Thursday, January 31, 2013

Sweet Distraction

Liquid sunshine. Dark, rich honey.

Honey extraction is not something one typically does in January.

Wax caps from honey cells have lots of honey still attached.
Will gently warm to separate honey from wax.
But what else do you do when you find that the hive is dead and you have several frames full of honey?

Yeah, I know, you could leave the honey intact to feed the new nucleus of bees you plan to get in the spring. And yes, we did leave honey in several frames just for that. However, how could we resist taking at least some of the honey for ourselves?

So, we extracted honey from eight frames from the hive box. We found no brood cells (those containing larvae) on the frames. We figure that something happened to the queen and when all of the brood had hatched and grown, the hive eventually died down, becoming too small to keep the hive warm when the temperatures fell.
Cutting caps from honey cells.

We will just start again. This hive had survived three years, so far. An improvement over the first. We’ll set one hive up near the house and the other in the spot where this hive had thrived for a while. We must become better beekeepers, though, at least more diligent ones, and check the hives more frequently – but not too frequently.

Anyway, we spent a cold, windy, snow-covered winter day cranking and spinning to extract the honey.

The extractor.
The first step was to warm the frames. With a temperature less than 80 degrees, you need to prewarm the frames. The honey this year also was thicker than usual, according to our beekeeping mentor (who loaned us the extractor), making the warming process even more critical. Cold honey flows as slowly as, well, cold honey.

My husband set the oil pan warmer for our tractor inside an empty hive box, then put the box full of honey-filled frames on top and let it sit overnight. In the morning, he set the whole array near the wood burning stove. The oil pan warmer probably was not sufficient heat on its own. We conducted the whole extraction process near the stove to keep everything warm.

After working with the first set of frames, my husband thought that the honey was not warm enough, so he set a small shop light in with the last four frames. That was too hot and result in some melted wax and honey dripping onto the light (I was alerted to the fact by sweet-smelling smoke). But it turned out fine, anyway.
Honey flow.

And then a little piece broke on the extractor. Yikes. Fortunately, we were at the end of the process. Unfortunately, now we have to find a welder to fix it, and inform our mentor of the mishap.

So it goes.

The clean-up process simply required hot water, but lots and lots of it. That didn’t take quite as long as the extraction process, but nearly so.

I am still finding sticky spots on things – doorknobs, the floor, my camera.

Yet, for all the trouble, we have more than two gallons of liquid sunshine – a sweet distraction on a cold winter day.

Inside the extractor. Spin, spin, spin. The honey the outside facing frames is flung out by centrifugal force.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Ups and Downs....

I woke before sunrise this morning with the thermometer sitting at 11 degrees Fahrenheit and falling. Today's forecast high won't even step above freezing -- a predicted 27 degrees F.

Yesterday, the high hit 50.

On Monday, the forecast calls for a high of nearly 60 -- then a day or two later, a high of 37.

Thus has gone the winter, so far. From springlike to Arctic and on around again. If this keeps up, spring planting will be tricky.

Today, though, a flat of 2-inch pots full of wet planting medium sits on my kitchen counter waiting for broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage seeds. In a few days, I should see tiny green leaves. In 6 to 8 weeks, they'll be going into the ground.

The wheel goes 'round, and up and down...

Monday, January 21, 2013


A garden fairy doing her magic.
A few weeks back I was informed that I had filled up the storage space for photos for this blog. Yes, I could pay for more storage, but I don't wanna.

I tried deleting photos, making them into smaller files and reinserting them. It worked. So  I have been able to continue putting photos here. Now I am methodically going through my old blogs and replacing photos with smaller files.

As part of this, I adjusted the layout of the blog so that I can make the photos appear larger here. (Maybe you've noticed.) I have always been dissatisfied with the size of the photos.

Ironically, as I make the photo files smaller, so I can continue to fit more of them into storage, I am making them bigger on the blog.

Funny how technology works.

I am telling you this, in case you would like to go back and look at some of the blogs again and see the photos in my New and Improved! format. I am working backwards, so everything between now and July 3 has been changed. I will get to the the older posts eventually.

Or just keep looking for new posts in my New and Improved! version.

As you wish.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Order, Please...

Get two avid gardeners together and bring out a seed/plant catalog.
That's it. That's all the entertainment we need for the evening.
We had friends over the other evening, including one couple who have been market gardeners for years. He is quite interested in trying new things, especially perennial foods, like berries.

