Category Archives: Weather

The Garlic Is Harvested

The garlic harvest is complete and our new barn is serving it’s purpose.

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This photo is the loft area full of Chesnok Red garlic. Each bundle has 25 garlic bulbs. The other two varieties are hanging in the downstairs area. The garlic will hang for about three weeks before we begin clipping and cleaning it to prepare it for market.

Having the barn proved to be such a blessing. We were able to pace ourselves with the harvest. My husband primarily did the digging. He would dig one or two rows a day and move it into the barn. I mostly did the bundling. He pounded the nails into the rafters and hung the garlic and I tied the garlic nooses. Just kidding they weren’t really a noose, but I pre-tied loops in each end of the strings and the string was wrapped around a bunch of garlic then one loop was pulled through the other loop and the string would tighten around the garlic. The loop on the long end was used to hang the garlic from the nail.

At times, especially in the extreme heat, the work was grueling, but the process went pretty smoothly. We make a good team. ūüôā

Besides harvesting all that garlic over the past two weeks we have spent time picking both blueberries and currants. Both have produced great crops this year. This has been our largest blueberry crop so far (we have picked over 3 US dry gallons) and I have put most of them in the freezer to be used throughout the year in pancakes and banana bread, but as a special treat I decided to make a blueberry pie.

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When I was making this pie I realized that this was the first time I have ever made a blueberry pie. I will confess that¬†I used a¬†premade, store bought, crust but the pie was delicious and it didn’t last long.

The other thing that we’ve spent a lot of time doing over the last two weeks is watering the gardens. Rain has been very scarce here this summer. The first three weeks of June were completely dry, then¬†on June 24/25 when the rains finally came. Over those two days we probably had three or more inches of rain. While it made up for some of the deficit, all that rain at one time damaged some of our plants, specifically cabbages. We then went into a hot dry spell and our next rain fall did not come until July 16. That day our rainfall was probably less than an inch. We had a little bit more today and the forecast¬†is¬†for more tomorrow. Feel free to say a prayer that the forecast is correct. We are.

 

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Since the garlic was harvested and there was rain in the forecast my husband spent the day yesterday preparing the garlic field for next years crop. The garlic field has been tilled and seeded with rye grass as a cover crop.

Even though the garlic harvest is done I don’t expect our pace to slow down as there are so many things that need to be done. If we do get a good rainfall we can the spend more time weeding (always easier after the rain). The grass needs to be cut and my husband will be checking the bees and hopefully harvesting honey soon. The list is way longer than that and probably longer than I realize, but I’m sure you will read about some of it as time goes on.

I also hope to get back to posting more often and some of the posts I have planned include a second post about things we are harvesting (if you missed the first one you can find it here), a post about honey, and as I mentioned in a previous post I will be sharing my thoughts about natural skin care.

Thanks for reading and until next time – Be Well.

 

Spring Happenings

The last weekend in May is known as the unofficial start of summer and the weather last weekend played right along. Temperatures were around 90 degrees Fahrenheit for several days. Time seems to being going so fast that I am wondering how I missed spring.

I went back and looked at some of my photos from the last few weeks for a reminder.

IMG_4094The fruit trees, including apple, pear, and tart cherry all blossomed and are now setting fruit. Berry bushes, including our blue berry, raspberry, currant and grapes are setting fruit as well.

IMG_4091The dandelions blossomed and my husband helped me pick a bunch for soap making before they went to seed. I have enough for two batches of sweet dandelion soap. Trooper didn’t help pick dandelions but he enjoyed being there.

Speaking of Sweet Dandelion soap, I had just made a batch in May when I received the Mother’s Day gift my girls bought for me. It is a soap stamp. So I began playing with it as this batch was curing.IMG_4128It will be tricky to figure out when the soap is the correct degree of hardness for the stamp to work just right and challenging learning to apply the right amount of pressure to the stamp so I don’t squish the soap. I thought about using some type of coloring to add contrast, but it has to be something natural since I do not use artificial coloring in my soap. In the above photo I used cinnamon in one and turmeric in the other. Learning to use this will be a lot of trial and error.

