Tuesday, October 21, 2014

October Hive Inspection

As I mentioned in the September report, both of my colonies were full of bees, but zero honey.

The weather has been warm enough that the bees have had plenty of time to pack on some honey to fill their empty frames. In addition, I fed some 2:1 sugar water to help them out. 

Mouse Guards:
Last weekend, we put mouse guards on the entrances because our mice are sneaky and love the warmth and ready food available in winter hives.  The guards are just 1/2 inch hardware cloth, cut in a long strip, bent and stapled to the bottom board and box in a couple of places.   I've read that mice won't go in a hive with just the smallest entrance open like you see above, but I have personally seen mice in my hives with nothing but the small entrance, so I opted for extra guards this year.

The bees don't seem to mind, too much, but you can tell it gets in their way.   As soon as things get busy in the spring, I'll be popping them off.

The first thing I did in this inspection was to take off the feeders and extra empty shim boxes and then lift the hive [more of a tilt, actually] to see how heavy they were.   The goal is about 100 lbs in 2 boxes.  Since I only have one box per hive, I figured a good goal was 50 lbs.   The left hive was about that heavy but the right one was still very light.

Right Hive:
I opened this hive first.  As I suspected, there was almost zero honey, though I did see some nectar being worked over.   There were a few yellow jackets in there, which I killed.  I saw some dead bees on the bottom of the hive and a bunch on the ground in front of this hive.   I pulled the bottom board and saw that this hive had had some dysentery.  They had had dysentery earlier because one of their feeders of sugar water fermented.  As soon as I got them clean feed last time, the dysentery cleared right up. This time the dysentery wasn't as bad,  but I think it's enough to weaken the hive.  The colony numbers were down - there was just over half a deep box full of bees. I am concerned that this hive won't make it through the winter.  

I put a 4 lb bag of sugar on top of the frames, Mountain Camp style, put a 3 inch shim over that and battened down the hatches.  

Left Hive:
This hive had a few frames of honey and the box was full of bees.  It seems healthy.   It's got a shy queen - I looked over every frame but didn't see her.  They're still pulling in and storing a lot of pollen.   I really hope this hive makes it through the winter, because my feeling is that this queen is a keeper.   If they boom next year, I'd like to make a split.   These genetics seem good.

I put a 4 lb bag of sugar on these guys, too and sealed them up.

There were a lot of yellow jackets around the area and a few in each hive.  I'll put out more traps and see if I can't help get them under control.

I'll be scooting the hives together and putting insulation around them next month.   In addition, I'll be putting bales of straw on end around 3 sides as a wind break.   They're also on gravel which should hold some heat during our frequent warm spells.

Here's hoping they both make it through this winter.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

2014 Bloomington Fiber Art Show

Next month is the annual Bloomington Spinners and Weavers Guild Fiber Art Show.    It's one of the best shows of the year and this year we're making it even better! 

We always have this show the same weekend and in the same area as the Local Clay pottery show and the Glass Guild show.   This way, our customers can hit all three shows easily. 

Hand-dyed, Handwoven Fibonacci Silk
In order to make it even easier for customers to get to all three shows, the three artisan guilds have combined forces and moved the shows to a single location in downtown Bloomington.   All three shows are under the same roof - at the Bloomington Convention Center at the corner of College and 3rd St.    And we've extended the hours a bit, too!

We're so excited!

Here are the details--

Hand-dyed Silk Scarves - only $10 each!
Bloomington Fiber Art Show 2014
Friday, November 14,  4 pm - 9 pm
Saturday, November 15,  9 am - 5 pm

Bloomington Convention Center
Downtown Bloomington, Indiana
 Corner of College Ave. and 3rd St.

As always, I'll have a booth stuffed with hand-dyed yarns, silks and weavings.  I'll be introducing some new yarns, too, so make sure to check them out!  

If you want anything special, let me know and I'll make sure to have it ready for you.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Homemade Laundry Soap

Lily came home the other day from her public speaking class with a recipe for homemade laundry soap that was super easy and super cheap.  The woman who had made it has three active boys and she swears by this stuff. 

Right about the same time, our youngest started getting a rash that we thought might be related to a new laundry soap, so I seized the moment and made a batch.

A batch is 5 gallons of concentrated laundry cleaning superpower.  You dilute it in equal parts with water.

To use it, you fill your soap container [I use an old empty Era bottle] half full with this concentrate and then fill it the rest of the way with water.    I keep it on my dryer so that it's always vibrating and stays mixed. 

