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  October 11, 2019 -- A Wild Array

This year's apple saga is winding down. I harvested the Haralsons a few days ago (small but very nice crop - it's a variety that tends towards one year on, one year off and this was its "off" year), we pressed our second batch of cider, another nice and delicious 4 gallons, canned it today, and there is now room in the root cellar for the potatoes (dug yesterday, before today's/night's big rains). Black Oxford is still on the tree, there is a crate of Beacons waiting to be sauced along with the oldest Dudleys, and several crates of the best and freshest for fresh eating and fresh sauce as needed. If the weather cooperates I'll dry a few more batches, too. We're still enjoying fresh apples but they aren't quite as exciting as they were a month ago.

But there are also little sets of 2, 3 or more apples sitting here and there on the shelves in the root cellar. These are my "test" apples, mostly from our wild trees. I'm wondering how long they will keep in good shape. The cold front coming in tonight (likely freezing nights, cold and windy days) should help cool down the root cellar which will be nice since it's still in the mid-upper 50's, warm for good apple storage. A few of the wildings have very good fruit, some I'm happy to leave for the deer and squirrels, others are OK and find their way into a batch of sauce or cider. I enjoy these diverse apples no matter what I do, or don't do, with them. They are mostly quite different one from the other, Nature's breeding at work, not only in looks but taste and texture, too. It also helps that I've named most of the trees for our many and diverse cats who have blessed our lives over the forty years we've been here. It's pleasing as well as practical. So here's our line-up this year:

 wild names apples

All the wild trees had at least a small harvest, while MrC outdid itself raining down a storm of juicy pretty large crabapples for the deer and smaller critters. I even enjoyed these small bites as I wandered by, a particularly tasty year. And Bulero surprised me greatly by having a good crop of good tasting, sweet, juicy, small red "lunchbox" size apples that made the best no-sugar sauce! Last year they were rather dry texture. I didn't want to leave Ditto out but her tree hasn't fruited yet. 

  October 1, 2019 -- Apple Love

It's probably not a surprise to anyone who reads our blog that apples are a bit of a passion for me. I'm not sure how I got so interested in them, but they do bring me a lot of pleasure, beyond simply as food. And it's getting even more fun as new apples that I've never seen nor tasted before start to fruit. This year there were three new grafts that set fruit, only a few each, and only one of one, but enough for a taste. They were our first apple grafts to bear fruit! All were on a branch of an established tree (not on their own rootstocks) which means there will never be many (unless we graft onto more branches) but it also means they fruit earlier than the ones on young small rootstocks. It was exciting when I realized they had blossoms, and then thrilled when they fruited. These apples were given a great deal of watchful attention. Every time I passed the trees I looked to make sure the fruit was still there. Only one was inside the fence, the other two outside on a wild tree, vulnerable to a deer or squirrel munch. Thankfully, we are in short supply of both this year.

Nutting Bumpus applesThe first to ripen (2 apples) was the Nutting Bumpus (the names are sometimes as much fun as the apples!). One dropped mid September, the other came off in my hand. Excited I took photos then took a slice. Mmmmm. Well, it was OK but really wasn't very special. It tasted quite like the wild tree it had been grafted to, though somewhat larger and earlier. Rather tart but with flavor and some sweetness. It isn't a bad apple, just not anything special. I saved one of the two apples to see how it kept but it was getting soft so today it went into a batch of sauce. I won't cut it off but I won't graft any more of it. To be fair, apples often change as the tree ages and future crops may be different. But it is a Duchess seedling and tastes a lot like the many Duchess types that are all along the roads. Duchess of Oldenburg is an old and hardy apple that was likely planted in most of the old orchards around here. I'm not sure now why I chose this one to begin with. But it was still exciting to have it fruit.Goodland apple

The second variety came down five days later - the one and only apple - a Canadian variety called Goodland. This was such a beauty it had been fun just to watch it grow. A large, 3" fruit, clean, I was really excited about this one. I set it on the counter for several days just to admire it! Then I carefully sliced it - nice, juicy. Gave Steve a piece and we both tried it. Hurray! This one is a keeper for sure. Delicious. We both liked it a lot. Sweet/tart flavor has an interesting sweet aftertaste. Can't wait for more of these. We'll be grafting it on its own rootstock next year.

Hoholik apples on treeOur third newby is still on the tree - 3 fruit, outside the fence, carefully protected from deer (I hope) with a ladder underneath to discourage close contact (and give the squirrels a way to climb up Steve says) (hah) (I expect LilliB to make sure that doesn't happen) and branches pinned carefully across to hide the fruit, because these will likely not be ready for several more weeks. We have had this one before, from the tree we got our scion from. An old tree, growing outside the front door of an old farmhouse friends had bought. When the house burned down the only thing left was this tree (they rebuilt, a really nice house). They figure the tree was planted early 1900's. They gave us a bucket of apples awhile back and we liked them so much we asked to cut a scion for our own tree. We grafted one piece on its own rootstock and it is growing well but will probably be some more years before it has a crop. We had also grafted a piece onto the branch of a mature wild tree, and this is the one that has fruit. It is a nice, mild, fairly sweet green/yellow apple that stores well. We guess it might be a Golden Delicious, but don't really know for sure. Can't wait to taste our own.

Now that's not to say I don't appreciate and admire all the other apples that have given us many baskets and bushels of fruit this year. I do!! The root cellar is full, more cider to be made, more sauce, more eating. It's a very good apple year and I'm enjoying it fully. Most of the apples are harvested but there are still Haralsons and Black Oxfords on the tree, later varieties and good storage types. I'll leave them for awhile yet, depending on the weather (no freezes yet!) and the birds (hopefully they are too busy with the abundant crabapples to bother my apples). They are harvests to look forward to yet this fall.

  September 25, 2019 -- Cider Day!

We're blessed with an abundance of apples this year which means it's a cider year! There is nothing quite like the taste of fresh pressed cider, and the only way to get that is to be right there, cup in hand, as the juice starts flowing from the press. Enjoy all you can that first day because left to its own devices it soon starts turning. Now for some folks that's the whole point - they're going for hard cider. We prefer sweet cider, so stop the process fairly early. But first step is to gather the apples.

apples for ciderWe've made many a cider with mostly just one variety of apple - Beacon in our earlier years, along with whatever wild apples were ripe. Two years ago it was Dudley's, which made a real good juice (as do the Beacon's). It just depends on what is available. This year it was about half/half Beacon and Dudley with a smaller amount from one of our wild seedling trees - named Splitter. It's a "Duchess type" which is pretty common around here, a decent tart-sweet September apple. The Beacons were interesting (to me anyway) because this is the first year since we did major cut back of the two tree that we had a good harvest (so nice to have them back!), enough for both sauce and cider. Secondly, while one tree had beautiful, blemish free clean fruit the other one's fruit had a lot of watercore, almost getting to the "rot" stage. I was a bit bummed by that but when I cut into a well watercored fruit and tasted it I realized it was tasty and would do just fine for cider. Watercore tends to sweeten an apple. Unfortunately, it also makes it not keep very longpressing cider. That wasn't a problem - all those apples were going right into cider.

This is a bit earlier than we usually press, but those Beacons were ready and the root cellar was getting crowded with baskets of apples. It was a lightly cool day, no rain, just right to take a few hours off from firewood and gardening and enjoy this small homestead event. So we did. I washed apples and tossed them into the chopper, then Steve operated the press, slowly squeezing the pulp as the golden pink juice ran into the pot. A lone yellow jacket arrived to keep us company. Cider making would not be the same without the yellow jackets. Unfortunately we have very few nowdays; a state we certainly hope is temporary. But the one lone y.j. did his best to get in the way however he could.

Two hours and 100 pounds of apples (about 5 - 5 gallon buckets) later we had 4 1/2 gallons of sweet, sweet cider. Ambrosia of the gods for sure.

Two days later the cider had gone past the super sweet sticky stage and I canned the batch (after drinking all we could fresh!). This stops the fermenting progress and is where we like it, with just a touch of zing. Sometimes it takes four days, it just depends. Heating the cider to the boiling point does change the flavor some but it is still very good drinking, and will be enjoyed all winter. It goes boiling hot into jars with regular canning lids then set aside to cool. The regular "pop" of the metal lids as each quart seals is a welcome music in the kitchen during canning time.

They are more apples coming and more cider to be made - a very happy situation to look forward to. We sure appreciate our apple trees!

  September 16, 2019 -- Colorful Sauerkraut

I don't remember the last time I made sauerkraut - it's been many years, decades really. It's not that we didn't like it; we just didn't eat that much and that really nice 10 gallon crock that Steve's Mom had given us so long ago always tempted me to make way more than we needed. So it was one of those things that just went by the wayside. But this year the "Fermented Vegetables" book turned my thoughts to sauerkraut once again. That and some really good homemade kraut we had at a friend's house. So at the last minute I picked up some seed and planted a row of red and green cabbages. 

They grew well, thankfully at varied rates, and the first of September I realized a nice head ofred kraut mixed red cabbage was mature and starting to crack. I had a small crock (a repurposed crockpot that Steve had strippkraut mix in crocked of its outer shell and wire) and I did something I seldom do - I got out the book and followed their directions and recipe for Red Kraut, with apple, onion and caraway seed. I also included shredded carrot which added some nice color to the mix, and we have a lot of carrots this year. Being a small batch (one 3# cabbage) it didn't take long to slice and shred and mix. It was particularly satisfying for some reason to get my (very clean) hands in there and knead in the salt.

I let it ferment for two weeks, tasting and checking it now and then and finally deciding it was ready. It sure turned out pretty! But even nicer, we liked it, much better than anything I had red kraut in jarsmade before. It adds a particularly nice flavorful crunch to our luncheon salads.

