Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Una Vita Dolce

Una vita dolce is Italian for "a sweet life". I took three semesters of Italian when I returned to school a few years ago, and I'm going to use it!

Of course now that I've used up one of the four phrases I remember, I'll have to pace myself, but the sweet life reference has never been more prevalent here than it was a few days ago.

Our two older GK's Allana (14) and Wesley (10)  helped us harvest this years honey and at the end of the day we had 160 pounds of the golden post-nectar liquid. Most of it ended up in bottles and pails but a fair amount is still stuck to parts of the floor, and as my daughter-in-law Tab discovered yesterday, on the seat of one of our kitchen chairs. 

What a sticky mess.

We have to harvest it inside where the bees won't follow us. They are a bit possessive of their hard work. It makes our work area, the 21 foot diameter Looney Bin, a bit crowded but workable. 

We were thrilled that our hives did so well since many of our neighboring bee keepers in the county have lost some or all of their hives due to pesticide spraying by conventional farmers, hive mites, malnutrition or queen bee failure. (Sure, blame it on the mama bee, how typical)

Fortunately, our bees thrived this year. We attribute it to the fact we did not harvest honey last year leaving the bees with plenty of food for winter. Plus I planted tons of bee-loving annuals for the bees to party in and I kept birdbaths, bowls filled with water. We made it easy for our bees to stay home instead of having to fly all over the county to get the nutrition they needed.

We also keep our hives on the center of our property in an area of high weeds and tall trees, all of which act as filters should one of the neighbor farmers get a bit heavy handed with their chemical spraying. This combo of food , water and shelter paid off well in that we'll have plenty of honey for our own needs and extra to sell, which always helps with The Poor Farm's budget.

The other huge benefit of this years harvest was working side by side with our GK's and later, with our middle son Jason who dropped by and was recruited to help. (You would think people would learn not to "drop by" as it often ends in extra work for them.) Allana is our true bee whisperer and started working side by side with Keith back when she was 6. 

Now, three bee suits later, she is just enamored with the bees as she was that first summer. Her favorite thing to do is crouch down next to the buzzing hive and lay her head against it. "I love to hear them talking" she says. Her ten year old brother Wesley just expressed an interest this year so he is a new apprentice for us. 

Both kids stuck with us the entire four hours it took to move the honey laden frames from hive supers to the back of pickup, from pickup into house and into the honey spinner, from spinner into buckets and from buckets into bottles. Truly, we had honey spattered over most of the kitchen surfaces and we did more finger licking than Colonel Sanders himself.

Una giornata fantastica!

Monday, August 20, 2018

Butterflies Are Free

 Lately, whenever I step out our Looney Bin door, I am reminded of the mediocre movie "Butterflies are Free". Goldie Hawn has never been a favorite actress of mine but those hippie dippie movies of the 70's still have a special place in my hemp lovin' heart. Mostly though it was Eileen Heckart, who played the mother of main character "Donnie", that I enjoyed most.

She and my mama were twin acerbic souls.

Back to the winged creatures in my yard. In the spring I announced to anyone who feigned interest, that all I wanted was color in my kitchen garden, lots and lots of color. A few herbs, tomatoes and beans were fine as well, but a vibrant hue was my primary goal. Even with our long dry spells here, I've gotten my wish. 

Along the narrow sidewalk leading to the Looney bin I've planted marigolds, zinnias, cosmos, a few perennials, rudbeckia and calendula. Now after several months the flowers have covered over much of the sidewalk! I mulched with lots of straw and/or rotten hay after the plants were about a foot high and this certainly helped keep the moisture in our soil.

This proliferation of blooms along the walkway and within the kitchen garden itself, has attracted more butterflies, bees and other beneficial insects than we have ever seen here.  Often, we'll sit outside and just watch the butterflies hover, twirl, land, take off, and pirouette from one flower to another. 

Some are so light and fast I have not yet been able to catch them with my camera but the monarchs (we have lots of milk weed plants) are very cooperative, allowing several closeups. 

At night the spiders come out to play, spinning elaborate nets. Huge Orb-weavers are very prevalent this year and although I don't appreciate running into their circular artwork while dashing out for a late evening chore, I do appreciate their industrious nature. 

If only I could be so productive of an evening! 

I'll be sad to see it all die down this fall but already I'm making plans for adding additional floral variety to my kitchen garden to attract more butterflies, good natured bugs and bees. 

