Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Ecology of the Farm

We are always fascinated by the new things that pop up around us.  Whether it is plants, insects or animals, we love to see what natives decide to call the farm home each season.  This year we have seen an inordinate number of bee species, they must be the fittest as they survived our harsh winter and are flourishing.

This morning I saw what appeared to be a small ant hill emerge in the garden.  Then I saw a green head poking out of it, and sinking back in each time it saw me.  B thinking it was a worm and being forever inquisitive decided to knock the hill down and see it closer up.  When that did not work, he took a small shovel to dig a little deeper finding these Metallic Green Bees.

After a little research we found out that they live in smallish colonies and are amazing pollinators in the garden.  Since they have very short tongues, they focus on plants that have clusters of flowers with an open architecture.  That must be why they decided to set up shop here.  This year we are experimenting with several new types of beans.  Though our green beans and broad beans are not flowering yet, a few others are. The above photo is of our row of chickpeas.  This ferny plant is gorgeous and we have just spotted our first little pod forming!

Keeping in line with the clusters of flowers that the Metallic Green Bees prefer, our first go at fava beans is treating us to an amazing square stemmed plant.

Of course the sugar snap peas are another grouping of flowers that are popular right now.  We always do our best to live along side the ecology on the farm.  These little green bees are not aggressive and we do not see any reason to rid ourselves of an important pollinator.  However, all bets are off if any of those nasty ground wasps re-appear this summer!

By the way!  We have named the farm and started its own facebook page.  Please 'like' Aisling SmallHolding-ASH   It is a place where we are sharing farm happenings.  Whether you live near or far, we hope it becomes a collective of ideas.  A place where you can share your recipes or creations from your own gardens or with the locally grown produce that you pick up.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Lavender Cashew Brittle

This morning we did our first harvest of lavender, and let me tell you we did not even make a dent in what is beginning to bloom.  I have been researching new ways to use lavender and am excited to start experimenting.  I prepared the typical bundles for drying, but this time instead of hiding them in the basement, I have hung them in our dark hall closet with all of our coats.  I figured that we might as well enjoy it as it dries out.

To find some inspiration, I have been sifting through recipes that utilize lavender.  Then some perfect timing.  As I paged through my new Martha Stewart magazine, there was a piece on a lavender farmer.  One of the photos was of lavender brittle, but there was no recipe.  So I started to search for one.  It was hard to find a specific one, only hints at adding herbs to your favorite brittle recipe. At a recent meeting I had a wonderful cashew brittle and got the recipe, so I decided to try it while adding a good amount of fresh flowers.

It turned out beautifully and may make an appearance in one of our farm bags soon!  Without further ado...

Lavender Cashew Brittle

1 C butter
1 C sugar
1 C corn syrup
1 C salted Cashews
2 tsp. lavender flowers, minced

Bring butter, sugar and corn syrup to a boil and maintain boil while stirring until it reaches 295 degrees (hard crack).  Skip the morning work out the day you make brittle, your arms will be moving constantly for quite a while here!  Then remove from heat, stir in cashews and lavender and quickly transfer to a parchment lined cookie sheet (I use a jelly pan, because I like that little lip all of the way around).  You have to work VERY quickly here to get it to spread out.  It begins to set the moment it hits the cookie sheet!  Mine was completely cool within 15 minutes and I broke it into pieces.  

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Solstice Weekend

This last weekend was full of busy celebration.  The weather here has been un-summerlike for late June; fairly cool, rain almost daily, and lots of fog.  Despite this, every moment this weekend that truly mattered was enveloped in a ray of sunshine to remind us that it is really summer.  On the solstice we dodged rain drops all day.  When it came time for our Solstice Celebration at the Eco-Justice Center, the sun came through just in time for a spectacular sunset on the longest day.  Perfect to enjoy the Native American drumming and stories around the medicine wheel.
Sunday a high school classmate of B's arrived for a short visit (thank you facebook for rekindling old friendships).  He and his wife rode all the way here from Tulsa on their motorcycle and headed out this morning toward the U.P.  We welcomed them in true farm style with a garden supper complete with a large beer tasting and a welcoming party of Wisconsin friends to celebrate.

The adults enjoyed the garden, while the kids picnicked on the grass and played the evening away.

Yesterday after work and running to appointments and 4h activities we enjoyed another lovely garden dinner with our friends and off they went this what else, more fog.  Great to finally meet you Tim & Jeanice, until next time!  I'd say quite the perfect weekend to celebrate midsummer.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

#tbt Player

#tbt circa 2009  Fitting as we had signing day today for his fourth year in club ball to look at his 2nd year playing as a six year old.  Future FIFA player?  I don't know, but in his graduation book he wrote about where he would be in 15 years....

