Preserving the Harvest

The reason for having a garden is not only to have fresh fruit and vegetables in the summer, but also to preserve them for the winter months. That can be done by canning, drying or freezing. This year, we didn’t have much of a garden so we didn’t have anything to put up, except for a few herbs that I am drying.  That is about the limit of my drying experience: herbs. My preferred method of preserving is canning although I’m still a novice and have a lot of learning to do. I save freezing for shorter term preservation.

As you know, we planted fruit trees last spring, and while they are all doing well, it will be at least three or four years before they produce any fruit. However, I am getting some preserving the harvest practice in this year because I was given several pounds of pears and granny smith apples.

IMG_0863

img_0865.jpg

Pears are funny things. They do not ripen on the tree. They fall off and then ripen. You have to catch them quick because the window between green and rotten is very small. So what did I do with thirty pounds of pears in varying stages of ripeness? I made an enormous batch of pear butter. Let me just say in advance, that it wasn’t a good idea.

I used the pear butter recipe in the Ball Canning book. It called for pounds of pears per recipe and gives the approximate yields in pints (this is also where I rediscovered that my water bath canner is only large enough for pint jars) One recipe makes about four pints. First it says to peel and core the fruit. So Chicken Girl and I did that. We had to take a couple breaks to wash our hands and the knives because, if you didn’t know, peeling pears is a sticky mess.

Anyway, we filled my largest stock pot with pears. Then I was supposed to add some water and cook it until the pears were soft…um some of the pears were already soft…Then I needed to use a food mill or a food processor to make pulp, being careful not to liquefy it. A food mill is on my wish list, (and would have been a much better choice) but you use what you have right?

IMG_0866

Yeah, it’s full. Not a good idea.

Then I was supposed to measure out two quarts of pulp per batch. I had six quarts so that is three batches…but I started with thirty pounds of pears which was five batches? Fine, three batches it is.

So I added the sugar and spices and put it all back in the stock pot. I was supposed to cook it down until thick, stirring occasionally to keep from sticking. What it did not say (anywhere in the book..I looked) was that this cooking has to be done on LOW and takes a long time (like hours). I had my fire too high and even stirring constantly, I could feel it sticking. What do do. I turned it off and went to look online for more information…Yeah low and hours…oh look there…crock pot! Yes! I have crock pots

So I pulled out both my crock pots and filled them. The bottom of my stock pot had thick black gunk stuck to the bottom that we are still trying to get out. My take from that is that I tried to cook too much at once over too hot a fire, in a pot with too thin a bottom.

Anyway, I left it all in the crock pot overnight. And canned it the next day. I ended up with twelve pints. I’m not impressed with it. Bam Bam said he thought it was ok, but then Bam Bam really likes pears.

As for the apples, learning from the pear butter experience, I went a little different route. First I made an apple pie (I don’t do home made pie crusts very well, but I wanted to give Chicken Girl the experience..she doesn’t do them well either). The pie tasted good, but it wasn’t very pretty. Then I came across a recipe for fresh apple cake. That was so good it was gone in about a day. Unfortunately, I didn’t get pictures of either.

Of course, I had to try apple sauce and apple butter, but only one batch at a time. If I could do that, then I would do more. I found recipes for both that used the crock pot. I’ll try the old fashioned way again, when I have better cooking pots.

I did apple butter first. I found the recipe here. So we peeled and cored the apples. I’ve had this little device for years, and I can’t tell you how much I love it. It pretty much does everything for you. Even if you need to chop them up more finely, it’s easy to do with them already peeled, cored and sliced.

IMG_0876

Love this apple corer/peeler/slicer!

Making the apple butter was an all day thing, because it needed to be in the crock pot for a total of ten hours. The first hour on high, the last hour with an open lid, and the eight hours between closed and on low. You can imagine how good it smelled. Anyway, it was supposed to make three pints. Well, it didn’t quite. It was more like two and and three quarters, so I canned two pints and left the third one open in the fridge. Ed and I had some with left over biscuits this morning for breakfast. Yeah, this is a keeper recipe.

IMG_0872

after the first hour

IMG_0875

All done!

