The Canning Kitchen Progress

August 8th, 2012

My sister, Debra, was here over the weekend and we put her to work helping us paint the old turkey coop. In a matter of two days, the outside went from this:

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To this:

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And the inside went from this:

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To this:

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Debra and I were in charge of painting the inside. We’re hoping to find a small piece of vinyl flooring to put on the floor. As it turns out, sloppy painting apparently runs in my family :) We also forgot to paint the inside of the door, but…. in our defense…. the door was open while we were painting and we didn’t realize it wasn’t painted until we had closed up the paint cans and cleaned the rollers and brushes…..

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Bernie assured us he would take care of that a little later.

Today he added some shelves, and this afternoon I emptied the spare bedroom closet of the things I stored there and put them on the shelves.

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We still have other things and a large amount of jars and lids in the sea container that we’ll move out there this weekend, but it’s nice to finally have the spare bedroom closet cleared out.

A big shout out and thank you to my sister, Debra, who always brings her work clothes when she comes to visit! She’s always so much fun and so good natured about her “working” visits.

Now that we have the storage area finished, Bernie will start working on building a floor and screening in the lean-to portion to make the canning kitchen. Many years ago a friend gave us a kitchen stove/oven that can be converted to run on propane. We’re planning to use that in the canning kitchen – if we can find and dig it out of the furthest corner of the sea container…..

And look what I found hiding under some cabbage leaves in the garden.

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She was one of the smallest I’ve found around here.

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We chatted a while and then I set her at the edge of the woods to go find her turtle buddies.

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Maybe she’ll be back to check out the canning kitchen when we finish.

Canning Waits for No Man – or Woman, for that Matter

July 31st, 2012

It’s a school night.

And it’s raining.

But the garden doesn’t care.

We had pickles, jalapenos, and tomatoes ready to be canned.

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So canning we did!

11 quarts of pickles, 1 1/2 quarts of jalapenos, and 7 quarts of diced tomatoes.

It’s that time of year. And it’s just starting here…….

Are you canning now? What are you putting up?

Remember Me?

July 23rd, 2012

I’ve been woefully remiss in my blog posting. The past couple of months have been filled with lots of good things, and a few not so good things.

I’m gonna start with one of the not so good things.

We lost Duke about the time I stopped blogging. It was truly a difficult time for me. He had been sick for quite a while and, in all honesty, we should have probably put him down long ago. He had a good life, and he was quite the rooster – big, handsome, and a fierce protector of his flock. I have never heard of another rooster that would chase chicken hawks, let alone attack them and, on one occasion, pin them to the ground. Duke will always hold a very special place in my heart.

A good thing that happened is that my hens finally started going broody for me, and we ended up with one that hatched out five chicks:

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And one that hatched out four:

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Unfortunately, a predator killed both of the mama hens within two days. The four chicks were two weeks old at the time, and the five chicks were three weeks old. That same week, something got our big rooster, Pico. It was a stressful and sad week to say the least. After finding Pico’s feathers scattered across the yard, I decided to put the chickens on lock down for a few days.

I am fairly certain we had a fox that was picking off our chickens. We had seen a fox chasing a hen in the yard several weeks ago. Bernie scared it off, and it stayed gone a while. But I suspect it started coming back after these chickens.

After a couple days of lock down for the chickens, they were cut loose to resume free ranging. And we haven’t lost another one. Maybe the fox found an easier meal. I certainly hope so.

Since the loss of two roosters, I’m down to Bobby Lee and Floyd. As sad as I was to lose Duke and Pico, Bobby Lee actually seems quite happy.

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He’s such a handsome boy. Floyd is too – but I didn’t get a good picture of him.

In mid-June Bernie’s mama and sister came to visit for a week. That was definitely a high light of our summer. We had a wonderful visit and were tickled to learn they will be back the end of August – with Bernie’s daddy and Julie’s boyfriend in tow!

Bernie’s mama, Kathy, is one of my favorite people, and she’s always a hoot. She and Bernie are very close, and it always warms my heart to watch the affection between them.

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Bernie’s sister, Julie, is such a good friend to me and I just adore her. So does Dolly.

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It was sad to see them go. But knowing that they will be back in short order definitely helped saying “goodbye” just a little easier this time.

