Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Poison Ivy, Chiggers, and Ticks, Oh My!

During the recent Firefly Festival - if there are tents, it's appropriate to call it a festival, right? - it was mostly the kids that enjoyed the tall grass.  A few of us assisted with kite flying, and outfitting the kids with bug capturing gear, but most of us grown-ups kept to the mowed grass.  The problem with us adults, is the knowledge.  We know how miserable it is to be covered in chiggers or poison ivy.  We know about tick born illness.  We know how that rush of adrenaline that comes from seeing a snake too close for comfort ruins our buzz.  We know all that stuff, and we mostly prefer to watch from a safe location, with a tasty beverage by our side.  If we got to go out there, we like a trail.

But what looks like a field of grass from the edge, is so much more once you step off the trail.  

There are flowers in there!  Layers of flowers on top of flowers.  Purple ones, yellow ones, white ones, and even hot pink ones.  The whole thing is moving with the wind.  A swaying bouquet the size of a field!

And the insects are loving the flowers, and the birds are loving the insects, and it's lovely and alive.  It's a meadow, really.  Chiggers and ticks live in meadows too, I know.

I get off the beaten path for work all the time, but I know what I'm getting into, and I wear sturdy boots and long pants.  At the Firefly Festival, we were all wearing exposed legs and the wrong kind of shoes.  It doesn't stop the kids, though.  They are ignorant brave.  

When my mom asked the kids if they wanted to visit the climbing tree, they didn't even hesitate.  Yes!!  My nieces had been there before, and they wanted to show my two little boy cousins.  Good luck walking through all those weeds with the kids, Grandma, I thought.  But once we realized Grandma didn't know how to get there, I was drafted into the adventure.   Doh!

Brandon still had the bush hog attached to the tractor since he had recently mowed an area for parking, so he went ahead of us and cut a trail.  I thought this would be perfect.  We could visit the climbing tree without weeds tickling our ankles.  

Everyone got a fresh coat of bug spray, and after letting the tractor get a head start, our adventure began.  One adventurous adult joined our party briefly, but at the beginning of the recently cut trail, shown in the picture above, he stood on the edge, looked into the meadow, saw the children running bravely ahead, remembered chiggers, and retreated.  One man down.  Only Grandma and the kids were brave enough to take the path, and I followed.  

About twenty paces in, I realized that there is poison ivy growing along the path.  Which means Brandon just mowed poison ivy, which we are walking on.  It's so freshly cut, that there's probably poison ivy vaporized in the air (that can't really happen, can it?).  It's mulched poison ivy!  It's going to get us!!!  I pointed it out to Grandma and the kids, but they didn't panic.  All good adventures have an element of danger.  

We came to a cross road at the garbage pile.  The garbage pile is a feature of our property that adds a second level of danger to any adventure.  

An enticing pile of old tires, laced with thorny blackberry brambles and near a mountain of broken glass and other dangerous trash that, although it's much smaller than when we bought it, is still a scary place for kids to play.  Just imagine how many snakes live in there!  Does it give you chills?  

We caught up with Brandon and the tractor at the bottom of the hill and showed him where to cut a gap in the tree line so we could get to the climbing tree.  Thorns and poison ivy on both sides, oh my!  We had to duck under vines, and step over logs to get there.  But we were so close, we couldn't give up.  

Because my littlest cousin was afraid to balance as he walked across the tree, I had to stand in the weeds on the ground and be a railing.  I should get the gold star for bravery, really, but watching the little ones overcome their fear was totally worth it.  My nieces, who last time needed me to stand there in case they fell, were so confident this time, that they led the pack, and were over the tree bridge in seconds.  Even the littlest cousin made it all the way to the other side.  Once everyone had conquered their fear of falling, and made it back to safe ground, I asked if we should get out of here, and they all screamed YES!! and took off at a run.  We did it!

And one of the best parts of the adventure, is that once we were back, we got to play with the water hose while we washed our legs with soap.  It wasn't too hard to be brave when Grandma and the kids were with me, but the day after the party, when I was by myself, I decided to retrace our path, still wearing the wrong shoes and with my ankles exposed, even.  That was even more scary!  

So far, I have no poison ivy, chiggers, or ticks.  A successful adventure.   

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Firefly Festival

I was really nervous that the fireflies wouldn't show up for the party, like I planned.  I wanted to share the spectacular lightning bug display that we saw last year at this time, so we planned a cookout and campfire, and then crossed our fingers that the lightning bugs would show up on time.  No need to worry, they were fantastic!  

Since some folks hadn't been to the farm before, Jamie asked me if I had a something that we could tie to the mailbox, and I remembered the pretty rainbow kite that wouldn't fly.  Perfect!  Just turn right at the kite.  