Next came the apple sauce. Again, I found an online recipe. So, this morning, Chicken Girl ran five pounds of apples through the peeler. It took a little longer because the apples are beginning to spoil, so we had to go through a few bad ones. Sometimes, you can’t tell they’re bad until you cut into them, or until the corer gets stuck and you realize the core is no longer solid. Yuck. Anyway, back in the crock pot. This time on high for three hours. Again, the house filled with the smell of apples and cinnamon.

IMG_0877

Ready to cook

At the end of three hours, I opened the crock pot and took a look. Then I used a potato masher to mash the cooked apples and poured it into a glass bowl. Isn’t it pretty?

IMG_0882

Apple Sauce

It’s good too. It’s a little tart, which is ok with me. Ed liked it better than the apple butter and I did too. Like Bam Bam, he thought the pear butter was “ok”. I don’t. It tastes scorched to me. Looking at the jars side by side, you can see how much darker the pear butter is than the apple butter (the pear butter jars have labels).

IMG_0883

See how much darker the pear butter is?

Oh, and as for Chicken Girl? She won’t taste any of it. She only likes fresh apples. Once they’re cooked, she won’t touch them.

My thought for now is to see how many of the remaining apples I can save and turn them all into apple sauce.

What is your experience with preserving the harvest?

Connie

Advertisements

Swarm Trapping

If you were raised “up in ‘dem hills” as I was, you are familiar with traps; leg traps, snares, box traps (rabbit gums or boxes). Later on, I learned about Quick Kill traps when trying to catch beavers. Someday I might do a post on the subject, though I am not involved in it at present.

I want to talk about Swarm Trapping.

In my last post I talked about the life cycle of a hive. If the hive thrives, there will come a point where there is a swarm. This is how bee hives multiply. So what we are looking at is not like trapping say, Muskrats, because your aim is not to end up with a pelt, but with a hive producing honey and bees for you. So we are going to set out to lure the swarming bees into our new home for them. If there is any relationship to pelt or meat trapping, it would be to the rabbit box or gum if you will.

RabbitGum-23

Basic picture of a Rabbit Trap or Rabbit Gum

A little disclaimer here, I have never actually done this. I plan to set my first traps next spring, so I am kind of using you guys for a sounding board to see how my research has gone, and if my plans hold water.

So here goes. What is a Swarm Trap? A Swarm Trap is a box. For the sake of reference, it has about the internal dimensions of a deep hive box, which is a little over 43 liters or 1.5 to 2 square feet. My original plan was to use my two old school Nuc Boxes for my initial traps, but they are only 1.2 square feet internal dimension. I need to do so some more research to see if that will work. If not, I will use a spare deep box or build my own.

beetrap

This is a Swarm Trap as sold by Crooked Hill Beekeeping

If you intend to build a swarm trap, you need to know more than I can put in this short blog post. I would suggest that you do some online research. I found an interesting article on the subject here. I may decide just to buy a couple, My friend Bill George, at Crooked Hill Beekeeping, will sell one he made for about thirty-five bucks last time I checked.

One thing I have heard from everyone is the more your Swarm Trap smells like bees, the more likely you are to have success with it. If you start with a newly built trap you will need to add some propolis and wax to the inside along with some Lemon Grass Oil which mimics the smell of a queen.

Once you have your traps ready then you need to put them up in a tree or trees. There is a reason that most plans for swarm traps are taller and thinner than the normal shape of a large hive box. This type of box is easier to carry under one arm and easier to secure in the crotch of a limb, with some tie down straps or ropes. The traps and the tie downs must be able to stand up to severe weather. Expect them to be there awhile, and have to endure thunderstorms and other bad weather, and still be in the tree when you get back.

At some point, we hope the scouts for a swarm prepared hive will find our swarm trap, go inside through about a two square inch opening, and find everything warm and dry with the smell of bee’s wax and propolis. We expect them to find around 2 square feet of space and maybe some frames to give them something to work with. Then we want them to go back and tell the potential swarm what they have found, and lead the Queen and all her little flying subjects to our Swarm Trap.

