Thursday, July 25, 2013

Easy Summer Craft: Mini Suncatchers

Before you start screaming, "copycat!"   I totally admit this wasn't my original idea.  However, the lady before me used cake pans and I used muffin pans.  So...sorta kinda different. :)


This is SUPER easy for children and adults of all ages.  All you need is plastic beads (I used pony beads) and a muffin tin.   Preheat the oven to 400.  Line the bottom of your muffin tin with one layer of beads.  (Make sure you have some clear beads in the mix to let the light shine through).  Bake in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes.  Let cool.  Flip over the tin into a plate, they should pop right out.

Obviously kids shouldn't work the oven or touch the hot pan, but they had a great time picking out the colors and lining the pan.  Here are some of the color combos we came up with:

 Note the black and gold one.    Steelers nation, yeah!
 After you extract your sun catchers from the pans, you need to drill a hole (again, adult's job) for the string. 
There you have it!  Go catch some sun :)



Monday, July 8, 2013

The Surprise Inside

Every year, a hanging fuchsia plant is a summer fixture at 3 Fates.  It's a must for me...partly because the flowers look beautiful, like a woman wearing a billowy dress, but mostly because the hummingbirds are attracted to it. 

Yes, I'm the Crazy Bird Lady and I wear my title proudly.

Unbeknownst to me, another type of bird, a non-nectar eating species, had set it sights on my fuchsia.  After a week trip to Maine, I discovered something odd in the middle of plant... it was a mess of ...well, stuff.  Nesting stuff?
Stuff in the middle...that the heck....

 But surely, I thought to myself, no bird would be bold enough to construct a nest right in the middle of a hanging plant.  Seriously.  So I scoffed the idea and started to pick the material out...only to confirm the crazy idea... viola! Eggs. 

This little mystery bird had made a dome-like nest in my fuchsia. 

After brief glimpses of  tiny red-brownish dart shooting out of the nest (you can only see her beady eyes when she is sitting in the protective fuchsia cave), and some research, I finally came to the conclusion that she had to be Carolina Wren. 

Of course I'm thrilled that my fuchsia has become such a bird hub!  The multi-purpose mini-ecosystem!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

None Of Your Beewax...

Because this is alllll MINE.

To properly store beewax (read this online): you should wrap up in plastic and aluminum foil , then stored in a cool, constant temperature area like your fridge, but NOT the freezer. At some point, I hope I'll have enough to make some candles.
 With slight apprehension, I fired up my smoker a few days ago.  Judging by my last check (the infamous inflatable hand incident) the hive was 2/3 of the way full.  So, while I had my smoker handy, I added another super and a queen excluder on top of that. 

As far as I can tell, my bees are doing great!    Still not real happy with me.  I want so badly to stop and take pictures, do some video, but... I've lost some of my bravado. 

And then this today....

Good or bad, I'm not sure....but it seems that they are really excited today.  I've never seen so many outside and around the hive

Monday, May 27, 2013

My Wanderlust Community

Although I'm a loner at heart, lately, I've been thinking about how great it would be to live in an small interdependent community, sharing everything, working the land, cutting myself off from the soulless cookie-cutter society.    Ok, it's not like I'm in the rat race now, but I still am "on the grid" and under the thumb of the man, so to speak.  And it's not like a lot of people "get" me around here (i.e. my hippie ways).  Yeah, it would be groovy to co-habit with a bunch of like-minded cats, selling our wares, shunning the Walmart and consumerism, one with nature, the land and ourselves.

Can you dig it? 

Personally I don't know of any communes, except maybe the Golden Temple in WV, if you can count that. Although a beautiful place to visit, absolute celibacy and no caffeine do not appeal to me.  And I don't really want a commune with a religious or political agenda, because that can turn into a "hey you want to try my kool-aid, it's poison berry flavored" situation real quick. 

Golden Temple; beautiful place, no coffee :(

I would think communes, while very rainbow-tarian in theory, are probably very difficult to maintain without crossing the line of cultish.   

