Sunday, November 17, 2013

One Potato, Two Potato, Three Potato....PIE!

With the first couple of freezing nights, my garden season has all but come to an end. One of the last big harvests I brought in was my sweet potatoes!



I planted sweet potatoes last spring in a plastic garbage can in which we had drilled several drain holes. Didn't do much with them over the summer, just gave them a drink when I watered the rest of the garden. Today I dug up about over 6 pounds of potatoes!

Here is the garbage can. I wrapped it in an old piece of tin for aesthetic reasons!

Upon request of my husband, I made a sweet potato pie! Thanks to my oldest daughter for a yummy, gluten-free crust. I followed the recipe and used white sugar, but next time I may try honey.  If you use honey, leave a comment telling about your experience!



Here is a modification of the recipe I got from allrecipes.com:

1. 1 uncooked pie crust
2. 1 pound sweet potatoes
3. 1/2 c of sugar
4. 1/4 t cinnamon
5. 1/4 t nutmeg
6. 1/2 t vanilla
7. 1 egg
8. 1/2 c milk
9. 1/4 c soften butter

Boil potatoes in skins until soft (fork will easily go to the center). Rinse in cold water and hand peel (the peels come off easily!). Mix  3-5 together in a small bowl. Whip eggs, then add milk and butter. Mix all ingredients with the mashed sweet potatoes. Pour mixture into the pie shell.

(Keep in mind that you are using natural ingredients that are not pre-measured in a can. The mixture will be thin, but might need to be slightly adjusted according to your taste and the amount of sweet potatoes you end up with after taking the skins off and cutting out any eyes.)

Bake at 350 for 45 minutes or until knife inserted in the center comes out clean. I usually check around 30 minutes to make sure the crust is not browning too much. If it is, shield it with a thin strip of foil.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Surprise Fall Garden

This spring and summer my garden was remarkably unremarkable! I only had a few tomatoes (except the cherry tomatoes which seem to produce no matter the conditions!). Most plants only yielded a handful of produce. By midsummer, I stopped watering all but the peppers, cherry tomatoes, one watermelon plant, and the zucchini. I mostly watered these to keep them blooming for the bees.



October came along and we experienced the wettest October on record in the central Texas area! My garden unexpectedly sprang to life! Even plants that hadn't been watered in a month seemed to leaf out and flower. Without any effort on my part I had an official fall garden!

The greens came back with a fury: arugula, spinach, collards, turnip, kale and amaranth. Large green globes of pumpkins began forming. Zucchini and butternut squash took off. Bountiful pepper plants with large weighty peppers crowded each other. Even a green bean vine produced several green beans (which became crunchy garden snacks since you can't really do much with 3-4 green beans at a time!)



The biggest surprise of all was a cantaloupe! You see, I didn't plant cantaloupe last spring! It must have been a seed from my compost pile that sat dormant from last year's garden. But there hangs a perfect cantaloupe, waiting for a few sunny days to develop its golden hue.



After talking to my daughter-in-law in Colorado, it began to dawn on me how blessed I was to be here in central Texas. She told me that it was 20 degrees there. They have experienced freezes for a few weeks already. Here it is November and we have yet to have a freeze. I wouldn't trade this long gardening season for all the mountains in Colorado --  I am often able to plant at the end of March and harvest up until Thanksgiving. One year it never did freeze and I had tomatoes throughout the entire winter!

Next time we suffer through a summer heat wave and I have all but given up on my struggling garden, I'll remember the spark of hope planted by this year's unplanned fall garden and hang in there a little longer. Who knows what my next fall surprise might be?



Deuteronomy 32: 1-4

"1 Listen, O heavens, and I will speak; hear, O earth, the words of my mouth. 2 Let my teaching fall like rain and my words descend like dew, like showers on new grass, like abundant rain on tender plants. 3 I will proclaim the name of the LORD. Oh, praise the greatness of our God! 4 He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he."


Psalm 37:1-9

"1 Do not fret because of evil men or be envious of those who do wrong; 2 for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away. 3 Trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. 4 Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart. 5 Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will do this: 6 He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun. 7 Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes. 8 Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret--it leads only to evil. 9 For evil men will be cut off, but those who hope in the LORD will inherit the land."

Friday, October 25, 2013

Beeladee: Bee Problems!

This year has been full of ups and downs with my bees!

I started the year with a new hive and a lot of hope! I picked up my first package of bees and installed them without a hitch! I waited on pins and needles until the suggested time that I open my hive to make sure the queen was out of her cage! She was...now I had to hold back my enthusiasm not to over check and stress the hive. I sat and watched and fretted like a mother hen!

