Greenhouse

A couple of weeks back I burned an evening dreaming about a greenhouse; tapping through the internet, gazing at photos.

I like the idea of being completely independent. Free to do whatever I darn well please, not necessarily dependent on the whims of utilities, grocery stores…pretty much everyone, save whoever makes toilet paper. The allure of a greenhouse to me is, theoretically, I can grow all kinds of things year round. I wouldn’t have to buy veggies or fruits, except for whatever I didn’t grow myself. Now the reality is I would never do that. I’m too lazy and lack fundamentals necessities such as knowledge, money and time. But reality never stops day dreams.

Last year I said we are never growing plants from seeds again.  The seed trays on the window sills just attracted bad cats, who’s inquisitiveness meant damage plants, dirt and water everywhere. The whole thing was a mess; more trouble than it was worth.

So this year of course I couldn’t resist the urge to pick up an indoor little greenhouse. My former “no more plants from seeds” edict conveniently missing from memory (as reminded by my wife). As I mentioned in previous posts, it impossible for me to visit Lowe’s in late winter, early spring and not walk out with an arm full of stuff that I may or may not need. This week I walked out with a $35 indoor “greenhouse”, which is basically a backers rack with a vinyl cover.

We (my kid and I) set it up in about 15 minutes, in my studio. I didn’t feel like putting soil into pots out in the garage (too cold) so I brought all of my planting supplies into the studio and set to starting seeds. We (now consisting of myself and two kids) filled several trays with soil and little seeds. Trays were then placed on the racks, and the cover zipped shut. All that’s left to do is water and wait. Once the seeds sprout, we’ll thin them out and start toughening them up: moving the greenhouse to a sunny spot. Right now, in my studio, they only get indirect sunlight.

By the way, the seeds I picked up are organic ones from a nifty display I saw at Lowe’s. It’s important to get organic seeds so that they don’t contain neonicotinoids which are a type of insecticide that kills honey bees and other pollinators.

It was fun to set up the little greenhouse and plant seeds.

Nice to touch soil again.

In addition to pining for a “real” greenhouse, there’s a part of me that really wants animals too. I really want my very own micro farm really. Not sure who would watch this farm when we’re out traveling with our trailer for weeks at a time, but we can figure that out. But, who lets reality get in the way of day dreams, right?

Well we already have bees, and we’ve survived raising those, so there is a precedent for some semblance of competence. I think we can handle guinea fowl next. We can at least try 2-4 of them and see how it goes. The sole reason we’d get those is to see if they control the tick population, which is rampant on our little piece of paradise.

But beyond a few birds I’m thinking even bigger. I think it’d be neat to have a couple of goats and sheep. I’d love to have a little animal house, with an adjacent greenhouse and coop. Little animals roaming around, grazing…doing their thing. Cheese, wool, milk….

Who knows. Anything is possible.

Here are today’s photos. Enjoy!

Winter 2015 Photo Tour

It was such a beautiful morning I had to take 15 minutes and sneak outside to snap a few photos. The combination of snow, rain, and snow (and no wind) means that all the trees are retaining their white snow covered branches.

The landscape around the house truly is a winter wonderland.

Autumn Bee Check & Early Winter Hive Prep

We did a quick bee check of all three hives today. It was a fairly temperate day, and we just had our first frost, so all the signs point towards checking bees while we still can. Snow will be upon us soon enough. This is probably the last or second to last check of the bees until spring

Our goals for checking the bees in fall:

  1. Start moving honey frames towards the center – the bees will form a big warm ball of bees in the center of the hive, likely the middle or lower deep. They won’t go far to get honey, even if they are hungry. Also they likely will move up the hive, so it’s important that the middle deep is where most of the honey is at
  2. Check for mites – hives 1 and 3 both have mites, so we decided to treat all three hives with Hop Guard. Mites create bees with deformed wings, kill baby bees before they hatch and generally cause decline in bee populations. The cardboard strips of Hop Guard are placed over the deep frames, two to a hive box. They are not placed in the honey “supers” higher up in the hive.
  3. Treat for hive beetles – hive 1 has beetles so we decided to put beetle traps in all three hives. The trap is just a clear injection molded compartment that we fill with safflower oil. You can use canola oil, or other type of cooking oil that’s lying around. The beetles check in, but they don’t check out.

