Cooking · Lazer Creek Apiary · Relaxing

Sachertorte – second attempt

20191126_SachertorteIt’s that time of year ago — time to open up the cookbooks and use family members as guinea pigs for new holiday recipes!   Last night’s Sachertorte was more like a Sacher-pancake.  It had the chewy consistency of a cake-like Brownie, but Hubby enjoyed it.    At least the second attempt rose in the oven and looks pretty good except for some overly brown bits on the bottom and sides.  I guess I should have adjusted the oven temperature to accommodate the switch from too-big cake pan to smaller glass dish.   Regardless, it is done, and covered in chocolate, and I know my family will eat it even if it would evoke negative-but-friendly comments on The Great British Baking Show.   The final step is to write “Sachertorte” on top with melted milk chocolate, but I’m going to quit while I’m ahead!   It’s not like my handwriting is overly legible when I’m writing with a pen, never mind with a piping bag.  This is a recipe that is better sliced a day or two after baking, so it was a good one to start with.

20191126_SRollsThis morning’s sausage rolls (BBC Food recipe) were more successful than either version of Sachertorte.   The rolls that survive the first hour actually taste better cold, but we usually can’t resist them when they come out of the oven.    I was going to make a second batch, but Hubby just called to say the frozen puff pastry is sold out, and I have no desire to make my own today.   I actually don’t think I’ve made my own since high school cookery class!    I stopped making my own pastry after moving to the U.S. because it was just awful.  Now I know that European butter contains less water and more fat,  so I can blame my made-in-American dry and crumbly pastry on American butter — at least until I give it another try with European butter that is now available here.  But that’s not happening this week….

As we only like turkey in small doses and have no desire to have a lot of it hanging around after Thursday, we’re having beef for Thanksgiving.   And not just any beef — Italian Pot Roast (Stracotto) from The Joy of Cooking.    We love this recipe, but it involves reducing red wine and beef stock down a couple of times which takes time and has in the past made a huge mess on and around the stove.   It’s hard to boil 2 cups of liquid down to half a cup without some splatter, and red wine stains so very badly.  It may be worth getting my deep pressure cooker from storage to use for that stage — or to be more patient simmering away at the sauce over a lower temperature.   You also have to be careful to keep your face away from the pot as inhaling the fumes from a total of 2 1/2 cups of wine can make one quite light-headed.  Maybe that’s why I made such a mess the first time I cooked it!

Another favorite beef recipe of ours is Coastal Bend Texas Beef Tenderloin from Better Home and Gardens.   The downside to that one is that the whole refrigerator will reek of garlic for the 24 hours I allow it to marinate, but it sure does taste good.  The salsa is the perfect complement to the beef as well as to other recipes.

I am going to try one more new recipe from Mary Berry’s Baking Bible tomorrow:  Austrian Curd Cheesecake.   European desserts are generally less sweet than their American counterparts, and I always enjoyed German cheesecake recipes.  Well, there was one that didn’t set and just burst out of the shell and flooded the table….  that was not the best birthday cake I ever made for my daughter!    I hope that the Mary Berry recipe will be a good substitute for my favorite recipes until I find my German cookery books which will probably stayed boxed up in storage until after we build the house.

I always like to think that I’d enjoy cooking this much if I just had more time, but summers prove me wrong.  I enjoy cooking for family get-togethers, but on a day-to-day basis, I’m much rather be outside working with the bees or gardening.  I guess I need to be excited about seeing friends and family to voluntarily slave away at a stove.

Bees · Construction · Lazer Creek Apiary · Nature

Missed (photo) opportunities

I have the most amazing commute and wanted to take a picture of the fall colors, but on the perfect days to take a picture, I was running late.  When I was on time, the light just wasn’t quite right.  Then we had that night with below freezing temperatures….

A couple of blocks before my school, there were two brilliant yellow trees with a scarlet tree between them.  One night of cold, windy weather dealt with that pretty picture.  Still, there’s a permanently beautiful view across the valley from the crest of a hill by a cattle ranch.  Clouds roll across the creeks and the sky is often a brilliant blue, even right after sunrise.   Even though I don’t have pictures to share with you, I see the views clearly in my mind and they bring me great joy.   Those views also inspired me to buy a 2020 calendar featuring the Cotswolds in England — one of my favorite places that has similar terrain to where we now live.   (Talking to high school friends on Facebook has been making me homesick!)

