Saturday, December 29, 2012

Christmas in Maryland

    We had a lovely Christmas with the Romero family in Maryland.  It was very fun to get caught up with grandchildren, especially the younger ones.  Shortly after our arrival, James and Jonathan each gave me the grand tour of their favorite toys. I feel like I finally made in onto three year old Cozette's "A List".  She actually asked me to sit next to her in the car and invited me to play with Monster with her.  It was particularly fun to be there on Christmas morning. I was very impressed with Tony's stamina on Christmas morning.  He very patiently assisted both James and Jonathan in assembling fairly complex new Lego toys. He then spent a fair amount of time in the construction of James' model volcano.

I didn't end up with any group picture of the Romero children in which they were all sitting still.

      The volcano project lasted several days as the plaster, various coats of paint, and the sealant each needed to dry in turn before the volcano construction crew (Tony and James) could proceed to the next stage of construction.  Because of the lengthy construction process the actual eruptions didn't take place until the morning of the day we left to return home.  We all assembled in the dining room and got to watch a series of baking powder and vinegar volcanic eruptions.  Tony built a little safety containment berm using using wrapping paper tubes and a plastic garbage bag. The berm was for the safety of the table and other items on the table, not the spectators.  As it turned out, the eruptions were more like a Hawaiian volcano than an explosive Mt St Helens eruption.  There was a relatively steady flow of lava down the side of the volcano.  Any villages in the path of the flow would have suffered death by baking powder, but there wouldn't have been any significant ash cloud or burning debris raining from the skies.

James was pretty focused. I guess volcanic eruptions are a good way to hold a boy's attention

The eruption is fueled by baking powder, a few drops of red food coloring, and a tablespoon of vinegar

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Training Day

   A few days ago Linda and I accompanied Lia on a home school outing with Jonathan, James, and Cozette. We visited Brookside Gardens, a local park that has a very nice conservatory.  During the summer months, one wing of the conservatory is turned into a butterfly house. As Christmas approaches they convert that wing into a G scale model train exhibit. It really was quite fun. They had a long list of items hidden within the exhibit for the children to discover. That search kept Jonny and James very focused for close to an hour.  By the time we left I think Jonny had a new goal in life. In addition to growing up to become a ninja, he would also like to operate a model train display.

This portion of the train display included a model of the very conservatory which housed the train display. There is an actual moving model train within the model conservatory.

This portion of the display included  a model of a local ice rink.
Jonny carefully studies his list of hidden objects to see what is his next target. He insisted on locating the various hidden objects in order.  Maybe he'll grow up to be an engineer instead of a ninja.

    After the conservatory, we walked through the rest of the park and enjoyed their Japanese garden. The kids climbed a few trees, harassed a few geese, and generally had a great time.  This particular park has a nice light display.  The park is free during the day, but you have to pay in order to see the light display at night.
Cozette and Grandma Linda on the Butterfly Bench in the Conservatory

Just two little monkeys in a tree.
Part of the Japanese Garden

Anthony's Recital

  Linda and I are enjoying our visit with the Romeros in Maryland.   A few days ago I was able to attend my grandson Anthony's high school piano recital. First of all, I was amazed to learn they teach piano at his high school and I was even more impressed to see how much progress the students had made in one short semester. I have no clue how they go about teaching the piano to a whole room full of students at the same time. Also I suspect it may be easier to get younger kids used to playing in front of people than to wait until they are in high school to start that. Some of the kids did seem  very nervous.

   I took a little video of Anthony playing his short little piece. He did very well (from the perspective of a non-piano playing grandpa). I hope that the piano playing Kangs will be kind in their assessment of Anthony's neophyte piano skills. While I didn't ask Anthony's permission to display them on my blog I did have to ask his help in getting that video transferred into the blog considering the fact that I am a bit of a technophobe dealing with a strange computer. If he objected to my use of the video he was to polite to express it.

     After the recital was over they had a refreshments in the form of various dishes brought by the students' families. The food represented the diverse cultural heritage of the class. Ironically, Anthony had volunteered his mother to make enchiladas.  After all, red-haired fair-skinned Anthony Romero is one quarter Hispanic. Included in the varied fare were several Ethiopian dishes. Lia and I actually knew that the plate full of pancakes was part of the Ethiopian food. We visited an Ethiopian restaurant many years ago in Seattle as a daddy daughter date. Lia was still in high school.  The waiter brought out a big pancake on a plate but no silverware. Eventually we figured out that the pancake was the silverware. It just shows that you never know when some little bit of knowledge gained many years ago may come in handy.  


Monday, December 17, 2012

What is a Farm?

    I've always laughed every time my grandchildren refer to our home as a farm. We have six ducks, 10 chickens, 2 pygora goats, three cats, twelve hives of bees, a decent amount of vegetable garden, a strawberry patch, several dozen berry bushes, and little more than a dozen fruit trees.  All of this is crammed into one acre, half of which is covered by big leaf maple trees. So I was a little surprised when I received an official letter from the US Department of Agriculture requesting that I participate in a survey.  As it turned out, the survey pertained to my beehives, stemming from the fact that I had actually sold a portion of the honey they had produced on our "farm".  I looked over the survey and saw that there was an online version so I thought I'd save the government some postage and opted to complete the internet version of the survey.   When I went to the USDA website I discovered that there were two surveys waiting for my attention.  One survey pertained to my beehives and the other survey pertained to my farm.  So maybe the grandkids are right and I really am a farmer after all.

    The first survey was very simple. How many beehives did I operate and in what states. How much honey did said beehives produce?  What categories of honey did I produce and what price did I receive for it.  It was pretty simple and only took a few minutes. Just for the record, all of my honey production qualified for the appellation of "specialty honey" as it was all varietal honey, either Blackberry honey or Japanese Knotweed honey, that could be sold at a premium price.

   Since the first survey was such a piece of cake, I decided to try the second one and see if we really did qualify to be called a farm.  This second survey was quite complex. I answered "no" to lots of questions about various agricultural activities. When all was said and done, I was fairly certain we didn't really qualify to call our home a farm.  While the grandkids may not like that news, I was personally kind of relieved. The USDA survey made farming seem pretty complex which I'm sure it is. I'm not sure I'm cut out for that level of complexity in my life at the present time. I think the bee store, my bee hives, and 21 grand children are sufficient complications for my life. A real farm seemed like a lot more than I want to take on.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Good times with John

John Wesley Tunnell
   Last week I took advantage of my new "semi-retired" status to stay home and babysit my grandson John while Linda went to the nutcracker ballet with Beth and the girls. I suspect we both had a better time hanging out at home than he would have had at the ballet. I also think we helped everyone else enjoy the ballet more by staying home. I have always gotten along well with John even when he was a baby. Now that he is three he is really good company.  He has an incredible sense of humor for one so young and always puts a smile on my face. One of the things John and I have in common is we both like hats.  I was able to adjust this ball cap down to his size and he wore it for hours. He really enjoys being outside regardless of the weather and likes to help out. In the photo below John is enthusiastically herding my ducks back into their pen.

