Thursday, July 31, 2014

Concord grape jelly

It's time for canning!
We have been trying to preserve as much as we can as the season is flying by. 
We made some pesto, canned tomatoes, froze some eggplants and for the second year I have been making grape jelly with our Concord grapes. It is pretty simple but it takes a little time and we have so many grapes. I followed this recipe. I had 20 cups of grape juice, I had to cook them in 2 separate pots...
The first batch ended up to be a little too liquidy. The second batch was just perfect !
I just recommend to try it first with a small batch of  grapes to see how it goes, have the experience, test the amount of sugar and pectin.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

water-bath canning recipe: dilly beans

hello, friends! while we're away soaking up the sunshine at the beach, i wanted to share my dilly beans recipe.

this dilly bean recipe is a staple recipe in our home during the summer months. 

- natalie

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

yet another bee post

Last week I decided to finally tackle a project I'd been putting off for several honey harvests: rendering harvested honeycomb.  My honey harvesting is very low-tech- two half-gallon mason jars, one filled with smashed honeycomb, the other empty, with a screen between the two to filter the honey through.  It's pretty effective, and it allows me to harvest usable beeswax, as well.  Or it would be usable if it was cleaned and rendered.  Virgin honeycomb, the white comb filled with honey, is easy to deal with.  Melt it and you're done.  But brood comb, which is often filled with honey after the brood has moved on, well, it's a mess.  Full of pollen, the cocoons that the larvae formed at the time their cell was capped and they developed into bees- it's much darker stuff.  I had tons of both sorts of comb that were in the freezer, stored in zipper bags in the basement, and still in the jars I'd used to harvest the honey.  Finally, I decided, I could deal with it.  There are several ways to clean and render beeswax- mine is only one way.
Here you see my setup: an impromptu double boiler and a big wad of honeycomb, both virgin and brood, shoved inside a pantyhose leg.  Yes, very technical.  I shoved as much broken comb as I could into the toe of a hose section, tied it off, then cut it and jammed it into the too-small saucepan.  I set the saucepan inside a pot of simmering water and waited for it to all melt.  the clean beeswax (and a little honey that was left inside from my most recent harvest) melts out and the junk stays inside the hose.  As it melts, I poured off the liquid into small plastic take-out tubs you see here.  I tried to pour each tub about half to two-thirds full, then move to the next tub.

Here is one tub after the wax has hardened.  There's a thick disc of wax at the top of the container, and a dark layer of honey at the bottom.  After the wax has hardened, I rinsed off the honey that clung to the wax and put it into a bag.  The honey that was at the bottom was poured off into a half-pint mason jar.  I reclaimed an extra half-pint plus of honey from the rendering, which I'll probably use in cooking.  It was thinner than my first harvest of honey, and since it was heated, it's no longer raw.  I wound up with about 8 pucks of wax, which I'll melt again and pour through several layers of cheesecloth to further remove any impurities and let them harden back in these containers so that I can use them for candle wax.  I set the sticky containers outside for the bees to clean up, which they did quickly, and I dropped the hardened hose and junk-wax packets into the compost.

If you render wax yourself, keep in mind that beeswax is so so flammable and needs to be tended carefully.  It also gets everywhere.  I should not have used my vintage dansk pot as my double boiler- wax got inside the pot and it took a lot of doing to clean it all out!!

In other news, today I checked both my beehives and was delighted to see this in both hives!
I'm not sure how well you can see it, but if you look very carefully you'll see white curlicue shapes in some of the cells.  In others, especially near the top left, you'll see a small white dot - the dots are the eggs, the curlicues are developing larvae.  BOTH of my hives have laying queens, lots of eggs, and capped brood!  The flat caps are worker brood, and the puffed-out cells are drone cells.   After my last post, my mentor told me that he thought my langstroth hive had swarmed and rehomed itself into the newly-cleaned out top bar hive.  This means that the old langstroth queen laid an egg in a queen cell, and when it was nearly ready to hatch, she took half of the hive with her to find a new home.  When the new queen emerged in the langstroth hive, she made herself at home, made a mating flight, and got busy laying eggs.  While I saw neither queen in my inspections, this isn't unusual.  The queens are shy and frequently covered up or laying eggs, making it difficult to see her large abdomen.  As long as there are plenty of eggs and brood, the hive is in good shape.  I can't tell you how relieved I was to see this! My bees are back on track!

