Category Archives: Weather

Ready or Not…

While the calendar says winter is still nearly three weeks away, some reports say that winter may not wait that long to rear it’s ugly head.  http://www.climatedepot.com/2016/11/30/climatologist-dr-roger-pielke-sr-i-cannot-recall-last-time-i-have-seen-such-a-cold-anomaly-forecast-across-almost-entire-usa/

Whether you dread the cold, snowy weather that winter brings, or say “bring it on” and are ready to play in the snow; whether you are ready or not here it comes. I personally prefer to be ready.

One of our greatest threats during the winter is a power outage. There is much information out there about how to be ready to survive a power outage and if you are not sure that you are ready for such an event you might want to check out these websites.   http://www.theorganicprepper.ca/getting-started-prepping-for-a-two-week-power-outage-06292013-09282014

http://www.backdoorsurvival.com/prepping-for-an-unexpected-power-outage/

I’d like to offer just one suggestion that might make your life during a power outage easier and safer. Have flashlights ready. When I say flashlight, if you think “I have a flashlight – somewhere,” if you have to search for a flashlight when you need it, if you don’t know immediately where to reach for one, or if there is not one within about 5-10 steps from where you are at any given time, then you do not have your flashlight(s) ready.

Lets face it, during the winter the hours of darkness are greater than the hours of daylight, so chances are greater that the power will go out when it is already dark. When you are left in the dark a flashlight is your first line of defense. With flashlight in hand you can then go on to activate your other systems for providing light like lighting candles or oil lamps, or starting a generator .

My advice is to have at least one flashlight in every room. Place flashlights where you spend a lot of time and can naturally reach for them. In our case flashlights are located on a shelf near the main entrance of our home, on my bedside table, in the living room on the entertainment center and one in the drawer of the table between our recliners, and on the kitchen counter. I also carry a small flashlight in my purse and my husband wears one attached to his belt. When the kids were at home I gave them each a flashlight for their bedroom. They were told to put it somewhere in their room where they would automatically know where to reach for it if the power went out. It was to be kept in that spot and if they used it for something it needed to be returned to that spot. They knew the importance of having the flashlight at the ready.

With 100’s or perhaps thousands of types of flashlights on the market you may ask “what is the best flashlight?” If you want good quality, long lasting, bright light, or other such features I suggest you do some research and read some customer reviews. My answer, in this case, is simple, “one that works”. I do suggest that you check your flashlights periodically to make sure that they work, and while having extra batteries on hand is important, having another (working) flashlight near by is just as important. Another thing is to make sure that you know how to use the flashlight. This might sound silly but I have discovered over the past few years that not all flashlights can be turned on and off with a simple slide or click of the button. Figuring out how or where to twist a flashlight to get it to turn on can be tricky. I have actually taken battery covers and light covers off while twisting a flashlight trying to turn it on. So do become familiar with how to use the flashlight before you really need to use it.

Speaking from a previous experience I have one final thought on what type of flashlight(s) to have. It was an evening several years ago when my daughter and I were home and the power went out. We each grabbed flashlights near by and met in the kitchen. I then lit an oil lamp and got a fire going in the fire place. The next thing on my list was to bring in more firewood. I knew that carrying a flashlight and a bin  full of firewood was not going to work. I was thankful that I had a headlamp flashlight. I used it to light my path while having my hands free to carry firewood. I realize I  could have had my daughter hold a light for me that time, but if I had been home alone that would not have been the case. I don’t use my headlamp very often, but I do consider it a wise investment and I keep it ready for when I need it.

While you may find my advice extreme or think it is totally unnecessary to have that many flashlights sitting around, it is too late to change your mind when you are tripping over the cat, walking into furniture, or falling down the stairs while trying to find your flashlight in the dark.

Whatever this upcoming season brings your way, I do hope you are ready.

 

Spring 2016

I do love spring in Michigan. I’m not really sure that I’d call it my favorite season. In fact I am happy to live in a place where we can enjoy the unique qualities of each season, seeing the earth come alive in the spring, then the summer heat and growing season, followed by the crispness of fall and the glorious colors when the leaves change, and while I’m not a huge fan of cold weather I do enjoy a fire in the fireplace and snow in the winter.

