Two Weeks Down

It’s been two weeks since my surgery, and I went back to see the surgeon today. He said I am healing well, took my stitches out, and put me in a boot. The great news was that I can take it off at night, and I can take a shower (seated, of course)! The not so great news, which I already knew, was that I’m still going to be off my foot for quite a while. Originally, he said three months. Last week, he said eight weeks. I go back in two weeks. I guess we’ll see what he says then. In the meanwhile, it’s either the bed, a chair, or the scooter. Maybe the Lord thinks I need to work on my patience!

All of our entrances have steps, so Ed built a ramp so I can get in and out of the house. It’s really kind of a work in progress. We use it, and then Ed works to make it better. He really takes very good care of me. He’s working on getting a wheel chair, so he can take me outside to look at the tomatoes and other things I planted last month.

He says we have a bunch of green tomatoes, but nothing turning yet. From what I’ve heard from some friends, it might not be the best year for tomatoes around here. We had one volunteer cucumber plant come up this year, and it had tiny cukes on it before my surgery. I reminded Ed about it and he checked them a few days ago. Kat took this picture tonight. I should have told her to put something with them to show scale, but I didn’t. They are huge; really too big to eat, so I’ll have to see what else I can do with them. I would appreciate any suggestions.We didn’t plant cucumbers this year, so  what ever we get is just an added blessing.

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Our neighbor’s cantaloupe patch took off and he’s already brought us three melons. We’ve only eaten the first one, but it was the sweetest I’ve had in a long time! Looking forward to the others! He said to let him know if I wanted more. He also brought me some of his ripe tomatoes. We gave him some honey.  Oh, Ed told me today that we have a volunteer watermelon coming out of the compost pile! There is at least one melon on it. We don’t know if it will be any good or not, but we didn’t expect it. So, again, anything we get is just  another added blessing!

That is kind of how we feel about this years honey harvest too. We weren’t expecting any this year, so the two gallons we have are just extra blessings. Ed checked the bees yesterday, but they are still working on the frames we took last time, so he is going to leave them alone and let them do their thing for awhile.

Katherine has taken over most of the kitchen duty. I still have to tell her specifically what to do when, but she does what I tell her, and she does a good job.  I have been able to get in there an do some cooking with her, and plan to do some more tomorrow. We can only eat so many sandwiches. She’s doing all the laundry too, as far a washing and drying goes. I can do some of the folding, but she and Ed are putting everything away. For the most part, everyone is doing a great job picking up the slack. It’s still hard for me to just sit and let them do it.

I’m looking at some projects I can do from this chair. I’ll let you know what I decide next time.

Have a great week.

Connie

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Holding On (By the Skin of My Teeth)

Last Thursday, July 21, Connie had her heel and Achilles Tendon operated on. She will not be able to put weight on that leg for three months. That would be approximately 13 weeks, or 91 days. If you really want to know exactly what your partner does around the old place, put them off line for about a week.

Yeah, all that stuff.

So this last week I have worked 40 plus hours, put at least one real meal a day on the table, tried to make certain Connie was comfortable, did the minimums to keep the critters alive, had an occasional talk with the Lord God and slept. That would be about it. Had Katherine not enlisted to take care of her mother some of the time, I might not have been able to do that. On top of that, I am just not pleased when people start cutting on the love of my life. Makes me kinda want to punch them, but that does not seem appropriate in this case.

So the first week is about over. We have a follow-up with the doctor tomorrow, and Connie is beginning to get around a little better. After waking up early this morning to finish cutting my knee high lawn, and fighting back the rag weed and various poisonous prehistoric plants that are taking over my dog lot, I fell out for a nap. I woke up to find the dishes I had washed after dinner last night put up, the new dishes on there way to clean and a plate of French Toast and bacon courtesy of Connie and Katherine waiting for me. Thank you both.

Speaking about the lawn. Let me continue a little about things I would have done differently when I started this little experiment in Green Acres-ism. No matter how tough and resilient you might think you are, if you have an acre yard (plus or minus) you do need a riding lawn mower and a gas powered weed eater.

