Flannel Jammies Farm

...praising God on our 1/5 acre of suburbia

Saturday, October 11, 2014

a paper cone wreath tutorial for Autumn...

You've seen them, right?  Those lovely paper cone wreaths all over Pinterest?  We even made them at our church's Advent Workshop last year using old, damaged hymnals.

Recently I was tidying up in the art room and unearthed an unopened package of heavy, double-sided, Autumn-colored printed paper.  It screamed, "Create a wreath with me!"  So I did!

I first cut the 12"x12" papers into 6"x6" squares.  With a long-practiced move, I shaped each square into a cone, securing the cone with dabs of hot glue.  If you do this, do be careful not to burn your tender fingertips.  (I should add that I have adhesive issues... Hi, my name is Donna Rae, and I have adhesive issues... so I, of course, added some thick tacky glue along with the hot glue to ensure a 'stuck-till-Jesus-returns' bond.)

I laid the paper cones out, sorted by color, in the order I wanted to add them to the wreath form.

Speaking of the wreath form... it's a very high-tech, complicated contraption: a circle cut from cardboard that was destined for the compost bin or my husband's next lasagna gardening adventure.  I used a salad plate to trace the circle, cut it out, and penciled a smaller circle in the center. 

I was ready!  I added swaths of thick tacky glue to a portion of the wreath form, applying it between the edge of the inner penciled circle and the cut edge of the wreath form.  As I added each paper cone, I would apply a couple of dots of hot glue to the wreath form in the place where the cone would be laid.  (Again, I have adhesive issues.  But really, the hot glue gives you that immediate hold, keeping the cone in place while the thick tacky glue dries over time.  I find that items held with just hot glue can 'pop off' over time, especially if an item is in the sun, like, say, between a front door and a storm door.)  The paper cone was laid in place quickly, glued seam to the back, with the tip touching the edge of the inner penciled circle, not all the way to the center of the wreath form.  This allows the 'give' for the paper cones to line up nicely around the circle.  I continued, adding the cones around the circle in color-order to give even color distribution around the wreath.  (I didn't want 5 green cones on one side and no green cones on the other side.)

I then added a second layer of cones on top of the first layer to add volume and to cover any gaps.  I arranged the tips of these second-layer cones closer to the center as I added them, allowing the flares of the first-layer cones to be visible behind them.

Now for that hideously blank center... I took some burlap ribbon, ran a running stitch along one of the long edges, and gathered it into a circle.  I double-glued (hot and tacky) a lovely metal "Autumn" sign atop the burlap (I found it at a local craft store on sale, less than $2.)  The burlap/sign combo was then double glued to the center of the paper cone wreath.

But how to hang it?  Simple!  I turned the wreath over, glued on a strip of gingham ribbon, and a deckle-edged circle of printed paper over that, to the cardboard wreath form.  Yay!  A wreath!

It's a colorful and welcoming addition to our front door for Autumn!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

oatmeal for a busy October...

It's here!  October, truly Autumn, my very favorite time of year!

There's one catch... our calendar overfloweth.  Each square (or digital sliver) on our calendar is filled, some with letters and numbers treading dangerously onto the already filled square nextdoor.  Meals must be planned lest they be forgotten until the last minute, leading to poor and expensive choices and very often a bad tummyache.  So today I did a little prep for breakfasts this month.  I have home-baked healthy muffins in the freezer, waiting to be pulled out as needed.  I have eggs-a-plenty on hand.  And I made up lots of those very handy Oatmeal Packets seen all over the interwebs (you've seen them: a few ingredients in a little baggie to be dumped in a bowl.  Just add water, heat, and PRESTO!  Healthy hot breakfast!  An oft-pinned tutorial on this subject by The Yummy Life can be found HERE.)

