Friday, August 30, 2013

Raspberry Jam and volunteer squash.

  A bees store trade that was initiated months ago bore fruit this week in the form of 9 half flats of raspberries. I think raspberries are easily my favorite fruit, but they are so very perishable.  As a consequence my plans for the day were changed to include making four batches of raspberry jam. I always do a double batch in spite of the dire warnings found in most jam recipes. It just seems so tedious to make only 4 or 5 pints at a time.   I made one double batch of normal raspberry jam, then I made a second double batch of sugarless raspberry jam.   I hope no one fell off their chair at this confession.  I made the sugarless jam for someone other than myself. My mother and my sister each suffer from varying degrees of diabetes. Mom can control her diabetes through diet and keeping her weight down. My sister uses both diet and medications to control her diabetes. Since we had some "no sugar needed" pectin on hand it seemed like a good use of our raspberry glut.

     I gave a few half flats of raspberries to friends but that still left me with three boxes of raspberries. I froze one flat and finally found homes for the other two. I was unsure exactly how much space we had in our freezer, but nothing trumps raspberries so I knew I would find room. It's just a matter of deciding what would have to be tossed or used to make room for the higher priority raspberries.  So the raspberry crisis was solved, but I still need to deal with beets and beans that need pickling as well as the pending flood of tomatoes.

    I picked my first "Jack Be Little" pumpkin the other day.  I didn't plant them.  It was a volunteer squash plant that I decided to leave alone.  It just happened to grow in a place where it didn't interfere with anything else.  It mainly grew on the edge of the little high spot in the front yard where our large cedar tree used to be. As it began to form fruit it looked like it would be some kind of pumpkin.  I didn't figure out exactly what it was until I noticed that the fruit weren't getting any bigger. I was a little disappointed at first as I thought they were just decorative. Linda was happy as she likes to put them on top of the cedar fenceposts as Halloween decorations.  I looked on the internet to learn a little more about them and was pleased to learn that they are actually edible. One website declared them to be gourds while another claimed they were in the pepo family of squashes. I believe that the various summer squashes are all in the Pepo family.

    In addition to the "Jack Be Little" I have three other volunteer squash plants in my front yard.  They all started from my homegrown compost that I had used where I planted the pole beans. While I didn't have a lot of weeds growing out of the compost I did have a lot of tomato and tomatillo plants in addition to the squashes. Most of them I weeded out. One of the volunteer squash plants is some sort of yellow Hubbard squash.  The other two plants have elongated fruit that look like spaghetti squash, but longer. I'm glad I left the volunteer squash plants alone as I'm pleased to have the Hubbard squash and Linda is happy with the "Jack Be Little" pumpkins.

Propolis Pig

    I worked as a volunteer at the Honey and Beeswax exhibit at the Evergreen State Fair on Thursday night.  The fair was poorly attended on Thursday,  due in large part to the rainy weather. It made for a quiet evening. I brought a lump of propolis with me that I had scraped from frames when I harvested honey last week. Propolis, for those who don't know, is a substance bees gather from the buds and new growth of various plants. It is very sticky when warm and very brittle when cold. In the middle, in a very narrow temperature range, it has the consistency of modeling clay.  Propolis has both antimicrobial and fungicidal properties. The East Europeans rave about its medicinal properties and dissolve it in alcohol to make a tincture. It was the secret ingredient in the varnish in Stradivarius violins. The bees use it as a secondary building material, sort of like weather stripping. I spent about a half hour shaping my lump of propolis into a model of a pig. I think it turned out well except for the fact that my pig should have a bit longer body relative to the size of its head. There isn't enough bacon as there should be. Propolis has some limitations as a modeling compound. Namely, it has to be kept cool or the object may melt into a little pile of goo. It also changes color as the exterior is exposed to oxygen. I modeled a little alligator several weeks ago. It started out the same color as the pig in the photo but now has turned red.