Checking our traps at least every third week, we hope to find bees inhabiting our swarm trap and happily building up their new hive. Then we would need to get our ladder, go back up the tree, close the entrance to our trap, get it down from the tree. I think we might be needing a length of rope and maybe even a small pulley set up at this point. I do not relish attempting to climb down a ladder carrying a box of rather perturbed bees under one arm. Once we get them back home I would suggest we let them settle in for a couple of days before making the final transfer into a regular 10 or 8 frame hive box.

As I have said many times before, and now remind you, I am learning on the go and trying to share what I learned.  I suggest that you read the article I referenced earlier in this blog post not only for how to make swarm traps and trap wild bees but also about natural beekeeping and its overall positive effects on the environment. Next year I am going to move to some more natural methods of beekeeping that are mentioned in this article and try to help reestablish a more healthy honey bee population in this area.

This is the end of the series of posts about how to increase your number of hives. On that subject, I have a lead on an old house that is “slap full” of bees. The man who told me about them said that they could not get near them during the summer. If everything works out and I can get permission from the owner I will try to go get them in the spring.

Another aside: If you raise bees, two of your greatest enemies are hive beetles and wax moths. The good news is they are controllable and they are fairly easy to trap. With the hive beetle,s you set the traps in the hive to catch them using a hive beetle trap, which will also catch the larvae of the wax moths.

IMG_0654

This is the Hive Beetle Traps we use. They are inexpensive and, if you ask those dead beetles in there, they are effective.

However, for the adult moths you set your traps outside the hive in the surrounding trees. You can look this up on line, but these traps can be built as simply as using a plastic coke bottle. When I finish one, I will post a picture.

Here is the recipe for bait for both kinds of traps. I made it and accidentally left an open container sitting on the work bench in my garage overnight. The next afternoon I found it and it was full of moths. Yeah, it seems to work pretty well.

½ cup apple cider vinegar.

¼ cup of sugar.

1 cup of water

1 ripe banana peel diced fine.

Mix the ingredients in a closed container (I used a pint fruit jar) and let ferment for 3 week. Strain out the banana peels and set up your traps.

Ed

Soaked Oatmeal

Yeah, you read that right: soaked oatmeal.

There is a school of thought that says the reason so many people have digestive problems and do not tolerate grains is that we do not prepare them properly. Proper preparation includes soaking them before we cook them. It can’t hurt, right? I mean, we soak dry beans before we cook them, don’t we?

I found this recipe for soaked oatmeal in Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions, but I have quadrupled the recipe so that we have leftovers. I do that because another recipe in the same book calls for leftover oatmeal to make what you could call oatmeal pancakes, and they are awesome!

Anyway, I take four cups of old fashioned oats, four cups of warm water, a half a cup of buttermilk (you can use apple cider vinegar if you can’t handle dairy), mix it up, cover it and leave it to sit at room temperature for at least seven hours. I usually let it sit over night.

IMG_0848

I think I took this picture the night before, right after I mixed it up. It doesn’t look like it’s been soaking.

The next morning, I put another four cups of water, two teaspoons of salt and a heaping teaspoon of cinnamon in a large pot. The recipe doesn’t call for the cinnamon, but we like it. Bring the water to a boil. You can also add nuts and raisins or other dried fruit. I didn’t do it this time because I didn’t have any, but normally I do.

IMG_0849

Simmering water, salt and cinnamon.

Once the water starts to boil, add your soaked oatmeal, and stir. Let it cook about five minutes, stirring occasionally. That’s it. I usually add a couple sticks of butter and let it melt in. Since we all have different tastes about sweetness, every one fixes their own bowl and then adds whatever sweetener they want. This makes a lot. Ed, Bam Bam, and I can eat this for at least two days and still have enough left to make a batch of oatmeal cakes. Chicken girl won’t touch oatmeal, no matter how it’s fixed.

IMG_0851

Stirring in the soaked oats.

IMG_0853

Yummy!

I’ve been making oatmeal this way for over a year now, and I couldn’t tell you one way or the other if its effect our digestion, but I can tell you we like it. A few months ago, I hadn’t soaked any the night before. I needed something quick for Bam Bam and I, so I just made it like it says on the box. We both decided that we didn’t like it nearly as well as we did the soaked.

