Monday, November 26, 2012

Hive Disaster

The last time I opened up my hive I noticed the honey stores would not get them through the winter. So this past weekend I decided to open the hive and put some supplemental feed in for the winter. I had not checked my hive for a while other than watching bees come and go. 

I did not realize the bees coming and going recently, were not mine. They were robbing the abandoned hive. I guess I should have fed them earlier, maybe they would have had a better shot at surviving the first year. I hope I have better luck next year. 

The abandoned hive was not my only surprise.  As I started pulling top bars I noticed what I thought was a lot of spider webs. Boy was I wrong.

These are the larva of Achroia grisella or the Lesser Wax Moth. These are very plump from eating my hives wax and pollen stores. Waxmoths are bred and sold at pet shops as feeder worms. 

This is the damage they can do to a hive. This was my brood comb.

The wax gets completely destroyed. Almost all of my comb looks like this.

Almost all of the honey stores are gone. I am not sure if this is because the bees left with it, it got robbed or the wax moth larvae ate it. 

Here is a pic of some cross combing on the end of the hive. I wish this was my only problem.

Here is a pic of the little bastards. I plan on building new top bars for the hives. Hopefully next year I can get both hives healthy and able to fight this kind of infestation off. 

Here is the only honey I found in the hive. It tastes amazing. Hopefully I will have a better harvest next time. All I can do now is learn from my experience and do better next time. 

Monday, November 5, 2012

Eat local when you can

We found a local producer of chickens, eggs, turkeys and pigs. This is a small family operation that started this past year. It is important to us to eat locally when we can and support small family farms in the process. The following pics are from Full of Graze Farm. Here are the links to their web presence. If you are local to my area you should consider contacting them.

These are the "meat" birds. They have access to clean water, NON-GMO feed and all the grass and bugs they can find. The chickens are put in this enclosure at night and sealed in to protect them from predators. We have been receiving two birds a month since July.

These are the laying hens. There is one roster and at least 40 hens, probably more, I can't remember. The hens have the same feed and clean water as the other birds. They also have access to pasture and bugs. I can't remember all the breeds but I believe there are some Rhode Island Reds in this picture.

Here are the nest boxes in the chicken tractor. Typically you can expect one egg a day from most of the hens. This number drops off a bit in the winter. Sean, the owner of the farm, has put golf balls in the nest boxes to encourage them to lay. 

Here are both of the chicken tractors. They are surrounded by electric fences powered by batteries. This keeps the chickens contained to an area for a week or so then they can be moved to new pasture. More importantly the fences keep predators out. The main predator problem on the farm this year has been birds of prey taking chickens. 

Here is one of the pigs, early in the season, out in the pasture. They also are enclosed by an electric fence. Sean feeds them NON-GMO feed. They can also forage on pasture which can be moved by changing the position of the electric fence. The plan for next year is to let them have access to the some of the forest, woodlot pork. 

The water come from a well that is pumped up hill and then gravity fed to the animals. I believe the hog chilling in the mud is the heritage breed Sean plans to have bred in the future. Your always going to have a farm smell when you have animals, but I found the pig enclosure to have a mild smell. Something you get use to in a couple minutes.

The hogs enjoying a line of feed. Sean and his family put on a pig roast for customers in September. It was a great time and we got to meet like minded people in our area. We really need more businesses who care about the most important part of a business model, the customer. More people starting small farms around the country will ensure our children will have food security in their life. We can't rely on pork being shipped in from China or tomatoes in January from South America. Food security is simple, start a garden, get some laying hens, breed some meat rabbits or support local people who can supply you with healthy local food. Quality, local, well managed food is on the top of our list of necessary ingredients to having a healthy, happy life. Thanks again Sean and family for taking on such an important endeavor.

And here is the final product. Delicious, healthy, sustainable raised food. The pork is fantastic, the chickens and eggs taste great and I can't wait until we get our two turkeys around Thanksgiving. 

If you are not in my area please do some research and find a local farmer that raises healthy sustainable food. Remember you are what you eat, seriously. Another great place in my area to find pastured food is Red Sun Farm in Loveland, OH.

If you want some great Texas Longhorn grass-fed beef in my area please give Merrell's Texas Longhorns a try. You can find his information as well as a country wide network of farms doing it right at

I hope you will think about where your food comes from and what you are really feeding your family when you consider buying that factory raised beef or chicken on sale. Please do your own research and make informed decisions. 

P.S. ........mmmmmmm, bacon.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Green Tomatoes

We had some pretty devastating frosts a couple weeks ago. All of our tomato plants are now dead. Before the frost I collected hundreds and hundreds of green tomatoes. I have no plans to ripen them. I just want to let them ripen on their own and use them accordingly. 

I forgot to check on them for a week and some rotted in one of the bags I had them stored in. The next time I do this I plan on building a screen rack system to hold them in one layer. This screen rack system will double as a drying rack for herbs and other garden produce.

