Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Giant Bubbles!

Have you ever seen those gigantic bubbles at shows or festivals and wondered how they were made? i recently came across a tutorial on The Childhood Magic website, and knew we had to make a giant bubble wand.

These are extremely easy to make, and so much fun! The kids have spent hours outside making bubbles. My boy is quite good at making some monstrously huge one, and my girl is extremely good at popping them. :)

i can give you a brief explanation on how they are made, and you can check the tuorial above for picture and more description if you need it. They are honestly very simple, and can be made with a few basic supplies.

You'll need 2 wooden dowels.
2 screw in eye hooks.
100% Cotton cord or yarn.
a metal washer or addition eye hook to use as a weight.

So all you do is screw an eye hooks into the end of each dowel. Then cut two pieces of the cotton cord, around 35" for the top piece, and 70 " for the bottom. i didn't actually measure mine, just guesstimated. You can really make them any size you like. You just want to make sure the bottom piece is twice as long as the top.
i could not find the cotton cord suggested in the original tutorial, but did have 100% cotton yard. i did a quick chain stitch to make a crocheted cotton cord and it worked fine. If you don't know how to crochet, you could braid the pieces so they are a bit thicker and heavier than a single piece of yarn.
Now tie the shorter piece of yarn to the eye hooks, connecting them and then slip the washer/eyehook/weight onto the longer piece and tie it to the eye hooks under the top cord.

That's it! Now dip it in your bubble solution ( We used dish soap and water) and have fun!!

i could take pictures of these all day! They are so much fun, and each one seems bigger and more amazing than the one before it.

It took my boy a little while to get the hang of it, but then once he got it he was a bubble making expert. We figured out that if you gently bring the ends of the wand together, it will cut off the bubbles. So you can make 3 or 4 giant bubbles that float away with just one dip in the bubble solution.

Miss Sage wasn't quite big enough to do these. i think our dowels were a bit too long. So i'm going to make another wand for her that has smaller dowels, and a bit less yarn so that she can make them too. She had just as much fun chasing and popping the bubbles.

i tried getting a picture looking through the giant bubbles as they are being created. This picture doesn't do justice, it really looks very cool as the bubble grows and grows. It even looks neat when they pop.

Check this link for some addition homemade bubble recipes.

If you like bubbles, you absolutely must try this! Happy bubble blowing!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Canning Grape Juice and Jelly.

So once again we have been blessed with free food from our extremely generous neighbors. They called a few days ago asking if we had any interest in grapes. Their grape vines were overflowing and they had already shared with friends and family and still had buckets of grapes to give away. Like the other fruits we have received from them, these have never been sprayed or treated and are totally organic.

Our neighbors had explained the way they can their grape juice, but i couldn't remember the exact recipe. So i started looking online for instructions and was thrilled to find the same recipe on The Backwoods Home site. This really is an extremely easy way to make grape juice for canning. Keep in mind, it makes a grape juice concentrate, with sugar added so it's not 100% juice. The recipe calls for 1 cup grapes, 1 cup sugar and enough boiling water to fill your quart jar.

First, make sure you wash and sterilize your quart jars in a water bath canner for 10 min. Then add 1 cup grapes( washed and stems removed), and 1 cup sugar. Fill the jars with boiling water, leaving 1/2" headspace. Wipe jar tops with a clean damp cloth, apply clean lids and rings, and screw on fairly tightly.

The original instructions say not to bother mixing, as they will mix while processing. i found from my first batch that they didn't really mix, and there was a layer of undissolved sugar on the bottom of the jars. So with the rest of my batches, i screwed the lids on and then mix them up by turning the jars upside down a few times to make sure all the sugar dissolves before processing.

Process for 25 minutes, a bit more if your in a high elevation. That's it! Super quick and easy.

Here is an example of the finished product ( on the right) that's grape jelly on the left. The longer you let it sit, the stronger the concentrate becomes. You dilute it with water to serve, 1/2 to 1 jar water depending on taste. This same method can be done to make cherry juice, though i am not sure about other fruits.

i also made a batch of grape jelly, although i don't have a tutorial for it. i just used the directions that came with the fruit pectin. i didn't even squeeze the grapes by hand...i used my juicer. So it was very, very simple, boil the juice and add a crap load of sugar and pectin, boil again and fill jars. Easy peasy. :) i plan to make another batch today, after i start in on these pears.

It is going to be another busy week here as i work on canning and freezing apples, pears, peaches, tomatoes and grapes. i feel like a little squirrel gathering nuts for the winter. It's a pretty good feeling though, looking around at my packed deep freezer, and shelves of home canned goods and knowing where it all came from.