So far I feel like this has been a good news/bad news kind of post! And I guess it really has. The next news I have to share with you is definitely a mix of both.

We no longer have the turkeys.

I have very mixed feelings about this.

It makes me sad because I really love Jake, Tanya, Sara, and Turklet2. I miss them a lot. But, on the other hand, it made me sad to see them penned. They were used to free ranging and penning them was difficult on them. So…….. when we learned that Gail, the owner of Deauville Farms, had re-homed all the Fallow Deer she had raised for years, we approached her about taking all four of our turkeys. Gail has many chickens, and she now has a huge pasture that she plans to free range them in. The pasture has 6 foot fencing, with electric wire at the top. Talk about a safe, fun place for turkeys to hang out! We were tickled when Gale said she would be happy to add four turkeys to her menagerie.

That made me very happy. And a little sad. But mostly happy.

So, just yesterday, we loaded up the turkeys and took them to their new home. We also supplied Gail with the turkeys’ favorite treat – Animal Crackers. As it turns out, Animal Crackers are a nice way to introduce yourself to turkeys.

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In the below picture you can get an idea of the huge pasture the turkeys will be roaming in. They’ll stay fenced in the smaller yard for a couple of days until they are sure where “home” is, but soon they’ll be out free ranging again.

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And the old turkey coop in our back yard? That’s gonna get cleaned up good and turned into a place to store all my canning stuff. And the lean-to on the side of it? That’s gonna get turned into a screened in canning room. I’ll be sure to let y’all know how all that progresses…….

The rest of us are doing just fine.

Elvis still has a drinking problem.

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Priscilla enjoys a nip every now and again.

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Diesel enjoys surrounding himself with his favorite toys when he naps.

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And Dolly enjoys laying around looking pretty.

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The chickens enjoy pecking at my painted toenails.

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Say what??????????

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And the goat babies enjoy begging for some Animal Crackers.

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We’ve gotten some lard rendered.

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And some honey extracted.

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Pickle canning season has come in with a vengeance – and I finally got to start using the Tattler lids I purchased at a ridiculously low price last year. I LOVE them, by the way.

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And, thanks to my sister-in-law Julie, I’ve picked up crocheting again and made several of these cute little pot holders.

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And, now that I’ve got you caught up, maybe I’ll get back to posting weekly.

What the heck have you been doing this summer?

Swarm Capture – Take Two

May 14th, 2012

My last blog post about capturing a swarm that took up residence in our old cabin shed ended with Si and Bernie leaving the box of bees there, in the hopes that they queen was in the box and the rest of the swarm would join her.

Later that same evening, Bernie and I went back down to check on the progress.

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And when we went inside the shed and looked on the wall, we saw that bees had left the box and gone back to the wall.

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Dangit!

We talked with Si and decided to go to Plan B. Just as soon as we figured out what Plan B was…..

The next evening Si and Mary Ann went back to check on the bees and when they opened the shed door, the bees were gone.

Dangit again!

But, as they were driving out the bottom gate, Si spotted the swarm on a cedar tree branch! And, just to prove that miracles do indeed exist, the bees were within reaching distance from the ground, and not 40 feet up in a tree.

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Hallelujah!

Mary Ann gave us a call and Bernie and I rushed down to meet them there. Bernie brought his trusty smoker.

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And the men folk quickly got busy removing branches for easier access to the bees.

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There were a few small clumps of bees that they cut away first. Bernie put them in the box Si had brought for them.

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And then they went after the large clump.

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And those bees were not terribly happy with any of that.

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But Si got them in the box.

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And Bernie spent some time tucking them safely inside.

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I would say they looked nice and cozy in there, but basically they looked mad and unhappy.

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Just a couple of small clumps remained.

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But they were quickly removed.

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And then Si put the lid on the box.

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And placed it in the bed of his truck.

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And then Si had a little chat with the girls about what was going to be expected of them.

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And they knew better than to argue with Si.

And today they are living happily ever after in Si’s apiary.

The end.

I Think We Captured Swarm

May 10th, 2012

Remember I told you spring came early up here? And remember I told you we’ve had swarms?

Well it did, and we have!

And recently we saw a bunch of bees going into the old shed next to the old cabin we have at the front of our property. When we went into the old shed, the first thing we noticed was that there were bee hives in there!

