Thursday, September 27, 2012

Welcoming Fall

I heard on the radio one morning this week, it was the first day of Fall. How could that be? It's still 85 degrees! There are still wildfires burning, we haven't seen any rain in months and there aren't even any clouds in the sky! How could it be fall? I was shocked, and yet I started to notice a few things. First off: it was 39 degrees and barely light when I went to work. In the woods I saw leaves turning red, orange, and yellow. Geese are flying south and the elk are bugling. It really and truly is fall in the northwest.
All of a sudden it seems the garden is done and wilted, and the lawn grass is crisp and dead. And, even though I still need more firewood, it's time to start getting ready for hunting season.  Hunting season is a special time for us. Not just because of the meat in the freezer and the chance to pursue game, but more because it is a season, a mindset and a feeling. Now is the time for studying the maps and choosing hunting spots. Should I try a new place or return to an old favorite? It's a time for trying out new equipment bought over the off season and breaking out the stuff I haven't seen in a year (new for this year: an internal frame for the wall tent... SO exciting!). And it's also time to break out the sweaters and slippers. Funny as it sounds, there is great comfort in reuniting with an old flannel after months apart. Best of all, it's time for crock pot dinners and hot toddy's. There is nothing on earth like coming how to a house full of the aroma of a good venison stew cooked all day in the crock pot. Couple that with a fresh baked loaf of bread from the bread machine and you've got a perfect fall evening made to order. Perfect save for one thing. After the stew and bread have been enjoyed to the max, now is time for a hot toddy.
Google it and you're bound to find countless recipes, but for me the perfect Hot Toddy needs only four things. Warm water, Honey, Lemon Juice and Whiskey. Here's how I do it: First off, fill the kettle and place it on the stove. Next, take a good deep mug and pour in a shot (or two) of blended whiskey. Return to the kettle and top off the mug with hot water (not boiling). Add a cap full of lemon juice, and finally a healthy tablespoon of honey. That's it! So nice and relaxing and it's healthy too! A tablespoon of honey every day has many health benefits from soothing sore throats to helping with seasonal allergies. The whiskey may or may not be healthy, but as long as you don't over indulge I doubt it's doing any harm.
With that I'll sign out and wish you all a happy Fall. As a clever guy once told me: "Fall is one of my four favorite seasons".

Friday, September 21, 2012

The First Honey

 If you remember A bee adventure, then you'll know this day was a long time coming. Over a year ago we decided to give beekeeping a try, after honey bees colonized our porch eaves. In the months since I've posted about the ups and down of learning the trade. Now for the first time, I would dare to call myself a Beekeeper. Last weekend Whitney and I extracted honey for the first time, I guess you can tell I was pretty excited!
A frame of capped honey comb
Honey bees are unique in that they will keep packing away food stores far beyond what they need for survival. A smart beekeeper always makes certain that the bees have enough for themselves, then harvests the extra. Above you see a frame of capped honey ready for extracting. Bees cap the stored honey in the fall and then when it's needed, they chew the capping wax off for the colony to eat.  
Cutting off the capping wax
Before you can spin the honey out of the comb, you must cut off the capping wax to free up the honey in the comb. This wax will get melted and cleaned and Whit plans to try her hand at making lip balm this winter. Stay tuned for that!

frames ready to spin
 The uncapped frames are loaded into the extractor and spun. The spinning forces the honey out of the comb and onto the sides of the exctractor. The honey runs down the inside and pools in the bottom of the extractor.
the very first drop of honey
Eventually the honey pools enough and drops into the filter cloth. This was an exciting moment! Many long  months of reading, researching, hoping and planning, all came down to this. The very very first drop of honey. (que clinking glasses!)

Success at last!
After being filtered, the pure raw honey is poured into jars and capped. There is no heating so the honey remains totally pure and natual and will store indefinately as long as it's kept clean. This first jar was a huge acheivement, I can't even describe how proud I was and still am. Since pure raw honey is actually alive (non-pasturized) it's health atributes are unmatched, but should never be fed to young kids. The color of the honey can vary greatly and is attributed to what flowers the bees were visiting. Since we don't know where every bees went, we'll call ours "garden honey".
After the first jar, the honey kept flowing and we were able to store plenty for ourselves and will have some to sell and give as gifts. All in all this was a huge day for me. All the work and preperation finally paid off. Not unlike my first successful deer hunt, and that first taste of fresh tenderloin. Pure joy and achievement.
Now already I am planning and researching how to over winter my bees so that next spring they are even more healthy, happy and productive!
Thanks for stopping by. KJ

Monday, September 10, 2012

Chicken Integration

If you recall from earlier posts like The halfway house aka chicken tractor and chick love, Whitney and I raised 5 more chickens this year. These Silver Laced Wyandottes came to us as day old chicks and we brooded them in the house until they were old enough to go outside. They lived in the chicken tractor for several weeks while becoming accustomed to the outside world. After they became comfortable, we began opening the door in the afternoons so that the pullets could roam the yard like the hens do. But even though they were all out together, the two groups would not mix. They were two groups tolerant of each other but not interested in meeting. Eventually the pullets became too big for the chicken tractor, so it was time to move them into the coop.
The Five Pullets
I guess I thought Whitney would just chicken whisper them right into the hen house, but it didn't exactly work that way. It turned out more like a game of Chase the Chicken every night for a week. The books all say that it is as simple as placing the pullets in the coop at night, and the next morning they will wake up knowing that's home. I'll tell you how it went for us: One night Whitney and I moved the pullets one at a time into the coop and placed them on the roost. The next morning, when I opened the door to the chicken yard, the pullets tumbled out and hid in the corner. The hens scratched and pecked like normal, but the pullets continued to huddle off on the side. That afternoon we opened the door to the big yard and the pullets ran back to the chicken tractor! We rounded them up and got them back in the coop, but they were clearly not happy about it. For about a week every time we opened the door, the pullets ran out to return to the their old home. It was sad, and we even worried that they might not be eating but after several rounds of chicken wrangling they did start returning to the coop at night. It's taken a while but I'm happy to say that the flock is now fully integrated. Sure the hens have a pecking order and the youngsters are not yet on the top roost, but they aren't a separate flock either.

The Integrated Flock
To top the news, this week Whitney found a couple mini eggs in the nesting boxes, suggesting our little Wyandottes have started laying! So, it's official we've got 19 layers and 1 rooster (although one of the Wyandottes is showing some rooster-like tendencies, more on that later).
Sometime soon we will try honey extracting for the first time, so stay tuned for that.
Until next time, as always, thanks for stopping by.