A Crock of Pickles, Bees, Potatoes and More

We are ever so busy here! I left town for a couple of days but not before ordering some fermenting crocks from the Ohio Stoneware Company in Zanesville, Ohio. I’ve been dreaming about making the old fashioned ‘sour pickles’ of my ancestry (as well as some sauerkraut with our cabbages but that will be another posting) but I felt I needed the appropriate containers for this new adventure. The crocks and their lids, which arrived Friday, were packaged with great care including a wooden crate type of base which we are going to keep for future use somewhere. We joyfully unwrapped them and set them out for display…1, 2, 3 and 4 gallon sizes. IMG_6486Today, after a morning of beekeeping (more about that later) I began the relatively labor-free method of fermenting cucumbers into sour pickles. Our ancestors were really smart…this method includes very few expensive ingredients but rather employs patience, which is something no one has today or else they wouldn’t be planting the seeds, weeding the fields, harvesting the fruits, washing and paring them and then combining them with ingredients to make what will be a marvelous batch of pickles after they sit and ferment for six weeks! I certainly can relate to the wine makers and cheese makers who have the patience to garner the products to make their craft so valued. Perhaps we need better marketing for pickles…

Anyway, the process was quite basic. After researching various methods, I found my favorite source was the University of Minnesota Extension which had careful and detailed instructions.

http://www.extension.umn.edu/food/food-safety/preserving/pickling/making-fermented-pickles-and-sauerkraut/