Monday, July 28, 2014

insect repellant

from time to time,  i enjoy playing around with essential oils and concocting natural insect repellants.  i always believe that prevention is a much better route than treatment.  i have a strict no-kill rule in my garden, so keeping pests at bay is an important part of my gardening.  if i can make pests feel unwelcome and encourage them to move along, i've been successful.  easier said than done though, right?

there are so many tutorials our there for making your own citronella candles.  sometimes i think the scent of citronella alone is just as bothersome to me as it is to bugs.  so i like using a blend of additional oils to make it more pleasant for humans, yet still repelling to bugs.  i always keep a journal of the oils i blend, so i can recreate ones that i enjoy and not recreate ones i dislike.

i first start with a list of oils that are offensive to various insects we have in our area.  mosquitos, fruit flies and hornets tend to be our main buggers.  i'll chose three-five oils from the list and start blending away.  once i have a blend i'm happy with, i then add the concoction to simple soy wax candles, body sprays and room sprays.

i keep candles burning around walkways, tables, windows and doors.  i also keep potted and vases of fresh cut herbs near doors and windows.  it certainly helps to keep our pest population down.

here's my latest concoction that works well.  feel free to play around with different oils and proportions.  have fun and enjoy!

Insect Repellent

Citronella: 10 drops
Sage: 5 drops
Rosemary: 5 drops
Peppermint: 5 drops
Clove: 5 drops
Lavender: 5 drops

mix oils and store in a light-proff bottle.  dilute in a carrier oil or in distilled water before applying to skin.  alternatively, diffuse in a diffuser or use in candles to repel bugs.

Friday, July 25, 2014

A simple and refreshing snack

IMG_4697 IMG_4602

I wanted to share with you a quick, easy and refreshing snack or hors d'oeuvres made with two of my favorite summer flavors. It's always a hit and perfect for summer parties and it's beautiful too. The recipe is simple but looks impressive.

Stack a cube of feta cheese on top of a cube of watermelon and top with a basil leaf. Hold together with a toothpick. Drizzle with a little olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt and cracked black pepper.

This combination is also delicious just tossed together in a salad with cucumber too!


Thursday, July 24, 2014


It's the first time we have grown leeks and it has been a success.
We have a lot of them. It's not a problem because I love them. I will slice the ones we have extra and freeze them to use later. 

 Growing up my mother would cook leeks often, in soups, simply boiled, in "pot au feu" or also in a "tarte" 
This week I will share with you a "tarte aux poireaux" ( leek pie )  

Recipe : Tarte aux poireaux ( leek pie )

For the dough ( pate brisee ) : 

- 2/3 of a cup butter ( room temperature )
- 2 1/2 cups  flour
- 1/2 teaspoon of salt
- 1/3 cup of water ( room temperature )

For the filling :

- a couple of leeks
- 3 medium potatoes
- 5 eggs
- 1 cup of milk
- salt and pepper ( other spices if you want  ) 
- 8 oz. sharp cheddar cheese

In a large bowl add the flour then the butter (cut in small pieces and at room temperature- soft). 
Add the salt and mix well until all the butter is mixed with the flour, it will be still pretty dry. This is when you add a little water ( slowly until you get the consistency you want ) and mix it until you can form a ball. 
Cover and let it sit at room temperature for 1/2 hour. 

Pre-heat your oven at 350 degrees.
Roll out the dough. Fit it into a standard pie pan and make holes in the dough with a fork.
Place the dough in the oven for 5 minutes.  

