2015 strawberries

I’ve been thinking I should start a new category called Farmers’ Almanac since most of these posts are personal record keeping in nature. It’s interesting to compare weather, dates when we harvested different things, and other notes from year to year. Just like the month of May is asparagus time, June is all about strawberries and the plants have been good to us this year.

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An early view of one end of the garden. The strawberries are in the middle of the photo as well as in the boxes and planter to the upper right.

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I didn’t always remember to snap a photo of what we picked each day and some are better quality than others, but I imagined a bell curve in my head as the quantity ramped up and peaked (a full 9×13 pan for about 3 days in a row) and now it’s on it’s way down. Maybe next year I will be more scientific and weigh the strawberries every day and then I can plot the data. :)

We had plenty to eat fresh, share with friends and neighbors, add to milkshakes, and freeze.

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honey

We extracted our first appreciable amount of honey from hive #1. Steve recently got more bees to start #2 and will possibly split #1 to start #3. There were 6 full frames ready which was about 1.5 gallons of honey. We’re hoping to have quite a bit more next time (end of summer?) and will likely sell some to friends.

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Slicing off wax caps.

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Uncapped frames in extractor. We rented this from the bee club in Holland, but are going to just buy our own for next time. It has a hand crank and uses centrifugal force to extract the honey without destroying the comb. You spin the frames with one side facing out, then flip them over and spin again.

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Honey flowing from extractor into the filter over a 5 gallon bucket that has a gate valve on the bottom for filling jars. We only did a coarse filter to remove wax particles. (photo by Cale)

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Empty comb ready to go back in the hive. There were a few cells that did not get uncapped which you can see near the edge. We tried to do the least amount of damage to the comb to save the bees some work. (photo by Cale)

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Most of the finished jars.

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chicken update

Our chickens are a little over 10 weeks old now. They should start laying at anywhere from 18-24 weeks, so we are hoping for eggs sometime toward the middle to end of August.

They seem to be doing well and are checking out everything around the house. They are free range during the day so they pretty much go where they want. We let them out of their coop/run (A-frame style, closed in on top with ramp going down to open chicken wire enclosed area below) in the morning and they go back automatically in the evening and we shut the door when the are all in. They apparently like all the places we don’t necessarily want them to go (because they constantly poop everywhere), like the garage, deck, and front porch. They have found nice hiding spots under the deck and under plants when it’s raining or too hot. They come right up to the front door which is all glass and peek in, as well as the sliding door on the deck. They have even “knocked” on the door from the garage to the house. They are super curious and so hilarious to watch and listen to, especially when one is separated from the others.

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This is from when we first moved them from the crate in the garage to their coop.

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Inside top level of coop when we first put them out there. They were so small then compared to now. Now they just go up there to sleep at night.

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Roosting in garage on saw horses which we’ve had out for many recent projects. (It was cold the night before so I had brought the flowers in.)

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Snuggled on a deck stair. The dark one is asleep with her eyes closed.

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Air conditioner wiring or roost bar?

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Checking out the front porch (and corn hole boards).

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around here

There’s a bunch of blooming, buzzing, & birdwatching going on around here.

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chicks

We’ve been talking about getting chickens for a few years and finally did it. We’ve had them for two weeks now and they have already grown like crazy. They are in a large wooden crate in our garage staying warm.DSCN1770 DSCN1774

We got 6 pullets (young hens) of good egg-laying breeds (2 each of Rhode Island Red, Buff Orpington, and Isa Brown).DSCN1795 DSCN1798

We’re “babysitting” two additional Rhode Island Reds for our neighbor until they are ready to go out to the real world.DSCN1808

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They look noticeably larger to me now. I love the feather markings of the Rhode Island Reds. Hopefully they will keep them, though most pictures I’ve looked up of the grown hens are more solid color. We shall see…

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2015 syrup season

The 2015 maple syrup season is over! We finished boiling the last of the sap last night. The  color of the last syrup batch was considerably darker which is common as the weather warms up and the sugar content changes in the sap. I prefer the lighter syrup which has a hint of vanilla taste.

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Taps in: March 6, 2015

Taps pulled: April 5, 2015

# taps = 15

gallons of sap collected = approximately 140

finished gallons of syrup = approximately 2.25

final_bucketsWe collected more sap than last year, but ended up with about the same amount of syrup. Last year we were right around the 40:1 ratio of sap to syrup, but it was about 60:1 this year which is a little disappointing given how long it takes to boil down. We tapped a few additional trees this year, but we aren’t sure what type of maple they are. It’s possible that they aren’t sugar, red, or black maples which have the highest sugar concentration in the sap. We’ll find out when the leaves appear.

frozen_sapWe had a cold snap a week or two ago, after we had collected a bunch of sap. All of our collection buckets were full, stored in snow banks, and ended up partially frozen. The internet consensus seems to be to chuck the frozen sap since it is believed to have a much lower sugar content. Because it would considerably shorten our boil time, we decided to try it, but it didn’t seem to hold true in our case as we didn’t have as much syrup as expected from that day of boiling. At least we didn’t have to worry about the stored sap spoiling that week!

 

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recently

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tapped

It looks like the thaw is finally here. With high temps over 40 as far out as the forecast goes, we tapped a bunch of maples last Friday.

Here is part of the intricate path system between trees. 😉

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The snow is still pretty deep which makes walking these paths good exercise.

I am going to attempt to record some more detailed sap collection data this year for our own future reference.

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white chicken chili

Here is the recipe for White Chicken Chili that I made for the Watermark 2015 Soup & Chili Cook Off.

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I started with this recipe from The Pioneer Woman:

http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/2010/01/simple-hearty-white-chili/

I’ve made it that way before, but have since simplified it a bit, so the main modifications are below.

  1. I use shredded chicken breasts instead of the fryer chicken.
  2. I use 2 cans of Great Northern Beans, rinsed.
  3. Because of using the canned beans instead of dry beans, I use 4 cups chicken broth (I like using Better than Bouillon chicken base) and later 1/2 cup milk.
  4. I use red onion because that’s what we have on hand from the garden.
  5. I did not include the jalapeño.

I tend to just “wing it” when I cook, especially with spices and such, so I often don’t have my versions of things written down.

We usually eat it with homemade bread (based on basic Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day recipe) which I also brought to the cook off :

breadI almost always just mix up enough dough for one larger loaf, so I divide the basic recipe by three (so I use 1 cup warm water, 1 tsp kosher salt, 1 tsp yeast, a little over 2 cups unbleached flour). I also don’t use the hot water bath when cooking (because I like to simplify).

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2015 garden

The 2015 vintage of Steve’s Seven Pepper Salsa™ is officially underway (not counting the garlic that was planted in the fall). We have about 200 pepper plants started with the tomatoes soon to follow.

Seed –> Plant –> Food = Front row seat to a miracle. Every time.

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