     I had also brought my ukulele as I had been warned that it might be pretty quiet toward the end of the shift.  I spent the last hour of my shift playing my ukulele, serenading the bees in the observation hive in a fairly deserted display hall.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Beans, Beans, and More Beans

     I canned 14 pints of three bean salad last night.  Our pole beans are doing very well so I had to do something with the bounteous harvest. I didn't plant a lot of pole beans. I planted a total of eight hills of about three plants each. It is amazing how many green beans can be harvested from planting less than thirty beans.  I really love the pickled bean salad we have been buying at Costco so I thought I would try my hand at a homemade version.  I found a recipe that called for green beans, wax beans, and lima beans. I didn't grow wax beans and I really don't care for lima beans so I broke down and added a half a can each of canned kidney and garbanzo beans instead.  My red onion crop didn't do well this year, but I still have lots of onions on hand for canning. They sell a 50 pound bag of yellow onions at Cash and Carry for less than $10.00.  I broke down and bought the large bag mainly so I would have plenty to use in canning.  We used them in our 40 or so pints of bread and butter pickles as well as the pickled beans. I've also given some of the onions away and I still have more than half the bag left.  The way my tomatoes are doing this year I might end up using the rest in home canned spaghetti sauce.

Slightly out of focus home made three bean salad

      I suppose I could have used my Rockwell dry beans in the pickled three bean salad as they are at the shell bean stage right now. I will only harvest a few gallons of them so I just hated to use them for that purpose.  The home grown dry beans were such a big hit with Linda last year that we ran out rather quickly.  I doubled the area of the garden devoted to dry beans but they will still have to be rationed for them to last through the winter.  On the other hand, we will have more than enough winter squash to last us through the winter. I'm estimating I have about 15 butternut, six hubbard, and about a dozen spaghetti squashes quietly maturing in the garden. I say "about" because they have a tendency to hide under the vines so its hard to do an accurate inventory.

"Rockwell" dry beans

    I'm not sure what happened with the red onions I planted this spring from sets. Its possible that they didn't get enough sun in order for them to bulb out properly.  I planted them in a portion of the garden that has become more shady each year as it sits between a birch tree and a sweet cherry tree that have each grown a lot over the past five years. While they didn't make very good bulbs, they did set a good seed crop. Consequently, I'm going to try growing red onions from seed this next year. My sweetie really loves red onions so it would be nice to have a good red onion crop next year. The only other significant disappointments from my garden were the lack of cabbages and indian corn. I just didn't have time to get all of my garden area prepared in time to plant everything I wanted. On the other hand, I've barely had time to deal with our current surplus of vegetables.  I should be feeling relieved that I'm not having to deal with making sour kraut.

    On a somewhat different note, I really love singing in our ward choir.  Sabrina Clasen, our choir director, has a very cheerful personality, which makes singing in the choir even more enjoyable.  We mostly sing from the hymnal but occasionally she has us sing something more difficult.  This past Sunday Sabrina issued a challenge for each of us to sing at least one hymn every day. That is a challenge I am very glad to accept as I really do love singing the hymns. Nothing helps me feel the Spirit easier than singing the hymns of Zion. Many years ago, when I was a new agent down in Houston, Texas, I had more than a one hour commute to work.  The big city traffic was a bit stressful to say the least.  I finally managed to remove the stress from my commute when I started to memorize hymns and sing them on my way to and from work.  I found it hard to feel stressed while belting out my favorite hymn. It also made it much easier to feel charitably towards the other drivers.

I'm not sure what John is pointing at  that is so interesting.

    We had a visit from Natalie and Connor on Saturday. It was their last opportunity to play with Britton, Lucy, and John before the little Tunnells move over the mountains to Ellensburg.  The kids had a great time just hanging out together. It was pretty humorous though watching Natalie and Lucy each trying to be large and in charge in directing their play. John and Connor played pretty well together with a minimal amount of hitting and punching.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

A day at the Evergreen State Fair with Britton, Lucy, and John

    Linda and I picked up the Tunnell kids at about 11:00 am on Friday so their parents could get the moving van loaded up without little people under foot.  We took them to the Evergreen State Fair and stayed until about 6:00p.m.  We looked at lots of animals, rode some rides, watched some fun shows, and ate a considerable amount of fair food.  A good time was had by all.  I told Britton early on that we were going to leave after John's fourth fit.  He only threw two so we ended up going home when grandma got too pooped to continue walking around the fair. Linda suggested we leave before I had to carry her out to the car.
A Boy and his Tractor

Lucy and Britton petting an alpaca

     John had a great time riding a tractor just his size while his sisters tried their hand at grinding grain.  They all wanted to ride the carnival rides, but I think they enjoyed all of the free stuff more than the rides. We took them on an airplane ride, the merry go round, and a tea cup ride. Lucy and Britton both wanted to the teacup to spin as fast as possible.  However, when little brother started to get scared they quickly backed off the rpms to a level John found more comfortable.  I think they also may have saved themselves the inconvenience of having grandpa toss his cookies in their direction. When I take kids to the fair I generally don't do carnival rides, but I was over ruled by Grandma.
Lucy riding the merry go round

