What Do These Bees Know?

Well, we didn’t get our first frost the other night, but we will most certainly see one this Thursday night–if not a freeze.

When I went outside to do my chores today, I couldn’t help but notice the mason bees were everywhere.  They were on every flower, sometimes more than one to a flower, having a big knockdown drag-out trying to get the last bits of pollen and nectar before the flowers are all gone.  I’ve never seen so many mason bees before!

 

What do these mason bees know that we don’t know?

There were four fighting over this dahlia.  (I did get to enjoy a few more, by the way!)

And four more on this one!  The little bee at the bottom didn’t stand a chance against these big guys.

 

Here’s a moth trying to get in on the action…

There were hundreds of them on my morning glories.

Even in the withered ones!

I have always had flowers wherever I lived, but I have only been a serious gardener for about 7 or 8 years now.  Never have I seen them like this.

According to the mason bees, I’d say we’re in for another long winter.

Which reminds me, I need to take the honey bees some more sugar-water tomorrow.  My buckwheat is finally ready to bloom, but it will not make it after tomorrow’s frost.  The bees did not get the benefit of it, which really bums me out.  I should have either planted it a couple of weeks earlier or perhaps if I had watered it well during this recent dry spell it would have made it in time.

Well, the hornet’s nests say we’ll have a big, snowy winter.

And the wooly bear caterpillars say we’ll have a never-ending winter.  Ha.  (You really can’t trust the wooly bears.  They like to play practical jokes.)

In addition to the asian lady beetles swarming against the south-side of my house on these recent warm afternoons, there have also been dozens of dang-blasted wasps trying to get inside.  I am allergic to wasps and don’t want to share my living quarters with them this winter.

The spiders have also been bad.  We sprayed for them this year and I have still seen a few in the basement.  Normally we don’t like to spray because of the young’n and the doggies, but after my daughter found a giant wolf spider in her bathtub and nearly clobbered herself trying to get out of there in a big, wet, slippery hurry, we decided it was probably a good idea.

So, if the old wives tales have it right, we will have another hard winter this year.  Last year was one of the snowiest winters we’ve had here in West Virginia that I can recall since I was a kid.

What ill portents have you noticed this fall?  Do you think we’re in for it?  Either way, I’m stocking up!

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Dahlias

Bye bye, dahlias.  See you next year!

The weather report says our first frost should hit tonight.  I am having my friends from Sunday school out for a bonfire this Saturday and I was really hoping my flowers would stay pretty until then.  All I could do was go out this afternoon and pick the last of them so that I can enjoy them inside.

This was my first year growing dahlias.  They were much easier to grow than I expected and oh boy, did they put out the blooms.

I also covered a couple rows of spinach, lettuce and radishes out in the garden.  Other than that, you just have to accept it and move on.  The first frost draws the line for me.  Winter is on its way.

A Little Color on a Dreary Day

It has been unseasonably cold the past few days.  I’ve been a little under the weather anyways and this dark, chilly day makes me want to take some more NyQuil and go back to bed.

I had to go outside to feed the chickens and get the mail, so Ava and I stopped to smell the roses (and pick some strawberries) along the way. 

These are a few shots of what is still in bloom in my garden this early October.  Knowing that winter is on its way, I’m going to try to appreciate all this color while I still can!  Two more weeks and we’ll be looking for our first frost…

Click on any of the images below to see a larger version.

Tomorrow will mark two years since my husband’s father went to be with Jesus.  He was always one to stop and smell the roses and encouraged others to do the same.  You can see pictures of some of his famous roses and read the tribute I wrote for him last year here.  I hate that my daughter wasn’t old enough to get to know him.  He was really an amazing person and more like a father to me than an “in-law”.

Strange Visitor

The monster morning glory vine that I planted to shade my porch has drawn many visitors.  The bumblebees love to visit the blooms during the day.  Hordes of katydids have taken up residence inside it and inevitably hop in through the back door when I let the dogs out.  There is also a lonely sparrow who roosts in it overnight.  Now this guy…

They really do look like a stick!  I’ve only seen one once before.

The walking stick demonstrates the Divinely designed defense mechanism of camouflage.  Even its slow and halting stride mimics a branch moving in the breeze, helping it stay under the radar of its predators.  Fortunately for my walking stick, his neighbor the sparrow won’t want to have him over for lunch anyway!

 Lucky for him the toddler had already gone to bed or else he may have ended up in a jar!

The Beast has Bloomed

It has taken over my porch, consummed my gutters and even swallowed my windchime.  Finally this monstrous morning glory vine is blooming!  We are about a month out from first frost.

I made three plantings of these Heavenly Blue morning glories and the other two, which look sickly and sad compared to the big one on the porch, they bloomed weeks ago.  At least it has served well to shade the evening sun from my porch this summer.  We like to take our dinner outside most evenings, but my husband was always complaining that the sun was in his eyes.