The dandelions have now gone to seed and last week when I was mowing the lawn I was getting bombarded with dandelion seeds. They were flying everywhere and they were stuck to my clothes and in my hair. I told my husband I wouldn’t be surprised if I end up with dandelions growing out of my ears. He thought they would probably grow from my belly button because “you know everyone has a little dirt in their belly button.” LOL!IMG_4106We have been hearing¬† pheasants a lot¬†on the farm and in the neighboring field and every now and the we get a glimpse of one. We are glad to see them as it had seemed that the pheasant population had all but disappeared over the last thirty or so years.

IMG_4102We have spotted many new nests around the farm this spring mostly they have been empty when we looked but one had robin eggs in it and I did spot this momma sitting on hers.

IMG_4127We also have a pair of ducks who have been frequenting the pond this spring. My husband and I agree that we will not be surprised if we find out that they have a nest in the woods next to the pond. I guess we will know if they show up with babies.

IMG_4097This past winter was a bad one for bees in our area. We lost four of our five hives so we bought two more packages and installed them into hives. Since my husband¬†installed them¬†on his own I didn’t get any photos.

The garden has been planted. We have tomatoes, bell peppers, hot peppers, egg plant, potatoes, cabbage, cucumbers, cantaloupe, water melon, lettuce, Swiss chard, celery, basil, parsley, carrots, beets, green beans, corn, winter squash and pumpkins.

Along with the hot weather came a dry spell – we weren’t really expecting it because the weather forecasters had predicted that we would get rain and storms as the remnants from¬†tropical storm Alberto made it’s way North into our part of the country. Somehow all that rain missed us.

IMG_1233Fortunately my husband had put the pump in the pond and we were able to take advantage of the wind that we had last week to get the tanks filled and keep things watered as we awaited the rain.

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We finally got rain this morning and what a blessing it is. Not only will it give all of our crops the boost that they need right now, and give us a break from watering, it makes pulling weeds much easier. Pulling weeds is one of the thing we have been spending much time doing this past week as weeds were threatening to take over the strawberry patch, the garlic field and the asparagus patch. Pulling weeds out of dry clay soil is next to impossible so that task will go much quicker now.

IMG_4124.JPGSince the temperatures¬†were so warm (hot)¬†I did spend some time last Friday raking the beach area. If I have to work on a hot day cleaning the pond is the perfect job. ūüôā After I raked the leaves out of the beach area and used our small rototiller to rough up the sand we set up our beach chairs and umbrella. Woo hoo we are¬†ready for summer!!!

The following day when the sun was high in the sky and temperatures soared, a dip in the pond was a refreshing treat.

Thus far we have picked and eaten and froze lots of asparagus and I picked some rhubarb and put several packages in the freezer as well. When I was freezing the rhubarb I discovered one small package of rhubarb from last year. I decided I needed to use it up. I also found the last of my strawberries from last year – another small package. Since there were only about a cup of each there was not really enough to make this into a pie or crisp, so I decided to make strawberry-rhubarb sauce. I put both the strawberries and the rhubarb in¬†a sauce pan then added a bit of water – maybe a half cup. I wasn’t too worried about having too much because I could cook it off to get the sauce to thicken. I simmered this until the fruit was soft. I then mashed the mixture with a potato masher. I continued cooking it until it was thick¬†and added sugar to taste. I can’t really tell you how much sugar to add because everybody likes a different degree of sweetness and some strawberries are much sweeter than others. I just started with a couple tablespoons and tasted until it was right. While this fruity dessert was good eaten plain, my husband used some as an ice cream topping and I mixed some with some vanilla yogurt as well.

They say that time flies when you’re having fun, and I have always believed that time seems to go faster as I get older, so I think both of these combined explains why it is June already and I feel like I missed Spring. Thanks for sticking with me for this recap.

Just curious – does time seem to be flying by for you as well?

In Search Of Spring?

The calendar says that Spring has arrived,¬†yet nature seems to be telling a different story. Even though we have been seeing Red Wing Black Birds for several weeks and my husband spotted the first Robin of the season¬†about a week ago, the temperatures have mostly been below what is normal for this time of year in Michigan. I can’t help but wonder if the birds regret their early return.