Later on this month we’ll install mouse guards to the entrances. These sheet metal shields are perforated to allow bees to come and go, but they won’t let rodents enter the main entrance of the hive. Up top we’ll place a queen excluder screen to keep the mice out of the top of the hive, as well.

Sometime in November I’ll fashion insulating shells, from 2″ rigid insulation. The insulating shells will protect the hives from what is supposed to be a very cold winter. This will be a pain to do every year. I’d like to invent a hive with rigid insulation built into the boxes. This would regulate temperatures year round just like an old hollow tree trunk would (that’s my theory at least).

The bees seem happy, as happy as bees can be. Hive No. 2 should be fine, as should hive No. 1. Hive No. 3 is lagging behind honey-wise and bee population-wise, so I’m uncertain. All three hives have eggs and / or a visible queen (we saw hive No. 1 queen today).

Here are today’s photos including a bee birthday.

Autumn Scenes & Honey Bottle Label

Autumn is in full swing.

Today we labeled our honey bottles. The labels look okay. There are some design changes I’ll make but those can wait until the next batch. We needed to get them labeled for tomorrow’s community yard sale.

Here are a few photos, including one of a frog that jumped out in front of the Rabbit the other day. It’s a northern green frog (Rana clamitans melanomawhich is can be found throughout Ohio. It’s fun discovering a “new to us” species on our land. Especially this large of an amphibian. One of these days I should do a book on all the animals we have on our land.

So many ideas, so little time.

Bee Wildflower Honey

Had to share my impromptu design for our honey jar labels.  I want to get them labeled for this weekend. There’s a village peddler’s day this weekend and I’m going to whore my wares in the center of town; selling honey alongside my old lawn mower and any trash to treasure stuff I can find in the basement or garage.

“bee” is our brand 🙂 I don’t know if anyone else is using that, but I’ll keep using it until someone tries to stop me (I generally always get what I want).

I drew the wildflowers using a photo I took earlier this year of flowers on our land. I don’t know what they are but they are yellow with red centers. There’s a photo on the blog somewhere.

The copy font is avant grade which is one of my all-time favorite fonts. The font choice, along with my black and white trace drawing kind of gives the label a retro 70’s vibe which I like a lot as a child of that decade (and the one after). We grew up in a classic 70’s house and they type of architecture is prevalent throughout the valley in which we live if you know where to look.

You know what’s really cool? Just like wine I’ve labeled the honey with the season, year, type and even which hive it came from. Honey never spoils, which makes it even better than wine. (We’re having a honey tasting later this fall, as a random side note – just like wine tasting!)

Available in 8oz and 4oz glass bottles, 100% of the proceeds from our honey sales go towards educating our kids, paying for our eco-friendly house, buying wildflowers and trees, and supporting our bees.

Seems legit, right?

Label for "bee" brand honey - includes hive, season and type information.

Label for our “bee” brand honey – includes hive, season and type information.

Early Fall Bee Check

Days are getting shorter, and cooler as autumn creeps into Northeast Ohio. We checked the bees for the first time since there was a swarm a week or two ago. Methodically we examined all three hives, top to bottom. I don’t know if we found anything surprising, other than we can’t tell which hive swarmed, or if the swarm was even ours. All three hives seemed relatively healthy and strong. Though the next four weeks will be telling, as late fall and eventually winter approaches.

Hive No. 3: we saw eggs, though no queen. Their honey production is lacking as their medium super is empty. Like all three hives, the bottom deep box is fairly empty as well, devoid of much honey or brood I believe.

Hive No. 2: we saw no queen, and not necessarily any eggs either. Though towards the end of summer egg production goes down in preparation for winter. The hive was strong and well populated. It’s hard to believe that this would have been the hive that swarmed. Honey in hive No. 2 is in good supply and no apparent pests.

Hive No. 1: the largest hive has larvae and a queen. And likely close to 50K+ bees in it. We thought this would have been the swarm hive but there is a queen so it is not. This hive is beleaguered by pests though, including yellow jackets, hive beetles and mites. We treated the hive for mites and beetles, and squished as many yellow jackets as we could. The hive has at least 30 lbs. of honey in the lower medium super. We’ll have to see if we can harvest any or if we’ll just leave it for the bees for winter.

My suspicion is that we won’t harvest anything from hive No. 1 this fall. Hives No. 2 & No. 3 are off-limits ’til spring.

