More Homebrewed Kelp Fertilizer

Last year Ray and I tried our hand at making kelp/seaweed fertilizer.  It was fairly easy to do and turned out great!  Unfortunately, because of our local Cinnamon bear (she has been around since she was a cub and her fur is reddish colored), I only got about ½ gallon of the stuff.  During our absence last winter…  well… you can see the damage she did if you click HERE

How to make kelp fertilizer

Make sure you get fresh seaweed. It’s easiest to get it when the ocean is at low tide.

So, we decided to try making some more.  We went to Fort Bragg, California, for the fourth of July Celebrations and on our last two days there collected an ice chest full of kelp and seaweed.  We weren’t selective because all of it breaks down into wonderful nutrients, though some are a bit more nutrient dense than others.  Bull kelp is known for being very nutrient dense. Unfortunately, there had not been any storms at sea, so there wasn’t a lot of kelp on the beach to choose from anyway.

Most seaweed, as well as kelp (which is a type of seaweed) is actually algae.  Why is decomposed/fermented algae good for your crops?  You see, unlike plants grown in your backyard garden or at the local farm, which can only take in nutrients available to the approximately 1 square foot of root space it has available in the soil, seaweed is able to take in a vast array of nutrients as the ocean currents pass over and through them.  So, while your garden soil may be deficient in boron or calcium, or have too many salts and remains that way without intervention, the ocean currents that feed the seaweed are constantly moving, churning and renewing, giving them a greater variety and volume of nutrients, which can then be fermented/decomposed into liquid gold for your plants.

Sounds great, right?

You can collect up to 10 pounds per day per person in California. An ice chest keeps the kelp cool for the trip home.

You can collect up to 10 pounds per day per person on California beaches. An ice chest lined with a plastic bag keeps the kelp cool for the trip home.

In our quest to be able to grow a lot of our own food, having nutrient rich soil in our garden and orchard is a must.  So, along with composting, we decided to make our own natural and organic fertilizer!

Making kelp fertilizer

The colors of the seaweed were beautiful. It reminded me of flowers under water!

The seaweed came in many colors this time – so gorgeous!  I spent about half an hour cleaning the sand, sand fleas, and other critters out of the seaweed, then soaked it all in cold, clean water for about a day.  This helps to leach a lot of the ocean salt out of the seaweed.

The seaweed was then placed into a 50 gallon barrel, with enough clean water to cover.  We put a screen on top to keep the flies out and – voila!! – the hard part was done!

WORD OF CAUTION:  You MUST stir the seaweed in the barrel at least every day.  Two or three times a day is better.  Why? Because you want the decomposition to be aerobic, not anaerobic.  Aerobic decomposition smells kinda bad.  Anaerobic decomposition downright stinks – really bad!

How to brew kelp fertilizer

Washing the kelp to get rid of salt, sand, critters, and any other contaminants.

Ray had an old wooden boat oar that we used to stir our fermenting brew and it came in very handy, as I was able to really give it a good stir around and easily scrape the bottom with it.  All I had the last time was a stick, which worked but was pretty inefficient.

How to make seaweed fertilizer

Our 50 gallon barrel. It worked well the last time, so we used it again. You can see the screen on top, the wooden oar beside and the spigot at the bottom. This is a pretty good set-up for making the kelp fertilizer

Unfortunately there was a few days when we were not at the homestead to stir the brew, it was mid summer and the temperatures were soaring.  When we came home I swear we could smell it before we even hit our street!

Ugh – phew.

Think…  old fashioned hair permanent mixed with cow barn in the middle of a prune dehydrator.  Whew it was bad.  So, believe me, you want to mix the brew EVERY DAY!

When is it done?  When it no longer stinks!!  Our first batch got to the point that it really didn’t stink, but this batch was different.  Let me tell you, I couldn’t wait for the day we would bottle it, and the truth is we may have bottled it up just a bit sooner than we should.  But after we let it decompose anaerobically by neglect, it never did get to that “ocean breeze” smell that it’s supposed to get to.  Stirring it very well several times a day for the next week or so did make it smell a bit better, but it really never did completely stop stinking.

When we went to the Heirloom Festival in Santa Rosa this year, we talked with a guy who knew about making kelp fertilizer, and explained how stinky it was when we hadn’t stirred it for a few days.  He suggested putting a fish tank aerator at the bottom of the barrel, run by a solar powered pump!  Great idea!  We still have to stir the brew, but at least it will be constantly aerated.  We are going to try that the next time we do this.

