Sunday, June 30, 2013


Well - that was better than I expected! On my last post, just a few moments ago, I mentioned not quite having our vegetable garden in yet...I know, seriously! We just haven't had the opportunity to get at it. I mean, we put our tomatoes out and our herbs (which are doing ok), we planted garlic and potatoes (the potatoes were harvested already and the garlic is coming along) - but haven't put anything else in the ground in our big garden area. That is, until now!
Today, Mark, the kids and I grabbed our box of seeds and without a plan (this is a challenge for me) - we went out to the garden and put the seeds in ground (finally!) I don't know what we'll get from it...I hope that at least something comes along - we need to get better at this. I feel like I put together plans and then they always fall through. We put things in late, we miss our windows of opportunity for the perfect harvest etc. etc. If we are going to be able to put things up, we really need to get on it.
Anyhoo - here's what got in the ground today...
Kidney Beans
Northern Beans
Watermelon (Crimson Sweet and Sugar Baby)
Sugar Pumpkins
Black Zucchini
Yellow Summer Squash
Acorn Squash
Butternut Squash
Ashley Cucumbers
Homemade Pickles Cucumbers
Sweet Peas
Kentucky Pole Beans

Fingers crossed, we might get some food out of this!
Our garden, at a glance.

Last Day of June Happenings

The summer just started and we are already in the thick of reaping some of the fruits of our labor. We've been trying to get our projects worked on to make our animals more comfortable, to feed our family and make this place more complete (ha! What does that mean...I don't think it will EVER be completely complete). We knew when we bought this house that there were many projects that we would want to do to make it ours. We love the bones of this place, the wrap around porch, the pocket doors, the amount of land (although we'd always love more) - the previous owners did a nice job of adding flower gardens etc. but that wasn't really our main focus. Although we want this to be a beautiful home, we NEED it to be functional first. I feel like there are so many unfinished pieces, but I need to realize that we are just one family, working full time jobs, on limited incomes etc. With time, this place will continue to grow and morph into what we want.
Mark is working at P&R Communications for the summer. This is the place we worked when we first met each other and fell in love. Although it is nice to have the extra money for a bit, his time spent away from the house (it's an hour commute each way and he doesn't get home until around 6 PM each night) is challenging and we are still trying to find time to get his school/teaching/decorating stuff sorted through and into his classroom (have I mentioned how FREAKING excited we are that he is working as a Second Grade Teacher, starting this fall?!?!?!?! - He is going to do an amazing job, he's a good man and will be a great role model for those kids and it will bring consistent money into our home and he will be working SO close to home and we'll be able to be a stronger part of the community that we live in....all very good things). I see next summer being very different for us - we'll have bills under control and money in savings (knock on wood), we'll have some projects completed and working on new ones (to get the house and property ready for Kait/David's wedding), Mark won't be working (well, FT anyway - he'll have sorting/planning/organizing that he'll need to do for school and he'll be here to help with everything around the house, instead of getting home so late at night).
Even though we have so much going on - we've been trying to make time for relaxing and community. This weekend, we spent some much needed family time, fishing at Hueston Woods, picking black caps, having dinner at the church down the street, digging up our potatoes and more. Today we will be FINALLY planting the remainder of our garden - I'm SO not on the ball with all that. The weather hasn't been very cooperative seems like a nice day, with rain expected later. So with that, I'll share some photos and videos of our adventures and then I will be off to start our day.
Mark and me at Hueston Woods State Park. I think that we've realized that we are missing a water element to our lives. We spent yesterday morning, sitting on the docks fishing for a couple hours. We didn't catch a thing, but it was relaxing and not too hot. It's not the beaches of Florida, but it'll do.

The kids on the dock - I love the picture, but I love the reflection of their heads and faces in the water so much more.

Potato harvest - this is how many potatoes we got out of the garden, before it started to rain. The next day, we pulled the rest out and were able to AT LEAST double this amount. Can't wait to make salt potatoes....delicious!

