Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Sisyphean Housewife

Two months post-partum and I finally feel like I’m starting to get back in the swing of things. I think I might actually be getting ahead of the dirt and clutter that plague this house. For several days in a row, the house is cleaner or tidier at the end of the day than it was at the beginning. Doesn't sound like a big deal, but to me it kinda is.

I am good at many things. Housekeeping is not one of them. I am rarely motivated to clean, and when I am motivated I don’t really do a very good job. To me, it's boring, gross, and tedious; and I am amazed that there are people out there who really enjoy it. Most of the time, I frankly don’t care about a little mess (ok, a lot of mess) so my baseline for acceptable cleanliness is pretty low. I clean out of a sense of duty and a desire not to live in a house reminiscent of a Hoarders episode.

For the past however many months, this house has been in the red in terms of cleanliness. Between being extremely pregnant, being laid up for two weeks after a complicated birth, having houseguests, and getting accustomed to the schedules of two tiny humans instead of just one, and a toddler tornado tearing through the house daily, chores just weren’t happening, and messes were accumulating. Our plan to eat out much less frequently also fell by the wayside. Fortunately my darling husband does more than his fair share around the house so things never got too out of control, but even still…

After Kyle was born we had a professional cleaning service come in and deep clean the whole house. It was pretty much the best thing ever. This time around, we didn’t do that. So here I am digging us out of dirt debt, slowly but surely. You can actually see the countertops in the kitchen. I dusted the ledge of my vanity backsplash. Today I plan to even bathe the baby.

But at the end of the day, for each surface cleared of some project, each pile of mail sorted, each room swept, there is another chore looming on the horizon. I go to bed at night feeling like Sisyphus, but instead of a boulder, it is a dog hair tumbleweed that I am forever pushing up a hill. It gets to be overwhelming and mentally exhausting. 

No matter how many loads of laundry I do in a day (and laundry for four is exponentially more than laundry for three), at the end of the day we shed our clothes, meaning the laundry is never finished. No matter how much of an effort I make to keep dirty dishes out of the sink (which means keeping the clean dishes out of the dishwasher), there is always that one last ice cream bowl, bedside water glass or errant sippy cup that remains unwashed each evening. No matter how many times a day we pick up toddler toys, there is still shit everywhere (Not actual shit. Usually.). 

Even making the bed becomes an item on tomorrow’s looming to-do list the moment the covers are pulled back for the night (which is why I never bother making the bed in the first place.). It is impossible to go to sleep without undone chores weighing on my mind. Sometimes I spend more time thinking about a task than it would take to just do it. Thanks to that mental list, I can never shake the feeling that this woman’s work is quite literally never done.

I know, from the number of memes on the topic, that I am not alone in this sentiment. And I know it’s a first world problem – a problem of abundance, an abundance for which I should be grateful this Thanksgiving holiday. 

So I ask – how do you cope? What simple things have you done to awaken your inner Martha Stewart? I know this pack rat should purge. I should make a meal plan. A chore chart. Things I’ve tried that last a week or two. What else have you got, people of the internet?

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Bee Gone!

Well it's official. Our bees have flown the coop. Or the hive, as the case may be.
After seeing the bees being attacked by a foreign swarm, we knew it was only a matter of time. And sure enough, when Tom went out to check them late last month, the hive had nothing but bee corpses and the honey they'd worked so hard to accumulate was gone. It was heartbreaking, but we have chalked it up to another hard (and expensive) lesson learned on the farm.

We plan to try again next year, taking the lessons learned from this year, and will hope for greater success. It is not uncommon for beekeepers to lose their hives, so we knew this was a possibility, but we really hoped to succeed.

In other news, we were bees for Halloween - Daddy was the beekeeper, Mommy was the queen bee, and the kids were two cute honeybees!

Monday, November 9, 2015

Dadurday, or How to Save Your Marriage and Raise Awesome Kids

I want to share this idea with all you parents. My friend Satwik​ frequently posts pictures of himself hanging out with his two kids on what he has termed "Dadurday." Essentially, he takes the kids out to do something on Saturday, just dad and the kids. They go to eat, on bike rides, sightseeing, to farms, etc. This may not seem like a big deal, but I want to explain why it is, and why I think more dads should take the same initiative. Or why more wives should insist upon it.