Eventually, after about two months, I decanted the fertilizer into gallon sized jugs.  We ended up with just about 12 gallons.  The solids that were left at the bottom of the barrel were sandwiched into our compost pile, which I hope to use next spring in my new garden.

Making kelp fertilizer

You can see the gallon jug on the left is a lighter color of the one on the right. The one of the left came from the top of the barrel and the one on the right was the last gallon bottled. It has more “solids” in it and is just a bit goopy. Surprisingly, it doesn’t smell as bad as the one on the left!     Go figure

I already used the fertilizer when I planted my broccoli and brussels sprout seeds a month or so ago, and holy moly, this stuff works!  One of the great things about seaweed fertilizer

making seaweed fertilizer

These seedlings are only 3 days old! Impressive!

is that it contains something called gibberellic acid, which is a substance that helps seeds germinate.  I don’t want to brag, but my seeds were up in three days.  Three days!

The next time we visit the ocean and bring back some seaweed to make more fertilizer, we will be trying the fish tank aerator, and I will let you know how this works out.  Hopefully it will ease the smell and make it so that home brewed seaweed fertilizer is a lot more fun to make!  😉

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My New Elderberry Plants

Elderberry syrup, Elderflower pancakes, Elderberry wine…

Do I sound like Forrest Gump – “fried shrimp, grilled shrimp, shrimp fricassee…”?

A couple of years ago Ray and I attended a class on making medicinal tinctures; one of them being an elderberry syrup/tonic.  Since then, I have been wanting to have my own Elderberry plants. Elderberries have become very popular lately as they are one of those “superfoods” that contain anti-oxidants, flavinoids, vitamins and minerals.  And they taste good, too! The berries can be purchased online, but they can be a bit pricey!

Elderberries

This is one of our local “native” elderberry plants. There are quite a few of these bushes along the road we travel to get to our favorite fishing lake. It is just loaded with elderberries!

After learning all about elderberries and where they grow, we discovered that native elderberries grow all around us!  In fact, last year snapped off a sprig of a native bush and tried to get it to root.  It didn’t.  I think I got the sprig at the wrong time of year.  🙁

Since we really wanted some of our own Elderberry bushes and my expertise at rooting woody stemmed plants is obviously lacking, I purchased some Elderberry plants online from Stark Bros. Nursery.  We bought two varieties – York and Nova – for better cross pollination. The plants themselves were cheaper to buy than a couple of pounds of dried elderberries purchased online, so this was one of those “no brainer” purchases!  I still want to try getting a sprig of the local native elderberries to root, but I need to do some more research on how to do this before I try again.

When the box arrived from Stark Bros., I was quite impressed with the size of my new plants.  The stalks were ¾ to an inch wide at the base!  Unfortunately, it was evident that the delivery service may have been just a bit rough with the package, as several new, tender shoots had broken off the main plant.

Hmmm…  I thought.  What if I stick these new shoots in soil?  Since I had some pots and potting mix on hand, I stuck the shoots into the moist soil and waited.

It didn’t take long!  Two of the three shoots rooted, so hallaleuja, I now have four plants!  I still want some of the wild ones, though.  After all, variety is the spice of life!

growing elderberries

These elderberry plants are just gorgeous when they bloom!

We planted the Elderberries where they get strong morning sun but dappled shade in the afternoon, and all four of them grew very well.  The two mother plants soon had beautiful white blossoms.  The blossoms had a faint sweet smell and attracted quite a few different pollinators.

growing elderberry plants

You can see that the beautiful white blossoms fall off as the berries start to develop.

The berries came soon after.  I had about six fairly large clumps of berries on each plant and by September the berries got heavy enough that the plant stems started drooping.  Because of that, and because of the amount of deer mice, rabbits, wood rats, moles, voles and bears (oh my) we have on our property, I figured I had better pick the berries as soon as they looked ripe, which meant that I picked only two or three berry clusters at a time.

When I saw that my berries were ripening, I figured I had better start doing some research to help decide what I will do with them. First I found this post about making Elderberry Tincture, which is what made me want the elderberry plants in the first place, and this post on how to make Elderberry Wine, and this recipe making Elderberry Syrup!

What did I do with the berries?

Since I didn’t have a whole lot of them, (they are very young plants) I decided to dehydrate most of them to use at a later date.  It took only half a day to dehydrate the first and second batches of elderberries.

elderberry dehydrating

Dehydrating my first batch of elderberries. It doesn’t take long!