John herds the ducks past the bee hives.

John performs guard duty on the ducks while I change their water

    I only had to change John's diaper once, which I thought was pretty good for a 5 or 6 hour stint of babysitting.   Everything went really well except for my efforts to persuade John to take a nap.  I parked on the couch in front of the TV with Thomas the Tank Engine.  I figured just getting him to lie down and be still for any significant period of time would result in a nap.  As it turns out he has more stamina than I thought.  Several times I thought he had fallen asleep as I didn't see him move for a while.  It was always close but no cigar.
John and Grandpa enjoying a little Thomas the Tank Engine.

Ten minutes of semi-dozing was the closest John got to a nap.
   I cannot relate to grandparents who don't enjoy their grandchildren. Are they too wrapped up in their own lives? Possibly they are terminally self-centered and are too busy to be bothered. Maybe they did a poor job raising their kids, who in turn ended up as lousy parents and produced obnoxious grandchildren. Whatever the cause, I think they are missing out on one of life's sweetest pleasures.  I'm so grateful that all of my children turned out to be very good parents. They really make me proud.


Friday, December 14, 2012

Learning to Play the Ukulele Update II

    I've finally managed to sing and play the Hawaiian War Chant simultaneously. Not that I'm doing a quality job on either task, but its a big accomplishment for me all the same. I'm still working on those tricky bar chords I need in order to play Pearly Shells.  I'm looking forward to spending Christmas with the Romeros so I can spread the ukulele madness to yet another branch of the family. Just for the record,  that is only one of many reasons I am looking forward to Christmas with the Romeros.

   While I'm on the subject of the Romeros I have to express gratitude that Lia is such a good blogger. Since they are currently living so far away on the east coast its hard to be as involved in their lives as we would like.  I love being brought up to date on all of the little things she mentions in her blog and its nice to see all the pictures of the kids and their home.  Three thousand miles of distance makes all of the little things seem much more important. Keep up the good work Lia!

    I went to the bee club Christmas party on Tuesday night.  I can't describe it as merely poorly attended as it didn't rise to that level.  There were only eight hardy souls in attendance.  Fortunately the pot luck still turned out well. We had several main courses, a salad, bread and dessert. We just didn't have any options within most of those categories.  I consider myself a serious die hard when it comes to beekeeping. After all, I have a daughter with the middle name "Bee". Poorly attended or not, I was glad I went and I had a good time. The gift exchange also went well.  The person who drew my hand knitted bee skep hat was quit happy with it and was proud to wear it home. I ended up with a salt and pepper shaker set in the form of a bee skep and a bear. It was very cute and even met with Linda's approval. She doesn't allow me to display a lot of my bee knick knacks at home. Many of them are relegated to the bee store where they don't have to be classy to be on display.  Now I am really disappointed in spell check. It was bad enough yesterday when it failed to recognize sticker as a verb. Now it doesn't like the word skep. It actually tried to change it to skip. I think the people who write those programs must not get out much.
Our new salt and pepper shaker

     In order to foster a proper Christmas spirit I broke down and purchased a couple of Christmas CDs.  The first one is entitled "Oy to the World" by the Klezmonauts. It consists of Christmas carols played by a Jewish Klezmer band.  Linda doesn't care for it, but it always makes me smile.  Linda actually liked my second choice, a CD entitled "Celtic Christmas".  It has lots of fiddle and harp Christmas music. Whats not to like?  One more reason to love the iPhone, portable Christmas music whereever I go.



Thursday, December 13, 2012

Thanksgiving 2012

   I've been somewhat of a slacker on the blogging lately.  Since the blog is supposed to function as somewhat of a journal I probably should give some mention of Thanksgiving day with family. Rachel and Chet drove up from Oregon and we had the local Tunnells and Veatches, along with Margie and family. We had a total of 21 in attendance, ate way too much food and had a great time.  One of the highlights for me was spending several hours in the kitchen cooking with Rachel and Linda.  I also love the happy sounds of the grandkids playing nicely together (which they usually do).  Of course we would always love to have everybody here but it's tough to do. The logistics of a complete family gathering are pretty daunting these days. Somehow I failed to end up with a group picture for the blog, but I think its already been distributed pretty well on face book.

Lance learning the basics of leverage

Lance putting in one of the screws on the frame for his "car"
    I spent some quality time with Lance a few days after Thanksgiving.  He was in the mood to make something and decided he wanted to make a car.  Since we had no wheels available we did a little bit of a down payment. We started to build a frame for a car out of some treated lumber left over from the demolition of our old deck. The first task was to remove some nails from the boards we wanted to use.  It gave me the opportunity to demonstrate to Lance the proper use of leverage in pulling nails. Lance was really impressed with the little trick of using a scrap piece of board under the hammer or crow bar for leverage. He told me that he was going to teach that to his kid some day.  You have to love a kid that gets so much pleasure from building something.

Sawed, Stacked, and Stickered Big Leaf Maple Wood
     Happiness is a large pile of lumber drying at the bee store. I am the proud owner of half of this large stack of big leaf maple boards.  The wood was free. The trick was getting the rather large and heavy logs to a local friend with a sawmill.  Quentin supplied most of the labor and took advantage of our local missionaries to help him stack it.  Some of those boards are very heavy.  My major contributions were some cash to the sawyer, covering the bee store while Quentin did all of this, and providing a place for a large quantity of maple wood to dry. Stickering refers to the placement of the thin wood strips between all of the boards as they are stacked neatly. This helps ensure good air circulation so the boards can dry evenly.  Otherwise, the ends and uncovered surfaces would dry much faster than the rest of the wood and there would be lots of cracking and warping. If not properly stacked and stickered, much of this pile would end up as firewood.  Spell check keeps trying to tell me that sticker can't be used as a verb. Obviously the people who wrote that program don't know much about wood working.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Learning the Ukulele Update I

   I have finally managed to commit to memory the the first verse of the Hawaiian War Chant. I've also managed to pick up enough ukulele chords to play the song.  What I can't do yet is sing the song and play the ukulele at the same time.  However, I still have about 8 months before cousin camp to work out the bugs.  The other Hawaiian song I'm learning right now is Pearly Shells. I can play most of that song, but I still have three bar chords I need to master. The goal is to actually have somewhat of a Hawaiian repertoire by the time we do cousin camp.

   I enjoyed a day off today and spent a good part of the day raking leaves and spreading wet leaves and straw onto my garden beds. I was so pleased with the results of sheet composting this past year that I have sworn off roto-tillers.  I've never had such an easy time keeping up with the weeding as this past summer. I didn't have to spend all summer pulling up grass in my vegetable beds. Sheet composting involves a layer or two of heavy cardboard, covered with 3 inches or more of leaves, straw, spoiled hay, and other organic matter. Then I spread dolomite lime and or bone meal before I cover the whole thing with a few inches of well rotted horse manure. The nice thing is that I can do all of this soil prep during the fall and winter when I have more time available.  When spring rolls around all I have to do is rake the soil into raised rows and plant. The worms do a pretty good job moving the organic matter around and loosening the soil such that there is no need to roto-till. I do the raised rows so I'm not compacting the soil where the veggies are growing.