Moms (working moms and stay-at-home moms alike) are generally their children's primary caregivers. When both parents are around, the care generally defaults to mom, and unless dad is expressly in charge, mom is on alert. As such, we often find ourselves with little time truly to ourselves, when nobody depends on us, we have no tasks to complete for the good of the household, we don't have to use the "eyes in the back of our heads," etc. Even when dad is watching the kids but mom is still in proximity, she will never be off duty. Physical separation is a critical component of Dadurday.

What's more, if moms want free time outside of the house, we often have to ask for it. As wonderful as my husband is, I still find us in a strange dynamic in which (for example) he'll tell me he's going for a haircut, then go get one. Or just up and go. Meanwhile, I ask "permission" and then have to make a plan to go out around his schedule. Tom​ doesn't demand this of me in any way, that's just kinda how it works. This loss of autonomy generally translates to a loss of self for many women, which can be one of the greatest challenges of motherhood.

There is a certain segment of dads who treat hanging out with their kids as if they are babysitting, like it is a burden, or like they are overwhelmed or confused with what to do with these tiny humans. It makes me so sad to hear from the wives of these men. It makes me think about a piece of advice my friend Kristen​ mentioned she'd learned about parenting: delight in your children. Ans so the hands-off dads, I say: delight in your children. Get down on their level. Get dirty (and that includes changing diapers). Get involved. Get snuggly. Get creative. Seeing the world through the eyes of a child is one of the greatest joys of parenthood.

There are other dads who love to hang out with their kids but don't necessarily appreciate their wives' perspectives and needs. Both classes of dad (and mom) can benefit from Dadurday, I think. Spending time with one parent without the other present is a very different experience, and that bonding is so important. I think these everyday encounters and simple conversations with young children set the groundwork for the big conversations that come later.

Make a plan - be it every Saturday, every other Saturday, or one Saturday a month - for Dad to take the kids somewhere for a substantial portion of the day, ideally including at least one meal. The plan is key so that Mom can anticipate her free time and make a lunch date with her non-parent friend she never sees,  make an appointment for a pedicure, or pick up a trashy novel at the library. And Dadurday doesn't have to cost money - Dad can pack a picnic lunch and take the kiddos to the park. Home Depot and Lowe's have free kid's projects one Saturday a month. Go for a hike or to the pool. I suggested this idea to one harried friend recently, and her husband ended up taking their daughter out for donuts, to the farmers' market, and to a trampoline play place. The possibilities are endless.

I know this doesn't describe everyone's situation, but in talking to moms I know, it's a common theme I hear over and over: "I just want time to myself!"  I guarantee you the rewards will come back to you tenfold in your marriage. As my husband espouses: happy wife, happy life!

#dadurday #teamDDW #daddydoinwork #womenirl #parenting #protip #happywifehappylife

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Bully Bees

In what appears to be the ongoing demise of our beehive, Tom captured this video of bees fighting. He suspects foreign bees raided our weaker hive.

A few days later I went to look at the hive and there was more activity around it than I'd ever seen.

Tom hasn't had a chance to go back out and open the hive to see what's really going on. Stay tuned!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Baby Nathan's Birth Story

Many people have been curious about how a (now-) unconventional home birth goes down, and some people just like to read birth stories, so I thought I’d share mine. If you are squeamish about blood, poop, and lady bits, pass this post on by. Otherwise, read on to hear the tale of how baby Nathan Scott came to be born in a log cabin!

We decided to use a midwife after my hospital experience with Kyle’s birth was not what I’d hoped for. When we learned the famous FarmMidwifery Center was only an hour from our new home in Tennessee, the decision was simple. Their founder, Ina May Gaskin, literally wrote the book on natural childbirth. Their practice, around since The Farm commune was founded in the ‘60s, is regarded as one of the best, if not THE best, in the world. People travel from around the country and world to rent cabins on the idyllic property for weeks on end to wait out the time until their babies arrive. I was referred by Kyle’s pediatrician to contact Stacie Hunt, one of The Farm midwives. During our first meeting with her, she pointed out it was silly for us to rent a cabin by the week when we have a perfectly good home just an hour away. So a home birth it was!