At least, if you are in your later years and have any intentions of doing things other than cut your lawn. If not a riding mower, I would suggest goats. That does not mean you need a high dollar rider. I bought mine used from a friend for $250.00. The gas trimmer I got at Lowes for about seventy bucks. (Lowes has a 10 percent discount for military veterans; bless their hearts.)

I set out on this adventure with my 5 HP push mower and an electric weed eater. From the closest outlet, which is just inside the front door, to the farthest point of my front yard is about 175 or so feet. I needed the gas weed eater. And I really got tired of taking two plus days to mow the lawn. Also, this next year I am planning to get a wagon I can pull behind the mower, to do some chores around the place.

Another answer that is a work in progress, is just getting rid of the lawn entirely. We are working on planting it in an edible garden, but that is Connie’s project and she is in no shape to work on it right now..

The bees are going like gang busters. We have harvest a gallon of honey from each hive and they are still full to overflowing. I am going to have to get at least one more super or rob them again this next week. Maybe both.

As I said, I am involved in a project to cut down and kill a very intimidating forest of weeds that are growing, well…. I guess like weeds. To supplement the physical labor of cutting down these monsters I wanted something that would kill the beggars while not poisoning my dogs, chickens, bees or land for a couple more generations.

I had heard of something and looked it up. This is the basic recipe that I am following.

Take one gallon of cheap old white vinegar, pour it in a bucket. Add one cup of table salt and stir it up well. To that add one tablespoon of dish washing liquid to make the stuff stick better and stir that in. Put your product in a closed, marked container and put some it in a spray bottle and spray your plants.

I cannot endorse this recipe yet and it is indiscriminate, it kills the good stuff with the bad if it works as advertised. Connie or I will report back to you on it, when we know how it works.

I will close this rambling post. I hope something in it is interesting and helpful in your walk. Any prayers for my lovely wife will be appreciated. Also, I will put all you folks on my prayer list. Don’t worry, I don’t mind if you don’t believe in God, He believes in you.

The night before they took my love in for the operation, I slept very little. At the hospital in Chilicothe, Mo. Just before the operation, Connie, Katherine and I joined hands and prayed. When I looked up the nursing staff and the Doctor were in prayer with us.

Next, after we had to go out, Kat and I went for breakfast in the cafeteria. At our table we joined hands and blessed our food. I have an old soldier’s awareness of what is around me, so I knew that the tables next to ours and the people walking by stopped while we prayed.

I love the country.

An Interesting Week

Last week, we were feeling a little bit of a financial pinch, and I really didn’t want to spend anything more than I absolutely had to. Well, we ran out of dish soap, and were on our way to being out of laundry soap. I didn’t want to use what little cash I had for that, in case we needed something really important, like feminine hygiene products or toilet paper. I draw the line at DIY’ing either of those!

I had, however, made laundry soap before with limited success, so I googled a recipe for that  and one for dish soap. I had everything I needed in one form or another, except for washing soda. I did have baking soda though, and I knew I had read somewhere that you could change one to the other, so I went back to Google.

Once I found what I needed, I decided to sneak in a chemistry lesson, so I told Kat to look up the difference between baking and washing soda, as well as how to change one to the other. Surprisingly, she did it without complaining.

Making washing soda is easy. You can learn how here. Basically, all you do is bake baking soda in the oven for about 30 minutes at 400 degrees. There is a slight change in color and a definite change in texture.

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Fresh baked washing soda

Then we used the newly formed washing soda in the recipes we found for laundry and dish soap. The dish soap recipe that I used did not work out well for me, so I will keep experimenting in that department and let you know what I find out.

The laundry soap, on the other hand, turned out great, and seems to work pretty well. I have not used it on Ed’s uniforms yet, but it did fine with the rest of the laundry. You can find the recipe here.  You grate soap (I used Ivory), and then mix it with Borax and washing soda, and put in the food processor until its a fine powder. I used about 2 tablespoons per load. It’s a lot easier and a lot less mess than trying to make liquid laundry soap.

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grated soap

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Before processing

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After. Notice the layer of dust. We let that settle for awhile before we opened it. Don’t need to breath soap dust.

Over the weekend, the dogs decided they would start playing “find the hole under the fence” again, giving Ed fits for about three days. Since they haven’t got out since Tuesday, I think he solved the problem.  He is still working on new living arrangements for the chickens, but I’ll let him tell you about that.

