Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Planning a Garden

My friend Ame runs a wonderful non-profit, Fox Run Environmental Education Center not far from me, and she recently posted a blog entry which goosed me into making plans for our expanded garden this year.

I had done some research over the past several years, and found some very useful garden planning software at GrowVeg.com which I decided to start using this past week. I really like the functionality of this software, although the interface is a wee bit slow at times, but that may be my internet connection and not them, hard to say for sure.

I like that I can choose a number of different shapes in which to organize the plants, from square raised beds to round containers, and even triangles for fancy herb garden plots.

I decided to keep it simple for the herb garden this year, as it will be new. I made two raised beds, and two containers. One raised bed will need rich, loamy soil, the other a more dry, sandy environment. And in one of the containers I am going to attempt to grow Rosemary, which is apparently hard to do successfully, but hey, nothing ventured, nothing gained right?

This is a screen shot from the GrowVeg software.

One of the features of this software I like the best is the ability to create a Plant List, which shows the entire list of plants you're planning to use, as well as sowing and harvesting times (both indoor and outdoor sowing for those plants which need it.

There are a number of other features which I've only begun to explore, but these two alone have saved me a lot of time/effort.

It is a subscription service, and costs $29 a year. I will note, because it wasn't clearly mentioned on the website, that you can only create a total of five plans per year for that price, which honestly seems a bit low (I was able to negotiate an additional five with their support staff, but don't know if they'll do that for everyone, so don't get your hopes up.)

All in all, it's worth the price if you aren't a pen and paper kind of person (which I am not) and it's definitely worth a look-see.

And fwiw, those of you planning to grow onions this year, get them sown into the inside flats, it's time! (Thanks to Vicky Tewes of Thistlehair Farm for reminding me.)

Thursday, November 24, 2016

How to Render Beeswax

One of the most valuable things that beekeepers get from our bees is the wax that they make. It's valuable in several ways, not the least of which is for the frames we give the bees to use. When bees have drawn comb (used their wax to make the honeycomb that they store honey in or use for their brood and pollen), frames can be used over several times, and that saves bees the effort of drawing new comb every time they need it.

Wax that has been rendered and filtered twice

So when we harvested honey this year, we used an extractor (thanks S & L!) and used its centrifugal force to whip the honey out of the frames (after we remove the caps) and save that valuable drawn comb, as opposed to just crushing and straining all the wax and honey off the frames

After extraction of the honey the cappings, which are scraped off and drained, are very useful for a variety of things, not the least of which is candles, lotions, lip balms, and to melt and use to add to new frames to assist the bees in drawing them out later.

The process of rendering the beeswax is fairly simple, although it does take some time. (Also, see this great video, which is one of several from which I got the inspiration for this post. Thanks Cameron.)

I used the following:

A cheap slow cooker (which will be dedicated to wax from now on)
Some cheesecloth
Some paper towel
And of course, wax that needs to be rendered

How To:

Put about two inches of water in the bottom of the slow cooker.

Over that, stretch a double or triple layer of cheesecloth. I taped it to the slow cooker at both ends, the corners, and the middle.
Cheesecloth and paper towel over the top
of the slow cooker, taped to it.
Over that stretch a layer of paper towel. Tape it down as above.

Over the whole thing, put a large rubber band of some sort (the slow cooker I bought came with one.)

Then place the wax cappings on top of the paper towel (and any extra comb you've scraped off which the bees made in places they shouldn't have, which is called burr comb.)

Cappings and brood comb ready to melt
Turn the slow cooker to low, cover it, and let it do its thing. I suggest being patient and not using the high temperature setting, as it can cause the wax to boil, which makes it not smell as lovely when it's done rendering.

Check it about every half an hour or so. And do not leave the slow cooker unattended, too much of a fire risk.

After an hour or three you'll see the wax has mostly seeped through the layers of filter, and there's some ugly black stuff left. This is called slumgum, and is all the dirt that has been brought into the comb by the bees tiny feet, plus other general detrius.

Slumgum left behind
Once all the wax has melted through, turn the slow cooker off and let it cool completely. Once it has, remove the filter material, but save it, as it works very well as fuel for your smoker when you use it to inspect your hives.

You may need to slide a knife around the edge of the wax, but the water should have allowed it to form into a nice patty. Lift it out and there you are.

Patty of wax after first filtering

I find that most times I need to repeat the process, as the first time some of the yuck gets through the filter and seeps into the water, and winds up on the underside of the wax. And you'd be surprised how much dirt a seemingly clean patty of wax still has when you filter it twice.

Filter material after second rendering

When you're done, you have clean wax you can use for any number of things. I made candles, which I'll write about in a subsequent post.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Ditch the Meal Kit Delivery Services, Friend a Farmer Instead

I keep getting ads on my Facebook feed for various meal kit delivery services, which ship ingredients for meals right to your door. Aside from the fact that I live on a farm and am working hard on producing much of our own food, these services bother me for a number of reasons.

Buying meal ingredients such as vegetables, meats, and fruits from your local farmers is healthier, and you can source foods which are raised organically, humanely, free from nasties you don't want in your food, and you can bask in the glow of knowing you're supporting your neighbors. We're out there, and you can find us easily on Facebook, other social media, or via the Local Harvest website.