John enjoying his  ride on a big cat

Some very sheepish grandkids

     The Tunnell kids gave a good account of themselves when it came to fair food.  I suggested they share a purple cow (a float made from 7-Up and blackberry ice cream) but Britton and Lucy both assured me they could handle one by themselves. They were both true to their word on the purple cows and each also ate a large corn dog.  They also made a good dent in a large helping of curly fries and helped Linda polish off  her "Strawberry Supreme Funnel Cake"

      We watched a magic show put on by "Steve the Pretty Good" and listened to a country band called "The Fentons".  The kids were very impressed by Steve the Pretty Good but thought the country band was a bit too loud.  They enjoyed looking at the animals. to include chickens, rabbits, sheep, goats, dogs, and cows. I think they liked the dogs best and particularly enjoyed watching some very smart dogs negotiate an obstacle course.

Ride 'em Cowgirl Lucy!

Britton just about has this straw bale tamed

Thursday, August 22, 2013

A visit to Pike's Place Market and other fun places

     Linda and I had a fun visit to Seattle on Monday.  The excuse for the trip was to pick up a 3/4 size violin for my grand daughter, Madelynn.  I found a good deal on craigslist but we had to drive to Belltown, a downtown Seattle neighborhood, in order to pick up the violin.  As it turned out, the violin had never been played. It was absolutely brand new. It was very easy to tell. It not only looked new, but there was no rosin whatsoever on the bow.  I had to spend about a half hour working on the bow to get enough rosin on it so I could try out the tone of the fiddle. By the way, it seemed to have a nice tone.

     Being as we were that close, of course we had to stop by Pike's Place Market, one of Linda's favorite Seattle destinations.  That gave us an opportunity to do some birthday shopping and sample the local fish and chips. The fish was great, but the chips were a little greasy. Linda is a pretty cheap date when it comes to eating out.  We either share one meal or most of hers comes home in a doggie bag.  We left Pike's Place Market with a big bouquet of sunflowers and a number of lavender items for the birthday girl.

     The market usually has quite a number of street musicians of varying degrees of skill. Some are pretty lame and some are quite good.  We ran into this wonderful little band from North Carolina that included a fiddle, a standup bass (or a doghouse bass as Aunt Dolores would call it), a dobro, and an accordion.  Their music seemed to be a mix of bluegrass, jazz, and klezmer, depending what number they played. The fiddler sounded more like a gypsy violinist and they had great harmony on their vocals.  I was sufficiently impressed that I bought one of the CDs they were selling.
The Resonant Rogues

I really love a good standup bass

     We next searched out La Reve, a little french cafe and bakery located on Queen Anne Hill.  A bee store customer had periodically brought us some of their baked goods as a show of appreciation. I brought a few of them home once and Linda was hooked.  Her favorite is a double baked chocolate croissant. I personally really love their Queen Amman rolls.  You don't even want to know exactly how much butter is in them. I have to confess to a little disappointment when we were greeted by a pretty young oriental girl standing behind the counter. I guess I was expecting someone with a French accent and a chef's hat. A few minutes later she was joined behind the counter by a young man with a punk hairdo and numerous body piercings. The pastries were so wonderful that they easily compensated for the lack of French accents in the hired help.

    Our last stop was the Dusty Strings in Fremont, my favorite music store.  I needed to buy yet another copy of "Jumping Jim Goes Hawaiian", the ukulele song book we used at Cousin Camp. I've tried to distribute one to each of the grand kids with an ukulele.   I would be very happy to buy yet another copy if I have a little ukulele player out there who I have overlooked.  I also bought myself a laminated ukulele chord chart. After some careful examination of the chart and with the help of a light green permanent marker I determined that I can comfortably play a grand total of 11 chords.

    The Dusty Strings has a whole wall covered with various ukuleles.  I noticed some that had banjo bodies and asked the nice clerk about them. She explained a bit about banjo ukuleles and took one down and played a little tune on it. It has a banjo sound and is much louder than a regular ukulele. I quickly overcame the temptation to purchase it after I noticed the $1,100.00 price tag. I still think the nicest sounding ukulele I have played on is Aunt Dolores' Martin ukulele.