The tomatoes are now in various stages of ripening. Our plan is to have garden tomatoes in November. I believe this goal will be achieved this year. Next year we plan on making it into December! One thing I learned is if there is even a tiny bit of frost damage, just compost it. I have noticed the green tomatoes that are rotting are the ones I collected with just a tiny bit of frost damage. Next year I will watch the weather closely and pick the night before the first frost, not the next day. 

We are still getting peppers! This is due to the fact that I went out every night that had a frost warning and covered the pepper plants with sheets. If I had more sheets I could have saved some tomato plants since the frosts only lasted a few days. It is 80 degrees today, October 25th. We will get better at this as we get more experience. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Tea and the Ugly Tomato

I saw some ripe rose hips on my beach rose (Rosa rugosa) on a walk around the garden last night. I picked them and a handful of mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum). I added another mint and some borage flowers as well. I boiled the rose hips for 3 minutes and then added everything else and steeped for 10 minutes in the kettle. 

The only ingredient I added that was not form the back yard was some honey. This spring I should be harvesting my own honey so I could make this next year completely from the back yard. It had a great flavor and was very calming. 

Okay, this is the ugliest tomato I have ever grown. It looks like I super glued a bunch of small tomatoes together. But I bet if this tomato was ripe it would be delicious! I had to pick all of the green tomatoes due to the frost coming. I will post on what I am doing with them later. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Oven Dried Tomatoes

These tomatoes are specifically bred for sun dried tomatoes. The strain, Principe Borghese
(Lycopersicon lycopersicum), originally comes from Italy. I purchased these through, I highly recommend their products. The Mason jar contains gin and grapefruit juice, an absolute necessity for this process.

After much experimenting I discovered the fastest most efficient method to process the tomatoes is to cut just to the side of the stem leaving one half with the whole stem area. Now you cut the stem out of one side instead of two if you had split it evenly.  

I put them on large cookie sheets, salted them with sea salt and placed them in the oven pre-heated to 175 degrees. The amount of time it takes to dry them depends on the size of the tomatoes, moisture content and temperature.

Here they are dried out after about 18 hours. At this point they were perfect. They felt like a firm raisin with a little bend to it. So of course I turn the oven off and go do something else with them still in. They dried out completely becoming brittle. They still taste good but you have to watch them towards the end to get them at the perfect time. 

I placed them in Mason jars and filled them up with olive oil. These should keep on the counter for a while. Some people refrigerate them at this point. I am not suggesting either method yet, I plan on doing both. I will be doing more soon and I think I will try freezing and dry storage in mason jars. We shall see which method is the best. 

If you spoon some of these out into a hot skillet with butter, add some chopped onions and garlic and toss with spaghetti squash you will be in classico heaven.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Harvest 10/06/12

Here is a great harvest I picked this past Saturday. We have beets, chard, pumpkins, watermelon, bell peppers, tomatoes, jalapenos, spaghetti squash and butternut squash. The small red tomatoes are a variety bred to make sun dried tomatoes out of. A post of that process will be coming soon. We got some light frost last night, hopefully everything made it. I put some cardboard over a raised bed of lettuce to protect it. I realized I do not have any plastic for the rest of the garden. I will have to stop at the hardware store on the way home.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Garden Update 10-01-12

So this is weird. I planted a hundred or so winter peas and this one came up yellow. It is not over watered or sick, it is very healthy and looks just like all the others except, its bright yellow. I hope I get a harvest before the hard frost comes. I may make row covers over this area if I can do it cheap.

Our first brussel sprouts ever. I have tried to grow them before and have not had any luck. I started these in February indoors. I can't wait to have some sauteed sprouts!

This is our second year wormwood (Artemisia absinthium). This is a beautiful plant that can help deter insects around the garden. It can also be used in doors to repel fleas and moths.

Here is another cabbage. We are having a great year for cabbage. We just need to make sure to eat them when they are ready. I kept letting one get bigger and bigger and then it rotted before I remembered to pick it. 

We are still getting broccoli. In fact, the plants only stopped producing during the heat of the summer when it went to flower. As soon as it cooled off again it started putting on broccoli. I consider broccoli plants a garden staple from early spring to early winter.

Here is the garlic bed I planted a couple weeks ago. I threw hundreds of lettuce seeds in the box after I planted the garlic. I plan on making a cover for this bed so we can harvest the lettuce through early winter.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Wild Dinner

So I finally had a successful hunting trip. The ironic thing is, I went into the woods to pick some wild mushrooms I saw on my last fruitless hunting trip and brought the .22 along "just in case". The one time I wasn't really hunting squirrel I got lucky. 

These wild mushrooms are giant puffballs (Calvatia gigantea). They are easy to positively I.D. as they have very distinctive characteristics and no dangerous look-a-likes once they get past a certain size. Please do not use my description as a field guide. Please do your own research and consult at least three different sources when you positively I.D. any wild mushrooms. If you are not 100% sure of the mushroom you have, throw it away. Remember "There are old mushroom hunters, there are bold mushroom hunters - but there are no old, bold mushroom hunters!." 