The commute home is almost as beautiful, but the long-range views are missing.  Then I pull into our driveway and see our land.   Between the two commutes, I spend the day enjoying teaching and being with my students and all the wonderful people with whom I work.   True, I get overwhelmed with grading and lesson planning sometimes, but 90% of the time, I’m smiling (on the inside at least)!

20191110 Spring
View of the spring

When I get home, I’m often surprised at the changes that have taken place while I was gone.  Our neighbor’s son is clearing undergrowth for us when he has time.   As our views open up, we’ve changed our minds about where to build the house, and then changed them back again, only to change again a day later.

20191110 Woods
Possible view from the back of the future house

We know that we want the back of the house to look out toward the woods and possibly with a view of the creek, which is to the right of the above scene.   We’ll be right at the transition from planted pines to hardwoods within hearing of the creek, regardless of quite where the house ends up.

Just like the ever-changing location, we’ve changed our minds about the house more times than we can count.  However, we keep coming back to Whisper Creek from Southern Homes.  We’ve talked about changes to all of the house plans we’ve looked at, including that one, but now that we’ve decided to replace the second bathroom with a tornado shelter, we’re content to leave everything else alone!   The kitchen provides all the room I need to can veggies and make jam, and the porches are just the right size.   We don’t like the mixed siding on the outside, but using the same siding everywhere is not a structural change.   I found myself mentally planning paint colors and countertops this morning, and that hasn’t happened with any other plan in the four years we’ve owned the land!

Yes, it’s been four years.  I’m glad I have old blogs to look back as we thought it had been five years.   We have so much to be thankful for going into another wonderful Thanksgiving.  The move here has done wonders for our mental and physical health, and we are overall healthy.  We have friends and family who are worth their weight in gold, and may start building our forever home before Thanksgiving 2020 rolls around.  We are going into winter with more hives than before, and I have an “Early Bird” chicken catalog to peruse.   Life is good!

Apiary · Bees · Gardening · Hive equipment · Lazer Creek Apiary · Supplemental Feeding

The Colors (and tasks) of Fall

20191109_Grass
New grass and clover planting with expanded blueberry patch behind – Fall 2019

Plants

The weekend before the drought ended, I turned the soil in the remaining compacted section of the timber company’s loading deck and we sowed a mixture of annual rye, fescue, and White Dutch Clover.  The rains came, and we have lush green grass with an under-story of clover over a few acres of recently cleared land as well as on the deck.  More importantly,  we have eliminated the erosion problem that has plagued us for almost 5 years now.    Oh – and by cleared land, I mean Hubby pushed back some more of the undergrowth between trees so that we could have more room for clover and fewer thorny plants.

We lost one of the magnolia trees planted by the gate in the drought, so when I’ve finished my coffee and this blog, we’re going to plant some camellias and gardenias on that side of the gate so that we have evergreen plants of a manageable size that are beautiful in spring and summer.   I was able to bring some gardenia cuttings from South Carolina, but was unable to get any cuttings from the camellia plants to take root.   By the time we finish that, it will be warm enough to continue getting the bees ready for next week’s cold snap.

20191110 FeedersBees

We constantly had problems with leaky lids (mainly when I put the lids on) when we used bucket feeders, so we’re trying open feeding with our internal feeders right now.  The hives I checked yesterday have a good deal of nectar, but very little bee bread.   We put the pollen feeder back out a few days ago and the bees are hitting it almost as hard as the syrup feeders.   The pollen feeder was a great success during the summer dearth and it was easy to clean up once the fall blooms started.

I went out to refill the syrup while it was still cold enough for the bees to be indoors this morning, but it was not cold enough to intimidate the yellow jackets, so we had to add yellow jacket traps around the feeders.   Those guys irritated me non-stop last weekend while I was applying a  non-skid paint to our ice-rink of a deck!

Hubby was at work yesterday, and the small syrup tank was empty, so I rustled up some bravery and started the gas-operated pump to cycle the syrup in the large tank and then fill the small tank.   Well, it didn’t look like anything was happening once I got the motor started, so I pulled the exit hose out to take a look.  It’s a pretty powerful motor, so once the hose was out (and, yes, the syrup was moving), it wouldn’t go back in.  One sugary shower and a change of clothes later, I got syrup transferred over and had to evacuate the area because every yellow jacket and bee from a  5-mile radius appeared to show up for a free lunch!  I suspect I still have syrup in my hair.

