Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Jacob is Nine Years Old

Happy Birthday to our sweet, cute, witty young man. He has a warrior's heart filled with determination and strength of spirit.

Our strong willed, stubborn boy can sway with the wind, but can hold firm like solid rock when he feels he needs to.

He is always ready to find something new to investigate, discover and learn; active and adventurous, loves to explore. He is always ready with a new and imaginative story or joke and can't wait to make a new friend where ever he goes.

Happy Birthday little man! 

May your will, determination, and friendly personality continue to shape and guide you in the right direction with strength and steadfast spirit that keeps you on your path through life. 

Love you always!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Noah's Eleven

Eleven Years Old!
Happy Birthday Noah, you have added so much to our life over the years, so much spirit, so much adventure and so many blessings. We love you and have loved watching you grow into the wonderful young man you are becoming. Here's to many, many more years to watch you become the man you will be.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Exploring Our Woods

We went on an adventure this morning exploring our(and our neighbor's) woods. We went in search of a plant that I have seen in the past but hadn't noticed in a couple of years. Apparently deer really like this plant so it is hard to spot because it is usually stripped down every year from the browsing beasts(and I do say that with affection I love them, they are beautiful...but why do they have to eat all the good stuff?)
Anyway, the plant we were searching for is called Euonymus americanus. Some of its common names are American strawberry bush, Strawberry bush, Hearts-a-burstin, or Bursting heart. It is from the staff tree or bittersweet family(Celastraceae) of plants. It is one of our North American native species.

This very distinct and unusual shrub has dark green stems, bright green oval lance shaped leaves that have almost no stem and are pointed on both ends. The leaves will turn red in fall. The flowers are small greenish five petal flowers that kind of float above the leaves on their long-ish stems. The fruits and seeds are odd hard little round capsules that are a pinkish red and bumpy. When they are ripe and pop open they reveal bright orange seeds that hang on to the bottom of the capsule usually in groups of 4 or 5. It can grow to be between 2-6 feet tall. The pictures I was able to get are difficult to really see what the plant looks like, because the deer have mostly eaten all of the leaves off of the plant. But now I know that I didn't lose it and will be able to protect it next year.

Some of the other things we found on our explore.

 A frog:

Lots of caterpillars and bugs:

Interesting mushrooms/fungi:

Lots of moss that was fuzzy to touch:

Lots and lots...and lots of spider webs and spiders:
We found some but most of them found us.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Farm and Garden: Goat Antics

Yesterday we found out that these little girls have a sense of adventure, well at least one of them does. After putting them away in the evening, giving them their feed and water, and spending some time with them so that we can get them used to us, we left them to settle in for the evening. About an hour later, Noah comes running through the house to go outside screaming, "a goat is out, a goat is out!", and at the same time there was a horrible wailing outside. I walk outside and Charlotte is frantically running around the chicken pen, and her pen trying to figure out how in the world she is going to get back in. Willow is in the pen screaming her head off as if to say what are you doing! So I get a little scratch for Charlotte and coax her back into her pen and tell them good night again. About twenty minutes later there is some banging noises outside and the wailing starts again...I go outside and Charlotte is at it again frantically running around. The first time, we thought she escaped through the gate because it wasn't closed tight enough, so on the way out I made sure it was secure. When it happened the second time, I figured out that she is an escape artist and she somehow jumped through a hole that we left in the little shelter that we built. I am not at all sure how she accomplished it, especially without killing herself or breaking a leg, but it looks like the only other way out of the pen. So we put up a temporary fencing around the hole, and she hasn't gotten out again.

