Posts Tagged ‘garden’


Update after a long hiatus

October 21, 2012

It has been over 6 months since I last posted.  I give no excuses; it just happened.  But here’s a bit of a catch up.

One of our llamas died in the spring.  She ate some hemlock.  That left us with just Serendipity – and a lone llama has a propensity for getting into trouble.  SerendiptiySerendipity kept finding ways to escape our field.  One day a woman pulled into the driveway to tell us our llama was in the park that borders our property.  It took my husband, this woman, and 3 more passers-by to herd her back into the field.  She had so much fun!

And then the first day of school she did it again.  I got a call from the high school principal telling me he’d let my son out of school to help wrangle the llama.  She clearly needed friends (and we needed to upgrade the fencing).

Acci and Cheetah

The fencing was upgraded and my husband found a local llama farm that needed to downsize, and that is how we ended up with Acci and Cheetah.

Acci and Cheetah are older than Serendipity.  We don’t know for sure, but think Serendipity is about 4 years old.  Acci and Cheetah are 8 and 6 years old.  All three get along quite well, not super chummy, but they hang out together (but also spit at one another for the slightest offense).

No pictures of the flower or vegetable gardens.  We had a severe drought and very hot temperatures and everything was just fried.  Finally, in September, the tomatoes started to fill out and ripen – but not at anywhere near the rate we are used to.  We still have plenty of tomatoes, but also occasional frosts; we eat what we can.  Tonight, my husband made some green fried tomatoes for dinner, and oven roasted potatoes (also from the garden).  Mmmm.

The honey bees had a time of it too.  I obtained two swarms in May.  One I put in a Langstroth (the rectangular boxes) with some old comb from previous inhabitants, and one I put in the topbar hive.  Those bees, though, had to start from scratch, with no comb.  The drought was too much.  The couldn’t bring in enough nectar to both build comb and store honey, so eventually they left in search of better digs.  I hope they found some. 

The other hives, however, are doing quite well.  My husband and I put mouseguards on the hives today (so mice don’t winter in the nice warm hive) and rearranged boxes as we saw fit.DSCF1276  I like to have the bulk of the bees and their honey start at the bottom of the hive so they can work their way up during the winter.  I also moved a box of honey from one very strong hive to a weaker one.  I’ll feed the two weakest hives also so they can store more honey until it’s too cold for them to move about.  Fingers crossed this will get them through the winter and early spring.

That’s the short version of the last 6 months.  I’ll try to write more before another 6 months slip by.  Until then, enjoy the Autumn!


Spring Break– I need to go to work to rest

March 18, 2012

I’m on Spring Break from my academic job – and I’m exhausted!

When last I posted we were in the middle of the bathroom redo.  We still are.  The plumbers are 99% done – a part was missing from the faucet set for the sink, and a couple other plumbing niceties are needed to make everything look pretty.  The carpenters are also 99% done – quarter round  and cabinet doors to be installed early next week.  That just leaves the work that my husband and I need to do. 

I’ve stained the woodwork and put on one coat of polyurethane (water-based – of course), it needs one more.  My husband has given the ceiling on coat of paint, one more later today.  I will paint the walls.  All this painting involves protecting the other surfaces – I should buy stock in painter’s tape.DSCF0049  I will unveil the bath for all to see when its finally done.

I’ve also begun stripping the door.  I’ll give a rundown on the greenness of this redo in the near future.  DSCF0042[The stripper is green – both figuratively and literally.]

But the bathroom is only part of my break activities.  The very best part was a visit with a dear friend, Vicky.  She made the trek half-way across the country to see me (well, she did see her daughter in college in Chicago also).  We’ve been trying to get together once a year for the past few years.  First it was a bed and breakfast in Wisconsin, then some time at her place in the Berkshires, next, a funeral, but it gave me a few days with her in NYC, and this time showing her my digs in the Midwest.  I can’t believe that I didn’t take any pictures of Vicky while she was here.  I have witnesses though, including my friends, Jill and Ravonda, with whom we had a great evening over wine and snacks and lots of laughs.  [No pictures of them either, you will just have to take my word for it that I have friends.]

