Capture the Flag…Happy Hens Find the Fountain of Youth

It has been quite a week here at the farm. With so many updates, I’m not sure where to begin! Most of the changes have to do with the chicks and the barn status. Knowing that the chicks would soon be getting access to their outdoor run I decided to introduce them to their nipple water system. I made a smaller version than the larger outdoor fountain available to them inside their coop. I think of these as their fountains of youth! So I set the first one up and tried to train them to use it. It did not take long since they are mostly pretty curious and I followed the directions that were provided! 😉 Here they are taking a looksie. IMG_3211 (1).jpg The idea is that they peck at the little nipples and they get a drip or two of water. This keeps their water supply clean and helps to eliminate any standing water which could grow bacteria. It also serves as a distraction since it is almost like a new toy to them.

I also was trying to give them a little treat after making tomato sauce the other day. I took the skins and leftover matter from the food mill down to their coop and put it out in an aluminum pie plate as if to serve them a bit of dinner. What an idiot I was…of course the shiny pie plate was a distraction that made them uncomfortable.

Duh! I took the scraps out of pan and put them directly on the floor and the crowd went wild! It was hilarious to see them running around the coop with a piece in their beaks as if they had captured the flag!

In the meantime, the painters arrived early Saturday and spent the day painting the barn. This was important since the chicks at 5 weeks old tomorrow are feeling the need for some additional space but their outdoor area still needed some painting. Scotty, Doug and Dave obliged me and got the run painted first before attacking the rest of the barn.IMG_3255.jpgLooking much better now with a bit of color on the board and batten exterior!

So it was a big day today to finally put the hose of the outdoor water fountain in place and let the chicks begin to explore their new digs! They were cautious at first but then explored a bit further. IMG_3271.jpgThey found another Farley gate for roosting purposes and have taken their first dust baths! IMG_3303.jpgIMG_3293.jpgCoulter now goes out with us each day to visit the chicks but as much as he likes all their activities, he may best enjoy the chicken on the screen porch as it stands still for his inspections!IMG_3216IMG_3220On to the bees: We picked up and installed the new queen on Wednesday. Here she is in her little cage with some attendants waiting to ‘go’. She is “marked” with a dot of ink on her back so she is easily spotted in the crowd. I took a nail and punctured the sugar plug that separated her from the rest of the world and knew that her new subjects would eagerly eat thru the sugar to welcome her to the hive. IMG_3120.jpgI re-inspected the hive yesterday and sure enough, she was out, roaming the frames and hopefully filling lots of empty cells with eggs! This hive is currently being fed with sugar syrup to help them adjust. The next step for the bees is to test for mites which is best to do around August 1st. More on that later. I’m pleased that the assortment of sunflowers I planted near the back terrace are now really starting to bloom and the bees will enjoy this summer time pollen and nectar!IMG_3298IMG_3300

In the meantime, I’m continuing to process the harvest whenever I get a chance. The blueberry bushes are about spent (I’m almost relieved since the time commitment to pick is daunting) but I’ll pick a bit more here and there which should bring my total close to 140 pounds…that is a lot of berries!  Dave continues to harvest twice daily and so far has a yearly cumulative poundage of about 900lbs! I have not counted how many bags of frozen produce I’ve tucked away in the freezer but his Excel sheet reveals that I have canned 355.5 jars (in various sizes) of produce so far this year! Whoa, that is a lot but much more to come! I’m just a tad bit behind since I’m finalizing my Missouri Botanical Garden presentation for Tuesday, August 2nd 6-7pm….be there or be square! I hope to share as much information as I can about Preserving Your Harvest! Thanks in advance to daughter Kate for her support on the Keynote presentation platform…without her, this would have been even more daunting!

Christmas (Honey) in July!

Thank goodness…Christmas Honey will see another year despite high demand for sales of the same!

We had a stellar day today and I hope I’m able to complete this brief posting since we are totally wiped out from all our activities. Just to note: each day as we have our coffee around 5am, we make our list of things we need to do for the day on the farm. This morning started out at a full tilt – accomplishing more than we ever thought possible – so much so that later in the day, Dave actually created the list we intended to do and he entitled it “To Do-ne” since we had actually done more than we ever thought we could have today!

