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Archive for the ‘chit chat’ Category

It’s back!

I had no idea how many people really enjoyed reading this blog, I apologize for taking it down, I didn’t think it would be missed. So ok, I’m putting it back up. There really is alot of good information here, even if I don’t update it all that often.

I’ll try to keep so much dust from gathering in future! Enjoy!

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woodball1I know many people don’t like wasps but they really are beneficial. I find them just as fascinating as I do our honey bees. It’s true that they do kill a few of our honey bees, but so do many other things. The wasps don’t take that many and we’ve all learned to live together peacefully. The wasp in the picture above is a German Yellow-jacket, I’ve found them to be very peaceful and non-aggressive. We have quite a few living in our area and have never had any problems with them. In fact I’ve gotten more stings from our bees (3) than for these guys (0).

This one is collecting wood for her nest. She is nibbling off very thin strips of wood and rolling it into a ball so she can more easily carry it. I love to watch them do this.

yellowjacket

Now she is picking up the ball of wood and getting ready to fly back to her nest.

We also have a variety of very tiny wasp, I’m not sure what they are, they look like this wasp but are much smaller and very non-aggressive. They usually set up a nest on our porch every summer and don’t mind at all when we sit just beneath the entrance to their nest  in the evenings, they come and go and mind their own business so we don’t mind them living there.

Another wasp that we are lucky enough to live with is the giant European Hornet. These guys are rather scary looking because they are so big! They measure approximately 1 1/2″  long. They have a very distinctive drone, very low and deep. I can generally tell just by the sound whether it’s a honey bee, wasp or a giant hornet flying by the window. Though the hornets are big and intimidating they are also very non-aggressive. They are rather rare here and I believe they are protected so we feel very lucky to have them living in our area. In the early spring we usually see the queen flying around and she is truly an impressive sight!

Photo by Richard Bartz

Photo by Richard Bartz

This is a picture of a European Hornet with a bit of captured prey that she will take back to feed to her growing larvae. I think she is just beautiful!

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I love to watch our bees drink, it’s something you don’t see everyday. Long periods of time can go by without noticing any bees at all near the water barrel and then one day you wake up to find 30-40 bees all drinking at once, and they will usually spend the next several days drinking. Peer told me that this is a good indication that they are breeding. They are hauling water back to the hive. He says that they use the water to drink and also to regulate the temperature in the hive. Here is the place that our bees like to drink.

waterbarrel

Inside the barrel we have a piece of styrofoam which is like a raft for the bees. All those black dots on the styrofoam are bees. One thing I’ve discovered is that bees do not do very well around water, they fall in and drown really easily. They do much better with this big raft. The styrofoam is not totally flat and smooth, I picked out shallow holes in the surface so that water can well up and make little shallow ponds on the surface of the raft, then they can drink in relative safety. Here are some close-ups of the raft.

beegroup

That same raft has been in there for more than a year, they hold up well. You can see a bit of algae has developed but the bees don’t mind, there are many other places they could get water from, but they seem to prefer this spot.

beesclose

beesdrinking

beedrink3

We’ve got lots of stuff blooming in our area right now. The cherry trees started blooming over the weekend and that is when the beekeepers around here put the honey boxes on the hives. That’s what peer did yesterday. He also set up 2 of our Warre hives in the hope that when the bees begin to swarm that they will just move into one of the empty hives. We have a hard time catching the swarms otherwise, because the hives are surrounded by several really tall trees and of course when they swarm they go to the very top where we can’t reach them.

honeyboxes

I forgot to tell you that we did end up losing another hive so we are down to three right now. The one that we thought was just weak was actually dead. The bees we saw going in and out were bees from the other hives raiding it.

and so that’s about it for now, I’ll leave you with a few photos…

swampmarigolds

These are my swamp marigolds, they live in the water-trough next to the barrel where the bees drink.

basilsprouts

And this is my favorite picture from yesterday. These are my basil seedlings coming up.

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snowcrop21

Spring…

Here in Germany the snowdrops are up. Our yard is speckled with lovely green and white clumps. The wild garlic is sprouting up along the creek bank and the edges of the forest paths, also green and white. In the picture above I can also see the tiny heads of young nettles just pushing above the surface. The world is waking up and I will admit, winter lover that I am, that I am really ready for it.

One of the things I love about spring, besides all the new growth is the sound of the spring thaw as it rushes along our little creek. It’s a happy clean refreshing sound and makes me dream of the warm breezy and sunny days to come.

The bees are also slowly waking up…I visited the hives today.

marchbees

I know it looks pretty quiet but while I was visiting, there was a steady, if very slow, stream of bees coming and going. Especially from the first hive. I wasn’t quick enough to get a picture of one. They are sluggish but waking. I think I saw 8 bees in the 5 minutes I was standing there…not many but soon the air will be full with their happy busy buzzing. We’re not sure yet if all of our hives have survived. A few of them were a bit small going into the winter so we are not very confident that they will all make it through the winter, but there is really nothing that we can do once we have fed them for the winter, I guess we’ll know in a few weeks.

