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. ).

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!

Everything You N-Ever Wanted to Know About Chicken Poop!

So, as you may have read in my previous posts about our chickens, I’m all about having the cleanest chicken run and coop possible. Evidence: the Purell hand soap dispenser that I recently installed in my workshop for hand sanitizing.  IMG_4022.jpg As the chicks are growing, I have also been scooping unbelievable amounts of poop from the sandy areas both indoors and out that these darling hens inhabit. I knew this would be the case but I am always amazed at the amount of poop these gals produce! Most effective for this is a kitty litter scooper which I employ as much as thrice daily (’cause I’m a nut) to sift chunks of poo out of the sand.

But the best news is this – these brilliant (haha, chickens are not known for their brains!) hens have finally started roosting at night in their designated area on a roost above their drop board and the results have been spectacular! Here they are all lined up on the lowest roost as I found them this morning. They will soon loft up to the two higher levels but one step at a time. IMG_3997.jpgHere is the marvelous line of chicken poop they deposited on the designated drop board and left for me to clean up this morning.  IMG_3892.jpg Why am I so pleased? Because it is so easy to clean up after them this way! I merely grab my handy 12″ drywall blade and scoop it all up from the metal drop board surface in one quick motion, ridding the coop of this overnight waste with ease. IMG_3893.jpgQuestion from the crowd: Do chickens pee? Answer: No, they do not really but the white part of their excrement is the portion that is considered their pee. The ‘poo’ bit is a brownish to greenish color part. The ‘pee’ is the surrounding white bit which is the uric acid part. It is made by the liver and is not soluble in water. It requires less water to excrete than the water-soluble version, urea, that mammals make so chickens are actually more efficient in this way. Whew! I hope that puts everyone’s mind at ease about chicken poop as well as pee!

The girls continue to be spoiled in other ways…I give them modest amounts of treats but they certainly adore the greens I put in their outdoor run. Here is their recent favorite…grape vines which we have plenty of as they grow wild on the fencing.

And, they have made their dust bath bucket into a community hot tub! What a cute advertisement this could have been for on line dating sites using voice overs!!IMG_3881.jpgSpeaking of the hot tub, Coulter is enjoying the last days of summer pool time. Never without his Cardinal Baseball cap (thanks to uncle Peter) as well as some type of vehicle in his hand, he navigates the water at the local pool.



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.

IMG_4296  IMG_4298

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!

First Apple Sauce from Seven Oaks!

We culled quite a few apples from our trees in early June since the fruiting was more prolific than the young trees could handle. Some trees naturally do this on their own by just dropping some early fruits from the tree as if they are fully aware that they cannot support so many ‘mouths’ given their resources. But since the apple trees were obviously too laden down with fruit (even after the peaches had self selected) we went thru the orchard this year and allowed only so many to remain per branch. We did this when the fruits were a bit larger than golf balls but had we the time, we would have done it even earlier. IMG_1935.jpgNot too long after this, the deer discovered the back way into the orchard and began helping themselves to the lovely fruits which had grown well beyond golf ball stage. Arg! Not only were we greatly discouraged by this predatory activity, we knew that the deer were also nibbling the branches and doing additional harm to the trees. So we did a second culling and took all the fruits away so that the deer would no longer be attracted to the trees. We brought in a modest harvest of 25.5 lbs of small sized apples and just could not throw them away. These are a few of the green ones from the first culling. The second ones were much farther along and were turning beautiful shades of red. IMG_1648.jpgSo, after researching recipes and with a bit of time yesterday, I decided to make apple butter with these apples. No, I did not have enough volume to involve the lovely copper apple butter kettle that I purchased from a farm sale several years ago but I hope to use this item some time in the future! IMG_0356.jpgSo I started by weighing up a small batch of 6lbs of apples and quartered and cored them and popped them into a large pot on the stove to cook down and soften. IMG_3488 (1).jpgAs instructed, I added some liquid in the form of apple cider instead of water but either would have done the trick. IMG_3498 (1).jpgThese had to cook longer than the recipe indicated, mostly because they were less ripe, but when they were finally soft, I put them thru my food mill. IMG_3489.jpgHere is where I made a miserable mistake. I grabbed the food mill from the dishwasher after previously milling tomato sauce and never gave much thought about the size of the sieve plate in the bottom that I was using. Ugh! How dumb! Here are the three plates I had to choose from – since I was only separating the apple skins I should have used the largest one (on the left) instead of the smaller one on the right (which keeps tomato seeds from going thru!) – I would have saved my poor arms another work out! Live and learn!IMG_3496 (1).jpgSo, after the fruit was cooked and separated from the skins using the mill, I returned it to the stove top to begin the next stage of apple butter making which is to add sugar and spices and continue to cook. But wait a minute! I started to wonder why I was making apple butter instead of just apple sauce with this lovely fruit since that is what I saw before me!IMG_3492 (1).jpgI quickly reversed course and found out that I could just heat this fruit and put it in jars to can it (or freeze it) as is without all the extra sugar and cooking time. I decided on the canning method and after bringing the mass back to a boil, I put it directly into six jars with just a little left over for refrigerator samples. Here are my six pints ready for capping. IMG_3497.jpgI processed it as prescribed and viola, the first apple sauce from Seven Oaks apple trees!IMG_3501.jpgHere are the leftover scraps that I offered to the chicks that evening…they browned out a bit while awaiting delivery but the chicks didn’t seem to mind…IMG_3499.jpgAs they gobbled them up… IMG_3503I also offered the reserve from the food mill the next day and they much preferred those leftovers…I guess this is because the product is soft and cooked? Either way, it is a good use of scraps that would otherwise go into the compost.IMG_3553.jpgIn other news, the new deer fence project is going forward with a little help from a neighbor’s handyman, Tony, since we are in crunch time with other farm commitments. He has helped to pull off much of the overgrowth from the existing fence in the last couple of days so we will be better prepared for the installation of the new fence. We have nearly 300 feet of fence line to clear. Here you can see a long line of Green Giant Arborvitae trees on either side of the current fence which we planted a couple of years ago to promote a ‘green’ fence between us and the neighbors. We are looking forward to a seven foot tall deer fence soon!    IMG_3470.jpgIn other news, the bees are currently getting a treatment for Varroa mite control called Apiguard. Now that the honey has been harvested, I added this treatment to each hive on Saturday and they will get another dose in two weeks. It seems this is the recommended treatment for the mites that are causing such a problem with colony collapse lately. Crossing fingers for good results to keep our colonies alive!IMG_3568.jpgCoulter continues to enjoy visiting the chicks but is a bit distracted lately by the fun rocks he finds just outside of their run! He picks them up one by one and shares his collection with Nana before putting them back down, which is a game that can go on and on!IMG_3559.jpgOur little Cardinal fan! Stay tuned!