First off, with the slight improvement on weather (after days of sweltering heat in the 100s!) we decided this would be a good day to work the bee hives for multiple reasons. I had pulled the honey super off the most active hive yesterday morning and was pretty pleased to have done this with good success. As you can see, I’m brushing bees off of one of the frames that is nearly all capped with wax in front of the hive.  Can you see my dripping sweat!?!?IMG_2342.jpg

I then took them to the nearby truck bed where I was able to sneak all away from the colony of very interested bees! Success! I stole an entire 10 frames of mostly capped honey from the very active “girl” hive. I drove off with this honey super to await uncapping. IMG_2348.jpg

In the meantime, I knew that the one weaker hive would be best off if I re-queened it so with a queen order on the way for pick up on Wednesday (tomorrow), it was best to eliminate the weaker queen at least 24 hours in advance. So I went queen hunting early today and eliminated this one after a rather exhaustive search! Ouch for her!IMG_2365.jpg

I was fully prepared to split the very active hive into a sub unit called a Nuc, but I found that it had several deep frames of capped honey for the taking. So instead of splitting this one today, I stole their honey and will allow them to work harder at their brood for winter as I gave them 3 fresh, un-drawn frames in exchange for those full of honey!


We were fully prepared to extract the honey today as we had rented an extractor from Isabees earlier in the week for this purpose. Jane, the owner of this local bee supply shop is most gracious and giving of her time and expertise. We were fully prepared to buy an extractor from her but found that her 3 day rental of a 9 frame manual extractor for $45 was probably a good way to find out what we wanted in an extractor for the future. So we found ourselves this morning with the extractor equipment and the ready frames of honey so we jumped into it with great energy! We had the space for all of this in my workshop, aka the honey house! I need a sign on the door: Nana’s Honey House!IMG_3092.jpg

I manually uncapped the frames using a pick even tho I had an electric burner/uncapper at the ready. After inserting the frames into the extractor, we spun them out using our man power and centrifugal force to get the honey to flow into the tank and out the bottom to our waiting buckets.  IMG_3102.jpg

Oh joy! 40 pounds of honey for gifting again this Christmas! We are hoping there is enough for all since sales are high and I have pre-orders waiting! $$$$

In the spirit of commercialization, I also canned 18 pints of pickles that are also a hit lately at the Artery in addition to the jams I’m selling there! Ooh, la, la!

In the meantime, the chicks, 4 weeks old yesterday, are growing so fast! They are happy to eat directly from my hand which is a great way to tame them! IMG_2894.jpg

They have outgrown the white walled kiddie pool scenario and we have most recently given them the entire interior coop area which is approximately 10’x 10′. We have hand delivered 2,530 lbs of sand (our backs can testify to the effort!) for their pleasure to the indoor and outdoor coop areas! Spoiled chicks! but they are adorable, calm and gorgeous as they enjoy eating out of the TOP of their feeder! IMG_2962.jpg

They love looking at themselves in the mirrors I have placed around the coop.

And here is the newest feature: they love roosting on Farley’s old gate which we recently added to the mix.IMG_3088.jpg

The harvesting has continued apace despite some incredible heat in our area. We picked peaches and enjoyed them at a family dinner recently.

I continue to sell our jams and pickles at The Artery! Here are the goods on their way to the shop after a morning of packaging!

Stay tuned for more chick news! The barn is finished except for the final paint job which starts this weekend and a bit of necessary landscaping! Hurrah! IMG_2880.jpgIMG_2805.jpg


Extra, Extra, Chick News of the Day!

The chicks (two weeks old tomorrow) are growing rapidly and have out-sized their original brooder. They actually became too big for it two days ago so I split them in half and put them in two identical, original plastic tubs with lids to give them some extra room. Yes, the lids were necessary since they were happily jumping up on top of their food container and then eyeing the brim of the tub for their next step to freedom!

Splitting them bothered me since I wanted them to continue to associate as a flock. So it was my goal to find them a larger, amenable, joint space quickly. Since they are still too small to be in their larger indoor coop space, (they need to be 4-6 weeks old for that) we went in search of a medium sized containment system to tide them over for the next couple of weeks.

We found a large sized – 6 foot diameter – kiddie pool to use but we knew the pine shavings litter system was not going to pair well with that environment since it would be really hard to clean out. (I had been cleaning out their smaller containers 2x a day by entirely by replacing all the litter…I was super fastidious!) Our research pointed us toward river sand as a medium instead of pine shavings for their litter for many, many good reasons. Here is an article from The Chicken Chick, someone who has great knowledge and whom I trust on these things. So, off we went in the pick up truck to find this particular type of sand which is different from the type that a kid has in a sand box!

