Saturday, August 28, 2010

Waiting on the Bees

Don works on the bees

Yesterday afternoon, I went outside and found Don checking on the bees.  During the heat of summer, here in Florida, the bees have to be watched, as there aren't as many sources of nectar and pollen available.  He supplies them with syrup and a pollen substitute when needed.  They seem to have enjoyed the overcast, cooler days we had this week and have been busy working away.
 
Capped brood cells

I wasn't wearing a veil, but the bees seemed to be really calm, so I ventured up close and took pictures.  It looks like the queen has been busy laying eggs in those dark capped cells.  Don likes to keep track of her movement, making sure there are free cells for when the fall honey flow arrives.  We are patiently looking forward to our first harvest, sometime in October - I hope. 

building wax cells for our future honey harvest!

The upper box he added a couple of weeks ago has lots of wax build up.  This is where they'll be putting all their honey reserves.  We don't expect as much honey in the fall as we do in spring after the orange blossoms and spring crops arrive.  Since this is our first year keeping bees, it's all new to us.  We are happy we've managed to keep them alive and well through the summer. 

Even the White House has a beekeeper working on a nice stack of boxes. I'm dreaming of the day we harvest our honey like they did in this video!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Sunday Drive

This afternoon, we drove down to Myakka, in Sarasota County, to pick up our feed order from Countryside co-op.  It took us about 45 minutes each way, so it wasn't too long of a ride; and we saw a couple of interesting sights along the way. 
The old Myakka schoolhouse was built in 1914 for $1,930.
We arrived at our destination at around 2:00, and it was hot...  One of the Jersey cows there was literally panting.  Poor thing, she's pregnant, so she must have been feeling the heat.  She quit after a nice hosedown.  I didn't blame her, it was muggy out there. 

Even though it was hot, I was glad we had an earlier pick-up time today.  The last time we went down there, we had to drive through a monsoon which slowed us down to a crawl.  We were in a hurry to get back that day, so we didn't have much of a chance to speak with the homesteaders who run the co-op.  Melissa and Rick were out today, and we had a nice visit with them as we loaded up.  We exchanged experiences, learned about their dairy business and future goal of growing strawberries, and just spent some time getting to know their family.
On our way home, we saw wild turkeys - a good size flock on both sides of the road.  Florida used to sustain many wild turkeys, hogs, cows, and even sheep roaming free before it became so highly developed.  The first Florida settlers survived by hunting them.  Wild-pig roasts are still a Florida show of hospitality along with a pot of swamp cabbage and perhaps some fried gator tail too.  I wouldn't want to encounter a wild pig, or 'feral hogs' as some in the media like to call them.  It's been estimated that there are over half a million wild pigs roaming around lose in Florida, and they are quite destructive to farmland.  The term wild when it comes to these hogs isn't just about living out in the wilderness.  They are aggressive, carry diseses, have large tusks, and move pretty fast according to a friend of ours who owns many acres of orange groves. Wild turkeys, on the other hand, don't bother anyone.  They are still out there to be seen on a hot and muggy summer afternoon. 
We also got to see vast expanses, herds of cows grazing the fields, and flocks of white cattle egrets.  These sights reminded me of  America the Beautiful.

A New Look!

I had a lot of fun revamping the blog this afternoon. I loved the chocolate color I had before, but I am happy with this. It took me several hours this evening, but it was a fun and relaxing thing to do, and I learned a few things along the way. Thanks goes to my friend Kim who encouraged me to try some ‘linking.’ In looking around to figure out how to do that, I acquired a case of ADD which set me off in numerous directions at once, trying all sorts of things at the same time. It’s a wonder the blog is in one piece and my brain isn’t fried yet. I hope you like it and leave a comment. I will look you up if you do, check your blog out if you have one, and return the favor too.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Arachnophobia

Black-and-yellow argiope
This huge spider lives close to the house, a few steps from our back door...  We have two people in the family who suffer from a moderate degree of aracnophobia...  It's funny to me.  You know who you are.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Summer Garden Survivors

Basil seeds and reseeds during the summer. 
So we have lots of pesto in the freezer.  I will be looking for recipes today including large amounts of fresh basil! 