The recipe:

Laurie's Homemade Laundry Soap
[She got it via the Duggar Family]

1 bar Fels-Naptha soap, grated
4 cups very hot water
1 cup Arm and Hammer Super Washing Soda [not baking soda!]
1/2 cup borax
5 gallon bucket with lid

Heat the water in a saucepan and add the grated soap.    I used the grater you see in the pic above and then used the same grater to stir everything with.   It took about 15 minutes to melt the soap.   I didn't want any lumps, so I stirred until all the lumps were gone.

When you get bored of stirring, measure the borax and washing soda into the bucket and fill the bucket half full with the hottest water you have out of the tap.    Then stir until it's dissolved.   I put the bucket on a chair next to the stove and took turns stirring the bucket and the Fels-Naptha stuff [all with the same grater]. 

When the soap is done melting into the water, then pour it into the bucket and stir, stir, stir.   Fill the bucket the rest of the way with water and put the lid on tight.    It'll be ready to use tomorrow after it cools.  The color is sort of a pearly pale gold.    It smells nice as is, but they say you can add some essential oils if you like.   Laurie's got thick like consomme, but ours didn't.   It works fine anyway.

The Math:
The truly fabulous thing about this is that if you get a few bars of Fels-Naptha, then you can easily store enough dry ingredients [soap, washing soda and borax] for a year or two's supply.  And it's cheap.    Really cheap!

On Walmart.com, the prices are as follows:

Fels-Naptha $2.34/bar
Arm and Hammer Super Washing Soda:  $3.24/box
20 Mule Team borax:   $6.58

We bought 3 bars of soap and a box each of the other stuff [enough for 3 batches or 30 gallons of laundry soap - and enough washing soda and borax for many more batches if we got some more Fels-Naptha.]

Total:  $16.84 for 3840 fl oz.  [Yes, three thousand, eight hundred and forty ounces]
Or:  $  .56/gallon.   [Yes, fifty-six cents per gallon]

Era cost $8.97 for 150 fl oz.  Or  $7.65/gallon

If you go through a gallon a month [conservatively speaking if your family is like ours], then you'd spend a half an hour in the kitchen and about $6.72 for the homemade stuff.   Or you'd spend $91.80 on Era or something like it.  

You'd save $85.08 a year.   And if your family is more like mine you'd go through twice as much laundry soap [we dig a lot...] and so you'd save $170.16 a year on laundry soap.

A substantial savings, wouldn't you say?    Enough to buy the supplies you need for a decent 72 hour emergency kit.    Yep.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Fall Fashion

What the fashionable woodland is wearing this October.

The 'jealous trees in autumn’s chilly nights '
do indeed 'transform their own limbs into fiery brights.'

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Apple Slices

So I was telling you that I made a bunch of apple pie filling, but I ran out of the Perma Flo long before I ran out of apples.   There were a lot of apples left over.  A veritable Everest of apple slices.



I could have made pie filling to freeze [Choose your favorite recipe, put the dried stuff in the sliced apples, toss and put in freezer bags in the freezer.  Easy squeezy.]    

But I'm trying to can more and freeze less.  

So I took that mountain of apple slices and canned them plain.   Just jars of apple slices.    Since this was a first time for me, I went to the National Center for Home Food Preservation and mostly did it their way.     I used vitamin C tablets to keep the the apples from browning [same way I do peaches.] and I put them in a light syrup.  

A word about syrup.    The reason that fruit is canned in syrup is not that food companies want you to eat more sugar.    It is that the sugar helps stabilize the cell structure of the fruit and keep it firm and not mushy.   It helps keep fruit beautiful.  And those companies know that you are much more likely to buy pretty food than mushy shreddy food, so they keep it beautiful.

I've canned fruit both ways. Sugarless fruit loses its shape and looks ragged pretty fast.  This time I did not want applesauce, so I used a light syrup to keep the apple slices as slices in the jar.   [You could even use a very light syrup.]

Those apple slices are fabulous!   We loved them in our favorite coffee cake base.    We used the same cake that's in the pumpkin cream cheese coffee cake recipe and left out the cream cheese and pumpkin.   Use the apple juice from the jar to replace the milk.   Add the apples by either dumping them in the batter and mixing them in entirely  - OR, you can put them on top of the batter in the pan and swirl them around a bit before baking.   Either way, YUM!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Apple Pie Filling

It's apple season.   

I love apple season.   So sweet, so tart, so firm.    A good crunchy apple is a very satisfying thing.  

This year I got a couple of bushels of apples from Freedom Country Store [highway 231 just north of Worthington, Indiana].   One bushel was jonathans, one was zestars.   

Zestars are fabulous!   Those went into sauce.   Delicious sauce!   I will warn you that when you're pressing the sauce, it oxidizes and goes gray.   Don't worry.   When we processed the jars of gray goo, it magically turned back into a beautiful pale pink sauce.  