It was funny how much the berries shrank!  Holy cow, I started out with about 2 cups of berries and ended up with less than one half cup!  But, I am sure when they are reconstituted, they will taste just as lovely.  Or perhaps I will just include them in a granola bar recipe I’ve been wanting to try.  The seeds inside the berries make them crunchy, which is great!

Maybe I will throw a handful of the dehydrated berries into yogurt! Hmmm… elderberry ice cream?

I am waiting for the day we will have enough elderberries to make a batch of elderberry wine, but of course, I will need a lot more elderberries to do that.  (Sigh)

My second harvest of elderberries. I know it doesn't look like much, but remember, we just got the plants this year!

My second harvest of elderberries. I know it doesn’t look like much, but remember, we just got the plants this year!

Today I harvested the last few bunches of elderberries and made a small coffee cake.  Of course, I cooked it in my Sun Oven!

elderberry coffeecake

Elderberry coffee cake, cooking in my Sun Oven! With some of our own bee’s honey slathered on top, it was absolutely delicious!

It was delicious.  The berries are reminiscent of blueberries, but the small seeds inside give just a little bit of crunch!  It’s wonderful!

elderberry drying

Haha – this is my little pint jar of dehydrated elderberries! Who knew they would shrink up so small!

So, that was the extent of our elderberry harvest this year.  Since I didn’t get much in terms of dehydrated berries, I will probably hoard them over the winter.  Now I understand why the dehydrated berries cost so much!

However, with my four plants and with hopes of being able to root some native elderberry plants, I am sure to have an adequate amount of elderberries in the future!

Do you grow elderberries? Do you cook with elderberries?  Do you have a favorite recipe for a medicinal tonic using elderberries?  I would love to hear from you, so please leave a comment below!

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Terror in my Green Beans!

Have you ever seen one of these?

bull hornet

Um – yeah.  I think they look like the insect equivalent of Freddy Krueger!  It’s called a Bald Face Hornet, or a Bull Hornet, or any number of different names.  Of course, I have a few more off-color names for them that I won’t reveal in this blog because I am a lady, for heaven’s sake.  But let me tell you, these things are menacing!

And they are in my green bean plants!

Thankfully, I have learned the four tones of the different bees in my beans:  The gentle hummmmmm of our honey bees, the annoying buzzzzzzzz of the yellow jackets, the loud “get out of my way!!” vroooooommm that emanates from the carpenter bees and bumble bees, and then the scary, terrorizing, deep and resonating (think Harley-Davidson) rumblerumblerumble of the Bald Face Hornets.

Bald faced hornets in my beans

I have trellised the bean plants to make it easier to reach the beans. So much easier (and safer) than a ladder, and easier to see one of those pesky hornets!

It started about three weeks ago when my green beans were really starting to put on beans.  I had a lot of pollinators buzzing around and was so happy because I knew I was going to have a great crop of beans!  Just like at our home in the valley, the carpenter bees, honey bees and bumble bees are the main pollinators. My beans are planted with cucumbers, amaranth and sugar beets (which are flowering right now), so there is a smorgasbord of pollen for the bees.

Then came the Hornets.

I started having to pick my beans with gloves on, because I noticed that they went toward the movement of my fingers.   Gaaaaaaaaaaa!  They would dart so close to my fingers that I could feel the vibrations of their wings on my hands.  I figured the hornets had moved into the area to pick off the honey bees as they were pollinating, which explains why they were excited by the movement of my fingers.  Which also explains why I don’t see any honey bees pollinating the beans anymore!  I think the bumble bees and carpenter bees are just too big for the hornets to bother with.

Funny story:  I enjoy eating the vegetables in my garden while I am working, plucking them off the bush, vine, plant and plopping it right into my mouth.  Mmmmmm…  tomatoes, green beans, strawberries.  Yum!  No – I don’t wash first.  A little bit of dirt didn’t hurt anybody.  Well, one day last week I was picking green beans, eating a few here and there, and when I chomped into one… it gooshed instead of crunched.  I spit it out and looked at it.  I didn’t have my glasses on, but it really didn’t look any different – it was green – but it was gooshy.  I threw it aside and didn’t think about it until the next day when I was picking beans again.  I saw a small hole in one of the beans and wondered, “what in the world?”  Then a few plucked beans later I saw it…

caterpillars eating green beans

Do you see it there? in the foreground? That plump juicy caterpillar that is EXACTLY the same color as the green bean? Um… yeah 😉

Ugh… a caterpillar and, eeewwwwww…  I must have bitten into a caterpillar the other day!