Dangit! We completely forgot about those bee hives. They’ve been in there five years. Five whole years. And they were a complete mess.

Five years ago the last of our six hives died off. We were so heartbroken and disgusted we put those hives in the old shed, with the intention of moving them into the sea container when we made some room for them.

Only we forgot about them. Completely forgot about them.

It’s dark in there, and we removed the top boxes on each hive and didn’t see any bees – so we decided the bees we saw going into the old shed must have smelled the small amount of wax left and come in to check it out.

Only a few days later Bernie noticed that the bees going into the old shed had full pollen baskets. And those pollen baskets were “glowing with pollen”. That’s exactly how he described it….. “glowing with pollen”.

So Bernie casually mentioned to our Bee Guru, Si, what he had seen. And he told Si that he was going to go into that shed and find those bees. And Si, being our local Bee Guru said “What do you plan to do with them when you find them?” And Bernie said “Give them to you.” And Si said “Let me know when you do that. I’ll be there.”

Well, today was the day that Bernie decided to do that. I had to work, but Bernie took my old camera.

And when he and Si went into the old shed, this is what they saw:

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There are a couple of things about that picture that I should mention……

To the left is a stack of old bee hives. And notice the snake skin hanging above where they decided to build their hive. And finally, they chose an old lawn chair hanging on the wall to build their hive around.

Aren’t honey bees just the most awesome things ever? They don’t care anything about following rules or being scared of stuff. They just do what honey bees do.

Lordy, how can you not love honey bees????

So, anyhoo, these girls built their hive ALL around a lawn chair. A simple, redneck lawn chair.

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We raise up our honey bees right around here, ya’ll.

They appreciate the simple life.

Just look at that beautiful comb.

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Those clever little girls.

There was brood, pollen, and honey in that comb, too.

Si gently removed the lawn chair.

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And he was gonna put it in this box.

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Only he quickly realized that box wasn’t big enough. So he got a brooder box – only Bernie didn’t get a picture of that. So just imagine a much bigger box. Because it was. And he put them in there.

Oh, and please notice something else. To the left is the cabin porch. And on that porch we needed some seating. So our buddy Tex supplied us with seats out of an old van. Complete with seat belts. If you look closely you’ll see one of them.

Don’t let anyone tell you we don’t know how to party around here.

Because we do. And we’ll even strap you in when the riding gets rough.

That’s just how we roll on this homestead.

When we’re not catching bees. Which we are right now. So…… Si went back and got the comb that was stuck to the wall.

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In this picture you can even see the uncapped honey at the top of the hive.

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And then Bernie and Si put a lid on the brooder box and left it inside the shed. In the hopes that they actually got the queen and the remaining honey bees will join the hive in that brooder box by nightfall. By which time Si will be back down at the shed to see if he can seal up the brooder box and take it home with him.

So…. I *think* we caught a swarm.

I sure hope we did.

I’ll let you know…….

A Queen is Born and Hussy Hen

April 26th, 2012

With this very early spring we’ve been blessed with, our honeybee hives sprung to life early this year. Really early. And our first hive inspections were late.  Really late.

Because that’s just the way we roll on this homestead.

By the time we did our first hive we found multiple swarm cells, and a couple of supersedure cells.  Fortunately, our neighbor from up the road, Si, came up to help with that first hive inspection. And Si knows bees. He also happens to raise queen bees.

So, naturally, when we discovered the swarm and supersedure cells,  we calmly looked at Si and screamed “WHAT THE HECK DO WE DO????????”

And, naturally, Si offered some solutions.

We could split our hives to give the girls more room, but that would leave us with four hives.

We don’t want four hives.

We want two hives.

Or we could remove all the swarm and supersedure cells and go back into the hives every two weeks or so and continue to remove them. Because once a hive decides to swarm, there is really nothing that can be done to stop them from trying to raise a new queen.

Our weather is a little kooky now and we stay pretty danged busy, so we worried we wouldn’t be able to keep up the constant removing of cells.

Finally Si offered a solution that we agreed was a good approach. Si would take our queens with him, allowing the hives to hatch out new queens and most likely to swarm with one of them.

We would lose bees to a swarm, no doubt. But, with the original queen gone, the number of bees that would leave with a new queen would be small in comparison.

So that’s what we did. Si took our queens.

