Sunday, September 28, 2008

Adam & Steve

Ever since we've moved out to the ranch, we've had a feral cat that has been roaming around. This spring, she gave birth to 4 kittens under our deck. Two of them are gone, I don't know what happened to them. But I started putting food out for the other two when they were really little. They are not even close to being tame. We can't pet them or touch them, but they're a bit less spooked by me since I bring them food every day.

We are currently trying to capture them so we can get them spay/neutered. So I usually put their food in the crate, so I can rig it up here soon to close the door on them and take them to the vet.

We've decided to name them Adam & Steve.

When it comes time to capture them, I'll make sure I video it.

See you next time...

My World Famous Blackberry Jam...

Last year I made some blackberry jam, and it was a major hit with everyone I gave it to.
So as the berries ripened, I thought I'd blog about how easy it is to make.

One of the biggest pointers I can give is to get everything, and I mean everything ready before you put heat to your berries. I pretty much take over our entire kitchen. Lay out all your stuff - berries, sugar, pectin, spoon, clean jars and lids, and anything else you think you might need. I also put a piece of tin foil down wherever jam might fall. Makes for easy clean up.

Next up I pulse the berries for a few seconds. No need to completely macerate the berries. The heat will do a great job later.

My very precise recipe is that I just wing it. One colander of berries (about 3-4 pounds) about 5 cups of sugar, and one packet of pectin. Wait till it comes to a boil before adding the pectin. The high temp activates the thickening power of the pectin.

When it comes to a boil, it will expand tremendously.

Last year my jam was a bit thin, so I boiled it for about 4-5 minutes this time to see if would be a bit thicker.

Now I just pour it into a measuring cup, then transfer to my clean jars.

This year I got 9 jars out of this batch.

My "poor mans water bath" method of preserving did not work so well. Some of the jars had a vacuum, and some didn't. I give most of this stuff away. So it gets used quickly, but next time, I'm going to try the immersion method of preserving so when I want to preserve something else, I've got it down.

See you next time...

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Ron Saves The Porch From Falling In...

This was a repair that I really needed to do before winter. Especially since we had quite a bit of snow last year. The posts holding up the porch
were just about completely rotted out.

Luckily for me, my buddy Doug has a sawmill, and he milled me up 3 posts from some fir logs that he had.

We build some bracing around the center post, and built some 12" squares as forms for the cement pours. I decided on the outside post to put the new cement right next to the old posts. I also raised it up a few inches. The old posts sat right down at dirt level. That's probably why it wicked up water and rotted. Lifted up a few inches, the new posts should last a lot longer.

First off, we had to grind out the old metal strapping that was on the old rotted post.

Here's the new post out in the shop. I wanted to plane the posts down to remove the saw marks from the mill, but the planer only goes to 6". The post is about 6 1/4". So it was time to hand sand them.

I used a forstner bit to put a hole in the bottom of the post to go over the stainless bolt we set in the cement. Then to prevent water from wicking up the post and rotting it out, I put two layers of metal flashing tape on the bottom.

Here's the tape.

I had to flip the post over and run it under the chop saw on all 4 sides to make the cut. It worked ok. It was a bit uneven, but nothing too bad. I little sanding and it was all good.

I had to remove one side of the brace that we made to lean the post in there. I just banged on it with a piece of scrap wood and a hammer. A bit of tweaking, and I finally got it plumb and level.

I was able to get two out of three of the posts done today. I couldn't do the third because I had to re-pour one of the footings. It wasn't deep enough. So once that it set up, I'll do the 3rd post.

I also need to buy a piece of fir to make a moulding detail around the top and bottom of the posts.

Check another thing off the never ending list.
See You Next Time...

40 Pounds Of Honey...

I went and picked up my honey from Trees N' Bees. They spun the honey in their centrifuge for 1/3 of the honey. So they got 20 pounds and I got 40 pounds.

I picked up some smaller jars, so we could sell some of the honey. I got a box of 6oz. jars and a box of 2oz. jars.

Here's the idea for the label:
The wife is going to sell the honey at her hair salon. $5 for the big jars, and $2 for the small jars.

Here's the size of the little jars.

Since we took this box of honey, Loren at Trees N' Bees recommended that I get a top feeder for the hive and to feed them sugar syrup so the girls can catch up before winter.

I did one gallon with meds in it. Two and a half quarts of water to 10 pounds of sugar. It was a really thick syrup. I added Fumadil to the syrup for the winter.

I had to put the box that the honey was in back on the hive, and add the top feeder.

I also put in my order for another hive for next year.

I learned a lot this year. Hopefully I'll do better next year.

See You Next Time...

Indian Summer - Amazing Horse Back Ride

We've been having an amazing September here in the Pacific Northwest. I think it three weeks without a single drop of rain. That must be some kind of record.

We decided to go for a trail ride up Taylor Mountain. It was a beautiful day, and there was quite a view waiting for us at the top.

This trail head is just south of Highway 18 off Issaquah-Hobart road. There's a nice big gravel parking lot, and the main trail is pretty wide and well groomed.

