The Four B’s…Birds, Berries, Bees and Boys – (Plus a Snake, Oh My!)

The ‘Weather’ with a capital “W” has been absolutely atrocious – again or still, you pick the descriptive word – this spring. I suppose the most positive thing I can say is that at least the near record rainfall has not been combined with record heat as temps have been on the mild side for St. Louis but this means the wet fields are also not drying out fast enough.

As we transitioned from spring to summer during last Friday’s solstice (happy 5th wedding anniversary to the Kate and Jason!), we welcomed the beginning of the summer season with…you guessed it, nearly 4 inches of rain in the past 48 hours. And rain is just about the only reason I have time to work on this blog, as it has been raining off and on all day.

We also had poor timing last month while trying to replace the gutters on our house and do exterior repairs along with repainting during that time. We managed to wiggle our way through the weather challenges with a good outcome and just one or two minor glitches along the way. One small problem had to do with re-locating a bird’s nest that had been used almost constantly since March by a variety of parenting birds as if it were some sort of a hostel for an ornithological traveling members group.

At the time, a mother mourning dove had been occupying the nest on one of the downspouts by our side door when the crew came to replace that piece of downspout. (BTW, I always thought they were called “morning” doves, but when I was doing a little research about this species, I found that the ‘Zenaida macroura‘ are actually called Mourning Doves due to the forlorn sound of their coo or bird call. More can be found at this site. https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Mourning_Dove/overview ).

So, the construction crew kindly asked how I wanted to handle the nest since there were two small doves in it that were not quite ready to launch as fledglings.

Of course, moving an active bird’s nest is not the easiest thing to do with success but we gave it a try and I popped the nest into the crotch of a nearby dogwood tree that had a protective upper canopy.

Much to my surprise, the mama bird returned to further shelter and feed her babies and after a week or so, we can now spot the two youngsters hopping along in the surrounding area, successfully finding food and maturing quickly. They have tolerated our traipsing in and out of that entrance to the house and and even allow the paparazzi to snap away!

Remember the cherry tree fruits that we pictured in the last post? Those cute green fruits evolved into the real thing and for the second year in a row, we hoped for a successful sweet cherry harvest. First, we decided to take advantage of the workmen and their tall ladders and put a very large bird netting on the tree to protect the ripening fruits from the active bird population. We were rubbing our hands with glee at the thought of our nice cherry harvest…

…until one of our welcome black snakes got caught up in the net that was resting on the base of the tree. We love the work our black snakes do to keep the small rodent population down as they go after the voles and such that are nearly impossible to get rid of without an aggressive outdoor cat.

This snake was really caught up in the tangle of the net, so we sacrificed the net and tried to cut it loose except for the restraining/remaining bit that you might be able to see still around it’s upper body as indicated by the arrow and red box.

The remaining ‘waistband’ of netting constricted the snake’s ability to move forward as it was not able to expand and contract the muscles of its body to propel itself forward. (I’m sure you know, snakes cannot move backwards which is one of the reasons this guy got himself inextricably caught up in the first place!) So, we got a large cloth, gloves and a sharp scissors and tried once more to free this guy.

I put the gloves on, the cloth over it’s head and used the scissors to delicately snip off the rest of the netting that surrounded it’s belly and the moment of freedom was miraculous as off he slithered into the woods!

We then felt quite free to harvest more than 8 pounds of cherries from the tree!

This was the first year we had enough cherries to be creative…so one day I decided to make sweet cherry jam. What a long process this was as pitting 10 cups of cherries took some time even with my nice cherry pitting tool in hand!

I then chopped and cooked them with pectin and sugar to make 12 half pints of sweet cherry jam!

This of course was after processing pound after pound of our sweet strawberries…the ones we didn’t consume or sell fresh to our customers were made into 48 jars of jam or frozen. I hulled tray after tray of fresh berries and dried them on towels before placing them on trays for the freezer.

Once frozen, I put them into the vacuum sealer to safely keep for our winter consumption. Our freezers are groaning with many of these packages and are getting restocked for the winter!

So now the cherry and strawberry seasons are over, thank goodness but the blueberries have just begun to ripen with the Blue Ray variety first to hit the market as our CSA customers squealed with delight and we sold out of these sweet, plump wonders the first day. No worries for the next sales date as I picked again today before the rain started and we will have berries galore!