Spring is my favorite season¬†of the year so¬†I went looking for the¬†signs of Spring. Come along, I’ll show you what¬†I found.

Even though we have had some very sunny days, some of the snow has yet to melt               in areas that are mostly shady.

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The last of the ice melted from the pond on Sunday, March 18. It reached 50+ degrees Fahrenheit (10 Celsius) that day but the temperatures have been nowhere near that since. IMG_3813

Today the temperature was around 40 Fahrenheit (about 4 Celsius) when we were at the farm; with the wind out of the¬†North it felt much colder. Trooper didn’t mind stepping in the pond for a cold drink, but¬†while I long to walk barefoot on the sand and dip my toes in the water, today I opted to keep on my wool socks and rubber boots.

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A pair of ducks have also been enjoying the pond for the last two days. They may be looking for a place to build a nest and raise their young, but I am afraid that our pond would be much too busy for that. I am fairly certain that Scout and Trooper will make it clear that they are not welcome here. There are, however, plenty of neighboring ponds that will suit them just fine.

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The daffodils have poked their heads up but seem to be in no hurry to expose their entire bodies to the cold temps. Who can blame them?

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The bees have had several days over the winter when they were able to come out for a cleansing flight. It was during a brief warm spell in February that we discovered that four of our five hives were dead. 80% loss is the biggest winter loss we have experienced to date. The sole survivor was our Warre’ hive.

Even though the sun was out today the bees were not.

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The sap flow has been intermittent. It flows (or should I say drips) on the warmer, sunny days, but many of the days have been just too cold for the sap to flow. While we can see the buds on the trees getting bigger they are not yet ready to open.

We will continue collecting sap and making syrup as long as the weather permits.

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To me the most encouraging sign of spring was hearing the frogs singing. My husband¬† told me that he heard them for the first time yesterday. We didn’t hear them in the pond area but in this swampy area near the back of our farm.

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I remember My Mom telling me¬†that the frogs have to freeze three times before Spring is here to stay.¬† I am not really¬†sure how that¬†works. How long does the temperature have to be below freezing for a frog to “freeze”? Is it just when the temperature falls below freezing over night? or does it take a day or more of freezing temperatures? Has anyone ever heard this before? None-the-less I am always happy to hear the frogs singing, and I take this as a sure sign that spring is near.

Are you anxiously awaiting Spring? What do signs do you look for to know that Spring is near?

Making Maple Syrup

It doesn’t seem like a whole year has gone by since we last tapped maple trees and made our maple syrup. Maybe that’s because it hasn’t really been a whole year. While I didn’t remember the exact date that we tapped trees last year I was¬†able to review¬†the¬†post I wrote about it, and I discovered that¬†last year we tapped the trees on February 13th. Last year’s sap flow was considered early and we read that¬†some syrup producers actually missed the season because the were not expecting the season to come so soon.

It was¬†only January 20th according to the calendar but nature doesn’t necessarily go by the calendar. Despite the brutal cold we have had this winter we had been watching the forecast and preparing for the sap season to start. This is only our third year making syrup, so we don’t have much experience to go by, but¬†since temperatures were¬†forecast to be in the high 30’s and low 40’s Fahrenheit (between 3 and 7 degrees Celsius) 7 out of the next 10 days we thought this might be the right time. My husband thought that it would be a good idea to do a¬†few test taps to see if the sap was flowing. So we took supplies for four taps to the farm.

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January 20, 2017

 

The day was very reminiscent of the day we tapped last year. The sun was shining, there was still a thin layer of snow on the ground, and the pond was mostly still frozen.

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Happy Hens

 

The chickens were happy to be out scratching , pecking and even dusting themselves.

 

My husband and I worked together, taking turns drilling the holes and setting the taps.

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First Drop Of Sap

 

When the sap began running within seconds of being tapped we knew we were on the right track. After setting the first four, we went home, gathered the supplies and returned to set the remaining 13.