   I'm planning on progressing from "pseudo" to semi retired this coming year. If it works out well I will be working part time at the bee store and hopefully spending more time with grand children and  puttering in my garden. I hope to be able to work only one week per month except for the busy season at the bee store, namely March, April, and May.

   I baked two pies this afternoon, one apple and one heavenly hazelnut. (The recipe for Heavenly Hazelnut pie is included in my blog post dated 5/31/2010.)  Linda and I had been invited for dinner and Family Home Evening with my son's family in Monroe. We brought the pies for dessert.  My daughter-in-law fixed a wonderful dinner featuring a marmelade chicken dish that was so good that four year old Lucy dubbed it as dessert chicken.  The chicken was served with garlic mashed potatoes from the Julia Child cookbook. Two entire heads of garlic and a whole cube of butter made the potatoes much more that a mere side dish. Apparently the recipe contained a warning from Julia that if less than two heads of garlic were used it would be regretted. If the chicken hadn't be so yummy, the garlic potatoes could have qualified as the main attraction. We definitely experienced no regrets. After a lovely dinner we enjoyed a great family night with 6 year old Britton teaching the lesson. She told us the story of Daniel in the Lion's Den. A good time was had by all.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

More Fun Times in Oregon

   Linda and I drove home from Oregon yesterday.  Its always a good feeling to be home, but we had a great time with grandchildren.  Shortly after our departure, Elise was complaining to our daughter Sarah that she wasn't as much fun as grandma and grandpa.  I guess that  means we can declare victory. Yet, I don't feel like we were particularly indulgent while Elise and Lilly were under our care. I hope we didn't spoil them so badly that we'll be fired as babysitters.

    During our stay in Forest Grove we also got to spend some quality time with Lance and Luna.  In the photos below they are modeling a Griffindor scarf my mother knitted for Lance. I guess Lance wore it two days straight after I delivered it. As soon as he took it off, Luna started wearing it. One of the reasons it is so rewarding to make something for a child is that they really seem to appreciate it so much.  It warms my heart every time I see one of the grandkids wearing something I helped make for them. When we first arrived in Oregon on Halloween Elise was wearing a sweater Grandma Cozy had knitted from yarn I had spun. As we stopped by to say good bye to the Arnett's, Luna was wearing Lance's Griffindor scarf and a tam hat I had knitted for her. The weather had turned cold enough that I knew she hadn't just put them on just to butter up her grandpa.

Luna wearing Lance's scarf

Lance modeling his Griffindor scarf

               As we were leaving Forest Grove we stopped by Jossy Farms near Hillsboro to pick up some hazelnuts.  They have a website at  We bought two 25 pound bags of hazelnuts at $2.00 per pound. They run them through a cracker at no extra charge so we only have to sort them rather than crack them ourselves.  Its very fun to buy them straight from the grower in 25 pound bags. They had a nice little handout with instructions for storing and roasting hazelnuts, along with a few recipes and interesting facts.  My favorite interesting hazelnut fact was that 97 percent of the entire U.S. hazelnut crop is grown in western Oregon.  We have several hazelnut bushes/trees but the squirrels always get every last nut. They seem a lot more attentive to that fact of the hazelnuts being are ready to pick. I think I would have to either grow a lot more hazelnuts or implement a serious squirrel eradication program in order to harvest any hazelnuts for myself.

I can only imagine how much hazelnuts it would take to fill all of these boxes.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Halloween and Other Fun Times in Oregon

    Linda and I went south to visit the children and grandchildren living in the Portland area this past  week.  We arrived in time on Wednesday in order to accompany grandkids trick or treating. Since Elise and Hannah were dressed in bee costumes, I simply wore my beekeeper outfit. Fortunately I had washed it recently so my bee suit wasn't speckled with bee poo. The analogy was appropriate as I tried to keep track of them while they ran hither and thither gathering sugar.  Lilly went as a Raggety Ann "mini me" with her mother.  Chloe was Audrey Hepburn, Autumn was Hermione Granger, and Rachel simply borrowed a football jersey from a friend and called that a costume.  Rachel and Chet showed up with Lance and Luna before we finished so it ended up as a little family Halloween party.

   Thursday morning I went with Sarah to check out her chickens and to gather some apples from their friends' trees.  That evening Linda and I drove to Hillsboro and went out to eat with Rachel, Lance, and Luna at one of the local McMinnamin restaurants. It was a fun time.  I'm very grateful that I have Quentin as an employee who makes it possible for me to escape the bee store for family time.

    I took my sour dough starter with me and enlisted Autumn as my "Pancake Paduan". She made sour dough pancakes from scratch twice before I came home, the second time without any help from me at all.  If they have pancakes several times a week it should be pretty easy for her to take good care of the sour dough starter. I also spent Friday canning apple pie filling and apple sauce with the enthusiastic assistance of Chloe, Hannah, Elise, and Lilly.  The older two girls were attending the "Time Out for Girls" activity in Portland so did not participate in the canning. We ended up with seven quarts of apple sauce and 5 quarts of apple pie filling.
Hannah peeling and coring apples

Elise working Sarah's apple peeler 
   Saturday morning involved two soccer games, Chloe and Hannah being on  one team and Autumn on another. Fortunately they were at the same time and on adjacent fields so I could simply reverse the direction of the chairs as we were sitting watching one game and we were then watching the other game.  In spite of all of the flip flop spectating I managed to watch Chloe score a goal.  Both games ended up as 4-4 ties. I have to admit it was less fun to watch Autumn's team as Autumn was playing defense. Whenever she was really active it meant things weren't going well for her team. When her team was doing well, Autumn was standing in the middle of the field watching the action on the other end of the field in front of the other team's goal.

    Sadly, all good times have to end sooner or later, and I had to leave at about 1:00 in the afternoon on Saturday to drive home.  However, this trip home has a short turn-around as I'm going right back down Tuesday morning in order to help Linda babysit the younger Kanglings while Chris and Sarah go on a trip to Mexico without children.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Grape Harvest Completed

    I finished juicing the last of our grapes a few days back.  The total production for this year was 6 gallons, which is down some from prior years. Part of that drop is due to the fact that the grapevines out by the driveway were severely pruned when we took down the old deck and split rail fence.  The vine that was growing up on the old deck is an Interlaken grape and has been very productive in years past. There are also two Canadice grapevines next to the driveway that previously were trellised along our split rail fence.  Linda has persuaded me to remove all three of those vines this coming winter.  As a trade off I will be expanding the front vegetable garden to include that entire side of the front yard.
From left to right, Interlaken, Canadice, and Valiant grape juice

     The color variation in the grape juice depends on which varieties of grapes were used to make each batch.  The purple Valiant grapes produce a dark juice that looks and tastes similar to the frozen Concord grape juice sold in the grocery store. The red Canadice grapes produce a pretty rose colored juice, while the green Interlaken grapes produce a light pink grape juice.  The juice is translucent when it first is put into the bottles from the steamer juicer and turns opaque within an hour or so as the juice cools.  I discussed this phenomena with a chemist friend. He explained that the sugars and other compounds may be forming micro crystals as the juice cools. The crystals are small enough such that they remain in suspension and cause the juice to become opaque.
The bulk of this year's grape harvest

    I briefly thought I had a deer problem as the low hanging grape vines around the duck pen had been pruned to a higher level.  I've actually seen a few deer in the neighborhood within the past month, although never that close to our yard. I even found some suspicious looking tracks in the new garden bed I'm making just next to the duck pen.  As it turns out, deer tracks and goat tracks are very similar. I had fed grape prunings to the goats when we had to prune back vines during the summer. Jack Black apparently developed a taste for them and was doing a little extra curricular pruning during one of his escapes.  Fortunately, I had already harvested those grapes and I would have pruned those portions of the vines anyhow.  Jack Black tends to be a bit indiscriminate in his pruning so I need out find out how he is getting out and repair or reinforce that portion of the fence.

