Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Puja Preparations!

The Cow Puja and Farm Fair is this coming weekend! We have been working like crazy to get ready for it.  Our talented friend, Rene Lafflam, adapted our puja design for festive t-shirts, which are at the printer now and will be ready by Friday. (They will be $12 each, in case anyone out there wants a shirt who can't  come to the Puja.)
Rog spent the past two weekends clearing out the  north wing of the barn so that we have a covered area for our artisan vendors if the weather does not cooperate.  You have no idea from this photo what a Herculean task this was!  Happily, the  current forecast is for perfect sunny weather with  0% chance of rain, so this  cleaning may have been for nothing other than insurance protection.

Our friend Laurel and her sweetie Darin offered a Saturday afternoon to work on farm projects.  Darin and Rog tackled some brickwork in my long-awaited perennial garden. This garden will be the view out the dining room window and will contain lots of bee-and butterfly-attracting plants.
The circular brick border is just tall enough on the downhill side to sit on. The fence won't be constructed by the puja, and the new plants won't be very spectacular this fall, but by next summer this garden will be lovely. The artisan vendors will be set up along this garden at the Farm Fair.
In the meanwhile, Laurel and Darin's daughter Ella primed the blue flower cart for repainting.
The new color scheme will be green and yellow.  We will decorate the flower cart for the puja and sell t-shirts, beverages and treats from it.
Cadence tackled the high tunnel greenhouse.  It should have been planted weeks ago with the winter crops, but we could not bear to pull out the tomatoes, which were still loaded with fruit.
Finally we  opted to pull out 2/3 of the tomatoes and plant everything else.  When we pul out the remaining tomatoes in a couple weeks we plan to transplant some of the chard and kale from the garden into its corner.  Cadence herded the obliging turkeys inside to clean up the  tomato leavings.
She added compost, laid out the  beds and planted the winter crops.
This is how it looks now, but we expect sprouts in a few days.  There are beds of spinach, kale, bionda di lyon chard, beets, carrots, leeks, scallions, claytonia and lettuce.
Cadence and I just hung a banner by the intersection for the Farm Fair and Puja so people will think about it every time they drive by.
If you are in the vicinity, we hope  you will join us for a fun day! Turn left when you see this banner, and you are here.  Find all the event details and directions at the Squash Blossom Farm website

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Pearl of the Lake

Time for a little- off-farm adventure!  Last night we had a dinner cruise on Lake Pepin with the fine folks from Rog's work. The boat was The Pearl of the Lake, a river boat that is authentically powered by by the paddle wheels.
Boarding the boat.
While we  loaded, the First Mate cast for fish --a perk of the  job. He told me last week he caught an enormous northern pike.
We take off, cruising around the lake.
I took a turn at the  helm (is that the right word?)  I am a pretty good pilot, if I do say so myself.
Andy  and his dad Bob on the deck. Andy also piloted the riverboat.
From the top deck looking down.
We had a leisurely dinner and arrived  back at the dock at dusk.  What a pretty  evening on the water.
But the temperature was dropping fast, forecast to get as low as 29 degrees overnight.  While we were out boating Cadence had covered the tender veggies in the garden.   Our huge wall of morning glories is covered in buds but has yet to bloom. I didn't want them to freeze  before our big event next weekend, so Rog and I wrapped them in tablecloths, blankets and fabric. I hauled in all the  pots of annuals and tropicals - about 15 big patio plants. Rog covered  my new plantings in the new perennial garden and closed up the greenhouse.
It did frost hard,  so I am glad we went to all that effort to protect things.  After the Cow Puja and Farm Fair  next weekend we will give in to autumn.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Honey Harvest Day!

Today my bee mentor Tom came over and we harvested the honey. I am sure I could have done this myself, but I knew I had a problem with one of my Warrre hives and wanted his expertise to help me figure out how to deal with it.  Plus, I always learn so much working bees with Tom.
While we were firing up the smoker and donning our suits, we noticed a huge toad hopping across the patio.  (This is my best toad impression.)
We tackled the Langstroth hive first.  I  am pretty sure this hive swarmed early in the summer, although I didn't see it happen. But the population looked robust and the supers were full of capped honey.
The new trick I learned this time was  to use a leaf blower to blow the bees out of the frames.  tom had also constructed a turntable on an old  hive box,so it was easy to set the super on  the turntable (I refuse to call it a lazy Susan) and swivel it around while blowing bees off toward the hive.  Once the bees were blown out, I quickly carried the  supers into the summer kitchen so the bees wouldn't come back to them. We took two nice supers off this hive.I should have added more early in the summer; I would have had more honey and the bees would have had more room and might not have swarmed.
Next we dealt with the Warre hives.  I  chose Warre hives because they are smaller (much easier to handle when full of honey and bees), aesthetically pleasing with their tall  narrow proportions and peaked roofs, and they allow the bees to build their comb more like they would in the wild. The more common Langstroth hives are filled with precision frames that the bees must build upon in a manner to make it easier for the beekeepers.  The Warre hives just have a set of bars across the top of each box that the bees build upon in the way they prefer, but they are not so convenient for the beekeepers to handle or extract.
It is pretty much impossible to remove a layer from the Warre hive without a bit of damage to the the comb - you can see the shiny liquid honey seeping out of the breaks.  This comb was beautifully constructed.
The problem with my second Warre hive was that I had a total brain drain when I assembled the hive way back early last summer when I added boxes for honey. I am still not sure  how this happened, but I inserted a box with no top bars into the stack. Besides giving the bees a structure to build upon, the bars limit how tall they can build the comb - they have to reserve a bee-height space between each layer so they have room to move and work.  Without the bars, my bees built a 2-story layer of comb, and the only way to dismantle it was to break it.  The comb was constructed in lovely,  straight layers even at the bottom.
The Warre hive on the left was my problem hive, and will only be able to have two boxes to get through the winter, while the other Warre hive  has an extra box of honey-filled comb to help them get through the winter.  There is also a chance that I lost the queen if she was in the third box.  If I am lucky and the queen is still in the short hive, I might use it as an experiment. I am thinking  about moving it into the high tunnel late this fall where it won't be so cold.  I will also have to feed this hive because I took so much of the honey reserves.

