Garden Update: Mid-September

Beans!

The garden is certainly on the decline, but we’re still picking a substantial amount of stuff.  When all was said and done, we ended up with over 20 pints of green beans canned this year, along with all the rest of them we ate fresh.  There are still some beans on the plants, but most of the pods are empty, so we’ve largely given up on them.

Tomatoes and soup beans

The tomatoes and the soup beans, on the other hand, are ridiculous.  The tomatoes have certainly slowed, but Brooke has been keeping up with canning sauce, freezing batches until enough are ready.  Brooke has canned 32 pints of tomato sauce so far.  This time, she hasn’t canned any whole tomatoes like she’s done before.

Bounty!

We also have 5 quarts of soup beans.  As in, a full ice cream bucket full of them.  And there are plenty more on the vine.  This may be our largest haul of those beans yet!

We’ve had some banana peppers here and there.  Our pepper haul this year was lower than before, mostly because the volunteer tomatoes encroached and limited their growth.  We haven’t eaten many of them yet, but Brooke’s frozen slices of them for later use.

Pumpkin…sadly, not gonna make it…

Here’s that really good pumpkin, completely with a grasshopper to add some scale to the picture.  We were hopeful this one would make it, but some bugs drilled a hole in the side.  It isn’t rotten yet, but we can’t say we’ve got much hope for its survival.  There are a few other little baby pumpkins growing that are still yellow, but they surely won’t make it.

We think this is a watermelon…it kinda looks like it…

We actually had more luck with watermelons this year.  This is the biggest one, yet it’s strangely misshapen.  There’s another, rounder one, but this late in the season, we aren’t hopeful much will come of them.  Still, it’s the most success we’ve had with watermelons!  They just took a lot longer to get moving than we expected.

Popcorn!

The popcorn also took awhile to get going.  There are fewer stalks this year, but what we’ve gotten so far is promising.  Obviously, the weeds are taking over…

A closer look…

The corn ears are pretty skinny still, but I seem to remember them looking like that last year.  We aren’t expecting to get a lot of popcorn, but last year’s crop worked out better than we expected, so perhaps we’ll be surprised again!

Raspberries, blackberries and future sweet potatoes.

The raspberries came back with a vengeance!  I figured they were done a long time ago, but the last two weeks, we’ve been getting handfuls of them.  We haven’t really done anything particularly interesting with them, but Meg and Calvin each had 10-15 last Saturday afternoon while they were playing outside and, frankly, that’s a good enough reason to grow them.

The sweet potatoes are still growing and we haven’t done anything with them yet.  We assume there are potatoes down there.  I guess we’ll find out eventually, when we get around to digging them up!

That peach tree is still growing great! The rest…well…

The fruit trees are still there, with the peach tree leading the growth chart.  The rest of the trees got hit hard by Japanese Beetles and, while they’re still growing alright, they’ve got a long road to full recovery.  Their trunks have fattened up substantially, so I hope the root system has followed suit, even though the leaves haven’t.  We’ll add some fertilizer and mulch to them in the next few weeks and hope that helps them out over the winter months.

That’s about it!  Probably the last post on this for the year, but who knows…maybe those tomatoes will keep going through November…

New Friends for the Kids

Meg did a lot of research…

A few months ago, Meg asked to get some fish again.  We had some back in St. Louis and moved them here, though at the time, Calvin couldn’t open doors and we could keep Sam away from the fish bowl.  This time, however, Calvin’s older and isn’t know for following directions, so if we were going to get a fish tank again, we’d have to be a bit more careful about where it goes and whether it had a lid or not.

Brooke found a starter kit here in town that came with a 10 gallon tank, some peripheral fakery for the inside of the tank, and a nice lid that should keep small paws and hands out of the tank.  However, we had to get the fish from Sedalia, as our options were non-existent here in town.  Meg decided she wanted to go with tropical fish, which meant we needed to get a small heater for the tank.  We also got a filter system, but it didn’t actually come with tubing, so that had to come from Sedalia, too.

Calvin likes his new friends!

Anyway, we ended up with over 10 small fish of varying types and 2 snails for the tank.  So far, the fish have survived, and the kids feed them twice a day.  We’re hopeful that the filter system and snails will limit the amount of cleaning we need to do, as this system is quite a bit more sophisticated than the small bowl we had for years awhile back.  The filters can be picked up here in town and are supposed to be switched out around once a month, and the water should be exchanged at about 1/3 volume at the same time as the filter (or so we read).  The tank is in the kid’s bedroom, which is close to a bathroom but not really close to the kitchen at all, so if it really is just a water exchange every once and awhile, along with the filter, we should probably be alright.