To me spring seems to be a magical time. As we walk our farm I am fascinated by seeing the life emerge from below the ground. I observe the daily changes in the vegetation as the trees get their buds then the  buds turn to leaves and blossoms. I enjoy walking in the wild areas of the farm and trying to identify the various plants, as much as I love seeing our first asparagus shoots appear, the blueberries blossoming, or picking a piece of green garlic and chewing on it.

I have to say that I am truly thankful for my husband who also has a great appreciation for nature. We shared the excitement of watching the daffodils flower, we were delighted to see the bees foraging on the dandelions, and we marveled this year as our forsythia’s, that were just small twigs 4 years ago when we planted them, have brightened the back of the pond with their beautiful yellow blossoms. Yellow is the color of early spring on our farm. A very appropriate color in deed. Yellow is a happy color. It makes me smile.

My husband doesn’t think it’s corny when I give him daily reports about what is blossoming. He indulges my crazy ideas, and he will help preserve the natural beauty of our farm by doing things like moving wild rose plants before we disturb the ground in which they reside.

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These rocks have become my rose garden. Four wild roses have been relocated here. They are all doing well.

He has also designated an area where we can transplant Mullein this year. We have discovered mullein coming up in several areas where we will be mowing, and rather than kill these valuable plants we have decided to give them their own spot. Mullein is a medicinal plant which I will use for teas, infused oils and tinctures. This website explains it’s uses http://www.herbcraft.org/mullein.html

We also enjoy bringing new life to our farm. So far this year we have planted 4 basswood trees, 3 willow trees, 25 new asparagus crowns which are sending up small shoots, a row of potatoes which are beginning to grow, a small row of sugar peas, and two rows of cabbage.

We also planted my Mother’s Day gifts from Tina and her husband Ken. Tina knows of my love for growing things so she called me a couple weeks ago and said rather than her just picking out something, she thought it was a good idea to ask what I wanted.  Upon going to the website of the nursery she shops at I discovered that they had the one plant that I thought would be hard to find. Solomon’s Seal.

Solomon’s Seal grows in wooded or shady areas, and although we have some wooded areas where Solomon’s Seal might grow wild I had never noticed it growing on our farm. It is another plant that has desirable medicinal properties, and even though I will not harvest it this year I intend to use it for teas, infused oils and tinctures in the future. You can check out this website to learn more http://www.herbcraft.org/solseal.html I also planted the three Thyme plants, that Tina and Ken brought me, in the prayer garden.

The new life of Spring is not limited to plants. We had the first hatching of tadpoles in the pond this week. I believe these are baby toads since we have seen many toads in the pond lately. Toads are beneficial for the farm as they live on the land and eat insects, grubs and slugs that that might cause problems in the gardens.

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Another part of spring in Michigan that we enjoy is seeing the birds return to the area. Seeing the first Robin and Red Winged Black Bird are sings that Spring is here. We have fun watching the Killdeer protect their nest by doing the broken wing act to make the dogs chase them in the opposite direction. We also try to identify birds we are not familiar with.

This year we have two birds that have become rather annoying. One is a duck who is visiting our pond regularly. Since we use our pond for swimming and fishing as well as irrigation we really don’t want ducks in the pond. There are many other ponds in our area that go unused where this duck could stay and no one would care. Even though we tell Trooper and Scout to chase it away whenever we see him, he just keeps coming back. The second is a robin who likes to sit in the maple tree outside our bedroom window and sing. There is no nest being built there, and there are plenty of other trees in the area, but this robin insists on sitting in this particular tree, every morning in fact. It starts singing before the sun comes up – sometimes as early as 3:30 a.m. While we are usually up around the time the sun comes up, and it may be true that the early bird catches the worm, we find this birds wake up calls to be a little too extreme. I do suppose this is one well-fed robin.

 

 

Spearmint Soap, Moving Day and Maple Syrup

Spearmint Soap

I’m still excited about my spearmint soap, but after taking it out of the molds I realized that maybe I should have done a little research before making this recipe. I’m beginning to think that my middle name should have been “Experiment”, because I seem to do a lot of that.  Although the soap is not fatally flawed, and only the appearance of the soap will suffer, I did make one mistake that can and will be corrected in future batches.

