Archive for September 6, 2013

Our Little Orchard

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My goal is for our family to be capable of feeding ourselves – completely independent from grocery stores for anything other than toilet paper. (Well, maybe coffee, too). Some days that goal seems insurmountable.

Today however, we are surrounded by abundance. We have a super tiny orchard- just under a dozen dwarf apple, four pear and two cherry trees. We picked up *buckets* of windfall apples earlier this summer and made apple sauce and apple cider vinegar. Then the tree branches were so full they were bending to perilous angles and we picked *buckets* of unripe fruit to keep our trees from being damaged.

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As the real harvest approaches, I am overwhelmed with the blessing of the bounty! Apple pie filling for the freezer, cider, sauce and fruit leather for school lunch boxes, dehydrated apple pieces for oatmeal and granola… And to think I wanted to plant more trees!

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Why yes!

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As a matter of fact, I DO have a bee in my bonnet!

Honey harvest 2013 ends

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We started the season with 4 hives. Two hives increased the number of bees so much that we were able to make “splits”. We added a purchased queen to a hive and moved the extra bees to her in order to form a new hive and prevent them from swarming. So by mid-spring we had 6 hives. We ended the season with 4 strong hives, one weak hive and one dead hive. We didn’t harvest any honey from our weak hive and might give them some extra honey from another hive depending on what they look like as the season gets colder.

The hive that died out got hit with wax moths and wasn’t strong enough to overcome them. We will scrape out all the old wax and seal the wood frames and hive boxes inside giant garbage bags with a box of moth balls to make sure there are no wax moth larvae surviving. The wax is hard to scrape and web-y from the moths. It is not a favorite job of mine, but the whole family sat around the picnic table chatting and working on it together when it happened last year.

The best thing we can do to prevent wax moths is to keep a strong hive. We are breeding hardy stock among our other, surviving hives. The hives that die out are necessary losses.

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Family Rituals

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Doing farm chores can be a real drag for the children. I don’t want to create an environment from which the children long to escape, rather I hope they enjoy the aspects that interest them and look forward to certain annual rituals.

One of the rituals surrounding the honey harvest involves a giant bowl. When Joe and I are done loading the hive boxes to be processed, we bring the excess honey comb out on the picnic table in a giant bowl. The comb is sticky with honey and has bees whose wings got dripped on and feet that got stuck in the honey still covering it. Now we all gather around the bowl and begin the dance of flicking the remaining bees away from “our” honey in order to enjoy and chew the dripping comb.

Magical Elixer: Elderberry

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After we gathered the elderberries, we popped them in the freezer right on the stalks inside plastic grocery bags. Once we had enough, we began by gently pulling the berries off the stems and picking out the tiny stems that occasionally fell in anyways. Then we covered the berries with water in a heavy bottomed pan and simmered them with healthy amounts of clove and cinnamon and stirred and mashed them for about 30 minutes. It’s important to cook elderberries as they contain a not nice ingredient. “Wicked Plants” by Amy Stewart, says the raw juice and seeds contain cyanide that can only be removed by heating. According to folklore, if you sleep under a blooming elderberry bush, you would have fantastical dreams filled with fairies and elves and all things magical. Since elderberries usually grow very near streams,bogs, fens and swampy areas, I will pass on camping under one.

Once your berries are well cooked and cooled enough to handle, stir in an equal amount of raw honey. It will not taste pleasant at all without the honey. A quality, raw honey will provide enzymes and added immune boost to your syrup. Now pour the whole mess into a tea towel lined strainer over top of a big bowl and squeeze every last bit of juice out.

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You now have a pile of mush to add to your compost.

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The syrup should be bottled in sterilized jars and stored in the refrigerator. Take at the first sign of a cold – 1/2-1 teaspoon for children, 1/2-1 tablespoon for adults every few hours. Great for soothing coughs and especially croup. You could also pour it over vanilla ice cream or add it to sparkling water for an impressive treat. Slainte!

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Making Elderberry Syrup

We began collecting elderberries over Labor Day weekend. We popped them into baskets, paper bags and grocery bags– anything I could get my hands on when I spotted an elderberry bush. We have two bushes in our back yard but they are young and only produced a few handfuls of berries. State land however, is teeming with elderberry bushes– if you know where to look. This was my first year wild crafting elderberries. I drove 2 miles an hour down every dirt road in a 20 mile radius around our house, scanning the vegetation for slender leaved bushes with dark umbrellas of luscious purple-black berries. When the birds have stripped all the berries off, the bushes are easier to spot because the stems range from black to bright pink. I think they look a little like Halloween trees.

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Every basketful was faithfully placed into plastic bags and stored in the freezer. My sweet friend Mickie, has guided me through this with some great advice! The frozen berries pop off the umbrels easier and with less mess. We confirmed this and learned to only take out a bag at a time as the defrosted berries quickly stained our fingers. She is a seasoned elderberry gatherer.

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This morning we made one last trip to a big bush that had some un-ripe berries over the weekend. The birds had decimated what remained. Elderberry collecting missions are officially terminated until next season.