Friday, April 29, 2011

Digging Ditches

Yesterday evening, I said to a friend, "I feel like I've been digging ditches, oh wait, I have!"  And while I haven't exactly digging ditches, I've been preparing the high tunnel, finally, for planting.

While I've been waiting for the temperature to stabilize enough for my delicate tomatoes, peppers, melons, and eggplants; the weeds have been growing lush and tall.  There's been so much moisture (ie. rain!) that the ground under the high tunnel must be wet enough for great weed growth.  So I'm pulling  and digging up all the weeds I can and putting down four feet wide lengths of black plastic as part of my back saving weed control plan.  In a few years,  as I get the weeds eradicated from the high tunnels (ha ha), I plan to use more natural mulches, such as chopped leaves.

The chickens are happily (I imagine) laying lots of eggs.  I brought in 19 eggs yesterday. Free range eggs are very different from store-bought eggs.  The egg yolks are a richer yellow, the white stands up nicely, and the shells are much thicker.

Speaking of eggs, I hope to check the bees today and look for bee eggs.  If the queen is doing her job I should see what looks like a tiny grain of rice stuck into the bottom of each cell.  
Note:  I won't be checking bees today.  The forecast is 45-degrees and rainy.  Tomorrow's forecast is 65-degrees and sunny.  I don't want to chill the brood (forming bees).  I'll wait until tomorrow to check them.    

Back to gardening, I don't know who said this, but I love this quote:

How do you tell if a plant is a weed or a valuable plant?  
If it pulls easily out of the ground it's a valuable plant.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Piglets 2011

The piglets arrived last night!  They started eating almost immediately and this morning they were crashed out on a big pile of hay.

A peasant becomes fond of his pig and is glad to salt away its pork. What is significant, and is so difficult for the urban stranger to understand, is that the two statements are connected by an and not by a but.
~John Berger

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Air Raid Warning

We have one guinea hen.  Thank goodness.  Guinea hens make more noise than all the other farm animals put together.  I'm not sure if my guinea hen perceives a threat or if it's just bored, but the guinea starts its squeaky door "eeh er" sound and calls over and over and over for up to half an hour!  You can hear it here.

Why do I keep such an annoying bird? 

Guinea hens are known for their excellent tick control abilities.  Also, they have the prettiest spotted plumage, and it's difficult to see in these pictures, but guineas have these strange growths on their heads and look positively prehistoric.  

But the absolute best reason for having a guinea hen is for their air raid calls.  

Yesterday, I was working in the high tunnel and the guinea hen started a very loud buzzing/screeching sound - a sound it only makes in times of high danger.  I bolted out of the high tunnel and saw a red-tailed hawk just flying up from the trees after it had tried to swoop down on the chickens.  That buzzing/screeching acted as an air raid warning!  You can hear it here but imagine it much, much louder!  

I pictured how the attack would look in an old time cartoon - the guinea hen would be cranking up the air raid warning and the chickens would be putting on their little metal air raid hats and running helter skelter for cover!  

I don't know if the guinea hen's noise scared off the hawk, but I didn't  lose any chickens yesterday!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Pick The Best Fish

I love to grill outside in the summer and fish is a perfect summer food for this.  I worry though, about feeding my family fish with high levels of heavy metals or contaminants, or eating a species of fish that is not sustainable.  

To help you decide which fish to buy that is the most healthy for your family and for the environment, the Monterey Bay Aquarium has put together a wonderful pocket-sized Regional Seafood Guide that can help you choose the right fish for your grill.  

Happy Grilling!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Easter Bunny Cake

The kids and I made a Easter Bunny cake for yesterday's holiday.  The cake was tasty and the kids had a great time helping to make it and enjoyed being part of the dinner preparation.   This hasn't been a tradition at our house, but it's going to become one!

We made a yellow cake for the base and I wanted an easy recipe for the frosting.  I found one that fit my requirements of needing only a few ingredients that I had on hand and easy to make.  Here it is:

Fluffy White Frosting

1 cup sugar
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
2 egg whites
1 tsp. vanilla
Dash of salt

In a saucepan combine sugar, cream of tartar, 1/3 cup water, and dash salt.  Cook and stir until bubbly and sugar dissolves.  In a mixer bowl combine egg whites and vanilla.  Add hot sugar syrup very slowly to unbeaten egg whites while beating constantly at high speed of electric mixer about 7 minutes or till stiff peaks form.  Frosts two 8-inch or 9-inch layers or one 10-inch tube cake. (It makes plenty of frosting!)

                         ~ From Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book

This makes a wonderful, fluffy, meringue-like frosting that is soft and spreads beautifully - and it best of all, it tastes delicious!

Don't forget to hop on over to Homestead Arrival and see what's going on!

P.S. The pig's arrival has been pushed back to Wednesday.  We spent the weekend moving the fence and their shed and everything is ready for them.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Cold Weather Go Away!

There's so much going on that I can hardly keep up!  O.K... even though we're behind schedule due to the crummy weather, I'm not keeping up and just barely treading water!