Vicky and I grew up in a hilly, tree-filled part of of upstate NY.  I now live in former prairie country – my new hometown had two, count them two, trees when it was established in 1837.  On the road you can usually see about 5 miles to the horizon.  There are some hills but they usually indicate a river valley and I don’t live in a river valley.  It takes a practiced eye to appreciate the subtle beauty of the Midwest landscape.  I tried to give Vicky a crash course – I’m not sure I succeeded.  We also explored big-box home improvement stores to find the perfect towel bars.  Can I show a girl a good time or what?  [We did have a nice lunch at the Mackinaw Depot Tearoom, I’m not a total dud as a hostess.]

Vicky is the reason I keep bees.  She did it first and I was a copycat. So one of the very nifty things we did during her short visit was to put together my new topbar hive. DSCF0034DSCF0033

My sweet and loving husband (who gave me the hive kit for Christmas) built the stand.  We had those metal table legs and he built a stand just my height using them.  On top of the legs would actually be too tall for me to work comfortably (I am not of willowy stature).  This design is the right height and works even better given the winds around here.  It will take a tornado to topple this sucker.  And if a tornado topples my beehive I’m afraid my beehive is going to be the least of my worries.

Tuesday morning, March 20th,  at 1:14 a.m. is the vernal equinox.  Spring begins officially.  Someone should tell Mother Nature, because she has gone completely whacko this year.  We had the winter that wasn’t, and now, as winter is supposed to be waning with DSCF0045normal temperatures this week usually in the upper 40’s and low 50’s, we have had a week of highs in the upper 70’s and low 80’s.  I am not complaining, no siree. The warmer weather timed perfectly during my spring break (and wonders of wonders, during my husband’s break also, he teaches at a different institution and our breaks don’t always align) meant we could get into the yard.  My husband has tilled the vegetable gardens and planted seeds for lettuce and radishes and carrots.  I have been making progress on the flower gardens.  And spring has been busting out all over!

All in all it was a great and productive week.  But back to the salt mine tomorrow.  I wonder when I’ll find time to paint the bathroom?


Miscellaneous catching up

June 20, 2010

I’m on summer break – you’d think I’d have nothing but time.  Nope. I may not be teaching, but this year I have plenty of work-related and professional projects to keep me busy busy busy.  Plus it is summer, so we have to have fun too.  Between work, visiting, and company there aren’t many minutes left.  And it has been hot!  When it is hot I lose my will to do anything – including blog I guess.

But, we’ll be off on vacation trips without Internet access, so I thought maybe I’d give a quick catch up.

THE SLEEPOVERfuzzy flip flops

My daughter’s sleepover went well.  The main activity after dinner was making fuzzy flip flops




Closer to dark was the fire and s’mores. s'more makin's I thought the girls would prefer the more classic milk chocolate for their s’mores but the dark chocolate with mint was the favorite.

Much sugar and at least one young lady dedicated to being awake as much as possible meant that at best the girls slept from midnight until 4 a.m.  The plan had been for the party to go until 10 a.m. but one left exhausted at 7, another was picked up at 9 for a family party, and since my daughter was asleep in the hammock, we called the last set of parents and they came a little early for their daughter.  My girl slept on and off in the morning and then all afternoon. But she went to a silent movie festival with her father and brother that night and was right as rain the next day.


I still have 4 hives.  I’m pretty sure the swarm I caught was actually from my hive that overwintered, but both are doing o.k.  Because I will be gone for a couple of weeks I have made sure that everyone has space to expand.  In fact, I put a box on the hive I won today.  I also bought a screened bottom board and telescoping lid for “the shack” where the swarm was hived.  It looks much better now.  Sorry, no pics – it was close to 90 while I worked today and it took every ounce of energy from me.  Wait, want to see some new equipment – it is in the back of the picture of the girls making flip flops.  Not only did I get a bottom board,  cover, and the parts for 40 frames, but 5 cypress boxes.  I bought cypress so I didn’t have to paint them.