We landed at a local masonry supplier, Brentwood Material, and found exactly what we wanted at an unbelievable price! We got nearly 300 pounds of this sand for $4.72. Yes, it bears repeating…four dollars and seventy two cents! Here is what it looked like in the back of Dave’s truck. IMG_2811.jpgWe spent the morning off loading it (OMG, sand is heavy!) into small containers that we carried down to fill the pool surround in the coop. After many trips, we felt pretty good that the new brooder was ready, so I transferred all the chicks to their new home. As a well intentioned new chick mom – AKA “playground attendant” – I hung around and watched the ensuing activity.  I’m glad I stuck around since the pool walls (ony 15″ tall) did not prove high enough to keep the chicks from lofting up from their food dish and then to the top of the wall…and out from there! Oh, drat and arg and all those other words I know so well!

Luckily, I had another plan and put that into play quickly. The barn construction crew had a roll of 24″ tall metal sheeting on site (which you see pictured here as the ‘white wall’) so I grabbed what was there and put it in place on the surround of the pool walls. Phew, it worked! I added some logs as well from our wood pile to give them something fun to climb and roost on. Here they are in the new, taller surround, exploring all aspects. IMG_2836.jpg

Any time you move chicks to a new location they freak out and cheep, cheep, cheep with an urgency to their voices but they soon settled in and started to relax and enjoy their new space. I know this because they took their first dust baths which was a bit of a shock to witness since they appear to be having a stroke…but is very spa-like for them. Here is Petunia, one of the Easter Eggers that Joan and Tom named, taking her first dust bath.

In general, the flock is very happy to have the extra space to play and explore and they have responded very positively…so much so that I think they actually grew a bit today as a response to their expanded privileges!

In other farm news, I continue to spend several hours each day picking blueberries which are devoured fresh, frozen or made into jam – over 112 pounds so far and many more to go! Cucumber processing has just begun but is ongoing as I work up various kinds of pickles. Yesterday I put up 20 pounds of dills into my pickle crocks for fermenting using my own garlic and dill. Ah, so satisfying!

IMG_2798.jpgHere they are in the crock with brine and ready for a weight on top to sit for a couple of weeks. The smell of dill is wonderful but also thrilling is the use of so many cukes!IMG_2803.jpg

In addition to those, today I canned another 9 lbs of cukes into 10 pints of our favorite recipe, Sweet Jalapeno Pickles, using the jalapenos from the garden in the bottom of each jar. Dave continues to dig potatoes,  as well as many other harvest items but the best news is that we have started to enjoy the first tomatoes of the season! Oh, how nice is that!?!  We are eating them a couple at a time at this point but they are multiplying rapidly so I hope to be making tomato sauce soon.

I could not help but take this photo of our ‘glove parade’ as we try to clean them off with the hose before putting into the washing machine for future uses. We go thru them so fast as holes appear rapidly in all the fingers! Good news is that Dave is a lefty and I’m a righty so as we wear out the fingers, we can coordinate to a certain degree? Some of the sturdiest of them are plastic coated but they are way too hot to wear all day long! IMG_2793 (1).jpg Watch for more chick updates as well as name ideas which are becoming more obvious as they mature! So far, the four Easter Egger chicks are well named: 2 by the Moores – Petunia & Myrtle, and 2 by my nephew, Jack – Buttercup and Violet…all flower names since these are the colorful egg layers!  More names in the next post!



In a Pickle or a Jam? A Rainy Fourth of July!

It has been a soggy holiday weekend with a much needed rain that has kept us out of the fields the last couple of days but conditions did not stop the other activities around here since I’ve continued to make jam (blueberry at this point) and have started the first of the pickle makings! Yahoo!

