Friday, March 6, 2015


It's easy to overlook things.
There are good reasons for overlooking some things.   Focusing on the negative only leads to unhappiness, so it's a good idea to overlook little things that would otherwise harsh your mellow.

Since winter here has been intense, I thought it would be a good idea to pay closer attention to some little things that might help mellow the harsh.  Like frosty dogwoods.

I really love dogwood twigs.   They look like hands reaching up.  And I love dogwood buds because they form early on and are a constant reminder that it won't be icy forever. 

I feel my harsh getting mellower by the minute. 

Saturday, February 28, 2015

A Few Other Rural Blogs from around the World

Winter has decided to stay for a while longer here.   In the meantime, I'm catching up reading some other terrific rural blogs from around the world that you might like, too.  All of them are guaranteed to make you feel good about life.

Wellington Farm is a blog out of Canada.   Sherrie is always cheery and is a wonderful photographer.   They have just moved to the farm so there aren't many posts at the new site, but her old site, Twenty Two Pleasant, is just as wonderful and full of fabulous things.  

Foxs Lane is a blog out of Australia.   The photography is beautiful and it's an extra bonus that they're in summer right now.    It does my heart good to see fruit and flowers in season while it's snowing here.   She's a farmer and fiber artist, too, which is an extra bonus for me.

Manger is a blog out of Medoc, France.    Mimi wrote the cookbook 'A Kitchen in France', which I borrowed from my library and loved.   The photos are beautiful and aside from a celebration of good food, it's a book and a blog that celebrate rural life, rural people and basic elements of living.   She's happy and that overflows in her writing.

Check them out and let me know what you think.   And if you know any more blogs like these, let us know in the comments.     Happy reading!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Winter Creek

The creek is pretty all year long.  Even in the winter.

It runs all the time so never freezes over entirely.   And the vast majority of time during the winter it looks like this.  

Forty shades of icy brown. 

With a little touch of moss at the edges.  

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Whatever Happened to the Elderberries

A few years ago I cut some elderberry branches, rooted them and stuck them in the ground.

They grew.  

And they survived last year's horrible winter.

I saw little pink buds last week.   The two by the chicken coop are the happiest.   The ducks hang out around there and poop all over the place and that spot gets a bit of run-off from the garden so it's well watered. 

Maybe elderberries this year?

Friday, February 20, 2015


Before the snow this week, the buds on the cherries had started to swell.   

Which means that spring will come.  

[Like it does every year.]

Even though I fear that this year it won't come. 

[Like I do every year.]

Thursday, February 19, 2015

What I Do in the Winter

Once the garden is done for the year and the cold sets in, I have time to practice painting.    It's a slow, painstaking process.   I have to remind myself that it's OK to paint a lot of bad paintings and that practice is often messy. 

But sometimes things turn out OK.   I like the water and the trees in this one.  

Tuesday, February 17, 2015


It snowed.  

A lot.  

I feel as thorny as this locust. 

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Chocolate Jams

Happy Valentine's Day!    We're whipping up a quick batch of Chocolate Raspberry Jam to have with our treats today and it reminded me that it's time to do a quick review of the Chocolate Jams that I've done on the blog.   

You can make any fruit jam into a chocolate jam.  We've used a few different methods.  The easiest is to heat up 8 oz or so of your favorite fruit jam and then stir in 1/3 cup of chocolate chips until they're all melted.  

Here are the jams we've loved.
I hope you get a chance to try one this weekend. Enjoy!  

Monday, February 9, 2015

Marmalade Recipe Roundup

It's Februrary and that means it's marmalade season.   I love marmalade.  Nothing is as beautiful this time of year as a jar of citrusy sunshine.

I love marmalade on toast.   Also, on pancakes.  Also, on Blueberry Steel Cut Oats with yogurt.  Also, on brownies.   Also, on ice cream.    Also, on brownies with ice cream.

I love marmalade!  

Here are a few tips and recipes to get you started.   

And once you have the jam made, here are some fabulous things you can do with it!

Orange Marmalade Cranberry Jammy Oatcakes

Eric's Jam Bars


Want the recipe for these Marmalades and a whole lot of other terrific jam recipes?   Check out my ebook:  A Simple Jar of Jam  at   You can preview the book by clicking the link on the sidebar.  Every purchase helps support this site.  Thank you!