This squirrel is a Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis ). These squirrels are very common and prolific in my area. They have two litters a year producing anywhere from 4 to 16 young a year. They are ready to breed at 5 1/2 months. This one was barking at me about 120 feet up in a shag bark hickory tree.

Here is the giant puffball cut up. People use it as a tofu substitute others bread it and fry it. I chose to saute it with butter and salt. I used the smaller one since it was firm, the larger puffball was starting to go to spore and was soft. Side note, when these mushrooms go to spore they produce several trillion spores!

Here is our wild dinner. Sauteed squirrel with giant puffball mushroom and red onion. It was very tasty and rich. I used a little more butter than I should have do to the mushrooms soaking it up. The squirrel was a little chewy but the flavor was great. The mushrooms are better and tastier than tofu!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Tomato Paste / Juice

We decided to make tomato paste and juice from mostly these Amish paste tomatoes. A few large orange and red tomatoes were used as well. We used about 8 times the tomatoes pictured here. 

 I can't believe how much we started with and what we ended up with. I had the paste in a large pot simmering over night. I woke up twice to stir it over the night. In the morning the volume was a 1/4 of what we started with.

I think this is defiantly a weekend project, not a start after work, refrigerate for a week, pick more tomatoes, process them, cook them down, refrigerate over night, heat back up and can the next day project. =)

When it all cooked down we ended up with 4 pints of tomato paste and 1 quart, 2 pints of tomato juice. I used the left-over tomato paste for spaghetti and meat sauce with dinner that night. It was quite tasty over spaghetti squash. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Garden Flowers

Just thought I would share a pic of a flower arrangement I made for Dara. I had to cut the Jerusalem Artichoke flowers so they put their energy into the tubers and thought I would see what else was in bloom.

Flowers: Jerusalem Artichoke, Borage, Marigold, Yarrow and some white flower I found growing in the perennial flower bed.  

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Harvest 09/18/12

Here is what I picked in the garden after work.

The Amish paste tomatoes are still producing heavily. Our bell pepper plants are full of peppers. I only picked a few because I want to give the rest a chance to change color. I know we have some red, yellow and orange bell peppers I just don't know which plant is which. =) The jalapeno peppers are going nuts. I picked a few and will get the rest in a week or so when they are big enough. We are still getting broccoli heads. I plan on making some salsa with the big tomatoes on the left, the black (red) hungarian peppers and some ground cherries when they come in.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Garden Guardian

I moved my lawnmower yesterday after not using it for a month or so and found this guy (or girl, didn't check). This is a Eastern American Toad (Bufo americanus americanus). These toads like to take up residence under anything that gives them a cool moist environment out of the sun. I have plans to make a bunch of toad condos around the perimeter of the garden. These will consist of flat limestone rocks about a foot or so across propped up over small depressions. I will do a post later on the subject. 

Having these insect predators around is just one more way to keep a natural balance in your garden without resorting to chemical warfare. The more beneficial predator and insect habitat you can encourage in and around your property, the less you will have to worry about out of control pest infestations. So the next time you see a toad in the garden look around and try to find a place to give them shelter. A overturned clay pot works just fine, just break a hole in the lip so they have a door.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

It's time to plant garlic

I built this new raised bed in about 45 minutes, cost $25. I used cedar fence boards from the local box store, $2.25 each. I filled it with a sphagnum peat moss and composted manure mixture.

I used hemp twine to break the bed into 6 sections. The tomato staked in the back happened to be in the area I wanted to put this bed. I would have ripped it out but it is one of two OSU blue tomatoes that are producing for me. 

I ordered a 6-pack sampler of heirloom organic hard and soft neck garlic from Botanical Interests. I really like this company, they are always fast and the seeds have great germination rates. 

Here is what came in the sampler package: 

Back left - California Early soft neck 
Back center - Silver White soft neck
Back right - Inchelium Red soft neck
Front left - Chesnok Red hard neck
Front center - Metechi hard neck
Front right - Purple Glazer hard neck

I will be braiding the soft neck varieties next summer at harvest. I can't wait to have real heirloom garlic for the kitchen. The garlic you get at the grocery store is typically bland compared to the varieties you can grow, very easily, in your own backyard.

If you are reading this mid September through mid October and are anywhere near me geographically, you still have time to get a crop in the ground for harvest next summer. Again I recommend checking out if you want a great heirloom organic product.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The garden keeps giving

We are getting some monster tomatoes. Its almost impossible to pick them all before they are over ripe. 

These are black Hungarian peppers. They are usually a dark purple / black but if you let them go to long they turn red. They are still good they just get a little bit hotter. 

We are still getting broccoli in September!

This is the first year trying to grow celery. It is doing very well. I think we will plant a lot more next spring.

Here we have beets in the foreground, red chard on the left and yellow chard in the back. The chard is going crazy this time of year. 

This kale was planted the spring before this past spring. It over-wintered, went to seed and is still  producing greens. You can see the dried out top from when it bolted. 

These spaghetti squash will keep for up to 6 months in the right conditions. I don't think they will make it that far. We will be planting a dozen or so vines next year.