Prenatal care was pretty much the same as at an obstetrician’s office. I had regular checkups, with all the same blood tests, ultrasounds, fetal heartbeat monitoring via Doppler, etc. that you would get in a doctor’s office, though some tests were outsourced to the local hospital or other clinics and there was no pressure to do any unnecessary testing. The Farm services the large local Amish community, and their patients forgo most testing, and often times much of the prenatal care, with generally positive outcomes. The midwives are thoroughly trained in the areas of medicine pertinent to childbirth and are certified by a national board. In fact, I’d wager that Stacie, who has delivered 1,800+ babies and been present at more than 4,000 births, probably has more experience than the doctor who caught Kyle. And we knew that if something went really wrong, we could be at a hospital in ten minutes under the care of surgeons. 

Overall, I felt as safe, if not safer, with our choice this time around.  The somewhat intangible pros and cons of my experience were: PRO – Prenatal visits lasted about an hour, with great personal attention paid to us. About 15 minutes was spent doing the actual tests and checkup, and about 45 minutes chatting about the pregnancy, gardening, parenting, gossip, etc. It is rare that you get to bond with a medical professional in this way. This is the person helping welcome your most precious possession into the world, and it's nice to know them on a first name basis (and even as facebook friends!). CON: Because I was working with one midwife (and her team) rather than a practice of several interchangeable doctors, my appointments would frequently be cancelled or rescheduled when Stacie was called out on a birth. But, I just rolled with it.

I also decided to hire a doula, which is basically a birth coach. With Kyle’s birth I felt I caved and asked for an epidural when I didn’t want one. I felt ill-equipped to manage the painful contractions, and my loving husband was no better equipped than I. I hoped to have someone on-hand who could offer me support and encouragement, as well as various ways to cope with the pain and struggles of labor. I told Stacie I wasn’t always good at taking direction so I needed someone who could be a bit of a bitch if necessary. She referred me to Kari Jenkins. We met several times before the birth to get to know each other and discuss what I envisioned for Nathan’s birth.

OK, so on to the birth. Nathan was due on September 24th. Because Kyle was a few days early, we all kinda thought Nathan would be, too. I felt in my gut, however, that he was a bit of a late bloomer simply because he did not hiccup nearly as much as Kyle did. Hiccupping strengthens a baby’s lungs, and I recently read that a protein in fully developed fetal lungstriggers labor. So my hunch was he’d likely not be THAT early. However, from a week or two before his due date, I began having mild contractions. With Kyle, the day I started feeling that way was the day I went in to labor. So for weeks I was on pins and needles. The contractions would come every couple days, for hours on end. Not painful, but semi regular or constant pressure. At my weekly checkups, I found that the baby was very low, I was dilated to 1 or 2 cm, and my cervix was softened, which meant I could really go at any time (those were the same conditions I had at my checkup the day before Kyle was born). I was texting the midwife and doula so often saying, “This might be it!” that I was afraid they’d think I was “the girl who called baby.”

As the due date approached, I tried every method I could to bring on labor. Some were old wives’ tales, and some were more scientific. But they were all primarily ways to prepare my body for labor and move things along from the false labor to real labor if my body was ready. I tried them all, to no avail – physical, herbal, dietary, etc. Tom’s parents arrived from Hawaii for a week-long visit on the 23rd. They hoped to meet the baby, and offer help during the birth or afterwards, as needed. As the due date came and went, and none of the labor-inducing tricks worked, I began to wonder if their visit (although really wonderful in its own right) would be in vain. So, with Tom’s prodding, on the last day it made sense to try, I inquired about the one method I swore I’d never use: castor oil. Stacie said to give it a go! So around noon on the 28th I dumped two ounces of the stuff into a chocolate milkshake and tossed it back. It tasted like some brownie batter I’d made a while back using stale vegetable oil. Castor oil is a powerful laxative, but it works to contract the muscles of your bowels and in turn the muscles associated with childbirth. The laxative took effect (and for me it was not accompanied with any pain or nausea), and the contractions, similar to the ones I’d been having for weeks, also began. In the evening Stacie and her assistant Laura came by the house to check on me. They found I’d progressed since our previous checkup but that labor was not in progress. They headed out, saying to call if anything changed, and we went to bed, disappointed and tired, at 9:30.