The hive's behavior was a bit odd from the start. Comb was quickly drawn out, but I didn't see any laying going on. Often the bees would come out and fly in a cloud and settle on the outside of the hive as though they were bearding! The season was still early and the temperature pleasant, not conditions where bearding usually takes place! Just what was going on?

Well, swarming was going on! I went out to check my hive one evening after work only to find an empty hive box! It was nearly dark. If I were going to find them I would have to hurry. I couldn't afford to replace the entire package (at $140 a pop!) My husband joined me and we started the search! Looking at the tops of trees against a darkening sky, Mark finally spotted the swarm. It hadn't gone too far from the hive. We quickly suited up. My husband banged the branch against the plastic storage box I had grabbed from the garage. I popped the box on the ground to knock the bees to the bottom, and we repeated the process. Finally we cut the end of the branch and put it in the box with the last blob of bees still attached. Hopefully in this crawling, flying mass of bees was the unharmed queen! We put the stoppers back in the hive to close off the exit and replaced the bees, closing the hive up for the night.

Once again I had to resist the urge to open the hive. It was getting a bit warmer and I worried the bees would get too hot. I had a Boardman feeder inside with water for the bees. I could see through the observation window that they had clustered together again on the wax comb. Their clustering behavior gave me hope that the queen was back in the hive. After a couple of days I opened the hive again, inspected the comb, and found the queen!

Time went on and I still found no brood. The swarming behavior continued. I started to carefully document the time frame of the events and take supporting pictures. I called the company I had bought the package from, sent my evidence and they agreed to replace the entire package since the population had really started to decline!

Most of the few remaining bees swarmed again. This time I didn't find them. The queen didn't swarm with them. She and her attendants were still in the hive. We picked up the new package, removed the old queen, and put in the new bees and queen. I hoped the two hives would meld since the pheromone level of the old queen must have been low to non-existent. Once again I closed the hive and began to wait for the new queen to emerge from her cage. This time I closed up the bottom more fully to give them a "snug, homey" feel!

It took this queen several days to get out of her cage! I finally helped by removing the end cork. Once out. She moved to the already-available comb. I watched through the observation window and saw that once again the bees clustered around her on the comb...a good sign. After waiting a couple of weeks for the queen to establish herself, I went in for an inspection. I could see no eggs or brood but the bees seemed happy to stay and did not exhibit the same swarming behavior. Maybe the queen needed a little more time. A week later I opened the hive again to see very sketchy brood pattern on 2 or three combs. Things did not improve. Before long this queen stopped laying all-together! I was quite beside myself!

I decided to not wait any longer and allow this package to decline or swarm. I ordered a queen from a different company. I picked her up at the post office the next week. Once again I had to find the old queen and remove her (a task I hate as I don't like to kill anything, especially a queen!). I put the new cage in and started the long wait once again!

To make a long story short...she made it out and is thriving! I have fed this bunch sugar water since they had such a late start and many of the flowers were past blooming or had succumb to the summer heat. This queen has a good strong brood pattern. The hive is very docile and I'm able to work the bees without gloves on most occasions. I hope the get enough pollen and honey stored to make it through the winter!


Bearding behavior before swarming

Bees brushed from comb, no brood!

Bees that were left after the swarm


New package of bees
  
  video
"Waggle" dance 
 
 
  video
Queen laying

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

I Digress.....



Nothing can humble a woman like swim suit shopping! 

I put this task off as long as possible covering my poor-fitting suit with a black cover-up, never daring to take it off. This year I decided I should at least make an effort to get something cute, comfortable, yet not too revealing. 

Once at the store I started going through the racks of various suits. Soon I was joined by two other women. We chorused the same sentiment of how disheartening this experience was while holding up various suits to ridicule! Ah, comrades in misery!

Finally armed with three bottoms and 7 or 8 tops, I trudged to the dressing room. Squeezing into the first bottom and I stood back to assess the results and, after an initial shock, discovered the size on the bottom was smaller than the size on the hanger, whew! Since none of these bottoms fit like I wanted, I decided to try on tops instead.

It was at this time an epic battled ensued as I wrestled into the first top. A full 2 or 3 minutes later I gazed into the full-length, 3 way mirror....and boy was I a sight to behold! There stood a grandmotherly lady with disheveled hair jammed into an extremely tight suit, lumps and bumps everywhere but where they should be! It was horrifying! 

Next  I tried to remove the top over my head only to find it stuck in a roll under my arms! I decided I had to pull it down in order to get it off. That worked a little better. I was able to witness the ultimate stretch of the fabric as it slid over my hips on the way down! 

I tried a few more of the first batch of tops without much better luck. They all covered me in various ways, none of them attractively ! I spent 5 minutes getting dressed to go out and begin round two. 