The kids seem enamored with it so far!  All the fish have names, of course.  🙂

Eclipse Day 2017

The best I could get…

So, we knew last Spring about The Great American Eclipse, which was scheduled to begin here in Marshall on August 21st at 1:10 pm.  There had been a lot of build-up around here, with various folks hitting the media circuit to warn locals of the potential for thousands of extra folks to arrive along the line of the path of totality (where the sun would be blocked out for nearly 3 minutes with a neat “halo” effect around the rim).

Despite the preparation, there wasn’t much we could do about the weather.  In the days leading up to August 21st, the forecast vacillated from “sunny and clear” to “thunderstorms” to “cloudy.”  We proceeded as if we’d get to see it though, so Meg went to school and Brooke kept Calvin home, as the lab school wasn’t going to let a bunch of pre-schoolers outside to stare at the sun.

It was my first day of class, so while I went through syllabi as normal, I abbreviated my 1:00 class to make sure we’d get to stay outside and watch the eclipse.

The setup.

While we were on vacation in Wisconsin, I ordered a special lens filter so I’d be able to get pictures of the sun.  It’s the same material that we had in the eclipse glasses we had, but obviously big enough to cover my 52 mm lens.  While our camera is aging rapidly (Nikon D60) and we only had a 200 mm zoom lens for it, I had hoped I’d be able to get something from it.

“Totality”…

Sadly, at the time of totality, this was the best I could get.  Literally, five more minutes is all we needed for the clouds to part and we would have seen it.  Columbia, MO got to see all of it as the clouds pulled out a few minutes before totality was set to begin.  Heck, even a few minutes out of town, people could see it just fine.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be.

In the next few minutes after totality ended, I was able to get use the filter to get all the shots depicted in the composite at the top of the post.  I was able to get some pretty good pictures out of that old camera!  Just not as many as I wanted…

Brooke got a neat effect with her kitchenware!

While I was on campus, Brooke stayed home with Calvin, as she didn’t want to brave traffic down to Sedalia (even though she would have gotten to see totality down there, apparently…).  She tried a pinhole experiment using a strainer from the kitchen and actually got a pretty neat effect!

Calvin got to look at the sun!

Calvin was at least initially interested in watching the eclipse, though at the time of totality, he was paying more attention to worms on the ground than what was happening in the sky.

Meg had a series of activities out at her elementary school, so she got a good learning experience out of it.  They stayed outside through totality and for a few minutes afterward.  They came out a few more times after the clouds parted so the kids could put on their glasses again.

Ultimately, we didn’t really notice thousands more people around town, though it did feel a bit more crowded.  The skies got darker, the street lights came on a Monday afternoon, and a lot of students from far away got to experience something cool.

Thankfully, there’s another eclipse coming through Missouri on April 8, 2024.  We’ll have to head to the Eastern part of the state to see it, and I’ll have to cancel class that Monday, but I hear it’s worth it!

Madeline Island 2017: Part II

This post follows a previous one that sets up the first part of the journey!

Beach time!

The next day (Tuesday), was beach day on Lake Superior.  Big Bay State Park on Madeline Island has a relatively lengthy beach to enjoy, with an expansive shallow(ish) area for kids to wade out in.  Meg was tall enough to touch for a solid distance out (30 yards?), but Calvin wasn’t quite big enough.  We had both kids’ life jackets along just in case, but Meg probably would have been fine without it.  Still, it was fun for her to float out on Lake Superior, especially when a big boat would come by to push her back toward shore.

We spent a good 5 hours or so at the beach that day, and it ended up being the nicest day for weather during the whole week.  The water was really cold, but when you’re 3 and 7, that doesn’t much matter.

One of the best pictures I’ve ever taken…

The first night’s sleep went surprisingly well.  It didn’t get all that cold that night (mid-50s, maybe?) and we were all pretty tired, so we all got a lot of rest.  We went to bed earlier than intended because of the vast number of mosquitoes swarming around.  Brooke didn’t really feel like staying up and battling them and, while I stayed up reading for a little bit, I had to turn in earlier than I intended as well.