Around 12:30 I woke up, as had become standard for me in the third trimester, and rose to pee, get some ice water, pee again. A little over an hour later I climbed back in bed, still wide awake. As I tried to fall back asleep, I noticed new contractions picking up. These were different- rather than in my abdomen, these were in my pelvis, and were slightly painful. I decided to start recording their frequency on an app I have on my phone starting at 2:15. At 2:50 I felt the unmistakable gush of my water breaking, and waddled to the toilet before the floodgates opened. As I sat, I felt fluid pass, but also many clots. I peered in the bowl, horrified to see a huge amount of blood. I called Stacie even while the amniotic fluid and blood still gushed out of me. She asked me to send her a photo (ah, technology!) of the carnage. I’ll spare you all that image. Luckily our rag bin was in arms reach so I grabbed an old towel, curled up on the bathroom floor, and called for Tom. I was very light-headed, I assume from the combination of blood loss and squeamishness/shock from seeing all that blood. I rested my head on Tom’s lap until I was able to return to bed. Stacie told me to monitor the baby’s movements and I could feel him some – he was never a wiggly fetus to begin with. I know that if the placenta is damaged, it can be very dangerous to mother and baby. So I was hoping that was not the case. At some point I also called Kari, the doula.

Within an hour Stacie and Laura (Stacie’s apprentice/assistant) arrived, with rolling cases full of supplies. They immediately checked the baby’s heart rate with the Doppler (which was strong and healthy) and began an IV of lactated ringer’s to try to help me following the blood loss. Stacie assessed the blood, fishing about two cups of clots out of the toilet (it’s a glamorous job sometimes). The whispering from the bathroom made me a little concerned but the news upon her return to the bedroom was positive. She determined it was not placental, but likely a cervical bleed from a varicose vein that ruptured once the pressures of labor began (a rare condition called cervical varix). The blood likely began to pool and clot as I was timing my contractions, resulting in the deluge when I got up. I found out after the fact that this was not something she had seen more than a few times, and she told me she’s never seen that amount of blood in all her experience. She told me later that when she arrived and saw all the blood that she thought I might have to go to the hospital, but when the baby sounded good and the blood stopped, she decided we could carry on at home. Her level-headedness in the situation kept me (and Tom) calm. I appreciate that her experience prevented her from having a knee-jerk reaction, but that she would have taken further measures if necessary. As she checked me, I also learned that there are two layers of the amniotic sac, and only my outer one had broken. There was some fluid between the layers, but I guess most of what I felt as my water breaking was actually the blood.

