butter pickles on Saturday and only used about a third of one box of cucumbers. I don't need a crystal ball to see a lot of pickles in my future.

     Since the peaches are no doubt the most perishable item on hand, it seemed wise to use them first. I made a triple batch of peach chutney tonight.  I had made some last year and it was fairly popular.  I found the recipe in "Stocking Up" by Carol Stoner, published by Rodale Press. I consider it to be the ultimate food preservation book and I refer to it frequently. The recipe is a little spicy, possibly the equivalent of medium salsa. It isn't super hot but people who don't care for spicy food might find it too hot for their taste. The recipe is as follows:

   1 1/2 cups of diced onions                     1/4 teaspoon of dry mustard
   1 garlic clove, minced                             1/4 teaspoon cardamom
   2 tablespoons of oil                                1/8 teaspoon of nutmeg
   1 1/2 tespoon of tumeric                         1/8 teaspoon of ground cloves
   1 1/2 teaspoon of coriander                    3/4 cup of wine vinegar
   1 teaspoon of cumin                               1/4 cup of water
   1/2 teaspoon of ginger                            1/2 cup of honey
   1/2 teaspoon of cayenne                         2 pounds of peaches, sliced
   1/4 teaspoon of black pepper 
 
    Saute onions and garlic in oil, adding spices as they cook.  Add vinegar, water, and honey. Simmer about ten minutes.  Add peaches and simmer until they are tender. While still hot, pour into hot, sterilized jars, leaving 1/4 inch head space.  Adjust lids and process for 5 minutes in a boiling water bath.  Yield is 2 pints.

    I didn't follow the recipe exactly.  I didn't have cardamom so I substituted cinnamon. I left out the coriander only because I didn't have any on hand. Its sufficiently spiced that one less spice was probably not real noticeable. I did use honey, although as a rule I don't like to use honey in canning where it will be heated significantly.  I tripled the recipe and ended up with almost 8 pints.  I probably used an extra amount of peaches as I didn't bother to weigh them.  The only thing difficult was dealing with cling peaches but we have to work with what we have sometimes.. The box of peaches is now down to a reasonable number for Linda and I to eat fresh.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Salmon Fishing on the Snohomish

   Yesterday, August 17, was the second day that the Snohomish River had been open for salmon fishing.  I wasn't able to go fishing on the opening day because I had to work at the bee store.  Since I own the bee store calling in sick wasn't an option. Fortunately, I have an employee so Quentin manned the store while I got to go fishing.

   The Snohomish river has very strong run of pink salmon, also called humpies, in odd years.  For some strange reason the river has a lighter run of pinks in even years.  About two million pinks run up the river in an odd numbered year while we have a mere 700,000 fish in an even numbered year. I don't know how long it has been that way.  You would think that over time the two runs would even out.  In an odd year the daily catch limit for pinks is four fish. In an even year, if you are allowed to fish for the pink salmon, the daily catch limit is usually just one fish. As you can imagine the fishing pressure is much less in the even years while the river is filled with fisherman in the odd years.  These are all native fish as there is no hatchery for pink salmon.

    I'm very fortunate in that I have several good friends who love to fish and have a boat. I met both of these friends through the bee store so they are both bee buddies as well as fishing buddies. Prior to my retirement and purchase of the Beez Neez Apiary Supply I was usually one of the poor souls fishing on the bank.  I caught some fish, but I never did as well as I did fishing from a boat.  So yesterday I spent the entire day on the Snohomish River fishing for salmon with my bee buddy Steve and new friend named John. Steve is the guy driving the boat while John is the guy holding up the six pound male pink salmon.  The female pink salmon on the lawn is the one salmon I caught. It is relatively early in the run so there aren't as many fish as there will be in another week.  John caught his limit while Steve and I each caught just one fish.  Both of us had several other fish on that we failed to land.  It was still a wonderful day on the river with good company.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Eleven Pies and a Wedding

    Mike and Tina's Wedding took place this afternoon (Saturday, August 13).  The wedding itself was very nice.  Bishop Putnam performed the ceremony and gave them sage advice about the difficult task of blending two families. It was a joyful, happy occasion and caused me to ponder just how much life can change over the course of a year.

