Breakin’ the 50’s in mid-February

Yesterday, the temperature broke 50 degrees Fahrenheit and the sun was shining. The vibrant conditions outside called me from the spackling job that I started inside.  Hellebore, Witch Hazel, DandelionCrocus, and Snowdrop blossoms have emerged. The pollinators were active in our, young and packed full of blossoms, witch hazel. There were honey bees and flies and a honey bee mimic called Eristalis tenax (also, called drone fly). I discovered a helpful resource from the Xerces Society when trying to identify this significant pollinator. (Please, click on photo to access larger image. You may need to click twice.)

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It was satisfying to see the honey bees carrying pollen back to the hive. We have one hive that continues to be very active. Unfortunately, we lost the other over the winter. Very happy to see this honey bee collecting food for the health of her hive.

honeybeehazel

The honey bees will, soon, be able to collect nectar from early tree blossoms such as maple so long as it is warm enough for them to fly. The Melissa Garden and Wikipedia provide a couple of helpful resources for understanding honey bee forage plants in North America.

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First crocus seen in our front yard in Elkins Park!

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Dandelion.

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Hellebores.

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pinkhelleborusLooks like a party!

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StellaLou Farm

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I’ve not been very active on the blog of late and not just because it is winter, the time when things are drawn to dormancy. In fact, contrary to hibernating, J and I have set off some real sparks in the routine of our lives. We are working with the School of Living (SoL) to take on one of their Community Land Trust properties in Chester County, PA.  This is their webpage. They are an amazing group of people with a fantastic mission and we are very fortunate to be in association with them.

We are straddled between the two households as we get the Elkins Park house ready to sell this June.  Indie sticks with me and J tends the chickens. So far so good. Indie doesn’t complain.indiewoodstove

The plantings for Elkins Park Front Yard Farm need to be planned and started and there is considerable renovation to do here at StellaLou Farm. Yup! We are naming it after our most honorable hen. In short, this property is what they call a diamond in the rough. The  8.5+/- acres have been maintained organically for over 30 years. I have been walking this land several times a day (thanks to Indie dog) and we are getting to know each other little by little.

I am really grateful for the plantings of pine and oak, spruce and poplar, black walnut and bamboo…bamboo

…and the graceful silhouette of the eastern treeline on a snowy day.easterntrees

The enthusiastic hardy kiwi vine and the overgrown hazels are just a wild hint of the abundance this land is capable of producing.kiwi

It is clear to me that I don’t understand, fully, this new landscape and it will take time to study it well.landscape

There is so much to describe but I’ll not get into details at this point. I plan to start a separate website for StellaLou and keep this blog’s focus on Elkins Park. I expect my posts will be short and sweet at this active time. Be well!

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Bath and body works

Funny.

The title of this post could, also, be “This is peak when it comes to my decorating for Christmas.”

Alternately: “When do we get real Interior Design?”

Or: “How do you spell “loo-fuh?” (It’s a trick. Google doesn’t seem to care.)

I grew the luffa. I peeled the loofah. I removed the seed and washed the loofah. I squeezed and squished and shook the luffa. Then, I hung the loofah out (in) to dry!

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They looked like ornaments in the western sunlight coming through the window. Okay. TO ME, they look like ornaments in the sunlight. Click on the photo to see a larger image…it may help.

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I received the initial loofah inspiration from my inspiring friend, Bob,  I used this guide to help me process the gourds into useable sponges.

Originally, I thought that I was only going to get one loofah from five plants and the jungle of bumblebee filled flowers and leaves that they created. However, later in the season; the luffa seemed to wake up and fruit profusely. I thought the fruit would not get to a mature enough stage before cold weather and would be too green to make loofah sponges. I got lucky. I did get enough of a harvest to make me want to try this again….even better next time! I do not mean to neglect, though I did neglect…that these gourds are edible when young. Since I was so neglectful, I did not eat them and cannot report on their taste. Next time! Speaking of multiple functions, I might as well add that loofah growing upon a trellis in front of the chicken run provides a wonderful amount of shade for those special creatures.

According to wiki, loofahs have been used medicinally AND for construction material. If you look at the following photo, you can start to understand how using vegetables for construction could be so!

loofah

Please, take the time to magnify that photo (click, click). The structure of the luffa sponge is amazing. (When the light is better, I’m going to nail this photo!) Beneath the layer of skin, there is a strong rough flexible net of fiber that creates tubes going the length of the sponge. The seed that the loofah produces can be knocked out through those tubes and, Wow! the loofah is prolific when it comes to producing seeds! Yup….wait ’til next year!!!

Addendum:  A hot shower with a homegrown luffa and a shot of Dr. Bronner’s. There will be no turning back!

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Early December Notes

December 3. It is 65 degrees. We took advantage of the warm weather to go into our two hives to re-fill jars of sugar water. The honey bees are very active and their numbers look good. They haven’t been using very much of the feeding. We left them with good honey stores for the winter. I don’t need my lined pants today…shoot, I barely need a sweatshirt. I harvested some bunching onions for my Christmas Lima Bean Stew and used up those enormous limas that were grown on trellises in front of the hives this year. Yum.