And our beehives did, indeed, swarm. I saw them.

But when we went back into the hives last weekend, the number of bees left was astonishing.

It appeared to work!

Only, we didn’t find the new queen in one of the hives.

We looked and looked, and there was no queen.

Fortunately, as I mentioned, Si raises queen bees, and he brought three tubes with those little beauties on the verge of hatching.

So our plan was to put one of those new cells into the hive with the missing queen so she could hatch there and reign supremely.

But…… before we did that, Si decided we should take a look at those supersedure cells that had failed to hatch out. Maybe they weren’t viable, because surely they should have hatched the day or two before…….

And when he removed it from the frame and started to gently pick at it, he was greeted by a queen bee chewing her way out!

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Holy Bee Hive!

And Si birthed a new Queen Bee!

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I apologize for the blurriness of that picture – I was shaking with excitement!

And here she is, joining her hive.

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I almost peed my pants.

There is more to this story. Remember I told you there were a couple of supersedure cells? Well, I was holding the other supersedure cell, and it had a queen chewing her way out, too. But I gave her to Si to birth.

Cause I don’t know nothing about birthing no babies – let alone Queen Bees.

So we left two queen bees in that hive. And, sadly, there will be only one next time we check.

There can only be one Queen Bee in a hive, under normal circumstances.

Although, nothing we do around here is very normal so……. we’ll see.

And speaking of “not normal” things, today I looked out the window at the chicken coop and noticed something just wasn’t quite right.

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No, it wasn’t that the new addition that Bernie painted is TOTALLY brighter than the old side that is dusty and faded – but thanks for noticing that I need to paint the old side. Seriously. Bernie needed someone to take his back when he declared “I painted the addition – the other side is YOUR responsibility”.

But back to what I was saying….. do you see anything unusual here?

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How about from this angle?

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I don’t even have a clue how she managed to get tangled up in that mess.

I got a step stool, which was woefully short, and managed to get her into this predicament.

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And then Bernie came to the rescue with his he-man ladder so I could free her.

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She was totally unappreciative.

I won’t even begin to tell you the words that came out of her mouth.

But she was free as the breeze, complete with attitude.

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Hussy Hen.

The Chickens Move into the Addition – and Don’t Say I Didn’t Warn You

April 15th, 2012

You remember I was supposed to get baby chicks this month right? Well….. that didn’t happen.

The chicks were due to arrive on April 4th. But they were shipped to Michigan.

Which would have been great! If I was in Michigan.

But I’m in Virginia.

So….. needless to say, I didn’t get those chicks. And it is a VERY long story, but after many hours on the phone I was promised chicks on April 11.

Only I got an email on April 10 telling me that 4 of the 5 breeds I had selected weren’t available. And the story is even longer, but suffice it to say, I’m not getting chicks.

I’m getting my money back.

And I learned a very important lesson.

DON’T DEAL WITH THE MIDDLE MAN.

Deal with the hatchery.

They may not get it right the first time, but I would have stood a better chance of them getting it right the second time.

Lesson learned.

Anywho…… since we had the new coop addition and there weren’t any baby chicks to raise in it before integration, we went ahead and rearranged the coop to make more room for the chickens, and to make it easier on me for collecting eggs and cleaning.

Before I continue and post pictures, I want to apologize for the crazy big white blobs in some of them. I was having problems with big black blobs showing up in pictures with my camera, so I got a new one. But…… I wanted to stick my camera in my back pocket so I would remember to get pictures today, and I decided to use that old one so I didn’t mess up the new one. And NOW the old camera not only has big black blobs in some pictures, it now has big white blobs in some pictures.

Sigh.

It really is time to retire that camera.

So…… this is how the coop looked before we added on and rearranged it:

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See the nest boxes on the left? Right. Now notice the long roost above and right in front of them.

Do I need to tell you what a pain it was to check eggs in those nest boxes? There was ALWAYS a fresh layer of poop in front of the nest boxes. And, even though that roost has been there for a few years, I bonked my head on that thing at least three times a week while checking eggs.

Before I show you how we rearranged things, let me show you this.

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That little thing is Bernie’s idea. We bought it for just over a dollar at Lowe’s. In fact, we bought eight of them.

And when we hung the roosts we just slid the 2 X 4’s right into those little things.