This is our first year for growing artichokes. This one is the biggest and it is so beautiful - can't wait to taste home grown artichokes.

Here's our oh so handsome, ever growing, young man, Drake - showing off just a bit of our black cap (wild black raspberry) harvest - so far, we've gotten about 4-5 quarts of berries off the bushes and there are SO many more to ripen and pick. I'm thinking that a batch of my Nana's berry dumplins is in our very near future.

This is SO exciting! One of our apple trees has four apples on it. We've been watching these trees...hoping and praying for some beautiful, tasty, homegrown apples (it takes several years for the trees to get established and start to fruit). This is a big step for our family and our food independence. We eat SO much fruit and knowing that we have four apple trees (hoping to add a Granny Smith planting season?), four peach trees, two pear trees, two apricot trees, two plum trees, two paw paw trees, a cherry tree (hoping to add a tart tree next planting season), several blueberry plants, a hedge filled with black caps, a few mulberry trees, purple and white grapes and both pecan and walnut trees - right here on our property. Just writing this makes me so excited about our property. Sometimes it is challenging to see the differences we've made from day-to-day...we are so knee deep in the thick of things, it's hard to step back and see how awesome it really is.

Some of our black caps over vanilla yogurt...this is SO good.

It's hard to see on this photo, but perched up in the tree is a turkey vulture. It was just hanging out, by itself. We really like vultures, they are nature's clean up crew, strange and cool looking and pretty fascinating.

My dad asked me the other day, when we are working with the bees, just how many bees are out and about. It's so hard to get a good idea - but we are estimating that the "good hive" has around 50,000 bees, maybe more - but as you can see, they aren't all in our business - they kinda just do their thing and only give us issues, when we are overstepping our boundaries. They start to let us know - they buzz louder, they send out guards to ping at our jackets, they start to fly around more...we are starting to know when to smoke, when to feed, when to just get out of the hive and let them go back to their business.
When we were in the hives, I took a few videos to give everyone an idea of what we see when we inspect the hive (what we are looking for vs.what we are seeing). Here are links to the four videos...let me know if you have any questions.

Bee Video Number 1

Bee Video Number 2

Bee Video Number 3

Bee Video Number 4

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Ima Bee, Ima Bee, Ima Ima Ima Bee