Snow peas, radishes, and lettuce are our primary product at the moment.  We’re going away for the week; meeting most of my husband’s family at a house in northern Michigan.  We’ll pick the rest of the lettuce and peas to take with us because the lettuce probably won’t last the week, especially has hot as it has been.

The onion and garlic look great, the potatoes are starting to bloom as are the green beans.  Tomato and pepper plants seem fine and zucchini and cucumber plants are growing. 

The wild black raspberries are ripe right now down by the beehives, but it is just too hot to go pick them.  I know that means we won’t have any, but I’m the only one who eats them anyway, accept for the raccoons and other wildlife.  I guess they’ll get to feast on them all.

The Japanese beetles killed off most of our grapes last year.  We have some vines coming in the mail as well as sweet potato plants.  Like I said though, we’ll be away for a week – I hope they arrive about Friday so that we can put them all in next weekend.


And now it is back to getting ready for the real world, like tomorrow’s 8 hour and 5 minute drive (according to The first big trip for the Escape (at least since we bought it).  Perhaps by the time we get back I’ll have green things to report.


Dark Days 19 – Going Out Easy

March 27, 2010

The last week of dark days was almost over.  No more flour available.  No more onions.  No more garlic.  But the farmer’s market had some fresh butterfly pork chops and some hydroponic greens.  We opened another jar of pickled green beans to go with it and the last of a bottle of local wine.


The seasonings for the meat, and the salad dressings were not up to SOLE snuff.  This summer I’ll need to make my own mustard so I can make a local, organic, honey mustard dressing.

Dark Days is Done.  I’ve learned a few things.  Mostly I’ve learned that we should put up more of our food when we harvest it so we can enjoy it all winter long.  But, before we can do that we have to plant something. 

It is still chilly most days, freezing on some nights.  We could get the radishes, carrots, and lettuce seeds in if we could find a moment when we’re free and the weather’s cooperating.  It will happen soon.  Also soon, the asparagus will start coming up.  That’s a sure sign of spring. 

So long Dark Days – Hello Sunshine!


What’s been put up?

October 31, 2009



My friend over at Fessenden Farmstead had a piece on preserving fruits and vegetables, which made me think I hadn’t talked about what has been put up at our house.  I’ve been derelict on that because I’m not the putter-upper – my husband is (and I am ever so grateful). 

I suppose that isn’t totally true (it’s true that I’m grateful, not true that I’m not a putter-upper).  I am the runner of the dehydrator – and in fact, I intend to dry parsley today.  I am also the freezer of fruit.  This year it was only blackberries (wild) – it is also often peaches, but apparently peaches are biannual and this is their off year I guess (plus a frost came and killed the blossoms last spring… that couldn’t have helped). 

Peaches look fine frozen, but as soon as they thaw they start turning brown.  Last year I “solved” that problem with camouflage – I froze spiced peaches – the spices (heavy on the cinnamon – but I can’t remember what else) already colored the peaches brown so the discoloration wasn’t as off-putting this year when I used them (great in my oatmeal).  Next year I’m also intending to freeze in single serving sizes.  That should do the trick.

Berries are easy – wash, dry, freeze on a cookie sheet, dump in a container or bag.

I dry tomatoes – and have been enjoying them in many things already.  Salads and sautéed with onion and polenta being my two favorites.

My husband is the tomato freezer.  We stopped canning and went to freezing, primarily because I didn’t like the lemony taste of the tomatoes when they were canned.  I’m sure we could have adjusted his approach, but freezing is so darn easy (we won’t discuss the power usage of the freezer – although a full freezer is more efficient than a 1/2 empty one – and the tomatoes really help keep ours full).

My husband pickles also – and they are soo good.  Pickled green beans are to die for!  And pickled asparagus, and pickled banana peppers – – and pickled cucumbers too.  He most recently made green tomato relish – I haven’t had a chance to dip into that yet.  I made green tomato relish once in my single years – and my face got blotchy and puffy – the doctor said it was probably the steam off the green tomatoes causing an allergic reaction.  I now avoid the kitchen on green tomato cooking day.