We didn't pull out the eggplant bushes after the Spring harvest this year.  They've kept on producing through the summer, though at a slower rate.  These summer eggplants are much smaller but otherwise just as good.  It may be that we need to prune the plants to have larger ones.  I'm not against the smaller eggplants though, and the bushes are full of flowers now...  So, I may leave them alone.

These little peppers are hot!  The plant has been giving and giving all summer.  They were seedlings bought at the garden center and labeled 'Poblano Peppers,' not so...  They are little peppers, about two inches long.  I plan on drying some of them as they don't do well in Central Florida once the temperature cools down at night.  Peppers are a reliable summer survivor in our garden, but only in the hydroponic buckets.

I love watercress and was happily surprised to find it had reseeded from last year's crop.  I left one plant to go to seed becasue the bees seemed to love it, and this is a nice reward.  I can't wait for our first cold front and some potato and watercress soup this fall.

Sweet potato vine invasion. 
I'm thinking this is a good sign and we won't be let down again.  Last year, we planted just one bed and only got one basket-full of smallish sweet potatoes out of it, hardly worth the trouble.  I'm hopeful!

... and Emily's flower garden survived the summer heat too!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Mystery Solved

After weeks of wondering what that chicken in the last post was, I posted the question at the Backyard Chicken Forum.  Within an hour I had the answer!  We have a Dark Brahma roo.  That was a surprise.  I found a video of one, take a look:

One site called them "Gentle Giants." What fun!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Chicken Watch

This evening, after a nice rain shower, we sat and did some chicken watching in the back yard.  It had cooled down off just enough.  We were comfortably enjoying their comical antics.
One of our unanswered questions is what in the world is this chicken?  It has been named Jesse, since we still haven't figured out if it's a hen or rooster.  Jesse has feathered legs and feet.  At first we thought it was another Silver Laced Wyandote hen, but it is not. 

These are two of our older hens.  They stick together now that they are living with the younger ones in the back coop.
It never fails.  At some point while they are all grazing, peaceably, one of the hens decides there is an emergency and takes off running and flying.  It seems like this behavior is terribly contagious.  The entire bunch of them follows in the same manner for no apparent reason.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Really Yummy Gumbo

Last week, down in Captiva, we ate at several local restaurants. I had seafood to my heart’s content – Seafood Fajitas and Seafood Omelet at R.C. Otter’s, Crab Cakes Benedict at The Key Lime Bistro, and The Pink Flamingo’s Grouper Sandwich. But something I didn’t have was a paella dish one restaurant offered for way too much money. I thought I would probably be disappointed, since I’ve never been able to find real paella in Florida, and I knew I could make enough of it to feed my entire family for less than what they charged for one serving.

I was paging through the latest issue of Cook’s Country yesterday and found a very tempting gumbo recipe. Gumbo is an example of American melting-pot cooking. With its rice base and seafood ingredients, it hits the same spot for me as paella; but it goes even further. The cooking of Spain, at least in northern and central Spain, lacks any heat whatsoever. They also don’t use tomatoes, for the most part. This gumbo recipe does... Well, I had all the ingredients on hand, even the fish sauce. Fish sauce? You ask. Here’s what Cook’s Country said: “Sure, some may view it as heretical to authentic gumbo. I prefer to look at it as yet another culture stirred into an already diverse pot.” Well that was right up my isle – two of our children are adopted from China. To top it off, the recipe title calls it “fast”. I love this gumbo recipe.  The "fast" description in the title refers to a technique this cook found that shortens the cooking time of the genuine Louisiana roux, which gives this gumbo its nutty flavor - yumm!

Funky Junk Interiors

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

New Marans Chicks


Here are the chicks we picked up last week in Ft. Myers.  The larger one was a recue.  We almost didn't bring him home because he was in such bad shape, but after touring the farm, I had more confidence that he was truly mistreated by the silkie that raised him.  Apparently, she got mean on him and started pecking a few weeks after hatching.  I'm doubtful because I've always been told that Silkies are so gentle.  Anyway, the girl said she thought he was a Black Copper Marans male, and I'm not sure why at this point, but since she seemed to be very much into her chickens, I'm taking her word for it.


The little ones were hatched in an incubator. The girl who breeds these couldn't tell me which type of Marans they were.  She has Black Coppers, Cuckoos, and Golden Cuckoos.  So, a mystery hatch it is. They look like Cuckoo chicks to me, but I've never seen a Golden Cuckoo chick, so I'm not sure. I tried to figure out their sexes, and from what I read on this post at the backyard chicken forum, they may both be pullets.