They have been so much fun the last couple of days. They are getting more comfortable with us. We have discovered that Willow tends to be the most curious, but also very cautious. Charlotte seems to be the more agile and adventurous. They seem to really enjoy the children, especially Benjamin, probably because they are about the same size. They also seem very taken with Noah, but that's not surprising because he is comfortable with all of the animals. Evelyn and Jacob are becoming more comfortable with them, they move too fast and is frightens the goats a bit. Nathan likes to watch them from a far. The goats and I are having a bit of difficulty because I was a source of stress for them in the beginning. Catching them, carrying them around, collaring them, leashing them and teaching them to walk on a lead has all been very stressful. They are really fast learners and I guess I am too. I have learned that a pan of scratch will guide them pretty much anywhere you want them to go, and so will a hand full of raisins. They still don't like being on leash, but they don't mind as much when they are distracted and I am assuming as they get older they will mind less and go along with what we need them to do. as much as I want to let them roam the yard, stray and roaming dogs in our area make me nervous for their safety. as they get older we will have more fencing for them as we rotate it around the yard for them to browse.

It is a learning experience for all of us, but so far so good...

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Farm and Garden: Bees

By some small miracle, we still have bees. I'm not sure at all how we are going to keep them alive over the winter. The other day, when sadly cleaning up where the hives were to clean everything out and save it for when we start over in the Spring, I noticed a couple of bees coming out of a swarm trap that we put out thinking that the robber hive may have been a late swarm. I opened up the hive cover, and there were a small group of bees busy working on two of the frames in the box. I had to quickly close them up and block the entrance down, because the robber hive almost immediately came out from wherever they are hiding and swarmed in for the attack. So far it looks like they have survived the last attack and are still hanging in there.

Farm and Garden: Goats

It finally happened! Friday evening we brought home two new additions. Charlotte and Willow are now a part of our growing farm family. The trip home was a bit stressful for them and they were a little panicked by the time we got them out of the back of my SUV. Noah and I carefully got the dog kennel out of the back of the car and I carried each of them carefully to one of the pens in the back yard where they had to temporarily share space with the rabbits. Separating the goats for the time to get them from the car to the pen seemed like a moment of pure torture for them and they were screaming like babies. I'm not sure what our neighbors were thinking, but it was not at all a pleasant moment. After a bit of timid walking around the pen they found the hidden rabbits and it was interesting. The rabbits were trying to hide and they were trying to figure out what the heck those lightning fast fuzzy balls were. It was so very cute to see their curious looks and posturing. By the time we got them in the yard and settled it was getting dark so the children were not able to play with the kids. They are making up for that now, I'm sure that by this afternoon all the kids will be well acquainted. So now we need to find a puppy to go with the goats.

Saturday morning Noah came in our room saying we almost have our own personal petting zoo. I guess we are getting there.

So, why the goats? I'm sure many will ask...We have a beautiful piece of property, that unfortunately is so very over grown it will take a huge amount of effort to clear and in an effort to find alternative ways of doing-instead of using big machinery, or slowly working it by hand-we have decided to employ a few goats to eat their way through the overgrowth and stuff we don't want. We will have a moveable pen that we set up around the yard so that they can happily munch away and mow down on a rotation schedule to keep our yard cleaner and neater.
Next year we will breed them so that we can begin milking the following year. We will be able to use milk in cheese and soap. So...that's the plan in a nutshell.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Farm and Garden: Bees update August 2016

Our bees are struggling and it happened rather fast. We have been in the habit of checking on them weekly to make sure that everything was looking okay and everything was developing well, and then the rain started and I got a little worried about checking on angry bees. Understandably, bees don't like cloudy, or rainy weather; it makes them very grumpy. We began to go longer between checking on them and hive beetles had moved in. The bees were doing their best to keep them at bay, but those little buggers are relentless. I did what I could trying to remove/kill what I could but they just kept coming. We have a couple of traps now that are doing really well, but it still needs more work and possibly a beetle board that I saw someone making that keeps the beetles from being able to get in in the first place.

The beetles are a big issue, and I'm not sure what came first, but our next two issues were the most devastating. A swarm of robber bees came(several times apparently because I see them come back almost every day) and took everything that my little hives made. It took me a while to figure out that this was going on at the same time as the population drop in the hives. These robber bees just swooped in and completely cleaned our hives out of all their honey and pollen stores. Then soon after I began noticing that the numbers of bees began dropping. Our strong hive dwindled down to only a few hundred bees and it seemed like the queen was gone. The other hive still seemed to be strong, but the bees hanging out in front seemed to be quite a few less and upon inspection, they seemed to have either lost their queen also or they just decided to abscond. Basically looking at their losses and hive issues the queen took most of the bees and went to find better accommodations.