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Fun Times with Aunt Dolores

     My Aunt Dolores has been visiting this past week.  I took advantage of her visit to get a few music lessons. She taught me how to play a calypso song, "Jamaican Farewell", with a very cool strum pattern. I also got a music theory lesson about transposing songs from whatever key they happen to have been written in to a more convenient key that better fits my voice range or that involves chords I can actually play.  We had fun jam sessions on a couple of evenings.  As we sat and talked between songs I learned some very interesting things. I failed to get any photos so I didn't include any in the blog post. Mom took a few videos or photos while we were playing so I should try to get one or two from her for the blog.

     I was amazed to learn that Dolores didn't get serious about the guitar until after my Uncle Dave died. I had always assumed that she had developed those skills when she was fairly young. While she had learned to play the guitar when she was a kid, she only knew about three chords for most of her life. I had mentioned seeing some cigar box ukuleles at Pikes Place Market in Seattle. That reminded her that Uncle Don had given her some sort of cheap guitar when she was a kid. It wasn't much sturdier than cardboard. She learned to play a G chord so that was the only key she would play in.

    Dolores told about having to spend one night by herself tending a fire in their fruit house. The fruit house was in between the wash house and the smoke house and had thick walls insulated with saw dust. It was where Grandma Sinor kept all of their home canned produce, that is, most of their food supply for the year.  If the weather turned really cold they would sometimes have to keep a fire going in the fruit house to keep all of those canned goods from freezing and breaking the jars.  Dolores was scared to be alone there and played her guitar all night hoping the racket would scare away the boogyman. I'm thinking she would have been around ten or eleven years old at the time.

    We talked about the dances they used to hold in their house in Arkansas.  Apparently they didn't have much furniture in the living room so it was a pretty easy thing to convert it into a dance hall. Local teenagers would sometimes come by and ask their dad if they could have a dance at their house the following Saturday night. He always seemed happy to do that. Realize too that a good number of the local teenagers were relatives. Uncle Estel Sinor played the guitar, his wife Dorothy played mandolin, while Uncle Don Haney played fiddle, and their dad called square dances.  They played mostly instrumental numbers and neither her or mom could recall the names of many of the tunes they played. The only tune she came up with was "Take me Back to Tulsa", an old Bob Wills song.  She remembered her Aunt Dorothy playing the mandolin with no expression on her face at all and wondered how anyone could play such happy music without a smile on their face.

     Dolores had the urge to learn to play the piano when she was a kid.  She once approached a piano teacher and asked about lessons. She got kind of an odd response when the teacher found out Dolores didn't have a piano in her home. She subsequently started saving her babysitting money until she came up with $25.00 to buy a piano.  $25.00 was a lot more money then than it is now, but it was still a pretty good price for a piano. I'm not sure how old she was when this happened but I think they were living in Detroit at the time. I'm also unsure how long she was able to take piano lessons.  Sometimes it's difficult to interrupt the flow of a story in order to ask about the details. Besides the stories mostly came in between songs so I was a bit distracted.

    We also had a good long talk about yodeling. Some of Dolores' favorite yodelers are Roy Rogers and Ranger Doug (from the musical group "Riders in the Sky"). Mom's favorite yodeler was Margo Smith. Mom mentioned how at the Ward Talent Show in my introduction I had credited Dolores with being my inspiration to learn the Hawaiian War Chant on the ukulele and added "And she can yodel too". Dolores has a friend in Oregon who introduces her as "This is my friend Dolores and she can yodel." It is a pretty unique talent these days. Since such a very small portion of the population can yodel any more it isn't too strange that such a talent could be used to help define someone.  Dolores gave yodeling classes some years ago when she was a member of the Central Coast Fiddlers. She describes yodeling as simply alternating between your chest voice (normal singing voice) and your head voice (falsetto). I think yodeling lessons with Aunt Dolores would be a fun activity at some future cousin camp.

