It’s All About ‘B’s…Berries, Birds, Bees, Boys & Banana Tree?

I wasn’t just kidding about the unseasonable heat we experienced during strawberry season this year. I can now point to the verified stats that have been tabulated and reveal that we just experienced the hottest May on record in Saint Louis. Of course, as you can also see by the graphic below, I also wasn’t exaggerating about how long it took for Spring to arrive as it represented the 4th coldest April on record!

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I somehow find a degree of satisfaction in knowing that I wasn’t just whining about the weather for months on end. We also have been way too dry…that is until today when we had quite a healthy batch of rain storms with wind and hail to boot. Although we really, really needed the rain, I would have been gratified by something on the gentler side. I was so pleased with some of my potted plants…IMG_1571Until the first round of storms hit and ravished them…Ugh!IMG_1615I’m hoping a bit of trimming will allow plantings such as this to rebound but we have not made a thorough inspection of the orchard yet so I’m hoping all our fruits are still in tact.

The good news is that the 2018 strawberry season is just about over with a harvest to date of just under 275 pounds of berries, which by the way is another Seven Oaks Farm & Orchard record. I’m sure there will be some stragglers to bring in yet but I’m already looking forward to the ripening blueberries as I can pick these for the most part without squatting or kneeling!  IMG_1577.jpgBut back to the strawberries for a minute. Do remember that we do not use any pesticides or herbicides in our fields. This forces us to work hard on the more indelicate subject of insects laying eggs where I would prefer that they not – especially knowing that there are good insects as I mentioned in the last post and then there are some that are less desirable. Take for example, this beautiful strawberry that has a ‘clutch’ of eggs neatly waiting to hatch and ultimately take sustenance from the berry. Not only does this ruin the berry but many bugs proliferate at a speed which I need to control. IMG_1560My research tells me that these eggs were most likely from a stink bug. Maybe you can recognize this little menace as I can show it at various life stages and attest to its presence in the patch as I squish them whenever I get a chance and eradicate their eggs as well. OPM_BMSB-life-stagesNot much to do other than to be diligent about eliminating both the bug and eggs whenever spotted but the early heat made this a problem in the berries this year in a way I have not seen previously.

I think I also teased in the last post about the strawberry freezing I had planned to do in addition to the jam making and I was able to accomplish this on two fronts.  First, we love having the larger, whole berries in the freezer for our winter breakfasts so it is pretty easy to accomplish this by washing and hulling them in batches and letting them dry (point side up) on terry towels. I love the red “kiss” spot that represent the footprint of the previous batch!IMG_1492I then load them in one layer (so as not to stick) onto sheet pans and into the freezer to fully harden before putting them into gallon freezer bags for long term storage. IMG_1494The other type of freezing I do is to make the Strawberry Slushy that Dave’s grandmother, ‘Patch’, used to make. Each summer when the Sauerhoff family visited Salisbury, Maryland for a week of vacation, Patch would serve her sugar macerated, frozen strawberry slush at dessert time. I can attest – since I joined the family when she was still serving this – there is nothing else quite like it when one has the advantage of truly vine ripened berries at hand. It is actually rather simple so I’ll share my version of the recipe since Patch never quite gave me her proportions.

Wash and hull enough ripe berries to make 16 cups mashed berries (measure mashed and not whole) and place in a very large bowl. Add sugar to taste (3-4 cups is pretty tasty) and let macerate in the freezer, stirring every hour or so. Once the berries and the sugar are incorporated, freeze in individual containers, leaving enough room for expansion before adding lids.   IMG_1554.jpgThis delight is stored in the freezer all year long and we bring it out, just as Patch did, for family dinners to serve in a slushy state (thaw in fridge during dinner is just about right) over pound cake, shortcake or ice cream. I was sneaky enough to have samples ready for our CSA customers to taste and this has been a steady seller for us already this summer. I must admit, I’ve made 70 pint containers so far with plans to do more. I’ve also already made 96 jars of strawberry jam which is a big hit as well.