My neighbor tried to help out with some brood frames from his bees last week. We went through a couple of his hives and took off some of his honey frames. In the process of doing this the robber swarm that has been attacking my bees came after his hive too probably because it was open and they thought vulnerable. My neighbor's hives are really big and strong and were able to fight them off easily, but it made for an interesting inspection with bees flying everywhere...angry, fighting, aggressive bees. I got stung twice because of improper shoes...lesson learned.

This week, in order to try to save the hives, we have combined the two hives and I am in the process of replacing the queen. Hopefully in doing this, building the numbers and having a queen laying again, the hive can strengthen itself and have the ability to make it through the winter. We will then split the hives again and hope that they strengthened enough to make two strong hives for the year.

The robber bees are relentless. Sadly, I am pretty sure that we will be starting over with new bees in the Spring. I think at this point it will take a miracle to keep this hive going. In desperation, we have completely closed up the entrance to the hive in order to discourage the robber bees and keep them out. I have put an empty hive body on top of the inner lid of the hive and set up some sugar water and a bowl of water with rocks so that they have access to water while they are shut in. The outside of the hive is covered with the rogue bees desperately trying to get into the hive. they have pretty much cleaned out the hive for several weeks now and the bees that I have left have been completely wiped out of any possible honey and pollen stores for the winter.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Desserts: Chia Seed Pudding with Mangos

My family "needs" dessert...almost every night. A habit that I started and has kind of stuck. I try to stick to baking something about 3 days a week(that may or may not carry over to another day), but I try not to have to fix something every night. Lately, I've been slacking and dessert has been happening a lot less but it seems to be sneaking in a bit more. The other day I picked up some mangos for a really great price without a plan for them...but it's mango and I love mango(so do the kids). I can't seem to peel them fast enough. So I had these mangos and wanted something different, not ice cream, and not baked. Google threw this little gem at me and I had to try it. Chia Seed Pudding and mangos. The recipe calls for Coconut Milk, Chia Seeds, Maple Syrup, and Mango cut into chunks. Very easy, very cool, very weird, I thought it would be a big hit. I loved it, Matt loved it, Nathan loved it, Noah liked it okay and that's pretty much the end of it. Jacob, Evelyn, and Ben just didn't like it. Nathan, Matt and I got extra dessert after picking the mango out for the younger ones. I think the chia seeds are kind of fun, not everyone likes the texture.

Chia Pudding with Mangos

1 can of coconut milk
1 1/2 cups of whipping cream
2-3 Tablespoons of Maple Syrup
3-4 Tablespoons Chia Seeds
Chopped Mango(or other fruit, or no fruit)

Whip whipping cream until thick but not to whip cream consistency seeds will create thickness. Add the coconut milk and maple syrup and mix together. Add the chia seeds and let it sit for about 30 minutes. Let it refrigerate for a couple of hours to overnight(best thickness). layer the pudding and the fruit in a glass. You can serve it immediately or refrigerate until ready to serve.

Whipping Cream can be taken out and all coconut milk can be used if a vegetarian/vegan option is wanted.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Weird Hairy Fruit

Weird Hairy Fruit

Every now and then we will buy something we've never tried before in the grocery store to experiment with it. I don't usually think to write about it until way after we are finished playing. This time I thought about it beforehand. So, while at Kroger earlier intending to pick up a couple of Mangos and Margarita Mix, these weird hairy little fruits were just begging me to take them home. They were practically jumping up and down in their little box saying try me, don't I look like a fun experiment? I grabbed a handful of them and decided they were coming home with me because they looked interesting fun and cute, like little sea urchins.