Friday, August 17, 2018

And then, the Well Ran Dry Again

What a week.

After arriving home on Sunday after a family gathering, we were once again greeted with no water. We shut off the power to the pressure tank to see if it might refill on its own again, but no such luck. Our neighbor allowed us to fill two fifty gallon barrels with water from his well so we could at least water our livestock. A run to the local gas station secured us with enough drinking water wand wash water for our milk equipment. Our outhouse with the composting toilet came in handy and the 300 foot walk to it in the middle of the night made me grateful it was summer and not winter. We managed, as did our ten year old grandson who was spending the night.

Seriously, how many kids can say their grandparents still use an outhouse? Has to worth something when sharing stories in the grade school cafeteria.

Built for us by our oldest son for Christmas one year, it certainly comes in handy and the Sun Mar composting toilet really is nifty. No smell like a traditional hole in the ground outhouse.

With closer inspection of the well pit Monday morning though, Keith noticed a wet area in the dirt of the well house.

This made him think that maybe the problem was not with the well after all so we called the company that did the well revision for us three years ago. Fortunately they made it out Monday afternoon and after digging down a couple feet with their nifty mini-digger, the culprit was discovered.

The adapter on the underground pipe between the pressure pump and the well casing had completely broken. Seems when the pump was on, and working nicely, water was being pumped right into the ground surrounding the well house rather than into the pipes leading to the looney Bin.  Cause of the broken adapter? Probably the heavy clay soil that had settled around it when it was first installed. Oh well. Pun intended.

In the picture above the well house which houses the pressure tank, is on the right and the well casing which goes down to our 100 foot well, is on the left.

After a couple hours a new adapter was installed  and a layer of pea gravel placed under the adapter to keep the clay soil from pushing down on the pipe adapter and breaking it again. At least that was the plumbing companies theory.

Four days later and all is well (forgive me) in the water department, but all this trouble has us planning for an improved backup method for water on our farm. We're looking into both larger rain barrels as well as an underground cistern for collecting rain water off the barn roof.

Speaking of rain we finally got almost an inch last night. The flowers look better and the garden has been revived, for now. Not surprisingly, there were no puddles or muddy areas to navigate as the ground was so dry it all immediately soaked in. Thus we are still conserving water, using old dishwater to water fruit bushes and flowers, taking short showers and washing only the very dirtiest clothes on very short cycles.

No more rain predicted this weekend. Bummer.

Friday, August 10, 2018

And Then, The Well Ran Dry

It's always something Gilda.
I miss Gilda Radner don't you? Her character Lisa Loopner was my fave.

But I regress, back to The Poor Farm.

Rain is now a distant memory. Storms have been hit and miss here in Central Illinois. Farms just fifteen miles south of us get three inches one day while we get only moody skies. Each week Inaccuweather tells us of T-storms on the way. Liars. Often we can see rain pouring over fields nearby, and yet we are ignored.

Last week, late one afternoon, the water pressure in the Looney Bin suddenly dropped and sure enough, our well was dry. It happened once last summer but it was due to one of us leaving a hose running too long somewhere. It may have been me but fortunately the hippie-homesteader cam was not working, so no proof.

Last week, I had done a couple loads of laundry and watered the garden which was too much apparently for our shallow 100 foot well. Originally dug in 1868, before washing machines and other indoor plumbing luxuries like showers, it succumbed to our 21st century use.

We shut the well pump off and waited, worried, but with a few hours we had water again. Thus, we are on self-imposed water restrictions. No garden watering other than what I carry out to my potted flowers from the sink in the form of leftover dish water.

Laundry is done in two day cycles. On day one I wash a load, shut it off and on day two I run it through the rinse cycle.  Showers are short and sweet and I rinse my dishes very quickly. A little Dawn left on plate surfaces won't kill us.

I must continue canning in order to preserve what has tolerated the dry heat, tomatoes, beans, peppers and cabbage for kraut, which takes water as well, so I usually can on days I am not running the washing machine.

Last year our daughter gave us a rain barrel which unfortunately we have not yet set up to collect water from our new barn roof. I'm certainly regretting that now as would have been a great source of extra water for some of my garden. Oh well. Without making mistakes how does one ever learn?

Our priority is water for the livestock. Milk cow Liz above, waits patiently for her share.

Come On Rain !!!!!