I’ve been meaning to post something for a bit, but with the weather we’ve had these past few weeks, we haven’t done all that much! In the past month, we had a few nights in the -10 F range and at least a week where we didn’t go above freezing. Last Tuesday, school was cancelled for Meg because we weren’t expected to get above 10 F, and apparently waiting for a bus when it’s -3 F in the morning isn’t ideal…
Anyway, this past week, temperatures started getting up into the 40 F range for once, getting rid of the snow we had last week… Yesterday, we made it into the 50s (though I was on campus working with a Science Olympiad competition we were running, so I didn’t get to really enjoy the weather all that much), and today, we’re in the mid-60s. Not bad for late-January!
We’ve been keeping an eye on the bees throughout this process, as they don’t survive well when it’s below 0 F for extended periods of time. Generally, as long as you’ve got enough bees in a hive, they can surround the queen and flap their wings enough to keep everyone warm and survive. We had some much colder days this winter than last winter, though, so we weren’t sure how they’d handle it.
Based on the picture above, they did just fine! Brooke got in and put in a solid feeder “cake” sort of thing to get them through the rest of winter (at least, most of the way there) and she pulled off the super to keep them concentrated in the lower portions of the hive. They’re pretty active on a day like today, so hopefully they don’t burn through the rest of their food supply thinking it’s Spring (hint: it isn’t).
In other news, in keeping with this blog’s need to post everything garden-related possible, here are some popcorn ears Brooke finally picked. Because, you know…it’s January.
Like I said, we had some snow last week on Martin Luther King Day when both kids were off school, so it was the perfect time for Calvin to go sledding for the first time. Again, it hasn’t gotten than cold the past few years and, incidentally, we haven’t had enough snow for sledding since we first moved here, so Calvin hasn’t been old enough to enjoy it yet.
We’re now three episodes into Star Trek: Discovery, the first new Star Trek TV property since Star Trek: Enterprise went off the air in 2005. I’m really enjoying what I’ve seen so far, but wanted to record a few thoughts about it for posterity’s sake:
The writers/producers were really playing up the whole “increased diversity” angle with regards to the cast and, boy howdy, were they right. It’s uncommon to see any middle-aged white males in any given shot, though they certainly exist. This is a pretty stark leap from previous outings in the series, and a welcome one. Gene Roddenberry was adamant that his crew be constructed of a diverse group of people in the original series, complete with an alien, a Russian, an Asian American man and an African American woman, something unheard of in television of the time. This Star Trek for a new generation has done a good job keeping up with that tradition, but I feel like the characters, overall, just feel more diverse than anything on TV now, even in today’s society where we’re more conscious of such things.
The acting, overall, was really good out of the gate. I’ve gone back to DS9, Voyager and Enterprise over the years and, ooooooooh, that acting in the early seasons was uniformly bad. Honestly, for some characters, the acting never really improved even by the series’ end…especially in Star Trek: Enterprise. All of these actors seem really solid, though.
The writing is really good. I’ve heard people complain about the first two episodes, but as others have also mentioned, it’s hard to sell the character of Michael Burnham and all the baggage that comes with her without that two-episode introduction. Could that information been delivered as exposition or some re-cap? Yes? But would it have been good? Nope. It would have sold her character short, as well as her relationships and the way the rest of the crew of the Discovery is reacting to her presence. So yes, they could have just started with the third episode, but the first two adds stakes to the world and a richness we wouldn’t have had otherwise. CBS did screw up in only showing the first episode on broadcast and the second episode onits streaming service, All Access, as just watching that first episode does no one any favors…
The production values are still really good, despite this show being relegated to a streaming-only service (more on that later). It still looks pretty CGI-ish, though, so I long for the days when Star Trek still used real ship models. Still, that ain’t happening, so this is the best we’ll get. It all looks pretty good, though.
I’m not a fan of having to spend $6/mo on another streaming service just for this show. But. I feel it’s necessary to put my money where my mouth is and support its presence. I could probably expand on this in a completely separate post, but a show like Discovery wouldn’t survive on broadcast CBS. Would it survive on Showtime, where ratings don’t have to be as big of a deal? Maybe? But then I’d have to pay for that, too, because I don’t have cable TV (and Showtime is $9/mo). Would I like it to be on Netflix instead? Absolutely! But CBS owns the TV rights to Star Trek: Netflix doesn’t. So it has to appear on a CBS property. So unless Discovery is going to be shown on the Smithsonian Channel (another thing I wouldn’t have access to…), this is likely the only reasonable option in the streaming age.