Now he will be complaining when I have to send him up the ladder to pull this vine out of the gutters.  Ha.

Hot Pepper Mustard

Ok, I’ve been canning for 2 weeks straight!  I put up lots of goodies for winter and I’ve lost count now how many batches of this sweet/hot pepper butter I’ve made.  I’ve given away a few jars to friends and family and have had several requests for the recipe, so here it is…

You won’t find this recipe in the Ball Blue Book.  My guess is that they don’t approve of it because it contains flour as a thickener.  I’ve made hundreds of jars of this and have yet to have had any go bad.  My dad loves this stuff and if you could can it in gallon jars, he’d be all for it!

It is the perfect dipping mustard.  We like it with cheese and summer sausage, on ham or turkey sandwiches, for dipping pretzels and it also makes a great glaze for a baked ham or venison roast.

I originally got this recipe from a lady at my dad’s church.  My dad then ran over to Ohio and bought a bushel of U-Pick hungarian hot wax banana peppers and begged me to make him a lifetime supply of mustard.  The original version was a little too flaming hot and salty for our tastes, so I’ve tweaked it a bit and clarified the directions a little.  Here’s my version…

Hot Pepper Mustard (Butter)

(yields about 7 pints)

  • 4 quarts chopped hot and/or sweet banana peppers (3.3 lbs or about 36 large peppers)
  • 1 qt. vinegar
  • 1 qt. prepared yellow mustard (don’t go cheap, get a good quality mustard)
  • 4 c. sugar
  • 1 1/4 c. flour
  • 2 tbsp. salt (optional; I use 1 tbsp.)

1. Wearing vinyl gloves, cut up and deseed/devein the peppers.  Remove stem and blossom ends and cut into large chunks.  You can toss in some of the seeds if you want it really hot.  I go about 50/50 on the ratio of hot and sweet banana peppers.  This gives it a kick without burning your tongue off!

     I also like to take a few dark red peppers aside and chop them by hand before adding to the pot.  They look really nice suspended in the golden yellow of the mixture.

2. Puree the peppers in a blender using some of the vinegar.

3. In a large pot, combine all ingredients except the flour.

4. In a small bowl, add enough water to the flour to make a smooth paste.  Be sure to work all the lumps out.

5. Add flour paste to the mixture.

6. Simmer over medium heat until thickened, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.

IMPORTANT — Try not to let the mustard boil as this will incorporate air bubbles into the mixture.  Air bubbles are the number one cause of the mustard boiling out of the jars in while in the water bath.  If you think it looks bubbly, let it sit awhile on the lowest heat setting until they are gone.  Stir gently.

7. Pour into hot jars leaving 1/2″ headspace.  Wipe rims and place lids.  Hot water bath 15 minutes for pints and half-pints.

Enjoy!

I made a bunch of half-pints to give as Christmas gifts.  I try to can something special every year just for that purpose.

Well, now I am on to green beans.  I picked 5 gallons this week.  I am loving my Nickell heirloom pole beans I got from Sustainable Mountain Agriculture, Inc.  They are so tender and flavorful.  I am saving seeds for trading and may do a giveaway later on. 

The garden is close to finishing up.  I have a few fall crops to put in yet.  I am getting ready to till the main garden up and plant it to buckwheat for my bees (who are doing great, btw.)  August is really my busiest time of year!

An odd place to find a grasshopper…

This seems like an odd place to find a locust.

 

I was checking over my Heavenly Blue morning glory vines, looking for any sign of impending bloom, when I spotted this guy up under the rafters of my porch roof.

It’s a big one, over 2″ long.  Probably deciding which of the lush, overgrown (flowerless!) vines to nibble on first. 

I was afraid that he might get annoyed and jump on me while I tried to take his picture.  I would have thrown the camera and run for sure.

These morning glory vines are beginning to engulf my porch.  They look healthy and awesome.  I am just waiting for them to put on their big show.  I planted them there to provide some quick shade so that my husband can eat his dinner out on the porch without the evening sun blinding him.

I’ve been really BUSY canning the past couple of weeks, so I haven’t had much time to post.  When I get more time I am going to post my version of Hot Pepper Mustard (Butter).  Tuesday I canned 18 pints and 17 half-pints (for Christmas presents).  We like it–A LOT.  And I think you will too…

Popcorn Chickens

That’s how baby chicks grow…like popcorn.

Round ’em up and move ’em on out!  I moved my latest batch of chicks down to the chicken barn, still in a brooding pen, but a bit roomier.  I promised my husband I would get them out of his garage before they started to stink or fly out and poo on everything, whichever came first, and I kept my promise!  I’ve got a top on the brooding pen this year so they can’t get out.  I don’t want them pooing on everything down there either.  Because that’s what chickens do best, even the little ones.

