• Category Archives Preserving
  • Bee Log Plus

    I’ve been keeping an eye on the hives, and one of them has been noticeably inactive compared to the one on the left. A few bees coming and going. I haven’t been able to get down to open the boxes: it’s either raining or just too hot. But, today was pretty perfect for putting on the suit and heading down to the bee yard. I checked the quiet hive, and there wasn’t much brood. There were a few new babies but very little brood. I didn’t see the queen or even queen cells so I may have a queenless hive or a very new queen.

    My other hive had a TON of brood and babies. So, I did something I’ve never done before: swapped some frames of brood into the weaker hive. The idea is that the brood will both provide new bees and encourage the hive to create a new queen. For me, it felt a little like major surgery. I swept the bees off the frames with my brush and then popped them into the other hive. This meant both hives were open at the same time. The bees were busy around me but not particularly aggressive.

    I am traveling for the next ten days and will check when I return to see if the remedy worked.

    Meanwhile, we’re getting steady vegies from the farm: lovely roma beans, kale, yellow squash, chard, beets and turnips. I put up a half gallon jar of pickled turnips and beets using this recipe. I threw some small turnips and beets into tonight’s crock pot chicken. My oven was being used to heat dirt to sterilize it. I have 100 lavender seeds to get started.



  • Very Overdue Update Plus Angry Bees


    Four months? Really? I didn’t do an update all summer?

    I was busier than ever with workshops this spring and summer. My flower garden was lovely in the late Spring, early Summer and then I started to travel. Newspaper and mulch helped some but eventually the weeds won out. We also decided to add another 5 or 6 feet to the front to make it easier to mow so those grasses have obscured what flowers might be blooming.

    Ditto for the rest of the farm. Bob got nice hay and early greens. He was keeping ahead of the chaos. And then, rain and heat combined to make it impossible. We did get a nice harvest of pears from our house in Williamsburg that are now lovely sauce in the freezer. But, our produce is coming from others…and I’m discovering the fun of the farmer’s market. I hope I’m a better consumer because I know how hard farmers work to get the food to the market on Saturday morning. It is, I can tell you, a very hard way to make a living, this raising of food essentially by hand.

    I’ve frozen corn, blueberries and tomato sauce. The blueberries also went into freshly baked hand pies last week and were delicious. There weren’t any this week and the season is almost over. So, our sweet treat this week is going to be peach cake using canned peaches from last year.

    We’ve turned our attention from farming to house work. We haven’t done much in the past four years: added heat mostly. So, Bob is starting with painting the front porch.

    Now to those bees…it is the time of year when you sprinkle them with confectioner’s sugar for mites. I did it last week and all seemed fine. One box had really started in on honey production so I know I’ll at least get a bit in the fall. The other one hadn’t done much. It’s a bigger hive so more space to store honey in the bottom boxes.

    This week, everyone seemed a little edgier and I only managed to complete one hive. My smoker wasn’t helping and eventually failed on. And the bees were going for skin where they could find it. I got stung a couple times so decided to wait on the other hive until another day. Maybe try it earlier or later when it’s cooler, too. The suit is very hot and I think the sweat draws them in even more. Who knows? Just not a happy day at the hive.



  • August!

    rudbeckia_thumbnallAugust has arrived very quickly, it seems to me! The weekly updates I promised got lost in my my work travel and the farm. We are taking produce to two markets each week. We are in Claremont, Virginia, on Fridays from 6 to 8 PM, at the Claremont Circle Store. Then, Saturdays, we attend the Waverly Farmer’s Market on the grounds of the Miles B. Carpenter Museum in Waverly, Virginia. The market at Claremont has become something of a community party. Isaiah from the Circle Store provides hamburgers and hot dogs and there’s live music planned for this week.

    It is a great produce year: cucumbers, squash, tomatoes, eggplants, green beans, cantaloupes with watermelons and pumpkins on the way. Fortunately, the pigs LOVE vegetables, especially cucumbers.