But berries were not the only star of the farm in recent weeks as we always enjoy the harvest of the garlic scapes…which are the flower stalk that a hard neck garlic plant produces. As our readers might remember, garlic scapes are a remarkably mild and delicious precursor to the garlic harvest and they are coveted as a special ingredient during their 2 or so weeks of stardom here in the plant world.

We were so lucky to have Cousin Peggy and her family visiting the farm on Garlic Scape Saturday this year. In addition to the fun of the CSA sales that day, we roasted a large pan of potato, chicken, lemon and garlic scapes that evening to share with our families. Yummmm!

The scapes are just the introduction to the garlic story as the patch took center stage one day last week at harvest time and gave me fits as the bulbs were reluctant to give up their rooted bulb base from their raised beds. I nearly had to dig each one out individually rather than merely tug and pull them as I had successfully done in the past.

I attribute this reluctance to the wet soil conditions and the fact that if I tugged too hard to try to get them to release, the neck of the plant (where the stalk and the bulb meet) was too soggy to endure the tension and would break off, leaving the bulb in the ground and my hand full of the lonely, unusable stalk. So, hours later, the harvest was complete with approximately 25 pounds of hard neck garlics to share with our customers and keep for the winter.

The large trays of bulbs were then set out on our screens to dry for a week or so before we clean them up and sell to our customers. We love the overwhelming smell of fresh garlic when entering this space these days!

Have you been wondering about the baby chicks? They are now pretty much integrated into the preexisting flock of birds but have been shy to join the gang as a whole. They are nearing their 3 month old birthday which means that they are not far from laying their first eggs but they continue to be shy in the group as a whole. We watch them daily as they develop into part of the flock and find their antics to be another layer of the chicken life at the farm.

Is it finally time to tell everyone about my dear bees and the expansion of the apiary? You wouldn’t have time to read all my stories this year as it has been quite a complicated season so far.

Our apiary has moaned and groaned its way through the wet, wet, wet spring where the bees were confined to their hives and chose to work on creating swarm cells, aka new and multiplier queen cells, whereby they wanted to elope and repopulate their colonies. I think I would have to write an entire post about the trials of this behavior and how it affected our apiary this year…and maybe I’ll find the time to do this but I will just give a few hints here of what has happened so far.

I had a surprisingly strong apiary after a long winter. The colony strength demanded to be divided which I did in spades, meaning I took 6 winter colonies and at one point made them into 10-12 depending on the day of the week.

A keen eye will see that the mixture of stages of development in the hives show some that have been given honey supers while others are in their infancy which, IMO, is the most fun way to manage a successful apiary. I had great successes in creating new nucleus colonies this year as well as the surprise of using a new (to me at least) technique of providing an upper or second entrance to the hive for the bees who are foraging to enter just above the deep boxes and efficiently go directly into their honey supers to deposit the necessary goodies more directly.

Here is a good example of the upper entrances that I installed on two of our hives. Note the wooden colored mid-hive protruding section on the left and right hives. The two lower deep boxes are where the queen has her nest and creates brood for the colony while the two or three upper honey supers are where the bees store their honey.

This added entrance was new to me this year and I thought it was pretty cool until the circumstances of this crazy, rainy, re-queening season became a reality for me. I had a fledgling, un-mated queen leave from the lower, deep nest boxes and do a mating flight. This is usually good. But, she landed in the upper entrance of her colony and proceeded to lay eggs in the honey supers of that colony. Arg! Such a mess as honey supers are only for honey storage and not for eggs or brood! This took much manipulation on my part to turn around the colony and set it straight.

But…despite all the rain (when the bees cannot fly and forage) we managed to harvest more than 150 pounds of gorgeous spring honey this year and have three 10 gallon buckets to show for it while we currently now have 15 summer honey supers in place on the hives for more production to be harvested later this summer.

Left to right…Spring, summer and fall honey in jars for sale to our customers…if I ever figure out the WordPress interface, I might start selling these from the blog site! HELP!

Representing the last of the “B’s”…the Ward Boys are always fun to have around…here they are enjoying our recent Father’s Day Brunch!

Pollen Aplenty in August

This is a rather crazy time of year at the farm since the fields are in transition as we pull up the remains from spent plants that are now going to seed to make way for the next cycle and simultaneously try to keep up with the processing. It is also hot as Hades with high humidity these days so we are pretty wiped out. It doesn’t help that I have my second bout with poison ivy so I’m very itchy and irritable!

