Things began to get a bit breezy here yesterday (when these pictures were taken), and today the first rain bands started rolling in. I am not fond of hurricanes, and since this is our first one (though a mild one) with the bees, we decided to err on the side of caution and tie them down a bit. The ducks and geese don't seem to mind, but the chickens have sensibly stayed in the barn for most of today. The kids have been going out to play in the winds between the rainy episodes. The video below was taken this morning. :)
And just like that, July is gone without even a single post here in this space. Let's see, what have we been up to...
We have pulled off more honey and are having fun experimenting with making creamed honey (oh, my.) as well as infused honey by steeping it with a few vanilla beans. The first small test runs of both were quite successful.
The elderberries are coming in now and we are picking and drying (instead of freezing) this year. I need to strain out the elderflower tincture I started earlier in the summer.
We are expanding the veg garden quite a bit and beginning to plan the fall plantings. The herb garden is thriving with all of the regular rain we have had this year and I have been making tinctures, picking and drying for teas and salves and experimenting with infusing herbs in oils for making soap. So far I like the comfrey (in soap) the best, but I am going to try a few different herbs in the next batch. All of my soaps are unscented (I don't tolerate scents - even with essential oils - very well anymore) but I am loving the gentle caramel smell that comes from the honey soap! This is my second try at honey in soap and by far and away, my favorite. Can't wait to test it out in 4 - 6 weeks, even though I know the sweet smell will have faded.
Speaking of the herbs, I just made my annual batch of herbal salt for the kitchen. I just pick a good variety of fresh herbs (a firmly packed cup of just the leaves), add about an ounce (by weight) of peeled garlic and pulse it in the food processor until all is chopped fine. Then add a cup of nice sea salt, pulse a bit more to blend well and spread on dehydrator trays. Dry on low temps (with a bit of occasional hand stirring) until everything is completely dry (I let it go about 24 hours). Easy peasy and so very good.
The Anconas are not quite 2 months old now, but goodness how they've changed. The two White Chinese geese are named Merry and Pippin (We have no idea if they are male or female, but what characters they are!) and the ducks that the children have claimed as their "own" all have names, but I can never remember them. They still have a few tufts of down here and there, but they are pretty much feathered out now. These shots were taken the day we installed their little pond. We put in a plastic garden "pond" and set it about halfway into the ground. We left the top level above ground because we wanted to raise the water level and install a valve for draining off the poop-filled water into the garden (just on the other side of the fence) for fertilization uses (NOT for pouring directly onto greens or other edible plant parts). This neat idea is not ours, by any means, but we hope it will work well for us.
I am going to plant irises (or maybe Job's tears) around the pond perimeter as soon as I get the chance. The floating green you see on the water is a few handfuls of Azola and duckweed thrown in to tempt them into the water for the first time, as they were not quite sure about the whole thing (this stuff is serious duck candy). We are growing these two fast growing water plants in a couple of tanks (out of their reach) to throw into the little pond as a supplement to what they forage and are fed. We are not planning on keeping all of the ducks and will probably try to maintain a small flock of only 7 or 8, so the pond will not always be so crowded.
I cannot tell you how thrilling this is for us - harvesting our very own honey. It has been a very productive spring / summer for the bees and I am thinking there will be a bit more of this to come. We only took off one 8-frame box, from one hive. It was the third honey super they had totally filled, so we decided it was time for a taste.
I used a bee escape between the box of honey we planned to take and the rest of the hive. When Noah and I took the box off 24 hours later, there were only about a dozen or so bees left in it. I'll admit that I was pleasantly surprised with what a peaceful and easy process it was for both us and the bees. We used the crush-and-strain method of extracting with one of these handy buckets.
It has been ages since I have actually gotten my act together enough to join Ginny in her Wednesday Yarn Along. In desperate need of a quick and easy way to relax, in the tiny bits of time I seem to have lately, I have taken up circle granny squares... and I love them. I am using this pattern and really not giving the colors much thought except to outline each one in cream. I am currently reading Perennial Vegetables and am getting many great future-garden ideas from it. Who knew there were so many interesting things to grow.
I opened up the hives a few days ago to see how the girls were getting along in their new honey supers. This is the second super I have added to them both and they are building nicely. Because of human error (I didn't have the hive perfectly level), one hive had a bit of cross comb that I carefully removed... what awe inspiring stuff this is.
May is certainly here. The garden is taking off and even my late (for us) planted beans are twining and vining. We are eating the blackberries (which are crazy early this year) as fast as they ripen. The pears are coming along nicely, too.
The last couple of days have been quite warm and the bees are working a little harder to keep the hive cool. I have on entrance reducers because one of the hives was being robbed a couple of weeks ago. I walked out to check on them one afternoon and was surprised to see a large cloud of bees frantically trying to get in. Luckily I had ordered a couple of robbing screens when I purchased my equipment (because I am paranoid like that), and after two days, the robbers gave up.
So not only do we have 16 ducklings on our back porch, but we have added two goslings for future flock protectors. The geese are such characters! Here is a bit of video from last Friday... enjoy!