Strawberries are not the only big red berry gathering attention here at the farm. We are delighted that the two cherry trees that have resided in the farm ‘infirmary’ for several years are finally being productive. These trees were originally planted in the stone fruit side of the orchard along with the peaches, nectarines and plums but were attacked by the deer and damaged to the point that we were told they were hopeless. We couldn’t quite put them into the trash even though their young trunks were severely scraped and their limbs gnawed and mangled. They landed in a protected bed up against the house and continued to grow a bit each year with some tender fostering. So, we were thrilled with the abundance of blossoms in the spring which, thanks to the bees, are now cherries this year! Even though the trees are over 12 feet tall, we managed to surround them with the old strawberry patch netting to protect them from the birds and will look forward to a cherry harvest for the very first time!IMG_1543Speaking of other fruit trees, we are also amused by the re-emergence of the banana tree that we added to the back terrace bed last year. Some may remember that another beekeeper gave me this dormant “bulb” last year which I dutifully planted and watched grow all summer. The big challenge was to dig up this tropical plant (along with all my elephant ears) and store them over the winter. Much to my surprise, I found them to be viable after wintering in the barn and re-planted all this spring and watched anxiously to see if they would green up and come alive. It has been particularly humorous to watch the banana tree  slowly come out of dormancy. First planted…IMG_0845One week later, it’s alive but looks like a cigar…IMG_1154Then it looked like it was waving a white flag of surrender…IMG_1204And now, with small baby bananas emerging at its side, it is certainly here to stay this summer!IMG_1654In addition to the other seasonal items that we been harvesting and selling to our customers, the garlic scapes are just about my very favorite. As you may recall, we started raising our own garlic a couple of years ago and the joy I get from harvesting the flower stalk or ‘scape’ nearly surpasses the fondness I have for fresh garlic bulbs, perhaps due to the fleeting nature of the once-a-year presence in our home. Our two varieties of hard neck garlic plantings put out noticeably different shaped scapes this year…one is straight and the other curly. IMG_1581I think I have introduced some of our Saturday customers to the delight of adding scapes to their favorite recipes and I encourage them to experiment and share. This is one that I made last weekend using a NYTimes recipe found here which we shared with the Ward family with a good degree of success. Here is the dish ready to go into the oven. Note I kept the scapes whole until after the first round of cooking. IMG_1528Does this chicken dish remind anyone of the new chick integration into the flock? Well, all has gone well on that front and I’m actually pretty proud that we have managed to get the two groups, young and old, to share the same space with no major issues so far. Here they are enjoying a bit of play time recently.

Big news today was that perhaps the storm scared the little ones but I went out and found them ensconced indoors and lounging on the roosts of the big girls. It will be interesting to see what happens when night falls to see if they all will share this space or whether the pullets go back to their mini coop roosts for the night. IMG_1647.jpgIn the meantime, we continue to enjoy the assortment of beautiful eggs that the original girls provide for us each day. IMG_1258The bees have been quite busy as well since they have had days and days without rain to sock away their honey stores. We are nearly ready for the first harvest of spring honey we but decided to give them a few more days to finish capping before we steal their goodies.

We continue to be amused by the Ward Boys…3 year old Coulter and 3 month old Willie. Here is a photo of them both (aged 3 months) wearing the same outfit and posing in the same chair…twins or just brothers…?IMG_1508But I must say I’ve been more amused by the serious vehicle renovation that their dad, Jason, accomplished recently. He spotted this ‘vintage’ tractor style vehicle at the Burroughs Potpourri  sale in April and with a price tag of $1, which he couldn’t resist, knowing Coulter would enjoy riding around on it. 20180426_184523But, Jason had designs on how to renew this nugget and make it special. Ignoring the eye rolling from Kate, he took it apart and did a fabulous job with his painting skills, making sure to make it dark blue – Coulter’s favorite color. IMG_1133Admirable, right? But he wasn’t done yet! The next thing we knew, the following weekend he and Coulter had a “project” they were working on…they built a little wagon (also painted blue) with a ‘treasure’ box for Coulter to pull behind as he goes along collecting all the things little boys find interesting and necessary to bring home! 55026143419__62DDCCB8-451A-4DCA-B643-2606B0461D46This was a lovely outcome…as was our day of rain, made perfect by a rainbow!IMG_0226

 

A Berry, Berry Busy Anniversary

Well, it’s suddenly berry season here at the farm and we have hit the ground running with nearly 82 pounds of strawberries harvested already after only the first week of picking duties. IMG_1388Sheesh! I am still sporting my happy face that I wear around here every year for at least the first week of each berry season but we are currently faced with days of high heat for this time of year (94 degrees today) so picking can be a bit more exhausting than it usually is at this juncture. But my exhaustion isn’t the sole problem here.

What really matters is that the strawberries are ripening faster than normal in this heat and are a bit more fragile as well since their cell walls have expanded rapidly and are a bit thinner than normal. The window of time for picking is also shorter since one normally waits for the dew to dry before beginning to harvest…(I love the droplets on the tips of the berry leaves.)IMG_1390But one should pick in the cool of the morning, as the sugar is still rising in the plant and out to the fruit before the heat threatens and sends the sugars back to the base of the plant. So the heat we are currently experiencing means that the ideal window to harvest is shorter. With the unexpected 4 hours needed to pick the patch yesterday, I was actually picking fruit that was beginning to feel warm to the touch and although I know it to be a no-no, there was no other choice but to continue on as these ripe berries would be overly ripe by the following day. Rain overnight meant that I made the right choice since I would have had a patch of soggy, untenable fruit today if I had waited!