    I was involved in a pie baking marathon the past few days in preparation for the wedding. I had committed to making 8 fruit pies for the wedding.  I made five pies on Friday and another four on Saturday morning. My daughter Rachel also brought up two apple peach pies from Portland and assisted me with the pies we made on Saturday. We ended up with a total of four cherry, three blueberry, two apple, and two apple peach.  Sherry Green made some wonderful cream pies as well so it was a veritable pie heaven. It still would have been a very nice wedding even without the pies.

   My wife was so impressed with some pies that Rachel had made a few weeks ago that she has been encouraging me to try out Rachel's pie crust recipe.  As it turns out, her recipe comes from Chef Emeril Lagasse on the internet. I wasn't unhappy with my recipe from the Mormon Family Cookbook but since we were making so many pies it seemed a good time to experiment.  My old pie crust recipe consisted of 2 1/4 cup of flour, 1 teaspoon of salt, 3/4 cup of shortening, and 1/3 cup of water.  Emeril's recipe consisted of 3 1/4 cup of flour, 1 teaspoon of salt, 1/2 cup of cold butter, 2/3 cup of cold lard, and 4-5 tablespoons of water. I only used about 1/2 teaspoon of salt in either recipe.  I thought that both recipes made a nice pie crust, but Emeril's pie crust was a little easier to work and sure smelled better when the pie was in the oven. It's hard to beat cooking with real butter.

   We carved some appropriate messages in the pie crust, including some quotes from the "Princess Bride".  Rachel always bastes her pie crust with egg white. She says it makes the messages stand out better.  I really enjoyed the pie baking marathon. I always enjoy cooking with Rachel. She is such good company in the kitchen and I always seem to learn some new trick or technique from her. I also really enjoy cooking with grandkids and the chance to pass along some useful skills.  My grand daughter Chloe got a lesson in making pie crust and we had a good time.         

Thursday, August 4, 2011

A Visitor to the Water Garden

   I've been dying to get a picture of a frog on one of the lily pads in my water garden.  This little guy is actually more like a kidnap victim rather than a visitor.  I found him while weeding blueberries and forcibly moved him over to the water garden.  Fortunately, he decided to humor me and hung around long enough for me to take a few pictures.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Cherry Pie

     I picked my pie cherries this morning and put a cherry pie into the oven before leaving for work.  When I combined the crop from both cherry trees I was still about a cup short and had to get a few pie cherries from the freezer in order to make the pie.  I had them sorted into two piles in the bowl.  The larger pile were the cherries I had managed to milk off and leave the pit behind.  The smaller pile were the cherries that still needed to be pitted. The upper picture of the cherries in the tree is the Surefire tree (red juice).  The lower picture is the Montmorency tree (clear juice).  I have to admit that the morello type cherries with their red juice make for a much prettier cherry pie.

      Linda asked for whom the pie was intended and I told her "me."  Mr. Buttercup was unhelpful in the extreme when it came to rolling out pie crust.  I finally banished him to the pantry so I could make my pie crust in peace.  As is tradition in our family the scraps from the crust are always baked with a little cinnamon and sugar.  That part is a lot more fun with a few grandkids around.
   Our favorite daughter-in-law made us some wonderful apricot-pinapple jam, one of my very favorite jams.  Linda said that she hates to open them because they are so beautiful.  I, on the other hand, am dying to open one of them. Unfortunately, I have a firm rule that we can't have more than two jars of jam or jelly open at the same time. I have to finish off one of the already open jars before I can open one of these beauties.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Meet the New Ducks

    I drove to Monroe today and bought three new runner ducks.  I tried to get one male and two females but they aren't quite old enough so that its obvious to tell the difference.  As male ducks mature they get a few curled feathers on the top of their tail.  Since I wasn't prepared to vent sex them there at the feed store we had to rely on their voices to tell the males from the females.  As the feed store employee explained to me, female ducks make a nice clear quack sound while male ducks sound like they have a smokers cough when they quack.  I took his word for it and there was a definite difference in the voices of the two smaller ducks (I think female) and the larger duck (I think male). However, I will try to get them vent sexed some time in the next week to make sure I've got the right makeup for our duck trio.  It won't be so bad if I end up with three females. I just won't get fertile eggs.  It will be bad if I end up with two males as they will spend all of their time fighting over the lone female.

