My First Zucchini!

My first zucchini. This is the heirloom “Black Beauty” variety.

This morning, I was out in the garden checking on things.  The tomatoes are still growing and at last count there was thirty-seven tomatoes visible without looking up into the withering flowers, but none of the tomatoes are turning red yet.  The big surprise today was that I finally have a zucchini growing.  I’ve been awaiting this for the past month or so, especially after the tomatoes and beans started coming in.  I have a few more zucchini other than the obvious one.  A little bit disconcerting was that one of the other zucchini plants was pretty much covered in small stink bugs.  I spent a good ten to fifteen minutes removing them from existence.  I am glad that I have yet to use any synthetic chemicals on my garden.  I can’t claim I haven’t used any chemicals at all, because even water is a “chemical”.  But I know I haven’t used any industrially manufactured chemicals.

Apricots in syrup before being placed in the hot water bath for canning.

I got a handful of apricots from my neighbor a couple of days ago and I was starting to worry that I would not be eating them before they went bad, so I canned them.  I definitely see an apricot tree in my future.  They were a dream to prepare for canning compared to the cherries.  Add to that the fact they taste pretty good, and it makes for a good fruit to can and eat.

Over the past two weeks, I’ve had almost two inches of rain here.  I am very grateful for the rain.  Hopefully the rain continues to come regularly and keeps us out of drought this year.  It makes me happy to have full rain barrels and being able to skip manually watering the plants.

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Preserving The Cherries

Drying cherries completely makes them shelf stable. And incredibly sour.

I have started to preserve the cherries I have harvested so I can eat them during the rest of the year. I have been drying and canning cherries.  A gallon-sized bag has been run thru the dehydrator I got from my mother.  The first batch sort of work, but still had too much water in them, so they had the consistency of raisins. The second batch was right with a consistency closer to corn flakes.  The low water content makes it more difficult for bacteria to grow in it and hence it takes much longer for it to go bad. I may be drying some more cherries, but now that the canning stuff I had ordered has arrived, that is how most of the remaining cherries will be preserved.

Four jars of cherries. Would have looked better if they weren’t frozen for two weeks before being canned.

These cherries will eventually be turned into cherry pie, tarts or some other confection that I have yet to discover.  The cherries aren’t much to look at and definitely would not do well in a competition.  Not that I would even attempt to enter these.  These were all pitted by hand by squashing out the put thru the hole where the stem joined the fruit.  The result is a quite misshapen fruit.  Good thing the shape of cherries are not at all important to the taste of cherry pies.

Sweetened cherry syrup. Goes wonderfully on ice cream.

The other side effect of this method of pitting the cherries is that I get a lot of cherry juice.  Rather than just throw away this juice, I decided that I wanted to try making cherry syrup.  Add a bit of sugar, in this case white sugar as I haven’t had a honey harvest yet, and boil the sugar-juice mixture down until thick.  The resulting syrup is quite sweet and nowhere near as tart as the original cherries.

First Harvest of the Year

My mother came down to my home Saturday to bring tools and help with some mechanical troubles the lawn mower was having.  Anyways, while giving her the grand tour of the place to show the progress the plants were making, she told me that the cherries were ripe and needed to be picked.  Soon.  So I spent the rest of the day picking cherries.

The bucket about a quarter full of cherries.

Picking the cherries took quite a bit longer that I thought it would.  I have a tendency to under-estimate how long things will take. It ended up taking about six hours to harvest all the cherries I could from the tree.  There were a few in the very top of the tree that I was unable to reach.  I had the exact same problem when I thinned the peach tree.  Both will have that section of the tree pruned off for next year.

Anyways, the process I used when picking the cherries was: remove as many cherries as I can hold in my hand before I started dropping cherries on the ground and then toss them into a bucket filled with water.  Having the water in the bucket served two purposes for me.  First, it kept the cherries moderately cool until I could get them inside for long-term storage.  Second, it allowed me to drop cherries from the top of a ladder into the bucket without having to climb down.  If I had not done that, it would likely have taken twice as long as it did.

Bagging cherries to freeze and testing dehydrating cherries.

All told, I harvested nearly enough cherries to fill a five gallon bucket.  I am not sure how much that is exactly as I don’t have a scale that I can use to weigh the haul.  After I finished harvesting, I put them all in the freezer so they don’t go bad before my wife and I can do something with them.  I am on a business trip until Thursday this week and will be unable to do anything useful on the homestead during that time.

Thinning the Peach Tree and Custom Bee Hives

The peaches I removed went into the compost pile.

I spent most of my time outdoors today thinning the peach tree.  I haven’t finished the entire tree.  There are sections near the two hives I made from swarms I caught this season that haven’t been thinned much for obvious reasons: standing in the flight path of a beehive is a great way to get stung a lot.