By buying locally you're reducing your carbon footprint, because your food doesn't have to be hauled for hundreds of miles by trucks which contributes to greenhouse gas emissions (don't get me wrong, I love my OTR trucker friends, but every small step can add up in a big way.)

These services really take the creativity out of planning and cooking your own meals. Meal planning can become a family activity, sit down and do it once a week and get your kids involved. Too many people, adults and children, really don't have any idea where their food comes from. Having it magically arrive in a box at your door removes you and your kids even more from the process and your local farmers.

These services are really harming farmers in your areas who do CSAs, Community Supported Agriculture. Your local small farmers need your support, and you need them! Do you really want all your food grown by huge monoculture factory farms, some in other countries? Many CSA's now include recipe suggestions for the food you purchase from them, and allow you to tailor your order to include or exclude things to fit your needs.

There's no way you're saving money with such services. They wouldn't be doing it if they didn't have a huge profit margin. Studies show that spending just $100 a year locally has a measurable benefit to your community.

So while these services sound really cool in theory, the bottom line is, not so much. Support your local small businesses, the farmers, the processors, the feed stores, the garden stores. It really does make a difference. And you'll love the food, I promise.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Happy World Egg Day!

Breeding poultry being one of the things we do here, we eat a lot of egg dishes. Heck, some days we have as many as 16 dozen eggs in the fridge! So we've learned to be creative with recipes that use a lot of eggs. Here are two of my favorites. They'll use a total of a dozen eggs; one uses 12 egg yolks, the other 12 egg whites.

Golden Sponge Cake


12 egg yolks
3 cups cake flour
2 ½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
2 cups sugar
1 tsp vanilla
½ tsp lemon extract
1 cup cold water

- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Sift cake flour and sugar (separately) once before measuring.
- Sift together three times: flour, baking powder, and salt.
- In mixing bowl, beat egg yolks on high until very fluffy and thick.
- Gradually beat in sugar.
- Beat 2 more minutes on high and scrape bowl.
- Turn to #2 speed (low) and add vanilla, lemon extract, and cold water.
- Then gradually, but quickly add sifted flour mixture while beating on #2 speed, scrape bowl. Beat only enough to blend, about 2 minutes.
- Pour batter into an ungreased 10 inch tube pan.
- Bake 1 hour or until golden brown.
- Invert cake to cool.
- Loosen sides with spatula or knife and remove from pan.

I make the sponge cake first since the yolks don't have to be room temp.

Angel Food Cake


1 ½ cups egg whites brought to room temp
1 ½ cups sifted powdered sugar
1 cup sifted cake flour
1 cup sugar
1 ½ tsp cream of tartar
1 ½ tsp vanilla
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp almond extract

- Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- Sift powdered sugar and cake flour separately once, measure for correct amount and sift together four more times.
- Place egg whites in a large bowl, add salt, cream of tartar, vanilla, and almond extract.
- Beat on medium speed until soft peaks form.
- Gradually add sugar 2 Tbsp at a time.
- Beat on high speed until stiff peaks form, but not dry peaks.
- On lowest speed add powdered sugar and flour.
- Take off of mixer and finish mixing by hand with a rubber spatula folding over easy.
- Pour (spoon) into an ungreased 10 inch tube pan.
- With a knife or spatula, carefully cut through batter in circular motion 6 times to release large air bubbles.
- Bake at, on lowest rack in oven, for 35-40 minutes or until golden brown.
- Invert pan until cool. Loosen with spatula and remove from pan.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Messages You're Missing on Facebook

Did you know there was a whole section of your Messages area on Facebook which has things in it you may not even know about? It's called "Filtered" and it contains messages which FB decides that you may not want to see, and won't see, unless you go look in there. Who knew?

This is not a farm-related topic, but a friend asked me to explain this, and this is the easiest way to do so.

Start by going to the Home page on Facebook, which should look like this:

Hover your mouse over the Messages menu, and click on it to go to your Messages.

Once you're in your Messages area, you'll see three options; Unread, Filtered, and Archived:

Click on Filtered, and be amazed at what shows up at the left, messages you've never seen and had no idea were there! Apologize profusely to anyone who was inadvertently ignored, and delete the conversations you don't want.

Thanks Facebook, for being my nanny. #eyeroll

Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Animals Will Tell You, If You Listen

This morning as I took the dogs out, I heard Old Crow. He was sitting atop the big Black Locust tree in the west pasture by the barn, cawing like mad. I knew he was upset about something, but couldn't see what it was. Sometimes it's just me, or me and the dogs. But today his voice was particularly strident, and sure enough, out from behind the barn sauntered Coyote.

I reached back in the house and grabbed my husband's rifle. Loaded, cocked, shot, missed. No surprise, it's not my gun, and I'm not used to the sighting system. Coyote ran off down to the east pasture, where he sat on his haunches and looked at me, bold as brass. Far too far for me to hit, but I tossed another shot at him anyway, just to run him off. Into the woods he went.

Looked down and two dogs were by my side, the third missing. I hollered, I called, I yelled. No Jethro. So I brought the other two inside (who all but knocked me over to get in), and then went to the front door. There he was! Jethro doesn't think much of shooting.

I then went upstairs so I could look out A's bathroom window, which shows the west pasture much more clearly. And the horses told me where Coyote was, slinking through the woods to the southwest of them. I didn't see him again, but watched the horses until they began to eat once more.

The animals will tell you, if you listen. That's all you have to do.