   I didn't want to get several different breeds of duck so I was somewhat limited to what breeds they had more available.  That pretty well narrowed it down to some type of runner ducks.  The white duck on Babe is a runner duck.  These are Fawn and White runner ducks.   Runner ducks are better egg layers than most breeds of duck so I don't think they are a bad choice.  All duck breeds are fairly equal when it comes to eating slugs.  I'm now accepting suggestions for names for the new ducks.

New Woodworking Tool for the Bee Store

    I made a trip with my friend and bee store employee Quentin over to Bainbridge Island last Thursday and purchased a jointer for the bee store. The ferry ride was lovely and a new experience for a cowboy from Wyoming.  Quentin had found the jointer on Craigslist and the price was sufficiently low to easily justify the milage and two ferry rides to fetch it home. I guess one up side to our current soft economy is that the prices have gone down for a lot of things on Craigslist. The guy who sold the jointer is a professional woodworker who logs and mills some pretty special wood. He had just purchased a bigger and better jointer so this one had become surplus.  His woodshop included a big C and C machine, a monster planer, his new jointer with a twelve inch wide bed, and an incredible collection of wood. Even Quentin the seriously obsessive woodworker was impressed.


     A jointer can be a dangerous tool as evidenced by Mike Veatch's loss of part of one digit to a jointer some years back.  One benefit of Mike's injury is that I never turn the machine on without remembering that. It has helped me be very careful with the jointer. Linda had asked me why we needed a jointer and I found it difficult to give her a concise explanation. The difficulty wasn't in justifying the jointer but in explaining its purpose to a non woodworker.  In a nutshell a jointer is used to put a flat surface of a piece of wood.  I have some bigleaf maple that has been curing in my shop for several years.  The jointer does a pretty slick job of flattening one side so I can run it through the table saw and make something useful from it. It can also flatten the edges of boards so they can be glued together to make larger pieces like for a table top or a cedar chest. It can also produce rabbeted edges.  Anyhow, I think its a pretty good addition to our shop.
     These two pictures demonstrate what a jointer can do.  The top piece of wood has been jointed flat on two sides. The lower picture shows the jointed piece compared to a rough unjointed piece.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

One More Bad Goat Story

    My attempts to repair the goat fencing were obviously inadequate.  While we were at church on Sunday our favorite bad goat broke out again.  This time instead of just dining in our garden he wandered over to the neighbors and sampled their plants as well.  He thoughtfully pruned their rose bush and consumed a significant percentage of some other climbing plant. Fortunately, their vegetable garden was fenced.  Even more fortunately for both us and Black Jack our neighbors are very sweet forgiving people.  Rather than opt for one of the more usual responses to goat predation (I'm thinking of the song "Bill Grogan's Goat") they simply brought Black Jack home and secured him to prevent further unwanted pruning of their flowers.
I apologized profusely the following day and spent most of Monday working on some serious goat fencing.

   I've been meaning to rebuild the goat pasture for some time now.  I had already accumulated the necessary materials and simply needed a few days off to work on it. Black Jack's foray to the neighbors garden simply elevated it in my list of priorities.  When I originally made the goat pasture I used fencing that I had purchased pretty cheaply at a garage sale.  It would have been fine for poultry but it was nowhere near strong enough for goats.  Goats spend a great deal of time testing any perceived weaknesses in their enclosures.  They love to stand on the fence wires with their front hooves and thus quickly trash any fence made with substandard materials. They also have an amazing ability to fit their fat little bodies through holes that appear to be much smaller than the circumference of the goat.  My initial pasture fence was made with various grades of welded wire.  This time I used "field fence" which is much stouter.  It doesn't use all of those welds which are easily broken down when the goats stand on the fencing.

    The goat fence took more time than I anticipated.  In addition to most of Monday I also had to take Tuesday off work to finish the job.  Once again I am so grateful to have an employee so I have that flexibility.  By 7:00 pm on Tuesday the goat fencing was finally completed.  I am very glad that I don't have to do serious manual labor every day. Between driving the posts, stretching the fencing, securing it to the posts, and some leveling with a shovel, I think I got my exercise for the day. I was dragging a bit by the time the job was finished. Black Jack and Buster both had to spend the entire day tied up while I worked on the fence. I'm sure they were also very glad I had finally finished the job.