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We didn’t nail the roosts into them, we just slid them right in. They won’t move. AND when it’s time for me to clean that part of the coop, I can just lift the roosts out and then shovel out the litter.

Isn’t that great? I’m tickled pink.

Oh, and just a quick note, we sanded the 2 X 4s – if you’ve ever dealt with bumblefoot, you will understand. If you haven’t dealt with bumblefoot, please sand your chickens’ roosts.

So now, the original 8 X 8 coop that had the roosts and nest boxes just has roosts.

And the new 8 X 8 addition just has nest boxes.

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We raised the big nest box thingy five inches. So now the brooder box doors are up off the ground – and above the litter line – which makes my life a whole lot easier when I’m using the brooder boxes.

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Oh, and did you notice the girls got new curtains? They did – and they really seem to like them. I pleated them and everything.

Nothing is too good for my girls :)

So, there you have it. We don’t have new chicks (yet) but the chickens have officially moved into the new addition of their coop.

They seem to like it.

I know I do!

Oh, and if you don’t have chickens and are thinking of getting some, do yourself a BIG favor. Build your coop at least twice as big as you think you need.

Because you’re gonna need that space.

Seriously.

You are.

Trust me.

Chickens are a little addicting.

Or maybe even a lot addicting.

Don’t say I didn’t warn ya :)

Jake Gets a Beak Trim and What is She Doing?

April 3rd, 2012

Jake has decided Bernie is a threat to him. For the past few months, anytime Bernie goes outside, Jake has gotten very aggressive with him.

We can’t have that.

Not at all.

So….. Bernie built the turkeys a pen.

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Their pen runs out a bit, and then back behind their coop. It shares one side with the goat’s paddock.

I’m not sure the turkeys are all that thrilled with being penned, but it makes Bernie happy. And that makes me happy. He can now go outside and move about without concern, and he’s working on finishing my chicken coop. It’s a win-win as far as I’m concerned.

Remember my post about how I have to occasionally trim Duke’s beak because it curves over and grows too long? Well, Duke got a beak trim this morning. And so did Jake.

Letting a beak grow like that is really not good. They can’t eat properly with a top beak that grows over the bottom beak. And, like I mentioned in the post about trimming Duke’s beak, it is painless to trim the beak if you don’t trim too close to the quick. Think of it like trimming your finger nails. That really is a good comparison.

This is Jake before he got his beak trimmed.

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Notice how the top beak is well over the bottom? I trimmed it by myself, so there are no pictures. I simply straddled him as he was standing, so that he was between my legs. Then I closed my knees to keep him in place, picked up his face, and snipped his beak. It was over before he had time to gobble about it.

And here he is, all trimmed up.

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And here he is, strutting about afterwards. Look how long his beard is getting!

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And here is the last male that hatched out last year.

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He’d make a great pet. Want him?

While I was in the turkey pen, I kept hearing a bee buzzing about. And I quit hearing the buzzing when it got around this log we put in the pen for the turkeys to sit on.

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I got to looking at that log and I noticed this hole.

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And as I was noticing the hole, I saw a honey bee land on it.

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And then, she BACKED into it!

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Here is a close up of the hole.

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As I watched, the honey bee would back into the hole and then leave. And then come back a few minutes later and do the same thing. A few times she went in head first, but the majority of the time she backed in.

I took several pictures, and I’ll post a few of them below. I apologize in advance for the quality of most of them – she was fast!

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Now, a few things I want to mention…….

I moved this log all over the run yesterday when we installed the new gate. There was no sign of bees at that time.

Today, I *think* there was only one bee. I never saw more than one at any time.

There are several of those tiny holes all over this log.

We have Carpenter Bees here. Lots of them. And they are huge. I do not believe they made these holes. But I don’t know what did. And I do not think the honey bee did – I think the honey bee found the hole she’s interested in…..

So…….

For all you honey bee experts out there – what is this honey bee doing?

Horseradish, Rhubarb, and I Sure am Enjoying this Early Spring!

March 31st, 2012

We dug horseradish this morning, and processed it this afternoon. I posted a little tutorial about processing horseradish a couple of years ago. That was a fall crop, and it was really good. But we find that spring horseradish has more bite to it, and we prefer to dig it in the spring.