     Linda and I enjoyed a visit from Conner and Natalie today.  Conner helped me harvest apples this morning.  It made me glad that I hadn't yet pruned off all of those lower branches as I watched Conner standing on his tiptoes to pick apples.  After I had emptied my special apple picking bag I could hear the apples begging me to make them into a pie.  When I told the kids I was going to make apple pies, Natalie immediately volunteered to help. She has a keen interest in cooking for one so young.  I let her add the cinnamon and she got a little carried away.  The pies still turned out well, but they had the most cinnamon of any apple pies I have ever made.  The crust was wonderfully light and flakey thanks to Emeril's pie crust recipe and my low protein biscuit flour. Happiness is being able to consistently make wonderful pie crust.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Fireplace Insert

    I had a quiet day at the bee store today, just one paying customer.  I took advantage of the time to get caught up on accounting stuff and to do some assembly work. If this keeps up, I may even have time to get better organized and tidy the place up a bit. I also found time to make yet another batch of fire starters. I use paraffin, beeswax scraps, dryer lint and paper egg cartons to make fire starters for the wood stoves.  Its getting to be that time of year when I need to be more concerned about the size of my wood pile and my supply of fire starters.  I have several cords of wood stacked and dried, but I should really have more than that.  I also need to get our fireplace insert up and running.

Fire Starters, made from paraffin, scrap beeswax, dryer lint, and paper egg cartons

Our Colony Hearth Fireplace Insert

The optional cooking surface

    I got a good deal on a used Colony Hearth fireplace insert towards the end of last winter. The only catch was there was no firebrick inside the stove.  I bought the necessary firebrick, but there was a certain amount of grinding and cutting required to make it fit in the stove.  I got halfway through that process last spring when the store got busy and the fireplace insert dropped quite a few places on my priority list. The recent cool weather has moved that job right back to the top of the "To Do" list.  I've got another minor problem to fix before the new stove will function properly. The person who designed our fireplace thought it would look nice if one side of the mouth of the fireplace were to be recessed several inches. Artistically speaking, that may have been a good idea. I don't have an opinion on that aspect. However, the fireplace insert won't draw properly unless the resultant gap can be plugged to force all of the chimney's draft to come through the insert.  My friend Quentin, who knows how to fix practically anything, has an idea how to make that work.

   This particular fireplace insert has a door that can be easily lifted off so that it can also function as an open fireplace if desired.  It also has a nice flat area on top of the stove that can be used for cooking.  That feature will be very popular the next time we lose power for several days.  I'm looking forward to having a serious wood stove in our living room. The fireplace didn't provide much in the way of heat and mainly served for esthetic purposes.

     I also am anxious to try out the fireplace insert as a bread oven.  Our bishop, a serious bread baker, has taken to baking bread in their fireplace insert. He developed the technique from necessity as they had a power outage once last winter while he had bread rising.  His effort to salvage the bread turned out so well that it became his preferred method of baking.  He simply builds a good hot fire, lets it burn down to coals, then pushes all of the coals to the back of the stove and plops his bread dough right onto the firebricks.  He says that he gets as good as spring from the insert as from his regular oven.  Bishop Nielson also has a little magnetic thermometer attached to the outside of his fireplace insert so he can better determine the temperature of his bread oven.  I was interested enough in baking to capture my own wild sour dough starter, but I have only dabbled thus far in baking bread. I would like to bake bread more often, especially now that the weather has turned colder.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Bean Soup

     I've been anxious to try cooking my home grown dry beans so I made some bean soup tonight.  I didn't do anything fancy.  I just soaked a cup of Rockwell beans for about six hours. I would have soaked them for 24 hours, but I was a bit impatient.  I was amazed at how quickly they cooked.  I had  heard that old dry beans take much longer to cook than fresh dry beans.  I had never cooked with fresh dry beans to see just how much difference there was.  After the six hour soak I boiled the beans for a half hour and then let them simmer while I was busy juicing grapes with the steamer juicer.  By the time I finished juicing the grapes I noticed that the beans were done.

    I made a fairly simple soup. I added 1/2 chopped onion, a few chicken bouillon cubes, some minced garlic, three or four slices of cooked chopped bacon, and some black pepper. I cooked it just enough longer for the onions to be done.  Linda and I both thought it turned out pretty wonderful. Most of the pretty color of the Rockwell beans disappeared with the soaking.  What little color was left didn't last through the cooking. They looked pretty much like any other cooked white bean.
Bean soup, very simple and very tasty, 

    There seems to be a diversity of opinions as to the proper way to soak dry beans.  I read a book entitled The Resilient Gardener last summer.  It is sort of a sustainability/organic/survivalist gardening book. It is devoted to the subject of raising five specific things that a home gardener in the maritime northwest could use to provide all of their own food supply in difficult times. Those five things were potatoes, beans, corn, squash, and ducks.  Obviously, a significant portion of the book was devoted to growing, harvesting, and cooking dry beans. The author, Carol Deppe, advocated the same soaking method for cooking beans as she did for planting beans, that is a 24 hour soak with several changes of water.  I have soaked legume seeds overnight prior to planting for many years. I have not changed the water several times during soaking.  Carol Deppe is a plant breeding expert so she is pretty specific when it comes to methods of growing, storing, and planting seeds. She also eats a great deal of beans and claims that the longer soaking time greatly reduces the amount of gas produced when the beans are eaten.

    In the past, I have mainly relied on the method of soaking and cooking dry beans that I found on the labels of the cans of dry beans we got from the LDS dry pack cannery.  That method is very simple and  works very well.  The beans are sorted and rinsed. Then one pound of beans is boiled for two minutes in eight cups of water. The beans are then soaked for one hour, then drained and rinsed. Finally the beans are cooked for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. This method has the major advantage of being quick. You could decide you would like beans for lunch right after you finish breakfast and you would still be able to pull that off.