   I took a break from the goat fence for a few hours on Monday in order to drive to Monroe to visit Beth and James and retrieve my orchard ladder.  They have two cherry trees, one sweet cherry (probably a Bing) and one pie cherry (probably a Montmorency).  They had borrowed the ladder to get their cherries picked.  Beth hadn't picked all of the pie cherries yet because she wasn't comfortable on the upper rungs of the ladder. That gave me the opportunity to pick about a gallon and a half of pie cherries.  I  have to admit that I like the pie cherries better than the sweet cherries. I love cherry pie and they are so wonderful dried into raisens( or is that chersens). I also like the fact that pie cherries are self fertile and don't split if it rains.  I have two pie cherry trees, but they are both still rather small.  They both have cherries on them, but there aren't enough for a pie between the two of them.  The tree pictured below is a Morello type pie cherry (red juice) named Surefire.   I think I'm probably still a few years away from self sufficiency when it comes to pie cherries. 

     While in Monroe I also stopped by Del's, a feed store, in order to get more of the metal connectors used to secure the fencing to the metal posts. They had lots of them but they weren't for sale. Apparently they come free with the purchase of the metal fence posts.  However, a lot of their customers are using the metal fence posts to put up electric fencing for their horses.  That requires a different type of connector.  As a consequence Del's has built up a very large surpluse of metal fence connectors and they gave me all that I needed for free.  They were already my favorite feed store but that lengthened their lead over the competition.

  

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Yet Another Bad Goat Story

     The lesson in Primary today was on the parable of the sheep and the goats.  I've always felt some sympathy for the poor goats assigned to His left and wondered how they got such a bad rap.  Then I remembered two recent incidents in which our goat Black Jack escaped from his pasture and wreaked havoc on various garden plants. During his first escape he decided to try out Chinese food and munched a number of young bamboo shoots. Fortunately some of this years shoots were already too tall and tough for him.  On his most recent escapade he ate all of my cabbage plants.  I have to admit that goats are all about satisfying their appetites and they are extremely uninclined to share or sacrifice to benefit others.  So I guess there is a valid basis for the goats being on the left hand.  On the other hand, I've never noticed a great deal of altruism among sheep either.  I think sheep merely aren't bright enough to come up with the many ingenious ways to get into trouble like a goat can do.

    For the last four years or so I've served as a volunteer chaplain for the Snohomish fire department.  So far I've only been to two real house fires.  Usually my service consists of "waiting with the dead"  When the EMTs are unsuccessful in reviving or saving a patient, the chaplain waits on the the scene with the family until either the Medical Examiner or funeral home come to take the body.  Its a rather melancholy type of service and we try to offer what comfort and sympathy we can.  I had three people die while I had the duty this past week.  Two of them died at the same time so one of the other chaplains handled one of the calls for me.  I find it exceptionally melancholy when the surviving family members have no religious faith. I think that has got to be one of life's most difficult trials, to lose a loved one with the belief that is the end of it right there.

    After my week of chaplain duty was passed I had an opportunity to get in touch with my inner fireman.  Our little cat loves to go outside but is still getting over his recent wounds at the hands of another cat. Yesterday the kitten followed me outside only to run into his nemisis over by the currant bushes.  I heard the yowling and ran over as fast as I could.  I found the big cat (Rachel's Jack Sparrow) doing a very poor job of feigning innocence, but there was no sign of the kitten.  Linda and I both looked for him for about twenty minutes with no success.  Finally I heard  faint meowing but I had difficulty figuring out from where it came. Finally I looked up and located Mr. Buttercup in the top of one of my cherry trees. Lucky for him it was semidwarf so he ran out of tree at about 15 feet rather than 35 feet.  Rescueing a kitten from a tree is such a stereotypical fireman thing but I did manage to do it without first donning my fire department jacket.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Of Slugs, Ducks, and Strawberries

    As a serious vegetable gardener in wet western Washington slugs are the bane of my existance. They are also one of the reasons I like to keep ducks.  We had a rainy day a few days back and I collected about 40 slugs from the immediate vicinity of our strawberry beds.  My primary remedy for slugs is to simply scoop them up with a garden trowel and dump them into the duck pen.  The carnage that followed was not a pretty sight. The ducks wolfed down the slugs with great enthusiasm and left no apparent survivors.   We used to let our ducks spend more time as free range slug hunters but that didn't work out very well.  The ducks did a great job hunting slugs, but something else did a pretty good job hunting the ducks.  After the loss of three or four ducks we now only allow them out for brief supervised slug hunts.