Top: dehydrated cranberries and orange zest strips; bottom left: Apple Cinnamon oatmeal packet, bottom right: Christmas Cranberry Orange oatmeal packet

I whipped up several reusable containers (so much nicer than baggies with no waste!) with our favorite Apple Cinnamon variety, using the apple rings I preserved in the dehydrator, nuts, and cinnamon.  Then I did a little taste-testing and LOVE our newest flavor:  Christmas Cranberry Orange.  It truly smells and tastes like Christmas to me!  The cranberries were purchased fresh, pulsed in a food processor until fairly finely chopped, then dried on the fruit leather tray of the dehydrator until crispy.  I like these much better than the dried cranberries from the store that are chewy and can have added sugars.  The orange flavor comes from 2 slivers, finely chopped in each container, of dehydrated orange zest.  (Orange peels were saved, cut into strips, and all of the bitter white removed before dehydrating.  If you don't have dried orange zest, you could add some fresh orange zest to the oatmeal when you are ready to serve.)  We don't like things overly sweet, so we often add no sweetener at all or just a 1/4 tsp per packet; you may sweeten to your taste, of course.  I also like to stir in a teaspoon of freshly ground flax or other seed to the oatmeal just before serving.  Many recipes online call for nonfat dry milk powder but we leave it out making our packets free of dairy and gluten.

When ready to enjoy our oatmeal packet, we dump it into a good sized bowl (the oatmeal can bubble over in the microwave, trust me!), add 3/4 - 1 cup water, and heat in the microwave for 2 1/2 - 3 minutes (quick oats and instant oats take less time).  No time in the mornings?  No problem... prepare overnight oatmeal: add oatmeal packet to a pint jar with a tight fitting lid, pour in 3/4 cup cold water OR 1/2 cup cold water and 1/4 cup yogurt, shake until well mixed and refrigerate overnight.  Refrigerator oatmeal can be enjoyed cold or we might heat it up.  Here are the ingredients per packet for the two flavors I mentioned...

Apple Cinnamon (Almost Instant) Oatmeal
per packet:
1/3 cup gluten-free old-fashioned or rolled oats
2 dehydrated apple rings, chopped or torn into small pieces
1 - 2 T. chopped nuts (walnuts, pecans, whatever you like)
1/4 t. dry sweetener (I like turbinado cane sugar)
1/4 t. cinnamon

Christmas Cranberry Orange (Almost Instant) Oatmeal
per packet:
1/3 cup gluten-free old-fashioned or rolled oats
1 T. chopped, dried cranberries
1/2 t. dried orange zest, chopped fine
1 - 2 T. chopped nuts (walnuts, pecans, whatever you like)
1/4 - 1/2 t. dry sweetener (I like turbinado cane sugar)
1/4 t. cinnamon

Thursday, August 21, 2014

extracting honey...


It's been a busy summer here at Flannel Jammies Farm:  keeping bees, gardening, composting, working, canning, dehydrating, entertaining, teaching, volunteering... not to mention working on wedding plans with our daughter (but that's another post for another day)!  Lots of to-doings.  In the midst of this activity the time came to extract honey from our hives.

We are second-year beekeepers.  During the first year, we did not extract any honey, choosing instead to leave all the honey on the hives as food for the bees through their first winter.  This second Spring, we planned to take only excess honey, above and beyond what the bees' food, from the two hives that made it through the last winter.  We'd never done it before, only watched and assisted in the process with other beekeepers, but it was time to jump in on July 4th.  

First, let me tell you: honey is sticky stuff.  And it tends to get everywhere.  It's impossible to extract outside; bees will immediately join the party to enjoy the open stores of honey!  We don't have a convenient honey house or garage, so our extraction process would be taking place inside the home, in our kitchen.   I tend to unintentionally make the most glorious messes, flinging anything liquid into the most far-fetched places, so I knew that precautions must be made.  We covered the items on our walls with a great product combining painters' tape and plastic sheeting.  We covered the large farmhouse table with more plastic, and put a tarp on the floor to cover the tile.

Back outside, we peeked into the two chosen hives,  determining that the top hive boxes had many frames of capped honey.  Bees bring lots of nectar from flowers back to the hives during the blooming season, or nectar flow, and store the nectar in the hexagon cells of the honeycomb.  When the bees have dehydrated the stored flower nectar to honey of just the right moisture content, they cover the honey with a thin coating of wax, forming "capped honey".  Uncapped stores may contain too much moisture.  If uncapped honey is extracted, it could ferment in the jar... not pleasant!

How do you get busy bee girls to leave the frames of capped honey and allow you to whisk them away for extraction?  Glad you asked!  We created a fume board by covering a piece of cut-to-size corrugated plastic with flannel scraps (it IS Flannel Jammies Farm, after all), securing the fabric in place, and attaching the fume board to an extra wooden inner cover for the hive.  We then sprayed the flannel on the fume board with a product that would repel the bees without harming them, causing them to retreat from the frames of honey in the top hive box into the depths of the lower boxes below.  The sprayed fume board was placed on top of the hive and we waited several minutes.  When Tom returned and lifted the fume board, the top box of the hive had been vacated!