The cukes are best when first harvested at the desired size of about 4-5 inches long and require a twice a day picking at this point in order to not let them grow too quickly and get out of hand. Given some daytime heat and some extra moisture, they will increase in size significantly in a short amount of time so we have to be zealous about harvesting. We planted 2 varieties in 18 hills with 4 plants each and they are doing great this year!  IMG_2496The bees love to help out with pollination! IMG_2498.jpgSo, much like other years, I have started with our favorite sweet pickle recipe and weighed up 9 pounds on each of the last couple of days to wash and slice up. IMG_2621IMG_2622.jpg

They get a quick brine in a vinegar/salt/sugar/mustard seed mixture on the stove top which is essentially blanching them in a brine mixture for several minutes before draining.IMG_2639.jpgI then pack them tightly – steaming hot – into pint jars before adding a sweetly spiced, cooked syrup that has thickened on the stove top in the background. Ouch to fingers!IMG_2641.jpgThis reliable recipe makes 10 pints of crisp, sweet pickles which I’ve done twice already in the last two days. I’ve already made 31 half pints of blueberry jam in addition to freezing countless gallon bags of them. If it weren’t raining, I’d be picking berries now to add to the 90 plus pounds I have harvested this year to date. Here are some of the pickles and blueberry jam jars cooling while waiting for labels.IMG_2629.jpgThe garlic bulbs have finished drying after two weeks on their screen bed and were ready today to trim and put in the “root cellar”, aka the basement. I cut their long necks and put them into the mesh bags I had purchased for this purpose and off they went to hang in a dark, cool corner of the basement where I will send my messenger, Dave, to grab a head every now and then for cooking during the coming year.

IMG_2727IMG_2728Dave started digging the potatoes recently and got less than three of the ten rows dug so far – weighing in over 53 pounds – before the rain started in so they are also in the cool, dark basement as well! We expect quite a nice continued harvest of Pontiac Reds to compliment more of the Yukon Golds as seen below. IMG_2654.jpgWith all the processing I’ve been doing these days, I decided to wise up and get some bulk items to help keep the cost down. For instance, I found a great pectin supplier in a small, family owned company in northern California called Pacific Pectin. So instead of opening an individual package of Sure-Gel every time I make a batch of jam, I’m measuring out the equivalent amount from a 10 pound box. What a savings for a jam maker like me!IMG_2107.jpgI’ve also taken to buying my sugar in 25lb bags. IMG_2045.jpgThis requires some strong arms and pre-planning which I’ve been working on as well as the supplies for pickles shown here. Gallon containers of vinegar were on sale recently so I’m grabbing as many jugs and noting the amounts subtracted from each so as to keep my constant measuring sensible. IMG_2642.jpgWhen I have time, I pre-measure bags of sugar for specific recipes so that I have a system called ‘mis en place’ – French for ‘things in place’ – so as to keep the stress of the fast paced, heated cooking the simplest. This helped out when making 85 jars of strawberry jam!IMG_2108.jpgOther crops are doing well and we are serving a large variety at mealtimes: turnips, broccoli, swiss chard, lettuces, scallions, peas and peppers and more. The tomatoes are just beginning to ripen and it looks as though we will have a good harvest. I’m investigating another method of preserving our harvest this year as I purchased a vacuum sealer recently. Everyone raves about these machines but I’ve been hesitant since I’ve been pretty successful so far with my other tools. IMG_2643.jpgSo far, so good. I worked up some Swiss chard today into nice bundles for the freezer. I consider this another tool in my war chest…I’ll keep you posted as to my opinion of usefulness. IMG_2733.jpgSo, besides all I’m trying to accomplish on the farm lately, I’ve been asked to give a presentation at the Missouri Botanical Garden, August 2nd, on Preserving Your Harvest. What an honor…but it does require me to get a professional presentation ready so this is how I’m spending my spare time! My biggest fear is a sea of empty seats, so please attend if you can!

We had a fun visit from our avid blog reader and friend, Mary Ann Segal and husband Paul, who came in from Beloit, WI for the weekend and got to see what is going on at the farm! Photo credit to Mary Ann who documented the visit with this pic! Of course we had homemade blueberry coffee cake to munch on!imagejpeg_0.jpgThe chicks provided some of the entertainment and at one week old, are doing quite well despite eating us out of house and home as they are consuming at least 3 quarts of feed each day! Tail feathers are now apparent on some of the varieties. IMG_2638.jpg

Despite the rainy day, we joined the Wards for a bit of fun Independence Day celebration. Coulter rode in the neighborhood street parade in his decorated wagon.IMG_2680And we joined in for a group photo that included other JBS faculty members and their families! Happy Fourth of July! IMG_2713.jpg