Of course it doesn’t help that I am sometimes distracted by the wonders of the insect world and take out my phone to photograph whatever crosses my path. Here is a mother spider who was a bit startled by my presence and picked up her egg sack and tried to quickly get out of my way and protect her future offspring. Can you see her despite the camouflage of the mulch? She scampered off in short fits of movement. I very much approve of spiders in my berry patch since I know they eat other insects. IMG_1395I’m not quite so fond of the moth world of insects since one of the previous stages of caterpillar can be so devastating but this shapely fellow caught my eye as well. IMG_1443

So, in my defense, I harvested 20 pounds of strawberries the previous day and over 32 pounds yesterday so I cannot say the patch was at all neglected. The good news was that yesterday was the first Saturday we were able to offer strawberries to our CSA customers and we sold all 25 pints that we had to offer from Friday’s harvest. We also had several varieties of Spinaches and Lettuces with much more to come! It was fun to also offer a mini tour of the berry patch to the group so that they could see just where their goodies were originating and hopefully could calculate the value of their purchases when the effort we put into this was on display.

Despite all our sales yesterday, the week of harvesting meant that the refrigerators were chocked full of berries today and I was on notice to do some preserving one way or another. IMG_1471Each pan you see weighs approximately 4 pounds and the slip of white paper floating on top tells me the date it was harvested. So this morning, I started making strawberry jam which is very popular with our customers as well as all family members. Although it is time consuming to wash, hull and quarter the berries and put them into large pots in specified quantities, I have a system after all these years and usually start two batches at once. These stock pots each have 3.75lbs of berries that have been prepared and then smashed with the potato masher to break them up a bit more. The pot on the right still shows the white of the pectin that has not yet dissolved. IMG_1472 2Then the mash is heated to an initial boil after which I add the sugar. Once the prescribed sugar is added, this mass comes to another boil which I carefully time for exactly one minute of ‘roiling boil stage’ – a term which means that no amount of stirring can calm the hot sticky mess that can burn one’s hands if not careful!  (You might espy, my bandaged hand from a previous burn!) Gah!

After the final boil, the mixture is quickly added to the waiting sterilized jars using a funnel and careful handling – again, boiling sticky mess! The rims of each jar are then wiped clean with a hot cloth to remove any remainders. IMG_1475.jpgSterilized lids and bands (a two part system) are then added to a finger tight degree of fastening so that when placed in the boiling water bath for a set number of minutes…IMG_1476.jpg the necessary evacuation of air will occur and create the required vacuum for a safe and airtight closure of the jar.  Violà, two batches (12 jars each) of sealed and cooling jam. IMG_1479.jpgTime to switch to freezing the next few batches of berries! But in the meantime, I’ve spent part of the day integrating the new chicks into the existing flock. This required a spate of my time today but is well worth the effort to get all the hens in a copacetic place for the future.

As you may remember from the previous post, the new chicks (now just over 8 weeks old) have been living in a mini coop within the larger outdoor coop. This facilitated an initial phase of both groups getting to know each other with a wire barrier to keep them separate. As of 8 weeks, the pullets (which are what we call teenage female chicks) are ready to transition off their baby food and graduate to an intermediate food that they can share with the older girls who are considered “layers”.

So, this morning, I cautiously opened the door between the youngsters and the adults (just enough to let the little ones out but kept the big girls without reciprocal access to the mini coop) and allowed the newbies to venture out for a bit if they were so daring. A few of the more adventurous ones took advantage of this opportunity and stepped out with caution.

The first attempt was pretty mild as the babies were cautious. The second attempt was a bit more fraught as I realized that the 30 minute play date I had envisioned was not easily ended if the pullets were not all safely back in their coop. In other words, I did not want to leave the area until it was all re-secured but the youngsters didn’t all realize how to get BACK into their coop and were frustrated at seeing their mates through the wire mesh and not re-joining with ease. This took some careful management but I did it!

I have since completed a third successful integration attempt and am very pleased with the group interaction. So far, there have been minor demonstrations from the older chicks of who is boss. This is totally expected since even the younger group already has their own pecking order and so this is all expected behavior and I’m generally pleased.  A few of the older flock were actually needy and jumped up on my lap and shoulder today to show they still wanted some attention from me as I watched the youngsters play. IMG_1483

Our other weekend news: we celebrated our 39th wedding anniversary yesterday… and had the additional pleasure of attending the wedding of dear young friends, Max and Amy Ryan who said it best in their darling little wedding favors of succulent plantings in pots…congrats to all of us! IMG_1489

 

 

A Shiny “Mini – Coop-er” at the Farm

What a wildly busy month we have had here at the farm since I last posted. Hard to believe that we managed to fit so much into such a short space of time but perhaps that explains our sore muscles.