Once the cold weather moves in and the garden begins to die back i promise to get back to crafting. i have so many ideas floating around in my head, just need the time to do them. My focus for the Autumn is dolls, mainly waldorf style, felt and crocheted play foods and new bead work.
Anything else you'd like to see again?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Afternoon hike

Yesterday we took a small hike down to road to see if there were any remaining monarch caterpillars on the milkweed patch. i noticed earlier this week that the milkweed in that area is beginning to yellow and die back.

i was surprised to find a blooming butterfly weed. We saw a lot of this earlier in the summer, but most of it has already gone to seed this time of year. This is a little Pearl Crescent hanging out enjoying the sweet nectar.
Orange butterfly weed is a favorite for many butterflies. We have it growing in our butterfly garden, and it attracts a large variety of butterflies.

We also came upon this little Red spotted Newt, also called a red eft. The Eastern newts go through 3 stages. They begin as an aquatic larva, similar to a tadpole. Then during their juvenile stage, they leave the water and become a land-dweller. The eft may travel far across land, looking for a new place to live. After two or three years, the eft finds a suitable pond and transforms into the aquatic adult.
We find these guys quite often during our hikes. They are very easy to spot and very slow moving. The kids love to pick them up and carry them around.

We found this guy hanging out on some Black locust near the Milkweed. This unusual looking caterpillar is the larva of the Silver Spotted Skipper. It's interesting that such a large caterpillar would turn into such a small butterfly. These guys hide during the day in leaf tents they build by joining leaves together with silk. The feed mostly at night. They overwinter in their chrysalis and emerge in the spring.

We made it to the milkweed patch, and found only this one monarch caterpillar and a bunch of milkweed bugs. He was already in his final instar, so we went ahead and brought him home. Last night he hung upside down in a "J" and we expect him to form a chrysalis sometime this morning.
Two of our chrysalis turned transparent overnight. We can clearly see the monarch butterflies inside. So we expect them to be emerging this morning as well and we'll be able to release them this afternoon.

i love these afternoon hikes. There is always something new to explore, or a new bug or flower to identify. Nature makes such a fabulous classroom.

The problem with free range hens.

The majority of our chickens are Old English Game birds, they are a bit more 'wild' than most domesticated layers. They can fly, they like to roost in trees, they get 'broody' often and instinctively make fabulous mamas. If you have read anything about keeping chickens, you'll find these guys do not follow the rules.
All of our English game birds are free range. However, it is not entirely intentional, we fenced in a small area around the chicken coop and created a closed pen to keep them safe. The chickens however, quickly found ways to escape. They dug under the fence, squeezed through small wholes in the chicken wire and refused to be contained. So we fenced off a larger area for the goats and chickens to share. We hoped this would allow them some freedom to free range, but also keep them out of the garden, off the deck and help protect them from predators. The fence is five foot high, and they fly out of it effortlessly.
Folks have suggested we clip their wings, but their ability to fly is their best line of defense against predators. Several years ago we had a wandering dog attack. All of our wild birds were able to escape, but the domesticated birds who do not fly were all killed. So we don't clip wings.

One of the problems with free range chickens is that they lay their eggs were ever they feel like it. Some mornings are like an Easter egg hunt, looking in all the usual places trying to find all the eggs. We have found them in the goat shed, hidden among the sweet potato plants, in between rows off beans, and quite often in my flower beds.
Another problems with free range chickens is that quite often one will just disappear. Sometimes they are gone for good, and occasionally they reappear 21 days later with a special surprise.

This year we have had several hens disappear, only to reappear with a new brood of chicks. This is Honky, named by the kids because of the unusual 'honking' sound she makes. She hatched out 4 little peeps earlier this week.

i love little fluffy baby peeps. We seriously can not get enough of them. The kids follow them around all day, trying to pick them up and trying not to get flogged by the mama. It's really hard to get a picture of all four. They move so quick and try to stay hidden underneath mama hen.

Another picture attempt. Three have the 'chipmunk' markings we often see with these game birds, while one is a more traditional fluffy yellow.

Only a few days after Honky brought out her peeps to introduce them to the flock, we found Gilfie in the shed with two new peeps of her own. These little balls of fluff are less than 24 hours old. The hen is still setting on several eggs so we are expecting a few more. Typically the hen will set for 2-3 days after the first peeps hatch, and then she will abandon the nest regardless of whether the addition eggs have hatched or not.

