Monthly Archives: August 2008

What the heck is this?

The beast larva!

Abigail and I were harvesting the potatoes the other day and I dug this up…at least I think I dug it up.  Anyhow, it ended up in the pile of dirt from which we were picking potatoes.  At the top it seemed like a cocoon but it was very much larva-like at the bottom.  I guess it was a moth or butterfly larva weaving its cocoon but I do not know what type.
A mystery larva

That crazy thing was wiggling around and really freaking the kids out ( I, of course, was quite brave and unmoved by its actions).  It was several inches long and full of ugly.  I decided to just put it back in the dirt and hope for the best.


We are pretty fond of butterflies but I have sort of mixed reactions to moths…due to a bad experience with wax moths and my stored honey supers…I still can hardly talk about it!

Anyhow, we had a pretty good haul of potatoes and the kids were absolutely fantastic at helping me harvest them. I have never seen them work so hard as they did then.

Honey harvest – part 2

The flavor and color of honey depends on the flowers and nectar from which it is made.    Beekeepers who have access to large fields or groves of a particular crop may be pretty well assured that their honey is from orange blossoms or tupelo blossoms or clover blossoms, etc.  We don’t have a good way to know the exact source for our honey so we call it wildflower honey but we definitely get different types of honey.  This year, we extracted three separate varities of honey.

Three types of honey

It is a bit of work to watch the honey in the frames to know when the variety changes.  Honey in the frame is covered by wax which is opaque.  We can sort of see the color of the honey behind it but it is fairly subjective.  Individual frames are often of the same variety though not always.  Bees just store the nectar that is available at a given time and don’t care a single bit whether we can easily separate the different types of honey.  They are funny that way.

Dark honey Lighter honey

Anyhow, the darkest honey is likely from tulip poplar since it is dark and has a red tint.  The other types are unclear to me.  They are all excellent!  We bake cookies and bread with it.  We eat it on pancakes, in tea, on biscuits.  Sometimes I just eat it by the spoonful!  There is more about the 2008 honey harvest here


Behold...the tomato!

These are some pictures that we’ve taken recently and, for some reason, I just really like them. Tomatoes are going full steam right now so we are making salsa and pizza sauce and debating about making spaghetti sauce. We don’t really have a good spaghetti sauce recipe so we have been hesitant. I sort of have fun just arranging piles of tomatoes and staring at them. I wonder if I have a problem?
Piles of tomatoes!

Tomatoes and zuke pickles!
different types of tomatoes!

Anyhow, we planted around 50 tomato plants that we started from seed this spring. I can’t remember the exact mix but we have some ox hearts, mortgage lifters, romas, WV hillbillies, and yellow amish tomatoes.

I really must do better next year about keeping track of which is which!



Bumblebees on sunflower

I love sunflowers.  I love to eat them.  I love to look at them.  I love to feed them to the birds.  Honeybees make a very bright yellow wax from sunflower nectar.  I love sunflower wax!  Sunflowers just seem to be so hopeful.  I know that sounds dumb but they grow so tall and so fast.  They produce a huge head and a ton of seeds.  It’s pretty bold to go for broke but that’s exactly what sunflowers seem to do.  It just feels like nature’s optimism to me.  Our sunflowers have really started to take off making for the perfect end to the summer garden.

Bumblebees on sunflower

Isaac in sunflowers

The bumblebees seem to like them too.  We’ve seen half a dozen or more on individual flowers lately.  If we had room, I’d plant an entire field of the stuff!

Honey harvest – part 1

We started our honey harvest on Saturday.  Emily’s grandparents have a perfect location to extract the honey.  They powerwash and otherwise scrub their garage out in preparation.  We set up tables and cover them with plastic table cloths.  One little storage area at their place has become “the bee room”, so we just haul everyting out of it into the garage.  Everything gets cleaned once more and then we bring in the honey supers.Clean Up! Cutting the cappings from the honey cells
Emily’s Dad helped me collect the honey supers from the hives this year.  Some folks use smelly chemicals to remove the bees from the supers.  I prefer to pull individual frames from the supers, shake and brush off the bees and carry them to the garage.  It isn’t any slower to do it this way and saves the smells and chemical intrustion.  We pulled all of the honey at once and then went about our extraction.  Our extractor is an motorized tangential version so we extract each side of the honey super individually.  Radial extractors can extract both sides at once.  I’ve never had one so I don’t miss the difference.

The honey extractor

We typically extract 8 or so frames before we take a break to drain the honey from the extractor tank.  The only preocessing we do is to filter the honey through a seive to remove wax bits.  Of course, honey is fairly thick so Emily or her mother spend a great deal of time bent over the honey gate holding the filter, waiting for the honey to flow though.