First, we finished the construction of the hoop house and got it ‘planted’ with cool season crops despite the lateness of the season but not without some modifications to the overall design first.

What you should know is that although we were pleased with the essential design of the structure we ordered, it arrived with a laughable system to secure it in place. The company provided four small brackets along with 8 measly metal spikes that were intended to secure the whole structure and keep it place. I suppose this hoop house manufacturer had no idea of how a small amount of wind (let alone the type we can get in the Midwest) could blow this whole structure away in an instant.

So Farmer Dave was all over this with a remedy that he was able to source at a nearby company that made heavy duty spikes out of re-bar to his specifications. Here is a comparison of what was supplied on the right and what Dave ordered in re-bar spikes on the left.  What a huge difference!IMG_0810

We happened to have a couple extra helpers to move the metal structure into place one weekend.

Once the hoop house was situated, we hammered the spikes into place…IMG_0827 And then added the sunshade cover…a little tricky but 3 people managed to get it into place with a couple of ladders and not too much more effort which bodes well for changing it out to the “winter” cover which will insulate from the freezing cold.IMG_0831Et voilà…with “doors” front and back as well as “windows” along each side, the summer mesh shade cover was in place and the Velcro tabs secured it all to the frame just so. Yay, now we were all set to plant!  IMG_0835 2We decided to plant the area with a center aisle (east/west) and rows (north/south) on either side of the aisle. The first planting (on the north) was a variety of lettuces, spinaches, Swiss chard and peas. Ten days later, we planted the south side with a similar set of leafy plant seeds using slightly different varieties. With a little time elapse magic, you can see what three weeks of growth looks like in the hoop house now.IMG_1306 The same weekend we moved the hoop house into place, we also had some important work going on in the apiary. I decided to split one of the stronger overwintered colonies (making a second colony from it) and also prepared the area for a new future queen as well as two new hives for ‘nucs’ or nucleus colonies to be installed. Spring is such a busy time for beekeepers.  IMG_0124But oh, man, all those bees are hard at work as well. Here is one of our bees laden with pollen (the orange part in the photo) in the “saddle bag” area of her rear legs, and working away on a dandelion to gather more to take back to the hive. This is one of the reasons I don’t mind dandelions! IMG_0819 All the while, the new baby chicks have been growing like weeds and although we had prepared for the day when we would have to move them from their 170 gallon aluminum trough, we had to be innovative first.

We ultimately built (from a kit) a “mini coop” just for them inside the larger outdoor coop area to accommodate their needs and help with the future integration of the two flocks. The intention here was to give them a separate place to live within the flock area while remaining separate until they are old enough to share the same space. There are technical issues as to the foods they each eat (protein percentages as well as calcium levels are specifically different between the two ages) which requires their separate living arrangement until a point where they can be integrated. Funny, but I doubt my grandmother had such science behind her flock of chicks and they all did just great! Ha!  IMG_0993 Of course this meant they needed to have some initial lighting and heat to make it through the cold nights but they adapted with glee to their palatial digs and the ‘big girls’ as we call the older flock, are adapting well to their little sisters!

The other great benefit of moving to their own coop means that they get to keep their feathers in top notch condition as they are able to dust bathe in the sand.

The leghorns seem to hang close which is fine since there are three of them which keeps them from being picked on. IMG_0996

But one night after they had just moved to the mini coop, I went out to check on them and I COULD NOT FIND the leghorns! What a panic…until I found that they had located to a secondary roost at night…up in the eave of the interior roof line of the new coop! Those rascals!IMG_1109 Besides the hoop house, mini coop and the bees, we have also been following the development of the orchard. We were pleased to find that the final winter blast of the year did not wipe out the fruit trees. Whew! There are fruits on the pears, apples, plums, peaches, nectarines and cherries!

Despite the plethora of strawberry and blueberry blossoms promising successful berry season, I decided to try out a couple of new varieties of bush type fruits in the bird netted area. I found a Bush Cherry, ‘Juliet’ at our local nursery and it sounded too good to resist. IMG_1085

I also added two varieties of thorn-less Blackberries, not unlike what we had at the old house. One is called ‘Chester’ and the other is ‘Sweetie Pie’. I was delighted to see that they are still willing to bloom and set on fruit after what would seem like a late planting. Can you hear me rubbing my hands together with glee at this?IMG_1340

We have lots of strawberries and blueberries set on and have started harvesting (and eating!) the strawberries in the last couple of days. Yum!IMG_1350

April showers brought more than rain…it also included Coulter’s three year old birthday which he celebrated in style with some young friends, having helped make and decorate his own birthday cake… IMG_6287

Besides baking, he has also embraced a sewing project at school…IMG_5435But he can’t help dashing about as a super hero when needed…IMG_1354Of course super heros are exactly what we need now that Kate has ended her maternity leave and Nana and Gramps are in charge of both Ward boys for a bit before summer break begins. Willie is at the ready to join in with a one two punch!  IMG_1190

