Our flock is down to six. Three generations:

  1. From 2012: Tweety (Rhode Island Red), Pecky and Skipperdee (Black Sexlinks) – we suspect that only Tweety still lays eggs. (Lost Toothless, cause unknown.)
  2. From 2014: Oreo the Ameraucana – still the trusty provider of blue eggs. (Lost Nocty, cause unknown.)
  3. From 2015: Kerfluffle (the Buff) and Lucy (Barred Rock) – both laying well. (Lost Jennie to a predator, probably a fisher cat, as well as Goldie, who decided to escape from the chicken yard and never returned).

This year we got six chicks through the Natick Organic Community Farm (what a place it is in Spring: baby piglets): three Comets (Cinnamon Queens) and three Easter Eggers. One of the latter (the little black one in the upper left corner) is either a runt, or an errant bantam We’re keeping an eye on her.

Amie is ecstatic to have chicks in the house again. And it’s fun, peppering one’s day-to-day conversation with friends with words like “pasty butt” and “chick grit”. Their arrival also prompted  us to clear up the chicken yard. I hope to find a way to split that yard and fence off an area to grow some forage for them.

But first I will be taking care of the two non-laying Black Sexlinks soon.

I’m in good shape for this growing season with the KNF (Korean Natural Farming) applications.

The FPJ (Fermented Plant Juice; explained here, along with OHN) is a beautifully thick and deep chocolate brown, sweet-smelling syrup. My only worry here is that I don’t have a lot, but I’ll be gathering a lot of the meristems of the fast growing (“hormonal”) weeds soon and making more.

My two jars of OHN Oriental Herbal Nutrient) had molded over. The issue was that I had left the cloth on, hadn’t closed the jars, and of course the alcohol that preserves it evaporated. They both looked like this:

OHN is pretty costly to make in terms of $$ and time, so I was a bit worried, but then I saw the mold formed a thick mat that I could scoop up, and the stuff underneath looked as nice as the FPJ. So that’s what I did, carefully. And looks at what these mats looked like underneath:

Wild, what? Wacky landscapes both on the up and the undersides! I added some alcohol to the juice to squash any more mold growth and closed up.

Then it was time to filter the FAA (Fish Amino Acids), of which I had two batches, assembled on 5/6/2016. They had been sitting in my basement till now (so 10 month), with an air lock on them so they could off-gas (though I never smelled a thing). I had checked on them in June and found mold, but Philip Ang (on the invaluable Korean Natural Farming group on Facebook) writes that “molds are normal in FAA. there are fungi which produce protease enzymes which break down protein. the goal of FAA is to reduce proteins to amino-acids which is absorbable by plants. protein hydrolysis can be done via enzymes or acids. microbes produce enzymes to do this while we use hydrochloric acids in our stomachs to do the same. the same principle is used to produce soy sauce by fermenting with the mold aspergillus oryza.” I love that stuff!

When I opened the buckets today it smelled sweet – mostly of the apples I had added, with only a whiff of sourness. When I pushed the mold on top to the side, I found an oily, syrupy juice. I scooped off the mold and set it aside, then strained the juice from the fish bits that hadn’t yet been dissolved and fermented.

It doesn’t look appetizing, but it smelled great!

When I assembled them, I did something slightly different with each batch: in one I had just put fish, brown sugar (each 29 lbs of fish, 7 lbs of sugar), and apples. In the other, I had added some water, because the slurry wasn’t wet enough, and then some kefir. The latter was not as far dissolved as the first: more, and also more recognizable fish bits, less juice. The first also yielded a greyer emulsion, the latter a more yellow one.

My strainer quickly clogged up and needed frequent rinsing. I collected the mold and the thick slurry in a new bucket, and added more brown sugar for a second round. A quick stir leave the lid open a little, and it’ll go back in my basement for a couple of months.

I did most of this in the back yard. The rinse water I offered to the currants, hazels and the cherry tree.  Don’t I look happy?

This jar is for my ready-to-go KNF potions box. We’re ready for the growing season!