   I can't say for certain that the longer soaking time reduces the gas effect, as I haven't given it a fair trial. However, this particular batch of bean soup didn't seem to have the usual effect.  Possibly that came from a longer soaking time. It could also be that I didn't eat as much of the soup as normal. (Linda wanted me to save her some for lunch the following day).  Since I harvested about a gallon of dry beans this fall,  I should be able to figure this out before they are gone.

     Carol Deppe offers another helpful suggestion as to how to reduce the gas produced by eating beans.  In her opinion the main problem is that we don't eat beans often enough. Thus our individual digestive tracts are not properly adapted to eating beans. We don't have the right mix of intestinal flora that would develop if beans were part of our every day diet. In other words, we get gas from eating beans because we only eat them once in a great while.

    As I stated above, the fresher the dry beans, the easier they are supposed to cook. Another important factor is the water.  My grandparents (Guy Dudley Tunnell and Linnia Sylvia Lee) lived on a farm near Mystic, Iowa. I have wonderful childhood memories of time spent on their farm.  They had no indoor plumbing and got their water from a hand pump well in the front yard.  Their well water had a very high mineral content and tasted strongly of iron.  I actually liked the taste of their water, but it didn't work very well for cooking beans. Allegedly, the beans could be boiled for hours in their hard water without cooking. Consequently, they had to bring home water from town specifically for the purpose of cooking beans. Beans and cornbread made up a significant portion of their diet. I don't know how Grandma Tunnell prepared the beans for cooking. I don't recall if they raised their own dry beans either. I was only interested in eating them at that age. I'll have to ask Mom if she remembers any details.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Grandpa Jim Meets an Author

     A few weeks back I received a call from a fellow who wanted to buy some live bee grubs and live bees. He turned out to be an author, David George Gordon, who had written a book about eating bugs. The book, originally published  over ten years ago, was going to be republished next summer. He wanted to update his book with some additional photos, including the recipe for "Three Bee Salad".  I was able to satisfy his request by selling him a frame of brood from my modified Warre hive. He stopped by the bee store a few days later to pick up his purchase. I found him to be a very engaging person with a showman's flair, and certainly quirky enough to make a good beekeeper. Exactly my kind of people.

    As it turns out he has written a number of other books, one of which I had actually read, "The Field Guide to the Slug". This is an invaluable book for any organic gardner in the maritime northwest. Slugs are truly the bane of my existence as a gardener, particularly during our soggy spring weather. The best way to control any garden pest is to first learn about their life cycle.  It is really important to know your enemy. There wasn't a great deal of information generally available in the local library on slugs and snails until Mr. Gordon filled that void. Since the publishing of "The Field Guide to the Slug" he has even written a sequel, entitled "The Secret World of Slugs and Snails: Life in the Very Slow Lane". That one I haven't yet read, but I'm looking forward to it. He also wrote a book entitled "The Compleat Cockroach". I think I'll pass on that one.

     The "Eat-A-Bug Cookbook" details the use of bugs as food in various cultures throughout the globe. It also has lots of recipes that allow one to incorporate common local insects into dishes that are sure to grab the attention of all the guests at that fancy dinner party. I have a bee store friend who is really taken with the wonderful flavor of raw bee grubs. He described them as tasting better than the sweetest creamed corn he ever ate. I haven't yet taken up his challenge to try them. Somehow it seems wrong to me to eat my bees. Yet, I'm not so sentimental that I can't eat a duck or a chicken.

      Before leaving, David gave me his business card.  He even offered to send me an advance copy of his revised bug cookbook.  One of the things he does for a living is to travel around the country doing lectures and demonstrating bug cooking skills. I looked at his website a few days ago and discovered that he will be doing a demonstration on Halloween at Paxton Gate, a science store in Portland.  I thought I should make sure the Portland area grandchildren were aware of this. Since Halloween falls on a Wednesday this year, it sounded like a great excuse for a field trip.  More information about David George Gordon, author, lecturer, bug chef, is available at
David George Gordon at the Beez Neez

My personal copy of  "The Eat-A-Bug Cookbook"

      I wrote the above portion of this post this morning.  Much to my surprise the bug chef himself dropped by the bee store this afternoon for a visit.  He returned the empty frame, having removed the comb and brood, and brought me a copy of his book as promised. I was, of course,  delighted to add another cookbook to my collection. I don't think I'll be getting many volunteer guinea pigs for these recipes. (I promise I won't be serving them on the sly to unsuspecting relatives.) He showed me the photo of "Three Bee Salad" to be included in the next printing of his book. We also discussed various possible methods for removing frozen pupae and larvae from the combs. It appears I might end up as the regular purveyor of bee brood to the bug chef. If so, I don't think I'll be changing my business cards to reflect that.


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Knitted Beehive Hat

   I finished the beehive hat I started after the Beekeepers Convention. It was pretty easy and would have been even easier if I hadn't lost the directions on how to do the decrease.  It only required beginner knitting skills, cast on, knit, purl, and knit 2 together.  The hat is knitted in the round and the pattern is just three rows of knit followed by four rows of purl. It holds the beehive shape even when its not being worn. Linda was a bit skeptical when I first told her I was knitting a beehive hat.  However, it grew on her and she ultimately declared it to be very cute.
Knitted Beehive Hat. All it needs now is some carefully placed honeybee buttons.

    Business has slowed down at the store. While I always welcome business it is nice to be able to catch  my breath and get caught up on a lengthy "To Do" list.  I bottled honey this morning,  then cleaned out old frames while I filtered beeswax in the afternoon. Last night I made some cut comb honey before I left work.  I usually buy comb honey from a local beekeeper, but there wasn't much available this year.  Hopefully the cut comb I did will tide over those customers who just have to have their comb honey.
Quentin, my trusty employee, is off hunting in Wyoming so I'm working 5 days a week for most of October. I guess I've grown accustomed to my usual three day work week which allows more time puttering in the garden.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Roast Duck

    Its been a busy week and I finally got around to roasting the duck. I agonized for several days over which recipe to use. I borrowed Julia Child's book from my daughter-in-law, Beth. I also spent a lot of time with an Italian cookbook entitled "The Silver Spoon" that I had purchased last fall.  I finally settled on a recipe from the Italian cookbook called "Anitra Farcita con Miele" or "Stuffed Duck with Honey" (page 1014). I guess I'm a sucker for recipes that include honey.

Stuffed Duck with Honey

     I'll admit up front that I didn't follow the recipe faithfully. I used bacon in the stuffing because I had bacon but didn't have ham. I also added a little semi-cooked rice to the stuffing just because I wanted rice. I partially cooked the rice before I put it into the stuffing because I had a bad experience once with dry rice in a stuffed bird that failed to cook completely (the rice, not the bird). The stuffing ingredients  included chopped onion, about 6  chopped slices of cooked bacon, chopped duck liver, and one cup of brown rice (partially cooked), and a portion of the honey and soy sauce mixture that was used to marinate and baste the duck..  The stuffing turned out very well.

    The roast duck itself was wonderful.  I omitted the brandy called for in the marinade recipe. Since I don't drink I don't have brandy sitting in my pantry. I don't know how soy sauce ended up in an Italian cookbook but I can't argue with the results.  My sweetie isn't a fan of roast duck and hasn't been feeling well the past few days anyhow.  Consequently, I have the roast duck all to myself.

