Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Making Winter Ice Lanterns

Now that we are in winter weather, I thought about how much fun it would be to make some of those gorgeous ice lanterns I've seen in photos.  There are kits available for purchase, but I am on a budget and decided to try to make something similar for free, so today I'm sharing my DIY ice lanterns.

A Glowing Ice Lantern on a Winter Night
We had numerous clean empty 5 gallon paint buckets available, so I decided to make my ice lanterns with those, but really any clean plastic container of any size will work.

Filling a 5 gallon bucket with water
I  filled two buckets about half-way up  because  I didn't know how long it would take for the water to freeze and figured it would take less time if it wasn't full.    Food coloring can be added to the water, but I decided to use just plain water.

Waiting for water to freeze in 5 gallon buckets

I placed my buckets outside and checked each day for a week, but there was still water in the middle. The daytime temperatures were hovering right around freezing with the night temperatures in the mid to upper 20s. Then the temperature dropped about 10 degrees both day and night and after 2 more days at the colder temperatures, the ice inside the buckets seemed solidly frozen.  When I tried to dump the ice out of the bucket, it was frozen to the sides, so I brought them inside the house for a few minutes to thaw the sides.

Ice emptied from a 5 gallon bucket

I was then able to turn the buckets upside down to dump the ice out.  There was still a little water in the very bottom where it wasn't frozen solid, making a perfect depression to place a candle inside.

Votive candle in an ice lantern

I placed a votive candle in a glass holder in the top.  It was easy to make it level by using a little snow under the votive holder.

Votive candle lighting an ice lantern

I waited until dark and then lit the candle.

I also experimented with placing a larger jar candle inside.

A jar candle inside an ice lantern

I liked the way the color from the larger candle showed through the ice.  A red candle at Christmas time would be very festive!

Ice lanterns lighting a walkway on a winter night

Although I liked the way the jar candle looked, too, here is a photo of my homemade ice lanterns with votive candles inside.  For anyone who prefers the look of the ice globes, kits are available for purchase.

We're linked up to the Homestead Blog Hop!

Friday, December 11, 2015

Freezing Corn on the Cob

This year we planted a big patch of corn and even after giving some away and serving some at a picnic, we still had a lot left over.  I did some research to try to determine the best way to freeze it to be able to eat it as corn on the cob.

Field of corn
 A super easy method that several people recommended was to just freeze it leaving on a little of the inner husk to keep it from getting freezer burned.

Fresh corn on the cob

.  Since this sounded so easy I decided to try it.  Here are the steps:

1.  Slice off the corn tassel end.

Slicing off the tassel of the corn cob

2.  Cut off the stem end just a little longer than where the kernels begin on the cob.

Slicing off the stem end  of the corn cob

3.  Peel off the outer layers of the husk leaving only a couple of inner leaves.

Corn with outer layers of husks removed

5.  Place the ears in a vacuum pack or ziplock bag and put it in the freezer.

Corn on the cob in freezer bag

What could be an easier way to freeze corn on the cob?  Of course the test will be when we pull it out of the freezer and eat it.  Stay tuned...

I am thinking of purchasing a FoodSaver Vacuum sealing system like the one below:
FoodSaver FM2000-000 Vacuum Sealing System with Starter Bag/Roll Set

Please feel free to share your experience and recommendations with vacuum sealers.

Do you have a favorite way to freeze corn on the cob?

We are linked up with the Homestead Blog Hop


Tuesday, December 1, 2015

My Sunflower Seed Disaster

Last summer I grew some sunflowers to provide our pollinating insects with one of their favorite nectar and pollen sources and then to harvest the seeds to help feed the wild birds over the winter.  I knew I didn't plant enough to feed the birds for the entire winter, but thought the seeds might last at least a few weeks.

Fading Sunflower

I watched with happiness as my sunflowers grew, flowered and formed seed heads.

Drying sunflower

The little flowers on the heads dried and began to fall off.

Ripening sunflower seeds

The warm sunshine of August and September ripened the seeds.