Here they are enjoying their new digs…

This has made room in the garage for my yard sale.  Yes, it’s finally going to happen!  I’ve been talking about having a yard sale for like 3 years now.  It’s officially in the works.  But I digress…

This year’s batch of chicks are 26 Black Star pullets.  They are supposed to be phenomenal layers.  I’m going to cull hard for quality this time.  It’s been my experience that if they don’t get the kinks worked out after their first couple weeks of laying, they’ll lay weird eggs all along.  I wanted to try Buckeyes this year, but you have to order very, very early to get them.  They are critically endangered.  I am also interested in Black Copper Marans.  I want a dual purpose bird, but I still put a high priority on egg laying.

I didn’t start them out down there in the chicken barn because sometimes I see evidence of a black snake in residence under the building.  Brand new baby chicks are small enough to be eaten by one.  I leave him alone and he does his thing–and keeps the mice out of my chicken feed.  It’s a good arrangement.

I’ve learned my lesson the past couple years and we’re trying to socialize this new baby cockerel early.  I think he’s going to be a Blue Andalusian.  They offer you a “free mystery chick” with your order and you can pretty well count on it being a rooster.  I’ve been letting Ava play with him and carry him around the yard with her. 

Ava calls him the “little lellow (yellow) chick”, but his official name is Little Boy Blue, for now anyways.

She’s been “babysitting” the chicks, but really they are babysitting her.  I’ve been getting so much done here lately while she keeps herself occupied with a chick.  Every so often I make her go down to the chicken barn and switch out for a new “fresh” one. 

She has called the black ones (whichever one she happens to be holding at the time) “Renna”, which was the name of her imaginary friend, who is not so imaginary anymore now that Renna has morphed into being a “chicken friend”.  These girls should turn out to be very tame. 

Ava is gentle with them and they go on all sorts of adventures together, hanging out in the sandbox or strolling around the yard.  They’ve made their way into the house a time or two as well…

Here they are venturing together into the Tomato Jungle…

She didn’t share with Renna, who would have really enjoyed a tomato by the way…

And they helped me pick sweet banana peppers…

 

More fun than a barrel of chickens! 

Please pardon my sweaty, dirty little farm girl.  She does clean up well though.  Ha.

I’m still debating how to do this all-in/all-out thing with my layers.  You can’t help but get attached to them when they’re around for so long.  Most certainly you should not name them.  Mark that one down in the lesson book–don’t name anything that you plan to eat.  I’m thinking maybe as fall comes on, I will go ahead and cull the worst layers.  Most of the girls will be going into molt anyway.  I will maybe keep the best five throughout the winter to keep us in eggs.  I can’t see any point in feeding the ones that don’t pull their weight, but it will still be hard to do.  From here on out, I’m going to get all chickens that look the same, that way I won’t favor any.

Speaking of butchering, it’s time to put in my order for fall broilers.  I will be going with the Cornish X again.  I have no complaints with them and those I’ve gotten from Murray McMurray Hatchery have always been strong and healthy.  I had to buy a package of store-bought chicken breast the other day and it was seriously lacking compared to the quality of those we raised ourselves.  I have just about used up all that I have in the freezer.  I’m glad I made it as far as I did because we decided this year that fall broilers would be easier for us to manage and we’ll have more time to process them in the fall.  I’m going to go ahead and order 35 again.

Guess what I’ve been doing all day?

Making salsa!

I knew when I did it that I had planted way too many tomatoes… But I do that every year.  I can’t stand the thought that by some cruel twist of nature (deer, drought, blight) that I might not have enough tomatoes, so I usually end up over-planting to compensate.  It does eventually get to the point where you can’t even give them away and I end up hurling tomatoes at people as they try to flee from my home.  Funny how most of the summer you desperately long for that first vine ripe tomato, then very quickly you become almost sick of them and can’t force yourself to eat another bite.  That’s when I break out the canning jars…

My little tomato-munching monster stands ready to jump in the second she thinks I’m not looking and start poking holes in their shiny, tender skins.  She is more of a threat to my tomato harvest than an army of hornworms or a flock of chickens.  Daily she left behind juicy, seedy piles of devastation on my porch last year.

Ava doesn’t get sick of them.  She could eat four or five at a stretch.