(I have no decent photos of the Bees, so, I give you Bee-ns!)

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There are still some flowers here and there.

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Where is he going?

Hey, J! Where are you going on this beautiful sunny morning?

Mind if I tag along?

Whoa-ho! The new Creekside Food Co-op!

I’m with YOU! Lets go shopping!

Look! You can buy local. You can buy organic. You can buy delicious. You can buy beautiful! Let’s pick up some onions and celery. I’m going to get an early start on the soup stock.

Our community came together to make this co-op happen. It seems to me that this community is quite fortunate to include some very intelligent, motivated, and tenacious people. We signed up as full members of the Creekside Co-op at the first opportunity and have been waiting in great anticipation to be able to shop right in our neighborhood.

As we walked along the sidewalk to the co-op; we saw new bike racks that were fully decorated with Lisa’s “parking meter” cozies!  Wandering through the co-op; it seemed that everyone was smiling. The indoor cafe area was filled with light and with people enjoying the company of each other.  Looking out the windows, we could see that the farmer’s market in High School Park was hopping on this perfect fall day. The mundane task of food shopping is, for the moment, a celebration!  Check it out —–> CREEKSIDE CO-OP! There’s, also, a nice article about the opening of the co-op in Citizens’ Call.

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Radiant Radishes

I put out a plate of these when J’s son and daughter-in-law came over for dinner…

“Oh, lovely! Gnarly, rooty things for dinner!” you, sarcastically, exclaim.

Ha-ha!

KA-POW!

and YA-HOO!

I thought I’d put the pretty slices out for a centerpiece. To tell you the truth, I didn’t expect them to actually get eaten. Who eats radishes? Challenging my meager valuation of winter radishes, our guests ate them all up. I’ve never been a big radish person but am finding that these are quite satisfying! I bought the seed a couple of years ago and, finally, planted them this fall. The package says they are sometimes called, “Watermelon Radish.”

They are a little spicy with really good flavor. They seems to be getting sweeter as it gets colder. I will, definitely, plant these, again, next year.

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Chicken Noodling

Chicken noodling is when you feed the chickens your leftover noodles for fun.

We find chicken noodling to be quite entertaining. It sometimes, makes us, downright, jolly.

If you happen to be feeling down, I suggest that you try chicken noodling.

Disclaimer: Pasta will not provide for your chickens’ nutritional needs. Moderation is suggested.

As usual, please, click on picture for larger image. Be well!

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It’s peanuts to me.

I put in a trial plot of Tennessee Red Valencia peanuts this year at the La Mott Community Garden.

The container:

The peanuts:

The seed peanuts were from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. The peanut is a legume and the plant will fix nitrogen into the soil. Once the leaves start turning yellow, the peanuts can be pulled up (estimate 25-50 peanuts per plant). They are allowed to dry for a few weeks and, then, they can be stored or roasted and eaten. They taste just like peanuts! I pulled up about two and a half pounds of peanuts. I need to make a little promise to myself not to eat them all. I hope to use a portion of these for seed next year.

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Meading Time

With twelve pounds of the most delicious honey from our bees and the help of J’s son, we dove into our first mead making project. We tasted home brewed mead a few years back and have been wanting for it ever since!

We used The Complete Joy of Homebrewing by Charlie Papazian as our reference manual.  J’s son was, also, able to glean some helpful hints from Home Sweet Homebrew in Philadelphia.

In addition to twelve pounds of gold (honey from our bees), the ingredients included:

Spring water

Two packages of champagne yeast:

A little Irish Moss for clarifying the mead:

A little yeast nutrient added near the end of the process to give the yeast a boost:

We had to be sure that we weren’t adding any unwanted life forms into the mix so we used the recommended Iodophor sanitizer:

Anything that is going to touch the mead needs to be sanitized or put into boiling water: the carboy, the funnel, and the utensils. We rinsed the items with spring water after the Iodophor soak and before use.

Lastly, we used the zest and juice of four oranges and two ounces of chopped ginger for flavor. No. The espresso did not go into the mead. This time.

We added the honey to about a gallon and a half of water with a bit of the Irish moss and the ginger. We boiled the mix for 15 minutes.

We added the zest and orange juice to water on the side, brought it to a boil (for disinfection); and, then, let it simmer for a while before adding it to the mix.

As we transferred the liquid into the carboy, we filtered the pulp from the mix using a sieve (not shown). Then, we added more spring water to almost fill the carboy. We needed to leave a little room at the top for the yeast mixture which would be added once the mead mixture cooled down.

The yeast needed to be rehydrated in warm water (preboiled, cooled to 105 degrees F to be exact). We added the rehydrated yeast to the cooled liquid in the carboy. Then, we topped it off with the airlock. Down to the basement, into the closet…about 6 months to bottling and then another 6+ for aging. Sigh.

It lives!

UPDATE: About three weeks later, it cleared dramatically.

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Weird, cool, awesome, and sad, too!

Amazing things were discovered while garden exploring with my young observant neighbors!

 

Click on photos to enlarge the image.

I believe this is Argiope trifasciata, the banded garden spider preparing a grasshopper for supper.

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