Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Don't Worry, Bee Happy

Bees. I love them. But it wasn't always that way.

When Keith first wanted to keep some on our farm decades ago, I (this is so embarrassing) said NOPE. I'd seen too many killer bee movies. So he kept a hive on a friends farm and they split the honey.

He wore me down though, and I eventually gave in to having a hive way in the back behind the barn on our old farm. See no evil etc...

Over the years the hive mysteriously got closer to our home-strong little buggers, who knew they had that kind of upper thorax strength? 

When we moved here to The Poor Farm, Keith located our two bee hives in the center of our property (in a grove of protective trees) and I learned to work around them. I am now the one who makes sure they have lots of water in the kitchen garden bird baths. I also planted masses of colorful annuals this year so they would have a steady supply of nectar.

Two weeks ago Keith finally talked me into a bee suit and I was hooked! Absolutely fascinated with those industrious creatures, all B Movie bee drama left my goofy head. 

Our granddaughter Allana, now fourteen, has always loved the bees and starting working them with Keith when she was five. She especially likes talking to them while they are hanging out at their water hole. It's really not all that surprising the way she gets up close and personal with them-she also has a pet rat!

Recently her ten year old brother Wesley expressed an interest and this morning both of our older GK's came out to check hive status with their Papa. 

Afterwards I made them all a well-deserved meal of pancakes (made from our milk and eggs) plus sausage and bacon (thank you hogs). The three bee charmers reported the hives were doing very well, we had a strong queen bee presence, and we'll need to harvest honey soon! 

Thursday, June 21, 2018

It was a Dark and Stormy Sight

Look at me! Three posts in one week.

World must be coming to an end, or it's raining a lot and I'm inside too much. 

Looking west, from just in front of our Looney Bin about 6pm yesterday
 Yes, it's raining. Lots.

April was rainy too, but cold, and getting items in the garden was tough going. May was unusually hot here in Illinois and very dry. Keeping the garden alive was tough going. June has resulted in several inches of rain and keeping the garden from drowning is tough going.

Heavy rain on the left moving to the right over soybean fields

Homesteading is never, ever, dull; a Russian Roulette game when it comes to weather. The storms have been magnificent to watch though, as they roll in and out, creeping across the corn fields that surround us, hovering over our heads like massive gray Zeppelins.
We live on a bit of a hill so our views extend a good distance.

View from the center of our property looking northwest.

Our seven acres is the grove of trees, just off center in the photo

Getting closer you can see our new (old) barn in the center. 
Our Looney Bin house is to the right of the barn hidden in the trees.

We can often see approaching storms forty or so miles away, which allows us to batten down the hatches (i.e. milk the cow quick, close up the broilers in their sheltered house and get the pigs fed). It's always amusing how Accuweather will report "chances of rain 20%" while hail is pounding us, or "thunderstorms imminent" when the sky is clear and the blazing sun is frying our brains. 

Thus, Keith and I refer to the media service as inaccu-weather. 

Our region is considered part of tornado alley, but we've not seen much major activity in the Land of Lincoln for a few years. I feel we are overdue and this hot spell in SPRING nonetheless, just reinforces that thought. I saw a small funnel cloud as I was leaving Pontiac yesterday. It dropped out of the black clouds to the north, all thin and ropey, but then withdrew as if to say "nah, not today, maybe next week".

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Plant It and They Will Come

Hard to believe it's not summer yet when our garden is exploding and I've already got the pressure canner going. Going to be a very busy season!

We have three vegetable gardens this year.

The kitchen garden just outside the looney bin door is filled with herbs, eggplant, cherry tomatoes, peas, kale, zucchini (and other salad stuff) plus flowers for cutting and pest deterrence . The photo below is our view out the bathroom window. Annual flowers are just beginning to bloom. It's fenced in with old wire pig panels and chicken wire. Not pretty but keeps the fowl out. 

Beyond that, on the other side of our main electric pole (center of the top photo above) is a bigger main garden.

It is filled with 16 more tomato plants, beans, cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, onions, garlic, rhubarb, asparagus, peppers, potatoes, sweet potatoes, beets and brussel sprouts. I also recently added a scarecrow. I don't believe they do much to frighten birds away, since I've seen robins perched on her arms, but still; she adds a little character and color to all the greenery. 

Some have suggested she needs more in the bosom area. Critics. Everywhere. Obviously, she's a work in progress.