If you try it, let me know what you think. If you want a smaller batch, divide the recipe by four. One cup oats, one cup water, two tablespoons buttermilk for soaking, then one cup water and a half teaspoon salt for the next morning.

In other homestead news:

We are nearly out of the drought, thank the Lord! We are now at level D0 which is “abnormally dry”. Last week we had nearly ten inches of rain, which lead to flooding and road closures. Our creeks are running full again.

1009180918a

You can see what it looked like before here

This morning, a full ten days earlier than our “average frost date”, we had a hard freeze. We woke to find the pastures white with frost. The growing season is officially over. A few days ago, when I heard this was coming, I harvested all the herbs I could and took the potted plants I wanted to save back into the greenhouse. I also picked all the green tomatoes that were big enough to fool with. The plants were still blooming, as was the watermelon, volunteer pumpkin, and one of the blackberry bushes . There were some enormous green berries on it. Alas, they are no more.

Once it warmed up a little, I went out and looked at the wild grapes, since you are supposed to pick them after the first frost. What little I found is quite a ways over my head. So I don’t know if I will get those or not. I did however get this picture. Pretty isn’t it?

IMG_0861

butterfly on mulberry tree

I’m not sure what Ed has in store for you next week, so you’ll just have to come back and see.

Have a great week!

Connie

Fifty/Fifty Making the Split

A short, very simplistic, primer on the life of a bee hive:

Step One: Bees come from somewhere: swarm, bought or split and begin making a hive.

Step Two: Queen does a mating flight and begins making baby bees (called brood) and we hope a whole bunch of them.

Step Three: All the bees work together to fill the hive space with brood and food and lots of bees.

IMG_0658

Not yet ready for splitting but a pretty good example of a healthy hive headed in that direction.

Step Four: Oops we got too many bees.

Step Five: If they have not already bees begin making Queen Cells.

Step Six: New Queen is born, old Queen take about half the hive and moves out, this is called a swarm.

Step Seven: See step one.

And that is how bees increase, ask somebody else about birds.

So today I am going to talk for a little while about how bee keepers control this natural cycle to make certain they keep their bees. It is called Swarm Management and Hive Splitting. The point is to catch the hive somewhere around Step Four and intervene before the Swarm Instinct has taken hold. Then you artificially split the hive so as to make two hives out of it.

We have a hive and man ain’t we proud of it. This hive is strong, well populated, clean and busy as…. well….. bees. You may be weeks or even days from a swarm. Bee hives reproduce themselves by swarming. It is a natural occurrence in a strong hive that is growing. Sooner or later part of the hive will break off, move and reestablish itself as a separate hive. What we want to do is control that instinct by moving them ourselves before the Swarm Instinct kicks in because once the girls start the process they will get it done.

If you want to be technical there are several viable ways to split hives. So far I have tried and succeeded at one way and that is what I am going to talk about. A disclaimer. Succeeded is defined as, they were alive and doing well day before yesterday when I looked. If all my writing on the subject has taught you or me nothing else it is that things can happen very fast in bee world.

If you want more information on Swarm Management and Splitting Hives I suggest you read starting on page 69 in your copy of First Lessons In Beekeeping or check out this.

We had one hive out of two make it through the winter. That was my goal for year one and this was year two. No plan survives initial contact. But I was happy about it and, further, the hive was strong and well populated. In May, after some discussion and research we split the hive. There are other ways and I will probably try a few of them if given an opportunity next spring but here is what we did.

First, we isolated the laying Queen for a little over a week. We did this by putting a Queen Excluder between the two deep hive boxes. It does not really matter whether Her Majesty is working in the top or the bottom box because now we have her where she can only lay in one box. By finding the box with uncapped brood in it we find where the Lady is laying.

queenex

This is a Queen Excluder. Her Highness is bigger than the other bees and this keeps her on one side of the excluder.

When we checked we found two good things, there was uncapped brood in the bottom box which meant she was there, and there were Queen Cells in the top box. Russian bees have a habit of keeping “just in case” queen cells ready. If the queen is still viable she will not let them hatch. If not, or if it is time to swarm, she will. So we took the top box, placed it on a bottom, put a top piece on it, closed the front and we had the start of a new hive.