Still, I can't seem to get the thought out of my head.  What would make the perfect commune anyway?  Well, here's my thoughts on it...

  • Sorry to be a party pooper,man, but first and foremost, you NEED rules.   Now before you think I'm going harsh the mellow...I'm basically talking about the Golden Rule, and we can evolve from there;  not a 10lb book of rules, but basic, respectful, common sense stuff.   A community can't run if one person decides not to do their share or is harmful/disrespectful to the group.  Chores need to be divided and carried out, people need to co-exist amicably.  
  • Lots of land, midsouth or southwest, not desert and not arctic cold.    A self-sustaining commune will probably need a long growing season with mild temperatures year round (to mimize heat costs).  Plus, I'm not a big fan of winter.  I like the desert, but not much grows there obviously.  I also think we should have least 10 acres for pasture, crops, and last but not least, privacy.   I don't want to be on display like a freak show. 
  • Big ol' farm house, fixer-upper ok.  We will probably need lots of rooms, storage, and shelter for the animals.    Personally, indoor plumbing is a must for me. Other than that, I'm open minded to anything (mostly because it needs to be cheap) 
  • Everyone has a say, take turns being the leader.  Hopefully, this will nip the cult scenario in the bud.  "Absolute power.." and all that.   Leader of the week enforces rules, handles disputes, divides chores.  Then someone else gets there turn.  However, Leader of the Week isn't all powerful; they still have to bow to the majority of the group.
  • No tech...what the heck?
  • TECHNOLOGY IS FORBIDDEN.......bwahahaha! Yeah, just kidding.  I have nothing against the Amish, I'm just not a big fan of losing my internet.   In other words, I don't have a problem with a little techie stuff.  Laptops ok, cells ok, TVS...probably not ok.  Maybe TVs without cable?    TVs are mind sucking, but then again, I need my fix of "Walking Dead."  So TVs with netflix is acceptable, but not 24/7 TV.    Cars ok, but bikes are better.  Low maintenance stuff for our low maintenance life. :)  
  • Everyone is welcome, as long as they can contribute (i.e. time, money, or talents), are respectful,  and aren't a Charlie Manson.    You know, just basically good people.   This will be the hard component, I fear.   Sometimes you don't know a bad apple until it's turned the whole barrel rotten. 

And there's the rub.  Obviously, everything in a utopia hinges on that last element: People.  You can have the most fertile soil, the sturdiness house, the idyllic view, but none of it truly matters.  The souls of your community, they will make it flourish or fail.  
So anyway, my commune is a pipe dream.  

Or is it? 

I mean, what's to say I can't give some of my eggs away to my neighbors?  Barber some stuff.  Shove driveways.   Help out who needs help.     Just cause.  Who knows what I'll start. 

Maybe not a commune, but possibly a trend.    And I don't have to give up coffee.... Sweet.

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Case of the Abandoned Little Pink House or She's a Mysterious Lady, Ain't She?

 "Let us a little permit Nature to take her own way; she better understands her own Affairs than we." ~Michel de Montaigne

I was very disappointed and puzzled to discover that the bluebirds abandoned their nest.   Somewhat of a mystery to me. 

My biggest question is this:  why would you put forth such an investment...gather material, faithfully construct a nest, lay 3 eggs, only to leave the eggs to rot and move on?  

In these situations, I irrationally rest the blame on me, like I had some kind of control over the situation.  I ask myself, what could I have done or not done to make these birds stay?  

I suppose it's the wildlife management mindset taking over.

Wildlife career choice many years ago, trying to save the world and all.   But now I realize, I was quite arrogant. 

Managing nature, like we could possibly lasso it, wrangle it to the ground, and put a brand on it.

We can't manage nature. As I see it, man either co-exists with nature, or destroys it. 

And sometimes, despite our best efforts, we have to accept that nature will be cruel.  Maybe cruel to be kind, because nature has a hidden agenda.  We don't always grasp her mysterious ways, but isn't that attracts us to her....that we don't always "get" her?   