Fitz is out pulling the maple tanks as I write and when we get a day when there's not a torrential downpour (or snow) I'll get all the taps pulled.  

The pigs are coming on Monday!  We're getting 4 little squealers - 2 of them are sold, 1 is for a pig roast at my 50th birthday celebration this summer, and one will go to my own fall freezer camp.  We've been moving the pig fence because we found this spring that the runoff from it could potentially go into our seasonal spring, and we certainly don't want that!  Especially since we've talked about digging out a small pond in that area.  

I'm battling voles in the garden.  It appears that the little creatures are pulling up and eating my peas and sugar snaps as the beans emerge from the ground!  I've put out lots of mousetraps and I'm going to start bringing my kitties - Fred and Ginger - to the high tunnel with me while I work.

The garden is about two weeks behind schedule.  We've had such cold night time temperatures that I'm afraid to put my delicate tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants out there.  I'm crossing my fingers that this week will be the week I can catch up and get planting!

Happy Easter!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Bee Success(ful)!

Today the weather warmed up enough that I could check on my bees and see if the queens got out of their little boxes.  I didn't get pictures because although the weather was "warm" - meaning slightly above 60-degrees, it was windy and threatening rain.  I wanted to get in and out of the hives as quickly as possible.


Six out of six hives have released their queens.  They are building tons of comb.  They all got to get outside and poop.  You can see the streaks on the sides of the hive.  Did you know that bees will not pooh in the hive?  They'll hold it for months during the winter while they wait for a day above 40 degrees so that they can go out.

I sat right up next to where the bees were buzzing in and out (we have their usual hive entrance reduced to about an inch wide) and watched them work for a few minutes to see if they were finding anything to eat.  They were bringing in loads and loads of pollen on their back leg pollen baskets!

Thank you to everyone who has planted flowers in town.  I hope you get to see lots of the bee ladies visiting your gardens and pollinating your vegetables!

In Maple News:  The holes on our maple trees have closed up and we have stopped getting sap.  This next week I'll be pulling all the taps out of the trees and flushing the lines.  This will help cut down on the amount of gunk in the lines next season.  I'm already looking forward to next year when we'll be boiling our own sap!

Monday, April 18, 2011

A Rather Blustery Day

My neighbor called me yesterday afternoon.  "If you know of anyone that lost a brown and silver tarp, I have it in my garage," he said.  I looked out the window.  "That's mine!" I told him.  I had put a great big rock on top of it.  I guess it wasn't enough.

We had some crazy windy weather yesterday.  Nothing in comparison to those poor, poor people down south.  My heart really goes out to them.  Yesterday's windy weather was a big topic of conversation around here.  It was the second day of fishing season - the first day was terrible cold rain.  Yesterday, the wind dried off your fish before you got it up on the bank!

I'm hoping to check my hives today and make sure the bees have eaten the candy to get their queen out of the box.  I'm worried about this chilly, windy weather.  They don't need this!

Check my older posts if you're looking for more information on the 48,000 Italians coming into Coudersport : )

Today is Homestead Barn Hop Monday.  Hop on over to Homestead Revival to see what's going on!

A Rather Blustery Day 
Hum, dum, dum, dee, dee, dum
Hum, dum, dum
Oh the wind is lashing lusterly
And the trees are thrashing thrusterly
And the leaves are rustling gusterly
So it's rather safe to say
That it seems that it may turn out to be
It feels that it will undoubteadly
Looks like a rather blustery day today
It seems that it may turn out to be
Feels that it will undoubteadly
Looks like a rather blustery day today

~ From Winnie the Pooh and The Blustery Day by A.A. Milne

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Bees' Happy Home

After spending a toasty evening in my dining room (see my previous post), we anxiously waited for the temperatures to warm up above 40-degrees and at about 9: 30 a.m. we loaded up the bees in the car's trunk and took them to their new home above Jennigan's Auto Repair.  

 We had placed the boxes the previous weekend and so we carried up the bees and supplies.  (Be sure to enlarge the picture and see how pretty the hives are decorated!)  The decoration not only makes the hives pretty, they help the bees tell which hive is their own after a hard day of visiting flowers.

Fitz gets the smoker loaded up and ready to go, because smoked bees are more docile, happier bees!  

We open the boxes.  The queen is in her own little box with a few attendants to feed and care for her.  The white stuff on the left side of the box is a candy plug that the hive's bees will chew through to get out their queen.  This way she is slowly introduced to the hive and her pheromones have filled the hive before she comes out.  The hive better accepts her with this process.  We hang the queen box in the top of the bee hive...    
Queen cage

... then dump the thousands of bees out on top of her.  The silver can you see at the corner of the hive is the sugar water that had been in the box to nourish them throughout their long trip up from Georgia. 

 After we dump out all the bees, we squirt some smoke over them to make them go down into the hive.  Then we put a feeder with some sugar water and Honey-B-Healthy essential oils on top of the hive and close it all up.