I didn't take a single photo of the party while it was in progress.  I have no photos with the table cloths still clean and waving in the wind under the pear tree, or photos of the picnic baskets overflowing with goodies, or the laughing faces of family and friends playing corn hole and sitting around the campfire, or of the adorable children flying kites and chasing fireflies.  I did, however, take pictures of Puck cleaning the breakfast dishes amidst the party aftermath after everyone went home the next day to recuperate from so much frivolity.  It seems appropriate, though, that I record and appreciate the perfection of the day after the party, when I have time to savor the memories we made.  And it really was a perfect.  The wind and sun were wonderful, and because no one can sleep long in a tent, or in their car, despite a late night, we were up early for a breakfast of eggs from Joe's chickens, potatoes we cooked in the campfire the night before, cooked together on the grill with sausages and onions and covered in shredded cheese.  It was so good, we ate a second breakfast while we flew kites in the morning breeze.   

Even though Puck worked hard throughout the party making sure no uneaten bits of food were left in the grass, I assigned him kitchen duty during the camp clean up.  Puck doesn't usually get access to my iron skillets, so he was more than willing to help out.  I'm not sure why I wait until no one is around the let the dog lick the dishes, but then show you pictures.  It's a good thing Martha Stewart doesn't read this blog.  

Martha probably wouldn't have to serve breakfast coffee in a measuring cup either, but then she wouldn't have enjoyed watching folks drink their coffee from the odd collection of containers we scrounged up. We ate watermelon cut with a machete too, and this may be my new favorite way to cut a watermelon.  

This lone cooler was all that was left of the corn hole and firefly gazing arena.  

I like seeing the bed we set up in the living room for my aunt to sleep on too.  It gives the room some scale which helped me envision how it will look with furniture.  

And the best part of the day after the party - the left overs!  It's like all the tasty treats of the cookout, with none of the effort.  Everything is just there, ready to eat.  And then a nap, of course.  Nothing makes a nap as good as too much potato salad after a night of drinks made from lemonade and Firefly vodka.  

I wish I knew how to take photos of the fireflies.  As the sun set, we were anxiously waiting for the first flickers in the distance, and when we finally saw them, we were excited.  They just kept getting better as it got darker, too.   The kids were running through the darkness catching the fireflies and bringing them to me to put in a jar.  I think I let as many escape as I managed to get in the jar!  We stayed up late, and the fireflies never stopped flashing.  When I went outside at three in the morning, there was dew on the grass that shone in the moon light, and the fireflies were still flashing their silent signals.  It was something I'll never forget, even without a picture. 

Monday, May 18, 2015

Cool Mist

I have a new addition to my garden, which I think may revolutionize my garden experience.  It's a mister!  You know, that makes mist.  Cool mist.  

Jamie and I have discussed the possibility of making a mister that we could use for hot outdoor chores, like waiting for a turn at the beer keg, or working on our, I mean pulling weeds and mowing the grass.  We mentally invented just what we needed, by thinking we might be able to poke holes in an old garden hose.  Of course, we never actually stood up and created our invention, but we convinced ourselves that it would be marvelous.  So was it serendipity that lead Jamie to his buddy's garage to see an unopened Cool Patio mister sitting on a shelf, obviously unappreciated?  I think so!

Jamie, recognizing that this was the answer to our dreams of being able to be outside, yet be cooled by tiny droplets of hose water, offered his buddy some cash for the Cool Patio mister, and his friend bade him to take it, free of charge.  This friend, obviously oblivious to the fact that he was the owner of such a fabulous invention, seemed to think it odd that his mother would give him such a thing as a Christmas gift.  So short sighted!  We immediately attached the small hose with the tiny mist nozzles to the top of the yard swing, and screwed it the end of the garden hose.  Wha-la!  Out door air conditioning at the twist of a knob!  Genius!  

As you can see from the expression on his face, Brandon was uncertain about the cool mist.  What's not to love?!  It's like sitting near a waterfall, or floating in a cloud.  I'm convinced that as the summer heats up more and more, everyone will see the beauty of the mist.  

It even makes rainbows in the sun!  The breeze blows the mist to and fro, gently cooling anyone sitting on the swing, or in the vicinity of the swing.  The package says it uses a gallon of water an hour, so it's not very wasteful either.  

If you stick your face near the nozzles, it gets sprinkles on your glasses though.  

Friday, May 15, 2015

Who Knew Hanging Laundry is Garden Motivation?

Look who I found by the compost pile in the garden.  A garter snake.  How cool!  This one is pretty small, but bigger than I've seen before in my yard.  I think I've finally accumulated enough piles of sticks, logs, and compost to provide some good habitat for garter snakes, which don't mind to live near people as long as they have a place to hide.    