I enjoyed visiting the coops and was impressed by this young breeder who lives with her parents and built these coops on her own. 


On the left side, near the middle of the picture sits that Silkie mama that hatched the rescue roo.


Here's the bantam sentinel who greeted us.  He actually did threaten us with a sideways dance on our way out.  I have great respect for bantam roos and their napoleonic ways.

Some of the Marans roos we saw free ranging.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Checking In

Don and I managed to get away for a couple of days last week. We went down to Captiva Island, off the Fort Myers coast.  It was a very nice time of rest and relaxation, much needed as we start school again tomorrow.  On our way home, we stopped by a Marans breeder in Ft. Myers and picked up three chicks.  I'll post pictures and more on that subject this week. 

Don worked on the coops this weekend, cleaned them out and got one ready for the growing Marans flock to move in.  We moved them in this evening.  I'll be out there later to see how they've settled in.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Baking Hamburger Buns

Few things that spell 'home' better than the aroma of baking bread emanating from a kitchen. During the hot summer months, I tend to bake a lot less. But this morning, I visited My Edible Yard and saw her amazing hamburger buns.  I had to bake some buns...  As I type here, they are cooling on the counter.  The smell is good, good, good!

I bake bread not only for its aroma but because the industrial bread that fills an isle at the grocery store is laden with chemicals that keep it from going stale.  It is like looking for a needle in a haystack to find bread not containing corn syrup in those isles, and that is another thing we try to avoid.

Preservatives would be a waste on home-baked bread as it has a tendency to vanish within 24 hours.

Hamburger Buns

Adapted from Chowhound's forum hamburger buns recipe

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup whole milk
2 pkg. (4 1/2 tsp.) dry yeast
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
5 cups non-bleached white flour, or 3 cups non-bleached white flour and 2 cups whole wheat flour (this is what I did)**
more melted butter

PREPARATION:
Warm the milk in a small saucepan over low heat. Mix 1/3 of the milk with the dry yeast in a small bowl and let sit until bubbly. In a large bowl, combine remaining milk, melted butter, salt and sugar and beat until the sugar is dissolved. Then add the beaten eggs and bubbly yeast.

Add flour, 1/4 cup at a time, beating on high speed of stand mixer. This step should take at least 5 minutes. When the dough gets too stiff to beat, stir in rest of flour by hand, if necessary, to make a soft dough. Knead for 5 minutes, until smooth and satiny. Place dough in greased bowl, turning to grease top. Cover and let rise in warm place until light and doubled in size.

Punch down the dough and roll out on floured surface to 1/2" thickness. Cut with 3" round cookie cutter. Brush each roll with melted butter and fold in half to make half circles. Pinch edge lightly to hold, so the rolls don't unfold as they rise. Place in 2 greased 13x9" pans, cover, and let rise again until double. (If you refrigerated the dough, this will take a little longer.)

Bake rolls at 350 degrees F for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.

** Bread is always a bit heavier when baked with whole wheat flour. If you like your buns fluffy, then use just white.

Diatomaceous Earth

When we bought our first Jersey cow, about seven years ago, she came to us needing de-worming.  All we knew  to do was to go to Tractor Supply and buy their over-the-counter meds.  Since we were going to be drinking our cow's milk, we needed a remedy that wouldn't contaminate it.  The answer was diatomaceaous earth. 

This site has a good description of the pest control uses of diatomaceous earth.
We have been feeding small amounts of it to all our animals for years, including Molly, and regularly scatter it around the chicken coops, nests, and over the chickens to control mites, flies, and other insects. Keeping our animals free of parasites is one of the things we must do to also protect our family.  In a recent visit to our family doctor, he mentioned that women in the past used to deworm their children twice a year.  Perhaps we should be doing that too. 

We used to be able to buy the pure DE at our feed store, but for some reason they switched to a brand that containes bentonite clay.  We now order it from Countryside Natural.  If you are one of the happy few who happens to live near a supplier of organic feed, you may have easy access to diatomaceaous earth.

NOTE: The Diatomaceous Earth sold at pool supply shops is not food grade and shouldn't be used for deworming or feeding to animals.
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