    My flower garden is blooming, even as the weeds threaten to take over. I am getting started on reorganizing now, moving the liatris and obedient plant to a more prominent place. They were overwhelmed by the black eyed susans. Zinnias are coming up through the grass and I have a row of sunflowers that should be blooming soon. It is glorious chaos and I despair of making any kind of headway against the weeds.

    The pigs are almost all out on grass now. We just have one sow in the pen. Her litter is almost four weeks old and will get weaned in another week or so. They will all end up on grass in the next few weeks. Some people wean at three weeks but the litter we did that early just didn’t seem to do as well. My pigs may end up as food at some point but I want them to have as much piggy fun as they can before that happens!

    I put together a video with clips of this particular litter, captured over the last month. We call them Hamp’s Herd: they run around together, in and out of the enclosure, playing in the soybeans. We only lost one, the runt. The rest are just happy little piggies.

    Today, we sent off Biscuit, our boar, to provide services to some sows up the road. (Did I say that gently enough? We think that loaning out our boar makes us real pig farmers.) He was easy to get into the trailer: we just threw in an overripe cantaloupe. While he is on his adventure, we are going to better secure a pen for him so we can get him out of the very muddy building and yard he currently occupies. We can’t get him on grass as he seems to be impervious to electric fence.

    This time of year, I am in charge of preservation. My freezer is a lively place right now: green beans, pesto, peppers, tomato sauce and eggplant are nestled on the shelves. And we are loving eating fresh vegetables as I experiment with recipes. I’ll try to put a few together to share. I tend to be an “on the fly” cook, trying out different methods and sauces, whatever is at hand. We loved eggplant parmigiana made with pesto rather than red sauce. And, the roasted vegetable ragout had a bit of a punch with the jalapenos but was rich and tasty as well.

    We continue to dream of improvements: we bought a trailer to serve as the base for a chicken tractor, our next project. That way, we can get the chickens out on grass as well, moving them as they eat the grass. They get lots of vegies this time of year, but we really want them to be more free range.

    We also want to make an actual market stand on the property and aren’t sure how to do that: build or buy? We could customize one of the storage sheds more quickly but could probably save money if we built it ourselves. This is an ongoing dilemma. We usually end up using a mix of repurposed and purchased materials. For some things, like irrigation and electric fencing, buying new is the only option as all the components work together.

    As we become more known in the community, we are beginning to become part of a network of farmers. We share knowledge and resources as we all work to make our farms successful. Once we get past the growing season, we are hoping to strengthen that network. It is easy to get isolated as the farm demands so much work. But networks can help support bulk buys and local advocacy. We are encouraged by local food initiatives like the one in the Roanoke Valley.

    As I write, a thunderstorm is boiling up outside. The summer has been amazingly mild: today was the hottest day this week and we barely broke 90 degrees. We’ve been sleeping with the windows open and keeping doors open to the back yard during the days. The dogs love it, coming and going as they please, keeping track of the world of the farm and then retreating inside for long summer naps.

  • Freezing Broccoli

    We’ve been eating greens and broccoli for a few weeks but yesterday I arrived home to discover a basket of Broccolibroccoli in the kitchen. More than we can eat so that means it is time to start freezing. Frozen broccoli is nothing like freshly steamed but it is perfect to drop into soups and stews for some extra vegie power in the winter.

    Freezing vegies is easy and I like doing small batches so it doesn’t seem so labor intensive.

    Start with the freshest vegetables you can get. We joke that sometimes we start the water boiling before we’ve even picked the crop 😉 This time, it was a day old as I was away yesterday. But still fresher than anything you’ll get in the grocery store.

    setupI use the florets and save the stems for either stock, or in this case, for the pigs and chickens. Chop first, dropping into colanders. I do one colander load at a time as that amount fits nicely in my big pot. Then, a quick wash under the water. You don’t have to soak broccoli like you might do with greens as it grows pretty far above the dirt. Plus, it’s going into boiling water that will help with a good cleaning.

