Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Garden Zone Confusion

It’s early March here in the north Idaho panhandle. Time to start seeds for the garden, right? I look across the yard and see my six year old daughter climbing a tree. That tree that she could hardly reach the branch in the summer is practically a bush with three feet of snow around its trunk. It’s time to figure out what is suggested for our gardening zone.

Hardiness Zone: 6!?

What is a hardiness zone and how does it apply to my garden? The coldest temperature possible for my region is not what determines the hardiness. From what I’ve read, this may be determined as the average coldest temperature it has been over the last thirty years. The map puts me in a dark green area, called zone 6, and says it gets down to -5 to -10° F regularly. Yes, that’s true, but other more southerly areas get those temperatures without the snow load I have. And, what about the coldest possible? I looked that up and it can get to -30°F in the colder winters.

 After seeing the news about the freeze that went through the Eastern and Great Lakes states this winter, I’d like to make sure my perennials are grown for that sort of hardiness. 

Another consideration will be with the frost dates. Most tree fruit needs a certain amount of time to grow and ripen the harvest. If the tree blooms too early, there won’t be pollinators out yet, and a frost is likely to wipe out any fruit that is set. 

Frost Dates? May 21 (last), September 19 (first), about 120 day growing season
Zone: 3 !?

The zip code I have to use tells me the local city’s frost dates. The city is bordered by a lake which probably helps to even out the growing climate. The locals refer to our area as “the snow belt” because it receives more snow. We will be dealing with ice and have snow still hanging around, hopefully melting, long after the city is clear of it. And, we’re not in the mountains. From what I’ve observed, our last frost date is on average closer to June 1, and our first frost comes early September. Locals love to share about the time it snowed on the Fourth of July. The tomatoes don’t like the chill in the air by the end of August, and rarely last past September 10. That’s closer to 100 day growing season for the heat tolerant plants. There’s a separate map for this! This map is not the one on the seed packets! This is the frost date based climate zone I need to know for my garden.

Zone 3. 

Friday, January 18, 2019

whole Wheat Bread

My daughter and I make the bread for our family. Because there are ten of us, a loaf at a time doesn’t feed us as much as we might like. We bake three loaves at a time. Also, because the first whole wheat recipe that we tried -and liked!- which made enough for us produced three loaves.

We have a grain mill for grinding the wheat berries into flour. When I was looking for one, the main thing I looked for was the fineness of the flour. I wanted to have flour that wasn’t overheated, as some machines do, but I also wanted to use the whole wheat in regular recipes. If you’ve seen the usual flour in bags sold in U.S. stores that is labeled whole wheat, you’ll have noticed the coarseness of it compared to regular all purpose flour. The first whole wheat flour I came across that didn’t have that  coarseness was the King Arthur white whole wheat. I baked bread with that before I purchased the mill.

Using freshly ground flours is supposed to have added nutritional and financial benefits, sure, but we do it for the flavor. I was raised on my Mom’s homemade bread, and I have the privilege of passing this blessing on to my children.

We used that original recipe for quite some time. I have have been looking, but haven’t found the original to link to. We added some ingredients beyond the original flour, water, yeast, salt, honey to help the bread be more sliceable for sandwiches. A family friend says it’s cake.

3 Loaves WW Bread

First take:
3 cups water
1/3 cup honey
1 tablespoon yeast
5 cups flour (freshly ground, whole wheat)

Mix those so that everything is just mixed together. Set a timer for 30 minutes and let that yeast wake up and the wheat flour start to soften and absorb the water.

Next add:
1/3 cup honey
3 eggs (we use farm fresh from the chickens in our yard)
2 tablespoons of a fat (I usually pick an oil, my daughter prefers melted butter)
4 cups flour (also freshly ground)
1 tablespoon salt (can halve this, but any less and you get that odd flat, sweet flavor)

Now we mix it all together and knead for ten minutes. If you have a large capacity mixer with a dough hook, then you can set a timer and let it do the work for you. Otherwise, this is a bit of a workout, and whole wheat bread dough is tackier than regular. Adding extra flour will make it too dense, hard to rise. It will get to a point where it sticks together instead of to you, but I just knead and knead, then use the bench scraper to get the rest off my fingers.

Cover, one of my lids fits over my mixer bowl. A wet towel or plastic wrap (but use a piece that will fit across three bread pans so you can reuse it for the final rise).Let rise until close to doubled. I aim for one hour to ninety minutes, depending on the temperature of the room. If it’s a cold morning, it might take two hours. Living in the north has its challenges. Just set a timer and after the first hour, check it about each half hour.