The bushel of Jonathans went to pie filling.    I used this method this year from the National Center for Home Food Preservation and am happy to report that it was easy and produced fabulous pies. 

[NCHFP is a site full of information, but crappy in organization.  The search feature is not obvious.  Look on the left sidebar of their site.  The third thing down is the SEARCH.  It takes a sec to pull up.]

I used Perma Flo instead of the product they recommend, because I can't get what they recommend.   The Perma Flo is easy to use, comes in a bulk package and lasts.  I'm so happy that it stores decently through our damp springs/falls and hot summers.  I used the rest of the stuff I got last year and had zero problems.   I used every last drop of it to make as much pie filling as I could.

The only problem was that I had more apples.   Hmmmm.   What to do with them.....

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Finch Ruffle Shawl

I've been busy knitting up a new pattern. This is the Finch Ruffle Shawl. I love it! It turned out exactly the way I hoped.  

It's a totally feminine, silky shawl with beautifully transitioning colors, knit with two strands of Finch rayon boucle yarn together, in a gentle curve by increasing at the edges of the body. The ruffle is knit last with a single strand of the same yarn on smaller needles in short row sections along the bottom edge of the shawl so that the colors transition sideways along the bottom.

The shawl was knit with 6 skeins of Finch, rayon yarn [1350 yds total] from www.robinjedmundson.etsy.com  in these colors: Vineyard, Deep Woods, Summer, Sandstone, Orchard,  and Elderberry.  This yarn is available in many colors.  If you need help choosing colors, feel free to email me for help and suggestions: robin at morenna dot com or convo me via my Etsy shop: www.robinjedmundson.etsy.com.

This pattern is totally flexible. Change colors as often as you wish. Mix and match whatever colors make you happy.   You can even knit it all in one yarn [try Stella, silk noil yarn at www.robinjedmundson.etsy.com - 1350 yds for $35.]  Or you can mix and match the yarns - for example try mixing the FinchZig zag, Rayon spiral and sparrow.  Just remember that you need 4-6 colors and about 1300 yds total.   Use similar colors or bold contrasts.  Any way you do it, it'll be gorgeous.

Skill level:  Intermediate
Finished size:  60 inches wide at top.  24 inches long from top to bottom.
Needles:  Size 8 [for ruffle], size 10.5 circular needles 24” or longer [for body], size 15 [for cast on]

Here are some ways you can wear the shawl:

Photo above:   Pinned at shoulder with inside ends overlapping in front. 

Photo left:  Flipped over one shoulder - no pin needed. 

Turn the whole thing upside down with the ruffles on top and wear it like a scarf.

It's plenty big enough to wrap once around your neck so that all the colors in the ruffles shine. 

The pattern is for sale on Etsy for a whopping $1.50.   A real bargain for a gorgeous pattern. 

If you buy the yarn from me, I'll send you the pattern for free.   Just let me know when you purchase the yarn that you'd like me to send you the pattern.  [The pdf will attach easily to an Etsy convo].

Happy knitting!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Pineapple Sage

Every few years I plant a pineapple sage.   I love them.   They smell good and those flowers just make me happy.

I get one bloom in the spring when I plant and then the blasted things go quiet.    They grow and grow and get huge, but no more flowers, and then BAM in September, right before the first frosts, they start blooming big time.

And for a couple of weeks, it is covered with flowers and the hummingbirds feast and all is right with the herb garden. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014


It's officially fall now and the acorns are raining like confetti from the tops of the trees.  We've never seen so many and are guessing that the long rains we've had this year are the cause.

Acorns are enchanting.  I like the textures.

In fact, I like all the textures of fall -- the moss, the colored leaves, the ripened seeds on the grass, the flowers, the trees....   It's all beautiful.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Fall Hive Inspection

Here are the hives all happy in their new site.   The bees took the move in stride and are busy as ever.   We did a full fall inspection early in the month and discovered some interesting things.

The 24 hour mite board check turned up 3 mites from each hive.   Also, some dysentery in the Hello Sweetie hive [probably from some fermented sugar water.]  The mite load is small enough that I don't have to treat this year. 

Both hives had tons of brood - the bottom brood box was pretty much packed full of brood. 

But no honey. 

Both hives had just barely started building any comb in the top box.   Each one had only a partial frame and no honey in it. 

No. Honey.   In Sep-freaking-tember.

I've been feeding all summer, the way they tell you to the first year of a hive.   And this is the most brood I've ever had, so that's great - but no honey is not great.   What do they think they're going to eat all winter?? 