    I get a good boil going and add the broccoli gradually to try and keep the boil going. Broccoli needs only a minute or two in the water. Any more and it will get too mushy to be of much use. It turns a beautiful green in the water. boiling

    Pull it out. I use a large chinese strainer, the best tool for the job, worth purchasing. Drop it in ice water for a couple minutes. From there, put it out on towels to dry a bit. I pat the tops as well.

    into_the_freezerMy last step may seem excessive to some but it’s worth it: I put the cooked vegies on trays and into the freezer. They’ll freeze more evenly and you’ll be able to pull out just what you need from the freezer bag. No big chunks of ice and vegies. I give them about a day before putting them into the freezer bags.


  • Moving Into Fall

    Hurricane Sandy is churning in the Atlantic, threatening the east coast of the United States.  We are a bit further inland these days but I think we’ll see high winds and rain so we spent the day preparing.  We’ll lose water if the power goes out so we’re filling up barrels with rain water runoff to water the chickens and flush. We have a generator that we will use sparingly to keep the freezers cold.  There’s a summer’s worth of growing, picking and preserving in there.  At least the weather is cooler so we won’t swelter without the window air conditioners at night.

    We went nine days without power in Hurricane Irene last year. It was OK and we took advantage of friends for a shower or two, but it’s just a daily struggle. And, all our appliances are electric these days.  I made a big pot of soup with chicken and lots of fresh and frozen vegies. We can heat it on the camp stove.

    I baked a loaf of almost whole wheat quick bread from Mark Bittman’s The Food Matters Cookbook.  I added cooked onions, grated yellow squash and sharp white cheddar cheese.  It is moist and delicious and I toasted slices to go along with the soup. This was my second loaf of homemade bread this week. I made whole wheat baguettes to go with chock-full-of-vegies spaghetti sauce earlier this week.  I was feeding Bob and a buddy who was staying over to help with some construction work. Even baked a batch of molasses cookies for them. After what seems like months of travel, I’m home for a bit and enjoying a little time off from the workaholic lifestyle.

    We are busy moving into the fall season.  Greens are very popular, especially flat kale (as opposed to curly).  We have turnip, mustard and collard greens as well. I am planning my Thanksgiving menu around what we’ll have available including fresh sweet and regular potatoes, fresh green, corn and green beans from the freezer. We’ll just have to add the turkey and dressing.

    I have to admit that it’s pretty cool to have your own vegetables.  Since we have fresh kale coming in, I have started using my frozen kale.  It goes into almost everything: the meatballs for the spaghetti, the spaghetti sauce, the soup.  I did not put it in the bread but might try a loaf.  I think it would be a matter of getting it very dry.  Mix in some parmesan cheese and fresh herbs.


  • July Comes To An End

    The morning air was cool as the dogs and I headed out for a walk this morning despite predicted heat. The change of seasons happens on the margins of the day, and this was the first morning that we glimpsed autumn. Bob is busy making the transition: harvesting watermelons and cantaloupes, digging up the greens that have gone to seed, planting one last crop of snap beans and tending the new pumpkin vines. We have steady business for vegetables and have partnered with a local man who sells vegetables on the weekends. He heads up to the urban areas near Petersburg and Fort Lee and can sell out a truck load of watermelons and butter beans in one afternoon. He worked for the former owner of the house as well, helping with the gardening. He is a wealth of great information and advice and we are looking forward to working with him. We’ve also been taking vegetables to the local food bank on Saturday mornings so all the squash doesn’t go to waste!

    The chickens are thriving. We have lost a few to black snakes so I spent the weekend doing more snake proofing. I added some covering to the foundation of the hen house and spread some more moth balls. I think the first batch may have worked but rain diminished their effectiveness.

    I promised you my secret to freezer tomato sauce. Here it is: the crock pot! I have never canned tomatoes, preferring to freeze already made sauce. I wash well and then cut up and core the tomatoes if needed (Bob’s romas just need washed and cut into quarters) and put them in the crock pot with the lid on and the temperature set to high. Once it really starts boiling, I tilt the lid to let the water boil off. Often, I’ll let it cook on low overnight. The longer it cooks, the thicker the sauce. Then, I run it through my food mill using the disk with small holes to filter out the seeds and skin. I put about four cups in a quart freezer bag.

