Sunday, April 29, 2012

I Get by with a Little Help from my Friends

  Our first week of package bees is drawing to a close. It went very well overall as we sold over 500 packages in our first week.  However, I feel more like a survivor than a victor.  I was very sick on Tuesday, while Quentin was in Redding, California picking up our bees.  The bee store had to be open the day before package bee day so I had no choice but to open the store.  I hope I didn't pass it on to very many customers. Fortunately, I was rescued in the afternoon when my daughter Rachel arrived from Portland. She took over the store while I laid down upstairs and took a sorely needed nap.  She awoke me occasionally and attempted to get coherent responses to pricing or location of merchandise questions. Apparently, I always had an answer to her questions, but few of them could be classed as coherent.

   Quentin and Matt Demeter arrived with the bees at about 2:00 am. They stayed up all night to remove all of the packages from the trailer and to vacuum off all of the hitchhikers and stage all of the packages at the bee store.  This is a big change from how we've done it in the past.  I've always staged them at my house, removed the "cling-ons",  and then transported them to the bee store.  I was a little dubious, but it worked much better this way.  The key to the whole plan was Quentin's willingness to work through the night.  Ah, the energy of youth!   It made the whole day easier as we were able to start handing bees out right at 10:00 am.  We still handed out 80 percent of the bees on the first day, but it was spread over 10 hours rather than 6.  As a result there was less time when we had lines of any consequence and the day was much less stressful for all concerned. I later learned that the missionaries had also gotten up in the wee hours of the morning and assisted Quentin with the unloading. One commented that it was the coolest thing he had ever done. I expressed my condolences on his sheltered life.

    Package Bee Day went very smoothly. I had Terry Johnson and David Pearson helping outside while Shannon Boling and her daughter Savannah helped Rachel inside.  Quentin experienced some serious sleep-deprivation as he refused to go home and sleep for most of the day.  Meanwhile, I wasn't really feeling sick anymore, but had very little energy. So I watched package bee day go by in fast forward while I was stuck in slow motion.  At the end of the day we had only 120 packages left.  All of the heavy lifting had been done by my good friends.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Cold Frame

     I taught a gardening class at our home Tuesday night (April 17) for the Relief Society sisters. There were about 15 sisters who attended, counting Linda. I think it was a pretty sneaky way to get Linda out to a Relief society activity. I taught the basics of gardening in Western Washiington's maritime climate. This included an explanation of our leached out soils, deficient in both calcium and phosphorus, and our lack of summer heat which makes the USDA zone chart irrelevant for many vegetable crops. I suggested they focus on growing things that work really well in our climate such as beets, carrots, cabbage, potatoes, green beans, etc for vegetables and blueberries and raspberries for fruit.  I also suggested they consider buying seeds from local companies that sell seeds that are better adapted for our climate, such a Territorial Seeds. I tried to keep it relatively simple.  I passed around one of my jars of fresh (not canned) sauerkraut for people to sample. The fresh sauerkraut seemed to be well received and I may have inspired someone to try making it.   One sister asked if she could copy the recipe I use from "Stocking Up".

    The class was originally supposed to be held out doors but the weather was not cooperative. I had rushed to complete my new cold frame for this occasion so I could use it to demonstrate how to extend the season or get a head start on vegetables that need more heat than we normally get.  I've wanted to make a decent cold frame for a long time.  I had intended to recycle our old bathroom shower door to use in the new cold frame, but Linda accidentally broke it.  It really is just as well. If it broke that easily, then it wasn't really suitable.  Instead I used some double wall plastic panels that I had down at the bee store.  We had used them to make a solar wax melter several years ago. I don't know why I didn't think of using that sooner.  It is so much lighter and probably is a lot more energy efficient than the old shower door.  The door may be light enough with the plastic panels for glazing that I may be able to install automatic vents. I intend to use the cold frame for starting plants in the spring and possibly for some extended season salad vegetables in the fall. That way my new starts will get plenty of light (not so spindly) and won't be bugging Linda in her living room.  Even when I started plants in the living room while Linda was in China, they still didn't get enough light. All the new cold frame needs now is a little weather stripping and it will be ready to go.