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Hanging out in the house while Ed fixes the fence . Notice the cats on the table above. Bookworm is annoyed, but think Captain is asleep

During all that, I discovered what I thought might be a spider bite on my back between my shoulder blades. I couldn’t see it with out mirror and I certainly couldn’t reach it. I enlisted Ed and Kat’s help for a few days, but finally gave in an went to the doctor on Monday. It’s an abscess..We don’t know how, and we don’t know why. She gave me a shot in the rear, put me on antibiotics, and told me to come back Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Ed planned to check the bee hives. He hadn’t had a chance to take a good look at them in about ten days, so he was kind of anxious to  check on them. When he went out just to look, the saw this.

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A ball of bees under the pallet the hive sits on. The usually don’t do that.

Then he came back in and called our friends at Crooked Hill. Tammie told him he needed to see what was going on inside the hive, which is what he already planned to do. So he donned his bee suit,  started his smoker and went to visit the bees. As I usually do, I went too, staying on the far side of the fence. From there, I can usually get pretty good pictures and stay off the bee’s radar. I said usually.

Since the Sparta hive had the strange activity, he started there first. All I can say is wow! The hive is crammed full of bees, brood, and honey!

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One frame from Sparta hive

Even with the smoke, they seemed especially agitated, and when I realized I was starting to get some attention, I walked away. When I got back to the chicken pens, they left me. A few minutes later, Ed walked over to the fence and asked me to bring him the camera. Big mistake. Suddenly I had a lot of bee attention. As I started moving away again I felt the first sting on my face, and knew I might be in trouble.  There is a an old metal washtub sitting out there near the black berries, and it was half full of rain water. I had noticed it earlier and decided that might be my best chance of freeing myself from the bees. I hit the ground and dunked my head in the tub, using my hands to splash water up on myself. Once I was pretty sure, was free of them, I went to the house and told Kat to get the plantain oil we made last fall. I know I had at least five stings. One on my face, two on my head and two (maybe three) on my arm. Ed came in a few minutes later to check on me. He got stung three times through the bee suit, but he doesn’t have the reaction I do to things like that. The plantain oil did it’s job, but I took some allergy medicine just in case.

The stings on my face and head swelled a little, but were nearly gone in a few hours. The ones on my head hurt the worst, but I think that was because they were right underneath where my glasses rest. The area on my arm got red and hot. You should have seen my doctor’s face when I went back to see her about the abscess and she saw my arm. Poor woman. She offered to give me a shot for that too, but I told her I thought I was ok. The abscess is nearly  gone.

Today, I had my pre-op appointment for my foot surgery next week. It will be an outpatient procedure so I’ll get to come home the same day. Ed’s kind of stressing about how he’s going to get me out of the car and into the house, but I think it will be fine. We went ahead and rented the knee scooter, so I could practice with it. I think I’ll be ok.

I told you it was an interesting week.

Things have calmed down a little now, although Ed is making plans for harvesting some honey. I’m sure he’ll be posting all about that next week.

Connie

 

A Cranberry Merchant

Reading over Ed’s post from last week, I decided I wanted to add my own two cents to what he said, as well as catching you up for this week.

Yes, we have been crazy busy. When he started saying all the things we were busier than, I could just hear grandma say, “Busier than a cranberry merchant”.  After Ed’s post last week, I decided to try and find the source of that saying.  Google gave me the answer in the first result. Subsequent results said the same thing. When you add the words “in November”, the phrase makes perfect sense. November is the time of Thanksgiving, and Thanksgiving is the time for cranberry sauce. As a matter of fact, you might be hard pressed to find cranberries at other times of the year. So, yes, a cranberry merchant might be very busy in November.

Ed truly loves the bees. It’s fun for me to watch him watching them. I am, however, looking forward to getting my own bee suit, so I can get a good look myself. As it is now, I can get about ten to fifteen feet away, and watch, without drawing the attention of the irritated bees.

I don’t think Ed mentioned it, but Kat has named the hives Sparta and Athens. Sparta was named first, when I pointed out to her that the bees would cast out those members who weren’t able to pull their own weight…kind of like the ancient Spartans that we were covering in school. Of course, the other hive had to be Athens. Interestingly, the hives’ behavior seems to mirror their respective namesakes. Athens is definitely more laid back than Sparta.