And they were eating my beans!

And that’s what is attracting the Bald Face Hornets!

The light bulb turned on.

Just this morning when I was picking beans I saw a hornet catching a plump, juicy caterpillar that was eating a hole in one of my beans!  So – even though the hornets eat my honeybees, they are also eating the caterpillars that are eating my beans!  So I guess every menacing creature does have redeeming qualities.  I suppose.  Sigh.

watering trough for honeybees

We bought this watering trough for several reasons, but the two most important were to have a place for mosquito fish to live (mosquitoes are horrible here in the spring) and also for our honeybees to get a drink of water!  Click on the picture to get a larger view 🙂

Then, I noticed the Hornets were also menacing my honeybees in their watering pond!  The bees have been using this watering trough all spring/summer, and everything has been copacetic – that is until the hornets moved in.  I sadly watched as bee after bee was literally plucked off the plants by the hornets!  Gaaaaaaa!  This is a sad, sad day, indeed, for the bees.  However, I don’t think the hornets will actually kill enough to hurt the hive.  You see, a queen bee can lay more than 2,000 eggs every day, so if the hornets take a couple dozen bees every day – well – I guess that’s just nature.  Sad, but true.  Not much we can do about it anyway.

So…  “how are my beans doing?” you might ask.

Oh!  Thank you for asking!

Chinese Red Noodle BeansGreat!  Holy cow, these things are producing like hotcakes. They are worse (or as good as?) the zucchini at this point!  We grew Kentucky Wonder beans this year, and they grew so tall that I had to trellis them, because they wanted to grow taller than my ladder could reach.  I have pressure canned two batches of beans already and am about ready to can another batch.  I just adore green beans in a beef stew, or tucked into a chicken pot pie, or just cooked up with some bacon, onion and black pepper.  Of course chicken with green beans cooked in an Asian stir fry sauce over rice just can’t be beat!  Yum!

This year I wanted to try growing some red noodle beans.  Last year I grew some Asparagus Long Beans and really enjoyed it, and learned a lot!  So, this year I wanted to try another variety of the long bean.

Bull Hornets

One of the red noodle beans. They really do stand out, so they don’t get lost in the bushes!

The red beans are great!  Not quite as prolific as the green asparagus beans, but they are a lot easier to find in the bushes due to their nice brick red color!  And with my aging eyes, that is a good thing, indeed!  One thing I learned last year about the Asparagus Long Bean was that one of their main pollinators were ants!  Can you believe it?  Ants, of all things!  Unfortunately, I haven’t found very many ants on my Red Noodle Beans, so maybe that is why they haven’t done as well as the green ones.  I think, just as an experiment, I will try both beans next year side by side to see which one is truly the winner.

green beans pressure canned

I like to raw pack my green beans when I pressure can – it is so much easier and the final product isn’t much different than hot pack!

Something else I am experimenting with this year is the amount of green bean plants to grow so I have enough to pressure can at least 42 pints of beans, which will give us one pint a week for a year.  Yeah – I know – there are 52 weeks in a year, but for the other 10 weeks a year we will be eating FRESH beans.

Until the harvest is done, the jury is still out, but right now I would guess that I will need somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 bean plants.  I’m also not sure which green bean is better.  Last year we tried a pole variety called Contender green beans. They did well, but when all is said and done, I don’t think they will have done as well as the Kentucky Wonders that we are growing this year.

We’ll see!!

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Another Top Bar Beehive and DWV

We lost our beehive last winter. Well, we didn’t LOSE the hive itself, it’s just that the colony of bees occupying it died, and their death was probably our fault!  We felt soooooo bad.top bar beehive death in winter

However, since we thoroughly enjoyed being beekeepers, we decided to just go all in, make another hive and order two sets (one queen and 3 pounds of bees in each set) so that we would have two!  Not only would we have more pollinators for our fruit/nut orchard and our vegetable/herb garden, but we would also enjoy more honey and bees wax with another hive.  Besides, it would also double our chances of success getting a hive to survive the winter!

new hive 1This spring, once Ray was up to it and well on his way to healing (that story here), he made another top bar hive box in pretty much the same manner as our last one.  We did change a few things so there would be better ventilation, but the dimensions are pretty much the same so that we can share the top bars with each other.  Making this hive took a lot less time because we knew what we were doing.  We will see how everything goes this year and if the colonies make it through the winter, but we are hoping to make our third hive next spring!  🙂 a new top bar beehive

We bought our bee packages from Oliverez Bees, just as we did last year.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get a picture of the install.  I could give you some excuses, but the truth is that I was so excited and nervous that I simply forgot!  However, I did get a shot of the bees through the window viewing area just a few short weeks after they were installed.  Holy cow, these gals are building comb like gangbusters!