The hens then brings the chicks out and teaches them to forage and scratch up bugs and seeds from the soil. At first they spend a lot of time in the garden, hiding among the raspberry canes for protection. They show the peeps how to scratch up cutworms, and other bugs. One of my favorite parts of having new peeps is that the hens will follow me around in the garden while i work. As i'm turning soil or applying compost i often find large beetle grubs. The mama hen will take them right out of my hand, and cluck for the peeps to come and eat it.

The problem with 'true' free range chickens is that they don't behave the way books tell you that chickens will behave. They don't want to sleep in the coop, they prefer the trees. They don't lay in the nesting boxes, they prefer hiding them among the flowerbeds. They poop everywhere, the new peeps are easily picked off by predators which is always devastating. :( Although they scratch up some garden pests they also leave the most destructive ones and cause a lot of damage to many of the vegetables in the garden. This year my chickens stripped all my kale and swiss chard.

Regardless of these problems, i absolutely love having free ranging chickens. i love watching the kids chase them across the yard. i love looking out the window and seeing a rooster on the deck railing crowing his morning song. i love the surprise of a missing hen returning with new peeps and having them follow me around the garden. i love knowing i have happy chickens, doing instinctively what chickens are supposed to be doing and not what the books tell you they do.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Releasing our first monarch.

The last of our monarch caterpillars is now quietly resting in it's chrysalis, like those before it. They will spend 7-10 days at this stage before emerging as a butterfly.

Many of our caterillars formed their chrysalis on lid of our container and other formed theirs on the leaves of the milkweed. i decided to move them all to a stick, so that i didn't have to worry about the ones on the lid when i needed to take it off, and as the milkweed dies back the chrysalises would no longer be supported by the leaves.

To move the chrysalises, i used tweezers, little bits of paper and a hot glue gun. i removed the ones on the lid first. Use the tweezer to grab right at the top of the 'stem' as you gently pull it away from the lid, you will see the silk that the caterpillar used to attach himself there. Pull very gently, and the silk will detach. Then place a dot of glue on the silk and attach a small piece of paper to the stem. i did this will all the chrysalis before attaching them to the stick. Technically, you could attach the chrysalis directly to the stick, but i find attaching it to the paper makes it much easier to work with. When all of the chrysalis are attached to bits of paper, i then put a dot of glue on the paper and stuck it to the stick using the tweezers. Those chrysalis that were on the milkweed, i cut the milk weed leaves a bit smaller and glued the leaf directly to the stick.

Our first Chrysalis was already beginning to darken when we moved her. The next morning, she was completely transparent so we knew it was only a matter of minutes before she emerged. If you look closely at the chrysalis you can see it beginning to loosen from around the butterfly right before the chrysalis splits.

My daughter and i spent the morning waiting to see it emerge. Then i stepped outside for just a minute to feed to goats and chickens and when i came back inside she had already emerged. :)

We waited until my boy was home from school to release her. Her wings were already dry so she immediately flew into the peach tree, and the kids didn't get to hold her this time. We've been watching her flutter around the yard, and hang our on our butterfly bush.
In just another day or two, more will begin to emerge. Several of the cats formed their chrysalis all on the same day, so it will be really fun to release them all together.

There is something very magical about watching the butterflies emerge and fly away for the first time. You can almost see the butterflies dancing and spinning in dizzy circles as the realize they have wings. We feel very blessed to be able to witness the amazing transformation of the caterpillars, the emerging of the butterflies and then watching them fly away on brand new wings. This is truly a favorite part of our summertime.

"Just living is not enough," said the butterfly, "one must have sunshine, freedom and a little flower." ~Hans Christian Anderson

Harvest time and food sharing.

This week i am feeling slightly food obsessed. It is harvest time, which means my counters and tables are constantly covered in homegrown organic goodness.
Last week, some neighbors from down the road stopped by with a bag of produce from their garden. They stop every year and drop off whatever excess they have to each of the houses along our road. They are country neighbors, meaning they live several miles down the road, not right next door.

Last year they brought us a huge bag of fresh spinach and a few turnips. So, i sent them home with a dozen eggs from our hens.
This year they dropped off a dozen ear of corn and these beautiful tomatoes and cucumbers. We didn't have any extra eggs in the fridge, or garden produce to offer (other than tomatoes and cucs), but offered them some of our peaches which were still green on the tree. When they inquired about our giant sunflowers, we offered them seeds once the flowers die back.