Dave has finished digging potatoes with nice results at 171 plus pounds of Yukons and Red Pontiac combined. That field now needs to be tilled under since the weeds are trying to take over in the meantime and it is a battle royal that we hope to win! It doesn’t help that we have also spotted a couple of cicada killer wasps snooping around again. We had a year off from them last year when it was too wet for them to burrow and make nests in the dirt which is where they lay their eggs. Here is the previous blog about them:  Reprising Our Favorite Pizza…and the Return of the Cicada Killer Wasps!  We are intent on keeping them at bay since they are quite annoying. We have tried to douse them with wasp spray but so far they seem to be fairly impervious to it. Crossing fingers that nearly 2 inches of rain last night will deter this recent activity.

We have found that the most annoying weed of all time is nut grass or nut sedge that has been finding its way into our fields and creating havoc which is hard to control without herbicides. If you pull it out by the roots, it leaves a network of new starts underground. Ugh! If you don’t pull it, they go to seed and you get 100 fold in new weeds. Ugh, ugh! So this invader takes first place as my newest nemesis and I feel I’m on patrol at all times when it is concerned. yellownut

I intend to try my newest organic weed control on this one…I got this recipe from one of the chicken blogs that I follow and I haven’t tried it yet since I have concerns for the resulting acidity of the soil but I will try it in a small spot and hope it works.

WEED SPRAY – Combine 4 cups vinegar, 1/4 cup salt and 1/2 tablespoon Dawn brand dish soap (apparently, only Dawn will do the trick!) Mix well and spray on a sunny day.

But….there is always a catch….as we recently worked on eradicating this weed in one particular fallow field, I noticed that the bees were delighted with the pollen from the “flower” part of the stalk. Argh! It is notably a desperate time of year for them to find pollen resources and I normally would hate to eliminate any they might find, but this is where I draw a line in the sand and will continue to eradicate this weed with a vengeance.

That said, I’m particularly pleased to offer the bees an alternative source of pollen since I planted 6 varieties of sunflowers earlier this year with seeds I bought from Seed Savers Exchange and they are now all blooming wildly much to the delight of the bees. IMG_1539.jpgWhat a welcome site here in the middle of August. Here is the shortest of the group, approximately 12-24″ tall, named Teddy Bear. IMG_3664.jpgThen comes Valentine at 5 feet tall. IMG_3641Then Taiyo, about to open here at 5-6 feet tall. IMG_3657Then Velvet Queen at 5-7 feet tall with Mahogany petals and a nearly black center.IMG_3645Autumn Beauty, ranging from 5-8 feet tall, has more than one shade, ranging from yellow to gold to dark burgundy.

 

And then strikingly tall, the Lemon Queen is supposed to range from 7-8 feet tall but some of mine are easily reaching 9 feet and displaying a real “come hither” signal to the bees!IMG_3668.jpgIMG_3650Do you see anything interesting about this photo? Dave noticed that the flower heads are facing west as the day wears on but they start out their day eastward facing. It turns out that they follow the sun with much drama and movement and this recent article in the NYTimes caught my attention gave me a better understanding of what is happening here.  Better yet, this also explains why I had such a problem growing sunflowers last year. I planted them up against an east facing brick wall and although they got a good amount of sun, their sturdy stalks were not able to keep the tall plants upright since there was no balance to their sunlight exposure.  Live and learn!

Joan came to visit with the chicks yesterday and showed her natural skill learned as a youngster who tended a flock of 30 egg layers of her own.IMG_3768.jpgThey don’t seem to care whose hand is feeding them when the goodies are leftover skins and seeds. 

Who has the bigger attitude here?  IMG_3784.jpgBut there was no attitude from little Coulter who had his first haircut this week. Kate managed a Rockwell-esque photo montage.

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The rewards were high as we went for a visit at the park located between the farm and their house. What fun! First some tunnel time…IMG_3745.jpgThen the slide…IMG_3754.jpgAnd finally a cool off with a bit of breeze from the swing!!!IMG_3699.jpgWhat a difference a year makes when you are 15 months old!

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!

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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

 

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

More Bees, Peas and Barbeque, Please!

