Ashes to ashes

We have a number of dead American Ash trees that we have been having cut down over this summer. The Ash tree is on the IUCN Red List — Critically Endangered — due to the Emerald Ash Borer. As a result, we have a number of ready-and-waiting bonfire piles. We also added some Leyland Cypress branches left over from recent electric company trimming. Last night — the first evening in some time that was not breezy — we had a friend visiting so did a twofer with two piles that were about 40 feet apart.

These were well-constructed piles, so all it took was one sheet of newspaper, a small bit of cardboard, and one match to start each pile. In the lower left you can see our two fire-poking sticks leaning against an Ash stump.

They fully conflagrated quickly — within 15 minutes each 12-foot diameter pile was shooting flames 20-25 feet into the unseasonably warm early October sky.

They were so hot that we could get close to them for 45 minutes. Spent the next hour using our poking sticks to consolidate the outlying branches — short bursts, they were still mighty hot! A scant 2 hours later we had turned our Ashes to ashes. And embers. Hot embers. The BEST embers.

And, for those of you who can’t do bonfires where you live, we have an audio-visual tasty tidbit for you.

Morning Glories in the Morning Glory

The morning glories have taken full advantage of the dying corn stalks in the garden outside our living room window.

Roy says “Hey”

Addition Update, Dog Days Edition

In late July I was able to get back to work on the addition trim-out after an unplanned 2-month hiatus while my thumb healed. Yesterday I finished the guardrail for the entrance ramp (still needs a final coat of paint, though):


It is our own design. We were pleased that we were finally able to make use of the two newel posts that were originally used on the front porch of the main house (we did, though, have to make liberal use of Bondo in refurbishing them). We were also able to make use of some railing parts left over from our 2011 veranda replacement project — a lower rail plus a two-part upper rail that minimize nail/screw head exposure, made of mahogany to last:

Measuring and scribing the rail ends was a pain. You see the curve here in this pic of the pocket I made on the underside of the bottom rail to attach it to the fiberglass support post with a toggle bolt:

Each of the three panels is made up of six PVC 1x8s. After cutting them to approximate length I ran them four at a time through the table saw to cut the half-diamonds. Next, I cut them to exact length at an angle to match the bottom rail. (BTW, it was during this step that I cut my thumb.) Then a coat of primer and a coat of white gloss. Next, still down in the shop, I screwed the bottom rail to the boards using GRK trim screws (love ’em!):

Blocks and clamps assisted with attaching the top rail and final placement.

Summer Garden Bounty

We’ve been enjoying the fruits of our labors this surprisingly mild August. Our Chimney and Castle Gardens reflect their tenders’ somewhat disjointed comportment:

Corn dominates the Chimney Garden while Morning Glories and Black-Eyed Susans provide color amongst the Castle Garden’s chives, thyme, peas, and spinach.

Bumblebees have been enjoying the Sunflowers.

The red hair of the Shoepeg corn‘s ears peeking out.

And, of course, tomatoes! Both our Mortgage Lifter and Mr. Stripey tomato plants have been producing steadily for a couple of weeks now. Since the weather has been cool, we’ve been cooking them down into sauce that we then freeze.

For the first batch we started with about a half-pail (upper left) plus some loose ones (bottom). The pot was full before we used them all (leftovers upper right).

We used the pasta pot with strainer to scald the fruits to loosen the skin for removal.

The full dutch oven, ready for overnight simmering.

12 hours later, it has reduced down to a thick, intensely tomatoey ambrosia. It went another hour before I deemed it thick enough for pizza sauce.

For batches 2 and 3 we cooked in the pasta/stock pot and used more tomatoes. This pot is still simmering as I type this.

The finished product, in two convenient sizes: thin, quick-to-defrost pizza sauce (left) and a larger size for pasta sauce and stews (right).

More Home Canning, With a Story

So, after last Thursday’s peach canning, we followed up on Saturday with another 7 quarts from the second half-bushel.

Saturday afternoon gave us several good storms/showers, the best rain we’ve had here in weeks, and we were spending a quiet evening at home. Around 9 pm we heard voices out front, which is pretty rare. It was two young men who said they had been fishing and the driver had lost his keys in the river and would we be kind enough to let them use our phone to call for a ride (he lives only 15 minutes away). Well, we are nothing if not kind enough, so we lent him our phone. They were soaking wet from the rain, so we lit up the outside lights while they waited on addition ramp out of the rain for their ride. (Which drove our dogs, especially Roy, nuts!). We chatted a bit and gave them each a peach (we still had over a dozen left over after canning). They asked me where we bought the peaches, and we told them “these are John Boy‘s from Smith’s Orchard up on Cooper Mountain”. After about 45 minutes their ride came, and off they went.