So, we dug up a small amount of horseradish this morning. And I’ve gotten so many questions about the best time to dig horseradish that I took a couple of pictures that I hope will help.

We like to dig horseradish when it first appears in the spring. There is a reason for this. If you dig horseradish when it first appears most of the energy is still in the roots. And that means the roots will have plenty of “bite”. This will produce “hotter” horseradish when it’s processed. We also find that the root will be more pliable and less woody. We prefer it this way.

So…… this is a small patch that we dug. Notice the small leaves? That’s about the largest the should be.

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And notice the fuzzy kind of growth there? Well, that’s really the ideal size you want to harvest it. We’re a little late this year because the warm weather snuck up on us.

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See all those roots up there? You want to leave those little roots. Just take the big chunks. Well, we take a few of the small roots – because those are gonna have that wonderful heat in them! But don’t pull the whole plant out – you just want to take the biggest roots and a few of the small ones. Every single stinking piece of root you live in the ground is going to give you more horseradish.

Did I mention horseradish can be very invasive? Well it can. It seriously can. That is if you consider too much horseradish to be an issue.

Which we don’t.

But we do like to keep it contained.

Because it will take over……

But….. if you feel you would like to add to your horseradish patch, or maybe start a new patch, or maybe even share your horseradish with friends, well…. just cut off the top part of the plant – the green growth – and stick it in the ground, and you’ll have more horseradish than you know what to do with. When we dig horseradish I either replant the tops, or I wrap them in a wet paper towel and then give them to friends. It’s very easy to grow and share. In fact, I’m not sure what you would have to do to kill it.

Here’s the pint of horseradish we ended up with after it was processed.

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We also harvested some rhubarb. Guess what I did with this?

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Yes! Of course! I made our first rhubarb pie of the season.

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That’s all kinda bubbly yummyness right there.

This picture is for my cousin, Julie. Last year, as we were preparing for winter, I dug up a couple of young Borage plants to overwinter in the greenhouse. As you can see, one of them is blooming and a couple of blooms are going to seed. I’ll save them for you, Julie.

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I also noticed that my Bleeding Heart is blooming in the flower garden.

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So is the Primrose.

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This early spring has been a blessing. I’m very happy about that. Especially since the new baby chicks I ordered will be here Monday. We got the brooder ready for their arrival today. I’ll be sure to post pictures of the new peeps when they arrive.

And I’ll leave you with this picture of Diesel. He’s laying on his “thunder rug” by his daddy’s feet. This is the special rug we put down for him to go to when he get’s nervous about thunder storms. And this early spring has definitely brought some early thunder storms with it.

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I think even Diesel would agree that this early spring is worth it.

Signs of Spring – and Some Knitting Projects

March 18th, 2012

It’s hard to believe it’s the middle of March, and we are already seeing signs of spring here. I’m certainly not complaining!

Neither are the bees. They were up bright and early this morning.

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We fed them this afternoon and I wish I had remembered my camera. I’m so tickled at how quickly they’ve built up their hives so early in the year.

The daffodils are welcoming spring with wide open arms.

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The horseradish is making it’s appearance.

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The asparagus is peeking out of the ground.

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And the rhubarb is happy for the early start.

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Bobby Lee has started greeting each morning loudly from the top of his favorite stump.

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Spring seems to be coming early this year. We’ve had such beautiful weather for the past week or so. Soon we’ll be working in the yard on most days. I can’t wait!

I spent much of last fall and winter learning to knit. I got most of my practice knitting dish cloths. Lots and lots of dish cloths.

And then I graduated to slippers – and I knitted a few pair of those.

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I knitted a headband with a flower to wear in the winter and Dolly modeled it for me.

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My friend, Mary Ann, welcomed her first grandbaby this year, and I knitted this oven hanger/tea towel for her.

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I’ve started several projects that I haven’t finished, but the one I’m really excited about right now is a Feather and Fan scarf, made with Conshohocken Cotton yarn. It’s only 4 inches wide and intended as a spring/summer scarf. I love the pattern, and I love the yarn.

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I’m sure knitting will slow down as the warmer weather gets here and the daily outside chores mount. In fact, I need to get busy starting some seeds and getting potatoes in the ground!

Have you been working on fun projects over the winter? And are you seeing early signs of spring this year?