The timing was good because just as the crock was emptied and washed there were three more cabbages mature and ready out in the garden, two green and one red. So a new batch is fermenting in the root cellar now, this time with carrot, onion, and fresh oregano. I wonder how it would be to add some shredded rutabaga to the mix? Mmmm, I can see how one could get quite carried away with the possibilities. Good thing I only have one small crock.

September 2, 2019 - New rowboat has been launched!

Sue has been keeping you up to date on all things on the homestead and I admit to being a bit lax on posting here about my summer boatNew Adventure Roaboat building project. This all started back mid-winter with ideas, sketches a bit of design work and a tentative deadline of July 4th. Oh well, I'm a mere 60 days late but for me the wait was worth it. Once I decided that I wasn't going to work on a schedule I began enjoying the process a lot more. The boat is done and was launched today at nearby Indian Lake. No fanfare, just slipped into the water, floated (important) and looked good enough to me. The boat is very stable and rows like a dream. I'm looking forward to spending a lot of time rowing this fall.

You can see some more photos of the boat and follow the building process here>  Rowboat Build Page

Sue & Steve playing at Lake Effect Arts fundraiser 2019

  August 14, 2019 -- Lake Effect Arts Fundraiser

We had a good time playing for the annual Lake Effect Arts Art Auction Fundraiser in Manistique Saturday. It was well attended and attendees were treated to a fun and wonderfully presented event, with great auction items, incredible food, a nice array of entertainment and a beautiful presentation of everything. Proceeds will go to help renovate their newly gifted Community Arts building. We're already looking forward to next year's event. For more information on this local Arts organization see their website at www.LakeEffectArts.org.

  August 7, 2019 -- First Pickles of the Season

Someone ate my first planting of cucumber seeds this spring (and the squash, too!) so I replanted later than I normally plant. Being concerned that the crop would be limited because of that I planted extras. Turns out that wasn't at all necessary and I now have a crowded, thriving, green jungle of cucumber plants in my plot, happily putting out cucs right and left and right on schedule. They know when it's time to produce. Plants probably get quite a chuckle at human's fussing.

They did catch me a bit by surprise, since I thought they'd be later, but when I noticed some full sized cucumbers I was quite happy to grab a basket and pick enough for the first batch of fermented pickles. I do both fermented and vinegar pickles; not so many of the first and more of the second since they last longer. The ferments are for "fresh" eating while the vinegared are mostly cut up in salads and dishes.

Since ferments are alive and ever changing their shelf life is limited. How long they are good depends a lot on the temperature and the season and weather. The first batch of the season is barely given time to get going before being eaten since it's been a good long while since we've had any. In a week or two we'll start sampling this first batch. They won't last long. But they are very easy to make so more will be on their way soon. I spread out my pickling - a small batch of ferments now, then several batches of vinegar, which aren't hard to make but they take a bit more time so it depends on my schedule and how the cucs are ripening. This year I think I'll be giving cucumbers away!

ferment picklesBut not until the pickle shelf is full. If you've never had fresh fermented pickles you might want to give them a try. We like them. I'd made them off and on through the years, using directions from here and there, coming up with my own recipe. Usually they turned out good, though it's not a sure thing. But a few years ago I bought a book that got me enthused once again about ferments - "Fermented Vegetables" by Kirsten and Christopher Shockey. Now most of their well written and wonderfully photographed book is a bit lost on me, being quite fond of simplicity in my own kitchen/preserving life and not much inclined to add to it. But I enjoyed reading the book anyway and was really amazed at the array of ferments. They do a great job of explaining the ins and outs and particulars of fermenting - well worth it even if you don't want to ferment everything in sight. I did try a few new things and came up with an adaptation of their onion and sweet pepper relish that I really liked. I'll do that one again when my peppers are ripe. It's a fun book.

Ferments are pretty basic and simple. My recipe is basic and simple. The tools required are simple, too. I made many a pickle, and sauerkraut, in a crock with a plate and a rock or jar of water for a weight. It works, and I still do that sometimes. But skimming off the scum is a bit fussy. I found that for pickles doing them directly in a jar works better - no or little skum to skim. But last year I discovered something even easier - Pickle Pipes made by MasonTops, along with their PicklePebbles glass weights. I started with a set of four, and it wasn't long before I ordered another set. I made do with those 8 last year, using a crock until a PicklePipe and Pebble was free then transferring to a jar. I'm not much for gizmos, especially in my kitchen, but I have to say these things are not only cute they simply make ferments easy, more reliable and trouble free.  

So this is how I (usually) do it:

Scrub and slice medium sized pickling cucumbers (large ones tend to get mushy). Pack firmly into into a wide mouth quart jar along with these optional options:
2 cloves garlic
fresh green dill flowers/seeds (whatever stage is available) 
grape leaf or horseradish root piece
1 tsp mixed pickling spice

Leave about 2" headroom if using Pipe & Pebble (less if not). Weight with a PicklePebble.
Cover with brine made of 1 1/2 TB plain salt to quart of water 
Put on a PicklePipe with metal ring

Leave for 3-5 days in kitchen (or somewhere around 70 deg) to begin ferment, then move to cooler space, for me this is the root cellar at about 60 deg this time of year. Start testing in about a week or two. Start eating when you like the flavor. Move to a pint jar when half eaten. The ferment brine is good, too, and good for you. It adds a real nice flavor to bread or baked goods, or general cooking that needs liquid.

The last fermented pickles made end of season in September have kept fairly well until March but they do tend to get soft by then, and that's the end of the fermented pickles until the next season. These later pickles get cooler storage temps as the root cellar starts cooling down in October and is down to 40 degrees in November.

But that's a long ways off. Meantime, we look forward to the first fresh fermented pickles in a week or two.

  August 4, 2019 -- BlackCaps!

blackcap MacBlack raspberrySomething new arrived in the homestead berry world today - our very first black raspberry (aka blackcaps), a hardy variety called MacBlack. Just a few ripe fruit so far but are they every good! I hadn't had a black raspberry since a child when we had wild ones growing along the edge of our yard. I don't really remember them much, just that I'd eat them now and then when out playing, as I did the red raspberries that grew mostly untended beside a shed. Black raspberries don't grow wild around here and are mostly for warmer zones, but I'd read of a few hardier varieties so decided to give them a try, hoping I'd like them if they survived.

Well I certainly do like them! They have a somewhat similar taste to red raspberries but not the same. They taste, well, like black raspberries. blackcaps, red raspberries, blueberriesThey are firmer than the reds and the canes have much more serious thorns, more like a rose. Definitely something to respect. My first plant made it through its first winter and I planted two more this spring, another MacBlack and a Pequot Lakes. That was all I had room for. I do hope they decide they like it here and can handle the winters. These first ones are ripening a bit later than the reds (the Preludes have finished and the Lathams are about midway in their season) and should still be ripening when the Lathams are done. Since I mostly like the raspberries for fresh snacking it will be nice to have the season extended, hopefully into the fall. And now that I've tasted those first few berries I'll be better able to be patient and let them truly ripen to a rich, sweet black before picking them. We're truly rich in berries here on the homestead.

  August 1, 2019 - For Thee and the Bee

I spend a fair amount of time searching and reading, planning and planting specifically for the pollinators, thinking that as I add more and more fruit that I'm counting on them to pollinate I should be adding special extras for their enjoyment and use. This is fine, and they do make use of these gifts, but they also often remind me by their actions that they are quite capable of taking care of themselves with what is already there. I do know this, it's quite obvious as our homestead is blessed with a wide and generous variety of wildflowers, and many a blossoming tree is loud with buzzing during peak time. But our pollinator population has definitely dropped. Only bumble bees seem to be in good supply, or maybe they are just the most obvious. But flowers are being pollinated, fruit and seed is being produced, nature is doing the job that nature does. There are ups and downs in all things.

wild bergamot and beeAnd it is the plants that I didn't plant for the pollinators that remind me that all is well in spite of my fussing and mild worry. The Wild Bergamot I didn't have much hand in. Early on, maybe the late 80's, I noticed this pretty lavender flower up by the gate at the end of our road. I transplanted a little clump into the edge of the front yard wild area. They have grown there ever since, expanding some though not much, losing themselves in the surrounding vegetation until they flower and they get their well deserved attention, from the bees and us.

Some years ago more Wild Bergamots showed up by the garden gate, to our delight. We marked those few beginners so we wouldn't mow them and they responded by spreading into a really nice patch, along with a growing population of Black Eyed Susans, apparently enjoying each others company. They are a pleasing welcome to the garden, loved by the bees and other pollinators (and us), and with no assistance from me.

The buckwheat flowers and beebuckwheat in the garden, on the other hand, does get my help by being planted wherever there is a spot not being used by vegetables. Since it will happily self seed (and does in spite of my management) in a way it doesn't need me either. But being in the garden proper I require it to keep in its place, though I'm pretty lax and often let volunteers grow here and there. I initially started planting buckwheat for green manure - to grow and be cut down for mulch and extra nutrition as it breaks down. It grows easily and produces a lot of matter. But when it flowers it's obvious it has an even bigger purpose - it's there for the pollinators, and they are there for it. It is one very popular flower! And by a variety of insects. The "fragrance" of the flowers won't win it any awards by humans, on the contrary being downwind causes wrinkled noses (and visitors might look quickly at their shoes to see if they stepped in something they shouldn't have) but no matter, the prolific buzzing coming from the patch wins all. There certainly are showier and more touted "bee flowers" but I doubt there are many more popular to the bees than the rather humble buckwheat. 