   I've discovered that slugs have a serious melon fetish.  I spread the leftover cantelope, watermelon, honeydew rinds as a sort of protective barrier around the perimeter of the strawberry patch.  This accomplishes two things. First, the slugs often stop for lunch before they get to the berries and fill up on the melon rinds.  Second, they are pretty easy pickings out in the open as opposed to hiding amongst the strawberry leaves.  It makes it much easier for me to gather up a pile of slugs for the duck pen in the mornings.

    In spite of the slugs we've had a pretty good strawberry year.  We've had friends and family pick the patch a time or two, we've had fresh strawberry shortcake on several occasions, we've had fresh strawberries on on breakfast cereal, and we've accumulated a few gallons of frozen strawberries in the freezer.  Spring and the earlier part of summer have been relatively wet this year so we've had more problems with berries going bad but I've rarely had to water them. There is an up side to almost everything, including wet springs.
     I must confess that slug bait is one of my few deviations from organic gardening.  When setting out young tender plants I often use a ring of deadline slug bait to protect the plants until they are big enough to withstand the slugs better. My favorite gardening book is  "Vegetable Gardening West of the Cascades", written by Steve Soloman, the founder of Territorial Seeds.  It was his opinion that the metaldehyde slugs baits were relatively benign in the sense that they don't persist in the soil or break down into noxious substances.  However, it is expensive to continually replenish slug bait throughout a garden.  Thus my primary slug strategy is still removal and death by duck.

   Several years ago I made some home made slug traps from two liter soda bottles and baited them with beer.  The traps were fairly effective, but disgusting to clean up and reuse.  I prefer the ducks. I'm somewhat of an obsessive recycler so I guess I just like the idea that even the slugs aren't wasted. 
  

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Short Cake Recipe

   Its that wonderful time of year when we have fresh strawberries from our garden.  I have always been very partial to strawberry shortcake and it is especially good with homegrown strawberries.  However, I've wasn't satisfied with the short cake recipe I had been using (from the back of the Bisquick box) so I've been looking for a better recipe.  I hit the jackpot the other day when I looked in my Fannie Farmer cookbook.  It is a reprint of the Original Boston Cooking-School Cookbook published in 1896. They had not just one, but three short cake recipes.  I tried recipe II from page 83.  The ingredients were 2 cups of flour, 4 teaspoons of baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 1 tablespoon of sugar, 3/4 cup of milk and 1/3 cup butter.  I only used half of the salt required by the recipe but I was a bit liberal with the sugar and used a heaping tablespoon.  The only difficulty with the Fannie Farmer cookbook is that the recipes don't include precise oven temperatures as it was written in the days of wood burning cook stoves.  The instructions were simply to bake for twelve minutes in a hot oven.

     The shortcakes turned out much lighter than my previous efforts.  I don't know why I didn't think to look in the Fannie Farmer cookbook sooner. It also happens to be the source of my favorite cornbread recipe. Oddly enough, most of the modern cookbooks I checked didn't even have a shortcake recipe. I consider that to be a sign of a serious decline in our culture.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Cousin Camp 2011

       Another cousin camp has come and gone.  I think the kids all had a great time, but I know I sure did.  We had seventeen attendees this year, 15 of them our grandchildren and two of them soon to be related by marriage.  The logistics of cousin camp have grown more complex with the growing number of grandkids reaching the magic age of 5.  We couldn't have managed it this year without  a substantial supporting cast.  When we do our next cousin camp (two years from now) we'll have an additional four campers so it won't get any easier. This is probably the last time we'll be able to do it at our house.

      One of the things I enjoy most about cousin camp is the chance to spend a little one on one time with my grandchildren.  It just seems to happen naturally too.  One moment I'm helping someone with a craft project and a short time later I have an eager little assistant helping me cook something in the dutch oven.  It was one magic moment after another.