There are several smaller trails that break off the main one. We found this loop that goes up to the top of a ridge then back around and connects back up with the main trail.

Close to the top of the ridge, we came to an opening, and suddenly Mt. Rainier came into view. It was an unbelievable view.

It was one of the best rides in my short riding life.

See you next time...

Charles In Charge: Blackberry Liqueur

I've always been a sucker for fruit liqueur, so now that I have the beginners wine making kit, I thought I'd try my hand at turning some of these wild blackberries into some wine.

My first try at cherry wine didn't turn out to be drinkable, so I called in some reinforcements. My friend Charles is a pretty good home wine maker. He came out to the ranch with a bunch of wine making toys that I don't have, and we got to picking. We needed 12 pounds of blackberries.

The recipe also called for 5 pounds of bananas, and 3 pounds of raisins.
The bananas are suppose to mellow out the acid. I went to Costco and got the raisins and bananas. Charles stopped by the wine supply store and picked up the yeast we needed.

It took us about 90 minutes to pick all the blackberries. I had about 5 pounds in the freezer that I had picked earlier. I thawed them out, and included it in the 12 pounds.

We put all of our ingredients out and we were ready to go as soon as we sterilized everything.

Charles mixed up a few cups of water with "Meta" and washed everything. He also put the yeast in warm water (about 105 degrees) about half an hour earlier.

Here's the berries and bananas and raisins.

Charles brought out an industrial sized potato masher, and went to town on the berries and bananas. After squishing them up pretty good, we used our hands to get the bananas fully mashed.

You want the sugar content to be really high for making liqueur. So we added some sugar syrup that Chuck made.

We checked the sugar content with a hydrometer. It's also called the "brix" count. The higher the sugar content, the higher the alcohol content will be. With liqueur, you want a fairly high percentage of alcohol.

Charles added an 1/8th tablespoon of meta. Charles said the meta kills the bad microbes. Then he added some pectic enzyme. Otherwise known as yeast food. It basically jump starts the yeast. I accidentally hit the stop button midway through this video, so here's the rest...

I let the yeast do it's thing for about 5-6 days.

Every 12 hours I would "punch the cap" that forms on the top of the juice. The berries rise to the top and form a crust. I just used a big metal spoon to punch it down and mix it up. Twice a day.

I put a mesh bag inside a second clean 5 gallon bucket. By the way, I did sterilize everything with a meta solution. Then poured the fermented juice and berries into the clean bucket. I wrung out the bag as best I could to try and get as much juice as possible out of it.

I had a bit of airspace in my second jug, so I added some regular wine to fill the space. I put the air locks on and set them aside to finish any fermentation and for time to let the solids settle to the bottom.

Now we wait for a while, then rack the wine again. After we transfer it to another container, we'll need to fortify the liquid with everclear or brandy for the final product.

See you next time.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

We're Getting Some Honey!

This was my first year at keeping bees. I bought a beehive this spring with a modest goal: I wanted some honey this year. Most of the stuff I read said that most new hives will not produce honey for the keeper the first year, so I was keeping my fingers crossed.

I tried following "the rules" as close as I could. I went out there in the spring and kept the feeder full of sugar syrup. I would go out to the hive all the time to check on the girls. I did exactly what I do when guys stand around and look under the hood of their car - "Yep, that's an engine."

"Yep, those are bees." They come in, they go out. Sometimes you see pollen on their back legs, sometimes you don't. I really was feeling like a bee-haver more than a bee keeper. So I called up the folks at Trees N' Bees where I had taken a beginner bee keeping class to see if Loren, a master bee keeper, could swing by the ranch and take a look under the hood for me.

The first thing Loren noticed was that the girls were kicking the drones out. The drones are male bees, and in the fall and winter - they are a liability in the hive. They just sit around and watch football and don't do a damn thing. So they get kicked out of the house for good. You can see this happening in this video if you look close there are several worker bees pushing out the bigger drone.

Mistake #1: I put the Queen Excluder on too soon.

Earlier in the year when it seemed like the bees were doing a good job of filling up the bottom two brood boxes, I put on one honey super and a queen excluder. Because it was brand new gear, the bees didn't really like it that much, and since the queen could not get up in there and take her scent with her, the bees didn't do too much in the honey super. I should have left the excluder off for at least one cycle of baby bees, then put the excluder on.

I also learned a cool tip from Loren: to put one or two old frames into your new box. The "bait frames" will draw the bees up into the new gear and encourage them to work on the new stuff faster.

There wasn't very much honey in my Western Super (that's the smaller box that is suppose to be for the bee keeper,) but the top brood box (the big grey one) was absolutely packed with honey.

Mistake #2:
I should have had three or four Western Supers on top of this hive. I thought that since it was the first year, that one box would be plenty. I was wrong about that one.

So we decided to break the rules and take the entire Brood Box of honey. The full box weighed about 80 pounds.

Here's all the frames stacked up. If I would have had an empty box, we would just take the full frames out and put them into the empty. Then you would just replace the frames you took. But I don't have a bunch of spare boxes, so we took the whole thing. Loren took the box back to his store and spun the honey out for me.