A couple of week ago, I read a blog by Ron Misha about winterizing hives.   He mentioned that his father used to hang a piece of burlap out of the hive lid to wick moisture out of the hives in winter.  We have a roll of burlap, so I am trying that.   We’re going from a record-breaking warm October to lows in the 20s this week, and the hives have more nectar than honey in them.   We’ll add candy boards going into December, but this weekend is all about getting the bees through the coming week.   I combined the weakest hives I came across yesterday and shook bees into others that will struggle to stay warm.   I’m still rebuilding strength in my arms and hands after this summer’s neck problems, so I did not get as far yesterday as I would have liked.   However, the good news is that I stopped when I noticed that I was getting clumsy because my hands were tired.   Sometimes it’s good to be stubborn and push through, and other times it’s better to apply common sense.

I was going to write about some great changes to our landscape and our renewed indecision regarding where to place the house, but I think that needs to wait for another time.   It’s way to pretty outside to sit at a computer for hours, especially when bad weather is going to keep us inside for the next few days.  Stay happy.  Stay warm.  And remember that life is good on the farm!

 

Bees · Lazer Creek Apiary · Natural Food Sources · Pests - Bees · Products and Vendors

Back in the hives and in the kitchen

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

I finally received the go-ahead to start cautiously lifting some weight aka hive lids two weeks ago, so I’ve checked hives I was concerned about and, sadly, burned a bunch of mothy frames.   When we made the last round of splits, we knew we’d have to monitor them closely and keep the division feeders filled, but then Hubby got bronchitis and I was still dealing with my pinched nerve, so neither of us could do what needed to be done.   It’s prime wax-moth season, so they decimated a number of those weak NUCs.

20190930_Goldenrod
Goldenrod

Still, it’s not all bad news.  Despite a very dry month, the Goldenrod is blooming and all the healthy hives have large bee-bread and nectar stores.   We had a strong Buckwheat nectar flow from before the Goldenrod kicked in and the queens are currently ramping up brood production.   If there’s anything good to say about “near record-breaking heat,”  it’s that it gives the bees more time to prepare for winter.   We finally have lows in the 60’s overnight, but continue to have highs in the 90’s with no rain in the forecast.

More good news is that there are very few small hive beetles in the new hive stand location.  We seeded the soil with nematodes from Arbico Organics a couple of months ago and very quickly saw a difference.   (The lower apiary has as much of a problem as ever.  It’s too close to our planned house site, so we’re moving everything out of there soon.)   We used nematodes from Arbico years ago back in the city to get rid of grubs in our lawn, and we plan to seed some to combat Japanese Beetles along with treating around other hive stands in spring.    This recent batch of nematodes was so well packaged that they survived being left at the gate in the direct sun all afternoon thanks to an unnamed delivery service!

This time I’m wearing gloves…..

20190930_jalapeno
Jalapeno

Despite the lack of rain, our single jalapeno plant continues to provide more jalapenos than we can eat.   A friend of ours makes the best jalapeno jelly, so I’m using our overabundance to get much needed practice.

A few weeks ago, I included one chopped one jalapeno in a tomato salad, then rubbed my itchy eye about 2 hours later.  WowIt hurt.  I was scared I’d damaged my eye.  I remembered to flush with lots of water.  If it happens again, I’ll jump in the shower to flush with more water.  I don’t plan on letting it happen again.

Hubby later explained to me that I had pretty much experienced what tear gas is like!   So, when we seeded the 12 ounces of peppers for the first batch of jelly, we obsessively washed our hands before and after — many, many, times.  I guess it helped, but it wasn’t a solution!    Internet tips say rubbing with alcohol removes the oils and bathing in milk removes the burn, but wearing gloves in the best bet of all!   Eighteen ounces of peppers await and I have a pack of 50 gloves in the kitchen drawer.

The jelly was good, but the texture was a little off.  I didn’t realize that powdered pectin is added before sugar but liquid pectin after, and the recipe didn’t make that clear.   We’ll see what happens today.