     Speaking of Cousin Camp, we've had a number of suggestions for future themes. I really like Sarah's suggestion of a family history/pioneer heritage theme.  Beth and Lia suggested a pirate theme, with the possibility of putting on Pirates of Penzance. Although the pirate theme could be really fun, I have to confess to a few qualms. First of all, real pirates were not nice people and not the sort of role models I like to put before the grandkids.  I do, however, like the idea of doing a Gilbert and Sullivan play as part of cousin camp.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Dolmathes for Dinner

    I fixed dinner the other night with the assistance of my grand daughter, Annika.  I had a craving for greek food so we made dolmathes (stuffed grape leaves).   My goats keep trying to remind me that grape leaves can be pretty tasty. Whenever Black Jack escapes from his pen, the grape vines are one of his first stops. When I made dill pickles this past weekend, one suggestion for crispier pickles was to add a grape leaf or two to the bottom of the jar. The fact that the grape vines keep trying to block our entry onto the back deck is also a reminder that maybe I need to put that excess vegetation to a better use than snacks for the goats. I thought they turned out well, other than the fact that we made them a little bigger than was convenient to eat in one bite. Also we could have wrapped some of them little tighter.

    The grape leaves are supposed to be blanched before using them. I'm not sure what the point of that is as you still cook the dolmathekas in a broth for a while.  Maybe that gets rid of some fo the tannin in the grape leaves.  The tannin was the whole point of using them in the dill pickles. I used a filling of meat and rice for most of them. Since I had made more rice than I needed and a definite surplus of grape leaves, we decided to experiment with a vegetarian option that used chopped nuts and various herbs. We are well supplied with two of the suggested herbs, parsley and mint.  I thought they turned out pretty well. Most of Lia's kids ate them. Jonnie ate the fillings but wouldn't eat the grape leaves. When I told him that goats love grape leaves, he wanted to take his uneaten leaves out to goats.

Stuffed Grape Leaves

      A few days ago I was tidying the grape vines on the arbor over the back deck.  As the vines grow larger, some of the lower leaves are shaded from the sun to the point that they eventually yellow and die.  I was simply picking out some of these dried and yellow leaves from the underneath of the clustered vines so as to make things look a little more attractive. As I was collecting dead leaves I ended up with a little green tree frog on my hand. I didn't grab him or pick him up. He simply hopped onto my hand as I was picking out dead leaves. He even stuck around long enough for me to take his photo.

Is a tree frog on the hand worth two on a bush?

       Three or four years ago, my daughter Rachel lived with us for a while.  When she moved out and moved to Oregon she left her cat behind, Captain Jack Sparrow.  At that point he was already a definite "outside" cat so I started feeding him in the goat barn. I figured that was one way to insure a daily inspection of the goat barn for rats and mice.  Sometimes I don't see him for a few days, but the cat food in the goat barn is always eaten,  As I went out to feed the goats a few mornings back, I was greeted by the sight of Captain Jack patiently waiting out side the goat barn for his breakfast. He isn't particularly friendly. I think he has only stood still to be petted once in the past three years.  Based on his markings I strongly suspect he is the father of Miss Buzz Saw's kittens. I've included this because I'm sure Lance and Luna would be happy to know that Captain jack Sparrow is still alive and well.
Captain Jack Sparrow awaits his breakfast

Friday, August 2, 2013

Garden Update - August 2nd

    2013 has been one of my best gardening summers since we moved back to Washington State.  Part of that is due to the wonderfully warm sunny summer we have had thus far.  Also, the fact that my vegetable garden is so much larger has helped a lot.  Part of it is just plain dumb luck, as in the expression "Better to be lucky than good". However, I also think some of my gardening success stems from the fact that I've learned a few things over the years, specifically about gardening in Western Washington.

   We've had a very good fruit year so far, starting with the strawberries and proceeding through the raspberries and cherries. I would have done better on raspberries if an errant goat hadn't done some unauthorized pruning. We had some rain at the wrong time that caused the earlier sweet cherries to split, but three later varieties produced pretty well. I was even able to can some sweet cherries for some of my grand kids. I actually would have been able to can a whole lot of sweet cherries if it hadn't been such a busy summer.  Between Cousin Camp IV, visiting grand kids, and Quentin's vacation, I've been pretty busy. I hate to see any fruit or vegetables go to waste, but I don't always have the time to process it when it needs processing.  Strawberries, raspberries, and cherries are all particularly perishable.