The next morning, after breakfast, we prepped for a hike near the lake on the the boardwalk.  This is the same hike Brooke and I did 10 years ago but, due to the short legs in tow this time, we went a bit slower.  Calvin still fits in the Ergo, so we had him in there for awhile, but he wanted to get down for the last half of the trip out.  Overall, the hike is very flat and clean due to said boardwalk, but you get to see some of the local flora and fauna.

During this time, rain was heading into our general area, so we didn’t stay out there much past lunchtime.  We headed back to our campsite as clouds continue to get dark, just after noon.

Rained a bit…

That afternoon was on-and-off rain.  It got heavier at points but, at least then, the tent was doing a great job keeping the water out of the clothes, sleeping bags, etc.  We had some card games in case something like this happened and, for a time, the kids were pretty well entertained.  We enticed them with an ice cream trip to town for later in the afternoon, though that trip was really playing “double duty” for our ulterior motives…

Ice cream? Yes, please!

Our internet connection was virtually non-existent at the campsite, nor did we have any phone service, so text messages, phone calls, etc. couldn’t get to us.  Going into down, we were able to check and see whether we were going to get to go on the cave tours we had scheduled for Thursday morning.  As we couldn’t really check the weather forecast either at the campsite, we also were checking such things while we entertained the kids with ice cream.

At the time, we (and the tour company) were hopeful that things would clear up for Thursday morning, so we proceeded expecting that we’d still get to go.  We had a deposit down on the trip and hadn’t paid the rest of the bill yet, so the spots were reserved.  After the ice cream, we went back to our campsite for awhile.

Brooke’s extra special stew sounded really good in the rainy weather…

Around this time, the rain let up enough to get dinner done.  We still had the kids play in the tent while Brooke did the heavy lifting, as the site was quite muddy now and we didn’t want Calvin rolling around everywhere.

I should note that Calvin was actually really good about taking showers on this trip.  Up until now, he’d taken a few showers at our house, but any evening I wanted to go (which was every evening…), he wanted to go with me, so he and I stayed pretty clean, all things considered.

Meg and Brooke, on the other hand…

Set up a “living room,” of sorts!

We set up a “living room” in part of the tent after the rain started to pick up.  I’d also noticed that a puddle had formed near the side of the tent where the kids were sleeping, so we moved our air mattress over to the other side, so the kids could sleep on the “living room” side, just in case water started to seep in.

Ultimately, we made the right call, but for the wrong reason.  That night, it felt like the skies opened and Niagara Falls fell from the sky.  We later found out it was only, like, less than an inch that was recorded, but it sure felt like more than that on our tent (perhaps it was more on the island that was recorded in nearby Bayfield?).

Still, as it had been raining nearly all afternoon and into the evening, water began to seep in from the roof of the tent over Brooke and I (so it would have hit the kids, but we had changed places!).  It was coming in along a length of the tent, but not specifically along a seam.  My only guess is that so much rain fell, it just pooled and seeped in through the tent.

Brooke and I moved down to where the kids were, but as they were sleeping sideways relative to the rest of the tent, we were kinda “scrunched up” while the kids were stretched out.  Needless to say, without the air mattress and while in the fetal position, we didn’t sleep all that well.  It only rained until 1:00 am or so, but it was enough to make our lives difficult.

The next morning, we went to town, but it was still raining, and more was coming in.  We’d already decided that if the tour was canceled, we were just going to head on back toward home, as rain was scheduled to continue and it wasn’t going to dry out before Thursday night (you know, when we’d like to sleep on said air mattress again).

Sadly, the tour was indeed canceled.  It was canceled before we even got there, but as we didn’t have phone service, we didn’t know that until we got to town.  Still, the company refunded our money in full, so while it was disappointing we didn’t get to go, we at least got our money back.

After returning to the campsite, we left the kids in the car while Brooke and I packed up.  It took us a few hours (in the rain…) to pack as much as we could and shove the wet tent into the car-top carrier.  We were going to stay in Cedar Rapids that night and Brooke had called ahead to make sure we could just move our reservation date up a night and they said the could do it.

We made the trek to Cedar Rapids, leaving Bayfield a little after noon (after crossing on the ferry, which was more full than usual due to trucks and campers), and finally got to Cedar Rapids at 10:00 pm that night.  It shouldn’t have taken 10 hours to make that drive, but spotty rain showers and the lack of highways slowed down our progress.