But then, one day about a month ago I saw this…

new top bar hive

Ugh!  Is that the deformed wing virus caused by the varroa mite?  I did a lot of research and, yes, it was probably the DWV.  UGH! UGH!  What were we going to do?  We wanted to have organic hives and not use miticide.  In fact, one reason we decided to use top bar hives was that the cells are smaller in Top Bar Hives (TBH), which produce smaller bees faster, which reduces the impact of varroa mites!  We knew that, unfortunately, there was probably no way to get around having varroa mites, which can kill a colony, but instead we could try to control them.

new top bar beehive

The California Buckeye, sometimes called Horse Chestnut, has a beautiful bloom and is a gorgeous tree when in full bloom. Unfortunately, the pollen causes Deformed Wing Virus in honeybees!

Another potential cause of the deformed wing virus, however, is pollen collected from the California Buckeye tree, which causes this deformity in brood.  And we have seen some California Buckeye Trees around.  If this was the cause, and all the brood was not effected, then the colony might be okay.

Well, when the bee with DWV was found, we were at the beginning of another honey flow.  There were lots of flowers blooming – especially the blackberries! And the weather report said that we were in for a week or so of 100+ degree weather down in the valley, though thankfully it wouldn’t get that hot here.

In researching miticides, I read that you do not want to apply during either a honey flow or during extreme heat, so even if our hive was being infected with the DWV, we had no choice but to watch it die right in front of our eyes.  The worst part of watching the hive die was knowing that the other hive would probably also be effected.  UGH!

So, the heat came and went!  Let me tell you, it was Hot Hot Hot!

When we checked on the hives a couple of weeks later, it was amazing!  They had literally doubled in size!  They weren’t dying at all, they were thriving!!

new top bar beehive

The colony as seen through the observation window in the side of the hive.

 

So…  how could this be?  I was actually prepared for another funeral!  Time for more research (don’t you just love Google?), and I think I may have found the answer.  I read on an entomologist’s research paper that while honeybees can live in 130-140 degree temperatures in the hive, the varroa mite cannot!  Wow!

So, if the DWV was caused by the varroa mite, the heat may have come at just the right time!  Of course, if the DWV was caused by the California Buckeye tree, then we will probably see some young bees with DWV every year in the future because we cannot cut down all the Buckeye trees within a honeybee’s foraging radius, nor would we want to.

Our tango mandrin in full bloom. The honeybees just maul this tree when it is blooming!

Our tango mandrin in full bloom. The honeybees absolutely maul this tree when it is blooming!

What we can do is plant more flowering fruits and vegetables and ornamentals that are good for bees, to keep them foraging at home.

Right now we have a small vegetable garden where our bees forage, and there are also numerous wildflowers around. In the spring the bees can forage from our fruit and nut orchard. Once our house is built we plan to have grapes, boysenberries and blueberries and will also plant a few more fruit trees here and there.  Furthermore, I want to expand our herb garden, which at this point includes rosemary, thyme, oregano, lavender and sage, which I know the honeybees just adore!

Here it is mid-summer, and during a hive inspection I took a picture of some of the comb while Ray was lifting them up.  Although we didn’t plan to harvest any honey, we felt it was necessary to take one comb from the larger hive (the new one) as it was almost full. new top bar beehive The bees already had comb on about 2/3 of the top bars! A full hive is one that will potentially swarm, which is something you definitely do not want!  We also moved a few empty bars in around the center of the hive, to let the bees see that there was still a lot more room in there.

We chose one comb that had mostly capped honey and very little brood.  I extracted the honey by crushing the beeswax comb and hanging it in cheesecloth above a bowl for about twenty-four hours.  Once most of the honey had drained out of the comb, I put the beeswax on a paper plate and set it outside about 20 feet away from the beehives.  The bees clean the honey off the wax in a day or two.  I flipped the wax over and the bees obligingly cleaned up the rest of the honey.  I put the almost clean beeswax into the freezer and will finish cleaning it up later.

new hive 4

We got about a cup of honey from this small harvest.  This honey is very sweet and a bright golden yellow – perfect for cornbread!  Yummmmmm…

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