     As much as I enjoy eating roast duck that is pretty far down the list of reasons why I keep ducks, The primary reason is probably slug control. Slugs are the bane of any organic gardener's existence in our wet maritime climate. Its nice to have the ducks happily eating the slugs and magically turning them into duck eggs. In the fall and in early spring I can let the ducks run loose for a  while every day and let them forage for slugs on their own. When the garden is full of young emerging plants and is rather fragile I do the foraging for them and collect slugs from the garden and yard. That is not as tedious as it sounds as our slugs are quite large and numerous.  Its hard not to love a creature that can eat a slug with such enthusiasm. I wish I could leave them out more but they require close supervision while foraging. I'm not the only creature in the neighborhood that enjoys eating duck.

   Another important reason I keep ducks is the fact that my sweetie really enjoys having them around.  The India Runner ducks have an upright carriage that makes them resemble a walking bowling pin. They were built for slapstick humor. They make her smile whenever she sees them waddling around our yard. Eggs are yet another good reason to keep ducks. The India Runners are prolific layers and kept us well supplied with eggs. I had one duck that started to lay the last week of January and other one started the first week of February. That was without any artificial light to encourage them to lay. They started well before the chickens although I'm still getting eggs from our chickens. The ducks started their egg laying hiatus several weeks back.

     Soil fertility is also a wonderful benefit to having ducks. I muck out the duck pen at least three times each year and it all goes right into my garden beds. I periodically generate lots of sawdust and shavings at the bee store. Most of that goes into the duck pen as bedding. After the addition of copious amounts of duck manure it comes out as compost.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Beeswax Lip Balm

Loran Oils Lip Balm Kit
     The presentation at the bee club meeting last night went well. It was a pretty good laugh line when I told them I had made lip balm for the first time the previous evening. I told them that had always been Rachel's area of expertise. I also thought that was a pretty clear indication that making beeswax lip balm is not difficult. I simply bought a kit, followed the simple instructions, and the lip balm turned out great on the first try. The only complication I see is measuring the beeswax. The recipe called for three teaspoons of pelleted beeswax. As far as I know, none of my friends at the bee club produce pelleted beeswax from their hives.  I used my cooking scale to convert that to a weight measurement of 10 grams of beeswax. Similarly, some of the recipes I found on the internet also used volume measures of beeswax rather than weight.

    I'm thinking I should make up some lip balm kits to sell in the store during the candlemaking season. I've already gathered a selection of recipes from the internet in preparation for the bee club presentation. Several of the store's jar suppliers carry small containers suitable for lip balm. That would give me an excuse to experiment a little more. I could even make up a lavender lip balm for those misguided souls in the family who think lavender is a flavor. However, I think it would be much more satisfying to make it from my own beeswax rather than the pelleted Chinese beeswax that came in the kit.

    Last night also marked the start of my last month as bee club president. We hold elections in November and I have put everyone on notice that I am not running for re-election. I feel like I have done my duty for a year and its now someone else's turn. It seems the most difficult part of the job is  recruiting a replacement. You can never find a good control freak when you really need one. However, I think I have successfully persuaded several qualified applicants to allow themselves to be pressed into service.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Dead Duck

    I had to butcher one of our ducks this afternoon.  We had seven ducks, two of which were males. That was apparently one male too many as they were not getting along at all.  The younger male was getting the worst of it as Popeye, the older male, was behaving more like Blutto.  So I'm sitting under an apple tree in our little orchard plucking a duck when one of our cats became very interested in my activity. Little Miss Buzz Saw is quite the little hunter herself and often leaves us gifts of small dead creatures that she had killed during the night.  She left a dead chickadee on the back porch this very morning. I imagine she was excited to see that I had done a little bird killing of my own. After her fifth unsuccessful attempt to watch the duck plucking from my lap she decided to climb the apple tree instead. I'm sure she was a bit puzzled as to why I would go to all the trouble of plucking off the feathers.  Her tastes run more towards "bird sushi" as she likes to eat her birdies raw.

   I really enjoy eating duck as I'm a dark meat fan. A duck or goose is 100 percent dark meat. However, chickens and turkeys are much easier to pluck than the waterfowl.  Simply put, with all of their down a waterfowl has twice as many feathers to remove. I don't know if there literally are twice as many feathers, but it sure seems that way when I'm trying to remove them. It takes me about twice as long to pluck a duck or goose compared to a chicken or turkey. The only up side to the extra bother is that is I do have a duck down stash that is waiting for a worthy project.
Miss Buzz Saw watches intently

The object of Miss buzz Saw's rapt attention

   Tonight I tried out the lip balm kit. The recipe called for 4 teaspoons of pelleted beeswax (10 grams) 3 teaspoons of sweet almond oil, 2 teaspoons of shea butter and 1/4 teaspoon of a flavor or essential oil of choice. I'm teaching the class at the bee club tomorrow night so I needed a few samples. I made four each of three different flavors, peppermint, pineapple, and tangerine.  If I had to pay $1.50 for each one it would come close to covering the $20.00 I paid for the kit. Besides, I used less than half of the materials in the kit to make the twelve lip balms. I broke down and bought the kit because it came with the little containers I needed. I could have made them a whole lot cheaper if I had planned sufficiently ahead and just bought the ingredients and containers. I happen to be well supplied with clean beeswax.

   I also spent some time looking for lip balm recipes on the internet. Some of the recipes called for some vitamin E and others included some honey.  Most of the recipes were simply a combination of beeswax with some type of liquid oil such as sweet almond oil, coconut oil, jojoba oil, or olive oil., with some sort of essential oil added for  flavoring and scent. The key is to get the right proportion so the lip balm is the right consistency.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Five Lamborghinis

One of Five Lamborghinis heading south
   I saw something very remarkable as I was driving south on Interstate 405 to the second day of the Beekeepers Convention. Not one, but five brand new Lamorghini sports cars drove by in a line. I had the presence of mind to take a quick photo with my iPhone. I've never had the desire to own or drive a Lamborghini. I'd have to be seriously stinking rich before I could ever look at that as anything but a frivolous waste of money. I hope I wouldn't buy one even if I could afford one, but I suspect my judgement might be colored if I were extremely rich. Yet they are very remarkable machines and part of me is glad there are people out there who are willing to fritter away their money on something like that. I guess its fun to see one on the road every once in a great while.

   I had a good time at the last day of the Beekeepers Convention. I enjoyed an interesting presentation by an OSU professor on various aspects of honeybee health and nutrition.  Dr. Gloria DeGrandi-Hoffman, a research scientist from the USDA Bee Lab in Tucson, also spoke about the latest Hopguard trials. Hopguard is a new mite medication that is a byproduct from the processing of hops that are used in making beer. I think its wonderful stuff because its a food grade pesticide. Its a great blessing for beekeepers who want to be as organic as is practicable. It effectively kills the mites, but doesn't bother the bees and leaves no nasty chemical residues in the hive.