Regardless, it was nice to sleep in a great bed again and take a shower…

Our old stomping ground in Iowa!

The next morning, we got up and swam in the indoor pool for a bit after breakfast before loading up the car again and heading into Swisher, IA to see the old house (it’s still there!) and visit Kava House for some coffee.  Sadly, Jazzy Chestnut wasn’t “on tap” that morning, but we brought 2 lbs back for Mom and Dad while we were there.

A little after 1:00 or so that day, we made it back to Marshall!  Though we had to cut the trip short, it ended up being nice to pick up Edie from the “doggie hotel” a bit early, we got to dry out the tent (and everything else…) really well, and we had a full Saturday and Sunday to acclimate to “the real world” before work on Monday.

We had a good time!  We’ll have to make another trip up north someday to get those cave tours done.  But next year…we have other plans…

Madeline Island 2017: Part I

The ferry to Madeline Island!

A little over a decade ago, Brooke and I went up to a wedding in Minnesota and stopped off in Wisconsin for a brief camping trip on Madeline Island, one of the Apostle Islands on Lake Superior. We went to Branson earlier this Summer with the Linsenbardt side of the family (that I still haven’t posted about yet, so I need to do that…) and then had two months of school for Brooke and me, so we decided it would be nice to return to Madeline Island, this time with two youngsters in tow.

Hangin’ out in Duluth on the way up North.

Rather than making the nearly 12 hour drive in a single trip, this time we Airbnb-ed a place in Duluth, MN, about 2.5 hours from our ultimate destination.  We made a similar decision last year on our way to Colorado, and it was still a good call.

The house we stayed in was a two-story, where another couple were staying upstairs and we were staying downstairs (with direct access from the outside).  The kids slept on a futon while Brooke and I got a king-size bed.  Worked out pretty well!  We were pretty tired after hours on the road, but after briefly taking some stuff inside, we went to a local restaurant for dinner, after which, we tried getting some local beer.

FYI: Minnesota is still backwards and doesn’t sell beer (or any alcohol) after 6:00 pm on Sundays.  Apparently, they just started selling any alcohol on July 1, 2017.  Seriously, people.  What are you doing.

We’re on a boat!

After a pretty restful sleep, we hopped back on the road heading toward Bayfield, WI, where the ferry crosses over to Madeline Island.  We grabbed some groceries (bread, chips…) and local beer (because Wisconsin isn’t as backward as Minnesota…) at the store and then waited a few minutes for the ferry to take us across.  Meg and Calvin, of course, very much liked getting out of the car and walking around on a boat, so despite the necessity of going on this particular ferry, it served as something of an “event” for the kids to enjoy.

The drive from the docks to the campground is around 6 miles, so it didn’t take all that long to get over there.  Like the last time Brooke and I went, we reserved a “backwoods”-style campsite that was pretty private, but close enough that the shower houses were a brief jaunt away.  The state park was pretty crowded with quite a few pull-behind trailers, as well as tents, so separating ourselves from all the rest of the noisy families was probably a good call.

The pretty significant downside, however, was the mosquitoes.  In that backwoods camp, the mosquitoes were pretty intolerable.  And resistant to Repel Lemon Eucalyptus.  And ignorant of citronella candles.  Seriously, they were bad.

A home away from home.

New for this trip, Brooke picked up a screened-in shelter from Aldi for $40 (woo!), and while that helped the bug issue, it still wasn’t perfect.  Some non-biting insects were always flying around at the top of it, but at least they left us alone for eating.  However, she’d always want to leave the doors slightly ajar when cooking for logistical reasons, so more bugs would get in.  We’re glad we have the shelter, and it definitely helped, but it wasn’t perfect.

Gotta eat something, right?

The weather early on was quite pleasant, with highs in the low 80s and lows in the upper 50s.  That first night went pretty well and the kids were just fine going to sleep around 9:00, when it was dark enough.  Brooke and I were going to stay up with a fire, but the mosquitoes also didn’t really care about smoke from a campfire, so unless we wanted to put on pants, long-sleeves, and Brooke’s bee gear, we were out of luck.

The next morning, Brooke made some pancakes on our new propane grill, which was also a big plus for this trip.  I tried cooking steaks on the open fire the previous night and, while they were edible, I couldn’t get the fire consistently hot enough to get them “medium well” as I tend to prefer it.  We picked up the steaks at the grocery store in Bayfield and they were just a bit bigger than we probably should have gone with.  Ah well.  The stove, on the other hand, worked great for the rest of our meals.  Brooke’s French Press was also a big help.