I looked them up when I got home and found out they are called Rambutans and are supposed to be kind of grape-like, similar to a Lychee fruit(which I've never had either, but have heard of it before). After opening them up and peeling them off of their seeds we tried them and found them interesting to say the least. The texture of it is very similar to a peeled grape with a firmer bite. The flavor was very mild, but different from a grape. Each one(we had six of them) had a slightly different flavor, but mostly they were sweet with a slight tartness, but there was also a vanilla flavor to them. The seed inside the fruit looked very much like an almond and although I was very curious to try it, I decided not to because what I read said that it must be cooked/roasted first or it isn't safe to eat. I didn't feel like roasting six almond size nuts, and the kids wanted to try to plant them. We will try, but it is a tropical tree so I don't hold much of it surviving North Mississippi winter temperatures.

I really enjoyed them and would probably love to have them again in a larger quantity to try and put it into a dessert of some sort. It is recommended that they not be cooked because the subtle flavor can be lost. They are a little more work than a grape and probably would be time consuming depending on what is done with them, but depending on their use I could see them being an enjoyable addition to a dessert.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Farm and Garden: Bees

Today we opened up the nucs and transferred them to the full size hives. I think it went really slow, because I actually felt a little more timid than I thought I would be. I was really concerned about accidently mashing bees with the frames and having chaos ensue.

We opened up the more aggressive of the two hives, and although they got a little rowdy, flew around and bumped into us a bit, they really didn't try to attack. It took them a while to settle down and go inside, but it really wasn't bad. This hive was so busy and hectic that I couldn't find the queen and one of the frames had some bumpy comb on it that reminded me of queen cells that I have seen on other frames in other people's hives. Luckily it is just misshapen comb and not the threat of swarming.

The second hive is a bit smaller and slower than the first hive, but there was lots of brood in many different stages of development and I was able to locate the queen in this hive because they were not nearly as crazy as the first group.

I'm not sure which I enjoyed better. The crazy busy rocking hive, or the one that is moving along at a steady pace that is calmer. I guess time will tell.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Farm and Garden: Bees

We finally got bees. On Saturday we drove out to Red Belly Bee Farm and picked up our first two packages of bees and brought them home with a mixture of anticipation, excitement, and a little anxiety. It has been a very long wait, but we can finally strike it off our list of things that we would like to try learning to do.

Bob packaged the nucs by stapling a piece of screen across the access hole and duct taping the top down so that they didn't bounce off on the drive home. I was very grateful that they were securely packed for the drive home, and we made it all the way back without incident.
Nathan(hesitantly) and I gently took the boxes to the back of the property where we will be placing them for now hoping that they are in a good place to take up residence.

The first box was really easy to settle in. I put on protective gear-hat, vale, and gloves-and carefully removed the staples and took of the screen. The bees slowly peeked out took a small flight around and quietly settled in for the evening.

The second box was a little bit different. I haven't had very much experience with bees, but with the little bit of exposure that I have had, I've quickly learned that a mashed bee means that there will possibly be trouble. I was optimistic though that the two smashed bees may not still cause too much excitement after a whole 40-ish minutes ride home...looking at the opening that was blocked with the screen quickly made me realize that this one was going to be a challenge. I puffed a bit of smoke hoping it would help and gently began undoing the staples. The closer I came to releasing the screen the angrier the mob seemed. I told Nathan to stand a good distance back and released the flood. They were really angry and poured out of the opening to inspect the "danger" quite a few of them surrounded my area and I calmly smoked around me in hopes of distracting them, and then carefully walked toward Nathan to gently smoke the ones that were inspecting him for possible signs of "danger".

After a few minutes they lost interest and surveyed their area and then settled in for the evening.
We didn't panic, and we didn't get stung. I counted that as an extremely amazing and encouraging first encounter with our new bees. I am sure going forward there will be stings...probably quite a few, but for today we avoided that possible tragedy and move forward into the world of Beekeeping.

So...so far so good. Yesterday and today both hives seemed to be busy as...well...bees. Tomorrow we will try to open up the hives and see what's going on inside and attempt to move them into their new residence.

Here's to continued adventure of Our Handmade and Homegrown Life.

Hope you are having a beautiful beginning to your summer.