My new cold frame 
     The cold frame is built from wood salvaged from our former front deck.  I had done a partial repair job some time in the past five years and had used treated wood. The rebuilt portion of the old deck was ok, but the rest of it was slowly crumbling. It seemed a good use for the relatively new treated wood.  I would actually like to make a few more of them so I could have a serious winter garden. There is enough salvaged wood left for two more cold frames. Maybe I'll have some time to do that this summer after I get and arbor gate and a fence built for the front yard.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

60th Birthday

    We had a wonderful birthday celebration over the weekend as it was my 60th birthday, my mom's 80th birthday as well as 4th and 3rd birthdays for Lilly Kang and Cozette Romero respectively.  We celebrated over the course of two days since not everyone could make it on Saturday and mom had to leave for Kimberly Knapp's wedding on Sunday morning.  18 out of 21 grandchildren were present so there was truly a joyful chaos.  I really appreciated the sacrifices everyone made to be here.  It gives me such great joy to have so many of my children and grandchildren here and listen to them have such a good time together.

    I had to work some on Saturday as we are getting pretty close to the package bees and the bee store is a pretty crazy place on Saturdays.  Besides I have already gone to the well too many times and have left Quentin to handle the store by himself on several busy Saturdays during the past six weeks.   So I came home Saturday at about two in the afternoon to find Linda and our children involved in weeding out our blueberry patch as a birthday gift to me.  I was actually quite moved that they all went to such a great effort, especially considering how weedy the blueberries were before they started.  The worst of it was all of the volunteer Shasta Daisies that had spread into a significant portion of the blueberries.  The blueberry patch is a beautiful sight now that it is weed free with a new layer of mulch. The new mulch is more than just cosmetic as that is one way to keep the dreaded mummy berry fungus in check.  The only problem now is that the weed free blueberries are making their next door neighbors (the black currants) look pretty seedy.  
Weed Free Freshly Mulched Blueberries

    I received a few other special gifts besides the weed free blueberries.  Rachel got me a special boule basket that is used for shaping loaves of my favorite kind of bread.  Sarah gave me a nice selection of pyrex pie pans.  You can never have too many pie pans and I am always running short, especially around holidays. James and Beth gave me an issue of Cat Fancy magazine, a hilarious gift when you consider how much of a cat person I am not. Far and away the best gift was just having everybody there.
I told Linda that it was like a little taste of the Celestial Kingdom.

    I made biscuits for the Kangs and Romeros on Saturday morning before I left for work.  We did a comparison with one batch made from self-rising flour and one batch from all-purpose flour.  We used lard for the oil in both batches The self-rising flour biscuits were significantly lighter that the all-purpose flour biscuits.  The only negative comment regarding the self-rising batch was that Autumn thought they were too salty. Considering the Kangs'  extremely low salt diet I wasn't surprised.  Besides, I also think they are too salty. The next step in my quest for the perfect biscuit will be to locate a source of low protein flour other than the self-rising flour so I can have my light biscuits without the extra salt.

     Now that Rachel, Lia, and Sarah have all gone home things seem pretty quiet. I really don't like having the Romeros so far away, but I do realize its where they need to be right now.  At least we'll be through the package bees soon and I won't be so tied down to the store. Then I can at least make a little trip to Oregon once in a while. Its wonderful having them all together, but its also wonderful to have a the one on one time that we get visiting them one family at a time.

    The ducks seem to be recovering nicely from the visit of the grand children.  Considering the level of harassment I was really surprised that the egg production didn't drop.  Linda went out once and found little three year old Cozette holding a duck up by the neck. She has apparently inherited her big sister's gift for catching poultry.  The current tally as of 4/18/2012 is Ducks 140,  Chickens 37.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Mason Bees

Note the two females peeking out from the nest tunnels

I was surprised at the detail as I took these photos with my iPhone

     The mason bees are finally out.  I took these pictures when I came home for lunch and found several mason bees shyly peeking out from their nesting tunnels. I have been anxiously waiting for my mason bees to emerge as I already have several fruit trees starting to bloom.  The bees are usually out by April Fools Day but everything has been running late this year. For the past week I have left my orchard ladder up against the south wall where the mason bee nests are hung. This has allowed me to check them every day and monitor their progress.  I saw a few males hanging out on the nests several days ago, but this was the first time I found females in the nesting tunnels.