Next step, we separated the split from the original hive by about four miles. Two would have done nicely but four was the best we could do over two miles. Why two miles? A bee can travel up to a mile an a half from her hive, find something she wants like pollen, water or maybe her old hive, go back to where she came from and communicate these directions to her hive mates. Yeah, me too. That’s amazing. I worked with U. S. Army trained Reconnaissance Scouts who could not tell you the way to the latrine.

So we got the ladies more than two miles away and set them up in a pasture with already blooming clover, plenty of nearby water and other blooming plants all about. Then we waited. The split hive needed to stay away from the original hive at least two weeks. During that time I visited every couple of days and checked the feeders and the general condition of the bees. Both them and the original hive seemed to be doing well.

Lets talk Queens. You can buy a Queen and place her in your split hive. That will cut your delay on getting fresh brood by one to two weeks. What we did was just split them and let nature take its course. Depending on whether you have Queen Cells in your split and what condition they are in the delay to get a new Queen is going to be one to a little over two weeks. Then you have a one week delay while she is bred. Then you have a two week delay until your brood begins to hatch.

That is why it is important to have capped brood in your split and that is why your split will be behind your original hive no matter what you do. We got less than half the honey out of our split as we did the original but they had made and do have plenty for winter.

Oh, an oddity. Russian bees are normally pretty calm and not the least aggressive compared to most bees. For whatever reason these ladies are kind of “‘ttudenal” and will sting you right now. Hopefully they will get over it but I swear they are still mad at me about the split.

Ed

Baking Bread

Welcome to the homestead kitchen, where we specialize in cooking from scratch, and using real food. Today we’re going to talk about bread. There is nothing quite like the smell of baking bread to bring people from all parts of the house to the kitchen with anticipatory smiles on their faces. Ask me how I know.

I also know the idea of baking bread can be intimidating, but don’t let it scare you too much. We’re going to have some fun!

There are two basic types of bread: Quick Breads and Yeast Breads.

Quick breads use baking powder and/or baking soda as a leavening agent. Biscuits, pancakes, cornbread, and nut breads are examples of quick breads. Today, specifically, we’re going to talk about biscuits.

When I was twelve years old, I started visiting my dad and step mom in Georgia during the summer. My step mom, Dot, is a traditional southern cook, and her fried chicken and buttermilk biscuits are to die for. I watched her, in fascination, as she formed each biscuit by hand (without a biscuit cutter), leaving a pan of biscuits that looked like they came out of a machine, but tasted like they came out of heaven.

It was years before I actually tackled it myself, and no, mine don’t look like hers. None of my bread is “pretty”. It just isn’t. I must not hold my mouth right or something. It does however, taste good.

Baking powder biscuits just need a few things: flour, salt, baking powder and a liquid. If your liquid is butter milk, you will also need baking soda. Dot always used self rising flour, which has the leavening included, but I don’t. I use plain white flour, and sometimes, if it’s in the budget, I’ll use some whole wheat or spelt flour too.

So, let’s get started shall we?

First, we need flour. I’m using four cups of all purpose flour, to which I will add two teaspoons of salt, four teaspoons of baking powder and a half teaspoon of baking soda. I use a whisk to mix it all together.

IMG_0837

Whisk the dry ingredients together

Then I add a cup of shortening. You can use whatever solid shortening you have on hand. Today I used what was left from some Crisco that I had for something else. Usually, I stay away from vegetable shortening because I don’t think it’s good for you, but I had it and I needed to use it up. Otherwise I would use butter or lard. I mix it in with a pastry blender until it looks like course crumbs .

IMG_0838

Adding the shortening

Next comes the buttermilk. The recipe would call for two cups, but it really depends on your flour, so I start with one and a half cups and add more if I need it. Mix well.

IMG_0839

this was still a little dry so I added more buttermilk

Now, you need to put your dough out on a floured surface. I use newspapers, because it cuts down on the mess. I can just roll it up and throw it away when I’m finished. You can roll the dough out with a rolling pin or pat it out by hand. You can use a biscuit cutter and cut them out, or you can pinch off pieces and roll them between your hands. I do the latter.

IMG_0840

my floured surface

Put your rolled pieces on a greased baking sheet, sides touching.