Well, Monday afternoon one of them stopped by with a bag of gorgeous (and delicious!) tomatoes, various varieties of regular, and cherry/grape/pears:

It turns out he grows vegetables to sell at the more urban farmer’s markets to the east of here, and he had a bushel of tomatoes that had been left out in the rain and were no longer good enough to sell. But they were certainly still good enough to can and rather than just compost them as he would usually do could he give them to us? We said “Sure!”, though not really knowing if he would follow through. Well, he did, Tuesday at 8 am:

A half-bushel of regular-sized and 28 quarts of cherry/grape/pear tomatoes

It turned out that Tuesday was an unseasonably mild late July day, so we went to work canning the larger ones and simply freezing the smaller ones; apparently freezing does change the texture somewhat but they should still be good for cooking into a sauce.

We ended up with 7 gallon-sized freezer bags of littluns …

… and 10 quarts of bigguns plus 3 quarts juice:

In the lower right corner you can see our cat GiGi on the bench outside, waiting for all the hubbub to subside.

So all these tomatoes canned and frozen before August, and our own crop has not yet started to come in. Ain’t life grand?!

Added: And last night she made a peach galette (free-form pie) with some of the peaches left over from canning. Here it is before folding the “petals” over the peach filling:

And here is a close-up of it fresh out of the oven:

Yum, yum, yum!
Pie! (Oh My!)

Hot Dogs on a Hot Day

Different strokes: Roy prefers the bare floor with his head on the cool marble hearth, while Bearsheba favors the time-honored splaying out directly under the ceiling fan.

Eating Local

Yesterday, the hottest day of the year (94.1°F) we canned peaches. We were out doing grocery shopping yesterday and stopped by Smith Orchard’s stand on the top of nearby Cooper Mountain and we picked up a bushel of canning peaches. We put a serious dent in this half-bushel:

We went sugarless this year, just 1/2 teaspoon white vinegar (to help retain color) plus 3-4 whole cloves (for a bit of pep — plus we have a large jar of them!) per quart. After 3 hours of dunking in hot water, peeling, quartering, and tight-packing to squeeze up a bit of juice), we had these seven quarts:

We pressured-canned them for the recommended 10 minutes at 6 pounds (much quicker than the 25 minutes at 11 pounds needed for tomatoes). They took all night to cool off; here they are in this morning’s early light:

We’ll do another 7 quarts in a couple of days; the second half-bushel is not quite ripe.


And today’s main meal this afternoon was steak salad: local greens (endive), a local tomato (marinated with home-grown garlic and commercial basalmic viegar) commercial blue cheese, and — the star — leftover local, pasture-raised, dry-aged steak (grilled rare earlier this week):

Yum!

And, I’ll close with an image from a favorite tee shirt:

Garden Laughing Buddha

A dollar store impulse buy. Two pics, close up and in context.
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Bees Dun R-U-N-N-O-F-T *

Well, we returned from a day’s outing yesterday to find that the bees had completed their cleaning of the removed combs:

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So this morning, we went out to complete our bee housekeeping by putting the cleaned beeswax combs back into the more properly organised hive. Alas, we found that the bees were gone. Apparently they decided we were a danger to their continued existence.

Next time, we will be sure to set the hive up properly in the first place.

Bee Housekeeping

So, about six weeks ago we relocated our new beehive. At the time, we had proper frames in the lower super, so the bees would build orderly combs. Temporarily, we put an inner lid between the lower and upper supers, and put a sugar water feeder in the upper super so as to entice the bees to stay. We had intended to swap out the inner lid and upper super with a proper frame-filled super, but various events foiled those plans.

This morning we finally got to it.

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Here I am in my make-shift beekeepers outfit: white (so they do not mistake me for a bear) long-sleeved sleep shirt tucked into light-colored dorm pants in turn tucked into long white socks. Topped with a proper veiled bee hat. Stylish, no? On the left is the super/queen excluder/super/inner lid/outer lid combo that I am going to add to the hive. (The queen excluder is to make sure that the topmost super has just honey — no brood — that we can harvest later on.)