The bridge sets are too big. They look bigger than the bridges on TNG, and this show is a prequel to the original series, after supposedly establishing that on Star Trek: Enterprise, the ship should feel like a “submarine” because it’s still early in interstellar travel.
Along those lines, what’s with the hologram-style communications?! Use your viewscreen, dammit. This isn’t Star Wars!
We only get 15 episodes out of this first season and I think it’s off to a pretty compelling start. Let’s hope CBS doesn’t have unrealistic expectations for this property, so it has room to breathe and grow in the streaming-only space!
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.
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!
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…
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!
So I took some pictures awhile back and apparently never posted them here. These pictures are more recent, so I won’t bother showing how it all started when, you know, they were just dirt plots… As stated in an earlier post, we’ve been busy! Still, we got started relatively early this year and the weather was pleasant enough that we could get peas, carrots, lettuce and radishes planted (above). We already picked the radishes and, while many of them turned out pretty good, others were left in the ground a bit too long (as evidenced by their thoroughly tough exterior…).
This is the most lettuce we’ve grown and it has turned out pretty well! We’ve had weather in the 90 F range this past week, so we’re probably getting to the end of the line with lettuce, but the carrots aren’t quite done. It’s about time to pick peas but, at usual, we aren’t expecting to get all that many.
We also switched up the locations of crops from last year, so now the green beans are closer to the house and a bit more shaded. The mounds above with the greenery is watermelons, and the two mounds in the background are supposed to have pumpkins, but they haven’t sprouted all that much yet…not optimistic… The peppers are positioned around the smaller trellis and we already lost a few of them, but the plants that are still there look passable
The tomatoes, on the other hand, are looking pretty solid. Those plants took off pretty well, mostly because we didn’t rely on seed starts as much as last year, so they went in bigger. We planted most of this the weekend before Mother’s Day, so they’ve had time to grow in the last few weeks. Brooke did plant a few that she grew downstairs, but they didn’t take off as well as last year. Hopefully we end up with a solid crop this year!
Lining the edges of this plot, we put in some soup beans. Those are substantially larger than when I took this picture and they’re looking pretty good. I’m hopeful they don’t decide to vine all the way up the tomatoes, ’cause that would be a huge pain…
Brooke expanded the herb garden, as well. The sunflowers all came back as “volunteers” from last year, and our lemon balm plant also returned from last year. Unfortunately, that was about it! Otherwise, Brooke planted some other stuff like sage and, oregano, and some butterfly-attractive flowers.
The blackberries are also taking off quite nicely! I may need to get a shotgun to fight off birds (and people) that may try to take them before they’re big enough… Lastly, the trees all survived the winter and are growing well, especially the peach tree! We even have a few peaches on there, but that’s the extent of the fruit we’ve observed. The trees will keep growing this year and we’ll get some more stuff next year, we guess!
Now that September is nearly over, the garden’s pretty much done for the year. This past week, the highs were still in the low 90s and the sun stayed out, so we ended up turning a few more tomatoes red than I expected to, but overall, we’re in a “down year” for our tomato crop. The corn has dried out pretty effectively, though we haven’t tested the kernels to see if they “pop” as they’re supposed to.
The peppers have mostly died out, though the coyame peppers keep on producing. Brooke’s been spending most of her garden time dehydrating peppers, then dicing them up to make pepper flakes (for some unknown, future purpose…). The margaret peppers never really did much, though we did get some peppers off them. The peppers definitely produced, but I just don’t remember getting all that many off the plants. This is probably because margaret peppers are intended as “red” peppers, so I wasn’t picking them in their “green” state. As such, sometimes they’d shrivel up before we’d get to them.
The coyames, alternatively, turn red and then stay red for awhile, giving us the time to pick them. Of course, they’re hot peppers, so not exactly the kind of thing I’m going to slice up and slap onto the grill. Oh well.
The pumpkin story is yet to be completed. The plants died out pretty rapidly, leaving behind at least 15 little orange pumpkins. Beetles got to them, but I think we’ve still got a few viable ones out there. Brooke tried spreading some Sevin on them, as that was a pesticide that she could carefully avoid contaminating bees with, but we aren’t sure how much it helped. We’ll see, I guess…
The basil took over the herb garden. Lavender, oregano and lemon balm are still doing quite well, but weeds have invaded this area of the garden. The sunflowers aren’t looking great anymore, but I think Brooke is planning on using them for something.