That’s probably enough for now!

Garden Update: Mid-July

Crazy town up in here…

It’s a little early to be posting another garden update, but we’re reaping some benefits from our copious greenery, so I figured I should put up a few pics.  Above, the pumpkins (big leaves) and watermelon (in front) are growing alright, but we haven’t seen any fruit on the vines yet.  There are some flowers there, so we’re hopeful.  The green beans have gone crazy, so we’ve been picking quite a few of those in recent days (just about every other day).

Vegetables of our labors.

Thus far, Brooke has canned 16 pints of green beans and we have another 4 pints (we guess) in an ice cream bucket waiting to be fully processed.  There are still flowers on the plants, so we expect more to come, however the temperature has been in the 90s all week, so despite my watering of the garden every few days, we figure the beans are going to slow down pretty soon.

We also picked our first few tomatoes last night, and that seems a bit earlier than last year’s harvest.  The plants have also gone kinda nuts…

Eeeesh…

…and that isn’t helped by the soup beans that surround them.  We spent some time last night pulling the soup bean vines off the tomatoes and tied up the ‘mater plants to the trellis, but I suspect the beans will continue to encroach.  The soup beans are also doing quite well, so we’ll end up with a great harvest of them.  The tomatoes are mostly green at this point, except for the ones we picked last night.

Peaches!

Also, last, but not least, we got some peaches before the Japanese Beetles got them!  We ended up with 5, total, though one fell off early and the other was split down the middle, so we didn’t eat it.  They were very good!  A bit soft by the time we picked them, but the flavor was quite nice.  Not too bad for 2 years of having trees!

Speaking of which, the beetles have been really bad this year, mostly targeting the peaches.  We put up a beetle trap last night and we’re hoping that mitigates the issue a bit, but we’re wary of how helpful it’ll be…

Onward!

Review: Spider-man: Homecoming

I’m not going to get into all the details, but decades ago, Marvel Comics licensed some of its characters to Sony Pictures.  Characters like the X-Men, Fantastic Four and Spider-Man were effectively “sold off” to Sony, who could maintain their licensing agreement by continuing to release films on those properties.  Since 2000, Sony has done very well with the X-Men franchise (some better than others…), has done very poorly with the Fantastic Four franchise, and has been a bit more spotty with Spider-Man.  The first two Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies are among my favorite comic book movies, if not movies, in general.  Spider-Man 3 (2007) was overly convoluted and had too many villains, though Raimi himself blames that on studio intervention.  After those three movies, Spider-Man was rebooted in The Amazing Spiderman (2012) for two movies, and neither of those exactly lit the world on fire.

Then, Marvel Studios was sold to Disney and the Marvel Cinematic Universe was born.  Since that time, all kinds of movies and characters have been introduced and Disney and Marvel have made metric tons of cash.

But Spider-Man?  Couldn’t appear.  He was disallowed from being in any of these movies, because they were Disney properties, not Sony properties.

After one failed reboot of Spider-Man and other failing comic-based movies, Sony basically lent Spider-Man back to Marvel for use in the MCU.  It’s a limited-time deal, but while he’s over there, he’s appeared in Captain America: Civil War and will be appearing in the next few Avengers movies.

I say all this to set up the fact that this movie, Spider-Man: Homecoming, has been an ordeal and the title “Homecoming” is actually meaningful on a few levels.  Getting Spider-Man into the MCU, a character that is synonymous with Marvel Comics, a character that took the ball that X-Men ran with and effectively put America on its course toward multiple-super-hero-movies-per-year, is finally back where it belongs.

So, is it good?

Absolutely, though with a few caveats.  The main one is that this movie is very different from the other MCU movies we’ve seen so far.  Director Jon Watts (who is best known for an unknown Kevin Bacon movie in 2015…) wanted his young actors to watch old John Hughes movies before filming so he could set up Breakfast Club archetypes from the beginning.  This is a high school movie much more than a “super hero” movie.  This is also a distinct change of pace from the earlier Spider-Man movies, as they may have started in high school, but within literal minutes, Peter Parker is thrust into college and/or adulthood, so you don’t really get to see his character dealing with typical high school angst, which was actually a pretty important part of the comic early on when it was introduced.