He loaded the top box into the plastic lined wheelbarrow and headed for the house.  Heavy frames filled with capped honey were pulled from the hive box and brought inside.  Any stray bees were encouraged to stay outside with their sisters.

Once inside, each frame was set in a large dish and a special sharp-toothed tool was used to uncap the cells filled with liquid gold!  As the thin, wax caps were removed from the honey, it dripped down, sweet and thick and delicious into the dish below.  Wax cappings were set aside for melting later, destined to become salves and balms and candles and such.  Once all the cells were uncapped on both sides of the frame, the frame was place into the extractor.

We borrowed a manual extractor with a hand crank.  There are power models out there, but for our small honey operation the hand-cranked extractor worked perfectly.  We looked twice to be sure the honey gate was closed before beginning.  Frames are placed in this extractor vertically, into metal guides to keep them in place during the process.  When two frames were in place, we closed the lid, placed a honey bucket (with straining basket in place) below the honey gate of the extractor, and opened the honey gate.

Gently at first, we began to turn the crank, then faster and faster.  Inside the extractor, the frames are spun round and round, the centrifugal force flinging the honey onto the inside walls of the extractor.  The honey drips down the walls in sheets, gathers at the bottom, and pours out the honey gate into the strainer and bucket waiting below.  The strainer captures any wax and debris, and the clean, raw, beautiful honey fills the bucket below.

The process was repeated throughout the afternoon.  After filling the buckets and weighing the honey (a total of 76 pounds this season), we filled jars and jars with the amber treasure of honey.  We returned the emptied frames to their hive boxes and placed them back onto the hives, allowing the bees to clean the honeycomb, enjoy a feast from the remaining film of honey, and reuse the comb for future brood or stores.

It was quite a day of work, but the reward was SO worth it!  Our larder is stocked with half-gallon jars of honey to be used as sweetener throughout the year and with smaller jars to be given as gifts from us and from our bees.

My child, eat honey, for it is good, and the honeycomb is sweet to the taste.
Proverbs 24:13

Saturday, June 14, 2014

132-gallon rain barrel. check.

We love our rain barrel.  It's wonderful for catching rainwater which is then used to water our vegetable garden, herbs, and other plantings.  Water conservation, unadulterated rainwater, lower water bill... what's not to like?

We really wanted another one, though, in the front of the house, to water all the herbs, medicinals, and stray tomato plants that we plunk in amongst the hydrangea and peony and hellebores.  Oh, and the bee and butterfly bed.  And the asparagus/beet/tomato bed.

Recently we went to RIVERFest in Norfolk, our neighboring city.  It was a lovely day of learning about cleaning up our rivers and keeping them clean, conserving natural resources, boarding the Learning Barge, and chatting with local organizations.

One such group, the Elizabeth River Project, was signing folks up to be River Star homeowners.  Say what?  Yeah, so, River Star Homeowners are basically folks doin' right by the river, helping to restore the Elizabeth River and the Lafayette Branch!  You agree to do 7 simple things...
...and the organization gives you access to information on doing more, a spiffy little River Star Home flag for your yard, AND the opportunity (through a grant) to purchase a 132-gallon rain barrel, completely installed, for $75!!!!  You guessed it.  We signed up.  We wrote the check.  We flew our flag.  And today, that beauty was installed!

Mike, a sweet and patient man with a smile and a bright orange shirt, kindly answered all my questions, turned the barrel this way and that until I was happy, and got to work rerouting our gutter downspout.  The hubs worked with him, arranging foundation stones under the barrel, removing an unwanted sapling to clear more room, and finishing off with a flourish of river stones (we're all about the costuming over here!).

And now, we wait for rain...

While we're waiting, you can check out the programs in your area to do right by your rivers, forests, and other natural areas.  Take care of the pollinators and birds.  Make your home a safe haven for native plants and critters.  You'll be glad you did!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

bees in the top-bar hive...

We're newbies, really.  We haven't even had our first anniversary as beekeepers.  We have a few Langstroth hives in the back, and thousands of honey bee guests.  It has been a great gift to create a safe haven for these amazing bees.  But all along, the hubs longed for a more natural way, a style of beekeeping that intrigued him:  a top-bar hive.