I’m back at the farm after a weekend trip to Phoenix where a healthy contingent of Luehrman cousins gathered to remember our dear Bob and Helen. The church service was beautiful and the bear-like hugs (Bob style) were much welcomed and a reminder to keep family near and dear always. Helen, the last of my father’s siblings, was our family glue. She would be most pleased if we would all take up the mantle and keep in touch regularly. Since some of the cousins read this blog I’ll put my toe in the water now and promise to help plan a future reunion. Below are some of the children of six of the eight original Luehrman siblings. IMG_2448

When we manage to gather, I hope the Brotemarkle brothers, David and John, (famous for their team grilling efforts) will be our barbecuing crew! Here are the Smokey Brotes, David and John with spouses Rosane and Michelle!  Maybe they’ll need some garlic!?!  IMG_6275

There was little time to pause on my return as the first three (of the five) blueberry varieties are now ripening. I have relished the solace of the early hours in the “blueberry palace” picking tray after tray of these sweet fruits. I have harvested over 45 pounds so far this year but if last year’s volume is any indication of what to expect, I should be a little over a quarter of the way done with picking. We delight in having them fresh each day but I’m freezing gallon bags full of them for the off season and will make jam as well. I’ve already made 85 half pint jars of strawberry jam! Lord help me, that is another blog I’m behind on! IMG_2414.jpg Although the blueberry harvest will continue for the next month or so, the garlic was entirely harvested in short order yesterday. How easy was that?!?! We brought in 18 pounds in about 30 minutes of digging! The signs of readiness were that the lower 3-4 leaves of the stalk appeared yellow or brown as you can see here. IMG_2467

We used a pitch fork to dig out the plentiful bulbs. IMG_2468.jpgTo get an idea of scale, here is my hand…showing the German Extra Hardy which is slightly larger than the German Red. IMG_2470.jpg

After digging them, I followed the very simple instructions to prepare for drying: “brush off dirt and trim roots to a quarter of an inch”. They look like they all got a buzz cut! IMG_2473.jpg

We laid them out on an old screen door for air circulation (or they can be hung in small groups) to dry for two weeks before bundling and storing for the year. You can quickly identify the red variety here. I have about 75 bulbs which I will cherish for cooking all year!IMG_2474

I also harvested a 20 foot row of peas which were a bit less than 5 pounds in the end but were fun to pick and shell!IMG_2440.jpg

The seasonal crops are producing well row by row and we are already replacing spent plants such as spinach with other veggies such as beans that love the heat. We do this sequentially so that we aren’t inundated with too much of one thing at a time. IMG_2416.jpg

We are also pleased to share the results from our first fruiting fig tree. We got this tree as a lark when Dave made his annual trip to Stark Brother’s nursery this year and we have been coddling this strange plant along for fun. It is in a pot on the terrace and we water it regularly but haven’t have much time for it lately….until…we found that it had a fruit on it! We are pleased and see a couple of other little sprouts that might be future figs as well so I guess we will cross our fingers and hope for some Figgy Pudding this Christmas???IMG_2443 (1).jpg

The bees are surprising me as well with the recent evidence that we will actually have a honey crop despite the very young colonies we started with this year. I had two delightful and enthusiastic ‘guest’ beekeepers help me out recently. First was my cousin Peggy’s daughter, Lindsay, who stayed with us several days while she was working at a field hockey/recruiting camp for Holy Cross where she is the Varsity Women’s Coach. We love it any time she visits! IMG_2362.jpg Next was son Peter who was in town for my mother’s memorial which was more like a family reunion at the farm to celebrate her life. Here we are preparing to look at the bee activity…he makes me look like a midget!IMG_2389.jpgAnd here he is finding the joy of new brood and lots of activity on one of the frames.

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The bees are doing great and I have recently added a second honey super to the most active hive. This frame shows a nice, capped brood pattern with honey stores at the top for their own enjoyment next winter.IMG_2365.jpg

The barn is progressing and is nearly finished which is a good thing since the chickens will finally arrive next week. We ordered the following varieties from Cackle Hatchery : Barred Rock, Rhode Island White, New Hampshire, Easter Egger and Buff Orpington. All are considered relatively docile chickens but most importantly prolific egg layers. It is so exciting…I can hardly wait and neither can Coulter who is running around, talking and keeping us entertained non-stop! IMG_2276

Here is a barn progress pic…getting closer and closer to finishing! IMG_2475.jpg

 

 

All Hail Mother Nature or Scones for Stones

Much has happened here in the last week with the progress on the barn construction but the procurement yesterday of our new bee hives was perhaps more memorable. A little background first – or my way of making a short story a bit longer but hopefully more enjoyable.

After two years of being an apprentice beekeeper, I set out this year to own and tend my very own bees. (Jurgen actually owned the hives that were here the last two years which are now back in one of his beeyards.) I found a very experienced beekeeper, Neil Brunner, who sells bees and equipment from his farm in Stockton, Missouri – about a four hour drive from here. Every spring he does quite a brisk business selling to folks like me who have pre-ordered their nuclear family of bees from him the previous January. I spoke with Neil several times last winter before deciding that his gentle, Missouri grown, Italian bee stock were just the right fit for me.