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Athens on the left and Sparta on the right.

Jim’s death took us all by surprise. I couldn’t have been more proud of how Ed stepped up to help, not only for my children and I, but for Jim’s family as well. Jim’s brother went so far as to tell Ed that he is “family now”. Katherine was definitely daddy’s girl (the only girl in a total of six children, and the baby), and she had him wrapped around her little finger. She was actually concerned that she wasn’t crying like Bam Bam, and I reassured her that everyone grieves differently and it was ok. She’s brought him up a time or two since then, but that was it. I was kind of waiting for something to break, but wasn’t sure if it would.

Then the dogs killed those two chickens. She fell to the ground and just screamed. I told Jim’s sister later that I thought some of that might have been for her dad too. In any case, it was hard to watch. My heart just broke for her. Then a few days ago, Moony came up missing. After looking and calling for a couple hours without locating the runaway rooster, Katherine just sat and cried. She told me she was a terrible chicken keeper. I told her it was not her fault, and we just had to pray that he was alright. The next morning, Ed and I had both gone out to the coop at different times hoping he had come back, but he hadn’t. At least, not where we expected him.

Ed was out near the other pen, also known as Sunny’s bachelor pad, when he heard a rooster crow nearby. He was looking right at Sunny and it wasn’t him. He heard it again, and it was coming from inside the garage. He came to get me and we both went back to try and find the source. Ed was checking the rafters and I was checking the corners. There was Moony, sticking his head out of a bunch of boxes in the back corner! He may have been there the whole time.

That very day, Ed and Kat worked together to cover the top of the chicken pen, so no one can fly out again.
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Hanging out after the work was done.

The rain finally stopped, and the sun came out with a vengeance. For about two or three weeks, we had 90 and hundred degree days. That is not June weather for Missouri; July or August maybe, but not June. Now, the weather people are saying we need to be prepared for the possibility of 4-6 inches of rain this weekend. I guess we’ll see. We had a little shower this evening. The clouds looked ominous, the temperature dropped and the wind picked up. It rained for about ten minutes and the sun came back out.

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Those clouds were rolling!

Like Ed said, we’ve both been dealing with health issues. That’s part of that whole “Old Folks” thing. I had an endoscopy yesterday. I do have some issues, but the doctor wasn’t overly concerned. I just need to watch what, how, and when I eat. He didn’t say so, but I know that losing some weight would solve a lot of the problem.

The foot surgery is another matter entirely. I have a bone spur, along with a “diseased” Achilles’ tendon. They are going saw off the bone spur and remove the diseased portion of the tendon. After the surgery, its “no weight bearing for three months”. The doctor told me it would be either a wheel chair or a knee scooter. I chose the knee scooter. I’ve been told twice now to get it early and practice. Yes, I have already apologized to Ed in advance, because I know it’s going to drive me crazy.

I started a bunch of tomato seeds back in April and just now got all of them in the ground. I think there are about 30 plants in all. I noticed blooms on a few plants today. I also planted sunflowers, okra, and a few other plants here and there. After I knew I was going to be out of commission for at least three months, I decided not to try and plant anything else this year.

We did get some nice lettuce in the cold frame, but the spinach never came up. The onions we planted last fall came up though, and we still have a couple in the ground.

In addition to the trees we planted in the back field, we also planted ten blackberry bushes. I think we have about eight left. A few of them are really coming along.

Ed went to his first regular shift at his new job tonight. He always did like working thirds. Kat is now calling him a bat, because he’s working nights.

Well that’s about it for now.

Connie

To Bee or Not To Bee

Apiculture: Raising bees for the purpose of gathering honey and/or pollinating plants; put simply: beekeeping. I did not know what the big fancy five buck word for beekeeping was until I started to write this, but I knew that such a word would exist. It is the way we are. We need a big word, preferably in a dead language, before we feel like something we are doing is important.

Two weeks ago, we went over south of Chillicothe, Missouri, to Crooked Hill Beekeeping to talk to Bill about starting our bees in mid April to early May. I know that is two months away and yes, I already feel rushed.

First, what I actually know about beekeeping could be written on the back of a match book, with a dull carpenter’s pencil. I know essentially three things, none of which are very helpful at this time.