Sunflower seeds

The striped seeds could be seen drying in the sun.  We started to have some cooler temperatures and some rain one morning followed by a sunny, warm afternoon, so I harvested most of the seed heads and brought them inside to continue drying.  I have them a couple of hours in a warm oven to try to make sure they were dry,  I let them cool overnight and to prevent any rodents from getting into them, I put the seeds, heads and all into some empty metal coffee cans with plastic lids.  A couple of months passed and we had our first few inches of snow that stuck and an extended cold spell with temperatures staying below freezing for several days.  Certain by now all of the bears would be in hibernation, I pulled out my bird feeders and pulled out the containers with my home-grown sunflower seeds.

Mold growing on a sunflower seed head
They obviously hadn't been dried enough or I should have removed all of the seeds from the seed heads or maybe both because they were covered with ugly grey mold and totally unusable.  Into the compost pile they went and I bought sunflower seed to fill my bird feeders.  Any tips on harvesting and preparing sunflower seeds for storage would be appreciated!

Friday, November 27, 2015

Fall Mason Bee Care

Our little orchard was planted several years ago, but we'd weren't getting the yields we were hoping for.  Some trees had lots of blossoms, but little or no fruit.  Although we sometimes see honeybees and several species of bumblebees, we thought we should try some additional types of pollinators.

 Mason Bee, also called  an Orchard Bee or Blue Orchard Bees (BOBs)
I had heard of mason bees (also called orchard bees) several years ago.  Unlike honeybees they don't live in a hive and they don't produce honey, but they are excellent pollinators, especially of early blooming fruit and berry blossoms,  They live singly and the female usually lays her eggs in holes made by other insects or birds. In the past I had tried to encourage them by hanging up some blocks of wood drilled with holes. I saw evidence of some of the holes capped with mud, but the results were rather underwhelming.  I saw an advertisement for a free class about Mason Bees being offered at a local garden center and decided to attend.  It was there that I learned updated information about Mason bees and the reason why my previous efforts to propagate them had been unsuccessful.

Do NOT Hang Mason Bee Nesting Blocks Like This:

Wrong Mason Bee Nesting Block

Mason Bee Nesting Boxes with Trays

I found out that I had unwittingly created a death trap for the mason bees by not using either disposable straws or canes that would be used only once or better yet, by using trays that could be cleaned each fall and re-used.  Mason bees are susceptible to diseases and parasites which build up in nesting sites that are reused without being cleaned and will eventually kill the bees.  After attending the class, I ordered some nesting trays from Crown Bees and we set it up last spring near our orchard.

Crown Bees BeeWorks Chalet with Bees

We also built a nesting box and some trays with a design my husband and I created.   More about that later.  Fortunately it appeared that we had some success with several nesting holes plugged with mud, so last month it was time to see what we had.

Fall Orchard Bee Nesting Box Maintenance

Mason Bee Nesting Tray holes capped with mud

I spread out some paper on a workbench in the garage, but before I even opened the trays, the slightly warmer temperature inside the garage awakened several squatters like the one in the photo below. I set the trays out in the sun for a few minutes - just long enough to wake up the rest of the hornets/wasps so I could evict them by shaking them out. So the lesson learned here is to proceed with caution when opening the trays since you never know what might be inside.

A hornet or wasp emerges from a mason bee nesting tray

I started with the trays we purchased from Crown Bees and found a surprise.  Although the end of the hole was sealed with what appeared to be mud, the cocoons inside appear to be leaf-cutter bees, not mason bees.

Leaf cutter bee cocooons?

From the information I gathered about leaf-cutter bees, I thought they sealed their nesting holes with leaves and these looked to be sealed with mud.  I am by no means an expert, so will need to consult about what kind of cocoons these are with those who know more.

Scraping the Mason Bee Nesting Tray Grooves

The cocoons are easily removed without damaging them bygently using a screwdriver or small chisel.  Note that the channels in the tray need to be scraped and cleaned of all debris. Although most of this is mud and poop from the bee larvae, some of it can harbor disease, parasites like pollen mites and mold spores.  After using the chisel, I used a round file to clean out even more and then soaked the trays in a bucket filled with water with 5% bleach.  Next I opened one of the nesting trays that we made.

Mason Bee Cocoons in Nesting Tray

I was very happy to see a two grooves in this tray filled with what looks like mostly healthy mason bee cocoons.  Next I opened the nesting canes that were included with our Crown Bee Mason Kit   They were the first nesting holes that were filled so seemed to be preferred by the bees.