     We've been picking blueberries for the past few weeks. It is so nice to always have more blueberries than we need every year. I even took the five bushes near our duck pen out of production this year due to a mummy berry problem. The remaining ten bushes are still keeping us very well supplied.  For the benefit of those unfamiliar with mummy berry, it is a fungus that causes the blueberries to be hard and shriveled up like little blueberry mummies. The fungus has a two parts to its life cycle.  The first part is a fungus in the ground that produces the spores that infect the berries. The second part is the infected berries fall to the ground and reseed the ground with the fungus.  One way to get rid of mummy berry organically is to remove the old mulch and replace it. Another method is to simply pick all of the blossoms so there is no fruit for one year. I chose that approach for our blueberry plants near the duck pen. I pruned off all of the blossoms to eliminate this year's fruit crop.  Next year we'll see if that worked.  Meanwhile, we also have some mummy berry showing up in the main blueberry patch.  I'm going to try mulch replacement in the main patch.

     So, why not use a fungicide to get rid of the mummy berry?  The simple answer is the honey bees.  While most fungicides are not directly toxic to honey bees they do have a serious indirect effect on their health. Everyone knows that honey bees gather and store pollen which is an important source of protein for the developing larvae. But bees don't merely store pollen. They inoculate the pollen with a particular fungus that causes some lacto-fermentation of the pollen which makes it more easily digested by the bees.  It's the honey bee equivalent of yogurt. When bees gather pollen contaminated with fungicides it disrupts the natural hive flora much like some anti-biotics can have a bad effect on human digestive flora.  This was discovered recently when honey bees exposed to supposedly harmless fungicides while pollinating almonds got seriously sick. A significant number of colonies died as the result of this secondary effect.

      The rest of the fruit season is looking pretty good too. I just started picking plums and I have loads of relatively scab free apples on my trees.  I've actually eaten a few of my summer apples this past week. They were still a little tart but almost ripe. My "Korean" pear tree is also loaded with fruit.  I picked my first handful blackberries this past week as well.  My grape vines are loaded with developing clusters. I try not to count my chickens before they hatch, but I can't help myself. The fruit forecast is looking pretty rosy.

Mishirasu, one of four varieties on my "Korean" pear tree.

A cluster of Interlaken grapes
   Things are also going well on the vegetable front.  I harvested a bumper crop of garlic.  We've  also done well with peas, beets, carrots, potatoes, cucumbers, and zucchini. My dry beans are looking good and I picked the first few beans from my Blue Lake pole beans yesterday. I planted early butternut winter squash on purpose. They are doing very well and started setting fruit several weeks ago.  However, I also ended up with both a pumpkin and a hubbard squash plant that each volunteered from the compost that I used with my pole beans. Fortunately, there was a big empty space right next to the pole beans so it looks like I grew them there on purpose.  I have artichokes developing on one of my two artichoke plants. The Jerusalem Artichokes (aka sun chokes) have gone absolutely crazy. They are currently eight feet tall and covered with yellow sunflowers.

My first home grown artichoke

Jerusalem Artichokes run amok

      We've been picking a few tomatoes here and there for several weeks, but we should be inundated with tomatoes pretty soon.  I set up a hoop house to protect the tomatoes from late blight, a bad fungus that affects both tomatoes and potatoes. I've been told that late blight was the cause of the infamous Irish Potato Famine. I used the hoop house to give the tomatoes more heat earlier in the summer. Now I only put the plastic cover on when we have rain in the forecast.  Keeping the tomato plants dry and warm helps prevent late blight. I also try to water them without getting their leaves wet.  I put the plastic cover back on last night and here it is raining as I write this.
Pickling cucumbers with my ramshackle tomato hoop house in the background
      The six tomatillo plants were a gift from my friend, Terry Johnson. He first planted them about twenty years ago and hasn't had to buy tomatillo seeds ever since. They reseed themselves every bit as well as cherry tomatoes. Terry simply transplants the volunteers he wants to keep and weeds out the rest.  I  also had two additional tomatillo plants that grew out the compost I used on the pole beans. Terry gave me a bucket of tomatillos last summer that I turned into salsa verde. Apparently some of the seeds found their way to my compost pile.  One very nice thing about tomatillos is that they aren't affected by the late blight.  Another nice thing about tomatillos is that I have always liked salsa verde. What is not to love about trouble free, self starting, disease resistant vegetables.

The developing tomatillo fruits look like little Japanese lanterns

This is my "field" of Rockwell dry beans

Way too many summer squash plants. What was I thinking!