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As we expected, because we had not put an inner lid under it, the outer lid needed some leverage to unstick.

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Worst fears realized; The bees had built their combs attached to the underside of lid.

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We set the old lid near the hive opening so the bees could begin robbing the old combs and using the material in new combs. An hour later and they are going gangbusters. Hate to make them waste their time and energy like this, but what’re ya gonna do?

The Once and Future Tomato

What would life be without homegrown tomatoes? Well, not as good as otherwise! Last year was a bad one around here for tomato crops. Ours came in late; enough to eat, but we barely had enough left over to can 7 quarts, and none for frozen pizza/pasta sauce.

I am determined to have a good crop this year. Our frost date is late May, but we were getting into the 80’s in early April, so I went ahead and bought two 4-packs of plants at a local hardware/grocery store. I went with two heirloom beefsteak-style varieties: Mr. Stripey (1800’s, mid-Atlantic, low-acid, colorful red/yellow) and Mortgage Lifter (early 20th Century, West Virginia, big-n-meaty, pink/red).

The weather stayed pretty mild so at the end of April I prepped my tomato beds — two of our five 6′ x 6′ terraced beds. First, I dumped the last of the winter woodstove ashes:
Tomato-2017-04-28-ash

Then I added several tractor bucket loads of goat shed compost on each bed, mixed, and leveled:
Tomato-2017-04-28-compost

Then, for several weeks, the weather, especially at night, turned chilly. It is my understanding that if tomato plants are repeatedly exposed to temps below 50 their yield will suffer the entire season. So I waited. And waited. I bought some peat pots and re-potted the root-bound plants.

Finally, in late May (admittedly, our historical frost date, but weeks and weeks and weeks after prolonged spring/summer temps), I deemed the forecast suitable for transplanting; in the background you can see the goats enjoying the bolted collards that I cleaned out of the nearby beds. I planted 4 plants per 6’x 6′ bed with landscape fabric mulch:
Tomato-2017-05-17

A month later the plants are going gangbusters. I have tied a few plants with baling twine to encourage them to grow through the “tepees” I made with short sections of cattle panels:Tomato-2017-06-19

A Good Omen?

We went to go sit on the upper veranda this fine evening and discovered that we were beat to it …
Dove1
… by a white dove perching on our hammock! Here’s a close-up:
Dove2

View from the Upper Veranda [Video]

This is a bit old, from October 2015; been meaning to post it for awhile but kept getting hung up in the morass that is video file format conversion. There a bonus for my relatives at the very end. Every year at the end of the growing season we let our goats into our garden beds to clean out the spent plants. They enjoy the dietary change of pace, and we enjoy watching the free labor.

Pool Noodles for Head Safety! (However…)

One consequence of our having poured a concrete floor in our old basement is that the old, rusty I-beam (that was added at some point to help stabilize the bounciness of the upstairs floor) is now 5′ 9″ off the floor. I am taller than that. So I had this idea to buy pool noodles, cut a slit lengthwise, and, voilĂ ! Head safety.

Pool-Noodles-For-Head-Safety

When I first bought the noodles at the local Family Dollar, I only bought enough for the main basement. When I went back to get some for the smaller cellar, they were sold out. Not to worry, I went to the Dollar General a minute away on the edge of town. They had them. And now, a PSA for those of you in the market for dollar store pool noodles: Family Dollar pool noodles are superior to Dollar General pool noodles in every possible way: they are thicker, denser, longer, and made in the USA (DG’s are from Canada). Same price, of course: $1.

On a less lighthearted note, it turns out that head safety was the least of my worries. (In the journalism business they call this burying the lede.) Yesterday, while using my table saw to cut pieces for our addition ramp guardrail, my hand slipped and the tip of my thumb grazed the blade. In over 35 years of woodworking this was my first trip to the ER. I will spare you the gruesome details, suffice it to say that my left thumb is now a wee bit shorter and sans thumbnail. It took two hours and nine stitches. The pharmaceuticals are doing their job so it does not feel too bad at the moment. The official diagnosis, on the other hand, sounds rather dire:
2017 ICD-10-CM Diagnosis Code S68.022A
Mr. Google tells me that this is diagnosis code S68.022A in the current, and quite comprehensive, ICD-10.