    The indian theme was a big hit.  Linda made an indian dress for each of the girls and an indian shirt for each boy.  I was supposed to make a pair of moccasins for each child but I only managed to get halfway through by the end of cousin camp.  I think I still owe moccasins to Anthony, Brandon, Rachel, Cassie, Madelynn, Britton, Elise, Lance, and Abby.  We started out with some fun craft projects.  Each of the kids got to decorate a leather name tag with an indian name of their choice. they also got to decorate their own special staff.  Linda had procured a goodly supply of beads, feathers, and various other doodads to fancy up their staffs.  since we had a fair amount of rain on the first day, it was a good thing we had the craft projects to keep them busy.

    The bows and arrows were also pretty popular.  A number of campers spent a lot of quality time at the little archery range we had put together with some straw bales.  We had several bows that were suitable for the older kids and two smaller ones that were just the right size for the smaller kids.  Lance in particular was very taken with the bows and arrows.  He was less enthused about my efforts to teach him the proper way to shoot the bow.  By the end of cousin camp I think I had finally persuaded him to try shooting the bow my way, but he may have just been humoring me.

    One of my contributions to cousin camp was a wigwam we constructed in our little woodlot.  I used a lot of long sticks I had pruned out of my hazel nuts and fruit trees to build the basic structure.  Then we covered the structure with burlap coffee sacks.  I didn't have an abundance of birch trees from which to strip the bark for an authentic covering.  It was only part way finished at the start of cousin camp  but that turned out to be a good thing.  A few of the kids, Madelynn in particular, had a lot of fun helping me finish up the wigwam.  The last night of cousin camp Madelynn, Cassie, Hannah, and Luna got to spend the night in the wigwam. We'll keep the wigwam through the summer as a playhouse.

    The campfires were great.  I do love a good silly campfire song and it was such great fun watching all the little indians dance around the campfire. We had a couple of drums providing the beat.  The girls contributed a lot in the silly song department, thanks in large part to the girl scout camp experience of the Kangs.  My favorite new silly song was about a moose, who liked to drink a lot of juice.  I think the overall favorite was "Ghost chickens in the Sky". We also enjoyed singing about the country sunday school, a blue jay who died of a whooping cough, Bill Grogan's goat, a man who was dressed in a very strange way, "Tie me Kangaroo Down, and numerous other great silly songs.
     
     The best day overall for me was the Saturday we spent canoeing at Blackman's Lake.  Linda hiked with the kids from our house to Hill Park while I helped ferry canoes to the lake.  After four hours of canoeing, picking water lilies, swimming, and picnicing I marched the tired but happy little campers back home.  We sang silly songs all the way home which minimized the "I'm tired" complaints. Everyone sure went to bed a lot easier on Saturday night than they had the night before.

The Beekeeper's Apprentice

     One thing I have particularly enjoyed about owning the Beez Neez Apiary Supply has been the opportunity to share that experience with my grandchildren. A number of them have been enthusiastic volunteers helping at the store now and then.  Some of them seem to really enjoy helping with customers or working at the cash register while others are very enthused about the bees themselves.  Following our recent cousin camp, my granddaughter Hannah (age seven) spent some time helping me work my beehives, then spent most of the day helping at the bee store. I was amazed at her bravery while I worked the hive.  She worked the smoker for me, smoking the bees down off the topbars of the frames so that it was easier for me to pick up frames without hurting any bees.  She was paying very close attention to that and let me know any time I inadvertantly crushed a bee.


     Later, at the bee store, I had to remove some queen bees from our queen bank.  The queen bank is a small "nuc" beehive with no queen of their own and lots of young bees who take good care of  about 40 or so queen bees confined in cages.  The confinement is necessary to keep the queens from wacking each other.  Hannah stood right by me as I removed the queens form the queen bank then watched closely as I marked one of the queens.  Once the queen was marked, Hannah quickly volunteered to help me put the queen back into her cage.  This involves handling the queen with bare hands and can be a bit tricky.  Some queens go right back into the cages and some seem inclined to do anything but that.  Hannah's queen was a bit contrary so grandpa ended up putting her back into her cage.