Overall, I think the “herb garden” was pretty successful this year, though processing everything else has detracted from our use of it. Which is to say, there’s a lot of fresh stuff in there, but Brooke needs to spend more time dehydrating oregano and basil for later use, and less time dehydrating peppers. Still, a good problem to have!
I wanted to include another picture of the trees, as they’ve done remarkably well. The pear trees are still lagging behind the others, as they got hit by Japanese beetles, but the trunks have grown quite a bit in recent weeks, so I think they’ll make it through the winter and come through stronger than ever for next year. I can’t remember if we should see fruit yet next summer, but I can at least plan for the trees to survive…
We ended up getting access to some “pork ends” from a co-worker of mine. $20 for 60 lbs of leftover cuts. Some of it was definitely better than others, but Brooke ended up grinding 20 lbs of it by hand (then vacuum sealing it and freezing it), followed by some additional portions she saved for cutting up (i.e. various purposes), and lastly the leftover “fatty” portions for rendering. If I recall, she ended up getting maybe 4 lbs of fat off what she saved.
It brought back some memories for Brooke, who used to work behind a meat counter. I’m not sure she’d like to do this all the time, but for the money, we ended up getting quite a bit of usable pork to use this winter.
That’s probably it with regards to “garden updates” for 2016! The highs this next week are in the 70s, so while we’ll get a few more tomatoes to ripen, it certainly won’t reach the heights of tomato juice production we’ve had in past years. Brooke has a few buckets frozen downstairs, but again, I don’t anticipate she’ll get more than a few quarts. Perhaps we’ll be pleasantly surprised…
I’ve got a few things to cover here, so it may get kinda lengthy… The first thing that bears mention is the bees! We don’t have chickens here (yet…), but for the time-being, bees will be our means of extending this homesteading venture beyond growing stuff in the ground. Brooke ordered some bees a few months ago and they arrived in early-May. Since that time, we’ve largely left them alone, aside from giving them copious amounts of sugar water to keep them happy until more flowers are blooming. The hives are in the yucca plants underneath our maple trees near the garden, providing them with a decent amount of protection from the elements (more on that soon…). They don’t get a ton of sun, but I’ve trimmed the maple trees a bit to make sure they get it for at least an hour in the morning and in the evening. We’ll see how they do there, but right now, it seems like they get especially active in the early 10:00 hour and remain that way until the evening. In the picture above, Brooke was opening up the hive to make sure the queen was doing her job and, at least a few weeks ago, it seemed like comb was being laid and brood were present, so thus far, the bees appear to be doing their jobs!
Now, speaking of “protection from the elements…
A pretty big hail storm came through just before Memorial Day weekend. And by “huge,” I mean some pretty big hail. It was over golf ball size at our house, but larger stones fell just north of us. Thankfully, Brooke’s new car was on the other side of the state at the time and mine was in the garage…
The house is mostly undamaged, but we’ve got a few estimates coming in to see if we need to do anything. The garage roof needs to be replaced, but we need to look at just how much work we want to put into it right now.
Again, the bees were fine because of their placement under the trees, but the garden got hit pretty hard. Brooke had just planted green beans, soup beans, and soybeans in the garden plot above, where you see a small ocean forming.
Our tomatoes were mostly spared, but many of the milk jug covers were blown off as the storm came in. The unprotected plants were mostly decimated, but the ones that remained covered were fine. We lost a few plants, but the rest of them have bounced back pretty well by now. The peas got hit too, as they were probably the largest plants at the time. Since then, Brooke has harvested all the peas and pulled up the plants so we can make room for planting popcorn.
We still don’t feel like we’re getting all that many peas. This is the third time we’ve done it and it seems like we’re always getting enough peas for one or two meals. We can make green beans and soup beans like nobody’s business, but peas are always difficult for us. They tasted great last night! We just want more…
The carrots are looking good and probably need to get pulled soon. Again, the peas and radishes were to the left of the carrots, and we’re going to put some popcorn over there today or tomorrow. The weather looks to be getting pretty hot this week (highs in the low 90s), and no rain chance in sight, so we’ll get them planted and I’ll need to water them in the coming days.
We’ve been gone for the past few weekends, and any available time during the week has been taken up by Brooke traveling, or by rain, so we hadn’t planted the rest of the garden yet. Finally, yesterday, Brooke made some mounds next to the tomatoes where the pumpkins are going to go. This is a section of the garden that flooded last year, so we’re hoping the mounds keep the pumpkins out of the water better than the corn seeds were last year.