I don't know, maybe that's just me.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Beeproof is not Emily

I admit it, I got cocky. 

I thought to myself, I don't need no stinkin' smoker. 

3 days later, I was sheepishly sitting in the doctor's office with my new cartoonish hand.  Seriously, it was so freakishly large it scared my children.  I could charge people to see it.    (Maybe I should have thought of that before I paid the $25 co-pay.  "No Doc, you should be paying me...wait until you see it!") 

This your hand...

This is your hand on bee venom.

Anyway, let's go back 3 days....

The local beekeeper club hosted a backyard beekeeper workshop; not feeling fully confident with my bee wrangling skills, I was in attendance. 

20 plus people gathered around 5 very active hives.  Most were dressed to the nines, head to toe bee gear.  Inwardly, I admit, I scoffed.  Novices.  Scary cats.  Geez people, we are handling bees, not plutonium. 

My bee outfit consists of a bee veil with hard hat, tight knee boots, man's size white long sleeve shirt buttoned down. 

Oh and leather gloves that go to the wrist. 

I've seen many beekeepers with much less.  Most don't wear gloves.  A few don't even wear veils, but that's beyond my nerve.

You see, honey bees are MOSTLY docile creatures ( in "Mostly Dead".  So that means they can be slightly ornery.   And can avenge and fight for the honor of their honey...truuuue loooove.)  thus it takes a lot for them to sting.  

And these bees, they were furry yellow and black lambs.  The beekeepers didn't even smoke the hives beforehand, although they recommended you should...


After 2 hours of being around bees that wouldn't hurt a fly, I leaped out of my car like Wonder Woman (in a bee veil) and marched up the hillside, not giving that pesty smoker a second glance.

Now, I can't be sure what relied up my bees that day.  The scent of foreign bees?  My misguided swagger?  

Whatever it was, the second I took the lid of the hive, I knew.

This was not a "hi-happy-to-see-you-yeah-just-go-ahead-take-part-our-hive!" greeting.  This was definitely a "she-might-be-a-BEAR-HOLY-CRAP-we-are-going-to-sting-your-butt!" kind of welcoming.

And I flinched.   They can sense flinching.  Bears flinching a lot, I suppose.

But I continued, because I was on a mission.  The only difference now was I was on a much quicker mission.  

After I checked all the frames for production (frankly this part is a big blur)  I suddenly felt a little tickle inside my glove. didn't tickle so much anymore. 

Yes, I've been stung before.  It's never fun, but it's minor and I get over it in a few hours.    Three days after, I thought my skin was going to burst open like a hot dog in a microwave.   Long story short, I got an infection and had to be on antibiotics.

I sewed on sleeves...these are my daughter's outgrown pant legs. 

Swagger is gone.  Gloves are modified.  Smoker is my new best friend.

I still love my bees, but now I have no illusions..... it's a very one-sided relationship. 

Monday, April 15, 2013

Caption This: Pictures Of Spring (Groan)

Hey!  My eyes are up HERE, buddy.

These are bad.  Maybe you can think of some better and funnier captions? If so, I'll give you a brand new TV!  (Alright, I can't promise a TV, but you'll get my respect and admiration.  Way better than some dumb ol' TV, right?)

Geez, the ladies room always has a line a mile long.

Time to make like a tree...
We are daffodilly glad it's spring
You think I'm "cute" huh?  Did you find the bunny parts I left on your doorstep "cute"?

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Bird Nerd Geeks Out On This Fine Spring Day

Last year, both of my daughters painted a bird box for Mother's Day.  The gift was very appreciated, but sadly, a little late in the year for birds to be scouting out real estate.  

This year, I've been keeping my eyes peeled for nice bird family to move into one of our little pink houses (and I would dub them "the Mellencamps").    

Today, I spotted a perspective buyer.  A blue one.