Elsewhere a deer decided to rut on one of the few trees I didn’t wrap, so of course I had to go out and wrap the trunk of a blaze red tupelo tree in the front yard.

Here are today’s photos:

Day #267

Today was a very special day for us and our land. Today we had the honor of being day #267.

day-267-e

Ever since we moved in, actually ever since we first walked the land, we knew it was a special place. There is just something about the land, trees, meadows, light, sounds….it all has a magical effect on the senses. As artists we’ve appreciated how incredible a place it is. And I’ve always wanted to capture and share that somehow. I try with my photos and writing, but beyond that I always thought it’d be great to share with others, even complete strangers.

Rewind back to earlier this year, I stumbled upon a project that a local artist was working on. Her name is Michelle Darvis and she is a painter. Her and her husband embarked upon a year-long journey to document 2014 with a plein air painting every day. The project, appropriately called ‘A Year In Plein Air‘ is fairly self-explanatory. They travel the state and Michelle paints a new painting every day.

I had seen her work online and heard about it through a local gallery. Right away I had the idea that it’d be cool to have her paint our land. But as with anything I got busy and the thought fell by the wayside. Well, as far as ideas go, this one stuck in me and germinated. Finally this month I decided, “why not” and I sent Michelle an email asking if she could paint out at our place, and in a way include us in on her unique project.

Much to my delight, this wonderful artist who I had never met, said she’d be more than happy to do it. I shared the blog and all its beautiful photos to help entice her.

Today was the day that she came out. We took a quick tour of the land, a tour that included me getting a honey bee stuck in my hair – which was fairly alarming for me. We visited all four meadows, and of course the bee hives. In the end she settled on the east meadow, setting her easel up in the driveway. This is an incredible spot, that most people miss when driving in because they are distracted by the view of the house from that same vantage point. It’s my favorite meadow and certainly the most photogenic.

As the sun dipped low along the tree line, Michelle happily painted. We snuck over a few times to watch and converse, all whilst she converted a blank 8×10 canvas into a flood of colorful brush strokes. In the end, the boys were able to contribute a stroke each to the work, personalizing it even further.

Our meadow is now immortalized in her painting. A painting that along with 364 others will be part of an incredible art show that will travel the country in 2015.

For me everything about the experience was wonderful, and memorable. A mundane Wednesday turned into the most extraordinary of days. In short time our home has a knack for providing the incredible. Now my…our beloved meadow will be immortalized in that painting, but also it is part of a fascinating project, the aforementioned road show, even an upcoming book.

World class plein air painters in America are few and far between. A project like this helps Michelle take that next step, and it’s an incredible honor to be a part of it. (Yes, we had to pay for the painting in case you’re wondering.)

Beyond that though, it means so much to me. To see the feelings I have when I look at our land, transferred in oil on canvas. To be able to share the beauty I see with others, for them to appreciate as well. For me it’s magic. And I’m sure it is for our family as well.

Hopefully the boys will look fondly upon the painting for decades to come. Hopefully Michelle is successful in all her endeavors.

And for me, well I got a tiny little dream come true.

 

visit Michelle’s website at http://www.michelledarvis.com

“A Year In Plein Air” should be touring in 2015 and keep an eye out for her book as well.

Note: Many of the pieces that are part of the ‘A Year In Plein Air‘ project are still for sale! So consider taking the opportunity to own a small piece of painting history. Now may be your only chance. Contact her today.

(P.S. I left the door open in case she wants to come back and paint the bee hives, so that might entice one of you to buy a piece for yourself – especially if you’re a fan of our blog)

Herb Harvest

Preparing Dried Herbs

The last couple days I’ve taken some time to process the herbs I had dried, and harvest a new batch.

I took down the herbs I’d previously dried, untied them and in batches I went about grinding them up. This first batch included mint, catnip, rosemary, and two types of oregano which I combined. I ran my hand along the stems of each and pulled all the leaves off, depositing them into a bowl. I discarded the stems. I then used our handy herb mill and ground up the leaves of each; cleaning everything off between herb types to minimize “cross-pollination” of herbs.

Once ground down, I used a funnel to put the herbs into 4 oz. round glass jars. It was amazing, I almost filled a whole jar with mint alone.

I ripped the leaves off and tossed the stems.