Landscaping: New Native Plants

Matt and I went out to Strawberry Plains Audubon Center in Holly Springs, Mississippi. This place is amazing. They do lots of events throughout the year and there are lots of classes and opportunities to learn about and commune with nature. The event highlight of the year is in September for their humming bird festival that celebrates all types of animals, and the migration of the humming birds. Last week, we went out and picked up some native woodland species to add to our yard. I am really hoping to create a landscape haven for wildlife in our yard, and also introduce lots of species that are edibles for both our family and the wildlife that surrounds us. This also gives us the opportunity to add specific plants that will be good for our new hives of bees giving them plenty of opportunity to have close nectar sources.

There were so many different kinds of plants to choose from that it was really difficult to make choices, but this year we picked up Oak Leaf Hydrangea, which I have been wanting for many years.

Jewel Weed(Impatiens capensis) for ground cover in a damp area of the yard.  It is a common native found in areas along creeks, bottomlands, ditches, ponds and low land damp areas. It is a relative of impatients. The stems re translucent and succulent like. the flowers are bright orange and spotted and the seed pods are sensitive to touch when ripe and explode open shooting seeds out. This plant is considered an annual native to North America, not perennial, but it can be an aggressive reseeding plant and may not be welcome in some gardens. Be sure to plant in an area that you don't mind becoming over-run with these plants. It is also said to be great for skin issues, bug bites, and soothing rashes especially poison ivy. The two plants are often seen growing near each other in the wild. some other names for this plant are;  orange jewelweed, common jewelweed, spotted jewelweed, spotted touch-me-not, or orange balsam.

Woodland poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum) is a native perennial  that grows well in moist woodland settings. It is happy in shade to part shade. It is also called wood poppy, celandine poppy, and poppy wort. It is valued for its bright sunny yellow flowers that have four petals that float cheerfully above the deeply lobed leaves. The seed pods are a fuzzy blue-ish green pod that add interest because of their uniqueness.

The Green Dragon (Arisaema dracontium) plant that is in the same family as Jack in the Pulpit. Although it can be an edible if treated properly, I prefer to have it for it's unique look in the landscape. The plant has a toxin in it that makes if unfavorable unless prepared properly, so we will just consider this a pretty ground cover. These plants are unique, they come up out of the ground with one leaf(with several leaflets) on a stem. when the plant flowers, it creates a stalk near the base of the plant that grows out of the side of the stem and the single flower grows off of it. The flowers are inside a spathe and contain both male and female flowers. The fruits form a cluster of bright orange-red berries at the end of the stem where the flower had grown. It is also known as a Dragon-root plant. It is a native perennial  species found in damp woodland areas of North America. 

Milkweed and Turks Cap for the butterflies, and hummingbirds. Turks Cap(Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii) is a wonderful woodland perennial to have in the landscape because not only is it a very showy plant with beautiful red flowers to attract butterflies and hummingbirds, it is also a very useful edible. The leaves can be used in the same way as spinach, steamed, boiled or as a salad leaf(young leaves are better). The flowers can be eaten as a treat off of the bush, used as a salad garnish, or made into tea. and the berries can be eaten, made into tea, or jelly. It is in the mallow family of plants and is a hibiscus relative. Some other names of this plant are Wax mallow, Red mallow, Texas mallow, Mexican apple, and Sleeping hibiscus.

I also picked up a couple of wild ginger plants to put in the front of the house where I am in the process of building a dry bed at the drip line along the front of the house in a very difficult area. Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense), a member of the birthwort family was used by early settlers as a substitute for the ginger that they could no longer get. It doesn't have the same flavor as the tropical version, but in learning from the local Indians they were able to adapt it as a substitute flavor in their foods. It also had medicinal uses for the Native Americans. It is a stemless, low-growing, perennial woodland plant that prefers deep shade areas. It is a very slow growing ground cover that makes a beautiful display in areas that may otherwise look bare. It spreads by rhizomes that grow at or just under the ground surface. It has a curious bell shaped brownish red flower that blooms at the ground surface that attracts small insects such as ants and small flies as pollinators.

I am looking forward to making this plant sale a tradition to continue adding beautiful native plants and perennials to our yard.