Peel and slice the potatoes then boil them for 10 min.
Sauté the leeks with olive oil.
In a bowl mix the eggs, add the milk salt, pepper ( other spices ) 

Add one layer of potatoes, one layer of leeks one layer of potatoes and one of leeks.
Add the egg and milk mixture.
Slice the cheese and add it on the top of the "tarte"

Cook the pie in the oven for about 40 minutes until the top is a little browned.

With the extra dough I had I made a little heart shape one...

Enjoy !

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

putting up tomatoes: crockpot tomato base & canned tomato jam

on any given day this week, if you were to walk into my kitchen, you would find tomatoes.

lots of tomatoes.

tomatoes chopped & tomatoes simmering in pots. tomatoes in crockpots & tomatoes roasting in the oven. tomatoes in the freezer & tomatoes put up for the winter.

it's the season of tomatoes & we are oh so thankful for the bounty!

today i want to share with you two new ways i preserve & put up tomatoes for the winter:

1. crockpot tomato base - a simple way to preserve your tomatoes when you're running short on time is to chop them up, skin & all, & place them in the crockpot. i add frozen or fresh basil for flavor. i put the crockpot on high & allow the tomatoes to simmer for around 12 hours. halfway through the cooking process, i remove the lid to allow the liquid to evaporate. once it's formed into a thick tomato base, i add two cups of tomato base to labeled ziplock bags & place them in the freezer. during the winter months, we add tomatoes to soups, chills, crockpot meals & more. this is the perfect base for adding to almost any meal. 

2. tomato jam - tomato jam is a lengthy process, but your home is sure to smell amazing! to make tomato jam, i followed this recipe. for extra flavor, as recommended by a friend, i added a hint of smoked paprika. it is delicious paired with bread & cream cheese!

happy tomato season!

- natalie

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

harvesting potatoes from the garden & our favorite varieties

in our neck of the woods, it's potato harvesting time! 

we missed our window of opportunity for planting sweet potatoes (tis the farm life sometimes) so we're savoring our apples of the earth. 

early one evening, during the golden hour, we harvested our potatoes from the garden. we dug into the soil with our digging forks, sticking our fingers deep into the soil, & pulled out the most beautiful red & purple potatoes.

little chip & sweet ginger were happy to snack on the potato tops. nothing goes to waste around here!

we planted purple potatoes, red potatoes & russet potatoes. the russet variety was by far the most productive, but we were thrilled with the variety in color. 

sometimes color wins over productivity on the farm. gardening should be an experience that charms all of the senses, yes?

my handsome farmer grows some beautiful potatoes!

we harvested a big basket full of potatoes from our one row. we have been sharing them with farm customers & our neighbors. they're so delicious! 

luke has been thinly slicing them into chip-like size & roasting them in the oven with a bit of s&p, fresh garlic from the garden & olive oil.

during our garden harvest, we even found a little friend.

have you ever grown potatoes in your garden? what's your favorite variety?

- natalie

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

wonders never cease

I have avoided my beehives this summer, except to feed the one that I knew was in trouble, and try to save comb for the top bar after I let the neighborhood bees rob it out.  I'd pretty much resigned myself to buying two new packages next spring and just letting the hundred bees remaining in the top bar hive do their thing until they died of old age (roughly 4-6 weeks, this time of year).  I was sad, and although I'm not much of an avoider, I avoided dealing with it.