     I have 5 beehives that survived the winter, three of which are really going gangbusters.  However, I don't trust the honeybees to do the job on our early tree fruit. Often it is too cold or too wet for the honeybees. The mason bees do a better pollination job in our wet variable springs.  Before I started doing mason bees I only got sweet cherries one year out of three. Now that I have mason bees I get cherries almost every year.

    I'm looking forward to a good fruit season.  Of course I'm an incurable optimist and I look forward to a good fruit season every year. Sometimes I am disappointed. Some things do very well in our climate and are very dependable.  Other things are very hit or miss.  We do very well almost every year on blueberries, grapes, strawberries, and raspberries.  Now that I've got some of the right varieties for our climate I'm starting to have better luck with apples.  The sweet cherries, on the other hand, are legalized gambling.  I always get some, thanks to the mason bees and 7 different varieties, but some years(like 2011) are a bit sparse. I have two pie cherry trees that are fairly small yet.  They seem to be producing consistently, but that is hard to judge when the entire harvest is only enough for two cherry pies.  I have one plum tree and one asian pear that are big enough where I may finally get a significant amount of fruit from them. Its been a long time since I produced enough plums to make jam.

       Other less conventional fruit in our garden include red currants, black currants, hardy kiwis, and lingon berries.  I have yet to harvest my first kiwi or lingon berry but I'm hoping this will be the year.  My lingon berry bushes have grown large enough that I would expect them to produce something. I even took advantage of my time at the Seattle Flower and Garden Show to ask the owner of Raintree Nursery if he had any suggestions as to why the lingon berries were not producing.  I'm less perplexed by the kiwis.  We made the mistake of believing a label that our Issei hardy kiwi was self fertile.  I now have it on both personal experience and the advice of several serious fruit geeks that no kiwis are truly self fertile.  Kiwis have male and female plants.  If you don't have a male kiwi the female plants will not produce fruit.  Three years ago we planted a male kiwi and an additional female plant (Ken's Hardy Red).  Both of those plants have grown much larger but the failed to produce any blossoms last year so we still had no kiwis.  I'm planning to build a new trellis for the kiwis, a large arching arbor.  I currently have a good supply of cedar strips so it seems a good use for them. Let's hope the new arbor will be weighed down with some fruit.

         Last year I had no currants at all.  That was by choice as a means of ridding my garden of the currant sawfly.  The currant sawfly lays its eggs in the developing fruit which ends up a dried up brown shriveled thing. I had tried to get rid of the fly the year before by changing the mulch. The larvae are supposed to crawl out of the damaged fruit and drop to the ground where they pupate in the soil.  I figured if I replaced the mulch I would get rid of the pupating flies.  They must burrow down pretty deep as that didn't work.  This last year I pruned the currants real heavily and then pruned off any blossoms that appeared so they set no fruit at all.  I figured if the fly had no place to lay its eggs, they would disappear. In a few months I will know if my scorched earth policy worked.

    I had some volunteer black cap raspberries in several inconvenient places in our garden.  I have left them alone as I do really love the blackcap raspberries. This spring I dug them all up and transplanted them into our small woodlot. They may not produce much fruit this year, but hopefully they will prosper there.  I've seen them do well in the past in some fairly shady locations.  They may require some help in keeping the blackberries at bay. We have a decent little red raspberry patch over by the strawberries now so I will survive if I don't get much from the blackcaps this year.

    Our strawberries are starting to perk up.  On Monday I started digging up the strawberry plants that have spread into the stone paths.  If anyone wants to get into strawberries, there are a couple of good beds to be had for the digging. Just bring your own containers as I am running out of small plastic pots.