So the pantry is well stocked with the fruits (and veggies) of the garden.  All set for the Dark Days Challenge.  That’s the once a week meal made of SOLE food – sustainable, organic, local, and ethical. For more information you can click the badge in the side bar.  Sign up too!


Not NO Impact – But REDUCED Impact

October 22, 2009

[I created a blog post on the No Impact Experiment social network today.  I have reposted it here:]

I have not been a model "no impact" person this week.  I had a sick child for the first 1/2 of the week and now she has given me her cold.  A virus can sap your will to have a life let alone your will to consciously change your life.  But still, I’ve made an effort. 

My trash creation is still low and I feel guilty about every piece I create.  However, I’ve noticed that one of my reactions to the admonition to reduce trash creation is to avoid throwing things away at all, including things that should be tossed.  So there are items laying around that I would otherwise toss but I’m waiting for the week to be over – I don’t think that’s the point – but it’s keeping my personal trash bag emptier.

Transportation Day was a loss.  I don’t have any real options that I can make on a permanent basis.  Maybe I’m just not looking hard enough.  When gas goes up to $5 a gallon I bet I’ll be trying.

Food Day.  My husband was out for the evening – and he’s usually the family chef.  So dinner was Market Day breadsticks and salad.  The good thing was the salad was fresh greens from a local hydroponic farm – so that gives me a point or two.

Today was energy day.  I was conscientious about turning out lights at work, I made sure that the power cord for my laptop, which is always plugged into an extension cord at home, was turned off while I was at work (I have a funky little switch where the cords connect – I got it years ago at a Big Lots and have never seen them again).  And we had dinner by candlelight.  There were more things I could have done though.  I could have been even more conscientious about classroom lights – I think I left some on after my 12:00 class.  And I could have been more thorough about plugged in appliances around the house.  We have many things plugged into power strips, but we aren’t always good about turning off the power strip.  On the other hand, the house temperature is set at 64 while people are home and at 58 during the day and night. 

Tomorrow is water conservation day.  It’s pouring outside.  It’s hard to worry about too little water when I’m wondering if the basement is wet.  Still, we’re pretty water conservative.  None of us run water while brushing out teeth.  I only heat the amount of water I need in the teapot, not a whole pot full.  We run full loads of wash and full loads in the dishwasher.  We have a rain barrel – which is full to the brim and we don’t have much to do with the water actually since we don’t water plants (and the garden is done for the season anyway).  I rather hate just emptying it onto the ground, but I’ll need to before it freezes. 

The next day is giving back day.  Hmmm, that will take some thought.  I’m rather overextended in the volunteer area as it is – – it may be a check writing day.

What I’m really looking forward to is my Eco-Sabbath – my time of minimal resource usage – my time to sit, preferably outdoors, and read a book. 

So, the short story is I’m putting some effort into this and it is paying off in small ways.  Certainly I am not as obsessed with the topic as some or as lackadaisical about it as others (hey I’m registered and blogging about it); I think I’m at the appropriate medium involvement that I can afford right now.  Conservation of mental and emotional resources is important too you know.


Busy as a bee

September 29, 2009

I have been crazy busy – as last weekend approached my husband and I realized we really needed a 5 day weekend – one for the cross-country meet and garage-cleaning we had planned for Saturday, one for the Art’s Fair on Sunday, one to clean the house and do laundry, one for catching up on work such as grading and preparing classes, and one just to vegetate.  Unfortunately, we only had the two days.

All in all in was a fine weekend though. Friday was the high school carnival.  It is their big fundraiser for the year and involves games for the young kids, various foods in the cafeteria served at food booths built by each high school class, a Chinese auction (you put tickets in the cans of items you want and the drawn ticket wins the item) and a live auction followed by lip sync skits by each class.  I tried to win a print done by a good friend that included my father’s handwriting – but someone else (a very good person herself) won it.  I’m told I’ll be getting a copy as an early Christmas/Birthday present anyway – – yeah!