Young Butternut Squash fruits

I see pickled beets in my future.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Bee Fun in Oregon

   I drove down to Forest Grove, Oregon this past weekend to attend a bee conference with my daughter, Rachel.  It was a "No Treatment Conference" meaning the focus of the conference was how to raise bees naturally, without miticides and other medications. I have to confess to a bit of pre-conference skepticism as to the practicality of that goal. I was expecting to rub shoulders with the "lunatic fringe" of beekeeping. As it turned out, the conference attendees did display a certain amount of loopiness, but no more than is normal for most beekeeper meetings.  After the conference, I left with a feeling that the goal of "No Treatment Beekeeping" may be more practical than I had thought. I also left the conference with a lot more hope for the future of beekeeping.

    There were a number of reasons I had wanted to attend this particular conference. The proximity to grand children living in Forest Grove and nearby Hillsboro was of course a very big draw.  The opportunity to attend the conference with Rachel was also a strong incentive.  To top it off, my favorite bee author, Dr. Thomas Seeley, was one of the featured speakers.  He is the author of "Honeybee Democracy", my all time favorite bee read.  He has devoted his entire adult life to the study of swarming behavior of honey bees. I was able to listen to him give two separate lectures and he actually sat next to me during a third lecture. Rachel also took a picture of me standing next to him. I told Rachel that I felt like a serious bee groupie. Her response was to point out that I just needed to accept the fact that I was a serious bee groupie.

Dr. Seeley's swarm board facilitates observation of the scout bees dancing on the surface.

Dr Seeley explaining how the scout bees have reached consensus on a new homesite

A conference  attendee demonstrating the use of a picturesque German bee smoker  

    I got to babysit Rachel's children, Lance and Luna, on Saturday evening.  I always enjoy hanging out with grandchildren.  After a dinner of KFC takeout we watched "Night at the Museum," then spent some time in their wonderful backyard garden. I gave Rachel two little fig trees several years ago. Both of the trees are now bearing fruit. One tree has a few fruits developing while the other has about fifty. I'm always amazed at the wonderful things Rachel does in her back yard.  It is practically wall to wall vegetables and fruit. I took some photos of her artichokes in flower and her amazing fig trees.
A honey bee fights its way down to reach the nectaries of an artichoke flower

Two of  about 50 figs forming on one of Rachel's fig tree

     After the conference I was able to attend church with the Kangs in Forest Grove. Apparently, no one had told my grand daughter, Rachel, that I was coming. She was playing the organ and actually missed a note when she noticed my presence. On Monday morning I went out with grand daughters, Autumn and Chloe to visit their beehives. I'm quite impressed with their comfort level with the bees. Autumn was wearing her usual capris. I had brought down a bee suit for Chloe, but she still had exposed skin as she wasn't wearing any socks. I warned them about the tendency of the bees to get crabbier in the late summer and early fall. I worry about them getting "stung up" unnecessarily. Their hives seem to be doing okay in that they are developing normally. However, neither hive has stored a significant amount of honey.  I suspect their hives are going to require some serious feeding to get them through the winter. I feel a little inadequate to advise them as I have no knowledge of the timing of their local nectar flows.

    Another purpose of my visit to Oregon was the delivery of 9 pullets to my daughters, Rachel and Sarah. I had hatched out 29 chicks about 8 weeks ago. I kept about 5 pullets for myself to replace our current group of laying hens and I kept all of the cockerels. I put cardboard down in the back of the car and put the nine little pullets into an old rabbit cage.  The chickens responded to being put into a cage and placed in a confined space (i.e. the back of the car) by pooping in unison. I was glad Linda was unable to come with me as it would have been a pretty miserable smelly trip for her.  On Saturday morning, before we left for the bee conference, we transferred the pullets to a chicken tractor in Rachel's backyard for temporary storage.  The chickens stayed in the chicken tractor all day Saturday and Saturday night. That turned out to be a mistake as on Sunday morning we only had 8 little pullets. It appears some clever raccoon found a place where he could reach under the cage and pull himself out a chicken. A little trail of feathers was the only evidence left behind.

    The last significant event the occurred on my trip to Oregon was an unfortunate outbreak of headlice.   This is possibly the only negative consequence of our recent cousin camp.  I offered Sarah some moral support and encouragement. I also picked up a watermelon at a local farm stand (a real watermelon with both seeds and good flavor). I fed the kids watermelon as they watched a movie and Sarah went through yet another kids hair with the infamous lice comb.