I discovered the little garter snake when the chickens and I were examining the weeds in the asparagus bed, and I decided to move the ugly cardboard in the background, which I was using to smother weeds around a compost pile.  I kept finding things like that to do whenever I looked at the weeds in the asparagus bed, which is why there are so many weeds.  Putting off pulling weeds doesn't make this job get easier, I know.  Ugh.  This big job was about to become a huge job that would require heroic effort to  tackle, which has it's own rewards, for sure, but I was getting afraid I would never muster up enthusiasm for it if I let it get much worse.  Just do it, Rain!

The pale green weed that is growing densely among the asparagus spears is lambs quarters, which is edible.  I debated leaving it, decided to harvest it for the refrigerator, then realized that it was full of other weeds too, so I just started ripping it out by the handful.  Once I got into it, I enjoyed the work.  June really enjoyed my work too, and scratched and pecked in the dirt right beside me.  It wasn't long before I was wondering why I dreaded it so much.  

I've always said I suffer from inertia.  It's hard to switch gears sometimes.  If I've been sitting in my temperature controlled office all day, thinking office thoughts, by the time I make my evening commute, and come up with a plan for dinner, I feel wiped out.  I wonder how I'm ever going to find the strength to feed myself, much less pull weeds.  Housework beckons.  Blah.  

Thankfully, I have a few things that help me snap out of office mode.  The dog wants to go out right away, so we go say hello to the chickens and the garden.  Deep breath -  aaaahhhh, it's nice to be home.      

I'm a little surprised to find that I've been giving thanks to the laundry for helping me break free from the office and commute funk.  Like on Monday of this week.  If asked what I was going to do when I got home, I'm pretty sure my answer would be to bury my head in a book and not look up until it's time to go to bed. I might have said I would look at the TV while I eat take-out for dinner, but that's the extent of my energy.  I didn't even want to read a good book, that requires thought, I wanted to read one of the romantic novels I've read a dozen times, so I wouldn't even have to pay attention.   But the housework still beckoned when I got home and saw the state of things, so I decided to at least get my robots working.  Load the dishwasher, load the washing machine, and load the dryer hang up a load of laundry outside.    It's been six months since we had a dryer.  Hanging laundry in the sun is sort of like getting a solar charge.  By the time one load was up, I decided to water the garden, hose off the porch (stupid chickens!), and then found myself taking on the big job of weeding the asparagus.  After more than an hour of puttering around outside, I felt good enough to cook some of the asparagus with mushrooms, peppers, and pork chops.  Thank you, laundry! 

I've mentioned before that having something that will die without my attention is extra motivation to get outside and move my body after a sedentary day at work.  So on Wednesday morning I promised the tomato plant that's been sitting on my front porch that I would put it in the ground when I got home.  But first, I better hang a load of laundry to take advantage of the sun, right?  By the time I finished those two pleasant chores, I was feeling pretty good, and remembered the ceramic garden markers Shanna gave me for a Christmas gift.  I finally get to use them!

They came wrapped in a padded package with some burlap and twine wrapped around them.  The markers have cute flowers with a light blue glaze, and were for chive, corn, asparagus, arugula, kale, thyme, tarragon, collards, and cilantro.  I was excited to find that I already had some of the right plants growing in the garden.  

I think the chickens like the asparagus marker.  

I find the markers to be great fun when taking pictures of the plants.  Not only do they add a focal point to a leafy bed of green, like the kale Jamie and I planted in March, but they label the picture, and give it some scale.

These are great for marking plants that volunteered in the garden, like this cilantro, that I want to remember to not pull up.  

I was really tempted to label the turnips with the collards marker, and label the kohlrabi with the arugula marker, just so I could use them, but I restrained myself.  I did notice that this radish is growing above the soil surface.  Just a few days before it was a tiny red pea, and now it's at least the size of a nickel.  I wonder how big it will get when it's not even growing in the ground? 

The peas are blooming.  The plants from the seeds I planted are taller than Jamie's, but he had better germination.  Not that's it's a competition.  Did I mention mine are taller?  

The early spinach seeds we planted only resulted in a handful of plants.  Scrawny looking plants too.  If we are going to be spinach farmers, we may need to up our game.  

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Three Swarms

So far this spring, our bee hives have swarmed three times!  On April 28, while I was work, mom sent me the picture above, of dad poking a swarm of bees with a long pole that landed on a big branch of a pine tree.  Neither Jamie or I could leave work to go help, and although Byron and Dad gave it their best effort, they couldn't capture the swarm.  The branch was too big and too high, so there was nothing to be done but let the bees find a new home on their own.  Good bye, bees.  Although it was disappointing that we couldn't capture the swarm, since that would have been another hive to add to our apiary for free, I thought it was a good sign that our bees are doing so well that they felt strong enough to split off and create another hive.  