I ripped the leaves off and tossed the stems.

using an herb mill to grind dried herbs down.

using an herb mill to grind dried herbs down.

I used a funnel to put the herbs in glass jars.

I used a funnel to put the herbs in glass jars.

herbs-in-jar

Mint, catnip, oregano, and rosemary in 4 oz. jars. It didn't take much to yield this much dried herbs.

Mint, catnip, oregano, and rosemary in 4 oz. jars. It didn’t take much to yield this much dried herbs.

Picking And Drying More Herbs

I was excited I ran out the next day and harvested more herbs. I learned you’re supposed to harvest in the morning, so I’ll remember that next time. This week harvesting in late afternoon sufficed as far as I was concerned. Here are some garden and harvest pics:

Corn is growing.

Corn is growing.

Harvesting herbs.

Harvesting herbs.

This is yesterday's harvest. There's more where this came from. I bet I'll have about six jars worth of dried herbs.

This is yesterday’s harvest. There’s more where this came from. I bet I’ll have about six jars worth of dried herbs. (Yes I misspelled oregano, sue me.)

I sorted all the herbs I harvested. I then washed them all with cold water and set them out to dry a little. As they were drying I tied them in bunches, about six (6) stems per bunch, about eight inches apart – basically creating a clothes line of herb bundles. I then hung them up in my studio to dry. Some of the smaller bundles or leaf only herbs (no stem) like sage, I used a drying rack.

A drying rack for chives, sage, rosemary, and thyme.

A drying rack for chives, sage, rosemary, and thyme.

I then used towels to get as much moisture off of the herbs as I could. In the studio I strung them up and now we wait, probably about a week for them to dry out. I’m drying these herbs right now:

  • rosemary
  • sage
  • thyme
  • chives
  • italian parsley
  • catnip
  • mint
  • spicy oregano
  • oregano
  • french tarragon
  • dill
  • basil

Some of these herbs, my herb book says don’t dry well: parsley and basil for example. But I’m going to experiment because I can have only so many herbs in my freezer. Throughout the process the kitties were very attentive – they can tell there’s copious amounts of catnip in camp.

 

Basil and catnip up top, other herbs below. I try to space them so they don't intermingle too much. Not sure if they'll transfer scent, oils or properties.

Basil and catnip up top, other herbs below. I try to space them so they don’t intermingle too much. Not sure if they’ll transfer scent, oils or properties.

Next up we’ll be extracting honey. Suffice to say if you’re on our Christmas list you might get some homegrown goodies this year. Actually we just made our first barter trade: I exchanged veggies for beer with a friend of mine that does home brewing. I like the idea of living off the land and trading what we grow for other things we want or need.

I did look at the lone surviving peach today and it’s starting to turn yellow. It’s not very big though. We shall see.

Okay, here are some flower and pollinator photos for you. Pick up a good nature sighting after the pics….

Baby Bunnies

Dixon was looking out the window curiously the other evening. So I got off the couch and looked out the window, and what did I see but literally a pile of rabbits! A mama bunny was nursing a whole litter of baby bunnies outside the family room window. It was so neat. Then they all scattered so we had adult and baby bunnies running everywhere. I wasn’t able to get any good photos. Sorry. But it was super cute. And of course now my pepper plants have more mouths to feed.

What baby animals have you seen this year?

Are you growing herbs?

Do you have any herb preserving tips?

Share below in the comments.

Starting To Harvest Veggies

Luckily work’s been busy this week, so I have yet to have “farm day”. But I did sneak out this afternoon and looked at the garden. Everything is growing nicely as far as I can tell.

I harvested a half-dozen radishes. Something about our radishes, they never look round like you see in pictures. Maybe I’m leaving them in the ground too long, but ours end up looking like mutants. I guess they taste okay. I’m not sure what we’re going to do with them all though. I can mail some out to you I suppose.

I also picked our first two cucumbers. There are a dozen more already on their way.

And I got another handful of green beans too.

Wednesday is CSA day, so we’re on the verge of having way too many veggies. Last night we cooked zucchini, snap peas, green beans and squash along with oregano and parsley. All that on top of pasta with some garlic, pepper, salt, and other spices. It was okay. But I find I need some sort of meat in there, otherwise I start to gag.

Today’s harvest:

Today's harvest. July 1st, 2014

Today’s harvest. July 1st, 2014