I thought that I'd give you a bee update...we've had the hives for a week shy of two months. As mentioned in a previous post, we have a "Good Hive" and a "Bad Hive" - this holds true today...well sorta. On Saturday, we did a full hive inspection on both hives. We took them all apart, looked through the frames - searched to find glimpses of pollen, brood (bee babies) and yes...honey. We always start with the "Bad Hive", I guess it's the, I'd rather hear the bad news first so the good news can start to cheer me up situation.
In case you missed the previous post, here's a little background on the "bad hive" - when we picked up the nucs (five frames of an established hive, including bees, brood and a queen), we noticed almost immediately that this have was failing to thrive. I saw some brood in there that seemed older. I didn't notice any larva. I never saw the queen. It wasn't looking good for this hive - especially when comparing it to the other one that was really thriving well. We took photos of each frame - front and back and took the photos to our beekeeping association meeting and our leader confirmed what I thought, that our hive was queenless. UGH. Well, in nature, typically, if a hive is queenless, they will typically take some of the larva and create a new queen; however, in our situation, there wasn't uncapped larva that could have been converted. So option two was that we buy a new queen - except that we had just spent $130 on the nuc and didn't really have extra funds to buy a new queen at full price - nor did we have enough live bees to help support a new queen, since our bee population was dwindling. If our other hive was well established by then, then we could steal a bit from them - but even though they were doing well, we didn't want to stress them and have two mediocre hives. So we contacted the gentleman that got us the original nucs (he purchased a large amount of nucs and then sold them off to people like us) - he REALLY helped us out. For $20 he came out and essentially brought us another whole nuc - five frames, a new queen and all the fixings to make a strong healthy hive. At first, it seemed like things were getting better. He stressed to us that, since our hive now had five built out frames, we should get another empty brood box on top - to encourage the bees to continue building out the frames. So we did. A few days later, we checked on the queen, to make sure that they hive had accepted her and didn't kill her. She was wandering around the frames, doing her thing. They accepted her! As time went on though, rather than seeing more and more activity, we started to see a bit less. We took a look at the hive and couldn't find the queen - that doesn't mean that she wasn't in there, it just means that we couldn't find her - but given their activity it made me feel like we lost her, again. When we did our hive inspection this past weekend though, we SAW her! Although they weren't building out any of the frames in the upper brood box (due to a low nectar flow happening right now). We were seeing brood patterns - as they should be...and I got SO excited when we saw that beautiful queen walking through!! We decided that we should close up the hive and let them go back to work. We've officially upgraded this hive to the "Getting Better" hive. We'll open it up again this weekend to make sure that the queen continues to do her job. My theory - I believe that the second queen actually died (eventually was killed?) - I think she started to give the hive some direction and something happened and they ended up making a new queen...she's here and getting everything really back on track. I'm finally excited about this hive. Go Queen Go!
Now let's talk about the "Good Hive" - ummmm hello - this hive freaking ROCKS! They are filling out BOTH brood boxes - we looked through each frame and they are building them out and filling them with absolutely beautiful rainbow patterns of brood, then pollen and honey (in the corners). Our bees are so smart that they took advantage of the honey flow and decided to convert an entire deep frame to store honey. Geez I just love those bees! Each frame I pulled out we were more and more excited - praising the girls for the amazing job that they were doing. Exciting indeed.
We ended each inspection by sprinkling powdered sugar over the top of each hive - to give them a special treat and a thank you for being so awesome.  Also, sprinkling the bees encourages them to groom themselves and each other - which helps with mite control. We have a screened bottom board in which makes it so that if a bee does take off a mite it just drops to the ground!
This weekend we'll be adding honey supers on the hives - well, at least the Good Hive, and we'll have to make an executive decision about the Getting Better Hive, once we are in there. We'll also be feeding them with some sugar water (1:1 sugar and water, in a ziplock bag - we'll lay the bag on top of the frames and cut slits or make poke holes in there and let the bees get in there and use it how they feel best). I'm hoping for another exciting inspection this weekend...and dreaming of sweet home grown honey, possibly as early as this fall. Yum!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Because You Can't Spell Slaughter Without Laughter

Now, I certainly don't want to make light of our Saturday chore, but I think the coping method of our Crew is to share in laughter. A couple Saturdays ago, was Slaughter Day - our Cornish hens had reached the 8 week mark and it was time, although we all were kinda both excited and dreading the day. Remember, we weren't raised on a farm, we don't hunt (yet?), we are kind, loving souls and don't go around killing things for the fun of it. We raised these chickens for the past 8 weeks, making sure to not get attached - but you see them grow from sweet baby chicks to these chunky, meaty creatures and know it is time to make them into dinner. We eat meat. We don't have any plans to stop eating meat. Now, we all know where our meat comes from, how it grows, and how it dies. Our birds were treated very well - with both inside and outside room to roam. We treated them kindly. We offered them plenty of food and water and even pet them occasionally. They weren't raised under terrible conditions, shoulder to shoulder, cruelly thrown about or stepped on. They didn't have to live a terrible life, just to die a terrible death. We respect these birds and are thankful that they gave their lives to feed our family.
We offered up for all of our friends and family to come and learn about the experience with us - we did have a few takers. My cousin, Rhett, is always down for the experience, my friend, Alysia and the family of one of Drake's friends came out. We ended up slaughtering 8 of the 10 birds, we still have two that had a bit of a reprieve and will need to be slaughtered soon.
WARNING :: Here is where I get a little more descriptive and the photos will start - so if you are sensitive to or offended by this process, please stop reading this post and come back for the next one.