    The last speaker I heard was Bob Redmond, a customer of the bee store who spoke about urban beekeeping.  He has bee yards scattered throughout Seattle and delivers local honey to customers on his bicycle. He made some interesting comparisons by translating the everyday tasks of a honeybee to human scale.  One 1/2 mile foraging trip by a honey bee is the equivalent of a man on a bicycle riding 300 miles in order to pick up a 50 pound load and bring it home. Since a honeybee can make many such trips in just one day, we are really living life in the slow lane compared to honeybees.

   I couldn't leave the convention without buying something to commemorate the event.  I finally settled on one of the Ruhl Bee Supply T-shirts.  I loved the one with a cartoon depicting a bear walking away carrying a honey super. I bought a second T-shirt for Quentin with a bee smoker on the front and the caption "I smoke burlap". I suppose we shouldn't be wearing T-shirts with a competitor's logo, but Portland is far enough away that they really aren't in competition with the Beez Neez. I am thinking we really need to come up with our own cool T-shirts.

   I left the convention early so I could get home in time for the Priesthood session of General Conference. I met my son James at the Monroe building just as it was starting.  It was a wonderful contrast to the materialism represented by the five Lamgorhini sports cars I had seen earlier in the day. I love listening to the brethren. They offered great counsel on how to avoid the snares of the world. Much of their counsel seemed to be directed towards the young men. I particularly enjoyed President Monson's talk. I can't understand how anyone can listen to him and not know that he is indeed the Lord's prophet.

   After the Conference session I stopped by James' home and enjoyed ice cream and Beth's home made cookies with the Tunnell family. It makes me happy that the grand children are always glad to see me and I am always very glad to see them. Britton was very concerned that Grandma was home sick in bed so she sent me home with some artwork to cheer her up.


Friday, October 5, 2012

State Beekeepers Convention

   I spent most of the day at the Washington State Beekeepers Convention in Tukwila.  The day didn't go exactly as planned.  I was supposed to drop off Linda at SeaTac airport on my way to the convention. En route she became ill and decided she was in no shape to get on an airplane.  She patiently slept in the car in the parking lot while I attended the morning session.  By late morning she had determined that an airplane flight was not in the cards for this day and I drove her home and put her to bed.  I felt very badly for Linda, whose day did not go anything like she had planned. However, I still had to drive back down to the bee convention. I'm on the Master Beekeeper Committee and I was supposed to attend a committee meeting and distribute books to some of the instructors.

    I learned some interesting things today. There were several presentations by WSU grad students on topics such as genetic diversity, cryogenic preservation of honeybee genetic material, and overwintering honeybee colonies in controlled environment storage facilities. It was some serious bee geek stuff. I enjoyed looking at the vender tables. I buy bee supplies from some of them, while others might represent competition if they were located closer to Snohomish.

     I really liked some of the T-shirts and greeting cards being sold by Ruhl Bee Supplies, located near Portland. I met the current owners who were manning their table. As it turns he retired and they bought that business about six or seven years ago, just about the same time Linda and I bought the Beez Neez Apiary Supply. The wife has some sort of graphic arts background and had designed the cards and T-shirts. One shirt had a bee smoker and read "I Smoke Burlap".  Another shirt depicted a bear walking away with a full honey super, no caption necessary.  Another shirt simply depicted some beehives with the caption "I've Got Hives".  My favorite shirt had the caption "I Work For  The Queen".

     I bought a lip balm kit to use at a bee club presentation coming up this next week.  The meeting program topic is lip balms and candles.  I'm pretty comfortable with the candle part of the presentation but I've not done much with lip balms and hand creams.  That was more my daughter Rachel's thing. A fair warning to relatives, you may end up as lip balm guinea pigs.

    My biggest score of the convention was the 15 cents I spent on a copy of a knitted hat pattern. Its a hat for a baby in the form of a bee skep.  The picture shows the hat on a baby, but the pattern has 4 different sizes so it can probably be sized to fit some of my younger grandchildren. However, if any of my children do decide make any additions to our current number of 21 grand children, they can expect a baby sized bee skep hat to arrive with the baby blanket from Linda.      


Thursday, October 4, 2012

Harvesting Honey the Old-Fashioned Way

    I was pleasantly surprised to get some late knotweed honey from my bees this year.  The knotweed grows profusely on the banks of the Pilchuck River,  only a mile away. While this is well within their foraging range, my bees usually don't cash in on the Japanese Knotweed bonanza. The knotweed bloom starts sometime in August and generally lasts through the month of September. Japanese Knotweed is a non-native invasive species that is a member of the buckwheat family. While the knotweed honey is very dark and strongly flavored, it doesn't have any of the nasty after tastes or funky flavors that characterize many of the dark honeys. I tell customers at the shop that if all I have left is buckwheat honey, I am out of honey. While I definitely prefer the lighter honeys, such as blackberry, raspberry, fireweed, or orange blossom, knotweed is my favorite dark honey.

    I usually separate my bees from their "surplus honey" by means of an escape board. I think "robbing" is such an ugly term. However, I doubt that the bees would buy into the term "surplus honey" and robbing is exactly their perception of what I'm doing. From a honeybee's perspective a hive can never have too much honey so none of it would ever be perceived as surplus. They are also not inclined to show any gratitude for all of the things I do for their benefit. There is no gratitude for the wonderful home I've provided them or the timely gifts of gallons of sugar syrup or needed assistance in their battle with parasites or disease.  Ungrateful creatures that they are, they are definitely not going to buy into any lame beekeeper "quid pro quo" arguments that a portion of their "surplus honey" should go to me.  Using an escape board is the "kinder, gentler" method that avoids the argument.

Triangular escape board or double quebec board

    The type of escape board that I use is a triangular escape board. I simply remove the honey supers full of bees, place the escape board over the brood nest portion of the hive, replace the honey supers full of bees, replace the lid and close the top entrance. Within a few days, most of the bees are now downstairs below the escape board and relatively few bees remain in the honey supers. In order for the escape boards to work more quickly, it is helpful to place an empty honey super underneath the escape board. This gives the bees more room to congregate below the escape board such that they aren't being crowded out of the honey supers. The closing of the top entrance is critical. I once unknowingly used a lid that was warped so the bees were still able to gain access after the top entrance was closed. Within 24 hours the bees had totally removed every bit of honey from that honey super.

      As I was using the escape boards this year I happened to use a box that I had inherited from my daughter Rachel when she started her sabbatical from beekeeping. This particular box of frames represented a failed attempt to get the bees to draw out their own comb from scratch without the benefit of wax foundation. The result was the equivalent of a bee funhouse. The comb went in every direction and connected all of the frames together. Since I didn't plan on the bees collecting any additional honey this season I saw no harm in using the box with the screwball comb.  Was I ever surprised when the bees put a substantial amount of knotweed honey into that box. There was no way to separate and remove the frames without cutting out the comb.  My only option was to cut out all of the comb from the frames  and harvest the honey using the old-fashioned crush and squeeze method.
One of three gallon buckets of knotweed honeycomb

    I've watched a few YouTube videos on crush and squeeze honey harvesting. It never looked like it was either easy or fun. As I pondered how to approach this task I remembered an old Christmas gift I had received from my daughter Lia. A number of years ago she gave me a cheese making kit (which I had yet failed to put into use, but was still one of my favorite gifts). Included in the kit was a simple cheese press.  It seemed perfect for squeezing honey from the pieces of honeycomb and certainly had to be easier than hand squeezing.