Nathan was born in a log cabin!
While I was being assessed and monitored, Kari arrived. We also woke Tom’s parents around 4:45 am, who were sleeping in the small log cabin on our property, so that we could move our crew out there. The plan was for them to entertain Kyle during the birth so he wasn’t scarred by the sights and sounds of labor. He could remain in the house, in his element, while we did our thing out in the cabin. Tom and the midwives brought all the supplies out to the cabin and prepared the room (old sheets on the bed, turned on my labor playlist, etc.). Once we got to the cabin, I was still very light-headed, so I spent the next bit of time on my side in bed. The contractions were painful, but manageable. Between contractions we chatted and laughed. I think I dozed off a few times between contractions. Every few contractions the baby was monitored with the Doppler, and his heart rate stayed steady in the normal 130-150 range. This continued throughout the labor. Laura had gone off to get the fancy baby monitor from Stacie’s house, like they have in a hospital, just in case it was needed. Fortunately, it never was. Another midwife apprentice, Angela, also arrived.
Tom helping me through a painful contraction while on the birthing chair
Thumbs up to a home birth!
After a while, a change in position was recommended so I moved to a birthing chair. It was a collapsible, Amish-made chair with a U-shaped seat. I stayed there for a while, and the contractions began to intensify. Tom held my hand during them and I shushed the room so I could concentrate. At one point I looked out the French doors of the cabin, saw one of our geese looking back at me. Everyone laughed when I exclaimed, “Oh, a goose!” But I was weak, dizzy and tired, and wanted to put my head down. During a few contractions I even felt difficulty breathing. So I moved to straddling a yoga ball and leaned forward with my head on a stack of pillows on the bed. Angela and Kari helped with massaging my back. The contractions intensified, and at a certain point I felt like the baby was catching on my hip bones or something, because I was leaning forward. Stacie and Kari were going to try out a rebozo, a scarf-like cloth that they could use to help comfort me and position my body to ease the baby into place. But as I stood up from the yoga ball, another contraction hit, and I suddenly felt the urge to push.
Because I was still weak, I decided to do my pushing in the bed, as I’d done with Kyle. In theory I understand that positions like squatting or using the birthing chair are optimal to allow gravity to assist, but I was not up for that. So in to bed I went and began to push. The cervix was not fully cleared, so Stacie helped make way for the baby’s head. As I pushed, the inner amniotic fluid sac still wouldn’t break, and she commented that it was super tough. As I was pushing everyone was saying, “Get behind it!” I don’t know what that means, but in the moment I understood. Every time I pushed, Stacy leaned out of the way in anticipation of being sprayed when the fluid sac popped, but it never did. Stacy kept saying the head was right behind the fluid sac, and I just needed to keep pushing. After about 10 minutes, Tom asked if manually breaking it would help, and she agreed and went ahead and did it. The pushing phase took about thirty minutes, contraction after contraction with breaks in between where I could catch my breath. Finally, out slithered Nathan at 10:46 am, almost exactly 8 hours after my water broke (the same as with Kyle!). Surprise number two: He was sunny side up. That’s the layman’s term for posterior birth. Babies are typically born facing down (facing the mother’s back). Nathan came out completely face up- a “textbook” posterior presentation, according to Stacie. In retrospect, I wish we’d videoed it because I was told he came out looking around at everyone! I was surprised because he spent much of his time in the womb in the correct position. Stacie also told me the cord was wrapped around his leg.

Nathan was brought up to my chest and we were instantly smitten, of course. Tom cried, which surprised him. His love for his son was instantaneous. The baby was covered in vernix, the waxy coating that develops during the third trimester. He was a nice pink color and crying. Laura cleared his airways while we cooed over him. After the umbilical cord stopped pulsating, Tom cut the cord.
Stacie began talking about delivering the placenta, so I handed Nathan off to daddy for some skin-to-skin.  Stacie was working on the placenta, which was caught behind my pubic bone. I knew from the ultrasounds that it was an anterior placenta, which means it was located towards my belly rather than my back. It was the main reason I couldn’t feel Nathan move very well until well into the second trimester. Stacie had to pry it loose so it could be delivered. When it flopped out, Stacie’s eyes widened. She held up the placenta and showed me how large it was – easily 50% bigger than the normal size she outlined on my massive placenta. She placed it in a Tupperware to be inspected and sent off to be encapsulated. (I’d won free encapsulation in a raffle at a breastfeeding event. It turns out that will be a blessing in helping to replenish my blood supply and iron levels following the blood loss during labor.) The midwives confirmed that the placenta was fully intact and that the blood loss definitely did not come from there. Fun fact: The placenta looks like a stingray. I’ll also save you from that image.

I was stitched up and cleaned up, then given some medicines to help my uterus contract and to stop the (normal) bleeding. Nathan was checked over, and everything was great. He weighed 8 pounds 9 ounces, was 20 1/4” long, with 36 centimeter diameter head. Slightly larger than Kyle, all around. At his 2 day pediatrician visit he had lost some weight, which was to be expected, and was in the 50th, 75th, and 60th percentiles, respectively. 