This time I gathered larger bottoms and tops, even one big swim dress!  I marched back to the dressing room determined to try on every suit in the store until I found something that worked!

Round two went a little better. The suits were bigger and I had learned some techniques of tug-of-war! I walked out of that dressing room with a tank top and swim shorts and my head held high! 

Overall I was in that store 2 hours trying on swim suits! Tired, yet victorious, I walked out with a bag in my hand and a smile on my face! I wondered if the other two women I met had had the fortitude to see the task through to the end or if they left defeated, destined to wear shorts and a tee shirt to the coast! 

Victory!

  
 

Monday, May 27, 2013

There's No Place Like Home

Our home is my favorite place to be! Whenever I get time off from work, I want to spend it at home. There is so much to do there that I enjoy!

On weekends or during the summer I love to get up early and sit in my pajamas, enjoying a cup of coffee. Often one of our cats will climb onto my lap or lay at my feet and take another snooze. With blinds open to initial darkness, dawn slowly illuminates the valley. Whether draped in fog, frost, snow, rain, or sunshine, each view is equally welcome!

Morning Fog


Mornings and evenings are perfect for a walk. Sometimes it is down our long driveway, other times out in the open field, there is always something new to see: a monarch chrysalis, killdeer, jackrabbits, bunny rabbits, deer, an undiscovered fossil, barrel cactus, roadrunners, ring tail cats, coyotes, a fox, various songbirds etc. I always look forward to what awaits!

Monarch Chrysalis


Watering and tending my garden brings much satisfaction. Knowing the food I harvest is pesticide free and grown from non-GMO seeds is important to me. I snip here, tie off there, even squash now and again to keep everything in order.

My Garden


Every day when I first go outside or come home from work, I go to my hive and watch my honey bees! As I work in the garden or go for a walk, their busy buzzing is a pleasant accompaniment. I never tire of watching worker bees as they visit each blossom foraging for nectar.


Honey Bees on Late-season Figs

We are far enough out from the city that we have decently-dark skies at night. Lying in the back of the truck, or sometimes just out on the warm driveway, I thrill at the sight of meteorites streaking across the heavens! I still enjoy the slow and steady reflection of satellites as they crisscross the sky. If we've had enough rain, the frogs' serenade is loud and sometimes accompanied by coyote howls as they call to each other through the fields.

Moon and Venus


Home has a special place in my heart as I'm sure it does in the hearts of many. As Dorothy said in the Wizard of Oz, there's no place like home!

Friday, March 29, 2013

Happy Birthday to my Garden!

In March of 2012 (spring break), my husband Mark and I put in my garden! I have thoroughly enjoyed having a place to work that is safe from cats and deer!

This spring break I planted most of my seeds. In order to save seeds (I usually use them for several years!) I plant each seed in its own little hole, instead of broadcasting the seeds and thinning the seedlings. I use a chopstick to make the holes, drop in the seeds, then water the area. The water carries loose soil into the hole, filling it. The tomatoes and peppers were started earlier and are in my neighbor's greenhouse.

I dampen the soil and use a chopstick to make a hole.


I put individual seeds in each hole then water.
The water carries soil into the hole, planting the seed!


My daughter gave me a soil test kit for my birthday so I have been testing soil in various areas. It seems my soil still needs some work. I don't want to go out and spend a lot of money on bags of various products to amend the soil. I want to approach it from an economical, natural angle. It will take longer to get the soil in shape, but I will enjoy the research and work needed to do so.  

 
This soil test is from one area that obviously needs amending!


About a week after I planted everything, we had a freeze for three consecutive nights. I used plastic cups and bee hive boxes to protect my sprouts. Most of them survived, and it is early enough to replace those that didn't.


Cups over small seedlings to keep them from freezing
 
Bee hive boxes with inner covers to protect plants from freezing
 
 
Last year, during the school year, I would water in the evening. This year I am trying to get up early enough to water in the morning! I use an outdoor light to illuminate the area. I find I enjoy the early morning solitude. There isn't even traffic noise -- just animals and the wind!
 
 
Early morning watering
 
I can't wait to see what this new year holds for me and my garden! I'll pick up my bees on April 13th!! Come back and visit my bees and my Garden of Blessings!


Sunday, March 17, 2013

Knitwit: Sock Story

 
 
I'm a doer and I have trouble sitting still. Watching a movie, even reading, is hard for me. I fidget, wiggle, stand, sit, and walk around. It is very distracting to everyone, especially me!  So every Sunday I try to have a knitting or crochet project going during church. This keeps my hands occupied and helps me focus. Since socks are one of these projects, I call them Sunday socks!!
 