Next, I grab the scale. You can just eyeball it, but it’s a good way to train your eye. I take that dough from the bowl and put the bowl on the scale to set the bowl to zero (tare). Weigh the dough (grams are a little easier to divide by three) and divide the dough in equal-ish thirds. Traditionally, they should get a ten minute rest now while you oil or butter the bread pans. Then, form the loaves. To do this, I stretch -don’t squish- the dough into a square about the length of the bread pan. Then, roll it up, putting the seam down in the pan. Cover again and proof.

Here’s the trick with whole wheat: never over proof the dough! Proof? That’s another word for rising, don’t over-rise (raise?) the dough! The aim is to let the dough get about 80% of its potential size without going past that... How? Let it rise until the top is just an inch or two above the top of the bread pan. Again with the timing thing.

In the summer, it’s often warm enough that this only takes an half an hour, so I start the oven
preheating right away. Winter usually take 60-90 minutes. Right now, my oven is broken, kaput, out of commission, so I light the barbecue right away. I have one of those round cookers with a 24” grill. I light the lump charcoal in a chimney to get it going quickly, give it ten minutes and empty the chimney into the barbecue, adding more coal if needed. Set the deflector, which is basically a bread stone, and a grill above it, and let it warm up to 400°F. This barbecue needs to have the airflow choked down to keep it from overheating. I’ve found that leaving the bottom air intake 1-2 inches open and the top spinner about an inch open works great.

Just before it goes in the cooker, be it oven or barbecue, brush the tops with liquid. In a professional oven, there are jets of steam during the first few minutes to help with “oven spring.” At home, we can set a pan in the bottom to warm up with the oven, and maybe get too hot... then toss water into that... maybe not so safe? Enclose the bread, like in a roasting pan with a lid (Dutch ovens work great for sourdough and other round loaves). Or, we can use a wash: water or milk brushed or spritzed onto the risen dough so that it can steam away during baking to allow the bread to achieve that oven spring.

Aiming for 385°-400°F, the bread bakes for 25-40 minutes. Glass, light or dark thin metal, and thick cast iron all have somewhat different requirements. Aim for a deeper golden crust. I have never used a thermometer to check, but bread is baked when the center hits 200°F (190° without the enrichments; butter, eggs, milk).

Let the bread rest as long as you can before slicing into it. I try for 30 minutes minimum. We easily polish off the first loaf right away. I hope yours is as fantastic!

Friday, September 21, 2018

Summer of the Wasps

The bees that had come to visit had a short stay. This summer had the largest wasp population we’ve seen since moving here. It can be difficult to locate the nests of the bald faced wasps and others that dwell in the brush.

Strangely enough, we had a new swarm move in today. September 21! That’s very late in the season to try to get established. Looks like I’ll be brewing up some 2:1 sugar water and feeding them a warm cuppa each morning. We’ll see if they can make it to spring.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Where Have All the Flowers Gone?

At the end of a long hard winter which has killed off all your bees, what do you do? See what honey you can still salvage. What about the questionable stuff? Stack the boxes on edge for the swarms to find! I left a half dozen boxes on edge like this, some with broken comb, most of it cleared of stuff. When I returned last week, I found that bees had taken over two nuc boxes that were together. I stacked them up today with a couple more boxes and now I have a honey bee colony again!

Monday, January 8, 2018

New Year, New Kids

I had thought she was due around Christmas. A couple weeks before, she had minor signs of labor (some distress, followed by mucus discharge), then nothing. Her belly went from wide to round, so I assumed the kid(s) had turned. Christmas came and went. No signs of labor. Just the last few mornings, the possibly pregnant doe and her mother stayed in the barn when I brought feed out.

Sunday morning, I was groggily getting ready for milking when I heard loud calls. Distress? Wild animal? I peered out the window with the flashlight and saw all six pairs of eyes in or near the barn, in turn reflecting back, the light caught their coats and I could see each was there. Hunger? Extreme hunger..? I tucked in to the bedroom and grabbed the handgun, in case heroics were needed after all, and stepped out front. “MMAAAAA!!! MMAAAA!! mew! MMAAAA!” One of those sounds was not like the others. I headed back in to grab what was needed, when Ben appeared. He was already in his coveralls, great big weapon in hand (probably having flashbacks of a previous feral animal encounter). Great! He’d go straight out and see and I could get my milking equipment together, so the milking does wouldn’t be off schedule. I reassured him that I didn’t see any extra animal, and the calls sounded like hunger cries. Off he hurried to be sure all was well. Supplies in hand, I headed out. My routine is to get the alfalfa first and take it to the barn, which is what was needed!