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Rabbit Stew

This is the time of year I see a lot of rabbit damage on our trees and on any exposed greens tucked in the corners of the beds. We are lucky enough to have a neighbor who hunts the multitude of cottontail rabbits that threaten to eat my entire garden and reduce my fruit trees to barkless sticks.

The neighbor and his buddy shoot with muzzle loaders – one uses an antique musket. When they shoot, it sounds like cannon fire instead of gunshot. They bring a rabbit dog [beagle] and they spend a happy afternoon roaming the brush on our place scaring out the rabbits. This past weekend they scored four rabbits. They skinned and prepped them and then brought us two of them to eat. We love rabbit stew!

We brine it overnight and then slow cook it all day the next day. Here are the details.

Rabbit Stew

Brine [Enough for 1-3 rabbits]

1 rabbit, skinned and cut into parts [4 legs and the back section]
3 cups water
1/3 cup salt
2 garlic cloves
1 bay leaf

Coating [Enough for 1 rabbit. Multiply for more rabbits]

Ground pepper [a few grinds. More if you love pepper]
½ cup flour
2 teaspoons dried thyme

Stew [Enough for 1 rabbit. Multiply for more rabbits.]
Bacon grease or butter
3-6 mushrooms [or more]
1 onion
1 quart water
3 cubes chicken bouillon

Cooking directions:

Day 1: Brining
Mix the brine and soak the rabbit pieces in it overnight. That is enough brine for 1-3 rabbits. Keep it in the fridge.  Discard when finished.  Do not use the brine to cook with; it's way too salty.

Day 2: Stewing
Cut up the mushrooms and brown them in a large skillet with some of the butter or bacon grease.

While they are cooking, make the coating. Mix the flour, pepper and thyme in a dish. Coat the meat on all sides.

When the mushrooms are done, put them in the crockpot and brown the rabbit with more grease in the skillet. You’re not trying to cook it all the way, just brown it.

While the rabbit is cooking, slice up the onion and drop it in the crockpot.

When the rabbit is browned, put it in the crockpot with the bouillon cubes.

Pour the water into the skillet to deglaze and get the crispies all out of the pan. After a couple of minutes, even the really stuck ones will come right off the pan. Once they’re soft, scrape the water and everything into the crockpot.

Cook on high for 6-8 hours. We have also cooked this in a cast iron pot on the stove all day.

Once the meat is done, decide if the gravy is thick enough. You can whisk more flour in if you need to thicken it up. OR, you can drop in some noodles or rice and let them soak up the gravy as they cook.

You can drop some veg in there for the last hour if you like – chopped carrots, peas, potatoes, etc.

Nota Bene: If your hunters are using shotguns, make sure you watch for shot pellets in every bite. You don’t want to chip a tooth.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Deep Mulch Gardening

The truth is that I'm a bit slow when it comes to gardening fads.   I'm totally clueless about most of that kind of stuff.    [That's true for life in general, actually.]  It's only lately that I've become aware of Deep Mulch Gardening.  So, I read up on it and was pleased to discover that it's not a new thing at all.

Gardeners who hate weeding have been doing this forever.   There are a couple of ways to do it.   The first is to get your straw/hay/grass and fluff it up and spread it out in a 6 inch deep layer and let it sit.  You can carve out your rows and hills inside it and plant.    Works great.

Another way to deep mulch is to separate the bales into sections. What I generally do is use the bales that I've had around my cold frames all winter.

In the spring, I lift the bales out of the bed they were in and then dig/prep the bed.  Then I separate the bales into sections.   You can see in the pic the sections/thick layers that form as they're making the bales.   The bale will fall apart or pull apart naturally at these places and leave you with a bunch of flat straw squares a few inches thick. 

When I plant a row, I lay these out right next to the row to form paths.   Here you can see the path next to the arugula. 

Row planting:  I plant all my rows one straw square apart.   That is a good distance for growing most things.  the straw paths are plenty wide for careful walking. The straw sections have already been pressed down so much in the baling process that they are an effective weed barrier.    I don't fluff them at all.  Works like a charm for weed control.

Hill planting:  I plant the tomatoes and squash much further apart, but still separate the straw into squares and place them around instead of fluffing everything up.  