Last year I made some good salsa using the Mrs. Wages’ spice packets.  At nearly $3.00 a packet, I didn’t find that very economical though, so this year I tried to grow most of the ingredients myself.  I used the Ball Blue Book recipe for Zesty Salsa, but after spending all day chopping vegetables I am not really happy with the results.  It came out with way more onion and pepper than I’d like.  And also hotter than I like.  I have a few ideas where I might be able to tweak it–which tomato types to use and definitely less Hungarian Hot Wax Peppers or maybe use a chili pepper next year.  You can use less peppers/onions than called for, but certainly not more.  😛  I’ll find some use for it either way.  Maybe it would be good in chili…or to marinate a roast.

I’m working with a better canning set-up this year…

 

I moved everything out onto the porch, which frees up a lot of counter space and keeps the kitchen from getting quite so hot. 

I bought two 6′ x 2.5′ folding tables at Ollie’s for $35 each.  They’ll be handy for a number of things…cookouts, yardsales, butchering chickens.  And I also bought a Coleman Outdoor Grill and Stove which is a really useful thing to have.  When I decided to get a new ceramic cooktop stove, I realized I couldn’t use my waterbath canner on it without risk of damaging it because the bottom of the canner is fluted and wouldn’t make for good heat conductivity and the heavy weight of it could crack or scatch the stove.  I’ve wanted a camp stove for a while anyway.  It will also be useful for butchering chickens to boil the scalding pot and also a good thing to have on hand if the power goes out or for going camping (if I can ever talk my husband into going tent camping again).

This set-up worked really well and was very efficient.  I like that my kitchen is not so cluttered and I don’t have to work around rows of jars that must sit undisturbed for a day.

I’ve had a pretty good harvest so far and I have many days of canning ahead of me yet.  Today I’ll work on finishing up the rest of the tomatoes as plain canned tomatoes, which is pretty easy.  Then I’ll move on to making Hot Pepper Mustard (Butter) which is mostly for my Dad because he really loves it.  I made sauerkraut a couple days ago out of a dozen cabbages that I just harvested and it still has a few weeks of fermenting in the jar, then I’ll can it.  I froze my blackberries for now, waiting until I had enough to do several batches of jam.  Then it’s on to apple sauce, juice and jelly…and somewhere along the way I’ve got to find some place to buy a couple bushels of peaches because ours didn’t do well this year (mildew/disease).

Here’s what’s left of my storage onions after making salsa.

That should get me to November perhaps.  I planted a lot, but seemed to use them daily right from the garden once they started to get up to size.  The reds aren’t good keepers.  They were very determined to flower, which messes up the integrity of the bulb even if you do pinch them off.  This was the first year I did well with onions because I actually took the time to study up on when and how to plant them this time.  The earlier the better!

We’ve been eating fresh watermelon and canteloupe daily too…

I planted five vines on the spot where I had penned my Cornish X broilers last year and they LOVED IT.  I harvested 17 Crimson Sweet watermelons so far, two were huge–over 20 lbs each and most of the rest were 15 lbs!  Unfortunately with canteloupe and watermelon, they all seem to turn ripe at the same time, so I’ve been giving a bunch away.  As with the tomatoes, you can only eat so much watermelon…then you’re done!

Three Sisters Companion Planting

There were a couple things I tried differently this year.  One of them was a Three Sisters planting.  I’ve not tried growing corn up here before.  I’ve been wary of it blowing over, but I thought maybe this method would help it to hold up better on our windy hilltop.

A Three Sisters planting is basically alternating hills of corn and squash, with pole beans using the cornstalks for a trellis.  The directions I followed were found on this site.  They had good measurements and diagrams. 

I followed it pretty closely, however I planted more corn to a hill than they indicated.  It only called for four, but I planted twelve instead.  So far this has not been a problem.  I was doubtful that only four corn plants would be able to properly pollinate each other, given the distance between the mounds.  Also, I did not want to assume that all four would germinate in the first place!

I’ve got a variety of different things growing in the squash mounds, not all of them squash.  I planted mini pumpkins, sugar pie pumpkins, sweet dumpling squash (they’re so cute), french melons, canteloupe and also watermelon.  The watermelon have proven themselves to be the thickest growing vine and an effective living mulch.  The canteloupe are thriving.  I can see so many melons setting on them and they will be ready here in probably less than a month.  I am really looking forward to those.

Now my beans, those are coming along, but have not really grown as fast as I thought they should.  I planted Nickel beans — a slender, white, heirloom Appalachian cornfield bean.  Fortunately I didn’t plant the whole package, so if they fail and I cannot save seed from them there’s always next year.  The instructions were to plant the beans when the corn reached 4″ tall, but it seemed like they took forever to germinate.  I think maybe I should have either soaked them first or kept the ground watered until they sprouted.  Maybe they’ll catch up.

So far so good.  I like this arrangement.  It makes efficient use of my garden space.  We’ve had a couple windy storms already and the corn stalks have held up very well.

I think it may end up being difficult to get in there to harvest everything when the time comes.  It’s very dense!

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