This past week i visited my friend with the milking doe and practiced milking her goats again. i'd really like to get proficient at it, so that i am completely comfortable milking independently. My friend needs someone who can come over and milk her goats if they are gone for a day or two. This time i not only milked the Alpine, who is a full size dairy goat, but i also tried milking the dwarf Nigerian and found her quite easy to milk. i can see how it would take a long time to milk such a small goat, but i didn't have any trouble with the actual milking...which is very reassuring. i brought my friend a box of peaches, a 5' tall peach tree start and a purple butterfly bush. She sent me home with a quart of goats milk and some Chevre cheese. Yum!! :)

We are just begining to dig potatoes, and Kenan dug over 30 lbs earlier this week. We still have several rows to dig. i've started in on my second box of peaches, working to freeze some and give more away. We still have many peaches left on the trees.

There are apple trees growing everywhere in the area, many wild, and many spread by wildlife. These apples were from a wild apple tree at the edge of a neighbor's yard. The neighbor wasn't planning to do anything with these and was just letting them go to waste on the tree. He told us to pick as much as we wanted. These are large, nice apples and make delicious apple sauce! Kenan came home with almost a bushel, and if i can get these preserved he'll be getting more. There is another wild apple tree just down the road with the best tasting apple i have ever had. We are all eagerly waiting for them to ripen.

So at the beginning of the post i mentioned the neighbors who had dropped off some produce? As soon as our peaches began ripening we took over a bag full and several dried sunflower heads. They blessed us with a huge bag of organic plums and offered us a couple of small plum trees. We in turn offered them a peach tree ( we have several starts growing under our trees). So later this week we'll be planting more fruit trees. These plums are small, about the size of golf balls, but very sweet!

Yesterday morning we got a surprise phone call from the same folks we had received the plums from, asking if we wanted pears. :) So this is my project for next week, once i get through the apples and peaches and plums. i have over 100lbs of organic pears to can, and can pick more if we need them. They have already picked and canned what they wanted. We took them a jar of blackberry jam, and will dig them some red raspberry canes once they are dormant in the fall. i also plan to take over some sweet potatoes once we begin to dig them as well.

This is one of my favorite things about country life, and small communities. People are still willing to help each other out, share food and stories. i am always amazed at how generous country folks are. Many of the folks around us live in unimaginable poverty, yet when they have anything they are so quick to share it. This sharing has become one of my favorite parts of the growing season. Food, is as good as money here. i also no longer feel as if i have to grow everything myself. We can focus on the things that we grow well, and barter for the things that we don't. This sense of 'taking care of each other' is so strong here in the country, that's just what neighbors do.

While the spirit of neighborliness was important on the frontier because neighbors were so few, it is even more important now because our neighbors are so many. ~Lady Bird Johnson

Thursday, August 19, 2010

peach season.

Peach season came a bit quicker than expected this year. We have had an extremely hot and dry summer, with very little rain. So the trees have been completely loaded with peaches, but they were small, green and hard and we have been waiting for them to plump up a bit and ripen. They've been very close, but not quite ripe enough to pick.

A couple of days ago we finally got rain, a really nice hard soaking rain! It rained for almost an entire day, and then continued to drizzle the next day. We have been needing rain for so long, we were so happy to finally see it! Unfortunately, it also knocked many of the peaches out of the trees. All those beautiful peaches at the very top of the trees were getting more sun exposure, and were riper than those within reach.

This is almost enough to make me cry. All these beautiful organic peaches all over the ground. We have white peaches, and once they hit the ground they immediately bruise, and sometimes split. With the ground wet from rain, they mold. Then the bees and the ants find their way inside and the peaches begin rotting almost immediately.

i have been able to salvage some off the ground but not many. As i was outside in the rain trying to gather these, i could hear them falling all around me.

So this week we have been picking peaches in the rain. Picking as many as we can to keep them from ending up on the ground. This is our small peach tree which just began really producing last year. It grew from a seed from our main tree and we transplanted it about 4-5 years ago. This one is the perfect size for my girl to climb, and she does so every chance she can get.

picking peaches!

The peaches on our main tree were a bit harder to pick, and required a bit of help from daddy!

We picked 30lbs the first day, and the trees barely looked touched. We will be spending the week, picking and preserving peaches.

Yesterday i worked on canning them, i also worked on pasta sauce earlier this week. :) Canning peaches is a pretty simple, but time consuming process. i used the directions from the PickYourOwn website. This site is a valuable resource for canning and preserving fruits. i did the hot pack method, where you cook the peaches for 5 min. in boiling syrup before packing them in the jars. Last year i did the cold pack method, and i'm not sure which i prefer. The cold pack is quicker, but the hot pack is supposed to be safer.