  July 30, 2019 -- Happy Blues

blueberries in basketIt's that time - the blueberry harvest has begun! The blues can indeed be happy.

mixed berries mid July

  July 21, 2019 -- A Very Berry Day

The berries know how to do it. As one finishes it hands the baton to another, and the creatures (including humans) eat well. In the garden the Dunlap strawberries are winding down, the Valley Sunsets ripening the last ones, the Old North Sea taking a break as they energy up for that very welcome late crop. Hinnonmaki Red gooseberries ripening their last as Pixwell ripening its first. Prelude raspberries are coming on to their peak to fill us well until the sweet Lathams ripen. And this year somewhere in there will be our very first black raspberries, maybe with the Latham. Haskaps/Honeyberries produced more than I expected, well past now except for a few final Boreal Blizzards which added a bit of dark zing to the strawberry sauce. And now come the Carmine Jewell tart cherries! Our 2nd year of fruit, a quite decent crop, ripening up bright and cheery. So nice to have cherries again. Then the blueberries, Duke giving us the first taste of many, many more to come. And one must mention the rhubarb - the most reliable 'fruit' of the northwoods! And this is just in the garden. Outside the woods and fields are full of ripe and ripening fruit. Looks like a great year for wild black cherries.

Life is good in the berry realm, for both producers and consumers. Appreciation abounds!

  July 19, 2019 -- Hot Summer Day, Happy Growing Garden

It's a bit on the warm side today, about 90 with no wind, quite unusual for us cool Yoopers, but being surrounded by growing green helps a lot. Even so I decided it's a good day to leave the garden and orchard to themselves (they probably don't mind that at all) and get caught up on inside chores, which tend to get neglected any days that are above freezing and no snow on the ground. Steve is out in the shop working on the boat and anticipating getting it in the water before summer is over. 

garden July 2019One of my catch-ups was to update garden notes. For all my intentions those notes get really sparse mid season but the garden does just fine anyway. It's a wonderful time in the sequence - everything is mulched, we've had enough rain so no watering needed (only necessary on those really dry years), even the youngest plants are big enough to hold their own, and the older ones are well on their way to being all they can be. Strawberries are winding down but still producing, raspberries have started ripening for the enjoyment of both gardener and birds, tame blueberries are thinking about taking on their namesake color. Lettuce for lunch and spinach for supper, and now carrots. There is so much going on. It's all pretty amazing.

And in the orchard, too. The new grafts are growing, previous grafts looking settled in, fruit in the apples and pears are getting large enough to show up, cherries turning red, there may even be a handful of plums. Flowers, grasses and herbs both wild and tame make the area a wonderful place for all sizes and shapes of insects, and people, too. I love walking through and around it, it's just plain magic.

  July 17, 2019 -- Carrot Adventures

Over the many years I’ve tried almost all the open-pollinated carrots available and none have compared to Kinko 6" (a chantenay type), which I started growing in 1980. It is sweet when young, still very good flavor when old, good in storage, good over-wintered, nicely shaped - a great all-round carrot. All this makes it rather frustrating that it was dropped from the industry - the seed no longer available. For years I hadn’t noticed it was not available because it somewhat common ‘back when’, and I’ve grown my own seed several times since, keeping my own line alive, and hadn't needed to buy new. But my latest seed supply was running low so I started searching to buy seed, with no success.

So why not just grow my own. In a way, carrot seed is one of the easiest seeds to grow. It's biennial so one has to overwinter the roots, either inside storage or outside in the ground. Both work. But there is one very large challenge called Queen Anne’s Lace, which we have in abundance. QAL is the wild version of our garden carrot. One can eat the roots but they tend to be thinner and longer, rougher, harder to dig, white (which isn't a problem) and quite strong flavored raw though they are sweeter cooked. Our garden carrots have been selected and bred over the years to be, generally, what we prefer. The problem in growing seed is that the garden carrot when grown for seed will cross readily with QAL resulting in future roots that tend to be strong toward the wild type.

When I grew my seed in the past I did my best to mow, cut, pick, pluck the QAL flowers in our surrounding fields to avoid crossing. This was no small endeavor, fussy and time consuming, in a way futile but fairly successful. I did my best and am OK with my crop of not pure Kinko’s having occasional white roots (which though rougher are sweeter and more tender cooked than ‘regular’ carrots). But we have even more QAL now and I didn't want to go through that again, nor do I want even more wild genes in my tame seed.

The solution is to keep the pollinators from visiting and carrying pollen from the wild flowers to the tame flowers when they open. But, carrot flowers being as they are, do need to be cross pollinated - someone has to carry pollen from one flower to a different plant's flower, easily handled by the pollinators, clumsily handled by humans, at least this human. But I figured I could do that. Normally I would choose my best roots in the fall, replant them in the garden to grow the next year. But this time I didn't decide to do this till I was digging the very last of the overwintered roots this spring, and many of them had been a bit frozen on the tops and so, though good for eating wouldn't grow a seed stalk. But I managed to get seven roots to grow and flower and, like Queen Anne's lace, thankfully they do that readily.

carrot flowers baggedCarrot/QAL flowers are apparently well loved by a wide variety of and sizes of pollinators. Keeping them off the flowers is no small task. I made 8"x8" bags out of a light-weight fabric (maybe curtain sheers) found at the thrift store. Originally I thought I'd just uncover them all, taking my time, romantically and patiently hand cross pollinating the flowers with a soft artist paint brush, then gently rebagging them. I didn't figure it would be too hard to shoo off pollinators. Hah!! I had no idea there were so many different insects of all sizes intent with firm purpose on getting to those cute little carrot flowers. Many are waiting on the bags, others zero in the moment that bag is untied, some manage to get inside the bags. So in reality I quickly untie two or three bags at a time, pull the bags off, quickly run the brush around back and forth, flower to flower, around and back again, trying not to be too clumsy and damaging anything, quickly replace and tie them back on, all the while shooing off all comers and reminding myself that a bit of crossing with QAL isn't going to hurt, but hoping if the pollinators have just come from another flower it is a nearby carrot not a distant QAL. I did go around inside the fence pulling off all the QAL flowers I could find to aid this hope, but there are plenty more outside the fence. carrot flower bag

To help keep track of what flowers I'm cross pollinating I came up with the solution of sewing every two or three bags with a different color thread and just unbagging each color at a time. Almost all the bagged flowers are open now and I expect I'll be doing this every morning for another two or three weeks, until they (hopefully) start becoming seed heads. It is getting easier and rather fun in its own way. Since I only have 7 plants this year I'll do it again next year with more plants for greater genetic diversity in my seed. I'll know soon enough if I've been a successful pollinator - when the flowers do or don't set seed - but I won't know until I plant the seed next year if I've managed to keep more QAL genes out of my home grown seed. Another one of those little garden adventures I lay out for myself.       

  July 12, 2019 -- Summer Music

Wild Cherry Wine at Escanaba's Lunch on LudingtonWe had a good time Wednesday playing with our friends (known in that configuration as "Wild Cherry Wine") at a new series in Escanaba this summer called "Lunch on Ludington". From 11:30 to 1:30 different musicians are playing each week for a casual event in the large new pavilion on Ludington Street. The event is free, sponsored by 'Blues for a Cause' and the DDA. Tables and chairs, are provided (as well as lemonade and water) and people are invited to bring their lunches, meet with friends, hang out, and listen to a variety of live music. We had a real nice and friendly crowd and look forward to doing it again next year! So plan your trips to Escanaba to take in this new offering. The Farmers Market follows at 3:00.

  July 1, 2019 -- Happy July, Happy Summer!

 Campfire Rose end of June  bowl of strawberries July 1  pink poppies

  June 8, 2019 -- Blossom Explosion

When it doesn't seem like it could get any better - it does! As the plum blossom started fading the crab apples decided to go all out and wow the world with their display. And they sure did! I don't think I've ever seen anything like it. Every crab was so full of blossoms they were definitely "dancing cheek to cheek". And the pollinators sure noticed - standing by one of the trees was a surround sound experience. Mostly there were bumblebees but others, too, including one fresh Monarch flying in and out and around and obviously having a good time. There have been very many minutes spent admiring their outrageous beauty.

crab apple blooming



bumblebee on crabapple blossom









Many of the domestic apples joined in as well. It looks like it'll be a very good apple year (maybe even enough for cider!). Thanks to human interference, pruning them to keep them a more manageable size, and their natural habits (with larger fruit in their future they wouldn't want to be quite as prolific with the blossoming and fruiting as the small crabs), they don't get to do quite the display but they sure come close when it's an "on" year. Even a light year is gorgeous, apple blossoms being natural beauties. I think every apple we have, save one, is blossoming. Even a few grafts have their first blooms that will (I hope) have fruit for the first time. And a couple of way-too-young grafts couldn't help but get in the game with a surprise blossom or two. They'll get to keep their first blooms for awhile but no fruit yet. But I applaud them just the same. What an amazing and beautiful world.

  June 3, 2019 -- Faith, Hope, and Enjoying what Comes

plums in bloomWe woke up to a very cool 24 degrees in the orchard this morning (hopefully our last frost) but the plums made it clear a little chill wasn't going to dampen their spirits! They are ready for the ball and doing their best to entice the pollinators to their flower dance. Every year I see this display and think - maybe this year, maybe this year the story will continue on to a happy full harvest of fruit ending. And maybe this WILL be the year! Unfortunately, these are all Japanese hybrid varieties, very good eating, but it has been discovered that these don't care to pollinate each other, bees or not, and even though I have six different varieties, plenty one would think for cross pollination, they prefer something more. And that something is a wild (American) plum. Well, I now have a number of wild plums coming along nicely but they are not quite old enough to bloom yet. There are a few other varieties that have been found to pollinate the Japanese hybrids and one of those, South Dakota, we grafted onto a branch of one of the younger trees two years ago. It grew well (plums are enthusiastic growers) and this year put out a half dozen blossoms! Not many but maybe enough to do at least a minor job? It will be a bit before I'll know but I have my fingers crossed. Because of the cool weather there aren't a lot of pollinators out and about but we've had a few sunny days recently and I have seen and heard a small contingent in the blossoms so I'm hopeful. It sure would be nice to get more than a handful of plums from the many plum trees.