"In 15 years I will hopefully be a soccer player.  I don't care if it's minor or major league or if I'm just a coach, I just want to be playing soccer.  I will probably have a good degree from college.  I hope I will be somewhere close to my family and friends.  If I can't get drafted into a team, I want to be a farmer like my parents."

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Hints of What's to Come

This week in the garden we completed another group of succession planting, finished tomato trellis' and continued to work on the irrigation system.  The cucumbers, squash and beans have all emerged and the germination rates were fantastic!  We have adjusted the area of our ever growing flock and after the hint of a predators interest, electrified the fence to keep the birds safe.  This weekend will be peppered with soccer and generalized farm tasks; weeding, mulching, irrigation, another batch of planting, mowing, and maybe transplanting our grafted trees.   All four of the hives have been humming along, and we are watching a giant queen cell eagerly in our Perone hive.  We are hopeful based on its current growth rate, the garden will yield it's first taste of the farm bags to come within the next week or so!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

#tbt Best Buds

#tbt  Circa September 2004 & July 2008.  These two have been buds since Mia was 2 and Sidney 6 months old.  Yesterday Mia graduated from eighth grade, and next year the girls will roam the halls of the same school once again.  It's amazing to watch them mature into confident young ladies.  Congrats Miss Mia!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Politics of Bees

We are learning to become less distressed when one of our hives swarms.  We have had two swarms in the last week, one from each hive, and B has caught both and set up new colonies.  Sunday as we were grafting trees, I looked over at the garden and said "Oh no honey, there's a swarm!"  It looked like a tornado of bees.  They were all flying in crazy eight fashion and if you can see the small dark ball in the left side of the photo above, they were all catching the scent of and making their way to the queen that they chose to stay with.

You see, swarms are rarely total and many times as a result of there being a strong competing queen that has hatched.  The hive simply does not have the ability to handle these two strong women, so one vacates, and a portion of the population follows.  Just a little hive politics.

This was our giant Perone colony, and we know there to have been at least one large queen cell in is still intact by the way, so there may be another swarm in the near future.  We were lucky this time, because the branch was not as high up as the previous swarm and she chose a rather flimsy one that B could cut easily, and place directly into a retrofitted bankers box.

As when leaving the hive, where the queen goes, the others follow and they all ended up nicely in the box within about half an hour.

Ironically, B had just installed two bate hives up in trees in our yard to either catch our own swarms or others looking for a home.  This group had not gotten so far as a permanent residence though and we used our last hive boxes to give them new digs.

We have set up housing for our most recent two hives on a different area of the property from the original two, and we hope this little colony takes on the attributes of the master across the yard and grows quickly.

So the positive way to look at your hives swarming, is that in many instances you have given home to robust colonies that are expanding in the ecosystem.  With both the importance of and danger to our honeybees, even if we do not catch a swarm, we have let something good off into our environment.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Trying to Revive the Orchard

I mentioned this past winter that on a very cold day, B went out and harvested samples (scions) from the few very old apple trees that remain in the orchard.  Our goal was to propagate it using some of the Gifford Family's original trees before they were gone, staying true to this homestead that we are caretakers of.

The spring was late, and we have been scrambling to keep up, so this weekend we made sure to set aside the time to graft the trees onto the rootstock that we acquired from a orchardist up in Northern Wisconsin.  

It is really an interesting process.  You cut both the root stock and the scion at an angle, and then cut a slice in each angled piece.  Once done you thread them together like a puzzle.  Then you take a band and tightly cover the splice, followed by some parafilm tape that you wrap over the band and all the way to the top of the new tree top.  Finally, B planted them in some peat moss in a bucket, to soon be transplanted into their own buckets and finally into the row that we prepared at the beginning of the spring.  Fingers crossed, a revived apple orchard to come!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

#tbt Cousins

#tbt  Cousins Circa 2007.  Seven years later, they will meet again this summer in Texas!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Irrigation Solution

What better time to talk about irrigation than on a rainy morning!  When you have a very large garden getting everything watered is always a challenge.  Some years we have enough rain to only need minimal supplement, other years we have had a drought status and it has been difficult to keep up with the water demands.  We rotate crops each year so a permanent system will not work.  We have tried it all.... from hand watering and drip lines, to an oscillating waterfall sprinkler.  Most of these cause the problem of watering both the beds and paths leading to a constant weeding challenge in the walks.  If I have to spend my time weeding, I certainly do not want to be having to do it on the paths!