Canes with Mason Bee Larvae
The first cane revealed a few seemingly healthy  mason bee cocoons.

Mason Bee Cocoon with Pollen Mites
One of the canes did have a cocoon that appeared to be unhealthy.  My guess is that it has been infested and killed by pollen mites.  Note the yellow on the cocoon that is yellowish brown instead of dark brown and the shape that is round instead of cylindrical.

Candling a Mason Bee Cocoon
After brushing off as much debris as possible, I candled each cocoon quickly with a flashlight.  From what I've learned from my research, the photo I took above is what a mason bee larva should look like inside its cocoon.  What I was looking for was evidence of parasitic wasps which would have appeared as multiple tiny insects instead of one large one.  If the cocoon was full of parasitic wasps I would have destroyed it to prevent them from hatching next spring to infest more cocoons. This cocoon could still be a parasitic cuckoo bee, but at least I'm sure it isn't full of wasps.

Rinsing the Mason Bee cocoons
The next step is to rinse the cocoons with cool water to remove any remaining debris that might harbor parasites and disease.

Mason Bee cocoons drying

Next I placed the cleaned and rinsed cocoons on a paper towel to dry.  In addition to drying the cocoons before storing over the winter, the white paper towels also provide a good background for spotting any remaining dust mites or other parasites.

Mason Bee cocoons in a HumidiBee container

After the cocoons dried, they were ready to be placed in a Crown Bees HumidiBee container to spend the winter hibernating in my garage refrigerator.

Crown Bees Mason Bee Accessories Humidifier Storage Container, Humidibee

Next spring when it is time to put the cocoons back outside, I'll post an update.

We're linked up with the Homestead Blog Hop!

Sunday, November 15, 2015

A Busy October at Willeth Farm

It would seem logical to think that things would slow down in October, but things were busier than ever.  Contributing to the hustle and bustle was the move into our house!  After living in temporary quarters for over a year, even our dogs were happy to have a permanent home again.

Moving Day
We also harvested most of what was still growing in our garden.  Concerns about climate change aside, we were fortunate to have an unseasonably warm start to the fall season.  This warm weather allowed us to harvest some last few ears of sweet corn, cucumbers and tomatoes until the first killing frost at almost the end of October.  We also have a nice crop of pumpkins from our little pumpkin patch from which I made some pumpkin puree and pumpkin bread.  The pumpkins also provided us with some entertainment while trying to solve a mystery - see my Adventures of Border Collies in the Burbs blog post, "Who is eating my pumpkin?"

Border Collies Tim and Hank herd up a crop of pumpkins
I also harvested and processed the cocoons from our mason bee trays.  The mason bees (also known as orchard bees) are now stored safely in our garage refrigerator where they will spend the winter in hibernation. They will be released next spring to pollinate our fruit trees and berry plants.

Blue Orchard Bee
Now that things have slowed down a bit, I'll be posting more details and photos about some of our October adventures and projects in future posts!

Monday, September 28, 2015

From Summer to Fall - Signs of the Change in Seasons

September 23rd was the official first day of autumn and right on time, the signs of a change in the seasons are becoming obvious here in the northeast corner of Washington State.  I thought it would be fitting to start the entries of our new life to coincide with a change of seasons.

Ripening Pumpkins

Our pumpkins are turning orange in the garden.

Sunflower Seeds

Sunflowers are fading and forming seeds.

Red Blueberry Leaves
The leaves on our blueberry shrubs are turning red.

Garden Spider Spinning a Web
An enormous spider is spinning a web on the apple tree.

Cattail Seeds Blowing in the Wind
The cattails are going to seed and dispersing in the wind.

Paddle-tailed Dragonfly
A beautiful dragonfly with tattered wings rests on a leaf.  The once plentiful numbers flying around our pond are now reduced to just a few.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Life on the Farm - A new Journey

Our new site about our rural life on our 40+ acres is under construction!  We will share our experiences of adjusting from life in the burbs to our new country life. 

Sunset in Northeast Washington
This transition has been 10 years in the making and we've made mistakes and learned a lot.  We want to share our experiences as we try to live on our land in a self-sufficient, sustainable way while respecting the lives and needs of the other species that live on our little piece of heaven.

Mama and Baby Moose in the Meadow at Willeth Farm

Please bookmark this site to come back later to see what's new.