Now we do actually have a really nice, beautiful 30 some year old American plum, right outside the back window of the house. And it has two beautiful offspring alongside it. (It would happily have a couple dozen more if I'd let it.) All three are in full bloom this year as well, pleasing us wonderfully. But they've never set fruit since they, apparently, need somebody else for cross pollination. Plums (like people?) can be very picky. If the two patches, one at the house, one in the orchard, could get together I'm guessing fruit would likely result. But they are about 350 feet apart with a small but tall woods between, which apparently is too much of a barrier for the pollinators to do the job that needs to be done.

So we admire the prolific display of blossoms in their time, appreciate the leafy season, enjoy the interesting tree shapes in the winter, and look forward, ever hopeful, to someday a bountiful harvest of fruit. Even a moderate crop would make this orchardist very happy.

  May 26, 2019 -- Finding Gold on the Homestead

A few days ago I was up at the mailbox (which is a half mile from our house) and saw our neighbor slowly walking across her lawn, intently looking down. Figuring she must have dropped something I walked over to offer help. She showed me what she had in the paper bag in her hand. Morels! And some nice ones at that, right in their lawn. Now we've only found morels on our property a few times and that was many decades ago, barely remembered. But then we've never searched for them either. Inspired by our neighbor's find I walked back home, slowly, looking carefully down and around as I went, getting distracted by any number of interesting things. But I persevered and wandered around here and there on the homestead where it seemed morels might be. Didn't find any, but it was a nice wander.

A few days later I was in the garden on hands and knees weeding a path particularly well endowed with such things, intent in the job and whatever was in my mind, getting towards the end. Sitting back on my heels and looking ahead I saw, to my great surprise, just a few feet away, a beautiful specimen of a morel, beautifully positioned in front of the big green leaves of the rhubarb as if for a photo shoot. Well, really! I stared at it for some moments, went closer and kneeled down - was it really? Yep, that was one nice morel. I had to laugh, then went to get Steve.

After all these years, right there in the garden. Well, they small morel in gardendo say (and we do agree) that what is in your mind becomes in your life, and morels had certainly been in my mind. When Steve came out he glanced down near his feet and there close by on the south side of the rhubarb was another morel, smaller but certainly edible size. Later I discovered a still smaller one on the other side of the patch, nestled in the grass. Why by the rhubarb? Maybe for no particular reason but it might be because I often mulch the rhubarb with leaves in the fall. I shall certainly continue that practice.

So we had morels in our dinner. They sort of got lost in the shuffle since there weren't many of them, and since I'm not real fond of the texture of mushrooms I'd cut them up. But they added their bit of flavor and nutrition, and the fun of discovering them on this magical place where we live. 

  May 22, 2019 -- Celebrating Each Piece

daffodil patchCloudy, cold, blustery, sporadic rain - ahhh, spring! Yesterday I was working in the garden in shorts and t-shirt (for a short time but it was nice!); today it was wool toque and winter jacket, and working inside. It's a good thing we have these kind of days or I'd never get anything done indoors.onion and garlic Maybe it's the long winters up here that makes us so greedy to be out in any hint of sunshine and warmth. Or maybe it's just the way some of us are. But it is anything but boring out there even when cloudy. One can't miss the large patch of daffodils (hard to believe it started with just a few bulbs!), and scattered plants here and there planted by someone other than me. And in the slowing emerging garden you have to love the hardy simple onions and garlic that say yes, this is a garden that will be full of green growing things before long. After all, someone has to be first.

Of course, it's not just the small part that I've planted, the area is bursting with new growth of varied and diverse kinds. You can almost here the trees popping and unfolding their delicate umbrellas that will soon be full scale leaves. This has been a wonderfully slow but steady march of spring this May. Others long for warm weather but I love the slow progress that allows us time to celebrate and appreciate every new happening. And in spring there are new happenings every moment! The arrival of the different birds from the tiny uninhibited hummingbird who always checks out my red bandana to the incredibly large and much shyer vultures soaring around and around over the south part of our property are constant cause for comment, every new arrival. Bluebirds and swallows having finally chosen, defended, settled on, come to an agreement on who will take which birdhouses are much quieter now. Just because they always end up with the same boxes doesn't keep them from loudly (well the swallows are the loud mouths) discussing it every year. And many sparrows and others have been busy checking out the new and old brush piles. Oh so many birds to brighten our world.

And enough seeds and insects to feed them and keep the world going 'round, and healthy. And enough of what insects want to keep them happy and healthy. And predators of all kinds to keep everything in check. We are truly blessed with great variety of all kinds. Life is good.

  May 3, 2019 -- Trees on the Homestead

poplar firewoodEarly spring finds Steve spending a lot of time (when not working on his boat!) out cutting down trees (mostly dead or dying ones), splitting, stacking, moving firewood. Also cutting back the encroaching small wood out front of the house. It's a great time for this - cool weather, pre mosquitoes and before the birds start nesting. At the same time I've been out planting trees, albeit smaller fry. My gang range from small bushes (gooseberries, raspberries, haskaps, elderberry) to small/medium trees (aronia, winterberry, juneberry, cranberry). The bushes mostly went into the orchard rows between fruit trees. But the other trees are outside the north-east corner of the orchard fence for a windbreak. Rare for me, they are planted in a straight line! But since they are a mix of types and sizes hopefully they won't look too regimented. When we expanded the orchard and put up the new fence we took down a number of white pines (don't worry, there are plenty more nearby). But I had left two inside the fence thinking they would make good winter sun shade for future apricot trees. Which they would have - if they would be agreeable to not grow any more. Not being inclined to do so I realized they better come down now before they got larger. One was fairly small and had clear space to fall. No problem. But the other was quite large and had nearby young fruit trees quite concerned. Steve assured me it wasn't that tall new windbreakand would come down without hitting anything. I do trust his skills in this area, but I gently patted the nearest little apple and went elsewhere while the deed was done. Not to worry. When that large white pine came down the top was a good 5" (that's five inches) from a young Golden Russet. We were all glad we hadn't waited another year!

But removing this very wide dense pine left the NE corner of the orchard open to some cold winds. There is a dense shelter belt of pines and spruce along most of the north orchard fence, and a good woods, mostly pine (we have a lot of white pine) to the east, but nothing in this corner. I didn't want a solid wall, just something to break the north winds. So I planted a row of winterberry, juneberry, american cranberry, and crabapple, fairly close together. It does take a fair amount of faith and imagination when planting little sticks to see a nice companion row of leafy, blooming, berrying, wind-slowing hedge trees but I'm sure it won't be long before they are large enough to be seen. Thankfully, trees do like to grow.

laundry on line

  April 11, 2019 -- Real Beginning of Spring

Yesterday was for me the real First Day of Spring - sunny, above freezing, and more bare ground in the fields and open areas than snow (the woods are still fully white). Robins are back, the sound of the first cranes can be heard, the first vultures glided by overhead, the red squirrels are hyper-active (actually, they're always hyper-active), the chipmunk ventured forth to resume last year's stand-off game with the cat. AND it finally came the day to hang laundry outside on the line. Some joys are hard to explain, but I simply enjoy this. Maybe I was dressed in winter coat, boots, wool toque and gloves but I did get to hang out laundry and have it dry outside in the fresh air. Ahhhhhh.

Not to be outdone, crocuses appeared, it seems out of nowhere, snow barely receded. And the daffodils start growing even before the snow is gone. Both likely know they may soon be re-buried but they make the best of their time in the open, and we make the best of ooohing and ahhhing over each little spectacles of fresh new green and color. Then into the garden, only a little snow here and there, garden rake and fork in hand I endeavor to retrieve some over-wintered carrots. Did they survive?? After removing the generous covering of mulch I dig down into the wonderfully un-frozen dirt and came up with a fork-full of beautiful fresh orange carrots. They made it! Most years they do but not always. I was down to the last few stored carrots in the root cellar so quite happy to have fresh ones. It was such a treat to dig in the dirt once again.

        purple crocus April        yellow crocus April        daffodils growing April

That was yesterday. And this is April in the Upper Midwest. Yes, we did get snow today, but only a few inches, they got more up north. The ground is once again white, but that will melt. We usually go through this several times until the final melt and the mosquitoes come out. At least that's the way it seems. But we've seen that bare ground and know it won't be long until our lives turn toward the outdoors and we will once again head out the door in tennies and t-shirts. Maybe even shorts! Well, OK, not for awhile yet but it will come.

  April 3, 2019 -- Final Apple

baskets of Haralson applesWe had a wonderful harvest of our Haralson apple tree this past season  - 65#!  Picked Sept. 19 because the bluejays had discovered them and were starting to do some serious harvesting of their own. It was maybe a little early but it is best to harvest before fully ripe for storage, and these are a nice apple for that purpose. Unfortunately, our root cellar isn't very cold at that time but the apples did well. I sorted and canned the less than the best, saved the very best for later, and we ate many Haralsons fresh and as sauce through the fall. They are on the tart side, more of a cooking apple than fresh desert, though when that is all you have they are a very good eating apple. Black Oxford and Dudley had lighter harvests this year (though much enjoyed) and were soon gone so the keeper HHaralson apple cut uparalsons were greatly appreciated.

Most of the apples were eaten by the end of December, getting somewhat milder and sweeter as time went on, which is common for a storage type apple. There were only 6 left when the new year arrived. They were still in good shape but I wanted to see how long they would last. Our fresh apple eating dropped to one or two a month - January, February, March... Each time I would choose the 'worst', which wasn't at all bad but slightly less firm feeling, maybe a little wrinkly in the skin than Haralson apple singlethe others. Every time the apple was still good texture inside with flavor getting a little less tart and a little more sweet.

Then came the best of the best, the final apple, the first of April. Delicious! Juicy, clean, not hard crisp but pleasant, slightly more tender than March's apple. Nice apple-y flavor, sweeter, less tart, no wrinkles. This is indeed a good storage apple. Can't wait for the next harvest! 