   On the poultry front, the current score is Ducks 128, Chickens 19.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Joy of Grandkids

   I am thoroughly enjoying the visit of Lia and the younger portion of the houligans.  I had a lovely day off yesterday and got to spend some quality time with grandkids.  James helped me finish assembling the helicopter teeter totter Linda purchased recently.  The assembly was a whole lot more fun with James' eager assistance.  I took a nice long walk with the kids.  They had a great time playing in the woods, collecting eggs, and playing on the new teeter totter.  The younger Veatchlings were visiting for most of the day too. The climax of the day was roasting marshmallows around a campfire. It truly was just another day in paradise.

   The lovely weather was also a good opportunity for a trial of Linda's other recent purchase, the two bright yellow tandem bikes.  I had never riden a tandem bike before Linda bought these. I was amazed at how different they are to ride.  It feels like you're learning to ride a bike all over again.

   The Chickens have finally got with the program and are delivering two eggs per day. The current tally is Ducks 124,  Chickens 15.  I figured out that once all three hens are laying, it will only take them 3 and a half months to catch up with the ducks.  That is assuming we don't have any slacker hens who take a day off once in a while.

Friday, April 6, 2012


    My efforts to thwart the chickens' desire to roost atop the duck pen have finally succeeded.  Tonight I came home from the bee store just a bit before 8:00 p.m as the daylight was starting to fade.  Five of the chickens were gathered on the roof of a little open shelter I have in the chicken pen, looking perplexed as to how they could get back to their usual sleeping site.  While they were settling down for the night to roost on the open shelter roof, the older red hen was sleeping in a nice warm nest box inside the chicken coop.
Our Fresh Air Freak Chickens

The one chicken with enough sense to sleep inside

    I've been trying to break them of this bad habit of roosting on top of the duck pen for several weeks now.  I don't like the chicken poop collecting on the roof of the duck shelter or on top of the shelter over the ducks' feeder.  I have that set up to collect rain water so the ducks don't have to be watered when it rains.  With all the chicken poop on top I've had to move the ducks' water dishes to avoid any poop contaminated runoff into their water dishes.  Yesterday I had achieved partial success in that only the two roosters and one of the hens had managed to get back on top of the duck pen.  I finally figured out they were using the top of the chicken coop as a staging area in order to clear the new fencing I had added. I simply added a loose roll of leftover welded wire fencing to the top of the chicken coop and now the chickens are no longer able to fly the coop. I suppose I could also remove the little open shelter from the chicken coop and get the same result.

     I originally put the little open shelter in the chicken pen with the idea of getting some geese. I specifically wanted to get some pilgrim geese.  They are a smaller, less aggressive breed of goose, that I hoped would be more acceptable to my gooseaphobic wife.  I had actually ordered two pair of pilgrim geese from one of my favorite feed stores. I was very sad to get a call from them a few days ago regretfully informing me that the hatcheries were sold out of pilgrim geese. I will have to try the geese again next year. One thing unique about Pilgrim geese is that the males are white while the females are gray. You can actually tell the difference between males and females when they are first hatched.

     I spent yesterday evening assembling the two tandem bikes I brought home for Linda on Monday.  We took one for a brief test ride.  It was obvious that I didn't have everything adjusted quite right as the chain came loose after a few minutes. They are, however, extremely cool looking.  I suggested to Linda that we ride one in this summer's Klahaya parade. The bikes are exactly the right color, a very bright banana peel yellow.  I suggested that Linda could wear a bee costume and I could wear my bee suit.  We could even have a couple of kids in bee costumes handing out honey sticks to kids in the crowd. Amazingly enough she seemed agreeable to do that.
Mr. Buttercup's Favorite Sleeping Place

    As I was turning out light s last night I found Mr. Buttercup fast asleep in the little crib. I'm not sure where the kitten is sleeping these days. I'm just happy its not where I sleep.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Biscuit Update

      Armed with all of my new found biscuit wisdom I made biscuits for breakfast yesterday for the Veatchlings.  The results were quite remarkable. They truly were the best biscuits I had ever made. When Madelynn was asked to rate them on a scale of one to ten she gave them an eleven. While I appreciated her enthusiasm, I didn't agree that they were the perfect biscuit.  However, it seemed that I had gotten pretty darn close.  This was only my second attempt at biscuits since I had read my newly purchased book, "Southern Biscuit Basics".  I used self-rising flour, butter and butter milk.