From what I have read on the subject, after thinning, I should have about one peach every six to eight inches.  Doing this will result in larger fruit and sweeter fruit as the tree puts the same about of energy and sugars into a smaller set of fruits.  While thinning, I realized that my peach tree set a very large number of fruit.  In some places I had to remove upwards of eight fruit on a six-inch stretch of branch.

The most difficult section to try to thin is the top of the tree.  I think I will be pruning the tree to shorten it a bit so that I don’t have this problem again next year.  I’ve been climbing the tree and using a ladder to get to the fruit at the top, but there are still fruit that I can’t reach.

The second swarm I captured before it all went in the temporary hive.

The two swarms I have caught are still around.  The first swarm I captured was very small and has started having problems with bees coming an robbing it.  I’ve reduced the entrance to about two inches and covered the remaining opening with grass clippings.  This hasn’t completely deterred the robber bees rom coming, but  it does make it easier for the hive to defend itself from the thieves.

I am going to attempt to make some hive equipment for the new hives. There are a lots of wood scraps I can use for the effort and I have access to a table saw, a compound miter saw, and a router.  BeeSource.com has plans to make Dadant type frames.  I have an idea of what I can do for the hive body, but it will mostly come down to making a box that can hold the frames I make.

Yet Another Swarm!

More bees in the peach tree...

This evening, I found that yet another swarm has taken up residence in my peach tree. I had just finished mowing a section of the yard and was hauling the grass clippings to my compost pile, when I noticed the swarm in the tree.

I have done what I did with the previous two hives: cut the limbs of the tree they were hanging on to and stuck them in a cardboard box.  Unlike the other swarm I’ve managed to keep, this one won’t be able to go into a hive body for quite some time as I have no more hive parts to spare.  If this one sticks arround, I am not quite sure what to do with it.

Unlike the previous swarms, this one was quite a bit larger and more aggressive.  I ended up getting stung on the neck and having to kill several bees because they would just not leave.  I really hate to kill any bees at all, even when they are trying to sting me.  The bees that tried to sting me were at least half the normal bee size, which is a bit puzzling to me.  Scouts, perhaps?

This is the first year I have seen a swarm, and now I’ve seen and tried to capture three in about a month.  I hope I don’t get any more swarms this year as I have no place to put them or anybody I can give them away to.  That, and I don’t think my peach tree can take many more swarms.

Just Chugging Along

Roman Chamomile seedlings

The past week has been very slow for things at the homestead.  I finally started some of the last seeds I have: the chamomile and lavender.  Today, the chamomile is starting to send up some small seedlings.  Only the lavender has yet to make an appearance.

Most of this past week, I’ve spent my time either waiting for plants to do something, or cutting up a bush that was cut down as it outgrew its area and was growing thru a fence.

Wood cutting area with unprocessed branches to the left and a stack of wood on the right.

All I’ve really been doing with the wood is cutting up the thicker sections of the wood and putting it on the wood pile, or binding the branches together with twine.  The latter is the more interesting of the two.

To make bundles of sticks, I take a 5 gallon plastic bucket and just start cramming it full of branches that I cut off at the rim of the bucket.  I tie it together with some twine to keep it from falling apart.  The result is a nice bundle of sticks that can be used later as fuel.  I don’t have a wood burning stove yet, so for now, I will just be using the wood for making charcoal.

Bundles of sticks.

I can make about two or three in a day before my hands get sore from the hand pruners I use.  I have lots of wood that will end up going into the bundles, so I am in no hurry to get it all done.  There are still at 4 more bushes that are overgrown and I haven’t been able to fully process a single bush in a week.

My garden plot is soaked.

The past few days have really put a damper on my ability to work outside.  We have been getting storms here as part of the sever storm outbreak across the midwest US.  This has soaked my yard to the point that I sink into the ground a bit when I walk.  The garden plot is no exception.  There is standing water in the normal corner as well as another  spot that doesn’t usually get it.  A few of the plants got done in with the runoff, but most survived just fine.  I lost a couple of tomato plants, most of the strawberry plants, and possibly a cabbage plant.

Plants ready to go into the ground.

I have more tomatoes and cabbages ready to go into the ground as soon as it dries out a bit so that I can work the soil.  In addition, the first batch of pinto beans are ready as well as the remainder of my zucchini starts.  Unless I have a massive loss of tomato plants, I will not start any more tomato seeds for the garden this year.  If all the plants I put in the ground produce, I’m going to have more tomatoes that I will be able to eat or preserve for later use.

Peaches. My hand shown for scale.

The plants and trees have been making decent progress during the last week. I am fairly certain that I will be thinning out the peach tree in the next week, weather permitting.  Some of the fruits are almost 2 inches in their smallest measurement.

The swarm I pulled out of the peach tree is still in the box I put it in. My brother-in-law, David, ordered a new set of hive bodies for the hive, which I will transfer the bees into once they arrive.