Well, almost… I never did catch my IMO (Indigenous Micro Organisms) last year. I tried several times, must have wasted a pound or two of precious (imported!) rice. Having taken several Elaine Ingham “Life in the Soil” classes, I now know why I always caught the colorful and black stuff, never the white hyphae that indicate the well-established, beneficial fungi. I was trying to catch them on my own property and the neighborhood I live in is pretty recent, and it just doesn’t have the good IMOs. By the time I caught on, the weather shut that down, and we spent the entire winter with a couple of bags of wheat bran in our bedroom (didn’t want to put it in the basement or shed due to mice). This year I plan to capture IMOs in my town, about a mile from here, in an older growth forest, undisturbed for a 100 years. Let’s see what happens!

 

Because This:

This:

My apologies for the dearth of posts. As you can see, I am deep into study. So deep I had to move to the dining room table. Where, you can also see, we’re still up to our usual/unusual activities. These need to be bottled, by the way, this weekend. And outside it has begun to snow. And again I cut it short because the books on that able are beckoning. It’s only logical.

It’s cold now, below freezing all day long, but next week we’re looking at the Polar Vortex again, or so they say. So I got cracking on finishing up the wrapping of the hives. I choose to go with just the black tar paper – foregoing the pink insulation material. Here they are:

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Sam, in the Home Yard. One deep, two mediums, still needs insulation on top.
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Tatjana, in the Common Yard. One deep, two mediums, and a Mann Lake inner cover with insulation on top.
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Beatrice (right) and Katharina, in the Common Yard. Both are one deep, two mediums, one quilt box on top – no sugar candy yet, but the Beatrice cluster, which is massive, is already in the top box, so they’ll probably need it soon.
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Beatrice bees keeping an eye on the crazy lady with her black paper and noisy staple gun.

Following my nose, trying to find what was smelling so bad in the front yard, I almost stepped on him, the Barred Own. Flattened over his prey in the growing dusk I hadn’t seen him. He took off silently. Startling. Here’s what he had been covering: a headless cottontail in the front yard (photo taken from inside the house).

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Soon the hunter reappeared and we could take photos and video of him, ripping and eating, trying to move the rabbit (but he could only drag it a few feet), all the time keeping an eye on the surroundings, us included. He stared right at us, not intimidated.

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Darkness fell fully and we could no longer see him. In the morning this is  all that was left:

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Any day when I walk into my kitchen and come upon a scene like this, is a good day. In the morning my friend A and her family picked me up for a couple of hours pulling carrots at Siena Farm. Every Fall the farm invites their shareholders to come and help pull the carrots for the root cellars and the winter CSA boxes (which both A and I get). It always draws a crowd, and it was no different today in the sun-drenched field. The carrots came up willingly after being  harrowed up with their tractor. We pulled and snapped off the tops, filled boxes and boxes, and boxes.

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It’s the kind of thing you can just happily, mindlessly keep doing as long you don’t get chilled, or have to pee, or are reminded by a teenager that they have a friend coming over. I brought home a bag full of gleaned carrots (broken, nibbled on carrots or carrots that were just too plain funky) and a bag of carrot tops for the chickens. I also put some in a big pot of vegetable broth.

After washing all those carrots I decided to also wash the last apples and make some apple pie – I’ll bake up, sauce and dehydrate the rest tomorrow. My basement is just too warm for apples to keep well, so I’d better get them all in.

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Orphan pumpkins have started arriving at my mailbox. Here’s the first one – in the meantime I’ve brought up twelve, some massive ones among them. With the coffee grounds from the local roaster’s, pumpkins make for the best compost.

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dsc_4301dsc_3901_500One of the changes we made during the Local Food Challenge that we kept was the locally-grown-grain home-made bread. Four Star Farms  in Northfield, MA, has been my go-to place (either through Volante Farm when they stock it, or straight from the farm) for hard red winter berries, which I grind in my mighty Vitamix. Amie and I did enjoy the 45 minute “spin” when we borrowed my friend’s hand mill, but that Vitamix does a good enough job in under 3 minutes.