The honey comb is placed inside a nylon mesh bag inside the cheese press

The plastic piston is put in place to squeeze out the honey


Monday, October 1, 2012

An Afternoon with Conner and Natalie

     We had a fun little visit with Natalie and Conner this afternoon.  The highlights included fun with play dough, picking the last of the blueberries, some time in the hammock, a tree climbing lesson, Linda's cotton candy machine, and a walk to the end of the street.  At Conner's request I placed him up in a crook of one of our big cherry trees. He looked like he thought he was pretty special sitting there. He had his eye on a much higher branch and asked for my help to get there, but I declined. I told him grandpa was too old for tree climbing. Actually that wasn't entirely correct. What I'm too old for is falling out of trees. I'm not afraid of heights, but I like the security of a ladder for my tree climbing.

    Conner and Natalie are both fairly enthusiastic little berry pickers.  We transferred their berries into ziplock plastic bags which they carried around with them for the remainder of their visit.  When Conner accidentally dropped a few blueberries Linda cautioned him about stepping on them. He then referred to the blueberries he had stepped on as "Dead ones".

    I went over this evening to the Parrott's house to assist Cassie in candling her chicken eggs. She borrowed our incubator and has had about 20 eggs in it for the past week.  I didn't see one egg which I could say for sure wasn't fertile. It's more difficult to tell with dark shelled eggs so we will probably know better in another week.  At one week a darker area is visible where the embryo is developing. At two weeks the dark shape of the developing chick is supposed to fill about 2/3 of the space within the shell. We may have some logistical problems if all twenty eggs hatch out. I don't think that many chicks will fit in my cage for very long. I think we will have to find a big cardboard box instead. I suspect she won't end up with all twenty hatching.

    I  spent about 7 hours at the bee store at various time during the day. The store is normally closed on Mondays, but I had to ship out 2,000 molded beeswax bars to a company in Florida. This company makes waterproof survival suits that are worn by merchant seamen and commercial fishermen all over the world.  Apparently they use beeswax to lubricate/waterproof the zippers. We made up special molds with the company logo last year so this is the second year we've done this for them. They are sending the beeswax bars to a client in the Netherlands, probably a shipping company. So I'm a wannabe locavore, organic gardener, who is still heavily involved in the global economy. Some of our bee equipment is made in places like Pakistan and China. I sell honey extractors and a mite medication that are made in Italy and an fungicidal antibiotic that is manufactured in Canada. I guess it was high time that I made something that was shipped back overseas.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Whole Wheat Sour Dough Pancakes

    I've seriously neglected my sour dough starter over the summer.  I just haven't had the time to make bread as often as the starter needs to be fed.  About a month ago I began using the starter to make sour dough pancakes and was very pleased with the results. Even more important, my sweetie really liked them.  Today I tried a new wrinkle and made whole wheat sour dough pancakes.  That actually made them 1/2 whole wheat as the starter was made with unbleached bread flour.  They turned out to be fairly light and fluffy which I consider an important feature of a good pancake. The recipe I used was as follows:

1 one cup of sour dough starter
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon canola oil

     The pancakes were absolutely wonderful with the addition of some orange blossom honey and a glass of milk.  Sadly, Linda has a touch of the flu and wasn't able to enjoy the pancakes.  Since I made a lot more than I should eat at a sitting I ended up feeding most of them to the chickens. At least that way I'll recoup the egg that I used in the recipe. Now that is serious recycling.

    If anyone wants to try my sour dough starter I would be happy to send some to you. If you aspire to be a serious sour dough purist you may want to try your hand at capturing your own sour dough culture. It really is quite easy, assuming you have an apple tree in your yard. I grew my starter from a couple of apples I picked in our back yard. Instructions can be found in my blog post dated November 20, 2011.

     My ukulele book from the library finally came due.  The only song I managed to memorize was the "Sloop John B"., a cautionary tale about the violation of the Word of Wisdom..i.e. bad things happen when you get drunk.  However, I'm eight chords ahead of where I started, I can tune it, and I'm a little more comfortable with a few strum patterns..  Now I'm looking for a ukulele book to purchase. It would be nice to find one with at least a few Hawaiian songs.  My son informed me that a local guitar store has a ukulele class on Saturday mornings.  Unfortunately, I will have to work most Saturdays for the next  month or so.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Grape Harvest

   I stayed home with a cold today and ended up feeling better than I expected by late afternoon. Of course this was after I had already cancelled several activities.  Linda watched Britton, Lucy, and John this afternoon so I enjoyed their company somewhat at arms length in order to avoid passing along my cold. Its fun to hear their happy little voices, even if I can't be as close as I would like to be.

    Three year old John decided he wanted to be outside so I took a nice little walk with him along a portion of the access road on the north side of our lot. While we stopped to admire the ducks I noticed the grapes growing over the duck pen were getting ripe.  This particular variety of grape, named Valiant, is a very early concord type of grape. They have seeds, but are smaller than Concord grapes and ripen about three weeks earlier than Concords. The big clue for me that they are ripe enough to pick is when the little birds start to eat them. John found them to be a little tart for his liking, but they still make pretty good juice at that point. I've found that if I wait until they are completely ripened, the little birds collect too large of a tax on my grape harvest.
Ripe Valiant grapes growing over the duck pen

    After Beth had picked up the kids, I got out the steamer juicer and picked enough grapes to fill the basket of the juicer. There are still more grapes to be picked. I only got three quarts of juice from that first picking. My other three grape varieties, Interlaken, Canadice, and Flame, probably won't be ripe enough to pick until mid October.  I'm pretty limited as to what varieties I can grow in our maritime climate.  Interlaken and Canadice produce dependably every year. The Flame plants produce produce grapes every other year at best.  I know the official first day of fall was September 22,  but it doesn't really feel like fall to me until I start harvesting the grapes.
A nice variety of colors

   My three Americauna hens have started to lay. I've collected a number of the cutest little blue pullet eggs over the past week. The blue eggs go nicely with the light brown eggs from the Rhode Island Red and the dark brown eggs from the Domeniques. The runner ducks stopped laying a few weeks ago or I would also have white eggs in the mix. That should actually work out very well for us as the runner ducks started laying at the end of January and had close to a two month head start on the chickens.  If the chickens lay later into the year I won't have quite so long a period where we don't get fresh eggs.  I could increase the length of their egg laying period by adding some artificial light on a timer to the poultry pens. I suspect it may be healthier for the poultry if I don't try to squeeze every last egg from them in the shortest period of time. If I were in the egg business I would probably have a different attitude and demand higher production from the poultry.