This space is enclosed with electric chicken wire fencing which is not electrified. Our chickens still avoid it.

Our beets grew very fast this spring and I managed to can a few pints, both plain and pickled. Seriously feels like summer when you're manning a hot pressure canner on a 95 degree day. We've had lots of 90 plus days in Illinois so far this year. But, as I write this it is raining cool and fresh. Alleluia! (the version by Leonard Cohen is my favorite by the way)

Our third veggie garden is the corn garden located just behind the area where our broiler chickens are kept. When the corn is higher the broilers will be allowed to forage in there for bugs and grubs. We have planted both sweet corn and popcorn in this area which has a sturdy wire paneled fence surrounding. This will keep broiler chickens in and our other free range layer chickens out.

e don't run the two groups together since it's too difficult to catch the broilers when its time for butchering. Plus they receive a higher protein feed than the layer chickens do.

Scattered about in the veggie gardens, and a few planters close to the grain bin house, I do have a solid array of flowers.. I hated leaving so many of our perennials at the old farm and it's taken me four summers to build up the flower gardens here. But finally, they are all taking off.

The bird bath above is located in our kitchen garden and the Thumbelina zinnias surrounding it were only supposed to get 6 inches tall. A tribute to our excellent homemade compost used this year.

I should be soaking my feet in it. I have my own height issues. 

Saturday, June 16, 2018

If you love me, you'll trench me...


 ..or something like that.

Here it is, Father's Day weekend, and when others are bright enough to spend it boating, camping, cooking out, or just chilling out, what does my husband do?

He trenches the electrical line to my writing studio.
In 90 degree heat.

It wasn't all about me though. He also trenched the electrical line for our new (recycled) barn. We picked up our rental trencher ($150/day) early this am. Keith started at the barn and worked his way backwards, that's how the trencher runs, to the main electrical box for the farm.

Along the way he had to cross an old sidewalk. Trenching on either side, he'll dig out under the sidewalk by hand, run some conduit underneath the sidewalk and then thread the electrical wire through it.

Once he arrived at the main electrical box he switched direction in order to dig the trench to my studio. This time he had our driveway to contend with. You can see the farms power pole and box at the top of the trench. 

Then he worked his way down to my studio.

Later tonight, when it cools off and tomorrow am before it heat up again, we'll unroll the big spool of electrical wire (an anniversary gift from friend Jay) and thread it into the trenched ditches.

For the last year and a half, since we moved my studio, our old retail farm store building, from the old farm to our new farm, I've used long drop cords to run a couple of lights in there. Once the real wiring is installed, I'll have several outlets for lights and a tiny frig to keep cold drinks. We also have s small window AC unit we can put in for the really hot days I might be in there. Generally though, I write in the evenings and since the building is in a low shaded spot, I get decent breezes down there that keep the studio comfy cool.

Back in the barn, Keith will also be able to ditch all the drop cords he has been using to run his power tools as we continue work on the building. He'll also be able to install some overhead lights and we'll be able to move our freezers out of the icky 1856 house into the new barn.

Off the grid wise, we do supply all our own heat and we have a well for our water needs but Com Ed electricity is something we'll be dependent upon  At our age, late 50's, we know it's unlikely we'd live long enough to see a solar power investment pay off. We'll have to let the next generation who lives here, deal with that.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Stop and Smell the Cabbage

I deeply enjoy many other blogs. I read when I can, comment when I am awake enough. One I envy for it's calming nature, is A Brit in Tennesee. Not only does she routinely share serene and thought provoking quotes, that the writer in me revels in, she also shares her garden photography which often stops me in my tracks.

It is rare for me to stop in my tracks.

I have been know to stumble in my tracks, weave and bob within them, but rarely do I come full stop. I have a difficult time relaxing. It's a flaw that interferes with my ability to enjoy my life. Rather than forever organizing, cataloging, and checking off the tasks accomplished, I need to stop and breathe.

This Brit, reminds me to do that, and I thank her for that.

Early mornings Keith and I do walk our gardens. He observes birds, checks clouds for weather, sips his coffee slowly, toes the dirt checking for moisture while I am thinking about the next task of the day.

I often miss the beauty in front of me. But, when he noticed a collection of water on a cabbage leaf, I did stop and look.

I am so glad I did. The curve of the leaf, the shape of the rain drop bubble, the brilliance of the morning light. It was a full stop moment.