Bed planting:  When I plant greens in the cold frames or hoop house, I put a straw path down the center and then scatter the seed in two broad beds on either side, like this.  [Since this is a winter bed, I've stuffed some extra straw around the edges where the cold might creep in.]

One caveat - If you get seedy straw [and there's no way to tell until it's too late],  you'll get grass or wheat germinating around the edges of the squares.    The good news is that these are easy to grab and weed and they'll come right out with little effort.   I generally don't have to do that more than once a season.  

Sunday, February 1, 2015

A Few Garden Goals

Every year I bite off more than I can chew in the garden.    I can't help it.   I am seduced by the descriptions and the pretty pictures in the catalogs.   I always think I can squeeze one more type of winter squash in that bed.    Or a couple more tomato plants.

And then one more type turns into four more types.  

It's ridiculous.   

I'm ridiculous. 

The truth is I have very little garden discipline.   Seeds are cheap and I just have to try a couple more new types of whatever every year.   And then I look at my old seeds and can't bear to toss them.   In fact, no one will notice if I tuck a few of the old things in this year's garden.   Maybe I'll have better luck with that one variety that didn't do so well in bed #4.    If I try it with the eggplants this year and put in some more chicken dirt, it won't take up much room.   And if it dies, no one will notice. 

And then in July, the garden is a jungle and I am growing things too close together and then it rains and rains and the fungal wilt starts and the tomatoes sulk and the pumpkins take over everything.  

The point is, I need to scale back a bit in a couple of places.  


This year I am only going to plant 6 kinds of winter squash.    I said that last year, too and ended up planting 12, but this year I really mean it. 

I really do.


Only 6.

Stop laughing.   

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

0 for 2: Another Deadout

Well, this winter hasn't been any better than last for the bees.  I lost the first hive in December and the other hive to that cold snap at the beginning of January. 

I'm so bummed.

I did a post mortem to find out what the problem was.    There was almost a gallon of sugar and honeyballs on the tops of the frames when I opened it up, so that wasn't the problem.   I took all the sugar off and am saving it for this summer in the freezer. 

When I looked at the cluster in the frames, this is what I saw.  [top pic].    That is the cluster.    The entire cluster.  Fist sized.  There just weren't enough bees to keep the cluster warm at sub zero temps. 

In November I went to a bee conference and attended a Q&A where I described my colonies and asked the advice of the state bee experts on whether I should combine the hives or winter them separately.   I had already decided that I needed to combine.   The experts said that they'd winter them separately, as nucs.  I figured they knew way more than I did, so I didn't combine.   That is the last time I follow the advice from the state experts instead of following my gut.   I lost both hives.     The only fix for small colonies in the fall is to combine them.   If they get huge in the spring, you can always split them.  

I took the bottom boards out to see what was what.   You can see on this board right where the cluster was.  Those three gold streaks are where the bees were hanging out and getting into their stores.

I looked carefully at the debris to see if anything popped out at me. 
This is a section of the debris.  I found a lot more varroa mites than I expected. 

I did a 24 hour mite board check in the fall and both hives had mite counts well below problem levels.   I'm not sure where all these mites came from - though this is 3 months worth of mites.

I've noted where some of the varroa are. There are many more varroa in the pic that I didn't indicate.  Can you see them?  If you blow the pic up, you can see many more.

Here's a larger section.   Blow it up and look for those little regular ovals.    There are a lot them here.

Conclusions -
Cause of loss:   Small colony size aggravated by mite load.
Lessons learned:
  • Combine small hives in fall.  Period. 
  • Don't believe everything the 'experts' tell you.
Since I want to treat as little as possible, I don't want to treat for mites every year, so the jury is still out on how I handle mites next year.

I have two 3# packages coming in April from Kelley Bee in Kentucky.  I got their Russians.   I've heard they do well here.  In addition, I met a guy who is going to have nucs this year.   He said I could get one.   If I go into winter 2015-16 with 4 hives, maybe I can get some to make it until spring.   

Goals for 2015.   Get the blasted bees through the winter!   Get a decent honey harvest.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Walnut Tree

We cut down two walnut trees a few weeks ago.   This is what one looked like the afternoon it was cut.  

No doubt from that center that this is walnut. 

Over time, the wood oxidizes and the whole cut surface goes pretty brown.  

Notice how wet it looks.   Trees draw sap down from the twigs, not up from the roots.   The stump didn't release sap at all, but all the logs did. 
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