A couple days after tapping the trees the high temperatures again stayed below freezing so no sap was flowing. Then we had a couple more day where temperatures reached into the 40’s F so the sap began to flow again. By Friday my husband determined that he had collected enough sap to make syrup. We would cook it Saturday.

My husband had the cooking station set up in the driveway. Because cooking sap produces so much steam cooking it the house would be a horrible mistake, and we are not equipped with a sugar shack so we do it much the way we imagine our ancestors  would have Рoutdoors over a wood fire.

The fire pit is simple – made of two layers of concrete blocks on three side

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He spaces the concrete blocks so that the shallow stainless steel pan sits on the edges of the blocks. We build the fire within the blocks and continually feed wood into it from the open side.

 

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We used a mixture of hardwood limbs and logs that we had cut on the farm and some scrap lumber my husband had picked up from the local sawmill. We began cooking the sap around 11:30 A.M. and by 4:30 P.M. we had reduced the estimated 23 gallons of sap  to the point that we could finish it on our kitchen stove.

Before cooking it on the stove we poured it through a sieve to remove some of the ash that was floating in it. I then brought it back to a boil and continued cooking it until it reached 7 degrees above the boiling point on the candy thermometer 219 degrees F.

Filtering the sugar sand out of the syrup is something that we have struggled with the past two years, so I decided to pay close attention to the temperatures while doing this. I let the syrup cool to between 180 and 190 F. For a filter I used one layer cheese cloth with one layer of felt placed on top of it. I placed the two layers together in my canning funnel then poured the syrup through the fabric lined funnel directly into the jar.

After pouring each jar I needed to change the filter, so I put the pan of syrup back on the stove over a low flame so I could maintain the proper temperature. The syrup flowed easily through the filters. I sealed each jar as soon as it was poured. We ended up with just a very small amount of sugar sand in the bottom of the jars. There is no harm in eating sugar sand as it is said to be made up of calcium salts and malic acid, so filtering out this sand is purely for aesthetic reasons (it does look like muck in the bottom of the jar).

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Even though once sealed the syrup should not spoil, I like to bottle the syrup in wide mouth mason jars, because as long as I leave the proper amount of head space the syrup can be stored in the freezer.  We ended up with nearly four pints of beautiful, sweet maple syrup.

What the rest of the maple syrup season will bring is anyone’s guess. Our weather forecast for the next 10 days shows daytime temperatures below freezing for all but one day, so we are not expecting the sap to run again for a while. When the temperatures do warm again, if the trees bud out quickly the sap will turn milky and is not¬†good for making syrup, so we are grateful that we tapped the trees early and at least have¬†some syrup this year.

I also¬†made an interesting observation as I looked back at my post from last year, “The Sap is Flowing and the Hens are Laying”. ¬† Again this year, as we tapped the maple trees we noticed that the hens have began laying more eggs. For five or six weeks we were¬†getting an average of four eggs a day,¬†this was enough to keep us in fresh eggs through the winter.¬†On January 20, the day we tapped trees, we collected six eggs, then over the next week the amount increased¬†so that we have collected¬†12 eggs¬†each¬†of the last two days. I honestly expected that the increase in egg production was more related to the number of hours of daylight and¬†similarly to¬†last year would occur in the middle of February. Perhaps it is more about the warmer temperatures we have been enjoying, I’m really not sure, but¬†I do think I will attempt to track these two events in future years to see if they continue to coincide.

Until next time¬†be well. ūüôā

 

 

Just A Reminder

I originally published this post in December of 2016 but as winter approaches I thought it was worth repeating.

Whether you dread the cold, snowy weather that winter brings, or say ‚Äúbring it on‚ÄĚ 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‚Äôd 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 ‚ÄúI have a flashlight ‚Ästsomewhere,‚ÄĚ if you have to search for a flashlight when you need it, if you don‚Äôt 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‚Äôs or perhaps thousands of types of flashlights on the market you may ask ‚Äúwhat is the best flashlight?‚ÄĚ 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, ‚Äúone that works‚ÄĚ. 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. Another thing to consider when buying multiple flashlights it is a good idea if they use the same type of¬†batteries. That way you only need to stock up on one type of battery that can be used in any of¬†your flashlights.

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.