      The only flaw I saw in this particular batch of biscuits was the fact that they were saltier than I prefer.  That is the consequence of having used self-rising flour which already has both the salt and the baking powder included.  I usually halve the amount of salt in most recipes whether its a recipe for pie crust or corn bread.  The reason I used the self-rising flour was because it has a lower protein content than all-purpose flour.  After this particular effort I am convinced as to the authors'  claims that the lower protein flour really does make a difference on how light and fluffy the biscuits turn out. There appears to be no substitute for having the right ingredients.

    The good news is there are other options besides self-rising flour for achieving the same level of light and fluffy. The book gave instructions for combining cake flour (even lower protein than self-rising) with all-purpose flour in order to achieve the same protein level as self-rising flour. That would allow me to have the light and fluffy without the extra salt. I feel like biscuit nirvana is within my grasp.  This means that within the past six months I will have gone from having one simple flour container to three separate flour containers;  one for all-purpose flour, one for bread flour, and one for biscuit flour.

    The next step in my quest for the perfect biscuit will be to check out the flour options at the local stores.  I think they may sell cake flour at Cash and Carry. I thought I saw it there when I was looking for bread flour. I also want to see what difference it makes to use a baking powder without aluminum.  At least everyone is on notice now that they can expect to be pressed into service as biscuit guinea pigs when they come to visit.

       On the poultry front, the current tally is Ducks 114, Chickens 5

Monday, April 2, 2012

Creme Brûlée

Creme Brûlée
     I made Creme Brûlée  for the first time yesterday evening.  I used a recipe I found on line at  I already had some cream in the fridge that had been purchased for a different project. Earlier in the day Linda and I had dyed raw duck eggs with the Veachlings and then blew out the contents so she could use the colored eggs to make an Easter Tree.  Since we have such a surplus of duck eggs at the moment we did over two dozen. I put all of the erstwhile contents of the blown eggs into the fridge in tupperware containers.  So I had all of the necessary ingredients for Creme Brulee, i.e. the cream, vanilla, and lots of egg yolks.  I had even purchased some really cool large crystal raw sugar several weeks ago that I thought would be perfect to top off the Creme Brûlée. I know that Creme Brûlée really isn't supposed to be capitalized, but some desserts do deserve capitalization, grammar rules notwithstanding. My only remaining problem was how to extract just six egg yolks from a tupperware container full of a dozen fairly scrambled eggs.  Fortunately, since the container was clear, I noticed that the yolk had floated to the top.  I did a little research on line and found that your average large chicken egg has a yolk that weighs about 17 grams.  That made it a simple task with the kitchen scale to skim off 102 grams of egg yolk from the top portion of one of the containers.

    The particular recipe I followed called for 2 1/2 cups of cream, six egg yolks, 6 tablespoons of sugar (4 to go into the creme brûlée and 2 to mix with two tablespoons of brown sugar for the topping) 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract, and two tablespoons of brown sugar.  I used the 4 tablespoons of sugar, but omitted the last two tablespoons and the brown sugar as I used the raw sugar as the topping.  This particular recipe called for the use of the oven broiler to melt the sugar sprinkled on top of the creme brûlée.  It wasn't as much fun as using a propane torch but the result was good.  I was very pleased with how it turned out. It was every bit as good as the creme brûlée I had once in the restaurant at the top of the Columbia Tower. I do have to admit that the view was much better with that one.  As much as I love creme brûlée I did condescend to share it with my visiting grand daughters.  Not surprisingly, they failed to fully appreciate it.  Madelynn said it was good, but she liked tapioca pudding better.  Abby said she liked it but didn't care for the crunchy sugar on top. Natalie tried it and said it was good but ate very little of it.  Natalie's enthusiasm could have been cooled by the large amount of malted milk easter eggs she had eaten an hour or so earlier.