A few weeks ago I noticed that the remaining bees seemed to be huddled in a clump, so I checked to see if there were eggs, but saw nothing.  They worked on rebuilding their combs for a bit, so I stopped checking.  That is, until this morning.  There seemed to be quite a lot of activity around the top bar hive, and at first I thought that there were just robber bees coming and going.  Except there's no honey to rob.  So I suited up and checked out the hive.
The first thing I noticed was this cluster of bees at the entrance.  Odd.  In weeks prior, I'd see maybe one or two,  This is closer to 30-40.  When you only have 100 bees in the colony, well, they're not hanging out like this.  Upon opening:
 This fat comb is covered with bees.  There hadn't been this many bees in the entire hive two weeks ago.  I saw that the blank top bars I'd put in between the fully drawn combs were full of bees, too.  That bright white you see below is brand new comb.
I ran inside and filled their feeder, brought it out, and am keeping my fingers crossed that whatever goodness is happening will keep up, and that maybe there's a new queen in the hive. 

Since I was in gear and had my smoker going (though there's no need for a smoker when there's no brood- or honey, for that matter- I lit it anyway because there were so many bees), I decided to check my other (langstroth) hive.  The queen in the new hive was never very active.  I didn't see any eggs or larvae, but I saw a lot of drones, a smattering of capped brood (both worker brood, which is flat, and drone brood, which protrudes like a pencil eraser), an on the bottom of one comb, a recently-vacated queen cup:
It's quite difficult to get a phone camera to focus through a mesh veil, but the perfect circle in the center of the photo is the empty queen cell.  I'm hopeful that she's made her mating flight and will begin to repopulate this hive. Keeping both hives fed and checking for brood each week will go back on my task list.  I'm so grateful that I salvaged what I could from my dying hive (especially in terms of comb, but I also harvested almost a gallon of honey) and I hope that what seemed like clearing the dead hive help rejuvenate it.    I'm waiting with baited breath.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Gardening With My Children

With two young children (and hopefully more someday!), it's been fun to find ways to incorporate them into my current gardening style.  As much as I desire a tidy, charming cottage garden packed full of perennials, or an acre or 2 of land in the country full of edibles, I'm learning to make do with what I have.  I really appreciate what my husband and I are able to provide for our boys, in terms of an outdoor environment where they can grow and explore.  Today, I want to share a few ways I incorporate my children into my gardening.

  • Before we had children, we knew a fence would be essential.  It has been one of the best additions to our home.  I can't express enough the ease I feel knowing they are safely contained within the fence.

  • I've resisted the urge to rip out all the grass and make every open space a planter bed.  Although we don't do any upkeep on our grass (aside from mowing) and it's horribly unattractive, it's great to have room for my boys to run, play tag, chase butterflies, and play baseball.

  • I've also resisted the urge to plant every available planter bed with perennials or vegetables.  I leave a designated planter bed that is used exclusively for digging, making mud pies and getting dirty.
  • I make a special effort to grow foods they love to eat.  Blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, carrots, broccoli and cauliflower are their favorites.  I find immense joy watching them dig up a fresh carrot to snack on during the day.

  • I include them (only if they are interested) in the planting of seeds and harvesting of crops.  They love watching their seeds grow, and it offers such valuable learning opportunities.
  • After giving a safety lesson on firm footing, they have freedom to climb as high as they are comfortable in our big trees.
  • Aesthetically, I cringe at the sight of plastic toys.  We stick to outdoor toys made of metal and wood.

  • They know which plants and trees are expensive, fragile and ones they should be careful around.  They usually respect this and leave them alone.
  • They're allowed to pick any flowers that are in bloom.  They know to leave the stems long enough so they can be displayed in a vase.
  • My boys LOVE picking flowers for me to wear in my hair.  Even if it's a weed, I try to always let them see me wearing what they have picked for me.  I want them to know I appreciate the little things they do for me.
  • Fire is of course fascinating to them.  We have fires often and are sure to talk about fire safety.

  • They love practicing their hammering skills with blocks, hammers and nails.  I can't tell you how many hours they have spent hammering!

  • Two hammocks hang from our maple tree where they can swing, relax and daydream.

And finally, we let them be busy, rambunctious boys.  When branches get broken or expensive perennials get dug up or trampled on, we try to just let it be and not make a fuss over it.