    I am also going to wash and freeze whole romas. I use them in recipes that call for canned tomatoes. Take them out, give them a rinse to remove the skin and you have stewed tomatoes ready for chilis and soups.

    I managed to find time to walk around and take pictures to create the mosaic. Enjoy the photos!

    mosaic of pictures

    1. Field of Red, 2. Vegetables!, 3. Wandering Jew, 4. Summer!, 5. Big Bee!, 6. Ameracauna, 7. Gardenia, 8. Happy Farmers, 9. Globe Amaranth, 10. Black Eyed Susan Vine, 11. Cosmos, 12. Yum!, 13. Zinnia, 14. Bee Balm, 15. In the Hen Yard, 16. Tansy, 17. Green!, 18. Doggies, 19. Bee on the Bee Balm, 20. Zinnias

  • Dealing with the Green Monster (and yellow, too)

    Lingering over coffee on Sunday morning…I’m heading to the kitchen soon to start working on zucchini and squash. I’m going to start with making chips in the dehydrator. I’ll also grate some for the freezer to use in muffins and breads. And, since we have plenty, we’re going to give sun drying a try. I’m planning to salt and skewer them and put them in our sun room. I may go ahead and bake some muffins while I’m at it…

    The jalapeno peppers are coming in so I made Pioneer Woman’s Bacon-Wrapped Jalapeno Thingies. Delicious!

    And, for my birthday, I got the lovely King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking Book. I’ve been using their sour cream muffin recipe with frozen berries and last night, in an effort to clear out last year’s bounty of raspberries, baked up a pan of raspberry crumble bars. They are wonderful with a thick crust, soft raspberry filling and crumble top. I’m hoping they freeze well.

    For now, I’m using the whole wheat flour in the cupboard but we’ve been working on threshing and winnowing our own wheat so once the store bought is gone, I should have plenty of my own wheat to grind. Talk about baking from scratch!

    The farm stand is slowly gaining customers. We still have more produce than we can eat or sell so Bob is heading to the local food mission to drop off the bounty.

  • Putting Up the Sign

    farm signThe produce is coming in like crazy: peas, early beans, squash, zucchini and more.  We put up the sign on Memorial Day but haven’t had any traffic yet.  Today, I am going to head down to the end of the drive with a table full of vegies to see if that makes a difference.  Bob is planning to put a sign on the main road with an arrow.  The lady at the bank suggested flyers and word of mouth.  I suspect it will be any and all of those ideas!  But we need to move some vegetables.  I’ve been freezing and jam making and we’ve been eating salads like crazy!  We even hauled a load of old radishes and bolted lettuce to a friend with a horse and goats.  We just hate to see it go to waste.

    The weather has been cooperating nicely.  Rain when we need it with plenty of warm sunny days.  Perhaps a bit hotter than we might like but the next few days promise to be cooler.  The big rain that came through late last week made for perfect weeding conditions where the roots seem to come right out of the soil.  I spent hours in the flowers and raspberries, pulling weeds.  And Bob pointed me in the direction of the blueberries as well.

    The wildlife seems to be everywhere this year.  Bunnies barely hop away when we emerge from the back door.  They drive Spot crazy and I worry for my arm as he strains at the end of the leash.  I’m glad I missed the black snake sunning himself on the back steps.  But I did catch a glimpse of the ground hog that lives under the old corn crib and the fox who silently swished through undergrowth near the silo.  Today’s treat was turkeys: two hens in the field.  Spot saw them, too, and his barking alerted them to our presence.  Once disappeared while the other scampered across the field and then took off with an annoyed cluck and landed farther along the rail road tracks.