Mom sent us this picture too, which shows the swarm of bees that came from the second hive, all clustered high in a tree.  I don't know if you can see them, but they look like a giant pine cone, or a bee hive, hanging from a branch in the center of the photo.  That's a lot of bees!  It would be way too dangerous for any of us to try to reach a swarm that high in a tree.  So long, ladies.  

But then, just last week, a swarm of bees came from one of the hives, and mom and dad managed to capture it!  All by themselves too.  The picture above is a little blurry, but you can see that they put a table and an empty super under the branch that the swarm landed on.  Dad managed to grab the end of the branch that had the bees on it, and bend it down until mom could get a grip.  Then dad climbed in the back of the four wheeler cart, and cut the branch.  Crash!  A big clump of the bees fell right into the super below.  As you can see, the bees are all over the box and the table.  Mom said the bees were flying everywhere, and the swarm was just a foot from her face when it was on the branch.  Not a single sting.  Such nice bees.

If you click this picture to enlarge it, you can see that all those little dots in the photo, which I thought were pixels, are actually bees!  Bees everywhere!  And dad doesn't even have his hair covered!  The new queen must have fallen in the box, because soon all the other bees that were on the table and ground went in the super, and they've been in there ever since.  

On Friday May 6th, while we were getting all our gear together for our camping trip, mom and I took a few minutes to add some more frames to the hive box the new bees were in.  As you can see, even though they had only been in the box for two days, they had already built wax comb attached to the lid.  Busy bees, right?  

We were tempted to let the comb on the lid stay, and just add some frames around it, but I could tell there weren't any larvae in the comb yet, so I scraped it off the lid, let it fall to the bottom of the box (oops), and filled the box with the frames which have the wax sheets in them.  The wax sheets already have the comb pattern, which is sized for worker bees, not drones.  We don't really need to encourage drones, since these bees are swarmy anyway, and it will be easier to work with this hive if the comb is in easy to lift frames instead of willy-nilly.  I hope I did the right thing.  I didn't mean for the comb to plop to the bottom of the hive, so I really hope no one was stuck under it, especially not the queen.  

There didn't seem to be as many bees in the hive as I expected after seeing the pictures of the swarm, but it's likely that a big portion of the bees were out gathering pollen and nectar when I opened the hive.  As you can see from the front, there are bees coming and going.  

I didn't open the old hives, since we didn't have much time, but I did spend a few moments at the entrance, watching the bees come and go.  It's very soothing to watch and listen to them, and based on all the bee activity at the entrance, I think the hives are still strong, despite loosing so many workers in the new swarms.  The video below is the from the hive near the garden.  It sounds nice.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

We Left To Go Camping

Look at us, out on the great big lake on my nieces very first canoe ride!  Our first family camping trip of the year was last Friday.  This meant that we had to resurrect all the camping accouterments that have been put away, clean the boats (power wash them, even!), re-stock the gear (new drink glasses that match the new table cloth, kitchen towels, and dish pan, of course), assemble the troops, and completely exhaust ourselves getting ready.  When we camp, we like to do so in style, so we make sure we have all the comforts of home.  This means that we practically pack everything a family needs to live in a house, and then carry it to the the boat, drive the boat to the perfect location, haul all our stuff to our chosen campsite, and assemble a kitchen, lounge, and sleeping quarters.  It's work.  It's awesome too, especially when someone catches a fish, like Byron did, and we have all the ingredients for a fish fry on hand, plus real utensils and all trimmings for a delicious meal.  If we were backpacking, instead of boat camping, and had to carry everything on our backs, we would be eating with our fingers off a rock, I'm sure.  But that's a whole different kind of fun.  

My nieces were psyched for their first camping experience.  Can you see the note they wrote on their sidewalk?  "We left to go camping!"  

For me, the relaxing part of camping doesn't begin until the pontoon boat is safely in the water, and the motor is running.  If you remember, last year we put a new floor on the boat, and after working on the motor on and off since then, it started up the very first time!  Hooray!  We lashed the canoe to the pontoon, and we were off!  

Puck forgot his leash, so he was a little embarrassed by the sparkly ribbon I made him use as he waited on the dock for the boat to pick us up. This is the last photo I took of the entire trip.  How can this be?  I was too busy having fun.  We boated, we swam, we ate, we canoed, we swam, we roasted hot dogs and marshmallows, we swam, we picked wildflowers, caught a toad, we swam, ate a water melon, fished, explored, saw a snake, we ate some more, had ice cream at the marina, and then we went swimming again.  Mom and I shared a tent with the girls, and they had absolutely no problem sleeping outside, even though the whip-por-wills called all night, and the geese started honking first thing in the morning.  All of us girls left Saturday night, but Byron and Jamie stayed to fish for catfish using bush hooks, and caught five giant ones.  The first camping trip of the year was an exhausting success! 

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