Spring ‘Hoop Dreams’…

We seem to be waiting in vain for Spring to arrive at the farm. Unlike last year when February felt like April, this year, March and April have felt more like a typical February. We have had more than our fair share of rain but that is not as unusual as our continued low temps and the prediction of a heavy frost and possible snow for tonight. All of this threatens the lovely peach and nectarine trees which are finally in full bloom. IMG_0720I have resisted pulling the straw off of the strawberries even though it is tempting to let them get some sunshine and air circulation. Hoping next week we can uncover and they will start to bloom and produce some great fruit this year.IMG_0715We harvested the asparagus that was first planted last year in the new raised beds and has shown that it is on its way to developing into a future crop for us. It normally takes 3 years to really get any production but we cut the viable stalks today and then covered with plastic to keep the rest from the freeze. IMG_0764Ditto with the colorful rhubarb which we also started last year in the raised beds but we added 4 more mounds this year which are already poking out of the ground…IMG_0728Last year’s stand is further along but the leaf material is more at risk with the impending freeze. img_0772.jpgWe also chose a very cold and rainy day to begin to build our future hoop house. What? Backup a minute…a “what house?”, asks everyone who has been hearing about this newest venture of ours. Think of a hoop house as a green house only using plastic or mesh instead of glass. It is something that a plant nursery uses to get an early start for tender plants OR to protect shade loving plants from severe sun OR to protect late plants from freezing. So, for our future spring, summer, fall and perhaps winter needs, we figured we could really get some good use out of a hoop house to extend our seasons!

We bought all the pieces and parts for ours on line and it has a footprint of 12 feet x 26 feet and is just over eight and a half feet tall. It has a metal frame that we had to build with pipe and it looks rather like a ribbed skeleton right now. We purchased two different covers for it. One is mesh and the other plastic with zippered “doors” as well as flaps for “windows” in order to provide for air circulation when needed. All we did today was build the metal frame with the help of our dear friend, Jon. The package should have warned, “do not try this alone!” Haha!

With poor weather conditions all day long, we started out building sections in the barn where we had the assistance of two heaters.  Not pictured: Nancy wearing every layer of sweater, coat, hat and gloves imaginable.IMG_0750When we had two partial halves built, we then moved to the driveway, (using the barn as a wind break) since it would have otherwise been too tall to get out of the barn door. IMG_0754We finally walked the two halves to the field…IMG_0755.jpg where we were ultimately able to join them…IMG_0758.jpg When the fields have dried out enough, we will move the structure into place, secure it with metal stakes and then pull the cover/s over the top which will also then be secured with rebars. More photos to come!

In the meantime, we have a gang of new baby chicks at the farm that we have also been protecting against the cold!  Our current flock will be two years old in June, a time after which their laying habits will begin to wane. So we had to think about some additional flock members to keep us in eggs in the future. Introducing new chickens to an existing flock is a delicate process these days so we decided to choose wisely, ones that would be best for several reasons.

First, they needed to fit into the existing flock with ease. We also evaluated their heat tolerance since we seem more able to control their cold temps than their hot conditions. And lastly, it would be nice to not have to deal with any misidentified cockerels which are young males that turn into aggressive roosters.

Red sex linked chickens were a good answer on all counts so we ordered (months ago!) 6 Cinnamon Queens from the same hatchery we purchased from before.  The day we were to pick up our one day old chicks was one of the stormiest days we have had all spring. A 5 hour drive in torrential rain turned into 6.5 hours but we returned unscathed and so did all the newly hatched chicks…plus one! The hatchery had our order ready with a freebie in the box (their insurance policy?) and we were delighted to think of having 7 new chicks for Seven Oaks Farm! We took a few pics at the hatchery that boasts 185 varieties of fowl for sale. There were layers and layers (no pun) of small peeping birds everywhere.IMG_0461But here was our special package of 1 day old chicks ready to go!

They required constant heat of 98-100 degrees for the first week and then each week afterwards, they can tolerate a bit more of a temperature decrease until they reach 6 weeks old. With our crazy cold weather, we enlisted the heater in my workshop plus a special brooder as well as a heat lamp. Needless to say, the first day I checked on them every hour.

The first week they grew exponentially and each day you could see that they were sprouting wings and then tiny sprouts of tail feathers. IMG_0627Since then, they are now more than two weeks old. With as much attention as they required, we decided to add 3 more that were just about the same age. These were pullets (females) that are of the Leghorn breed which lay white eggs and are very productive as well. They are also lofting out of their first container so we have expanded to a larger coop and added screened lids.

We have promised the children of our neighborhood CSA members that they can each name one so they are already thinking hard of fun and appropriate names!