    I’m learning that jam making is an art: all three batches have been different, the first was too stiff, the second closer to perfect and the third a bit runnier but still very much edible.  And, I can’t figure out why the third batch made 8 pints when the first two with what I thought were the same amounts of berries only yielded 5-1/2.   I’m hoping there’s another round of strawberries so I can try one more time to achieve jam perfection.  On a side note, the stiff jam made a wonderful addition to frosting; I added a quarter cup to butter and confectioner’s sugar to get a slightly pink and wonderfully sweet concoction.

    I’ll post pictures later but for now, it’s time to open the stand!

  • Freezing Kale

    KaleI “put up” 22 quart bags of kale last week and there is plenty more to do this weekend. Last weekend, I took pictures of the process, anticipating a blog entry. It took a whole week, but here you go…freezing kale!

    1. Pick the kale. I knew I was going to chop it so I didn’t get too picky about leaf size, just dumping everything into a grocery bag.
    2. Wash well. This grows in dirt, folks, so cleaning is essential. I floated mine in the kitchen sink. I did about one sink load at a time

    and that yielded 4 to 5 quarts of frozen kale.

    Chopping Block3. I had my large pot about half filled with water and coming to a boil while I chopped. I stacked the kale leaves, rolled them and then sliced them into strips.
    4. Into the boiling water, for about 2 minutes. Since I wanted to be able to reuse the boiling water, I scooped the cooked kale out with a large colander and am on the lookout for a great bamboo scoop. Then, into ice water. From there, I took it out, gave it a squeeze and put it on clean towels to dry a bit more.
    Quick Freeze5. One more gentle squeeze and I made piles on the cookie sheets about the size I wanted. I slid these into the freezer for an hour or so or overnight with the last tray…then into the quart bags. Since I didn’t have official “freezer” bags, I put four quart bags in gallon freezer bags to help with preservation.

    I don’t think this is a product that will live forever in the freezer but we’ll have kale again in that fall so I just need enough to get me through the summer.

    Kale PestoI did all my chopping with my knife except for a brief attempt at using the food processor. It did not work well: not consistent so I ended up with big pieces and then very little pieces. Not wanting to waste a bit of kale (goodness knows we might run out ;-), I made kale pesto with garlic, parmesan cheese and olive oil. We spread it on leftover garlic bread and ran it under the broiler. Quite good, if I do say so myself.

    The next experiment is putting it in breads and muffins.

  • Potato Day

    So here we sit, watching Meet the Press, laptops open, catching up on email and the news (and, in my case, this blog) before heading outside to plant potatoes. It is SPRING and that means we spent every free moment with our hands in the dirt.

    I’ve been mostly working on flowers. Bob tilled up a 5-foot wide, 200-foot long garden along the road. (For the record, I asked for a “little” more space but the tiller does 5 feet swatches and once he got started…) Part of it will become the butterfly/hummingbird garden I’ve always wanted. I have boxes of seed mixes as well as jars, bags and bottles of seeds we have saved over the years: purple columbine, rose campion, and marigolds galore. Even if only half of them germinate it should be pretty spectacular. At least a girl can hope!

    And Spring is all about hope. Seedings thriving in the sunroom, fresh dirt turning under the tractor, lovely warm days stretching into evening as each day adds a few more minutes of light. Other work gets pushed into the corners of the day as we take advantage of nice weather.

    There are peas up down by the road. We never got a great crop in the burg but this one looks promising. We may be able to pick some for salads and stir fries. Bob is working on transplanting lettuce to the area that will be protected by the greenhouse. This may be our first cash crop as we have enough to feed at least a few other people.

    Delicious on 365 Project

    I’m planning to freeze kale this afternoon as the crop is starting to go to seed, the mustard greens having already succumbed earlier this week. We have been eating kale almost every day for a week. I roasted it with potatoes, garlic and onion, made a fresh kale salad for dinner last night and added it to this morning’s frittata along with last night’s leftover potatoes. We sent our house guests home with a big bag.

    Painting the bee hives is also on the list. Bob’s going to work on putting them together while I pick kale.

    And so another Sunday begins on the farm…if you’re in the area, stop by. We’ll put you to work 😉