I'd had the One Green World catalog out, this same couple at one time had recommended trying goumi berries and jujube berries, which had grown quite well for them. So I was looking for those and other unusual, but possibly Kansas-hardy berries and fruits.

He picked up the catalog and began paging through it, a feverish look in his eye. I recognized that look, for I see it from the inside on a regular basis. We spent the rest of the evening discussing various berries and fruits to grow. OK. Call us plant geeks.

I love the One Green World catalog and Web site because of the company offers so many different types of fruits and berries. Many of them I'd never heard of until I picked up the catalog. It sends me into a tizzy of oooh, aaah, I want I want.

And it is time to start ordering seeds. I like to do mail order because I have a much larger selection and can get the seeds much earlier than when I buy from the nurseries -- although I still buy plenty from local nurseries.

As far as seeds go, my favorite catalog is the one from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, which other gardeners I know call "gardener porn," because the large, glossy full color photos of squashes, cabbages, beans, etc. set our little hearts going pitty-pat and, well, the less controlled of us might even drool.

Baker Creek has led the the charge against genetically modified organisms in our food supply (I'll do a rant on that some other time) and test all their seeds for GMO, to insure that they are pure. Download their virtual catalog from their Web site (or order a paper copy) and read what they have to say about it.

Next on my list is Seed Savers Exchange, an organization devoted to preventing various lines of garden seeds from going extinct. Beautiful photos and a lovely variety of heirloom and open pollinated vegetable and ornamental seeds. Seed Savers, like Baker Creek, has taken the "Safe Seed Pledge" to keep GMO seeds out of their stock.

Open pollinated varieties are important if you want to save seeds, as hybrids will not breed true from saved seed. Sometimes, a hybrid is what you want and Johnny's Selected Seeds has a great selection of hybrid and open-pollinated seeds, as well as numerous tools, soil amendments and supplies. Johnny's also is a member of the Safe Seed Initiative. Numerous companies have signed this pledge.

Although the catalog does not say that they have signed the pledge, Pinetree Garden Seeds states that it does not carry GMO seeds. This little catalog isn't as pretty as some, but it has a nice variety and inexpensive prices. However, seed counts in the packets are frequently (but not always) less than in more costly packets. That is a good thing for people who garden on a very small scale. It also allows you to try something new without much investment.

Nichols Garden Nursery has been one of my favorites for years. A couple of years ago they went paperless and no longer mail catalog versions, you can either go to their online store or download their virtual catalog for a more familiar type of catalog shopping experience.

Finally, I go to Peaceful Valley Farm and Garden Supply, not for vegetable seeds and plants generally, although they do carry those, but for supplies. They carry a large selection of growing supplies from plastic clips to hold the plastic or shade cloth in place, to the makings of large greenhouses, as they cater to large growers, with emphasis on organic products (organic pest and disease controls, for example). Buying large quantities often nets you a discount. I purchased a 2,000-foot role of row cover from them several years ago and am still using off of it.

Finally, if herbs are what you want to grow, check out Horizon Herbs. This company's Web site mae me flush and drool because of the incredible selection of herb seed and plants offered. Many of these I have not seen offered elsewhere, and some I hadn't heard of before.

Many other fine seed and garden supply companies exist, but these are my favorites so far. Enjoy shopping and then planting and growing.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013


Snow on the sage.
Snow fell all day on New Year's Eve.

It was not a heavy snow, I cannot say that we had even an inch of accumulation. However, it was a wet snow, with above freezing temperatures most of the day. After dark the temperature dropped rapidly, freezing the dampness into ice.

We ended the year with a sauna with friends, but many fewer friends than anticipated, as more than half the guests (who were to arrive for a late sauna) cancelled due to deteriorating road conditions. So our New Year's Eve was quieter and eariler than usual. Into bed before 2013 struck.

The next day I went outside with a bucket of stuff for the compost heap.

Barefoot in the snow again.
My footprints made in an earlier snow, were softened, but not quite obscured by the newest layer. Fresh rabbit tracks, however, were everywhere. Up near the house, and tracking across open areas, and through the gardens. Bird tracks also were numerous. In some places, I saw the prints made by wing feathers brushing the snow.

No fresh deer tracks were apparent, however, only old tracks partly obscured by the new snow.

This morning, I found cat prints in the snow near the house, most likely our neighbors' cat, which I have seen wandering about.

A fresh snow.
A fresh start.
Happy New Year.