Despite my laissez-faire beekeeping style, I was quite pleased with the honey haul.  Tom estimates we  will have  upwards of 90 pounds of honey.  Stay tuned for the  Honey extraction story, coming soon!
Thank you to Cadence, who took all the photos--it was so nice to not have my camera not be all sticky at the end of a bee session! 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Duck Stuffed with Mushrooms

These cute little mushrooms grow in the  old cow bedding, on the compost pile and in the  middle pasture where the cows get hay. I call them Mulch Mushrooms, but I don't know their real  name.  The cows and chickens have never paid any attention to them.

But every morning when I open the coop, the goose and duck make a beeline to find out if there are any  new mushrooms.  They gobble them up  in a feeding frenzy:

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Jumble of Activity

The past two weeks have been crazy busy, with no time to blog, but I will  post a jumble of photos and  try to catch up a bit.
Poblano is growing into a handsome little bull calf (he hasn't been transformed into a steer yet.)  I have been working to  become his friend and now that he has tasted grain, pears and cookies, he likes me considerably  more.  He  enjoys being scratched under the chin. At first he wouldn't come up to me but if I walked through the pasture he would sneak up and follow behind me. But tonight he came running to meet me!  Next, halter training.  
The most exciting news is that younger daughter Cadence is home from film school in Prague!  She will be working part- time editing a documentary for a nearby filmmaker, is seeking a second job, and is working on getting her husband here from Mexico --the visa process is daunting. She seems happy to be back on the farm--and immediately dove into harvesting, preserving, weeding, and bonding with the animals, She especially loves the turkeys.
The turkeys must like her, too. At least they were sure showing off for her.
In preparation for a big farm event, The Second annual Farm Fair and Cow Puja, we are doing some major purging and reorganizing in the barn. The past two weekends Rog has been  cleaning the loft, which was full of tons of  scrap wood, fencing, buckets, etc. Now that you can see the floor, I am thinking that with a  big window, this might  make a sweet studio space...But the plan is to move stuff currently stored on the  ground floor up to the loft so we have covered barn space for  vendors if the weather doesn't cooperate. (Please, let it be sunny!)
Being by nature last minute, of course we didn't actually start planning the Farm Fair/Puja until  5 weeks before the event - it is coming up September 30th.   I pulled together a poster design and created a farm website  so we can promote the event. We have a dozen awesome artist vendors lined up to sell their work. There will several local bands performing music all afternoon. The Trolley will bring people from downtown - which will be a festive way to get here and will reduce parking congestion.  There will be tasty food --Chef Johnny Mango will  use seasonal veggies from our farm garden.  T-shirts are in the works. So much to do still - but it is going to be so  much fun!  There is no admission fee and you are all invited!  For updated details, visit the website or the Squash Blossom Farm  FB page.
Last week we noticed the solar panels were only producing about half their usual output of electricity. At first I thought it might be  because they were dust-covered - we haven't had rain in weeks and being on a gravel road, everything is very dusty.  So, we hosed down the solar panels, but only gained minor improvement. We called up Curt, our installer and he came right out to check on the system. There is a malfunction with inverter and it has been sent to the manufacturer to be repaired. It kind of hurts to miss out on electricity generation on these perfect sunny days, but it should be repaired and hooked up again by the end of the week. 
We haven't had the time or resources to make much progress on our aquaponics system this summer, but we have been enjoying the silo pond. Remember the three goldfish we put in temporarily last spring? They must be happy, because  now we have a rather large school of baby goldfish.  There is also a leopard  frog living in the pond and this cute toad, which I often find sitting on the faux lilypads.
A friend gave me a funky retro light globe that was hanging in bedroom of the house she recently purchased.  I took it apart, inserted the workings of a  solar walkway light, and  set it onto a gazing ball stand.  I set it next to the morning-glory-covered gate (it will look  great  if those  morning glories ever decide to bloom!)
Here is a blurry handheld shot of it at night, lit up.
Speaking of recycled whimsy,  I wanted to post a  photo of the garden shed door close up - so you can see the window. It is made from a large vintage sandwich glass plate. The morning light shining through the glass is delightful.
This morning,  a lot of flies had gotten into the milking parlor. I am getting very  accomplished at fly-swatting. I think my successful kill rate  must be  over 90%. I have gotten great at spotting flies hiding in the straw on the floor, on the rim of LaFonda's feed bowl, the walls,  wood trim,  beams and celing. Those flies are tricky. Because there were more flies than usual, I also hunted them down in the hall approaching the stall Suddenly I noticed pencil writing on one of the beams!  "Otto Kohn, Jr, " and the date--maybe 1920? The barn was built in 1914, so perhaps it was the signature of one of theAmish workmen who built the barn addition.  I need to go to the history center one of these days and research this farm.  I  love living in this place with so many stories and secrets!
Just a few more days of milking and then I will dry LaFonda off.  As much as I will appreciate freeing up  that hour in the morning, I am sure going to miss our milking sessions. I think she will too- she sure seems happy when I call  her to be milked! She is the most delightful bovine--very deserving of a Puja celebrating her!