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Spearmint Soap

This picture shows some brown spots that developed on the soap. While I was certain the spots were caused by the spearmint, I was a bit perplexed about why the brown spots only occurred in some areas and why some of the spearmint retained its green color. I decided to do a google search to find out what others have experienced when adding spearmint to handcrafted soap. The first site I found, described this effect as bleeding. I found out that bleeding is when the color from an embedded object leaches of into the surrounding area. I found out that many herbs can have this effect, and to varying degrees, but spearmint is one of the worst.

The next website that I came across actually told me how to prevent this from happening. It said that the cause is the actual color coming out of the leaves when it is submerged in the wetness of the soap, and if you make a tea with the herbs first, the color will leach out into the water (tea). Then the leaves can be added to the soap. That answered my question. When I made my soap I added the spearmint leaves that I had used to make the tea with, but since I wasn’t sure I had enough, I decided to add some dry leaves as well. I have concluded that the dry leaves that I added are the ones that bled into the soap, while the leaves from the tea remained green. Since this is simply an aesthetic problem, Dom and I are looking forward to using these bars of soap.

The good news is I can detect a slight minty smell to this soap.

Moving Day

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2 Weeks Old

The chicks seemed to be getting quite curious about the world outside of their brooder. Every time we would walk up to the brooder they would crane their necks looking  up at us. Since the weather has warmed significantly for the near term forecast, we decided Tuesday was moving day.

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My husband brought the hutch out of the back shed and assembled it while I was busy in the kitchen. “Movin’ On Up” the theme song from the Jefferson’s kept running through my head. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FHDwRECFL8M I would change the words to “Movin’ on out, to the deck” but the tune repeated itself over and over in my mind. I probably could have stopped this by turning on the radio, but it was a nice day, I was in a good mood, and it really wasn’t bothering me, in fact I thought it was kind of funny. It turned really funny when I was helping my husband carry the brooder out the deck, and he started singing “Movin’ on up…” Like minds.

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The heat lamp was moved into their new home. As were their food and water dishes.

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They seemed very curious about everything, but settled in nicely.

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Their play house was also moved with them.

My camera battery died before I got to take a picture of the roost my husband installed for them.  (Roosters aren’t the only ones who like to roost) I also did not get a picture of the canvass that drapes the hutch to protect them from the elements. It is just a large piece of canvass that we lay over the top of the hutch, it drapes down the sides and front. When the chicks need the warmth we wrap the hutch with the canvass just like wrapping a Christmas present, and we secure the canvass with clips.

The “Babies” seem very content in their new (but temporary) home, Scout can now see them at eye level, and don’t be surprised if, on the evenings when the weather is nice, I tell you that we sat on the deck and watched “Chicken TV”.

Maple Syrup

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Sunday and Monday were our last day for collecting sap. Since the sap was still running clear we may have pulled the spiles a little early, it may have been only a few hours or maybe a few days prior to the time the sap would become cloudy. The nighttime temperatures will not be below freezing at least for the next week and the buds on the Silver Maple trees are getting ready to pop open.

Our big consideration was the extreme amounts of time and energy that were needed to turn the sap into syrup, and decided that we had done enough. Since February 20th, when we first tapped the trees, until now, my husband spent 5 full days (9-12 hours each) out at the farm cooking sap, getting the fire going then continually adding wood to the fire to keep the sap boiling, stirring and watching the steam roll off, as the water boiled out, then adding more sap to the pot. At the end of the day he would bring the sap home and we would spend another 1 1/2 to 2 hours cooking the sap into syrup.

I don’t have exact numbers on our total yield for the season. My best guess is between 5 and 6 quarts of syrup.

My husband and I agree that it was a great experience and having homemade, self-harvested maple syrup is greatly rewarding. Some of our thoughts about this experience are that it was not a steady year for maple syrup, in our area, since the extreme weather changes over the  last couple of weeks prompted the sap to stop and start flowing several times. We found out that our Silver Maple trees at the farm had greater sap flow than the Sugar Maples that we tapped. In fact, last week when the silver maples were flowing well and the sugar maples were not flowing, my husband moved all of the taps to the Silver Maples. We found out that The Silver Maples make a wonderful syrup. We observed that the color of the syrup seemed to get lighter over the course of the season, with our first batch being the darkest and each batch slightly lighter in color. Thankfully it is a short season for making maple syrup and not a year round job.