1. Grandpa raised bees in his apple trees. The honey was marvelous and the man, well if he raised bees the whole world should.
2. As a boy I was entranced and amazed by the bees, their rituals, patterns and practices, as well as the art of caring for them and harvesting honey. I recall spending time behind the bee hives, quietly, with my ear up against the back of the hives, listening to the constant hum as the bees worked and kept the hive cool.
3. Bees are not a luxury in our environment; they are a necessity. Probably much more of a necessity than you and I.

Let’s get down to some of the practical parts of what Connie and I have done in order to become bee-keepers. The first and best thing we did was make connections. We found out, quite by accident, that a new Beekeeping Club was forming in Braymer and we have attended two meetings so far.

It is an eclectic group, consisting of everything from professionals through homesteaders to Mennonites. By the way, those guys have the coolest hats. The first meeting we attended was in October, and was largely organizational. Because of the holidays, we did not do another meeting until the end of January, where we got a presentation on preparing the hives for spring.

The information is important of course, but the connections with other people who are doing what we propose to do, is equally important. Both give you a chance to pick people’s brains, learn what worked for them and what didn’t, and to hear the jargon of beekeeping.

The difference between a Super and a Deep are simple things, but are the beginning of a confusion that just grows as words with which you are perfectly familiar, come out of people’s mouths in orders and contexts that make absolutely no sense. The February presentation of our yet un-named beekeeping club is going to be about the jargon of beekeeping. I am looking forward it with great interest.

The next part, in my opinion, would be the same whether your interest is beekeeping or Alligator wrestling. If you are going to learn from somebody, learn from somebody who really knows; and if you are going to do business with somebody, do business with somebody you can trust.

The Good Lord, being certain I need all the help I can get, led me to Bill and his wife Tammy at Crooked Hill Beekeeping. Here, I will admit a bias. Both Bill and I are retired military, and Bill is also a Law Enforcement Officer, which I was for a number of years. So we start out with a lot of shared interest and attitudes. As we have mentioned, Connie is also a military veteran so, again, that established a level of trust going in. Also both Bill and his wife are sensitive to the fact we are starting a little downhill from the bottom so, while we are not idiots, it is best not to take any chances.

After talking to Bill for a couple hours, one hour on bees and one hour of old soldier war stories, Connie and I made arrangements to buy two hives of bees complete. This included:

Two Nucs of Russian Bees. You can buy bees in packages, which are just the bees, or Nucs which are an already established hive with five frames (what the bees make honey and put their eggs in). We decided to go with the Nucs to start with, so that we have a greater chance of an initial success.

Two full hives unassembled. I bought them unassembled not just because they were a tad cheaper, though they were. I bought them that way so I can see how they go together so that in the future I can possibly build my own if that seems more economical. A full hive consists of:

1. A bottom board with a reducer
2. Two deeps (the place where the bees live, breed and make their honey to be stored for winter)
3. 20 Deep frames and foundation (What the bees make comb and brood on)
4. A super (the smaller box you put on top where, hopefully, the bees will make your honey)
5. 10 Medium frames and foundation (For your supers where you will someday find your honey if all goes well).
6. An inner cover, which controls air flow
7. An outer telescoping cover, which is the top of your hive.

If you are like me you need a picture:

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A diagram of a bee hive found in the Old Farmer’s Almanac

Beyond all this we bought some other items necessary to assemble these products into bee hives and a copy of a book (books are good, I like them in paper with pages, I can write on and bend over) called First Lessons in Beekeeping by Keith S. Delaplane. I picked the book up in his shop and Bill told me that this was the book he started with. That was a good enough endorsement for me.

After I have assembled my two hives and before the Nucs arrive, I will make another visit to buy a bee suit, smoker and other equipment along those lines. I am waiting, so I will be sure of what I need.

Now I have to assemble, paint, and set up two hives, before I have two already established bee colonies arriving for me to tend to. The cats have a hard enough time with dogs in the house; I doubt that they or Connie are going to be pleased if I try to raise bees in my den. No pressure.

As I do the work in my own bumbling way, I will get Connie to make pictures and we will post them for your edification and amusement.

God Bless,

Ed