This year’s theme for carnival was Delavan CSI – What was Carnival like from the 50’s – 80’s.  Each class had a decade.  I was asked to be a lip sync judge.  They like to have a school board member, but it has to be someone without a high school student – this was my last chance for the next 8 years.  It was fun, and the seniors won – all told though I think the skits had a record number of young men dressed in drag.

On Saturday my son ran well at his race as did much of the team and my husband and I did get the garage back into shape.  Everything had been pulled away from the walls back in May when it was rehabbed and had never been fully put back together.  We needed to get it in shape so we can put the cars in when the frost hits – which really could be any time now.

On Sunday my husband and I got to go to an Art Fair – alone!  The kids didn’t want to come and they are old enough and responsible enough to stay home alone.  It was wonderful.  We spent too much money, but we got some Christmas presents for each other and family (and for at least one item we don’t even know who will get it).  We bought some art for the house. DSCF7136 Here’s one by Lou Zale.   We have  3 more of his pieces from previous years – photographs (film, not digital and not altered) with an often whimsical quality.

We also bought a glass globe for the garden and some blown glass drinking glasses for very special occasions.  For ourselves we bought pewter wine goblets – light and pretty and just waiting for a chardonnay or maybe a merlot – actually, I don’t think they are picky and any wine will taste especially yummy served in these.


Yesterday was full from dawn until late.  I got to work to find a message from the elementary school; my daughter was ill.  A consultation with my husband and we decided he was in a better position to cancel his classes than I was.  So I was able to put in a full day of work.  Then I went to a friends to see her house rehab, but more importantly the babies (the recipients of the baby blankets), but more importantly than that, to take the mom out to dinner – her fourth outing sans babies in 8 weeks.

But I wasn’t done yet.  Then it was get home, kiss everyone hello and goodbye and head to a school board meeting.  It was a very long meeting.  Not at all tedious though – we had a number of important issues to hear about and deal with, so it did not feel like a waste of my time in the least, but I’m just not used to getting home at 11:00 at night.

Up this morning at 6 a.m. and off to work by 7.  My husband dropped my daughter at my office at 8:30 (she was still feeling a bit low).  I had class until 10:30 then we came home.  Frankly, I needed the break.

I was able to get some work done, and I had a chance to say hello to the bees. No honey to harvest, but the bees seem to be doing fine, as far as I can tell.  Here’s a frame of comb they made: a frame of their own design

And here’s my helper today:

beehive portrait cropped 

Speaking of honey, last week I helped my friend Bill harvest some honey.  He borrowed a hand cranked extractor (it spins the frames and the honey is pulled from the cells by centrifugal force) and I had a 5 gallon honey bucket with a filter.  It took us about 2 hours [used to say 6 – – it only took 2 hours] to extract about 6 frames of honey and bottled about 1.5 gallons.  I left with a 2 pint jar for my efforts.  Next year I hope to be able to harvest my own.

Oh, and the garden.  Our latest crop has been the sweet DSCF7137potatoes.  We grilled some with white potatoes and carrots the other day.  Good eatin’.  We still have carrots in the ground but are short on storage space.  I prefer to store them in the fridge – we haven’t had luck keeping them in the basement.  We have juiced some, and that is tasty.  Perhaps I’ll grate some for carrot cake this weekend.

Still to come are sunchokes (Jerusalem artichokes) and pears.  The pears seem to be ready to come in – they won’t ripen until they are off the tree.  Someone was out there recently knocking them down – a raccoon perhaps.  Still, there are enough to share.  The sunchoke crop doesn’t seem as large as past years, but I think it will suffice.

All said and done, how green has my life been of late?  The commute to work is never very green except that I drive a Ford Focus and get about 29 mpg – even with 194,000 miles.  I did break down and turn on the heat in the house this afternoon since my daughter was sick and it was 60 degrees inside and only 59 out.  It took the chill off, but now the heat is off again for as long as we can stand it.  We’re eating from the garden quite a bit, supporting the local grocery store too, so that’s good, green, and socially appropriate.  But, we’re driving to cross-country meets all over the tri-county area – all the driving is probably our worst offense.

We can’t do it all, but we do what we can.