A Bonus Picture

 

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This squirrel enjoyed the day in the tree. Apparently too nervous about our (and the boys) presence to venture down.

 

Life Is Happening Faster Than I Can Write

I don’t know about other writers but it takes me a while, anywhere from couple hours to a couple days, to write a blog post. I’ll write some, then go back and read and edit and stop to do other things or just collect my thoughts, then I’ll write some more and reread and edit and you get the picture. It seems to happen quite often that I’ll be working on one post when something else comes up, and I decide to write about that instead. At this point I have no fewer then a dozen drafts saved, potential posts that are started but just haven’t got completed and published yet. I suspect that some will get finished in the future, some may be deleted, and some of the thoughts may be incorporated in other post.

With several things on my mind this morning, I just realized that life is happening faster than I can write. (This is probably why I’ve never been able to keep a journal for very long.) Todays post we be about various things.

In Like A Lion

It’s hard to believe that today is March 1st already. See what I mean about life happening fast. Today is actually March 2nd. Still hard to believe. Whichever day it is, March did arrive and in our area it came in like a lion. I wouldn’t describe it as a raging or even roaring lion but the lion was not sleeping last night either, it was perhaps was just resting or playfully romping. We got a decent amount of snow, but as seems to be the case lately, not as much as the weather forecasters predicted. Probably the most accurate weather forecast that I heard yesterday was given by the radio DJ that said “were gonna get a lot of snow”. Since it was snowing pretty hard at that time it was a safe bet that he was right. Looking at flat surfaces outside it looks like we got about four inches, but since it was a light fluffy snow and the wind was blowing, some areas on the ground may have eight inches while others only have a couple. The “lion” may have caused adverse travel conditions, and shut down schools and senior centers, but I am not aware of any power outages or actual storm damage in our area. The “lion” did give us the opportunity to play in the snow a little today. 🙂 My big hope now is that when “March goes out like a lamb” it is not an unruly lamb.

Maple Syrup Update

One thing I didn’t realize about sap flow, and I don’t know how typical this is, was how it will stop and start again. Since the temperatures have been so unstable we have had the sap flow for a day or two, then stop for several days, then flow for a day or two, then stop again. We had a whole week between the first sap boiling and the next time we had sap to boil, but this past Sunday, with temperatures topping out near 60 degrees, was a great day to be at the farm boiling sap. While my husband was there all day, I joined him there for a few hours and took some pictures of the process that I did not get during the last syrup making.

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Cooking Sap At The Farm
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Cooking Sap

You can see in the above pictures that the sap has boiled down some.

The next series of pictures shows how the sap will foam up and boil over if the fire underneath is extremely hot.

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Stirring the pot and reducing the flame brought it back down.

The next picture shows that were getting close to the point where we will finish it off on the stove in the house. It has cooked way down and is turning brown. It also tastes sweet.

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Cooking Sap

When we brought the sap home the first step was to filter it. To do this we used a jelly bag set inside a flour sifter. It may not be a professional method, but it works. We did set the filter up on two small glasses to give the sap room to drain into the pan.

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Filtering Sap

We then followed the same process that we did previously, boiling the sap until it became thick and reached 219 degrees Fahrenheit on the thermometer. Instead of bottling it immediately like we did last time. We let the temperature drop to 200 degrees and filtered it again.

Last time we did not filter it after boiling, and we ended up with sand in the bottom of the jar. I did a little research and found out that the sand is formed during the boiling process, so in order to have clear syrup it must be filtered after the boiling is complete. This time we do not have any sand in it.

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Maple Syrup

My husband estimated cooking about 50 quarts of sap and our yield turned out to be these (10) 4 ounce jars of syrup, equal to 1 and 1/4 quarts, so our ratio of sap to syrup was 40:1. And the flavor is oh so good!

Sharing The Kitchen

With Sunday being such a nice day the sap continue to flow and my husband spent yesterday, again, cooking sap at the farm, while I spent the day at home peeling garlic to dehydrate. Once I got the approximately 3 lbs. of garlic peeled. I realized that Dom would be bringing syrup home to cook this evening. Knowing that once I put the garlic in the dehydrator the smell of garlic would permeate the house, I decided that I would wait. I don’t know if it would happen, but I didn’t want the syrup to pick up the smell and perhaps the flavor of garlic. Garlic flavored syrup just does not sound appetizing. I put the peeled garlic in a zip lock bag freezer bag and put it in the fridge for the night.