So yeah, it’s a coming of age film much like something John Hughes would have made back in the 80s.  The difference is, this one has super powers.  And thankfully, they didn’t go through Spider-Man’s origin story yet again, ’cause we’ve seen it twice in film in the past 17 years.

Tom Holland was selected as Peter Parker for Captain America: Civil War and he still exudes perfect casting.  The audience can easily tell that he wants to be there.  That he’s having fun with the lines, with the costumes, with the other actors, and so on.  He doesn’t have to be particularly athletic, as the Spider-Man scenes are almost entirely in CG, but he looks good in the suit and he sounds like a shy kid who’s got a lot on his plate and doesn’t know how to handle everything.

Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) has taken him under his wing, much like in Civil War, but this time, he’s a bit more of a “distant father figure.”  He acknowledges that he doesn’t have parental experience, and it shows, but Parker still seeks his approval.  Aunt May is Peter’s sole support at home, but Marisa Tomei takes the role in a more, let’s say, “modern interpretation” of that particular character (in the comics and previous movies, Aunt May was always substantially older than Peter…here, she’s older, but more trying to be “the cool aunt”).  The character of Ned (Jacob Batalon) is mostly new for the franchise (though he’s been kinda pieced together from other comic characters that have appeared over the years), and he serves as a comic side-kick for Spider-Man.  He’s certainly more fun to have around than Harry Osborn

Lastly, we have Michael Keaton, playing Adrian “The Vulture” Toomes. I was a bit skeptical of Keaton playing a MCU villain, mostly because I know him more from his comedy and from playing Batman, but as he was underestimated back in 1989 for his superhero role, I underestimated him for his supervillain role.  He did a great job making the audience at least feel sympathetic for his views, though obviously not his methods.  He also provided some fatherly advice to Peter on occasion, so he kinda showed Peter the other side of Tony Stark’s coin, to a degree.  Still, Keaton was a delight and surpassed many of the other villains we’ve seen in these movies.

Ultimately, I enjoyed it quite a bit.  I’m not sure I like it more than Spider-Man 2 yet, but that movie came out at the right age for me and also built upon a foundation built in its previous movie. This one’s just very different.  I look forward to seeing it again so I can tease out the other elements I may have missed.  Overall, it’s a successful movie on many fronts and leaves me wanting more.

A Note on Honey and the Bees That Make It

Cutting off comb!

We took around 12 frames to Hannibal over the July 4th Weekend to extract some honey!  Ultimately, the process took a few hours and was mostly carried out in the garage in order to keep bees from homing in on their wares and coming to reclaim it.

This was the first time we’d extracted our own stuff (though we combined ours with 6 or 8 frames of Mark’s stock), so I grabbed a few pictures of the process, as we had multiple questions across Instagram and Facebook asking how this all worked.

The extractor.

After Brooke used her sweet serrated knife up above to scrape off the wax cappings on the frames, they were put in an extractor 4-at-a-time.  Basically, the extractor is a metal barrel with a hand crank that acts as a centrifuge.  The honey is pulled out using centrifugal force and it drops down to the bottom of the barrel.  A spigot is down there to allow for draining into another bucket after filtration, as there’s a lot of extra “stuff” in there we don’t want (i.e. wax, dead bees, etc.).

After all of this was done, we ended up with around 6 gallons of honey, which was far more than we were expecting!

Well…that’s odd…

Anyway, remember the new hive?  Well, Brooke didn’t put frames in it last weekend after we got back.  So, she got in there today and we found out the bees have been kinda busy!

So busy, they made new comb in the empty spaces where the frames used to be…

Seriously. That isn’t supposed to happen in a week.

There isn’t a great solution to this, as the new comb had honey and brood in it.  Brooke ended up shaving off the comb into the super on top, then putting a “queen excluder” above the super (to, obviously, prevent the queen from crossing the barrier), and then put a new super on top of the hive.

The crazy thing is that this is the new hive that’s only about 3 months old.  Apparently, they’re doing fine!  Doing some crazy stuff, but still doing fine!

Garden Update: Late June

Moving along quite nicely!

There isn’t much to talk about right now, but I did want to note a few goings-on from the last few weeks with regard to the good ol’ Marshall Homestead…

The green beans, tomatoes, soup beans, pumpkins and watermelons are all moving along pretty well!  There are some tiny green tomatoes on the plants and the green beans are flowering, so all’s well on that front.  The green pepper plants are still pretty small: two of them are looking good, while the other two are on the short side, and are getting encroached by “volunteer” tomato plants from last year.