Each year we pick one or two major improvements to the farm that are long term investments.  This year it was a watering system and we went with a drip tape format.   We have to run a hose from the house across the drive, but this pressure regulated drip system can be led to all of our beds and sans the initial line, which we will cover in straw, is completely out of the way.  We simply need to turn the valve on for whichever beds we want to water and it takes care of the rest.  The lines are easily movable, so putting them up for the season should not be too difficult, and then once the initial installation is done,  set up should take only a small amount of time in subsequent seasons.  Now that we have spent the time and money, we probably will not need to water at all this summer!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Fowl Everywhere

There is never a dull moment when it comes to raising fowl.  Right now we have them everywhere in various stages of development.  The one above looks a little bit like he is giving me what for, but I think it is just a little quack of thanks to have their new large fenced in meadow to play in.  As this is our first experience with ducks, it is a lot of fun to see how they differ from chickens.  I do not think that our new herding baby boy (who we pick up later this week), will have any problem learning.  These ducks are inseparable and always travel as a tight group.

Our adult girls are enjoying the moderate weather.  It is forever fascinating to see them interact with one another and with us.  They have such personalities and are wonderful egg producers for us.  We are adding five more Araucanas to the mix this season, they are in that awkward teenage faze right now and will join the rest of the ladies later this summer.

Speaking of the teenagers, they look terrible right now.  They are growing, but losing their down as their real feathers come in so look rather homely.  They were moved out into the upper level of the chicken tractor yesterday, the ducks are below.  They will remain inside for several days to adjust, then be introduced to their forage and play area.  We fenced off about a third of the orchard with special electric chicken fencing, which won't effect the chickens but should keep any predators out.  The ones that have colorful feathers developing are the Araucanas and will be our egg layers.  The black ones are Jersey Giants and are our first go at meat chickens.  These "teenagers" are a month old.

In the basement are our 27 chicks that are two weeks old.   See how fast they grow!?  They are in what we call their brood boxes and they have grown enough that I have just removed the heating lamp. They love to cheep and sleep.  They will begin playing with each other soon.  These will also be meat birds for us and we will move them out to the chicken tractor and forage yard in another 2-3 weeks.  These are also Jersey Giants with an equal number of Plymouth Barred Rock's.

We end where we began with the ducks.  As you can see they are in the bottom half of the chicken tractor and love their new swimming pool.  They are the same age as the chickens that we just moved outside.  As you can see they grow tremendously fast.  They are three times the size of the chickens and moved outside almost 2 weeks ago!  Ducks come in what is called a straight run, they are more difficult to sex as babies, so they may be a mix of boys and girls.  We got three varieties of ducks and we are hoping the the runner ducks, which we plan to keep, will be egg layers... well and maybe one Drake for breeding purposes.  An interesting fact we learned with the ducks...they cheep like the chicks, but higher pitched.  I never expected that...however their voices are just beginning to change and when they get really excited I can hear an occasional and true quack slip out.

Monday, June 2, 2014

First Canning of the Season

Many times as the summer progresses, Sunday's become our main day for canning.  Yesterday among all of the farm tasks that had to get done, especially those important things at the beginning stages of garden growth, we added our first canning of the season to the mix.  The question is always what to do with the rhubarb.  We have a couple of smaller plants and this mammoth one that is so good to us.  I love to make cakes and crumbles with it fresh, but I tend not to be in the mood for the flavor later on when I crave the stone fruits of summer or heavier winter confections.  Our favorite jellies are the red currents and berries, so I really do not use the rhubarb there.  Last year we pressure canned a lot of rhubarb, and it is still waiting to be used, so it will be added to our next batch of wine.

As I brain-stormed ways to utilize it I began looking for savory recipes.  When I came across the Rhubarb Chutney I began to see the perfect way to use it year round and store volumes of it.  Needless to say the savory spice with the tart rhubarb leads to a perfect chutney to serve as an accompaniment for chicken or pork, puree into a BBQ sauce, or simple pour over a block of soften cream cheese and serve with sesame crackers (must try that this week)!  I think that this recipe will be utilized at least once more this season, maybe twice.  I want to hold onto this tasty stuff for as long as I can this year!

Spicy Rhubarb Chutney
based on a recipe from Accidental locavore

4 lbs rhubarb, chopped 1/2" dice
3 C red onion, diced
8  cloves garlic, minced
5 Tbsp fresh ginger, minced
3 C golden raisins
3 C brown sugar
2 Tbsp kosher salt
2 tsp allspice
2 tsp coriander
4 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
2 C cider vinegar

Place all of the ingredients except the cider vinegar into a large stock pot, bring to a boil and simmer for 30 minutes or until onions and rhubarb very soft.  Add cider vinegar and cook for another 30 minutes until the chutney is very thick and will mound on a spoon.  Place into hot jars with 2 part lids and water bath 15 minutes for pints.  Yield 9 pints.


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