Now we wait while they get accustomed to their new home!

“Most people don’t have any idea about all the complicated life going on inside a hive. Bees have a secret life we don’t know anything about.”

                   ~From The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

Friday, April 15, 2011

48,000 Italian Honeybees

This is what 48,000 Italian honeybees look like.

The six two-pound packages spent the night in my dining room after a long trip up from Maryland yesterday and all the way from Georgia the day before!  We had low temperatures last night and they couldn't stay outside.  So they came into the warm house and had a little misting of water on the outside of the box for a cool drink.  

When the bees came, most of them are inside the boxes and can't get out.  However about 20 honeybees were hanging off the outside of the boxes and came into the house with the rest.  Now, with the sun coming up, the little buggers are getting active and I can hear them buzzing around the room as I type.  They're pretty much heading for the windows and looking for a way out so I'm not too concerned about getting stung.  Italian honeybees tend to be pretty docile and usually won't sting you unless they're provoked.  

Later today, when the temperatures get above 40-degrees, we are installing 4 boxes of the bees on the hill above downtown Coudersport.  Take a look up on the hill the next time you're driving past Jennigans Auto Body and you'll see four of our hives.  Rocky, the owner, has a lovely little fenced-in orchard up there.  We've added a secondary solar power electric fence around the hives to help keep the bears away.  The other two boxes of honeybees will go to the blueberry patch along Route 44.  We will be putting experimental Russian bees in our own backyard.  The Russians are more temperamental and we don't want them around lots of people.  

Once these Italian honeybees get working, they'll be pollinating all of downtown.  So if you see a honey bee, don't hurt it!  It might be one of mine.

The bee is more honored than other animals, not because she labors, but because she labors for others.
                                                                                                                 ~Saint John Chrysotom

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Green Patriot Posters

Sometimes it takes only a few words and an ultra strong graphic to get the message across...

This is one of a number of great environmental graphics from the book, Green Patriot Posters.
You can view more examples at this Grist website.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Spring, Spring, Spring!

The crocuses are up!

"Spring, spring, spring!" sang the frog.
"Spring!" said the groundhog.

So reads the early lines of one of my daughter's favorite children's books from her toddlerhood.

 Home for a Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown.

It's catchy phrasing and wonderful illustrations have stayed with us ever since. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Egg A Palooza!

There has been so much going on that I haven't had time to post my blogs.  I'm happy to be back!

My chickens have taken off running in the egg laying marathon.  We're getting 19 to 22 eggs each day with a record breaking 25 eggs laid on one day.

There are  only so many ways you can serve eggs before your family revolts and I would like to make the chickens pay for their own feed, so I'm happy to announce that my "eggs for sale" sign has gone back up!

I made this sign last year and regular customers began showing up.  It's a win/win situation.  I make a little bit of money with my eggs and they get phenomenally good eggs at a decent price!

First, the signs needed a little freshening up after spending a winter thrown in the corner.

Then I put the big sign out by the main road.  When it's open I have plenty of eggs and when it's closed I'm out - which doesn't happen too often!

Then I put a little sign by the end of my driveway.

C'mon up and ring the bell!

Thursday, April 7, 2011


Planting in the high tunnel has become a surreal experience.  I walk down to the high tunnel in this:

Set up and plant in these beautiful beds in a gentle, fairly warm environment.

And walk back outside to this!

Today is April 5th.  As one friend quoted, "If April showers bring May flowers, what does April snow bring?"

Monday, April 4, 2011

High Tunnel Seed Planting Begins

We started planting in the high tunnel this Saturday.  I was able to get one bed planted and four more completely ready to plant.  My schedule is pretty full today, so I plan to bring you photos and more information tomorrow.  

As with everything, planting seeds takes twice as long as you think it will!  I put down the seed tape I made earlier and it was a breeze!  I wish I had done it for all my teeny-tiny seed plantings.  There are a few weeks until I plant outside, so I foresee lots of evenings spent making carrot seed tapes!

Today is Barn Hop day - where you get a chance to look around at other farming blogs - so please hop over to Homestead Revival and look around!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

No Winter Maintenance

I had never seen this road sign until I moved here to Potter County.

No Winter Maintenance.

In the summer, these are beautiful secluded little country roads perfect for taking walks, picking blackberries, and they're a great short cut from here to there.

But, these roads don't get plowed in the winter.  The only things that drive down them at this time of year are snowmobiles and occasionally big farm tractors.  If you drive down these roads in the spring, your car could sink in the mud up to it's axles!

There's a funny thing about these "No Winter Maintenance" roads - GPS and other navigation systems in your car don't recognize them as impassable.

A few years ago, we had a group of friends come up here for the spring Maple Weekend and one of them was sent by their GPS over a road named "Black Hole Road."  There's a reason it's called Black Hole Road.  On this road there's no cell phone service and they hit mud so deep that it even kicked up onto the roof of their little SUV!

They were lucky - they made it out.  But now I always tell friends that if GPS sends them over Black Hole Road - Don't Go!