mmm milkies
Nathan took to the breast quickly and easily. His latch was perfect. He’s continued to nurse well over the first two days of his life, cluster feeding just as I’m ready to go to sleep for the night (of course), and nursing throughout the day, every few hours. We’ve been negligent about tracking the details of his input and output, but it’s been good. I weighed him before and after nursing at the pediatricians, and he took in an ounce, which is the stomach capacity of a 2 or 3 day old baby.
And now we are four
After Nathan had nursed, we brought Kyle in to meet his baby brother. Kyle received a gift from his brother, a story book (which was actually sent by the boys’ Great Gram). We read the story, and then Daddy brought the baby over to Kyle. Kyle was (and is) fascinated with the baby. It was interesting, while I was pregnant we referenced the baby in Mommy’s tummy, pointed out babies when we saw them out, and gave Kyle a baby doll. We told Kyle he was going to be a big brother and that his little brother would be called Nathan. Kyle would say baby, pointing to my tummy, but he would never refer to the baby as Nathan or brother. After seeing the baby in the flesh, he began using both terms. He enjoys pointing out the baby’s facial features. Interestingly, Kyle and Nathan look almost exactly identical to each other at birth. Putting pictures of the two of them side by side, you would think they were twins.
I am recuperating slowly. My uterus is still contracting back to its normal size, and the cramps are painful. They come on spontaneously, but are also triggered by the oxytocin release when I nurse Nathan or hear him cry (or even sometimes while just gazing upon him). I started out very light headed on the day Nathan was born (I even fainted trying to go from the bathroom to bed, but fortunately Tom was supporting me as I wilted), but my endurance is improving. I am working on increasing my iron levels and blood volume through diet and supplements.

The awesome birth team!
All-in-all, despite the peculiarities of the birth itself, I enjoyed my home birth experience. I suspect that had I been under a doctor’s care, I would have ended up with a C-section from the get-go. Instead, I am enjoying the first days of my baby’s life in the comfort of my own bed, taken care of by a doting baby daddy. I confirmed with Stacie at her follow-up visit that none of the oddities of this birth should repeat in subsequent pregnancies (Tom would like me to get a second opinion on that- seeing his wife crumpled on the floor next to a toilet bowl full of blood has that effect on a person), so I would definitely want to do the same thing next time if we have that chance.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

A quiet month for the bees

Not much to report in terms of bee activity. They are not producing comb and honey quite as rapidly as we'd hope. An established hive would have surplus honey to harvest next month, with enough remaining to last the colony though the winter. Our hive currently does not have anywhere near enough to last the winter, let alone harvest. Last month Tom added a second box to the hive, hoping they'd start expanding their comb-building activities, but so far they've not expanded much, and in fact have been consuming some of the comb they built.

We are supplementing their nectar gathering activities with sugar water to help them build honeycomb more quickly. The mixture is a 1:1 combination of sugar and water, heated just enough to dissolve the sugar, but not to boiling as that would crystallize the sugar and make it inedible for the bees. It seems that keeping that sugar water full will be critical going forward.

When inspecting the hive today, Tom found the queen (good), a few hive beetles (no good - but the bees were attacking them so that's a good thing), and plenty of larvae, which means the queen is actively laying. So now we wait. Tom is attending a day-long bee seminar next weekend and should get some good information about sustaining and growing our hive. He'll treat for the beetles and hope we don't have any other infestations.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Flight of the Honeybees

The excitement of receiving the new package bees quickly turned to disappointment at the Lazy Duck. After only two days, the new package bees were gone. "Absconded" is the term used in beekeeping when bees abandon their hive. To us, it was a big blow. One afternoon they were there, the next morning, they had absolutely vanished. If not for a few dead bees remaining in the box, and some slightly established comb, you wouldn't have even known they were there. It was heartbreaking.

Nobody really knows why bees abandon their hive, but we learned the following things (after the fact) related to successfully installing package bees in a new hive:

  1.  Always install the package in the evening. Bees don’t leave their hive at night and this allows them to become familiar with the hive and begin installing their scent before they begin scouting out the area.
  2. When installing a new package, if at all possible put them in a hive with at least one frame of established comb. This gives them a bit of a head start in having a place to put new pollen when they begin working before the queen is released from her cage. If there is hive with pollen and comb when she is released, it encourages the queen to begin laying eggs. When eggs are laid, the bees are more likely to stay as they will not abandon brood.
  3. If possible, transfer a frame of brood from another hive to the new hive. This goes along with #2, in that bees will not abandon brood.
  4. Put in something known as a queen keeper under the bottom frames for 1-2 weeks after installing the package, which allows the workers to come and go, but has openings too small for the larger queen to pass through. Since the bees in a hive follow the queen, if the queen can’t leave the hive, the bees won’t, either. This encourages the queen to stay and begin laying eggs and, as we know from #2, the bees won’t abandon their brood.