We’re also trying watermelons for the first time, but considering they were planted in early June, we probably won’t actually get any until September. Not exactly “prime watermelon season,” but hey…we’ll see what happens…
Thankfully, the beans survived the hail and flooding from last week! Since then, the green beans and soup beans all popped up and are looking great. The soybeans are moving a bit more slowly, but I think nearly all of those seeds popped out of the ground, too. We’re adding fewer green bean and soup bean plants than previous years because we’ve still got green beans canned from two summers ago. If the soybeans take off, we’ll probably keep using those in the coming years for edamame. Soybeans are good nitrogen-fixing plants, so we’ll rotate them around the gardens to maintain good soil health.
The herbs I planted in the plot in the background are kinda growing, but not all that well. Many of them got hit hard by the hail and a few of them weren’t looking great when we put them in the ground. We’ll just have to see how they turn out. In the extra patch to the right, Brooke planted some sunflowers yesterday. The bees will like them, too!
Lastly, I wanted to mention the hops we’re growing in Hannibal. Clearly they’re doing as well as they usually do! Mark and Diana got us a nice new vacuum sealer for Christmas this past year, so we’re looking forward to harvesting and saving some of these hops once they’re ready, hopefully earlier than we tend to harvest them.
Unlike previous years, though, it looks like somethings chewing on the leaves. I didn’t see anything obvious on them, but the evidence is pretty clear. I’m sure Mark will keep an eye on them, as he planted some new fruit trees near the hops, so he’ll be out there checking on everything frequently.
I think that’s about it for now! Lengthy post, lots of pictures…you know how it goes…
I know it’s been awhile since I posted anything, but this particular post has been bouncing around for a bit and I didn’t want to jinx anything.
So far this season, “sickness” has passed us by. This isn’t to say we haven’t felt ill or anything, but the week-long, knock-out D.B.D. that we tend to experience each Winter has, thus far, eluded us. Meg had a bout of strep throat two weeks ago that kept her out of school for 3 days, but the antibiotics took care of it, and really, by the third day, she was back to normal and just couldn’t go to school.
Calvin, somehow, hasn’t really come down with anything. He’s had a lot of gunk in his eyes the last few days, but that’s begun to subside. It was probably connected with the runny nose he’s had, but again, nothing to keep him from school. Thus far, he hasn’t missed any days because he’s been sick, which is craziness compared to the last few Winters.
I can only assume that he’s been infected by literally all childhood diseases at this point and he’s now built up an immunity.
Regardless, we’ve been pretty good on the illness front. Even Brooke and I have resisted sickness pretty well, with the exception of the odd runny nose and headache.
The weather is the other story of the season, where we had a high of 72 F yesterday. On February 20th. In Missouri. It was nice enough late this week that I pulled out the bike trailer and hooked it up to take the kids to the park on Thursday and Friday (pictured above). Yesterday, since the sun was out and the temperature broached the 70 F mark, we went out to the garden and started working the soil a bit.
Brooke went ahead and started on the new garden plot, a third one to complement the other two we made last year. She nearly completed it too, as the ground was soft enough to work efficiently and turn it over in a few hours that morning. I turned over about half the old, large plot to prepare the way for some carrots, radishes and peas Brooke wants to get started with. The weather should be in the 50 F range this week, so while it’s going to get colder again, I’m hopeful I’ll have at least one warmer day over Spring Break in a few weeks so I can get out there and turn over more of the garden.
For now, Brooke started up her seed warmer and a lamp down in the cellar. So far, she’s got mostly herbs planted, as well as peppers, tomatoes and some flowers. This is a bit sooner than she started them last year, and we had them on the back porch last year, where the temperatures got a bit hotter earlier than we expected. Hopefully, the cellar will maintain it’s temperature better and the seeds will be a bit happier.
Last year, I started jogging regularly at the student center next door to my building on campus. At the time, Meg was still at the preschool, so I could stop what I was doing at 3:00, go over and jog on the treadmill for 20-30 min, and then get home to do a few things and take a shower before getting the kids.
This year, that hasn’t worked out as well since Meg is in Kindergarten and gets out of school at 2:55 pm on most days. I could always leave her in my office (not my first choice) or I could bring her with me (really not my first choice…), but the path of least resistance just led me to “not jogging anymore.”