My jaw dropped.  I suddenly felt like we were less like Beaver Falls and more like Park Place. This abode was deemed worth checking out by high society.  Suddenly, we were Ritzy. High class.  Privileged.  Oh-la-la!   .

Mr. John Bluebird-Mellencamp checked out the house and then sat on a branch, mulling over the neighborhood.  He might have been thinking, "lots of space, but not sure about those noisy riff-raff(i.e. chickens).  And that crazy lady staring at me like I'm made of gold. Disconcerting." 

Shortly thereafter, he flew away, hopefully to consult with Mrs. Bluebird-Mellencamp.  Like everything else in life, it all hinges on the little lady. 

Friday, April 5, 2013

Beehavin' At 3 Fates Farm

Most of this week has been a miserable flashback to winter.  30's and 40's with spitting snow and bone-chilling wind.  UGH.  The day before my bee pickup was especially cold, and obviously, I was a bit concerned.  Should I crochet tiny bee jackets?   Have itty-bitty bowls of hot honey waiting?  These poor little buggers were going to freeze their wiggly butts off.

So, yesterday, I went to pick up my three pounds of bees.    As crazy luck would have it, spring finally decided to show up that same day.  WHEW.  My bees wouldn't be shivering around a microscopic trash can of flame!  What a pathetic picture that would be.  (Although, the tiny wittle bee jackets would be soooo cute!!)

Ahem.   Anyway, here's my video.  One thing I want to add: all the beekeepers helping out at the bee sale were amazingly helpful.  One piece of advice they shared was I should add supplements to my sugar water, and while I sound annoyed by this in the video, I truly wasn't.  I appreciate all their sage advice; after all they have been doing this for years!!    So thanks Beaver Valley Beekeepers, I hope I can pay it forward someday and mentor other up and coming beekeepers.

And thanks again, Uncle Leigh. 

Thursday, March 28, 2013

SUPER EASY Easter Treat: Bird's Nest

4 Simple Ingredients:

  • 12oz of Butterscotch OR chocolate morsels

  • 1/3 cup of peanut butter

  • 5oz of crunchy chinese noodles

  • M&M's or jelly beans for the eggs

Put morsels and peanut butter in a double boiler, melt, stir until smooth.  Take off heat and stir in crunchy noodles.  Spoon onto wax paper.  Add 3 M&Ms on top of each nest.  Chill in refrigerator until firm.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Shelly And The Shell-less Egg

Show-Off Shelly

Shelly was born to be different, and probably a bit of a show off to boot.   

When she layed her daily egg, the other chicken clucked with jealously; as hard as they tried, they couldn't duplicate those lovely light powder blue eggs. 

Smug Shelly basked in her wonderful uniqueness.

However, slowly but surely, the eggs she layed became old hat to the others.  They didn't fuss and fawn over them anymore, and in Shelly's mind, this would not do. 

So, she had to shake it up a bit...

It's very freaky to see a shell-less egg, but it's not always something to panic about.  There are several reasons why a chicken might lay a egg without the shell, some more serious than others:

  • Poor diet/nutrition.  Your chickens may not be getting enough vitamin D3 and/or calcium
  • End or beginning of cycle.  They may just be reaching sexual maturity or reaching the end of their egg laying cycle
  • Recent trauma.  A traumatic event such as a skunk invasion or other animal attack in the coop can give the chickens "shell shock".
  • Defective shell gland. Unfortunately, there's not much that can be done about that.
  • Other diseases or infections. 
My suggestion?

I'm not a vet, but common sense tells me that if this happens persistently, the chicken is sick and needs medical care, or you need to supplement their diet better.  If it's a rare occurrence (like it was for show-off Shelly, who has layed her blue eggs since), then it's probably a fluke, but something to keep an eye on for sure.

After Shelly layed the shell-less egg, the other scared and concerned chickens did a egg intervention.  With soft, reassuring clucks they convinced her that it wasn't the color of the egg that make Shelly special, but what was inside that counted. 

Inside, all the eggs were special. 