This has been an expensive lesson for us, as the package bees cost $150. Now our second hive boxes sit empty until we can either catch a swarm from our first hive or until we purchase another package or swarm next spring. 

Our established hive is working away. We are pretty certain the hive swarmed. This means they grew a new queen and kicked out their old one. When she left, she took half the worker bees with her. We were not able to recover that swarm. The new queen began laying after about a week. The honey that was built up was cleared out some, we suspect to make room for new brood. As summer progresses, they are left to do their work. They've visited the many blooms that have sprung up around the property, pollinating and doing all the normal honeybee activities. They have a few more months to build up their stores for winter, and in the meantime we simply monitor their progress.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

I Picked a Peck of Pickled... Radishes?

With my radish crop becoming ripe, I found myself with more radishes than I could possibly consume on my own. The best way I could think of to extend the life of my produce was to pickle them. Last night I did just that.

I first harvested all the radishes. There were a handful that were still too small, and may never full develop, but the yield from my twelve square feet of garden (after having already picked enough for a snack and a side dish) was well over 100 radishes. And I still have time to replant in that same square footage, if I wanted (and I probably will). Those hundred radishes resulted in 7 jars of pickles, with three of those having carrots mixed in. It would have been six 16 oz. jars of all-radish pickles.

I decided to try a couple different recipes, since I have no clue what the result would be. Naturally, I turned to pinterest and found two promising variations. One was a basic pickle, using apple cider vinegar and honey. The other was a more Asian style using rice vinegar and sugar.

I began by prepping all my radishes, removing the greens and roots. The chickens and goats seemed to enjoy those, so there is no waste! Then I sliced all the radishes to about 1/8" thickness using my mandolin, which made them nice and consistently sized, and saved me a bunch of time, I'm sure. Radishes are so small that it was a little difficult to use the hand guard thing, but I've watched enough food network to know you should never use a mandolin with your bare hands.

For the first recipe, courtesy of gardentherapy.ca, I stayed pretty true to the recipe except I used pickling salt instead of sea salt. I'm hoping the amounts required to get a good brine are pretty consistent between those two.

For the more Asian version, I modified slightly a recipe I found on the Whole Foods website to use ingredients I had on hand. Those jars contain a mixture of 2/3 radishes and 1/3 carrots. I omitted the cucumber, chilies, ginger, and onion - all of which would make them way more delicious but I didn't have the foresight to pick them up at the store. Next time! I also played with the pickling juice a bit and tested three variations:

  1. Rice vinegar and pickling salt
  2. Seasoned rice vinegar and pickling salt
  3. Seasoned rice vinegar and pink Hawaiian salt

They are in the fridge now, since both recipes are considered "quick pickles" and are not meant for long term storage. They should be ready to try by tomorrow! I'll report back with the results. fingers crossed!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Everything's Coming up Radishes

Establishing a new farm takes a lot of patience. Waiting for the seasons to change, baby animals to grow, and gardens to start producing a bountiful harvest all require a huge investment of time and energy before there is any tangible reward. At the advice of our local Ag Extension office, I planned to get the seeds in the ground for our garden on or around April 15th. Well, mother nature had a different plan and dumped two weeks of rain on us right when I'd hoped to plant. Once the rain cleared and I was able to till the garden patch, the seeds finally went in the ground, right at the end of April. And then I waited. With no previous experience with the local soil, and never having planted a garden this big or varied, I have no idea what to expect.

Our garden has somewhere around 70 varieties of produce planted, the bulk of which are seeds from a kit we purchased a while ago that was intended as something you could keep stored in the event of societal collapse ... or if you just wanted a crap ton of seeds that were heirloom varieties. Because the kit came pre-assembled, it included many items I would have probably passed over when browsing the seed racks at the local shop, such as Swiss chard or radishes. Radishes have never held much of an appeal to me. I have never scooped a single radish on to my plate at the salad bar. I'm not sure why, perhaps just ignorance. But into the ground radish seeds went, figuring what the heck, if nothing else I'd find a radish-loving neighbor.