(Strike that and replace…for ‘us’ as Dave is now officially a part of the bee culture at the farm and even has his own apiary outfit to prove it. If there was ever a moment when he was re-thinking the “for better or worse” vow he took nearly 37 years ago, now would be one of those! Ha!)

So off we went yesterday morning to collect our bees. It was an excellent day to abandon things here since we had already received an inch of rain the previous day and were only expecting more of the same. We knew we had arrived at our destination – a gravel, numbered, maze of a rural road in southwestern Missouri – when we spotted a long line of pick up trucks on the side of the road amidst a cloud of flying insects that happened to be bees!

So we followed suit and got in line to pick up our order of bees. After a bit of waiting and conferring about the details, we had a truck bed full of bees and hive equipment and set out for the 4 hour drive back home. The rolling Missouri countryside was populated by small farmsteads of horses, donkey and alpacas but mostly cattle, milling about in green pastures but we didn’t have time to admire for long as the threat of dark clouds, windy weather and the threat of heavy rain was following our path homeward.  We stopped twice to adjust our cargo after spying a stray bee or two that had lofted up and away from their screened hive openings.  Wouldn’t you know, one of our stops was at an open-air, cattle auction house where the nearby sounds of mooing and baying was loud and enticing but we could not afford the distraction and so we continued onward.

We pulled into our driveway just as a torrent of rain, wind and pelting hail began. It had been our intention to place the bee hives on their stand and do what we could to settle them in for the night. After an initial attempt, we retreated to the garage, soaked to the bone, with the bees still in the truck bed and waited out the worst of the storm. It is easier to admire the zeal of Mother Nature when you are not being threatened by her loud and dramatic showing of thunder and lightning! Here is the start of the hail on our walkway. IMG_1846But patience won as we waited for the storm to pass and were rewarded by a rainbow in the lens of my camera. IMG_1849.jpg

But this wasn’t just any old rainbow. Look closely and you will see that not only is it rare to see both ends of it (two pots of gold?) but we also had a double rainbow…one above another! I cannot tell you how deeply this impacted our experience at the time as we witnessed a simultaneous display of Mother Nature’s wrath alongside her benevolence. We think that the bees at Seven Oaks Farm & Orchard are meant to BEE!

And so as soon as the lightning subsided we placed the bee hives on their stands and retreated indoors to await for morning to adjust their situation. This morning I added syrup buckets to each hive in order to support the bees while they search for future nectar in our area. They showed evidence of exploring their surroundings as they began to buzz around their hives and seem to have survived the trip just fine!

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After all my glowing reports on Mother Nature, the Wards did not fare so well this week as a giant, eighty foot maple tree fell in their backyard. Thank goodness it missed the house and power lines but they have quite a mess to deal with in the near future. IMG_1758

The barn construction continued a pace this week with the first floor framing and delivery of the roof trusses but not before the plumbing and sewer lines were put in place.  A muddy mess of sewer lines!IMG_1576IMG_1585

But fun to see the framing of the interior walls begin…IMG_1704

After walls went up the trusses were delivered in an impossibly tight situation on a narrow lane.

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Walls begun and trusses ready to be hoisted by crane this week. IMG_1838

Other projects continued forward last week but none so infamous as my “Shane” project which was hilariously misinterpreted by Dave as my “shame” project. I’m still laughing but hope you won’t be bored by another story inside a small story! Do you recall the part in the book  Shane  by Jack Schaefer published in 1949 when the father, Joe Starrett, shares with Shane, the ‘hero’ gunslinger, that he has a stump on his farm that he has struggled to remove by himself? The two men go after the stump together and their joint efforts are enormous but successful. There are all sorts of underlying themes to identify with in this section, but I always considered one last point in our Alleé of trees that reminded me of the book since I’ve been unsuccessful at attacking this area…until now. Here is what it looked like on the face of it. IMG_7817.jpg

Innocent enough, but I knew from dealing with it over the years that it was a clump of scraggly growth on top of large rocks on top of horizontal fencing material set in place years ago to help the inevitable erosion of the swale area of the fields. The longer I waited to eradicate this area, the more it grew and became unmanageable. Until I decided enough was enough and asked Dave to help me attack the area. Haha, he thought I was calling it my “shame” area which was also a good description! So, with either appellation, we went after it last week using the clippers, loppers and the tractor with straps. Here is Dave working with the tractor after I bushwhacked!IMG_1541.jpg