IMG_0841

ready to go

Bake in a 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes or until brown on the top.

IMG_0842

Ready to eat!

See, they aren’t pretty, but they sure were good! There were only two left after breakfast, and all four of us were home for breakfast.

Baking bread can seem like a daunting undertaking, but don’t let that put you off. Like many things, it just takes some practice. My great grandma Marie said of her bread making experience. “My neighbor asked me, ‘How’d your bread turn out Marie?’ I said, ‘right out there in that trash can!’” Grandma didn’t give up though and by the time I came along she was an experienced bread baker. When I was about 13, after what seems like months of begging, she finally agreed to teach me how to make the bread she only made for family get togethers at fourth of July, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Yeast Breads use yeast as a leavening agent. The yeast can come from a package or from the air as it does with sourdough bread. I haven’t mastered sourdough bread yet, so we won’t cover that today. I’ll keep working on it though and I’ll share what I’ve learned with you when I do. I buy my yeast at the store. Since I make a lot of it, I buy it in jars instead of the little envelopes.

Yeast breads really only need yeast, flour and a liquid, but if you want it to have a nice texture and taste you need to add a few more things, like shortening and salt. You can add sugar and eggs too, depending on what kind of yeast bread you’re making. Yeast bread recipes can also be used to make rolls and cinnamon rolls.

The bread that I make on a weekly basis actually comes from the book “A Cabin Full of Food”, by Marie Beausoleil at Just Plain Living, so I’m not going to actually share a recipe for yeast bread, but I will show you the basics that apply to any type of yeast bread baking.

One thing I do that is different is that I use a bread bowl. I found this one in a flea market several years ago. It saves a lot of the mess of having that “floured surface” on your table or counter, because you can knead your bread right in the bowl.
IMG_0823

Ok, the first thing you have to do is get your liquid hot enough to melt your shortening. If you’re using water, that means boil it. Liquid can be water, milk, potato water, and probably a few other things I haven’t thought of. Your shortening can be oil, butter, vegetable shortening, lard, and a combination of those things. Grandma’s bread used both butter and vegetable shortening. Like her, I only make that at the holidays.

IMG_0824

This is a half stick of butter. I just wanted to give you an idea of the size of this bowl.

IMG_0825

boiling water and butter

Then you have to let the liquid cool to luke warm. 105 degrees is what you’re looking for so you can add the yeast. You want the little yeasts to be cozy. Dried yeast is actually a dormant bacteria. When you put it in the warm water it wakes up. If the water is too cool, they take too long, and if it’s too hot, they die. So it has to be “just right”. It will feel just barely warm to the touch. Now at this stage, you can also add some sugar, or other natural sweetener. If you do, let it sit for about five minutes before you do anything else. That gives the yeast a chance to get good and awake, and start eating the sugar. You’ll know they’re working because your liquid will start to look bubbly.

IMG_0826

bubble bubble

Now stir in your flour and any other ingredients. You want a sticky looking dough. This is called the sponge. You can let the dough rest for 30 minutes to an hour at this point.

Now comes the fun part. You want to put your dough out on a floured work surface, or add flour to your bread bowl.

IMG_0844

flour in the bowl with the sponge

You want to work in enough flour to where the dough is smooth and elastic. You do this by pressing down on the dough, folding it over, and pressing down again. When it sticks to the work surface or your hands, you add more flour. Kneading like this can take anywhere between eight and fifteen minutes. You cannot over knead. Grandma always said you have to let the bread know who’s the boss!

IMG_0845

All kneaded

Some recipes may have you let the dough rise until double at this point, before you do anything else (like my grandma’s recipe) or it might have you form the bread into loaves and put it into greased pans before you let it rise. If you put it in pans you will only have one rising before you bake it.

IMG_0846

Ready to Rise

IMG_0847

Ready to Bake

After the dough has risen, you bake it in a 350 degree oven for about 40 minutes or so, until the tops are golden brown and they sound hollow when you tap the bottoms.

I didn’t get a picture when they came out of the oven. This was taken later after the first loaf was already gone.

IMG_0832

All baked. 

Well, I hope I haven’t scared you off too badly, and I do hope you try your hand at baking bread.

Connie