Lo and behold, the first green sprouts to show their leafy faces, were the radishes. They grew quickly and plentifully. I checked my notes, and realized the radish takes only 21-28 days to mature. Which means, a month into my garden I've already had my first harvest! I sampled some of the young radishes, which were so surprisingly tender and moist. I ate those sliced with some salt, and when I shared photos of my small bounty, my friends asked what recipe I would be preparing. Recipe? You mean radishes can be used for something other than salad garnish? A quick scan of pinterest revealed a slew of options for these mysterious quick-growing root vegetables.

Tonight I pulled a huge bunch of radishes fresh from the garden. Tom wanted to grill, and I didn't have time to run to the store to pick up corn or potatoes, or another staple grilling accompaniment. I know that anything you roast you can just ass easily do in a foil packet on the grill, Radishes aren't all that different from potatoes, right? 

I washed the bunch of radishes, removed the roots and greens, and quartered them. I tossed the radishes in the foil packet with a drizzle of olive oil, some salt and pepper, and a sprinkling of garlic powder for good measure. I decided to keep it simple since I had no clue what a cooked radish tasted like.  It turns out it's reminiscent of a beet crossed with a Brussels sprout. The cooking cuts the inherent spiciness of the radish but imparts a certain... earthiness? Anyhow, I recommend this recipe if you want to try a little something different. I feel a little silly writing out the actual recipe since it's so ridiculously easy, but here ya go:

Grilled Radish Packets

1 bunch radishes (about 14)
Olive oil
Salt & Pepper to taste
Garlic powder or other seasonings

Remove roots and greens from radishes and quarter. Place on a large sheet of heavy duty foil. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with spices. Close foil packet up securely. Place on the upper rack of a hot grill and cook for 15-20 minutes until tender.


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Today we had a package at the post office - A Package of Bees!

Today our second colony of bees arrived! Back in February we reserved our bees from Kelley Beekeeping – with May 9th being the earliest ship data available. (We learned too late that December or January is the best time to order to secure an early spring delivery.) The bees arrive via USPS and must be picked up at the local post office. Early his morning Tom received a call that our new friends had arrived. Living in the country, our post office is not alarmed by the arrival of the small, screened wooden crate that the bees are shipped in. We went to collect our bees and brought them home to be installed straight away.

knock knock!

It was a bit of a blessing that our first hive, well established, arrived at the lazy duck ranch weeks ago. This gave Tom a chance to grow comfortable with handling the bees before having to undertake what had seemed like the daunting task of transferring bees from the shipping box to the hive.  

Tom began by “smacking the package smartly against the ground” to knock the bees to the bottom of the box (per the instructions on the youtube video he watched to refresh himself before undertaking the installation.) He then removed the cover and extracted the feeder that kept the bees nourished in transit. He located the small box that contains the queen and set it aside. The package with the bulk of the bees was upended into the hive, from which several of the honeycomb frames had been removed.

smack smartly on the ground
safety first

The small box containing the queen was next to be introduced – she was held in place with a cork and a candy plug. Her hivemates will eat away the plug until she is released from the box and into her new home. Keeping her contained in the hive is important to helping them accept their new home. The colony of bees follows its queen. Our purchased queen bee has been marked with a dot so she may be easily located when she is in the hive. After three days, Tom will reopen the hive to verify that the queen has settled in to her new home and the colony has begun producing comb in the now vacant frames.

the queen has a white dot painted on her.

This new colony of bees has its work cut out for it to establish a store of honey to sustain them through the winter. For now, they will be supplemented with a feeder of sugar water to ensure they have are maximizing their production. Fortunately, the farm is also in full bloom with plants the bees appear to love. We've seen the bees on the blossoms on our rose, mock orange and blackberry bushes, the American holly tree, and countless other plants around the property. Their buffet also includes clover, dandelions, peonies, and soon, honeysuckle and the extensive bounty of our garden.

While our package bees are just starting out, the established colony we received has already begun to fill up the few empty honeycomb frames in the first brood box we set out. Tom added a second deep super on top of the first to allow them to expand their empire. The colony requires two deeps to last the winter, anything from additional supers on top are what we will harvest. All that jargon! Here’s a diagram to help explain.

two hives in action!