I got on the forum and one of the more experienced beeks took some time to answer my questions and make suggestions.   He noted that I may have a 'benign predator problem' with wasps and hornets and maybe some birds.   'Benign' as in not a bear or teenage boy knocking the hives over and destroying everything, but rather something stealthy making regular small raids and keeping the bees busy doing the wrong stuff.

Which would totally explain why I've never had much brood until this year.   This whole year I kept only one small entrance open at the landing board because late summer robbing is an obvious problem here.  I turned the top entrance up [the one you see opens into the top box which holds the feeder, which the bees use through a screen, so predators can get into the top box, but can't get into the brood boxes.]   I have screened bottom boards for summer ventilation.     The one small entrance is all they have.   Both hives are trying to enlarge it.  We'll put a hardware cloth mouse guard over it soon for the winter.

Since we have a lot of birds, too, I put up some poles with those heavy tinfoil disposable cupcake tins tied to them.  [See pic in previous post.]  They make some noise and the reflection is supposed to scare birds away.  They've helped in the garden, so I put two near the bees, just in case.

The goldenrod flow is still on and a good hive can draw a whole super in a week, so I'm letting them try and feeding them heavy syrup [Michael Bush's 5:3] in hopes that they'll get busy and store some.  It should be warm enough for the next couple of weeks.  If they don't, I'll pull the top box and put on mega candy boards for the winter and keep a close eye on them.   We'll push them together, insulate and wrap the sides up tight with black geo textile for the winter and wrap the bottoms [with slider boards in] to reduce draft.

I'm hoping that the new location will deter the predators and help get them through the winter.    If so, then maybe next year I'll have big hives and a decent honey harvest.  These queens are Indiana queens, so I'm hopeful.  It'll be my fourth year.   I'm ready for big honey.

If the hives don't make it this winter, I'm going to try one more time, with Russian bees that I can get from Kelley Bee Supply in Kentucky.   I hear they're good stock for surviving Indiana winters.   

Friday, September 19, 2014

Busy as a Beehive

We decided to move the hives this fall.   They had been up on a grassy hill a few hundred feet away from the house, at the foot of another even taller hill.    It was a good place for them, but kind of inconvenient for hauling tools, etc up to them.

When we got rid of the big blue pool at the end of the garden, I realized that we had a lovely graveled area around which I could put a black- and raspberry patch and in the middle of which I could put the hives.   Much closer to the house.

We can mow all the way around it and there is a tall picnic table right there, too.  Perfect for holding extra boxes and a nice place to put the notebook when we're doing inspections and taking notes.  I decided to face the hives east with the table in front as a wind break that would force the bees up a bit out of the traffic area at the foot of the garden.    Works like a charm.   I can stand behind or next to the table and be out of their flight path, even when there's a lot of orientation going on. 

How did we move the hives?   It was easier than we feared.  We had read that it was no big deal, but we suited up all the way, including gloves [which I never wear even for inspections] I took the top blue boxes off, since they were mostly there to hide the feeders, and we ratchet strapped the hives from bottom to top around the sides.   I stuffed a little rag into the openings and duct taped it down.   We looked for other openings and taped those over, too.   Then Eric got on one side and I got on the other and we lifted the hive into a wheel barrow.   I walked along the side and held on to the strap and top in case of an accidental tip and we moved the hive down the hill, over the creek, and up the hill to the new site.   Then we repeated the process for the other hive.   

The suits were overkill.   We moved the bees at dusk and they totally ignored us.   No big deal at all.   After we moved them and got everything settled, I took the tape off the entrances and put bottom boards in for a 24 hour mite check.   It was warm that night and then it rained hard the next day.  The day after that, there were bees orienting everywhere and Lily and I did a full fall inspection.    Details on that later. 

We put the bees on that resin decking material so we could slide them together for the winter.  The base is small enough that it will be easy to wrap for the cold weather.   Hopefully the gravel will help keep things warmer during the cold months and both hives will survive the winter.  

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Un-Parsnips

This is not a parsnip.

It grew in a row, where I'm pretty darned sure I planted parsnips.  

I  watched them get bigger and bigger - especially this one.  And I was so happy because I was growing parsnips!   A new food to try!

And I planted a row of turnips on the other side of the bed so we could try those, too.

But when I was reading up on the best time to harvest parsnips, I noticed that the leaves on those pics did not look like the leaves on my parsnips.   And then I realized that the leaves on my parsnips looked an awful lot like the leaves on the new turnips I had planted.

Someone had obviously made a mistake somewhere along the line.   Or vandalized my planting.  

This is what I'm pretty sure happened:  Someone came along after I planted my parsnips and carefully pulled up every seed and replaced it with a turnip seed.   Yes.      