Wrecked ’em…

Other than that, Brooke laid waste to the remaining lettuce, pea plants and carrots this weekend and ended up with a substantial carrot crop. The lettuce had gone to seed a week or two ago, so it was time to end them, and the carrots had been in for months now, so it was time to pull them up.

After hours of processing (that, thankfully, I had very little to do with), we ended up with ~15 lbs of carrots, 12 lbs of which Brooke chopped up, blanched, then vacuum-sealed and dropped in the freezer.  Last year, we also got a lot of carrots, but we left them in the fridge crisper for far too long and then ended up “floppy,” which isn’t exactly great if you like raw carrots.

Still, despite Brooke’s metric ton of time working with them, she’s pretty satisfied with the haul of organic carrots she grew.

In other news…

Otherwise, a few weeks ago, Brooke checked out her beehives and removed 6 shallow frames-worth of combed honey.  There’s more in there, but some frames had brood and others weren’t quite full yet.  Our new hive from late-April is also doing well, so Brooke put the super on it in hopes we’ll be able to get some honey from them later this summer, too.

Honey!

Brooke will scrape off the wax from these and likely make some candles (among other things), and she’ll extract the honey along with her Dad this weekend, as he’s got some frames to process, too.

Generally (as I can’t remember if I ever explained this…), honey extraction involves removal of the wax cappings, insertion of the frames into a cylindrical drum, and then spinning them around to use centrifugal force, pulling the honey out and allowing it to drop down to the bottom of the drum, thus letting you fill up jars of honey.  It’s a messy and time-intensive process, so while you could get honey directly from these frames, it’s a lot easier to process a lot of frames all at once, saving you clean-up time.

Therefore, we will figure out how much honey we got this weekend. 🙂

Evil. EVIL!!!

The last thing I wanted to mention was that Japanese Beetles have arrived in Marshall.  The two pictured above were on our neighbor’s tree, but we’ve seen them on our trees, too, as well as on our sunflowers.  We’ve got multiple leaves that look like those pictured above.  Our understanding is that this crop of beetles were spending their time reproducing and laying eggs, all of which will hatch later this summer and wreak havoc.  Hopefully, our growing season will be mostly done by then…

Still, we put in some praying mantids last week in an effort to kill off insect-derived pests while not spraying anything on our flowering green beans, as that would likely affect our bees.  We’ll see if it work…  We ordered the mantids and put them in a cage (an old bee package) back in late-May and it took almost 3 weeks for them to show up.  There were 10s, if not 100, of them in that package before we released them on our green beans, so hopefully they do their jobs.

That’s about it for now!

Meg’s First Backpacking Trip

We own quite a bit of backpacking gear, much of which I’ve had since before Brooke and I were married when I’d go on trips over Spring Break in high school and college.  After we had kids, obviously, it got a little more difficult to be gone for multiple days  on trips without the family.  Thus, now that I’ve got a 7-year-old to indoctrinate in my interests, I thought this summer would yield an opportunity for a little daddy-daughter time out in the wilderness.

I hadn’t done much backpacking in Missouri, as most of my trips were to Tennessee and Arkansas (with a single trip to Colorado back in 8th grade).  The trails I’d done in Missouri were relatively far south and didn’t have much access to water.  In searching for “beginner backpacking trails” that would be suitable for a 7-year-old first-timer, I came across the Bell Mountain Loop Trail near Salem, MO, as part of Mark Twain National Forest.  The trail represented a 10 mile loop that had good overlooks, had access to water at least at one point, and was rated as relatively easy for beginners.

Before the yelling started…

Things started out pretty good, really.  In many ways, this is the most “in shape” I’ve ever been for backpacking, as the last time I did this, I was a good 30 pounds heavier.  Meg, of course, had gone hiking with us in limited settings, but never with this length of time, or overnight in the wilderness.

We got started on an Ozark Trail spur that would lead us to the Bell Mountain Trail Loop.  The OT section was mostly a dry creek bed, which isn’t great to hike on if you’re an adult, let alone a 7-year-old.  Meg and I had good hiking shoes on, so we were relatively fine, but it did get tedious, and we had to go slower than we otherwise would.  Still, we continue onward and upward until we hit the Bell Mountain Trail (or so we thought…).