We’re starting to plan what we’d like to accomplish during the warm half of the year. I’m afraid that we are leaning toward not planting a garden this year. We still have so much to do around here that we could really put the time we would spend on the garden to better use. Since Peer works full time and isn’t able to spend as much time as he’d like working around the house, we have to take advantage of the time we do have and plan carefully what really needs to be done first. We will put down a cover crop of wild flowers so we don’t lose our planting beds to weeds.

Some of the things that are on our list for consideration.

  • greenhouse
  • herb garden
  • walkways
  • hedge
  • patio
  • cleaning

We are re-thinking what we want to grow, according to what we eat the most of and what is the most practical for us to grow on our tiny piece of land. Since we eat a vegan diet, we eat a ton of veggies and in the summer months, we will be eating lots of greens and salad veggies. In future we will add more kale, chard, spinach and lettuces to the garden, we will probably not grow potatoes or carrots, and will add broccoli and cauliflower. But much of what we eat, needs a greenhouse. We are going to try and get one built this summer.

We also use alot of herbs so getting the herb garden dug and planted is also high on the list.

We have no walkways in our yard and we really could use them. It becomes a swamp in the spring and fall and getting around is not so easy. The problem with walkways is that they cost money so we’ll be thinking about whether we can afford to do that this year. We also aren’t sure yet what type of walkways we’d like.

We have to finish planting the hedge, we have one side planted but need to buy the plants and dig the holes along the other side of the property. More money…

We have no place to sit and relax outside, no place to barbecue or have company over during the summer months. This is high on our list because even though it might seem trivial, it’s something that is important to us. We’ve been here for 8 years…it’s really time we had a place to sit outdoors. Last year we were given some large concrete bricks so we’re hoping to use those.

We still have a ton of cleaning to do. There is a huge pile of trash behind the house, but we need to rent a large dumpster (or two) in order to get rid of it…again…money. It always comes down to the money, doesn’t it?

Anyway, that’s what we’re thinking about right now. I’ll keep you updated.

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birdhouse

We’re finally having a decent winter around here, complete with plenty of snow and cold…REALLY cold weather. It’s been a few years since we had a decent winter. I’ve been making food for the birds this year and they are loving it, we now have quite a large gathering who spend their days in our trees. Mostly we’ve got tits (ok, I know this is going to really increase my traffic but I’m not the one who named them!)

Tits, you know tits like this…

greattit

That one is known as a Great Tit, we have tons of these. We also see some of the smaller Blue Tits although not as many. We get a few European Robins which look like this…

european-robin

Photo by Jens B. Bruun

These are much smaller and more delicate than the North American robin. We’ve got a few pairs of black birds which is why Peer built the nifty bird feeder shown above, they’re too big to eat from the hanging bags of food, but they haven’t gotten the hang of this new bird house yet and still insist on eating the crumbs that the little birds drop on the ground. I worry that a cat will get them…probably my cat…she’s way too good at hunting.

wren-006

We also get a few wrens…These are super cute, but we don’t get very many at all.

great-spotted-woodpecker1

photo by Bill Baston

We even have a Great Spotted Woodpecker who has started hanging out in our elderberry tree. These are pretty rare so it is nice to see him.

Bird Feed Recipe

To make the food, I melt 500gm plant fat, mix in 500gm rolled oats, a cup or so sunflower seeds, some millet mix it up good and then let it all soak in the fat. Stir occasionally as it re-hardens. Then I scoop it into recycled net bags, the kind that onions and lemons come in, tie closed with a long piece of string and hang them from tree branches. The little birds can eat from these but not the larger birds. The birds love this stuff and I end up making at least 2 batches a week.

foodbags

What else am I up too? Well, I’m a bit early I guess, but I’ve started my spring cleaning. Unfortunately, being the Queen of Clutter that I am…this is long overdue and has turned into a major undertaking. But it’s got to be done, our walls are in need of a fresh coat of paint which we’ll be doing sometime in February so first we need to be able to get to the walls! I think I’ve got another 2 weeks of cleaning and de-cluttering before I’m done.

When I’m not cleaning I’m doing alot of knitting and spinning either that or cooking. Peer has been cleaning and melting down wax from the old hive we replaced last summer with a Warre hive. Anyway I  have lots to write about and lots of pictures to show, I’ll try to get caught up during this week.