Last but not least, we have been busy beekeepers even before the season got going here as we were invited to share our activities with a classroom of children from Coulter’s preschool, Raintree. The children and their teachers had been studying pollinators and were keenly interested in learning more about bees. Here is how they decorated their classroom door to greet us.IMG_0030We brought lots of props for them to look at and they asked lots of great questions wearing their antennae! IMG_0022We got a lovely thank you note…IMG_0396And even made the school newsletter…IMG_0392Another thing that keeps daily smiles on our faces are Coulter and Willie Ward who are both growing about as fast as the chicks! IMG_0633Promising more updates from the farm soon!

 

 

Easter Greetings 2018

No, it’s not an April Fools’ joke!

The Seven Oaks Farm blog may have been ‘quiet’ for the last few months but our lives have been quite ‘noisy’ in contrast! As each busy week passes, I tell myself that I need to add this or that activity to the blog. But not unlike a pinball machine with multiple balls in play and not enough hands to manage all the levers, I have merely been able to ’tilt’ the board from time to time in order to keep all the balls in play a bit longer in hopes of getting back to sharing on these pages when time avails.

I can think of one hundred excuses for neglecting to write, but I won’t bore anyone with any of them. Instead, I may review a few of those highlights in future posts. For now, the photo below will instantly reveal some updates to our lives as I am holding the newest little farmer, William ‘Willie’ Ernest Ward who is one month old today. Older brother Coulter, soon to turn three, is sporting his matching tractor shirt and sits happily beside his Nana and his Easter egg hunt haul, his tummy full of the breakfast of bacon, waffles and fruit salad.

Happy Easter to all with a promise of more updates to come!

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Buggy for the Eclipse!!!

Wasn’t the recent eclipse amazing?!? We were lucky to be pretty squarely in the path of the most recent display of the moon eclipsing the sun during the middle of the day. How cool as well as rare! We were so excited to share the special event with friends and family that we started by celebrating with an eclipse party the evening prior to the big day.  We finally had a nice rain a couple of days prior so the weather was delightful and the fields were rebounding from the much needed precipitation!

To celebrate, we offered a farm table full of the week’s harvest with a relaxing dinner of Salmon Nicoise…the only items not from our fields were the Salmon, olives and anchovies! (Um, well, the lemon, vinegar and olive oils for the marinade and dressing were additional exceptions but who’s counting!) Here are our lovely platters…Yum!IMG_4803.JPGI had the most fun making the eclipse cookies to share with our guests and a few special neighbors. I have a great affinity for rolled cookies…it must have been something I caught from my mother who made rolled cookies with great ease. I don’t remember her ‘teaching’ me to do this so I think I am just imitating her actions. I catch myself blowing the excess flour from the cuts so as not to make the cookies too tough and addressing the hierarchy of the first rolled dough vs the second roll out…anything after that was baked as scraps which are absolutely the best treat to eat since they somehow don’t count for much but are so very tasty to the sweaty cook!

Of course her grandfather (who we all called Pappy) owned a small bakery in the little Indiana town where she grew up; so she learned from the best since his wife, Grandmother K (Kettlehut), knew all the tricks and could bake circles around anyone and everyone! It is no wonder that my mother knew her way around the kitchen!

I must say, I have all of her old cookie cutters which bring back very fond memories but better yet, I even have her cardboard substitutions for the shapes she didn’t have in her collection. She would make a stiff paper cut out of a shape she wanted to represent and then tediously use a knife to cut the dough around that shape. She made an ax for George Washington’s birthday which was celebrated when I was little before we somehow glommed onto the current Presidents’ Day celebration. Is it my imagination, or wasn’t there also a cherry cluster for that special cookie day? Maybe one of my siblings could confirm this. If so, where did it go? But she also made a shamrock for St. Pat’s (she loved to tell us that she was part Irish!) and a gingerbread girl; this most likely was her response to making her tin gingerbread boy cutter happy to have the love of his life present beside him baking away on the cookie tray! Here are her cut outs that I so treasure. Is it ironic that they were cut, in part, from what looks to be the cardboard from egg cartons???IMG_4876So it was no wonder the night before the eclipse party that I began to ponder the cutter shapes I would use for my eclipses. An aha moment came about when I decided that my variety of snowflake cutters could serve as the ‘Suns’ and a variety of coordinating circles would work as my ‘Moons’. I think my mother would have approved.IMG_4789.JPGI made my ‘go to’ almond flavored dough for the suns and a delish chocolate flavored dough for the moons – sandwiched with vanilla icing between the two. IMG_4794I dusted them with powdered sugar to make the moons look like they had the proper craters. I giggled the whole time I made them! Of course we served them with our fresh, cold, farm cantaloupe and ice cream!IMG_4797So eclipse day dawned bright and sunny but I had a morning’s work to do before the celebration since I had harvested honey from the bees the previous Friday and wanted to extract it from the combs as soon as I could. I dragged out all the equipment again for this (hadn’t I just put it all away?) and did a final extraction (nearly 50lbs!) leaving the bees plenty of their own for the long winter days. I then put the newly emptied honey supers out in the yard for them to feast on and they went wild for hours cleaning them up!