We cooked up some of the sap last night and the rest will remain in cold storage until we are ready to cook it. Today the garlic is in the dehydrator. It should be finished by tomorrow morning.

Chick Update

The chicks are doing well.

Getting their pin feathers.

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Enjoying their playhouse.

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And making new friends.

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Others Enjoyed Sunday’s Weather As Well

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The bees were out on Sunday.

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The Chickens enjoyed the weather as well.

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I don’t know if the pond ever completely froze over this year.

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Widely because the windmill has done it’s job.

You can’t tell from this picture but the windmill was spinning.

That’s All Folks

At least that’s enough for today. Until Next Time 🙂

 

From Bare Feet To Snow Boots

As farmers, the weather effects pretty much everything we do, it is simply beyond our control, so we try to embrace it. We plan most of our activities, (garden work, bee hive checks, chicken coop cleaning, pond work, fence building, and the list goes on) around the weather forecast. Our indoor activities are also planned around the weather. House cleaning, or soap making, for example, might be done in the early hours, while it is still chilly outside, baking is rarely done is the summer, so as not to heat the house anymore than it already is, and shopping is probably going to be done on a day that is rainy or when the ground is still muddy from a previous rain.

It was less than three weeks ago that I posted about being bare foot on the beach because we were having record high temperatures, now with Saturday’s substantial snow fall we engaged in  a different form of recreation. One that has been absent from both of our lives for decades.

First snowfall of 2015.
First snowfall of 2015.
First snowfall of 2015
First snowfall of 2015

For many years my husband has wanted to buy a snowmobile, it just hasn’t seemed like a practical purchase. Until we purchased the farm in 2011 we had no place of our own to ride a snowmobile, and since then we have had other priorities. In early September, however, on a trip into town, he noticed this snowmobile for sale. When we stopped to look at it, I could tell it was exactly what he wanted. Even though I know little about snowmobiles, and other motorized equipment, I thought it was in good condition for being nearly 40 years old. It started right up and the engine sounded good to me. He, knowing more than me, agreed. It seemed much more practical now to use a snowmobile to make paths into the field, especially now that we have bee hives out there, and we might need to move the snow away from them. If the snow were to get deep enough that our vehicles couldn’t make it through the snowmobile would be a real blessing. The price was right. So I told him “Merry Christmas” and we bought it.

Since then my husband has be anxiously awaiting our first snow fall, and when the forecast came, several days in advance, he began making sure all systems were go.  Friday afternoon as the forecasters became more certain that we were going to get at least some measurable snow he began asking, like a little kid waiting for Santa, “is it snowing yet? is it snowing yet?” I told him he reminded me of Linus waiting for the great pumpkin. He threatened to take a thermos of coffee out to the field to wait for the “great snowflake(s)”. I thought that was fine for him, but I’m not Sally, and I would wait patiently (and sleep in my warm bed) until there was actually enough snow to play in.

By about 2:00 p.m. on Saturday there was about three inches of snow on the ground so we decided to ride. We took turns riding the machine around the field and through some of the paths on the farm, and while I don’t show my excitement like he does, I do enjoy riding. The snow continued through most of Saturday so by Sunday morning we had a whole fresh layer of snow to play in, and we did.

Sunday was truly a beautiful day to be outside. It was warm enough to be comfortable with just our standard winter garb, and I enjoyed  just being in the sunshine, and looking at the beauty of the sun making the snow and ice glisten as it hung on the trees and plants, as much as I enjoyed doing circles around the field and making paths in the snow on our new toy.

First snow 2015 November 23
First snow 2015 November 23
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November 23, 2015

The beach, where I was bare foot just a few weeks ago, is now missing.

First snow 2015, November 23
First snow 2015, November 23

Scout and Trooper enjoyed being outside with us too.

 

Scout and Trooper playing in the snow
Scout and Trooper playing in the snow
Trooper
Trooper

This is how God decorates a Christmas Tree.

This is how God decorates a Christmas Tree
November 23,2015

Since the temperatures are forecast to be back in the 50’s by the end of this week, the beautiful snow will morph into a muddy mess, and the snowmobile will be stowed until we can use it again, I am grateful that we took this time out to have some fun.