First of all, I finished my Anemoi mittens…

mittenfinishpair

I love these mittens, the only problem is that the thumb is a wee bit snug, but they are warm and I love the pattern.

mittenfinishhand

I’ve got a blanket, a scarf and a pair of socks on the needles too at the moment but none are anywhere near to being finished. Oops, I just found a pattern for a matching hat to go with my Anemoi mittens. Guess what I’ll be casting on this evening :O)

I got the chance to spin hand-dyed roving for the very first time last week! Yes, it was very exciting! I normally spin plain old white wool, which is still tons of fun, but spinning in color, wow!… it’s so totally mesmerizing. Anyone who knows me and has seen my glass art, knows that these are so MY colors. Learning to dye my own handspun yarn is right at the top of my things to do list.

firstdyedroving

Anyway, I didn’t dye this particular wool myself, I got this from Gale’s Art Fibers on Etsy. She makes gorgeous roving. I made a chunky weight yarn out of it and since I  didn’t  have very much, I needed a small project so and ended up knitting it into another pair of mittens :O)

mittenweekend

The colors are actually alot more intense, every time I photograph these mittens they look washed out. Anyway, they’re cute, warm and comfy.

So, that’s it for today, other topics I’d like to cover this week include: making tofu, cleaning and preparing wax from the hives and maybe a recipe or two if I have the time.

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…who are now scurrying to get ready for winter. They do seem to be a bit more nervous and testy during this time of the year. They realize I think, that they don’t have much more time to prepare. The major nectar and pollen harvests are over for them, they’ve kicked all the slackers out of the hives, the drones, who can’t seem to do anything for themselves (including even the simple things like feeding themselves) and would seriously burden a hive during the winter months.

Our bees didn’t manage to collect enough to see themselves through the winter. They’re still collecting what they can, but it won’t be enough, so, during the past few weeks, Peer has fed them up on sugar water. They’ve collected it all and are now busy making honey with it. They’ve got one more treatment to undergo for mites and then that’s pretty much it for the year. Peer has done all he can to ensure their survival…once the hive is closed for the winter you just don’t open it again, so only time will tell, they will either survive the winter or they won’t.

Here is one of the few salvageable “junk” items that we found on the property when we moved here. It’s an old watering trough. We use it to catch rain water that comes off of our roof which we use to water the garden. The bees use it as a watering hole…

Water Trough

The plant growing in it is a Swamp marigold.

Thirsty Bees

All day long this spot is full of thirsty bees, I love to watch them drinking, it’s not something you see every day…well, not something most people see every day :) The problem with a deep watering hole like this though is that the bees seem to fall in fairly frequently and they usually drown, they don’t do well in the water. That’s why there are a few pieces of floating wood…little life rafts :)

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..well, at least for this year. I’m talking about our garden…our first vegetable garden. So far this year it has been a dismal failure due in large part to our inexperience but not only that. The soil hasn’t been worked in decades and was used mainly as a garbage dump. You name it, it got dumped here and we’ve been digging out the remains for years. We’ve also had very wet, cold and dark weather which didn’t help. I think we planted a bit too late as well.

All in all, it just didn’t work this year and we are jumping ship… saying Uncle…throwing in the towel..and the trowel…we know when we are beat. We have so many other things to concentrate on before winter sets in that trying to save our sad, fruitless veggie plants would be a total waste of time…they’ll make good compost.

So we will chalk this up as a learning experience. We did harvest a few things, a few peas, some cabbages, some onions and some potatoes…. All in all we didn’t even get 10lbs of potatoes, they just weren’t there…the plants looked great and died like they should, but there just weren’t any potatoes to speak of… I’m thinking alien abduction…that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

But here is a picture of what we did get. We planted Linda white potatoes and some red and blue potatoes, I have no idea what variety they were, they were a gift from a friend. We like the reds but the blues we weren’t particularly impressed with.

potatoes

We spent part of the weekend pulling up the failed plants and turning the soil. We left the corn and the fava beans. The corn has a few small ears on it and the fava beans are drying. My herb garden on the other hand did very well, so at least there’s that :)

I did some more baking over the weekend. I wanted to test a new crusty white bread recipe, here’s what I got.

new recipe

I can’t tell you how yummy this bread is :)

Since the garden is a bust, I am going to focus a lot on learning to can, make jams and butters, work on the baking, and start dreaming and planning for next year. ..oh…and cheese, I want to learn to make cheese. I bought several pounds of green beans at the store and I am going to salt them this week for winter storage. This is done pretty much the same way you make sauerkraut….layers of fresh green beans and salt in a large ceramic crock which is set aside to ferment. These beans taste fantastic if they are done right. I haven’t made them before so I want to practice on store bought beans first, that way if it doesn’t work, I won’t feel like crying because I wasted so many beans from our own garden. In another month or so I’ll also make sauerkraut, I’ve made it for the past 2 years now and it is a wonderful winter food. Tastes fantastic and is so good for you, it is also easy to make.

So that’s all the latest…oh yeah, I’m conveniently forgetting that tomorrow is my birthday…well gee, I’m excited… the big 4 5….wow,look at me go…can you feel my excitement?

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