They weren’t the only ones going wild. We did some of that here too as we were waiting for the eclipse. Of course we had to be careful to keep Coulter indoors so he sat very patiently with his Gramps watching the sky go dark and then bright again while I ventured out to capture some of it on video. (Excuse my camera fiddling…those dark glasses meant I couldn’t see what I was doing!)  Light to dark…

Then dark to light…

So while we were going buggy for the eclipse, it seems to me that the bugs were quite present everywhere I looked. Let’s just start with the growing presence of spiders in the chicken coop…this is no doubt a chapter from “Charlotte’s Web” and I have no intention of discouraging the spiders who have spun an intricate and on going construction between the coop ladder and the over head light fixture that so cleverly traps their prey.IMG_4834.jpgHere is another fellow I found in the coop one morning…a young grasshopper whose future remains unsure since he would be snapped up as a wonderful breakfast treat for the chicks if he ever gave up his overnight perch from the ladder step.IMG_4788This dragon fly was found hovering in the blueberry patch recently; isn’t he lovely!IMG_4683Of course not all insects are satisfied with the great outdoors…some find their way inside as proof of this praying mantis who I found upside down clinging to the edge of the shelf in the mudroom as he peered around wondering what to do next. I solved this for him by gingerly picking him up and re-launching him on the other side of the screen door!IMG_4695 Last but not least are the Monarch Butterfly caterpillars that have found my herb garden to be their best meal…Good thing I already harvested plenty of dill!

We have been swamped with melons of all sorts…IMG_4763.JPGAs well as green beans… UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_18b11.jpgAnd tomatoes…4RvGAy+JTM2v2%1rLWtGIg_thumb_18b0b.jpgAll of which have been well received by our weekend egg and produce subscribers who eagerly embraced the recent offering of pizza dough to accompany a roasted cherry tomato pizza recipe that we shared. I wasn’t sure there would be as many people ready to make the dough for the yummy pizza so I presented it for sale one recent weekend and it was a hit! Here are the individual packets of dough ready for customers to pluck from the coolers and take home to rise and bake. IMG_4751With all the excitement of the recent weeks, no one is happier than little Coulter who is so proudly sporting his Big Bro shirt these days! Hurrah…everyone is looking forward to pushing a baby buggy next year! Congratulations to the Ward family!IMG_4744

 

Little Red Hen Syndrome…Debunked

Do you happen to remember the children’s story of the the Little Red Hen? The origin of this story has been attributed to a Russian fairy tale but it was actually popularized as a Little Golden Book publication when I was a kid and it is still in production.TheLittleRedHen

Here is a quick synopsis: basically, the Little Red Hen finds a grain of wheat and wants to  plant it, harvest it, thresh it, mill it into flour and then bake the flour into bread. She asks for help in doing this from all the other barnyard animals who decline to help her along the way but in the end, they all want to help her eat the beautiful bread she baked. At that point, she declined their help eating the bread, stating that those who do not help in the process should not share in the final product.

So, I sometimes I think of myself as Little Red Hen because I want to do every piece of the work from start to finish. Unlike LRH, I have plenty of offers of help from friends but I tend to be a control freak and work much of the time by myself. My excuse is that it is more difficult to coordinate with helpers than to just do what I need to do under my own steam when I’m ready to do it.