What I am doing blogging and cooking on a Monday?   Well, Georgia schools have the option of teaching longer classes and reducing the number of days, and that is what we do.   I think it’s hugely beneficial to students, especially those who have been fighting the same upper respiratory illness that Hubby and I had and need some time to just catch up.   My current school does a great job of keeping absenteeism in check, and that is a essential piece of the longer days = fewer days option.   A short break also allows me to get caught up, research some new material to teach, and take care of those routine medical checks that seem to increase with age.    Wow — I think school, and my writing styles morphs back into “teacher” — it’s time to go for a quick walk around the hives and get my “farm-girl” back!

Gardening · Lazer Creek Apiary · Natural Food Sources · Nature · Pests - General

Fall Nectar Flow

20190908 Buckwheat
One of three areas planted with buckwheat

While temperatures and humidity remain unbearably high, the fall nectar and pollen flows are on.   We’re lucky to have a spring-fed creek running along two sides of our property as our evening and night-time temperatures are lower than the local average and we have heavy dew every morning.  We’ve had a very dry week, but even areas that we don’t water remain green.  The Goldenrod currently looks unimpressive, but that will change as temperatures drop and we hopefully get some rain.

We planted about two acres of buckwheat a few weeks ago, both to provide nectar and to improve soil in areas that we had not yet tilled and/or had recently cleared.    We water it most days and this crop is the most impressive yet.   On weekends I get to water it early in the morning which helps the nectar flow:  by 9:00 a.m., this morning, the fields sounded like one big, happy bee hive.  We have sunflower seeded in with the buckwheat and will sow white dutch clover once it actually feels like fall.  Buckwheat is used as green manure and will provide nutrients and moisture to the clover seedlings.

20190908 Bee on Buckwheat-COLLAGEI saw pollinators that I don’t remember ever seeing before and quite a few that are regular visitors on the blossoms today.  A large variety of butterflies passes through almost year round, and carpenter bees are a permanent (and unwelcome) fixture.

There are two bugs that I really don’t like right now (well, three, if you count the aphids all of my tomato plants, especially the one that hitch-hiked a ride into the house last weekend):   one is the Tomato Hornworm and the other is the Assassin Fly aka Robber Fly.   Because of my neck/shoulder problem, I’ve been neglecting the tomato plants.  As a result, I caught (?) / picked (?) 20+ hornworms from my tomato plants and ended up throwing away an equal number of munched-on tomatoes.  The biggest worm was larger in length and width than my middle finger and the only way to dispatch them is to drown them in soapy water.  Yuck!    Well, I guess other people could squish them or attack them with garden shears, but I haven’t reached that point yet.  Drowning works quite well, as long as you don’t forget the soap.   (Yep, I forgot one day and they all crawled back out of the bucket.)

20190908 Assassin FlyThe Assassin Flies like to hang out by the lily pond and I find it very upsetting to see one cradling one of my honey bees like a baby only to suck its brains out!   Luckily there are fewer of those around.

But let me end this with good news:  I made it through two work days without taking any pain killers after breakfast two days this week.    The doctor says my left tricep is “still weak as a kitten” and my right isn’t much better, but the nerves are healing.    He’s added some exercises, and of course my Sleeping-Beauty muscles are just as cranky as I am when the alarm clock goes off now that they are being woken up!   Healing isn’t always comfortable, but I am healing, and that’s what’s important.

It’s a beautiful day and life is good on the farm!

 

 

Lazer Creek Apiary · Natural Food Sources

Sumac, not Devil’s Walking Stick

20190814 sumac
Bees on sumac

While checking our recent buckwheat and sunflower plantings, I noticed a plant that we’ve assumed was Devil’s Walking Stick covered in bees and other pollinators.  Most of these shrubs/trees on our land are inaccessible, but this small one is right next to a trail.   Bees were zipping from one flower to the next in a frenzy while gathering a dark-ochre pollen.    There were no bees on the same plant when I went back with Hubby after supper or a few minutes ago, even though pollen is still visible.

The lack of thorns on the stem is the first give-away that this is not Devil’s Walking Stick, and the non-serrated edges of the leaves is the second.