We had planned on starting the process at 1:30 on Saturday, but as usual, crazy things happen around here and we just cannot get started when we expect (this time..Cora got a concussion after crashing on her bicycle - she's ok, but it was scary and then one of the wheels started to come off our van - WHILE I WAS DRIVING - fortunately, I pulled to the side before anything bad happened and the tire company that recently put all new tires on our van helped us out - with these things happening during the week, it set the rest of the week, including slaughtering day, off a bit. We got to the house (after picking up some supplies and snack food) around 2:00-2:30 and our guests had already arrived. We still needed to put together some sort of contraption to hold the chickens during the process - so Mark built an amazing wood structure that was rectangular on the top - with a square on each end to hold a cone. He attached legs to get it off the ground. It was perfect.

I really don't like pictures of me, especially from the back, but hey, this chicken slaughtering day and I had to pose fancy. Our dog, Blue, was interested in the whole process. Our can see the contraption in the background.
Here's Mark and me with the slaughter set up. Yes, we used traffic cones. There are kill cones, that are a little spendy and since we weren't sure that this was a process that we wanted to continue with, we didn't want to invest too much money. We heard that traffic cones are sometimes used - so we tried it out and are very happy we did that. The cost was minimal.
Here's me - picking out our first bird.
Got her!
Handing the bird off to Mark.
Here's Mark, holding the chicken upside - it makes it docile and chill.
Here's Mark, Rhett, Drake and Blue - trying to figure out if the cone is short enough for the head to come down through. We had to cut a portion of the cone off, since it was too deep - see the part Mark has in his right hand?

We decided to move the structure to the back of our property - 1) so we didn't have blood splattered all over our driveway and 2) we wanted to make sure that we were tucked back a bit and didn't freak out our neighbors too much (although, I really don't think it would have been too much of a big deal for them).
Here are the turkeys - they didn't get slaughtered, but they sure were interested in what was going on.
Here's Mark making the first cut. It broke his heart a little bit - he felt bad about taking the life of the chicken. I'm extremely proud of him.
The chicken tucked back in for a second, while the blood began to flow out. We thought that it would take a while for it to bleed out, but it was over really very quickly. There was some thrashing, but due to being in the cone it was minimized to just twitching around. It was sad. The kids said that it wasn't as bad as they thought it would be - but that they didn't like it. I explained to them that none of us LIKE it and if they did like it, I'd be worried. This is something done out of necessity, not enjoyment.
Still draining out a bit. We placed the 5 gallon buckets underneath the birds to catch the blood
When the first bird was cut, it pooped itself and since it was upside down, the poop shot out of its bottom and landed on Mark's leg. Poor Mark, paybacks are hell.
I had read that if you hose off the birds, after they are drained out and before you scald them - it cuts down on the smell.
Mark got two birds at one time. Does that mean we are farmers now?
Spraying down the birds.
Do you like the way my headband matches my gloves...I'm a classy farmer. The kids are watching and learning while I defeather - Blue is offering her "assistance" with the birds. Behind me, we had a propane two-burner stove, with a pot of scalding water on it. We would dunk the birds in and swirl them around - before bringing them to the table for defeathering.
More defeathering.
Here's the propane set up. This was such a nice set up.
Drake swirling a bird in the water. He was probably the most involved child (go figure, that's my Drake). He also chopped off a head.
Like I said, not a fan of pictures of me...but this shows David, Kait's boyfriend helping too.

David pulling out the guts.
I have more photos on Mark's phone and will load them with the next post. But after the 8 birds were slaughtered and gutted, my friend Alysia went inside and washed them all down. She got them bagged and in the cooler for us. We let the birds rest for a couple days, on ice. Some went into the freezer after that and we ate two almost immediately. We roasted them with some potatoes....and I realized that chicken actually has flavor. It was delicious and we are already ready to place our next order....