April 2, 2019 - 'Adventure Boat' project is moving along.68 Clamps!

Up to this point in this project I have focused on a few of the 'extras' that one would usually do after the hull was built. Since it has been too cold to comfortably work out in the boat shop I have put together the sliding seat, electrical system, and built a navigation/anchoring light. Today I finished laminating the last of the frames so should be ready to set them up on the strongback (building form) tomorrow. The photo shows the first four frames being glued together from two layers of 1/4" Baltic Birch plywood. It took 68 clamps - but who's counting. That epoxy work was done in the house shop - not a good idea since it was a bit cold out to properly ventilate the house. The epoxy I'm using is 'low odor' but still not good to breathe. Click the image or here to be magically transported to the boatbuilding page.

March 31, 2019 -- Ending March with a Homestead Adventure

Our lives are overall quite calm and pleasant here on the homestead. But there does come along those little things that makes you take a deep breath, and stretch those muscles just a bit more. In this case I was doing the 'hold your breath' and Steve was doing the muscle thing.

Yesterday, a pleasant but cool and very blustery day, Steve came in and asked why I had turned our water pumping windmill 'out'. This means lifting a steel tube arm at the base of the tower that is connected via steel cable to the windmill at the top to make the tail of the windmill open out from flat against the fan (not turning around and not pumping) to right angle to the fan (turning and pumping). Surprised I said I hadn't; it was too windy and gusty to have the windmill going. Oh. We looked at each other. The possibilities going through our minds weren't real exciting. Then again, maybe with the strong winds buffeting things the arm had simply come out of its wire holder on its own letting the tail out. Steve went up to check, and came back with the news - broken cable. At the top (of course...). Well, it was too cold and too windy to do anything about it. We just had to trust the windmill to handle it on its own, which it does with a mechanism that automatically 'closes' the tail to the fan when the wind is too strong, which it did many times that day and night. It is designed to do that but there's also a reason it's built to pull it out (off) by hand. It's safer and better for the windmill, and we want this 40 yr old mill to keep working for many more decades.

We didn't worry about it but there was the consideration of when to fix it, which needed to be done and couldn't wait for nice spring/summer weather. This really was Steve's decision. I've never even been to the top of the tower, and there was that muscle thing. I encouraged waiting several days when the forecast was for above freezing temps but he decided to do it this morning. He'd figured out what needed to be done (probably - one never knows for sure), and wanted to get it fixed. The forecast was for continued wind. Gathering tools and hardware, and putting on his climbing harness, off he went.

First was to undo the cable at the bottom. These bolts and nuts had been together for... mmm, let's see, had they been apart since he put them on 40 yrs ago? Probably not. Oh well, muscle, vice grips and WD40 did the job. He reconnected the cable to the pull-out arm giving more slack to make up for the broken piece at the top. Then up he went, slowly and carefully, to see what it really looked like at the top.

Steve on windmill towerThankfully, that strong north wind had calmed somewhat, and it was partly sunny which helped. The temperature was in the upper 20's. Not warm but not bitterly cold either. Really quite a pleasant day - relatively speaking. As he climbed the tower I wandered around the orchard (someone had to do this part of the job) keeping an eye on him and thinking encouragement.

It took awhile but finally he called down from above, "I need another two inches". Well, I was happy to oblige but really, we're talking 1/4" steel cable! I looked at the loops of cable connecting it to the pullout arm, and squeezed them flat as best I could, hoping to gain enough length, but I knew it wasn't 2". "Try that", I called, ever hopeful. I knew he'd tightened those bolts as tight as he could and wasn't looking forward to trying to get them off to give some more slack. Nor did I want him to have to climb back down to do it (then back up again). I waited while the cable tightened, then loosened. Try again. Tightened - connected?? - loosened. Not yet. Again. Steve later said that the impetus to pull just a little bit more to clip that cable on to what it had to be clipped onto up there was the thought of going into town for a banana split as a reward. Apparently that worked because the cable tightened - and stayed. "Pull it out", came from above. I pulled the pull-out arm down and it smoothly and nicely pulled the tail out, flat to the fan, stopping the fan from turning in the (strengthening) wind. Hooking the arm behind its holder I yelled back up, "It worked!". It was just the right amount of cable. Sometimes things work out just fine. Down came my homestead hero, slowly and carefully, step by step, cold but satisfied, ready for his well earned banana split.

Well, the banana split didn't end up happening. Steve went to work on his boat frames instead and just as he was finishing, the sawblade snapped. So he did get his trip to town but it was in the other direction to buy a new sawblade. I went along to take him out to dinner instead.


March 29, 2019 -- Upcycle Dance Skirt

rayon knee length gored skirtFor many years I didn’t even own a skirt (or dress). They didn’t fit my lifestyle. But when I started dancing I discovered the comfort of skirts. They are, for me, simply more comfortable than pants - cool when it’s hot, easy to add (or remove) tights underneath when it’s cold, then hot. When we started performing music the simple skirt also fit the bill when deciding what to wear. Long, short, or in-between, my collection has grown beyond what I would have imagined thirty years ago! They are fun and easy to make once you have your pattern.

I don’t think I’ve ever found a skirt that fit ‘just right’ the way it came, so I’ve always re-made or made from scratch my own, fine tuning my pattern with every one. For dancing I like rayon. It’s cool, moves beautifully, is comfortable, and doesn’t wrinkle. It’s a bit harder to sew with than cotton but not terribly challenging. I like a knee length style. This is what I make most often. It won't be long before my attention will be mostly outdoors (as soon as the ground reappears) so it felt good to get one more sewing project done before that time.

It’s not that I need any more skirts, but it’s hard to pass by a really nice pattern/color fabric that catches my eye - which is what happened with this latest skirt. I just happened to be walking by the skirt rack at the thrift store, and, well, there it was in  my hand. Searching for raw fabric to cat on skirts on floormake a skirt wouldn't be near as much fun.

For details on making a similar gored rayon skirt, or your own pattern for one, click on this LINK to go to the Skirt article in the Sewing section.

When embarking on such a project one should always have appropriate supervision .....


March 25, 2019 -- Waxing Scions Time

grating wax for scionsThis has become for me a pleasant and enjoyable job to look forward to in March. Scions are 6-10" sticks of wood from a particular variety of fruit tree, to be grafted onto either a seedling or a larger tree to grow the fruit of that particular variety. This year I have scions of pear, apple and tart cherry obtained from various sources. Some are from the wonderful U.S. National Plant Germplasm Repository of the Dept of Agriculture, some purchased from nurseries, and many exchanged with or gifted from other amateur fruit growers from across the country. It's fun to send as well as receive! Nscions ready to shipot all my scions have arrived yet but we'll probably have 30 or so to graft later in the spring.

It is too early to do much of anything outside yet (we still have a foot or so of snow covering the ground) but it's a great time to think and dream of working in the orchard. Getting my scions out of the root cellar to lay out, sort, wax, label, measure, admire, imagine them growing, makes me feel close to that outer world. It may have only been 2 degrees outside this morning but it was spring in the kitchen! scions ready to wax

The light layer of wax I've put on the scions will help keep them from drying out when they are grafted to their rootstocks. Some folks wrap their scions with a type of plastic tape or wrap (I've done that, too), some leave them bare (which we've also done), and a few of us give them the wax job - it all works! The wax or wrap gives them a little extra protection until they become established and growing and can take care of all that on their own. We won't be grafting for another two months so for now the scions are back in their plastic bags and back in the root cellar, to keep cool, quiet and dormant until that big day arrives. More information on our grafting and fruit growing is in the Orchard section (link is on the menu bar at the top of this page).

March 15, 2019 -- Celebrate the Ides of March!

daffodils in windowSure, it's messy, damp, cold, mushy, cloudy outside but there's that hint of Spring to come, with more and more things emerging from the receding snow. And the first non-winter resident bird arrived - a female Purple Finch, busily hopping and pecking along the front of the greenhouse eating a buffet of little seeds scattered across the snow and keeping LilliB occupied for long periods keeping a close eye on her and all the other native activity that this time of year brings out. Lilli is adventuring out more and longer as the cold lessens but the footing is unsteady in the wet snow and the banks along the paths still above her head so she's content to mostly keep an eye on her domain from inside. But it's a big anticipatory time and to help celebrate the joy the greenhouse gave us a cheery gift of fresh daffodils, bright against the still significant snow outside. Their perfume lifts the spirit as much as their beauty. 

March 13, 2019 -- Warmth!

Having temperatures in the upper 30's may not be something most folks would think of as a great deal to celebrate, or a great warmth, but today we sure did cheer. Not only did we finally climb out of the snow off roof of buildingdeep freeze but the snow started to settle and melt. Sure it's mushy, and there's still a lot of snow, but it's a start and the first time it has been below 3 feet in awhile. A few things are starting to peak above all that white. As nice as that is it wasn't our big reason for celebration. It's March after all and snow melt is pretty normal. Today, with a great feeling of relief, the big depth of snow on our large outbuilding (originally hangar now storage of many and various things) took the big slide down to the ground (or most of it did anyway). Steve had been adding more and more supports inside, just in case. We knew it was well built but this was the most snow it had ever seen. And with almost daily reports of roofs and buildings collapsing across the U.P. we were getting a bit nervous. With rain and more snow in the forecast, well, as Steve said it felt like he had just been given a very large gift when I happily came in to report that almost all of the snow had slid off the roof today. Hurray!!! The back and half the front had already come off when I snowshoed out for a closer look but as I walked toward the building and temporarily behind some pines I heard a large crack and my heart fell. But when I emerged so I could see the building it turned out another large part of the snow had let loose. We think it was the roof rebounding that made the sound. It'll be awhile before we'll be able to get in through the front doors but we so appreciate this hardy, sturdy homestead building who proved our doubts unfounded.