I’m not one to follow recipes with strictness but this was an exception. I was able to easily gather 16 pounds of 4 inch cucumbers from the recent harvest in order to make a batch for the 4 gallon crock. IMG_6496I scrubbed them up and cut the bloom end off of each one. I counted the ends and found it took exactly 120 fruits to make this happen. IMG_6504Then, I added some fresh dill from my herb garden.IMG_6498 I also peeled fresh garlic that was grown by a woman whose bees we care for. She was harvesting from her garden one day last week when Helen and I were making our rounds to the bee yards and she gave us both a head of garlic as well as some rabbit foot fern starts. (More on the ferns later). IMG_6463Fermented cucumbers turn into sour pickles with a marginal amount of ingredients and an even smaller degree of effort since there is no chopping or slicing to speak of…weren’t our ancestors smart! For my 16 pounds of cukes, I added 16 heads of dill, 2 cups of canning salt and only 1 cup of vinegar in addition to the garlic and 8 quarts of water. Here are the whole cukes which I added to the crock.IMG_6501I layered the spices, and here they are with the top layer. IMG_6499Then I added the brine which made everything float to the top…just like swimming in the ocean. IMG_6502This, of course is why you have a weighted lid. I put that in place and now, tick, tock, the waiting begins. I’ll check on these a couple of times a week for 3-4 weeks, removing any scum that forms on the top surface, while they are fermenting. If all goes well, I can store them in their original crock for 4-6 months but it is even easier to put my canning expertise to use and pack these into quart jars and put them through a hot water bath to store for future consumption. IMG_6503I’m now reading up on a similar process to make sauerkraut which I will make in the 3 gallon crock with the cabbages that are ready to pick. In the meantime, we are harvesting lots of zucchinis and green beans as well as tomatoes and eggplants galore. The potatoes are ready to dig. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could have a light rain before working on this chore to make it easier to get them out of the ground! The farm report as of yesterday pushed us over 500 pounds of produce in 2014 at a rate of 156% above last year at this date. Case in point, we have 4 times as many blueberries this year (54.5lbs) so far with some varieties still patiently waiting their turn to be harvested. IMG_6495The bee report this week is incredibly exciting for several different reasons. For one, Jurgen is back from Germany and is again the captain of the ship which is fortunate since we hit some rough waters yesterday. While he was gone, we noted that a hive in one of the bee yards was consistently inactive. It was a relatively young hive in a yard with 4 larger hives as well as 3 nucs, which are smaller start up colonies. Hive 12 in the photo was the inactive one but between it and hive 13 are the three smaller boxes – the nucs – that have only 5 frames in each. IMG_6453When Jurgen returned, he checked more thoroughly into hive 12 to see what was going on with it. He found the queen but she was not busy laying eggs and so he was planning to replace her this weekend with a queen from one of the nucs. Instead, when we arrived Saturday morning, we found that the bees from one of the other hives had attacked this weaker hive and had robbed them of their honey and killed most of the bees. What a crazy mess! We looked for the marked queen and couldn’t find her even tho she was present the day before so it is likely that she was killed by the attacking bees. So Jurgen decided this hive (whats left of it) had to be moved, along with the nucs, to another location. It just so happens that Seven Oaks was a good candidate to receive the new set up so we moved the hive this morning at 6am. This was rather involved since we had to shut the hives down and keep the bees inside during this process. Jurgen and Helen have some great equipment for carrying a hive from place to place. IMG_6505 We loaded the pickup and took off for Seven Oaks with the nearly defunct hive #12 as well as the three nucs. We moved hive 11 to the middle of the stand and added 12 to the end which follows the concept that hives on the ends thrive better than their neighbor in the middle. Hive 11 was already our strongest hive so this would give 10 and 12 on the outsides a better chance of growing stronger. IMG_1415We did another thorough search for the errant queen since we wanted to make sure she was not present before we added the queen from one of the nucs. IMG_1430It took us a while but we got the two deep brood boxes set into place and then added the bees from one of the queenless nucs. IMG_1483Then Jurgen showed us how to join two new mini colonies together. After we got the first nuc loaded into bottom boxes, he laid a single sheet of news paper on top and used his hive tool to cut slits in the paper before adding two more hive boxes on top of it. This paper barrier serves to keep the two colonies slightly separate until they get used to each other. The bees will eat through the paper (the slits get this started) to be with each other on a gradual basis before the paper dissolves and the two groups join into one. Into the top boxes, we unloaded the frames from one of the other nucs…this one was the one that had the active queen in it. IMG_1492Then we gave them some food since there was hardly any honey in their combs and put the inner and outer covers back on and we will hope that this little experiment ‘takes’. The other hives are young enough that they should allow this new hive to get settled in peace. IMG_1498 We then put the third nuc on the stand by itself to continue to develop. Jurgen was trying to get a queen to emerge from a queen cell in this one but it had not emerged for several weeks so it must have been a dud. Here is what it looked like after we removed it. IMG_6507Before all the turmoil of yesterday’s discovery of the bee robbing, we had the excitement of pulling the first honey super off of hive #11 in order to extract the first of Seven Oaks Honey! This was my first experience of pulling the honey supers off. This involves putting a vapor board on the top of the super which is sprayed with a liquid that makes the bees want to move down into a lower box. They don’t all move away so we use leaf blower to help some of them leave. IMG_6492Here is Jurgen carrying the Seven Oaks honey super to the truck. We took one from Seven Oaks and seven more from another bee yard yesterday. These weigh between 30-40 pounds each so it is a lot of work on a hot day when you are wearing a bee suit!IMG_1398The first Seven Oaks honey extraction took place today! The frames of honey were nearly perfect! Here are some after we uncapped them…aren’t they gorgeous!?! IMG_6514Helen and I were in charge during extraction time since Jurgen was glued to the World Cup game, cheering his home country to a win.IMG_6521Here is the honey that came off the Seven Oaks frames after it went thru the extractor.IMG_6516

The grand bucket full measured 36 pounds of sweet nectar! Yeah! IMG_6523

While we were extracting honey from the Seven Oaks honey frames, Dave was busy digging potatoes among other items to harvest today. OMG, we are in serious harvest time! IMG_6524 As a final note, it has been  a very busy week at the farm but it has not been without the recognition of dear friends who recently passed from this life to the next. I was so blessed to know both Mickey and Laurie. RIP.

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