   The thing Hannah seemed to enjoy the most at the bee store was our observation hive.  I've had bees in it for over three weeks now and so far they are doing quite well. It is a big attraction for any kids that come into the store.  Hannah spent a lot of time watching the bees in the observation hive asked a lot of good questions about the things she saw. 

     I was really impressed that Hannah stayed at the store until the end of the day. I even gave her a chance to go home and she declined.  Its pretty unusual that a kid that young doesn't get bored and want to go home and play at some point.   I think Hannah will make a pretty good beekeeper some day, but it may be a few years before her dad will allow her to keep a beehive in their backyard.     

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Local Bees Working Hard

    I got a pleasant surprise a few days ago when I discovered my sweet cherries are setting fruit.  Last year it rained practically every day the cherries were in bloom.  I ended up with only a handful of Rainier cherries and not one cherry from my other seven cherries trees. When I say handful, I'm not exaggerating. I could literally hold my entire cherry crop in one hand.  We've had a fairly rainy spring this year too, but the trees bloomed almost a month later than last year.  There were just enough breaks in the weather by the time the cherries finally bloomed that my honeybees were able to do their job. All those blossoms turning into cherries is really a beautiful sight.

    While honeybees may be hardworking, they are not the most efficient pollinators when it comes to cherries.  I read somewhere that when a honeybee visits a cherry blossom there is only a one in thirty chance that particular blossom will set fruit.  Those are long odds.  Nature compensates in several ways.  First, a cherry tree produces many more blossoms than it needs for a full fruit crop. On the other hand, the bees bring such a large numbers of workers to the table that in good weather most blossoms get visited more than once.

    One of the reasons I have six different varieties of sweet cherries is as a hedge against our variable spring weather.  I have one each Lambert, Bing, Rainier, Hudson, Lapins, and an unknown variety purchased from Home Depot. It was labeled as a Montmorency pie cherry but turned out to be a sweet cherry.  I love sweet cherries and each year hope springs eternal that I'll actually get a good crop from them.  I usually get some cherries every year, but rarely do I get as many as I'd like and I've only had extra cherries to can one year so far.  The Rainier cherry is doing the best this year with the unknown variety coming in a close second. The poorest is the Lambert, but I never expect any cherries from it.  It blooms first and I don't think I have another cherry that blooms early enough to pollinate it well. Even the Lambert looks like it will have at least a few cherries on it this year..  However, in spite of the Lambert's consistently poor track record in fruit production I won't be cutting it up for firewood anytime soon.  It has the very important function of holding up one end of my hammock all summer long.

    My two pie cherry trees, a Monmorency and a Surefire, are just now coming into bloom. They are both fairly young trees. Even if they produce well this year I'll be lucky to get one cherry pie out of their combined crop.  The Montmorency has clear juice while the Surefire is a morello cherry with dark red juice.

      A brief rundown on the rest of the fruit crop is as follows:

      1.We'll have a light crop of Asian pears.  So far it looks like two of my four varieties have set some fruit.
      2.We can expect a good crop of plums.  The Shiro limbs ( my earliest plum) set very little fruit, but the two later varieties, Obilnaya and Santa Rosa seem to be making up for it.  I'm expecting to have sufficient plums to do some plum jam this year.
       3.We have expanded our strawberry patch again and the plants look pretty healthy with lots of blossoms forming. I'm hopeful that we'll have lots of ripe strawberries when all of the grandkids show up in late June for cousin camp.
       4. The blueberries are looking good with the exception of three plants (all Darrow) which appear to have caught some kind of disease.  I'm going to dig up the infected plants and burn them.  Last year we had fresh blueberries for several months and the grandkids never did seem to clean them out.
       5. Red and Black Currants will not be on the menu this season.  I've pruned all of the red currants so as to eliminate all fruit in an effort to get rid of my currant sawfly infestation.  I pruned the black currants way back too and I'm also going to pick all of the black currants while they are still green for the same reason.
       6. It is way too early to tell if we are going to have a good apple crop this year.  The trees blooming so late may help reduce our scab problems.  I have ten apple trees with seventeen varieties represented. (Akane, Ashmead's Kernal, Aroma, Chehalis, Jonagold, Karmijn DeSonnaville, Lodi,  Melrose, Mott's Pink, Pristine, Red Cort, Sansa, Spartan, Yellow Bellflower, Wealthy, and Winter Banana.)