March 3, 2019 - More Bread

bread in glass pansAwhile ago I mentioned baking my 100% whole grain bread in an unglazed pottery pan and a Pyrex bowl, which worked well. Then I spied some glass bread pans at the thrift store and decided to give them a try. They were a success! And are what I am now using. They work equally well as far as baking as the unglazed pan and the Pyrex bowl but with the added benefit of being able to bread cookingsee the bottom of the bread when trying to decide if it is indeed baked long enough. This is a big plus when dealing with the vagaries not only of bread dough but the uneven heating of the wood cookstove over an hour's time. I've found the bread easy to remove from the oiled pans if left to cool a bit until still warm but not hot or cold. A quick slice down the sides of the glass pan with metal spatula and it comes out easily onto the cooking rack. This also helps prevent the 'problem' of someone slicing off a piece of freshly baked bread before it has cooled enough to be at its best. By the time it's ready to come out of the glass baking dish it is still warm enough for the butter to melt and just right for eating. Just what is needed on a cold winter evening.

Happy March! (Thankfully we do enjoy snow.)

It's been quite a winter thus far, with ample opportunity for 'weather conversations'. Like a fiddler playing a tune, nature just doesn't like to do it the same way twice...

March 1, 2019                                                                          March 1, 2017

garden gate March 1, 2019

      garden orchard gate March 1, 2017


February 27, 2019 - Solar panel finally mounted - in the snow.
New sollar panel
Last fall a friend gave us a good deal on one of the last Solar World 300-watt panels but we didn't get it installed before the snows came. The other day I decided it was time to get it out in the sun where it can help us out during the coming cloudy days.

The new panel will add about 20% to our charging capacity; up from 1135 to 1435 watts. We'll notice the increase in power mostly on cloudy days. The temporary mount is made from poplar 2x4's and four aluminum angle brackets. I had to dig 2-1/2 feet down to find the ground. I was going to adjust it a little but the bases are frozen in the snow already so it is there until spring - which may be some time in April. We had a high temperature near 20 degrees today but the sun was out and the wind was light so it was a fun project. 

February 26, 2019 - New rowboat has its own web page!

My latest boat building project finally has its own web page! After working on the design of this boat and all its systems for a couple of months I felt it deserved it own page. You can follow the design and building process here:  Rowboat Build Page

February 17, 2019 - And Then, it Snowed Some More......Window drifts ...
The view out the front windows this morning.
The snow has settled a bit but is still a formidable challenge for the wildlife and for our Lillie the cat.

February 15, 2019 - And Then it Snowed Some More...

snowstorm cabin roofThree feet and rising. We weren't going to shovel off the roof of the cabin/shop this year; haven't had to even consider it for years. Then came this multi-day storm - another foot on top of a generous two feet already there (and it hasn't stopped yet). Steve got out the shovel. No use taking a chance on venerable, and well loved, 40 yr old building on very marginal (as in rotting) cedar post foundation, and too flat a roof for snow country. For various reasons this time he had to go at it by himself. So easy does it, take a break or two, and 2/3 of the roof snow is on the ground before you know it. Well, sort of. Ahh, the building says.

woodshed in snowIt truly has been decades since we've had three feet of snow, and plenty of blowing and drifting to go with it. A bit of a challenge in some ways but great insulation, on the house and the trees and plants. And it really is beautiful and amazing. What a change from last year with record lack of snow. Thankfully the house was designed and built to handle the snowload, as was our woodshed. Winter isn't over and neither is the snow. We are doubly thankful this year for those who do a great job of plowing and keeping the roads clear so we can travel. And we're also glad that we don't have to do it every day! Though we didn't think much about it all those years when we did. A part of enjoying where you are.

January 4, 2019 - 'Challenge Rowboat' Sliding Seat Update...

In my last boat-related post I had just completed the second iteration of a sliding seat. I gave it a few tries and there was no doubt that the seat needed to be redesigned; just not comfortable.New seat design  I recently sold my main recumbent bike, a Lightning P-38, after many years and many miles. One thing I learned from riding all those miles was that the seat on the bike was wonderful. My legs might get tired after a 70-80 mile all day ride but my butt never complained once.  The new design is a recumbent-like suspended mesh seat - like a miniature lawn chair, with zero pressure points. The seat also can rotate to make it easier to turn my head and body to look ahead to see where I'm going. It is like floating, in a controlled manner, as you slide forward and back. The rotation feature eliminated any tendency of the rolling carriage wheels to bind on theseat carriage tracks. I might work on making the whole unit a little lighter but so far it seems to be working well, especially in conjunction with a clip-less pedal foot stretcher - next installment.

new dance shoe bag

February 3, 2019 - A Second Dance Shoe Bag

Some of the regular dances in the U.P. take the winter off and others get cancelled due to weather so the next best thing to keep the dancing spirit up (other than dancing around the house) is to do something dance related. I'd had this project in mind for awhile and it was fun to finally get to it. Last year's dance bag turned out to be quite nice but not quite enough room for both of us. We needed a second bag and a different style for Steve's shoes, one that would allow them to sit flat on the bottom. I designed and sized this one specifically to fit not only his dance shoes but his regular street shoes/boots so they would have a place to park during the dance. With two pockets sized to hold his favorite travel coffee mug and a water bottle upright, and two larger pockets for extra shirt and miscellaneous, this should be a handy addition to our dance routine.

When in the local St Vincent de Paul thrift store I spied the perfect scrap of material which was barely but large enough to work. It took a bit of figuring to lay it out just right but it was indeed just right! When done I had a scrap piece just big enough to sew an extra pocket for the old (now my) bag and not much else. I did spend needless time and effort figuring out how to fold and stitch the bottom to get the most layers of fabric with the fewest cuts, and sewn in the right order to not box myself in a corner I couldn't get out of. When finally getting to sewing the final bottom seam I realized I had been so involved in this process that I made the bottom way more difficult than necessary. Two more cuts, zigzag the edges, and it could well have been a very simple "cardboard box" overlap, and done hours earlier! Ah well, such is the way these one-off self designed projects go. But now we're ready to go, custom shoe bags in hand, and looking forward to the monthly dance at Rock next Sunday and another the week after in Ishpeming. We sure appreciate the folks who put these dance on, and the musicians who play for them.

 dance bag layout       

   dance bag front     dance bag open


January 31, 2019

house in snow Jan 31Ending (we hope!) two weeks of subzero temps (well, after tonight*) with beautiful clear sun-filled skies. The batteries are at full charge, the heat is pouring in the windows and from the solar heating panels, the woodstove is banked, and we're happy to be inside out of the bitter cold wind. Ready to see what February will bring*.

* A nice -33 degree ending to January hello to February is what it brought!


January 26, 2019

And then it dropped a few more degrees. A bit on the chilly side this morning. But the sun came out and it warmed up to a balmy 5 degrees! It's all relative - that felt, well, if not warm it wasn't too cold. Thankfully little wind. Makes one really appreciate a warm, cozy house, a full woodshed, a good snow blanket, and cold hardy trees growing in the orchard. Guess winter really is here. 


January 23, 2019 - Alternative Energy System Updatesolar control center
 Last summer we noticed that our solar system didn't seem to be fully charging the batteries as it should. We checked the batteries periodically throughout the fall and early winter and made some adjustments to the controller. Over a period of several months there seemed to be a significant loss of battery capacity so we decided to install one more 300 watt panel and replace the controller. The existing controller, a Solar Boost 50 was probably working fine but the new panel made the array too large for  the 50 amp controller. The new one is an Outback FlexMax-80. The increase in capacity will be welcome. Also, the Outback controller setup is more user friendly. The other changes you may notice between this photo and a previous post is the addition of a battery desulfator and a disconnect between the solar array as well as the new controller. We're looking forward to the combination of more solar capacity and the desulfator to bring the batteries back to life. The next upgrade to the system is likely to be installation of lithium LiFePO4 batteries but we really would like to get a couple more years out of our current batteries. Here are the current 'balance of system' components:

Here's how the system is configured now:
  4 - 250-watt Solar World panels
  1 - 300-watt Solar World panel
  2 - 135-wat 12 volt Kyocera panels in series
        Total charging capacity = 1435 watts
    Outback FlexMax-80 charge controller
    Magnum 4000 watt, 24 volt sine wave inverter with control module
    Samlex 20 Amp 24 volt DC to 12 volt DC converter
    Trimetric Volts/Amps/AmpHrs Meter
    Homemade Arduino microcontroller-based diversion controller
    Battery Lifesaver desulfator (questionable but giving it a try)
    12 - US2200 6 volt batteries (3 sets of 4 batteries for 660 Amp Hrs at 24 volts)
    Appropriate fuses, circuit breakers and disconnects

(Update 3/8/2019  ss)
It turns out that the real culprit causing our charging problems last summer and fall was probably the settings on a home-made diversion controller. It was set up to divert power to some heating panels in the house whenever the Solar Boost controller was in absorb or float modes. This was incorrect as it prevented the batteries from ever getting fully charged. I have reconfigured the diversion controller so it now interfaces properly with the new controller's aux. mode relay. The heaters come on only when both 1) the Outback controller is in float mode and 2) the battery voltage is above 27 volts. The batteries are now fully recharged any day there is a few hours of full sun; lately, nearly every day. Battery capacity seems to be slowly coming back to more acceptable levels.

  link to solar page< You can check out the amazing (to me) evolution of our alternative energy system over the last 35 years.

January 22, 2019 - Stevia, a Sweet Report

stevia ground jarsI grew some stevia this past season for the first time, a mild interest that caused me to add it to my Fedco seed order at the last minute. I’d read that it was hard to grow from seed and likely needed a warmer climate than here but I decided to give it a try anyway.

Planted in the quite cool greenhouse the end of February, along with peppers and a few other early crops, the stevia was a real slow grower. By early April I only had three tiny plants to transplant into small pots. They looked pretty iffy but they hung in there and made some growth by the time all the plants made the big move into the garden the end of May. I put the three small seedlings at the far end of a plot, with care but also a bit of doubt as to their surviving.