     Linda doesn't much care for custard desserts but she does make them for me once in a while.  In fact she made me a lovely bread pudding shortly after she got back from China. You have to really appreciate someone making something for you that they don't much care for themselves.
Note the telltale holes in some of the eggs
    I recently purchased a little book on line for my iPhone entitled Southern Biscuit Basics.  I tried out one of the recipes this morning when I made egg McMuffins for the girls.  I used just butter and all purpose flour and it seemed that the biscuits turned  out well. They were reasonably light, but not the ultimate biscuit. I forgot to put in any salt and almost forgot to put in the baking powder as the recipe called for self-rising flower.  I couldn't really judge the biscuits as well in an egg mcmuffin as I could have judged them if we had eaten them with just butter and honey. It also wouldn't have been a fair trial with the salt omitted.

      Linda sent me to Wallmart today to pick up a couple of tandem bikes she had ordered on line.  While there, I picked up some self-rising flour (supposedly lower in protein than all purpose flour), buttermilk, and some Rumford baking powder. Both Calumet and Clabber Girl baking powder contain aluminum, while Rumford doesn't.  The absence of aluminum in the baking powder is supposed to make a better tasting biscuit.  If buttermilk is used instead of regular milk, then baking soda can be used instead of baking powder.  I'm planning on making biscuits two or three times a week until I decide which recipe and ingredients I like best.

    One of the hens has become a regular contributor now that she has laid three days in a row. The chickens are still loosing ground, but at a slower rate now. The current score is Ducks 110, Chickens 3.
I added some more fencing to the top of the chicken pen in an effort to prevent them from roosting on top of the duck pen.  It obviously was not enough to keep them all at home, but I did succeed in making it more difficult for them.  I think a few of the hens have even taken to sleeping in the hen house but most of them are still sleeping out in the rain. At least they are having to work harder to be dumb.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Convention Results

     Linda and I had an interesting adventure at the Snohomish County Republican Convention on Saturday.  Fortunately, it was a positive experience overall, but I have a new found respect for the stamina of political junkies.   We arrived at about 8:30 a.m.  Linda finally had to bail out at about 5:30 p.m. due to a compassionate service obligation. I stayed until the bitter end of the 44th Legislative District Caucus and finally left the building at 10:50 p.m.  Politics is not for those lacking in either patience. Linda commented that she found it reassuring that so many people were involved in trying to protect and uphold the constitution. I  have to admit that I really enjoyed being in a room with so many people with whom I share so much in the way of basic values.

   The county convention was held at Snohomish High School.  There were over 1200 delegates plus quite a few alternates and guests.  We started out in the main gym and had the opportunity to listen to a number of candidates for various state and federal offices. The first order of business was selecting a permanent chair of the convention.  This process took much longer than it seemed that it should have taken. After that and some political posturing regarding the rules we were sent off to various locations for our legislative district caucuses.  The main purpose of the county convention is to select delegates for the state convention.  In turn at the state convention, those delegates will chose the delegates for the national convention.  Since we don't have a presidential primary in Washington State at present, this was an important chance to have a say as to who should be the Republican candidate.

      Selecting a few delegates may sound like a simple task, but it was wonderfully complex.  Everyone was seeking to select delegates who would support their particular candidate. Our legislative district, the 44th, was by far the largest with over three hundred delegates.  As a consequence we had to select the largest number of state delegates and it took us longer than any of the other legislative districts.  It was almost 11:00 p.m. before we completed the last vote to select the alternate delegates.  While the process was exhausting, I thought it turned out pretty well.  While I didn't necessarily agree with the particular choice of candidates of many of those present, I admired their perseverance and passion to try and effect positive change in our society. I felt like we are definitely on the same side.  Linda and I are supporting Mitt Romney. At the end of the day, Romney had the lion's share of the delegates from our district so it was easier for me to feel like it had turned out well.

   We got our second pullet egg today so as of April 1 the tally is Ducks 108, Chickens 2. It was darker brown than yesterday's chicken egg so we may have two hens starting to lay.