"So Shelly," said Henny Penny, in her no-nonsense tone,  "Get off your high horse and stop being a silly show-off!"

And they all lived eggly ever after.  :)

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Pure Maple Syrup: Yes, Yins Can Tap That.

If you asked the locals 'round here what the most highly anticipated event of Spring is, I bet 9 out of 10 would say, "Why, the Maple Syrup Festival, of course!  Now yins* better not cut in line...I've waited an hour and half for my buckwheat pancakes with syrup...HEY!  I don't care if she is your mom! NO CUTTIN'!  Jagoff!**  She ain't foolin' anyone with that walker, ya know!!"

Oh dear...well, us PA people are certainty passionate about our pancakes with pure maple syrup, that's no joke.  In all kinds of weather, we will wait in line for hours, braving the risk of our stomachs turning and gnawing themselves, all for a huge plate of fluffy pancakes drizzled with one of nature's best treats.

Don't let sleet, snow, bitter cold,  tired legs, or elderly ladies keep us from our pancakes.  (Jagoff.)

Until this year, I never really had the notion to make my own maple syrup.   Then some friends of ours starting tapping their maples in February. 

"'tern't nothing to it," they said (basically).

Hmm, thought I.  Obviously, my interest was piqued, being a hippie, granola-loving, (etc,etc). freak.   Why not harvest some of our maple trees?  So I did a little research and learned if you tap the tree properly, you don't hurt the tree, and you get a sweet, all-natural reward.    Win-Win.

At this point you may be asking:

What kind of trees can you tap?  Any type of maple, but I heard that sugar maples are best.

So when should you start/stop tapping?  The sap starts running around mid to late February and stops around mid to late March, depending on the weather.  After the buds open and/or the sap is cloudy, your season is done. Ideally, you want warm days (40's, low 50's) and cold nights (20's and 30's) for optimum sap flow.  A cold snap will not yield you much and a very warm spell will speed up the process and shorten the sap season.

How many taps should you put in one tree? A healthy tree 10 to 17 inches no more than one tap. A tree 18 to 24 no more that two taps. A tree larger that 25 no more than 3 taps. 

How much syrup will I get? About 1/3 gallon of finished syrup per tap.

First, the tools you will need (most are fairly inexpensive or free)
  • Sugar taps/sprouts (eBay).  You may also need a drill for the sprouts if they are plastic.
  • 3 gallon food grade buckets with lids. Ask at the bakery at your grocery store or local bakery.  They MAY just give them to you, since they will just throw them out anyway.  We had to pay for ours because the bakery got wise and saw a way to make extra dough (har-dee, har, har).  That being said, they only charged us $3.00 each.  My smarty-pants husband drilled a hole in the top for the tube and handy little window to see the sap. (Thanks Hon)

  • Plastic food grade hoses that fit snugly over the sprout and are long enough to reach into the bucket on the ground

  • Oven or outside heat source (our friends use a turkey fryer)
  • HUGE kettle, like a canning or lobster pot.
  • Candy thermometer
  • Cheesecloth
  • Sterile glass jars with lids
  • Time and patience
Common sense and safety first.  For small qualities, inside cooking is ok, but realize you have the oven on for long periods of time to boil down the sap. Also, if you choose to boil inside, you will need good ventilation.  The condensation from the sap will be INSANE.  My wall was oozing brown!  ALSO, you probably want a stove that has high BTU's; we just got a new one with 17,000 BTU's and that boiled much more efficiently. 

After you get all your equipment, you can start tapping!  Check your trees and check your buckets daily, especially on warm days.  If you let your sap set too long, it will spoil. 

You will be sad.  :(

Boil your sap in the kettle until the candy thermometer reads 218, it has an light amber color, and is slightly thickened.    Now, go grab a copy of Anna Karenina, or plan a True Blood marathon; this may take a REALLY long time, like ALL DAY if you have big batch of sap.  I suggest you boil some, add more, boil, add more again.  Don't worry if you can't boil it all down in one day; you can turn the pot off for the evening, cover it, and start again in the morning.  (To CMA, I have to say: Never leave it attended!  DUH!)