I arrived to find Ben nervously watching over our panicking smallest doe and her two new kids. The first had been in the doorway of the barn and the second near the back. He had pulled off his shirt and wrapped the first, got it into the birthing stall, found the second and moved it, took the little mama and tucked her in with the kids. “She’s really hungry!”

With the pressure of the full uterus relieved, hunger had set in full force. She focused on filling her rumen. I sent the man for towels and hot water. With the towels, we dried off as much of the babies as we could, leaving their faces with just a bit of labor goo for the new mother to smell and clean off, then set them near her front end. I tucked into the milking stall and took care of the milkers while he watched over the little family. The milk pail was stuck into a snow bank near the gate to cool so I could watch the kids and mama. Once satiated, she seemed to realize that she was separate from the other goats, alone with the kids, and calm down.

The new mama focused entirely on the black and white kid. I checked her udder, and it had bagged slightly. I milked out one squirt from each side to clear any obstruction, then waited impatiently. Ben was concerned that putting his shirt on the kid may have given it too much of his smell and the little mama was rejecting her baby. Once she seemed satisfied at the first kid’s level of cleanness, she gave the second kid a curt lick or two and went back to kid one. Good sign: no head butting. Patience paid off, and they settled down. The kids started looking for her udder and had their first colostrum just fine.

Kids in January! The temperature was barely above freezing. I still had one sweatshirt sleeve “sweater” from last spring, but couldn’t locate the other. I spent a couple hours making crochet sweaters (the first pattern was huge!). Once in the barn, I took the sweaters and rubbed them on mama, then dressed the little goats in them. One of the kids had seemed weaker than the other (it may have been stepped on by the doorway), so I tucked it under mama to encourage nursing. A full belly cures many ails. In a short time, they both were nursing happily, and we left the little family to figure things out.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Blew the Top Off!

As we drove around the back, I commented that the snow looked heavy enough to knock the hive over. Then, I saw that it may have! Not the first hive with the cubic yard of snow teetering on its lid, but rather the fourth hive had lost its lid. With the mission to check and save the bees in mind, I gathered some supplies and finished “winterizing” them... Which I should have done back in November...

I trekked over to the hive and checked the area for prints; nada. The bees were buzzing mad, but it’s too cold to fly far. Thankfully, it was just the feeder tray and lid that had come off. I set a piece of newspaper over the hole and a fresh medium box on the inner cover. I poured a good pound or more of sugar into the new attic space. The sugar should absorb the excess moisture and become extra feed for the bees, if they’re short on honey. The feeder tray had been very wet, and with this week above freezing, I don’t want to risk extra moisture dripping on the bees. A wet or cold bee is very quickly a dead bee.

Once the lid was in place, I checked the other hives and installed attics from empty boxes. In the neighboring buzzing colony, the bees were right against the inner cover! The last hive in the line was a dead out; it had been a mid summer experiment and just didn’t have time to build up once the dry season killed off the nectar. The dead bees looked normal, just too few to survive winter. If there had been signs of disease, it wouldn’t be safe for the bees to share the honey with the hungry colony. The two boxes of honey went onto the hive in need. I hope it helps them build up quickly and healthy in the spring!

The larger hives didn’t make themselves heard. I’m not worried at this point, as last year I was convinced I’d lost my quiet overwintered hive, but it made it through. It seems the Carniolan breed of bee is usually quieter in winter. My noisy ones today may have only been complaining about the cold. I hope they make it through winter and have a strong start in spring!

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Petrified Trees

On the way home from Grandma’s, we stopped to see the petrified trees. The trails are along the hills, with the revealed trees held captive for viewing. Each tree was labeled as to its breed, and they varied from small piles, like this ginkgo, to unite impressive sizes.
This collection is a couple miles off the highway. The view was lovely, and the hike was a pleasant way to break up a long drive.
Desert brush in bloom gave interesting hues and fragrance to the dried grass of the landscape. It’s been raining, which kept the pollen down. All in all, a lovely stop.