Well, they not only survived, they thrived. We had an unusually long, hot summer and did they love that. They got the usual care, mulch and a few words of encouragement but not anything special. To my surprise they grew healthy, hearty and strong - an attractive well leafed light green plant. Unfortunately I didn’t take a photo of them in all their glory. They don’t stand out a lot, just quite nice. Every once in awhile I’d pick a little piece of leaf for a nibble. It was such a strange sensation to see this green leaf and expect some sort of "leaf" flavor but instead get a very, very sweet taste. Even if I didn’t do anything else I figured that it was a success -- a bit of fun in the garden.

In early September they were about two feet tall and almost as wide. The trio filled up their 4 ft of space quite well without being too crowded. I picked the largest leaves to dry and got quite a harvest from just those three plants. I left quite a bit of growth to keep feeding the roots in the chance they might make it through the winter, though most reports say that isn’t likely with our cold winters.

Articles often compare growing stevia to growing basil, a plant that starts wilting if one even mentions the chance of frost, no matter how light. Well, early September was very warm but soon cooled off with a number of light frosts in the 30 degree range. I harvested a last large picking of basil (they also loved the unusually hot summer) before those frosts finished it off. But the stevia plants weren’t fazed in the least; they just kept growing.

stevia plant greenhouseTowards the end of September I cut the still green plants down to about 7", hanging the much leafed cuttings in the house to dry. More harvest. The plants regrew. A harder frost of 27 degrees didn’t cause any damage. But I decided to pot up one of the plants to overwinter in the greenhouse before it got any colder. I had to cut off a LOT of root to do so, snugging it into a 10" inch clay pot. It moved into the greenhouse in mid October in good form before the temps fell into the teens. A hard freeze did finally put the outside stevia plants into winter dormant mode but they are obviously of much hardier stock than basil.

Surprisingly, the butchered roots and rather rude transplant into a pot didn’t seem to affect the greenhouse plant at all. No lost leaves, no yellowing, no wilting in spite of losing probably half its roots. It did have a few flower buds that I nipped off and it continued with some more growth. At the end of December it was still alive and I’ve harvested a leaf now and then to put in tea or dinner. But now in mid January it is starting to look like it’s ready for a rest with some browning/yellowing of some leaves. It’s time to ease off on watering and let it hibernate. We’ve had some significant below zero cold spells this month and the greenhouse is often near freezing. It will be quite interesting to see how this one does and if the overwintered plants in the garden survive. That’s asking quite a bit of a plant native to Brazil and Paraguay! I plan to start new plants from seed in the spring anyway.

HARVEST - Now back to all those drying leaves. It was a much larger harvest than I expected. The leaves stayed nicely green (many herbs, including basil, darken when dried, even air-dried as mine are). I ground them to a powder with a steel-bur mill and got a full pint of finely powdered herb. There is no doubt that stevia has a taste of its own but we both like it. I don’t consider it a substitute for sugar, just another option. Since we don’t use white sugar (except in wine) we’re used to stronger tasting sweeteners anyway -- Sucanet, honey, maple syrup.

I used many fresh leaves in tomatoes when canning them and also for sweetening grape juice (steamed juice). It worked well for both and I’ll probably make more use of it fresh next year. The biggest challenge I’ve had using stevia is guesstimating how much is enough. You definitely don’t want to overdo it. So I add a small amount, then taste, then add more if needed. I particularly like the flavor in tomato dishes and other meals that need just a bit of sweetening without a sugar taste. I’m beginning to get a feel for how much is enough. We use it for other sweetening, too.

There is a bit of a down side to home-grown ground stevia. There’s no getting around that it is ‘green’. It just plain looks a little, well, weird, adding ‘green’ to oatmeal, or applesauce. But one gets used to it. Add some cinnamon as well and it just comes out a slightly different shade of brown. We’re used to using Sucanet so it’s not really all that much different, and I tend to think very light colored applesauce is a bit suspect anyway. Sort of like white bread when you’re used to whole grain.

So stevia was a surprisingly easy and successful trial here on the homestead. It won’t replace sugar (or Sucanet in our case) but it doesn’t have to. It can just be itself, and I appreciate it as it is.

January 2, 2019 - A Sliding Seat for the 'Challenge Rowboat'

With the help of a friend with a pickup we hauled all of the wood for the boat project down to the shop. The last half mile from the end of the county road was in a trailer pulled by our venerable old 4WD (hand-brake only, starts when it wants to) Tracker. Sliding seat with Duck

The sliding seat unit is done to the point where I can begin testing it by rigging up a homesteader’s version of a rowing machine. The sliding seat unit is made up of 1) Hand-carved wooden seat modeled after a carbon fiber racing boat seat, 2) Tracks made from some on-hand 1-1/4” aluminum angle and 3) under-carriage, again made from that aluminum angle plus some repurposed (Goodwill) roller blade bearings – and a bunch of bolts & locking nuts. I designed it all in Photoshop based upon a similar, simpler design from Small Boats Monthly on-line magazine. The tracks are 22” long and the effective slide is 14-1/2”. I ran an elevated aluminum bar down the middle that give my little ‘keeper’ device something to follow and hold the seat on the tracks in the event of a capsize or other unplanned event. (Second Photo)

Sliding seat 'keeper'The tracks are lined with 1” x 1/8” high density polyethylene strips to keep the sliding action smooth and quieter. The seat shape will eventually be fine-tuned for comfort and a thin pad added for distance rowing. So far it seems smooth, quiet (not silent though) and the ‘keeper’ system works well ... and as you can see, it is officially "Duck Approved". I’ll rig up some kind of bungee-based rowing thing and get to the real testing soon.

Next, I’ll be working on an adjustable foot stretcher system that uses some Shimano SPD clipless pedals. Stay tuned, as they used to say.

Happy Longer Days!! Fond Farewell to 2018 - Anticipating 2019

lilac bush in snowWe hope you all have wonderful things to discover and enjoy in the coming year. As we're pretty well settled into winter, in spite of very little snow right now, it's a good time to look ahead and imagine all the good things coming in the days ahead. We look forward to making it a very good year and wish the same for you.

I was in the garden/orchard last week taking a photo (above left) when I was surprised by a quick movement. Our resident forward-guard chickadee flew over, probably to see if I had anything edible in hand. Another quick move and hechickadee in snow in garden was about 6" away, apparently needing a closer look. Maybe he felt that was a little too close because he quickly shot behind me to land in a small seedling nearby. His message was pretty clear. He didn't know what I was doing but he knew I hadn't put anything new or interesting in the compost bin, and no pieces of bread crusts on the top, and would appreciate it if I did so. We don't feed the birds but they do pretty well gleaning what they want from the compost. Whenever I walk into the garden there is usually a chickadee call announcing my arrival, and often one or two of these long-time friends come to check things out. They have to share the scraps with the squirrel but probably don't mind that she spreads special tidbits out and around for easier access. I call it my garden and orchard, but they know quite well sho really owns the territory. I like to think we share it.

December 18, 2018 - A New Boat Design

Last August I predicted that this winter the boat shop would be busy with building a small cabin on our Skin-on-frame 18' dory but the plans have changed. For many years I have celebrated my birthday by riding my age (in miles) - last year, 74 miles, on one of my recumbent bikes. Although I have enjoyed the rides and all the 'training' rides getting into shape for the 'big ride', I have lately begun to feel that perhaps I should find a way to celebrate that doesn't involve riding so many miles in traffic.

My solution was to take my annual adventure onto the water. I am designing a "Challenge Rowboat" as I call it, to use for an annual  rowed trip of as many miles I am old - in 48 hours. The trip will probably be along the northern coast of Lake Michigan beginning at a launch site less than 10 miles from home. For this kind of rowing adventure I want an easy rowing boat. A couple of other features include, in order of importance; seaworthy, safe, stable, light weight, room to sleep on board, maybe room to haul a folding bike & trailer. Oh, and easy to build and not too expensive would be nice too.

Boat BottomAfter much research I have found a boat that I plan on using for inspiration for my own design; Colin Angus' Expedition Rowboat. I considered ordering the plans for the boat from him but since I'm not going to build it out of plywood and there are several major modifications I have in mind that didn't seem like the way to go. I'll be using Skin-on-Frame technique like on our three other boats but If I was going to use the stitch & glue construction technique I'd definitely purchase his plans ($139 for PDF plans & manual) since they include full size printable patterns for the hull panels.

bulkheadI'm currently working on creating my own scale drawings for the three main bulkheads, the stems and the bottom. My main tool for this is Photoshop. It is easy to create the drawings on screen and then scale them up to be printed full size at our local print shop. Depending on the weather, I'm hoping to get the material for the bulkheads and bottom home to the shop before there is so much snow that we can't drive down to our place. In the past I have  sledded boat building materials the half mile from our garage at the end of the plowed road but would like to avoid that this time.

Next up is designing & prototyping a sliding seat mechanism for this boat.

Thinking Green - December 3, 2018

It's been a particularly cloudy November heading into December. Though colder than usual the lack of sun isn't unusual for this time ofSteve installing pavers year. We get rather excited and instantly cheerful when the rare sun does show, as it did for a good ten minutes today! Not only for spirits but also for that fully appreciated solar boost to our batteries. We take the days, and weather, as it comes without complaint; happy to have some sun, happy to have some snow (even if it's only about 4" thus far), happy to be living here. I like winter. But when I came across this photo from a beautiful August day this summer I found myself gazing at it overlong, melting into the feeling of that green warmth. Steve was, of course, warmer than I was that day as he was doing the work while I stood back and appreciated what he was doing. Mostly the garden and orchard are my domain but he gets involved for special projects, like this one.