Getting tired already…

We went for about as far as we could, but we were hoping we’d get to the main creek for our first night of camping, as it would provide some entertainment for Meg, and a solid water source to get us going the next morning.  We kept going as far as we could, but it was getting darker and we had already gone a good 4 miles with no creek in sight.  Meg was pretty tired (we didn’t start hiking until 4:00 pm, and there was a slight rain threat hovering about), and we were on a flat section of the trail that had some good camping spaces for our tent, so we went ahead and parked for the night.

Reading while Daddy packs up the tent…

The first night went remarkably well!  It dipped down into the low-50s overnight, but we were pretty warm in our tent.  We bought a 2-person Kelty backpacking tent, as traditionally, I’d always relied on a hammock and a tarp – something that doesn’t work quite as well for a 7-year-old.  The tent worked very well, so I think that purchase was well-founded.

Also, the macaroni and cheese I made for dinner that night went over pretty well with the kid. 🙂

Anyway, we kept hiking the next morning and still never ran across the creek.  We did spot a really nice overlook and took a few panoramic pictures with my phone.  We did eventually spot a fire pit that we thought we recognized from our map, so we continued onward.

Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’…

Eventually, we’d gone so far that it was getting late in the morning and we still hadn’t found water.  Not that we needed water right then, but we would need it for cooking later in the day, so I was getting a bit worried.  I was also very confused by a fork in the trail that shouldn’t have been there, at least according to the map.

Thus, we opted to turn around and start heading back.  We figured that there were some ponds we had passed that weren’t ideal for filtration, but could still be used to keep us going until we could get to the car the next morning.  We were also hoping to get moving relatively early the next day so we could hit up Heinrichshaus in St. James before getting to Marshall in time to pick up Calvin from school.

Anyway, we kept going for a few miles and, at this point, I was keeping an eye on my LTE signal so I could try and download a Google Earth file that would show us where, exactly, on the trail we actually were.

So, here’s what happened…

Basically, we saw that sign early in the trip that’s pictured at the top of this page, and it pointed to the left.  We also knew that we needed to take a left to head toward the Fire Ring indicated by the star above, as it would take us down toward Joe’s Creek for water (and there were two creek crossings on the map).  Well, we thought that sign was at the trail fork circled in red.  Instead, that sign was way before that, at the hairpin turn indicated by the red hexagon.

So, we took a left, but we were still on the OT spur and not actually on the Bell Mountain Loop yet.  When we got to the real turnoff, we just kept on heading straight and didn’t notice that there was another trail heading off to the left just over our shoulders.  Literally, there was a small orange flag that was practically impossible to see from the direction we were coming from.

So yeah, instead of eventually seeing the fire ring indicated by the star, we instead saw the fire rings that were actually on Bell Mountain, and the scenic views they entailed.  Also, based on my step tracker’s GPS, we ended up heading toward an entirely different parking lot before we turned around: the “extra fork in the road” we saw, we should have taken a left instead of a right.  Of course, we thought we were heading clockwise on the loop, but instead, we should have been going counter-clockwise.

Anyway, we had turned around, we figured this all out, and we kept trekking back to the car, knowing we wouldn’t cross the creek for water.  We pushed it quite a bit and ended up going 10 miles that way.

Meg was not happy about this.  There was yelling, there was screaming.  There was a lot of “I thought you said we were close!!!”  Technically, we were “close,” but considering that Meg had to stop literally every 2 minutes because her feet hurt, it was taking forever.

It came to this.

I even ended up carrying her backpack attached to mine in order to keep us moving. So yeah, my feet hurt, too, but she didn’t really care…

So yeah, we kept on going and eventually made it back to the car, where I had some water packed for our arrival.  We also drove to a nearby creek passing so I could filter some more.

Back in one piece!

It was quite a bit colder the next night, dipping down into the upper-40s, so that was a little less fun, but we still survived the night.  Meg hobbled along for awhile and didn’t really want to walk at all after we got to camp, though she was fine by mid-next day.

All in all, if you ask her about it, she’ll tell you she had fun with the camping aspect of the trip, but the hiking part wasn’t her favorite.  I think I can convince her to go again someday, but we may want to shake these memories a bit before I try again!

Ultimately, it was good to get backpacking again.  If I have to wait until Calvin’s ready, I can live with that.