I had made socks in the past but was intrigued by a book showing a method of knitting two socks at one time using circular needles. One Sunday about six weeks ago, I started my new project!
 
At first I was quite clumsy! I kept twisting the cable, getting confused about which sock I was working on and "laddering" when I went from one needle to the next! To keep track of which sock was which, I attached pink and blue yarn markers. Now the socks had names: the blue was Adam (he came first!) and the pink was Eve! Soon I worked through all these difficulties and my socks were on their way!!
 
The book I used and the beginning of my socks.
 
The number one advantage of this method was that when you were done you had TWO finished socks! Another benefit was that I didn't have to make detailed notes when I wanted to stray from the pattern. Since I knitted the socks simultaneously, I just changed the same thing in the sock's mate immediately after I knitted it in the original sock!
 
While I would not recommend this process to a new knitter, one who is experienced in knitting, particularly knitting socks, will find it fun and rewarding!
 
 
Finished Sunday socks!
 
 Happy knitting!!!
 
 
 

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Preparing for Spring

We've had such a warm winter here in south Texas that many people are already starting gardens. The plants and even the bees are a little confused! My neighbor, Bonnie, has had humming birds come and go all winter! I, too, want to get my garden going, but will err on the side of caution and wait until March.

I started prepping my garden for spring at the end of December by putting on and turning under a layer of old manure. I later was given a partly used bag of peat and one of green sand and put those on and turned the garden again.


Winter garden


Wheel barrow of "seasoned" goat manure

Turning in the manure


Two of my neighbor-friends, Bonnie and Jenny, also garden. We go in together to start seedlings and Jenny graciously cares for them in her greenhouse throughout the winter. I have been informed that they are up and going strong! (Guess I should visit them!)

When I went out in early February to turn my compost, I had the pleasant surprise of finding a bunch of pumpkin seedlings coming up from a pumpkin I had discarded in early winter! I screened some soil and transferred the volunteer seedlings into pots. I also moved some cilantro that had self-seeded from last year so I could clean up the garden and turn the soil.

Old pumpkin with seedlings

Pumpkin seedlings

One of my favorite "shovels" for loose dirt, manure, and such. It is flexible enough to
mold to the shape of the wheel barrow and gets out most of the soil, etc!


In a storage shed I found some unassembled bee boxes that were not level enough to use for bees. These make excellent planter boxes and allowed me to expand my gardening area.

Bee boxes


I have also purchased a Top Bar Hive and ordered a package of bees to be delivered in April. I look forward to posting about my new hive and bees!


Unpainted top bar hive with observation windows


The garden is turned and most of the boxes and soil are in place for Spring. I feel a lot of satisfaction as I look ahead to a time of warm days and new beginnings! I thank God for his blessings and my heart says, "God is good, all the time!"


Most of the bee boxes and soil are in place. Getting excited!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Fig Leathers (aka dried figs!)

In his heart a man plans his course,
but the Lord determines his steps.
Proverbs 16:9
 
I know that most people only think of Bible verses when big things happen, but I often think of them for the little things. Here's an example:
 
Last Sunday was the last day of our Christmas break. A teacher has tons of things to do in the 11th hour before school starts back up and I am no exception. As I was getting food out of the freezer to prepare for dinner, I noticed a lot of  UNFROZEN liquid in the bottom!! That is not a good thing to find in a freezer! I thankfully noticed that this was a new development since most of the food was still frozen solid. The liquid was from a couple of my bags of summer figs. I panicked, thinking of all the work and figs that might have been wasted and quickly got a big bowl to move the dripping figs. As it turned out, there was still frost on most of them and they smelled the same as when I had put them in, so no spoiled figs!
 
I had planned to make fruit leathers out of part of the figs, but not the last evening of Christmas break! I poured all of the gooey contents into a large pot and put it on the stove to simmer. After 10 minutes of simmering, I processed the figs in my Vita Mix then and poured them into a big bowl. I stirred in the liquid and spooned them out onto the drying trays of my dehydrator.
 
The next day after work they were ready! I peeled each layer off the tray, laid the layer on wax paper, rolled the wax paper and cut the leathers with kitchen shears. The fig leathers were wonderful!! I didn't add any extra sugar or preservative; they were just figs! I've shared many of them around and everyone tells me they are really good!

So even though I had many plans for the last day of my break and none of those plans included making fruit leathers, I think God helped me notice the figs before they spoiled and allowed me to make a yummy snack to share with my family and friends!! God's plans are always better than mine! (Mark vacuumed out from under the freezer and it seems to be working just fine!)
Simmering the figs 
Blending the simmered figs

 







 
Fig leathers after a night in the dehydrator
 


Roll the fig leathers on wax paper

Cut the fig leathers with kitchen shears