Hubby’s research last night provided mixed opinions about sumac honey, but as we usually leave fall honey on hives, we probably won’t get to form our own opinion this year.  Quite a few beekeepers also recommend using sumac seed pods as smoker fuel as it calms bees.  Now we just need to figure out how to get through all the blackberries to harvest enough seed pods to test that theory.   One beekeeper also reported a reduction in mites after using sumac-smoke.  We’ll have to fight our way to at least a couple of trees once seed pods form.    Once again, what bees appear to like or not like depends on the time of day and for 3 years we’ve been around these trees when the bees were not visiting.

The buckwheat that Hubby sowed last weekend is already sprouting, so we should have buckwheat nectar in a few weeks.  The buckwheat will hopefully crowd out some of the weeds that are bound to attempt a come-back while also improving the soil.   Once fall temperatures arrive, we’ll mix some clover seed in so that we have a perennial nectar source in those areas.   We’re impatiently waiting for the sunflower seeds to sprout.  We were late planting them and they are very popular with the local birds right now, but at least that area is prepped for next year.

20190815 lily
Water Lily

Something that we’ve noticed about the lily pond is that it is teeming with bees any time a swarm is present.  Once the swarm is settled, pond activity returns to normal.   Now that we’ve put two-and-two together, we’re going to start looking up if we see unusual numbers of bees gathering water.

The current high heat index is making it a little easier to stay indoors and let my neck and arm heal, and the golf cart allows me to spend some time in nature when I just have to get off the couch!    Life is good, and the dog days of summer at probably the best time for mandated laziness!

 

 

Lazer Creek Apiary · Nature · Relaxing

Doctor’s orders: eat butter!

I know, a doctor telling me to eat more butter sounds too good to be true,  but I’m back to dealing with a pinched nerve in my neck and a little saturated fat like coconut oil or butter will help my body restore the myelin sheath around that angry nerve and get me back up to speed.   I was about to say that it all started three weeks ago, but that isn’t true — all those high stress days and sleepless nights set the stage for me to lift something wrong after my tricep had been slowly losing strength.   What happened three weeks ago was just the result of missing a lot of warning signs.   I don’t know what I did, but I’d been working the bee yard in the morning and then I woke up in pain in the middle of the night.   A trip to the first doctor yielded meds that dulled the pain but didn’t solve the problem.   Luckily a friend recommended someone else and I’ve been making steady progress for a week now.   Still, it’s going to take a little while for me to be lifting honey supers again…..

In the meantime I need to practice patience, dealing better with stress, and paying attention to what my body is saying.   Yep, any of you who’ve been reading this blog for a while have heard that before, but the long-term prognosis if I don’t change my ways is even more of a wake-up call than three weeks of constant pain.

On to the good stuff:   

The lily pond is a great success and becomes more popular with bees daily.    It’s such a joy to watch bees on my flotation devices and on lily pads, even if I have to occasionally rescue one with a lemongrass blade.    After we set up a similar pond in the city, we caught swarms on a regular basis and that is starting to happen here, too.   The sound of running water attracts bees and solar fountains create just enough splash to make me and the bees happy.    We had our first water-lily flower last week and there is another bud surfacing today.

20190812 cats
Grayson and Raylen

Hubby drove back to the city a couple of weeks ago and returned with two of the kittens that our daughter needed to find homes for.   They have been such a joy already and now follow us everywhere, when it’s not too hot.   While they are almost identical in appearance, Grayson is far more adventurous.    They keep Maggie busy by bringing out her Catahoula herding instincts.   Once she has them corralled, they even let her lick them and she lets them play with her tail.   See, it is possible to herd cats!

One huge bonus to being couch-bound much of the day is that I have plenty of time to re-read the books I assigned for summer reading while taking detailed notes.   I always intend to start that process early, but most years I end up speed-reading in the last week before school!    I even have lesson plans written.   Once I get my classroom organized, I’ll be setup for a low-stress start to the school year.   I’m really excited about my new school, but glad I have a week or so to heal before the year starts.  On the other hand, I’m so impatient to get started because the students, parents, and faculty I’ve met so far have all been so nice.    Hmmm, what was I saying earlier about learning patience?

My shoulder is letting me know that it’s time to put the laptop up for today.   I’m so happy to be able to get back on the computer, and, of course, to be able to add butter-flavored coconut oil to my veggies without feeling any guilt for a little while!