Several years ago I decided there had to be an easier way to keep the surrounding vegetation out of the garden beds. We'd tried many things over the years - mulch, carpeting, tilling, hoeing - all OK but too temporary and not particularly satisfying. I wondered about concrete pavers. We checked what was available in the simple and inexpensive line and decided to try it. Steve agreed to the job (much neater than if I'd have done it) and did the west, east and half the south borders of the 50' x 70' garden last year. It worked well and I liked it. For sure some grass roots do find their way under but not many. I was a bit afraid it might look too formal for my very 'down to earth' garden/orchard but it would take more than a neat line of pavers to make this area formal. They fit in surprisingly well. Most important, I no longer feel like I'm fighting vegetation. My garden is a wonderfully peaceful area full of joy. I like it that way and the pavers are helping.

This year Steve did the north border. Almost complete! He couldn't finish the south border because the squash was growing  there and vigorously spreading out onto the surrounding vegetation, both in and out of the garden. It was a great year for the squash! It loved the long hot summer and made the most of it. Next year Steve will have to get the remaining pavers in before it starts growing.

Industrious Squirrels Help in the Orchard - November 25, 2018

Our large "chokepear" is beautiful in bloom and prolific in fruit. Unfortunately for us the fruit is small (pingpong ball size) and very astringent. We call it a chokepear but it is simply a common pear seedling that was used for rootstock for a Bartlett pear we planted almost 40 yrs ago. The tree died the first or second winter and the rootstock grew up from the roots to be a beautiful large tree. Up until a few years ago I didn't pay much attention to it except to admire it. It was outside the fence and the deer and squirrels and other creatures made good use of the fruit, always clearing up whatever there was, so I had never paid attention to the fruit either.

When we re-fenced the expanded orchard last year the old pear ended up inside the fence - outside of the reach of the deer. And I became quite aware of how much fruit it put out, and dropped. I was sorry to have taken it away from the deer but picking up hundreds (thousands?) of little chokepears just wasn't in my schedule, or desire. I thought of raking up a few buckets for them this year but I don't mow under this tree so there was no way to rake them up from the tall vegetation. I would have liked to remove the the fruit not only for the deer but it helps for disease control to keep drops picked up. But they were left, scattered thickly under the tree and underfoot.

Now the deer couldn't get at the fruit but a little thing like a fence certainly wasn't going to stop a squirrel. Especially with a wonderfully large brush pile just outside for shelter. It, or they (I've only seen one at a time), had a well packed runway from brush-pile to tree, and a well used favorite limb to eat on. It always had little round pears stashed against a spur or branch, and a large mound of munched pieces and partly eaten fruit below. It was obviously doing its best to eat as many as it could, and being quite vocal about any intrusion into its personal feed lot.

chokepear pilesIt was an early cold this year and up until a few days ago we had about 8" of snow - not a lot but enough to make it feel very much like winter already. Then came two days of balmy above freezing 40 degree rain. That melted almost all of our snow and I took advantage of the warm (these things are relative) weather to do a few more chores out in the orchard. I walked by the chokepear, snow gone and grass matted down, to find, to my great surprise, five neat piles of chokepears. There were still some scattered around but not many. The squirrel(s) had done quite a job! I was very impressed. I would not be so impressed, of course, if these had been good edible pears! But I did my duty, got out my shovel and scooped up three bucket-loads, dumping them outside the fence for the deer, and the squirrel. I wasn't nearly as neat in doing my part but I got the job done. I don't know if the deer are going to get any but the squirrel went right to work on the pile right outside its brushy door. 

Spiced Crabapples - Nice Snack or Dinner Companion

spiced crabapples and grape juiceWe are blessed with a wonderful and diverse collection of crabapples, some bird planted, some we planted (almost 40 yrs ago), and progeny of both. The trees vary in size and shape, the fruits vary in size and color. I’ve never done anything with them but admire, thin out a few, taste the fruits now and then (mostly tart), and appreciate how they feed the small and large and inbetweens - birds, deer, squirrels, chipmunks. And now - people!

This year I noticed one of the trees had particularly pretty, clean looking little 3/4 inch apples. It just seemed I should do something with them. Spiced Crabapples came to mind, though I’d never made nor tasted any. But it sounded good. I looked into my vast collection of three well worn preserving books and checked out their individual recipes - each one different from the others, no consensus here. So, checking out the ingredients I had on hand and my own venerable Sweet Sour Spiced Pickles recipe, I came up with my own recipe. Or at least a rough idea of what I might do. I started looking forward to having jars of Spiced Crabapples for gifts, if all turned out well.

Time to pick the crabapples (September 29). Thankfully one doesn’t need many because they are a bit finicky, being so small. But it was a pleasant time looking at the trees and searching for suitable fruit. I passed up the really small 1/4 inch ones but chose four with nice 3/4 to 1 inch apples. All but one was outside our regular fenced area and the domain of wildlife. I only took a very small portion so there could be no complaints. The inside tree was a nice surprise. It is a wild seedling that we’ve grafted five different regular apples onto. But it still has a number of original branches and this was its first year to set fruit, confirming that it is indeed a crabapple, having very nice, clean, pretty yellow and red one inch fruit. I’ll be keeping some of those original branches now even as the regular apple scions grow. As I picked I kept the four groups separate (though in the end mixed them all together). I wondered if the 3/4" crabs might be a little small but they were a pretty dark red so I went for those, too.

But that wasn’t all! I’d had my eye on another crabapple, though this one wasn’t mine. It was part of an old orchard down the road. All but the crab had been the domain of cattle for too many years and the apple trees were dead. The crab had ended up outside the fence near to the road and was still alive and putting out an anual crop of nice 1 1/2" fruit. I knew from past years that the pretty red and yellow now would turn entire beautiful red later. But they were tasty tart at this point and I decided to get some for my spiced crabapples. Unfortunately there were only a handful within my reach (being within my reach meant also being within deer reach, and they do love apples!). It was a small crop this year but there were more higher up. The tree had a high narrow crotch and I needed a boost to get up there to get a foothold. Steve patiently obliged and I managed to fill my pockets with enough good fruit, using my still willing booster to help me back down without bruising or smashing the pocketed apples. I guess I could have brought a bag. Next time. On down the road and home we went with bulging pockets.

crabapples washedBack in the kitchen I enjoyed sorting, measuring, washing my harvest. 1 1/2 c of the 1" red & yellow clean orchard crabs; 2 1/2 c of the 3/4" dark red with slight yellow fruit from the smallest north tree along the driveway; 4 1/2 c of dull red & yellow 1" slightly sooty fruit from the larger south tree; 2 c from the tree south of that one across the e-w track, 1", similarly colored. Plus 3 1/2 c (17) of the large (as crabs go) 1 1/2" clean red & yellow fruit from the old orchard (I need to find out who originally planted this orchard so I can put an appropriate ‘local’ name to this tree). Such a pretty picture they made. It was almost a shame to cook them. But what must be done must be done.

I made up my juice: 4c cider vinegar; 4c water, 4c sucanet (brown sugar) - that seemed good for a first try. In a little cloth bag (then into the juice) went 4 sticks broken up cinnamon stick, 1 tsp cloves, 1 tsp allspice. Onto the stove, bring to a boil, then simmer while getting everything else ready. Mostly that meant piercing each little crab with a large needle to keep them from bursting when cooked or canned. Or so they said. Much easier said than done. These are hard little apples! The instructions said to run a darning needle through several times. Maybe they had sharper darning needles and stronger hands. Maybe their apples were riper. I ended up using a cork on the hand end of the needle and simply stabbed the crabs several times (more times at the beginning, fewer as time and the number of little apples went on). When I got to the smallest 3/4" crabs I decided they could split if they wanted; I wasn’t going to stab any more. [I still don’t know how important this is; some split, some didn’t. Something to ‘research’ next year, next batch.].

At this point it was easy to decide to mix and cook the crabs all together, abandoning my idea of keeping the different sizes separate. So into the pot they all went to cook for a short time, maybe 3 minutes, that seemed like enough.

My clean jars were ready; lids in hot water. I spooned out a few of the pretty, largest crabs into the first jar. They fell apart. Well, shoot. That wasn’t in my plan. They’d be good enough for us but not very pretty for gifts. And they were supposed to be the crown jewels of the lot. Oh well. I pulled all the large fruits out of the juice and into a bowl. Then proceeded to ladle the rest of the crabs into jars, working to get the little stems upright (so one could more easily pick them out of the jar to eat). This went OK. Brought the juice back to a boil, poured it over the little crabs in their respective jars, securely lidded then set aside on the counter to cool. Four pints and four half pints, plus one cup of leftover juice. As I cleaned up and the night went on we could hear the satisfying ting-pop as the jars cooled and the metal lids did their sealing bit. They all sealed and I was satisfied.

The 1 1/2" crabs that fell apart maybe weren’t of company stock but they ate pretty good anyway! I’ll definitely go for more of them next time but will need to experiment to get the cooking time just right, firm enough to stay together but soft enough for easy eating. That’s the size most folks in years past (and present no doubt) would use; it’s faster. But the jars of smaller crabs came out just fine, too. Well, I think they are a bit strong flavored but my sister-in-law thinks they’re great just the way they are. I wouldn’t bother with the 3/4" sized ones next time; they’re pretty high percent core (though I just munch the whole thing) for the amount of work. I would again use the 1" size; they are easy little one bite snacks. Either eaten whole or "popped" off the core in your mouth.

For all my interest and focus on apples this is the first time I’ve paid any attention to the culinary crabs. No longer! I now have plans to cut a few scions from that nice crab down the road and graft onto one of my trees next spring. And I’m looking for scions for a variety called Kerr. That one sounds good, though there are no doubt other good local crabs in the old orchards around if I just looked. One doesn’t need many crabs in the homestead orchard but there’s a reason the old home orchards all seem to have their one or two good crab trees.

Meantime, Happy Thanksgiving to all! We are so thankful and appreciative of so many things it will take us all day to run even part of them through our minds - a very happy project. 


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