That must have been what happened. 

So I harvested my row of un-parsnips and sure enough, they are Boule d'Or turnips, just like my new row of them.   Quite lovely, if I do say so myself. 

We chopped them and roasted them with carrots, two ways.   Savory:  with garlic and olive oil.  Sweet:  with a little butter and generous amounts of brown sugar.    We roasted in the oven at about 300 for an hour and a half or so - until they were fork soft. 

I liked the sweet ones the best and will probably chop up a handful of candied ginger to roast with them next time.  Mmmmm.

Here's another recipe I just found for Turnip and Parsley Patties that sounds pretty tasty.  [Great blog, too!]  They're turnip fritters!

We'll also put some of them in pasties to freeze for winter dinners.   It's so exciting having a new veggie to try.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Late Summer Sonnet

It's late summer, the time when a gardener's heart turns to sonnets.

Yes, this is a poetry blog, too, and as you know, I am freakishly fond of sonnets. See the others here.

I can't help it. I love them.

It's ok if you don't like them though - I am no rural Shakespeare. That's for sure.

Rural Sonnet #4

Late summer bursts with color near my gates,
On roadside, hill and woods. The yellow blaze
Of daisies short and tall illuminates
The quiet edges of the woods when days
Grow hotter still and August sears. The grass
Blooms by the ironweed’s bright fuchsia knots
And bluing pools of mistflower as they mass
In lower spots beside orange touch-me-nots.
The golden rods of goldenrods sway high
Above lobelia’s lovely violet spires –
And asters’ paling pinks intensify
the almost hidden arum’s burning fires
‘Til jealous trees in autumn’s chilly nights
transform their own limbs into fiery brights.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

12 Month Gardening

We've been busy with the bees and the gardens here lately.   We've moved the hives closer to the house to a place at the end of the existing gardens where we will be putting in a berry patch.    It's so nice to have the bees closer!   Expect more details on that later this week.

What I want to talk about first is 12 month gardening.   

We grow food in our gardens for 12 months of the year.   When I posted last winter about veggies that like cold weather, one of my lovely readers cross posted it on Reddit.   I got lots of pageviews [Thank you!!] and some very interesting comments posted on reddit.  

A few people thought my list was ridiculous.   They assumed that I go out in January in the snow and plant my lettuce and radishes then.    There is a deep misunderstanding of how 12 month gardening works.  

Winter gardening is not going out in the dead of winter with your hoe and a packet of seeds and  then carving a row out of the frozen ground, then planting the seeds and expecting them to grow like they do in May.

No.   Definitely not.  

Winter gardening begins in early fall - September, here.   We prep the beds and get them planted and then cover them for the winter in hoop houses and cold frames.  This way we can harvest through the entire winter and then plant again as soon as our latitude gets enough sunshine in the spring.

It's as easy as you want it to be.   Put some straw mulch in there if you want to prevent weeds and water if it gets too warm. 

Here are some things to think about now for your winter garden:

1.  Good soil:  Fertilize with manure or something else before you plant things.   This is especially necessary if you've grown a crop in that bed already this year, as I do. 

2.  Choose appropriate winter veggies:   Don't plant corn, squash and tomatoes.   Do plant greens, radishes, fennel, carrots and other cold weather loving veg.

3.  Prepare appropriate covers:  I use a two layer system - a cold frame or hoop house on the outside with row covers or extra plastic on the inside.   It's like you being in a winter coat in a car in the sunshine.  Even when it's really cold out, you are going to be much warmer than the outside temp.   And that's warm enough for the right kind of vegetables.  

If you can get your hands on some double walled greenhouse 'glass' [it's really acrylic] or some recycled double paned windows, they'll work too.  

And remember - cold frames don't have to be very big and they can tuck up nicely on the south side of your house.   That's just enough to plant a short row of radishes and some greens.

4.  Plant early enough so that you're still getting enough light for things to grow.  Once they get so big, they'll be fine all winter in the ground.   This is where the idea for root cellars came from.   I can plant until early October.  

5.  Watering:  In cold weather, the plants aren't respiring as heavily as when it's hot, so you don't have to water unless it's really warm in there.   If it's warm enough for you to be outside working comfortably, then check the cold frame and if it's dry, sprinkle it. 

6.  Weeds:  They'll grow too, so we use a thick layer of straw between rows.  Newspapers or cardboard work just as well.

We will likely be replacing our current hoop house structure [made with pvc] with a structure made with a 16' cattle panel.   The old one was fine....until we got loads of snow and it collapsed.   The new one should be a little more collapse proof.   I'll keep you updated.

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