Filtering out wax bits

Honey harvest has become a pretty good family affair.   All of this work is back-breaking but it’s a lot of fun too.

Bottling the honeyHoney is poured into individual mason jars and sealed with a lid.  We wipe the outside of the jars as a little honey makes a lot of sticky stuff pretty quickly.
The best part

The best part

The kids seem to know when to slip in so they can “clean up” after we are done extracting.  It is hard to beat the tastes and smells of honey straight off of the hive.  Many people who typically don’t like honey (yes, they do exist), really love to help “clean up” when we are done.  In fact, it’s about the only time Emily will eat honey!

Solar power!

Solar power!

Solar power!

Isaac discovered the power of the sun on Sunday.  He lit a number of leaves on fire using Momaw and Popaw’s solar energy focuser – aka the magnifying glass.  Solar power!

I bet he spent an half-an-hour setting piles of “stuff” on fire.  The sun was hot so it didn’t take long to start a little blaze.  We had a little educational time on the power of the sun and the danger of setting fires.  Hopefully he’ll remember!

I remember loving to mess with matches and magniying glasses, etc when I was a kid.  Fortunately, I never set anything big ablaze, but that was mostly dumb luck I think.

Isaac is so curious about so many things.  It inspires me and makes me wish we could explore everything.  For now, we will have to be content with experimenting as weekend scientists.


Zucchini pickles


We planted only a half row of zucchini fearing the plague of fruit that usually follows.  I think it was a wise move as we haven’t been overrun with the stuff but we had plenty to make a couple of batches of zucchini pickles.  I found the recipe at Achorn Farm’s blog.  Anyhow, we made a dozen pints of the stuff.  They are delicious…but a little potent!  The pickling juice also stains…even clear plastic measuring cups.

Topped with onions

Ready for lids

zucchini pickles!

More firsts

Isaac and Abigail each had some more firsts this weekend.  Abigail has been practicing and practicing her whistling but has never been able to do it.  Friday night, she was puffing and puffing and finally let out a few whistles.  She was SO excited and kept on blowing and blowing until she could do it more reliably.  She has to work some on volume yet but she is well on her way.  Click the arrows below to hear some of her first whistles

[audio:] [audio:]

Isaac hasn’t ever really tried to blow bubbles with gum much but this weekend he started.  At first, he took a lot of time flattening out the gum just right and holding his mouth just right.

Isaac blowing 1st bubbles with his gum

He blew his first bubbles on Saturday.  These pics are from the same piece of gum as his first bubbles (though that might not be saying much as he would save gum for weeks if we’d let him!).  By Sunday evening he was blowing bubbles with Dentyne which is not know for its bubble-ability.


There was an old junky shelf in our basement that was pieced together with a 1×12 and a 1×8 screwed together. I hated to just burn it up but wasn’t sure what to do with it. Isaac and Abigail had a visit at their Summer camp program from the Three Rivers Avian Center where they learned about bird habitats and their bird rescue program. The kids were so interested that they suggested we make some birdhouses out of the wood. We’ve had a house wren pair that have nested in an existing house the last three years and hatched 2 sets of eggs per year. That leaves us with a lot of house wrens around. I found some plans online for a house wren’s house and our wood measured out sufficient to make 3 houses. That should hopefully help our wren-friends. I ripped the boards to width and the kids sawed them to length by hand. They did a marvelous job on the first house. Abigail primed the wood and painted it in a rainbow motif. She assured me that the birds will like it and never go to the wrong house. She also thought the bees would enjoy the colors. It is really a beautiful paint job. We’ll probbaly work on the other two houses next weekend.

Unscrewing the old shelf

Unscrewing the old shelf

Hand sawing the board
Hand sawing the board
Sawdust nose?

Needs more paint!

Priming the house

Abigail was a tremendous painter through it all. She applied several coats of primer to both the house and her legs. She waited patiently for each coat to dry…at least 10 minutes or so between coats. The best part was her work with colors. She was incredibly excited with her creation…with good reason!

The nearly finished product

She has not yet announced her design thoughts for the next houses.  She is opinionated about everything though so I am sure she will let us know!

WV Power baseball game

Appalachian Power Park

Batter up!

We got some tickets from friends of Emily’s folks to go to the WV Power game last night.  We’d had a long day working in the garden so it was a nice chance to relax and just play a little.  Emily’s folks came and bought the kids some food at the park and entertained Abigail during the game.

Momaw, a big fan!

We sat on the third base line and had a great view of the park.  I think we are pretty fortunate to have such a nice facility in Charleston.  There were lots of nice folks in attendance (and one loud, obnoxious one on the first base line).  Unfortunately the Power lost to the Delmarva Shorebirds.  Isaac got quite a kick out of the name, Shorebirds.  It was a lot of fun!