But, during the last month of busy farm work I’ve gladly accepted some help from some very special people. We enjoyed the company of my cousin Peggy and her family over the pre-Fourth of July weekend when they were in town for a wedding. Peggy acted as baby sitter for her son Zach’s young child, Weylin Jasper Jackson who carries the best nickname of WeyJay! What a delightful baby! So fun to spend time with WeyJay’s mom, Jayne…hoping they visit the farm again soon!IMG_4120Peggy and I had so much fun over the weekend. She helped me harvest blueberries which reminded me of the photo of us as youngsters at my grandma Luehrman’s one summer when we were all picking corn. I’m the one hoisting a shucked corn in each hand, next to Peggy in the gold shirt holding a bag of corn with my sister, Lisa. UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_166d8Then we made sweet pickles together and WeyJay got into the act after we finished all the slicing! Peggy and clan also sat with us that Saturday on the screen porch, ceiling fans a whirring, as we greeted our egg subscribers and CSA buyers. What a fun visit! IMG_4125We moved on to Fourth of July which seemed like a week of festivities since the firecrackers went off in our area for nearly a week! We joined the Wards for their block parade and walked with Coulter along the route. IMG_5343The heat of the summer began in earnest after that which provided us with lots and lots of heat loving crops such as green beans…tray after tray, all demanding my attention! IMG_4164I both freeze and can them for future use. A recent sale on canning jars prompted me to stock up!IMG_4256Although it is nice to have fresh frozen green beans, it is good to have the jars of them for the likes of Shepherd’s Pie…a family favorite! UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_187a1The garlic finally finished drying in the barn and I enjoyed the simple preparation of sifting through the bulbs and cutting the stems to make them into little lollipops to sell to our customers. I appreciate those who can tell the difference between our fresh garlic and the limp store bought ones! IMG_4169 2.JPGWe had a small number of peaches to harvest this year after the very late, very cold snap but I must say we certainly relished eating the ones we did bring in to eat. They weighed approximately 8oz each and were so yummy as we ate almost all of them one evening with the Wards….topped with vanilla ice cream! IMG_4193The tomatoes, although a bit slow to ripen, rivaled the large peach sizes. IMG_4196.jpgThey are thick as thieves on the vines and finally started to give us ripe ones for our most recent Saturday sales…pictured here with the Pontiac Red potatoes and scallions!IMG_4601.JPGThe Yukon Golds were every bit as popular and are nearly sold out now. IMG_4130.JPGThe honey harvest took a great amount of our time this month. First, we finally bought our very own electric extractor that can handle as many as nine frames of honeycomb at once. Here is our little darling!IMG_4107We asked another beekeeping friend, Jeff, to make us a stand that would allow us to bolt the extractor down and then tilt it to get the honey out. Here is Jeff proudly showing us his homemade creation that boasted felt pads on both hinged sides so as not to mar our floors. IMG_4213So, the day finally arrived for stealing the honey from the bees. My friend, Joan happily donned our spare bee suit on a relatively cool morning not long ago and we posed for a photo before all the heavy and hard work began.IMG_4243.jpgDave caught some pics of us in the midst of the fury of bees as they reacted to our breach of contract…stealing their precious honey! Oh, were they mad!IMG_2815But the resulting honey harvest was our reward! Here we are scraping the wax cappings off the frames to reveal the honey. UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_188f5.jpgThe frames then go into the extractor and using centrifugal force, the honey is forced from the combs and into the waiting buckets below. UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_188e9The honey is strained and then stored in 10 gallon buckets before I put it all into jars. UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_18905With the honey all secured, I can then fill the jars at my leisure but after jarring…UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_18937I secure labels and and the rest of the packaging for sale and gifting to our special farm friends. UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_1891f Since the honey harvest we have been in a severe drought accompanied by record heat which nearly did us AND the chickens in for a bit! I can’t believe how miserable the poor chicks were during this dreadful heat! Temps just last Saturday rose to 108 in Saint Louis even tho in Huntleigh I only saw 106. UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_18949The chickens have a tough time with heat stress due to their inability to sweat and self cool. So, not unlike dogs, they pant. They also hold their wings out and away from their bodies at a 90 degree angle to try to cool off. The most dreadful of their situation tho happened when I realized they had diarrhea…this due to their huge intake of water which went right through their system, depleting them of electrolytes. Ugh! I tried to help keep them cool by putting in trays of water with ice blocks as well as fans. Here is the fan system I set up between my workshop and their indoor coop with the door open to their outdoor coop for a “breeze”. UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_18946For some crazy reason, I went out a bit later to see that their improvised screen door had backfired on me and fallen into the workshop, nearly breaking the fan and the chair in the meantime! UGH! c1oU%ai7Q42z3kCc8hzSKw_thumb_1894a.jpg I was able to put everything to rights but it was a bit discouraging to say the least. Next I discovered I had a lame chick. Oh my, what next? The following morning I saw this poor gal on her roost with a swollen foot in evidence. Do you see the difference between her two feet? This could be two things…either bumble foot or gout. UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_18974A quick inspection told me that she had bumble foot which is when a chicken will have a small spot on the pad of their foot that gets infected and causes them to favor the limb as the infection grows. Arg! Here is what the bottom of her foot looked like. The dark circle is where the callous covering the infection was located. UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_18981After a good soaking I was able to remove the callous and treat with Vetericyn and Neosporin.  UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_18993She then got a bandage and some isolation time to heal. Each morning I reapply the meds and she seems to be much better now. Interesting…she is not my Little Red Hen (the name I have for one of the Rhode Island Red chicks), but rather a Cinnamon Queen. UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_18994Our days are brightened by little Coulter who pops over to say hello regularly. UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_18923We had the opportunity to keep him recently while his mom and dad were out of town and despite the horrible weather, we made it to one of his favorite spots…the zoo…where he loves to brush the goats… UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_189aeAnd ride the frogs…UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_189b8It makes you wonder who is in charge at the end of the day! UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_1895b