Once you get it reduced down enough, you can transfer it to a smaller pot so it will boil faster.  Take care that your sap doesn't boil down so much that it scorches or becomes pure sugar (unless that's what you want).

WHEW.  Ok, finally...time to pour!  Take your sterilized glass jar and cheesecloth, secure piece of cheesecloth on the mouth of the jar and pour the syrup into the jar.  This will filler out any "stuff" in your sap.
After the syrup is cool, you can put it in another container, like this one with the fancy label:

I store it in the fridge, however, I'm not sure that's necessary? I've heard several things about the shelf life of maple lasts forever, or it only lasts for a year, definitely put it in the fridge, or would just refridgerate it.  Freezing is also a great way to preserve it.

So, now you can enjoy your own pure maple syrup....without making any old ladies cry.

*Yins=you guys
**Jagoff=not sure I need to translate that.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Spring dawns at 3 Fates Farm

The mucky ground shoots up green fingers of new life.  The maple buckets sound with sweet nectar.  In the yard, proud red robins strut.   "Work it,"  I tell them.  And they do.

New bee boxes with fresh green paint await the hum of their future occupants. 

Strangely not a foreboding sight, the turkey vultures have returned to roost in the conifers.

The six "Ladies", (three named "Moria", "Nona", & "Decima" and other three with the simpler names of "Shelly", "Henny Penny", and "Heather") dream of fat grubs that will come in with the tide of spring.

In short, all the residents of 3 Fates Farm are ripe with anticipation; more than ready for the rebirth of the Mother Earth!

Sorry, I'm as sappy as a maple when it comes to Spring.  And yes, I'm a bit of a hippie, compost-stirring', granola-eating, tree-hugging, rabid, organic freak.   For this, I refuse to apologise.   

So, what is 3 Fates Farm?  It's a small time hobby farm with a big passion.  It's me, trying to reconnect with the way we lived for hundreds of years.  It's about creating harmony between humans and nature.  

Yes, it's "Om", "cum-bi-ya", and all that.   

Ok, show of hands: how many people would be lost without Walmart and all the processed food within?    In a very short span of time, humans have become HUGELY dependent on grocery stores for all their food needs. If all the grocery stores were wiped off the face of the planet, most of us would starve, simply because we have no idea how to grow a garden, or can, or even bake a loaf of bread.   

In other words, if a Revolution scenario happens, the Amish will inherit the Earth.  We all be answering to Merlin or Lebanon Levi, once they sort out their turf war.

And most alarmingly, we are rapidly losing our connection to the land, becoming more like robots and less like living creatures caring for and sharing a planet.  "Getting your hands dirty" is less about working the soil and more about disinfecting the i-pod after you sneezed on it. 

However, I'm not writing this blog to preach...much.  I really just want to share the things I know.  Sharing is caring.  Cum-bi-ya.   

Besides, I don't know about you, but going to Wal-mart is killing me....softly.  I leave little pieces of my soul in the clearance aisle.   (I hear they put them on the shelf and red tagged them for $1.50).

My next post will be about our new venture: maple syrup making.  In the meantime, here are some interesting facts about PURE (not the fake high fructose corn syrup crap) maple syrup for your sweet tooth to chew on:

  • Pure maple syrup will not freeze, due to the high concentration of sugar.  Therefore you can keep maple syrup in your freezer indefinitely and it will still be yummy.

  • Pure maple syrup has Phenolics, which is basically an antioxidant.  So in moderation (guzzling a jug a day is not recommended), it's good for ya! 

  • Pure Maple Syrup has more calcium than milk by volume and more potassium than bananas by weight

  • All-natural, no gmos, and great in coffee.

  • If you have a maple tree, you can have your own pure maple syrup!  It's not rocket science; if I can do it, any crazy hippie chick can!