We got at least three or four loads of large rocks out of this area and offered them to friends. IMG_1543

Kathy Waldemer was the first one to raise her hand to help take these off our hands! We could not have been more delighted than to assist with getting them from our yard to hers! The best part of this story is that after arriving home last night from our bee adventures in the hail and rain, we found a cute package at our front door from Kathy:IMG_1852.jpg

In case you can’t read the note, it says, “Scones for Stones”. Kathy happens to make the most divine scones and she knows that I am a HUGE fan! I have requested the recipe and she agreed to let me share it here so please be patient for the next installment!

Ahoy There…From Seven Oaks

Hello…knock, knock…ahoy there…is anybody home at Seven Oaks??? It may seem like we abandoned ship here but fear not, we managed to survive the wettest year in Saint Louis history. A record 61.24 inches of rain landed here in 2015 making for very poor harvest results, but the 12 inches that fell the last week of the year caused record flooding with disastrous and even deadly results for many in our area. We were relatively unscathed by this other than witnessing the constant drenching as evident in the photo below showing the wild expansion of the swale in back. The strawberry field was partially underwater so despite having planted the new starts in raised berms last year, I’m not sure what I will find this spring.

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There were 108 roads closures during that week with long stretches of highways closed so many people were cut off from checking on their homes and businesses causing havoc along with heartache. We didn’t have to drive too far from the farm to see businesses with big red X marks on their front doors indicating that they had been badly flooded but checked out by the officials and cleared of any human misfortunes.

Before the December flooding began, we actually had a nice long fall harvest that has continued to amaze us as we are still eating some of the root vegetables such as carrots and turnips from the fields.

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It has been wonderful to add these to all kinds of soups and stews but also to roast in the oven for a nice wintry side dish with some added potatoes. IMG_0294

Even our cabbages were still finding a healthy spot in our meal planning in the late fall.

We are already eagerly thinking about the spring planting as the seed catalogs are beginning to arrive. My new, favorite is Seed Savers Exchange which I think should win a prize for the best catalog cover. Do check out this fabulous, non-profit company at seedsavers.org

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We have spent much of our winter planning the newest projects for the farm which we have not previously written about here so as not to jinx the reality of it. We have been very busy working with our architect friend, Tom Moore, who has been helping us design our new barn structure. Yes, finally, a wonderful barn with accommodations for chickens and a honey house to boot! There have been many twists and turns to this process but I think the construction will start very, very soon and we should be underway in the next couple of weeks. Here is a side view of one of the early concept drawings which gives just a hint of the flavor we were after.  FullSizeRender

And this is how it has evolved.Screenshot 2016-02-21 16.42.41

In support of the new construction, Dave has been working on clearing the north border to make room for the concrete trucks and is seen here chopping down a very old crab apple tree. IMG_0532

I think I may try to be creative with the lower trunk and work on a little chainsaw art for the farm. Here is what Dave has left me to work with…so check back for more on this little project!  IMG_0694

We are also planning a new blueberry structure to replace the netting system that we have outgrown over the last few seasons. I don’t have photos of that but construction will begin a week from now so this will be very exciting. Stay tuned!!!

Our most recent excitement took place today as it was time for our annual foray into the  orchard for the dormant pruning with our friendly arborist Jon Lanaghan. This year was very fun for several reasons. First, the weather more than cooperated with sunshine and nearly 60 degree temps which made for a leisurely clipping session and second, because Jon brought his wife, Connie, along for fun and she was delightful and fit right in to our happy crew. All in all, the trees are doing well and getting bigger. The damage from last year’s high winds turned out to be minimal and the trees that we so diligently righted and staked are alive and well. We did find evidence of a bit of deer scraping that was disheartening but we will find more effective ways to battle this in the future.

No one will be more excited to follow all of the spring projects here than little Coulter who is growing up before our eyes and will be fascinated with the construction equipment! I would be remiss not to share some holiday photos of him since it was very fun to share in his first Christmas! Of course we had fun shopping for Christmas trees…here he is sporting the Radish hat I knitted…

and riding in his new wagon wearing the Nordic sweater from my needles.

But he has moved on from riding…to walking everywhere as he started toddling very early. IMG_4329

I promise to get back to blog writing now that there will be lots more to write about. I hope to have lots to report on soon with barn building, chickens and bees to write about!