We enjoyed hearing Dr. Wyatt Mangum speak at a couple of beekeeping conferences last year.  My husband chatted with him and his wife while he purchased a signed copy of the book, Top-Bar Hive Beekeeping: Wisdom and Pleasure Combined.  My husband then carried this book everywhere for months, reading and re-reading sections, dreaming of starting his own top-bar hive.  We read other material on top-bar beekeeping and watched countless YouTube videos on the subject!

Toward the end of this past winter, feeling bruised from life's challenges, we decided to cheer ourselves with a gift.  A top-bar hive from Bee Thinking, made of cedar with a copper roof, a screened bottom board, several entrances, beautifully beveled top bars, a double jar feeder, and an observation window running the length of the hive.  It arrived and was assembled in moments.  It was a thing of beauty standing in our living room! 

Spring swarm season soon arrived at Flannel Jammies Farm.  I trapped a couple of swarms and tried unsuccessfully to move them into the lovely new top-bar hive.  One swarm obviously did not have or lost their queen, and quickly dwindled, despite our best efforts.  One swarm seemed quite happy and began building gorgeous lobes of wax comb... then moved on to a new home without warning.  *sigh*  Then on a Sunday, driving with my daughter across the state to a funeral, I received a swarm call from a friend and fellow beekeeper.  I asked her to please call my husband at home and he might be able to rescue the bees.  Soon after, he called to say he had the swarm in a bucket and was driving them home to the top-bar hive!

This third swarm settled in nicely, built amazing wax comb, foraged and stored pollen and nectar, and began raising brood (bee babies). 
 A peek inside the top-bar hive through the observation window

Three weeks after getting the bees settled in, we did a hive check and found true wonders inside that top-bar hive.  We are loving this method of beekeeping!  Here are some of the photos from that hive check.
Bee at the reduced entrance to the top-bar hive

Inside the hive: lobes of lovely wax comb

Carefully removing any wax adhering the comb to the hive body before we try to remove the top-bars

Bars must be turned carefully end-to-end, and not flipped, lest the entire comb break off the top-bar; this photo shows pollen and nectar stores

Bees, comb, nectar

Larvae and eggs inside the cells

Wax comb attached to the top-bar

Bees tending capped and uncapped brood

Bees working, building

The carefully removed and turned bars of comb, placed in the order we removed them

Side view of the comb with white bee pupae visible inside the cells on each side of the comb

Working in the top-bar hive

Friday, May 2, 2014

share the (urban homestead) love...

(sshhhhh... don't tell anyone... I'm really only about five years old at heart...

So the hubs and I have been 'farming' this little 1/5 acre for over a decade now.  We grow veg and herb and fruit and flowering everythings, all mixed in together.  We grow intensively and our year-round harvest is abundant.  We're going into our second year of beekeeping, and our first little swarm has blossomed into 2 large Langstroth hives, 2 nuc boxes, 1 nuc swarm trap (in which we have bee squatters, the hubs proudly displayed yesterday), and 1 top bar hive.  We compost and we create 'lasagna garden' mulch and we collect rainwater.  It's all great fun.  Why not share the fun with some tiny visitors?

A couple of moms brought their kiddos for a Discovery Day at Flannel Jammies Farm!  We gathered and chatted about farms and bees and growing things.  Little ones snacked on the fruit and rice crackers set out in the kitchen.  Once all had arrived, we sat down at the big, square kitchen table for a brown bag lunch.  Then the real fun began... 

We started with a Scavenger Hunt.  Each child was given a pencil and a clipboard with a specially designed Scavenger Hunt sheet.  Kids and moms explored the yard and garden beds, looking for and asking questions about all sorts of things:  a rain barrel, worms, asparagus, pink flowers, strawberries, tomatoes, beehives, watering cans, and so much more!  It was a bit rainy that day, but we didn't care!  Boot and smiles were the apparel of the day!

We came inside to wash hands and sit down on the kitchen floor together.  Now to plant!  A pot for each one, a pen to add their names, and a little instruction about how much soil got us going.  We decided to plant some lettuce and grow a salad.  Little fingers poked holes in the top of the soil and gently placed seeds in the depression.  The seeds were covered with a bit more soil and watered just a bit.

More snacks, more smiles, a little imaginary party planning with hats, and sweet hugs goodbye completed our Discovery Day.  I so enjoyed sharing with these small friends!  Share the hospitality, share the wisdom, share the love with those around you... you will be blessed even more than those you share with, I assure you!