On a whim in mid-December, I did a quick survey of Amazon to see what they had in the bicycle trainer realm. A buddy from St. Louis had one that he used for his road bike in the winters, but until recently, I hadn’t really considered it. Turns out they’re actually pretty reasonable! We already have good bikes and have invested in a roof rack for the Forester, as well as a trailer for the kids to ride in, so it made sense to continue in that vein toward biking. What’s more, it’s compact enough that it, and a bicycle, can fit in our basement without much fuss, though it’s also collapsible and easily removable from said bike if we need to move it.
This particular model from RAD Cycle is a touch on the noisy side, and reviewers pointed this out, but many of them were talking about using one in an apartment when someone lives below you. In our case, it really doesn’t disturb anyone, as it’s resting on a concrete foundation. You can hear it on our first floor when someone’s using it, but with the heater running as often as it is, it blends in pretty seamlessly. The noise comes from the mountain bike tires rubbing up against a magnetic resistor. If we were using a road bike or had hybrid tires, I bet it wouldn’t be quite as loud.
I’ve been using it the past few days for 20 minute stints in the afternoons after getting home. Brooke has tried it a few times in the morning and hasn’t quite made it to 20 minutes yet, but she’ll work up to it. We’re using her bike on the thing to make it a bit easier for her to hop on it. Also, she’s less likely to use her bike outside as the weather (eventually…) gets warmer, so mine’s available to pull the kids around in the trailer if need be.
Hopefully we keep it up. I need to put in more than 20 minutes to really do much good, but for now, that’s 20 minutes of sitting down doing nothing that I’m now using for exercise. I guess that’s progress enough.
I’ve completed 3 semesters in my teaching career now. Four, if you count the summer class I taught last year. At any rate, I’m starting to feel more like a pro that’s been doing this for awhile.
This semester, I taught my regular stable of Fall classes: Anatomy & Physiology (A&P) I, A&P II and Principles of A&P. These are courses I’ll be teaching every Fall, unless we need to shift things around due to the number of students heading in. This coming Spring, I’ll teach A&P I again in a double-size class. I’ll also teach A&P II, which is normally a Fall-only class, but because of scheduling conflicts this past semester, we’re going to offer it again. The newbie will be Environmental Science, which I’ve never taught but am looking forward to. It’ll be a bit more discussion-based than what I’ve taught thus far, allowing a bit more flexibility in how I approach the material.
The main reason I write this, however, is because I feel like I’m finally getting things down into “well-oiled machine” mode. I didn’t feel nearly as stressed out this Fall with getting my final grades completed and turned in. I think I had my three classes turned in before most of the rest of the department did. This is likely due to the consistency between last year and this year, where the grades for most of the exams were nearly identical (within 0.1% of last year’s averages). There were some differences (the Final didn’t go as well this time…), but for the most part, everything this semester went very similarly to last semester, making it a bit easier to chart out the course of the past few months, knowing how things would ultimately end up.
Now, I’m off for another 3 weeks before school starts up again in mid-January. I’ll have Meg home with me for 2 weeks while she’s off from Kindergarten, so that’s something of a change from last year. Calvin will hang out with us for a few days in there as well, but he’ll be back full-time around when Meg goes back, leaving me with a little prep time by myself for the upcoming semester. Effectively, I’ve got most of my semester plotted out already (because they’re classes I’ve not only taught before, but just taught this past semester), but Environmental Science is a wild card that should mix things up a bit. I’d like to try and set it up with a series of “debates” that the students carry out (for example, “pros” and “cons” of the most recent international climate agreement), but as I haven’t actually taught the class before and that’s an activity the other professors who teach it aren’t doing, I figure I should get my feet wet before trying something like that.
Still, I’m looking forward to trying something new. Before then, I’ve got some Christmas Break to enjoy!
I’ve got a few posts rolling around in my head but, frankly, I just haven’t had much time recently. Midterms were a few weeks ago and I gave 3 exams last Friday, so now that I have a window of downtime, here’s the last bit of updating for the garden.
Brooke gave up on the tomatoes weeks ago, after she crossed the at least 40 pint line for tomato sauce. Seriously, that last batch of tomato sauce she made was a slog – I could tell she was totally done with tomatoes for the year.
But at the time, we still wanted to wait for the sweet potatoes. Finally, just after Halloween, Brooke pulled out the potato crop to see what we ended up with. Not too bad, but I don’t think we got as much as we did in Iowa. Still, for our purposes, it was still a pretty good haul.
We haven’t tried eating any yet, but have no reason to think they won’t be solid. Brooke’s busy processing pears from my aunt and uncle’s house, so these things aren’t exactly a priority.
Still, just wanted to post this for posterity’s sake. We’ll probably plant some again next year, so we want to remember how many we got this year!