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

Chick Up Date

Here is an update for eager readers interested in the chick status. They are all doing wonderfully and  I’m taking lots and lots of photos. This morning I found them all sleeping in a carpet of chicks, huddled together for warmth despite the heat lamp! Aww!IMG_2576They are starting to develop their wing feathers which you can see here on this central gal who is a Cinnamon Queen variety.

IMG_2606Aren’t they so cute!!! The thermometer you see on the floor of the brooder is indicating the temp but they ignore it and so do I at this point since they are very comfy. The construction crew has been working hard to finalize the coop areas and the presence of the chicks seems to have ignited their spirit as well. They made these screened tops for the temporary brooder containers so that when they start to jump a bit they will be contained. IMG_2608When they graduate from the brood boxes, they will go to their indoor coop for a while which is a nice interior area of the barn. Here are the finished nesting boxes in the coop that have an opening in back (on my workshop side) to allow for egg retrieval for anyone not willing to deal with laying hens! There is also a special security screening on the coop window area which lets light in but not critters!!! IMG_2612Below is their 3 tiered, adjustable, coop roosting area with a “drop board” below that will allow me to clean off their nightly ‘deposits’ very efficiently. I lined the lower area of the interior coop with ‘Hardie Board’ siding so I can spray it down and wash all of the excrement into the sewer floor drain. There is also a hose bib below the drop board area that will be the watering station providing an in line, fresh water system for their drinking pleasure!

IMG_2593My work shop, which is next door to the coop, has a sink and other amenities as well…ok, there is a toilet too that is not pictured! IMG_2614I couldn’t resist hanging some of chick artwork in my workshop today! IMG_2615.jpgHere is their covered, fresh air run that is ultra secured with a concrete foundation surrounded by galvanized, heavy duty hardware screening. The top (ceiling) is ventilated to let the heat out but also screened off to prevent the chickens from trying to roost up top. These girls will be spoiled!IMG_2613It is a good thing we are taking such precautions since I found these racoon tracks just outside of the coop area this morning! Arg! IMG_2535.jpgBut no day is complete around here without a bit of precious time with Coulter who makes our days on the farm extra special. He finds the joy in every corner and inspires us to do the same!

A Very Fun ‘Chick’ Trip

So the baby chicks, one day old, have finally arrived at the farm! Hurrah!  My friend Joan and I made an early trip to Cackle Hatchery this morning to pick up the order of chicks I had previously reserved. This hatchery is about a 2.5 hour drive from here and we left early from the farm with great enthusiasm.  Joan and I have been friends for 30+ years and would often find ourselves wearing similar attire. So it was no surprise today when Joan arrived and we found ourselves in nearly matching outfits. Off we went to Lebanon, Missouri for a chick trip to pick up the chicks!IMG_2506.jpgWe arrived at the hatchery in good time and the counter guy went to the back to pick up my order. This fellow opened the box marked ‘Sauerhoff’ and here is what I saw. I fell in love instantly with all of them!IMG_2508.jpgMy original order was for 3 each (recommended numbers for less pecking) of 4 varieties giving me a reasonable total of 12 hens, right? The hatching dates were pre-set by the hatchery but I was missing out on at least one variety that I would have liked to have had so they told me I could call them early on the hatching morning (yesterday, June 27) to see if they had an “over hatch” which would allow me to possibly get access to a variety that was otherwise sold out on that date. I did this and found I could get 2 of the varieties I was not previously able to get, so my numbers grew! Yikes!

Suddenly I had 18 on order rather than 12! Funny, (I’m not sure Dave is laughing but I have the room to accommodate!) but it turns out they added a couple extras to the order and I arrived home with – surprise – 21 lively chicks!  Yikes!IMG_2516.jpgHere they are in their new homemade brooder which consists of a very large plastic bin, shaving and 2 waterers and a feeder. The varieties – all docile egg layers- are great back yard types as follows:

  • Buff Orpington
  • Barred Rock
  • Rhode Island White
  • New Hampshire
  • Cinnamon Queen
  • Easter Egger

Little Coulter  arrived today for a visit!  The infra red lamp makes the photo quality tough and is also a heat concern for his little fingers but he was excited to see them!IMG_2518.jpgHe was happy to look at the chicks for awhile and then wanted to sit on his favorite tractor! Some things never change! I’m following all of the new chick instructions to a ‘Tee’ and will be updating as things progress. For now, thanks to Joan for the wonderfully fun chick trip today!