More at the truck.

Now that we had the box full of honey off and put in a plastic bag for transport, we went back to the hive to look for the queen or evidence of the queen. Loren estimated there are between 60,000 - 80,000 bees in the hive right now.

Mistake #3: Make sure you have 10 frames in your bottom brood box!
When I purchased this bottom box, it came with 9 Frames. The reason why is because there was a queen cage hanging in the middle. When you put a new queen in a box, you take out one frame and put the queen cage in there for the bees to get use to her scent. I took the queen cage out and did not put another frame back in.

Now I have to wait till spring when the box will be emptied of honey to pull the frames out. It's going to do some damage, and I'll probably lose some frames.

I have to admit, I was a bit worried at this point. I had a sigh of relief when Loren found the babies.

I'll put a post up soon when I get the honey back.

See You Next Time...

Monday, September 1, 2008

Can A 60 Year Old Barn Work As A Wood Shop?

That's the question I tried to answer this Labor Day Weekend. Three years ago I lived in New Orleans and I took a wood working class at a local community college. I'd always wanted to, and after years of watching hundreds of hours of wood working shows on TV, I finally put together a shop.

After the class, I build our kitchen cabinet doors out of Spanish Cedar. I was pretty pleased with the results.

Well a little thing called Hurricane Katrina came through town and not only took all the tools I just bought for my first wood shop, it took our house too.

So on the third anniversary of Katrina with Hurricane Gustav closing in on the Gulf South, I felt a bit inspired to do a renovation of our barn and try again at wood working.

First thing that needed to be done was to demolish an old animal enclosure that took up half of the bottom floor of the barn. It was not pleasant at all. The previous owner had put down corrugated plastic and old plywood that had just accumulated urine smell for years. Yuck.

We pulled enough trash out of that side of the barn to completely fill my neighbor's panel truck. Only a hundred bucks to throw it all away at the dump. What a deal.

Next up, we had to fix the floor. We think that someone spilled battery acid on the wooden floor and just let it sit there. So we had to cut out a big section of floor for the repair. The old floor boards are about 3" think. Don't make em' like that any more.

Here's how the floor turned out.

We cleaned out the entire side of the barn and build a new work bench.
Here's the bench framed out. I'll get some more pics up soon. We got the bench done, and a few other tool stands. I think another full day of cleaning / organizing and it will be pretty close to finished and ready to use.

See you next time~

Tractor Endo = Fail Part 2

My new horse June Bug is a compulsive walker. All she does is walk around her confinement area. On the positive side, that's probably the main reason she's in such good shape for her age. On the negative side, she's driving the massive amount of gravel I've put in the run right into the ground. Her stall gets muddier than Squid the Horse's side. So it was time to add another four inches of 5/8" minus crushed gravel.

Side note: for people in Washington State, most places I've seen use the 5/8" minus or 5/8" clean. The minus has gravel dust in it and is cheaper. The 3/8" is too small and just turns to mud. Believe me, found that one out the hard way. Anything bigger starts to hurt the horses feet.

Luckily my buddy Bill was over to help out. One man on the tractor to scoop the gravel, one man on the wheelbarrow to move it into the stall. Why don't you just drive the tractor into the stall you ask? Good question. The way we've got the thing oriented, the tractor gets really unstable if we try to take a bucket full of gravel down the hill. So we're back to the wheelbarrow method.

We started off with me on the wheelbarrow, and Bill on the tractor. He got a bit carried away with this load.

After watching this video a few times, it's a good laugh, but I really need to get a roll bar welded onto old blue. Another thing that we think caused the endo was there was low air pressure in both of the front tires. After we got the back wheels on the ground, we got out the compressor and filled them up. It performed much better after that.

I did about half on wheel barrow, then we switched. Here's how it looks from the tractor point of view. It's definitely the better of the two jobs.

It took us a little over 2 hours to fill and rake out the gravel for June's run. Most places got 3-4". Some places that were extra wet got about 6" of gravel. At some point the soil has to reach it's saturation point of gravel and then it should become like a gravel road. At least that's the idea. I'm hoping that point comes soon. The last batch of gravel we got was over $600.

Here's how things turned out:

I'm told the other benefit for the horses is foot health. When you have a horse that walks all the time in muddy conditions, they get foot injuries. So it's best to keep ahead of it.

One more thing off the list for now.

See you next time~

You Say Tomato, I say "What's Taking So Long?"

It seems like it's been years since I planted the tomatoes. Finally we've got one that is starting to turn red. Nice.

I have to say that if I was to give myself a grade on my first garden ever, it would be about a C+. Nice effort to start off with, not such a good effort at weeding and thinning. I also think I planted too many different kinds of things. That's a rookie mistake. Next year, I'm definitely going to be more selective in what I plant. And now that I have a better idea as to what things are suppose to look like, I'll be more confident in pulling weeds.

Now if I could grow a cheese tree to eat these with, that would be perfect.

See you next time.