I use the Farm Feast easy no-knead hold-over-in-the-fridge method for a dense, moist, dark bread. As a whole grain bread it’s a bit finicky, though. It worked better with the Farm Feast’s Red Lammas and Redeemer berries than with Four Star’s Zorro. The latter possibly has less gluten action and often I had breads that weren’t fully risen/cooked. This time around I got Four Star’s Warthog, 20 lbs of it – it takes 1 lb 6 oz for one smallish bread. Let’s see if that is a better fit.

As for even more local eating, a couple of weeks ago I failed to report on my mushroom haul – possibly because it did not result in eating at all. Right down there, in wood chip heaven (heaven for fungi), I found hundreds of King Stropheria mushrooms bursting from the carbon carpet of wood chips after a big downpour (our Fall, compared to our Summer, has been downright delugional). Some were as large as 10 inches in diameter. The King rules! I plucked quite a few, distributing many of them into parts of that garden without, keeping some for ourselves.

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Unfortunately, the mushrooms were wet when I picked them, and there were quite a few more rainy days ahead of us. In the end, they didn’t dry but rotted to slime. We didn’t get a meal out of these, but we did get some neat spore prints, which became more seeds for the rest of the garden.

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Lastly, a small reporting of a conversation between mother and daughter.

  • What are you doing?
  • I cleaned up my car (aka the Bee Mobile, which is my beek office and storage space, and truck for honey-dripping bee boxes and straw bales, chicken food, etc., and which tonight will be the taxi for Amie and her two friends).
  • Yeay!
  • Well, mmm, not “cleaned up,” really, rather, mmm, made room in, for you guys to sit.
  • I knew I shouldn’t get my hopes up!

I did put newspaper over the honey spill.

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robbers trying to get into the top entrance (closed)

The robbing at the Common Yard continued, relentless. As soon as I had removed the robbed-out Borgia hive, the aggressive colony started on the next one down, the Constanza colony. A fellow Common beek alerted me and I ran over and closed literally all entrances to all my hives. Hives 3 and 4, resp. Beatrice and Katharina, were holding their own very well, thank you, but it was cold enough for them not fly out anyway. Only these crazy robber bees were flying vigorously (bellies full of honey).

The best was when the owner of the robbing hive showed up. What good timing! He said that, after it requeened itself, his hive (his one hive, he’s a first-year beek) had been a nasty pain to work. They were indeed very aggressive to bees and beeks alike. He suggested, himself, that he should have got rid of that queen, but now it is too late in the season to requeen, so the unfortunate tentative outcome was to lock up the and so  kill off the whole colony. (If anyone objects, let them come over and I’ll even give them a suit and a smoking smoker and let hem open those boxes! Gentleness is most often the first, second or third criterion in a good queen, for the beekeeper as well as the public’s sake.) Luckily another Common beek offered to help him move the colony to the owner’s yard, and then the owner can requeen in Spring. It’s a little over 2 miles away, so I hope those bees don’t find the Common Yard and keep on robbing!

Anyway, too late for Constanza. With the culprit gone today, I was able to open her up and found she is also a goner. There was no queen, only a handful of bees left, not even enough to combine with a strong hive. But a lot of honey, at least 13 full medium frames and 3 full deep frames. Uttering a little apology, I shook the bees out into the grass and locked up the hive. I’ll distribute the honey frames to the other hives tomorrow when it’s warmer (65F!).

I also opened Beatrice and Katharina’s houses and especially Beatrice, the last Italian, is strong: big population covering the bottom deep and two supers and lots of honey. Katharina has fewer bees, but then again they’re Russians, which overwinter with a smaller population. The last hive at the Common, the Russian Tatjana, looks good too, but they’re the adolescent split, occupying only a deep and a super, and I may just give them the super full of honey from Constanza’s leftovers.

Of course, Constanza and Borgia were well-populated, vigorous, honey-loaded hives too, until a couple of weeks ago. So now I’m down to four. I started with four. How many will I have after winter? I bow to the meadow that holds and feeds my bees. May she hold and feed them into the next season.