While searching for peach recipes i came across one for peach honey, which is made with all the peach peelings that you remove when canning. i love this idea of 'no waste' even though the peeling will end up in the compost and are not really wasted.

i used the leftover syrup (from the hot pack method) which had turned pink and was full of peach bits to make peach sorbet.

We are planning to use some of those bruised peaches to make a batch of peach wine, if we can find wine yeast locally. i don't think the peaches will last if i have to order it online and have it shipped. They also make great treats for the goats and chickens, after the pits have been removed and the rest will end up in the compost. So although it really sucks to see so many peaches hit the ground, none of it is really truly wasted.

This week while i was busy canning, my girl took some of my extra canning jars and decided to can her own food. We now have jars and jars of playfood in very interesting combinations. :) i hope this picture makes you smile as much as it does me.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Monarch Update.

So, i just wanted to give a quick update on our caterpillars. Last week we found monarch caterpillars, and brought them home to raise. It is really easy and rewarding to raise monarch caterpillars. i posted about it here. The kids have been watching the caterpillars daily, amazed on how rapidly they are growing. My boy was the first to notice that our largest caterpillar formed a "J" on Friday night.

About 12-24 hours after the caterpillar goes into the "J" position, the caterpillar straightens out and the antennae become limp, it will then shed it's skin a final time.

It begins to puff up, and his skin begins to split.

Then he starts to wiggle and dance to remove the old skin.

The skin shrivels until it falls off, underneath the caterpillars new skin is soft and pale green.

Now he begins to constrict until it takes on the familiar chrysalis shape.

Now he rests and his skin will begin to harden. The yellow stripes will fade, and the chrysalis will become smooth.

After it hardens, gold dots and a beautiful golden “crown” appear on it. The word "chrysalis" means 'object of gold.' This is actually how the Monarch got their name. American colonists noticed this adornment, which looked like the crown of a king.

Although we raise monarchs every years, it is never any less exciting to see them transform. The kids are now asking every day when will our chrysalis emerge. You can visit these sites for more information on how to raise monarch caterpillars. Monarch Watch and Save The Monarch have lots of great info about raising Monarchs. Butterfly School has info about raising many other types of caterpillars.
In about 10-14 days you can expect to see a post on our butterflies emerging!!

"How does one become a butterfly?" she asked pensively.
"You must want to fly so much that you are willing to give up being a caterpillar."
Trina Paulus

Weekend Adventures; Fairy Stone State Park.

This past weekend, we took the kids swimming at Fairy Stone State Park.
Fairy Stone is the largest of the original six state parks that opened in 1936, and is home to the mysterious "fairy stones." Fairy stones are prevalent in the region, which also features beautiful scenery, rich history and ample recreational opportunities. The rare staurolite stones are found elsewhere but not in such abundance as at Fairy Stone State Park.prevalent in the region, which also features beautiful scenery, rich history and ample.

We visit at least once a year, but have never found a Fairy Stone. We have never really looked though. We usually come to swim, and occasionally hike a trail or two. The Stones are found at the southeastern end of the park in a designated Fairy Stone hunt site.

The kids love Fairy stone for the swimming area. i'll admit, i'm not a fan of public swimming pools or beaches. However, Fairy Stone beach is really fun for the kids. It has large floating lily pads, a turtle, beaver and snakes for the kids to climb and play on. There is a small water slide, and a tree shaped water fountain. The water in the childrens area is very shallow, and there is always a life guard on duty. There is also a regular swimming area for everyone else.

After swimming we took a paddle boat ride around the lake.

There are several log cabins on the water that you can rent.

view of the Amphitheater from the water.

The lake was quite peaceful, and we enjoyed exploring. The kids took turns helping dad paddle, and i got to sit back and enjoy the ride. :). After the paddle boat, Kenan took the kids back into the water to swim.

i wandered about taking pictures.

i'm not sure what type of Dragonflies these are, but they were flying all over by the water. There were at least two or three of each kind. i spent quite a while sitting on a little bench watching them.
i was a bit disappointed that we didn't get a chance to hike while we were there. It really was too hot for it though. i'm looking forward to exporing some new parks and trails this fall, when the leaves are changing and it not quite so hot. Perhaps we'll come back just to hike, and look for Fairy Stones.

May the charms of the Fairy Stone make you blessed

Through the days of labor and nights of rest

Where ever you stay, where ever you go.

May the beautiful Flowers of the good Fairies grow.