Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Cherry Pitter Hack for Nanking Cherries

It's generally accepted among scientists that Nanking cherries evolved to be smaller than regular cherries so that standard-size cherry pitters wouldn't work on them. The rationale is that the smaller size would cause humans to be less likely to collect them, and as a result, Nanking cherry seeds would be spread further and wider by birds and squirrels. (Don't bother looking that up, we only surveyed household scientists.)

Fortunately, humans are capable of evolving as well, and have now provably adapted to allow efficient predation on Nanking cherries.  Evidence: a primitive modified cherry pitter tool.  Fortunately for future archeologists, the development of the tool was captured in this equally primitive blog post.

Glass with Nanking cherries
We picked nearly a cup of these tasty-dactyls last week.

Nanking cherry in cherry pitter
But they're too small for our cherry pitter!

Washer in cherry pitter
Rummaging around in the garage, we found a washer that fits inside the cherry pitter, with a small enough inner diameter to hold the Nanking cherries but large enough to still let the plunger through.

Pitted Nanking cherries
From the batch we collected, there were no survivors.

Nanking cherries on ice cream
We shall honor their passing with great reverence...and plenty of ice cream.  (We also scattered the pits through the chicken pasture so the Nanking cherries, as a species, don't get too mad at us. Ahh, symbiosis!)

How do you process Nanking (or other small) cherries?

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Homestead Happiness, June Week 1-ish

This post is actually a couple weeks late, but it's still a relevant tour of our June yard.  Nature is at peak biomass production this time of year both for weeds (boo...) and garden plants (yay!)  Fortunately, we've been more on top of the garden this year than last and most of the tree fruit survived the late snow storms, so things are looking good!

June garden
We got the garden in and mulched, and the drip irrigation set up.  It's crazy how much the tomatoes (left) and potatoes (right) have already grown since this photo was taken.

Healthy rhubarb
After two years of struggling, it looks like our rhubarb has finally turned the corner!  The likely culprit for its struggles: a quack grass root right through the center of the crown.  If you have a rhubarb plant that's inexplicably struggling, make sure it's not being assaulted by quack grass.

New rhubarb
Some new neighbors put up a fence, and in the fervor of their construction, ended up tossing part of a rhubarb plant into our yard.  What else to do but plant it?  The leaves it already had died right away, but it was sprouting new leaves from the root within a week.  Jake's mom has another story about a piece of rhubarb root left out in a garden shed over the winter, and rediscovered in the spring, frozen and dried out.  She put it in the ground and it's growing now!  Respect.  May we all be as resilient as rhubarb!

Unripe fruit on trees
We have our largest variety yet of pre-fruit this year--the black raspberries are finally bearing (they were fall-planted in 2013), while the peach tree bloomed for the first time and a few of the fruits survived the late snow storms.  The apples and crab apples survived, too!  We could have also added wild plums and sour cherries to this picture.  It's going to be a busy August/September around here!

Nanking cherries
On the other hand, the Nanking cherries are just about ripe.  More on that soon!

Volunteer chard and potato
We've been mulching with aged chicken bedding, and it's sprouted almost as many volunteer garden plants as weeds because of all the kitchen and garden scraps we gave the chooks.  You can see Swiss chard and a potato plant in the photo, and just outside the photo is some borage.  We had an empty space where we relocated some strawberries to hedge our bets against marauding squirrels, so it's a nice surprise to see it fill in with edibles!

Chives and volunteer catnip
Speaking of volunteers, we were disappointed when the catnip plant we planted last year died.  But one of its offspring has taken its place!  Nature seems to be granting all our plant-related wishes this year.

What made your homestead happy this week?

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Pollinator Party

They say that once you have honeybees, you look at flowers differently.  You wonder if a flower is a good source of nectar, of pollen, or both.  You wonder if the pollen is good nutrition for the bees, or junk food like pine pollen.  You might wonder if a flower has been sprayed with a pesticide of some sort.  At the very least, you become more aware of what's blooming at any given time of year and wonder if your bees are hitting it up to make you some honey. 

If you also happen to be a huge bug nerd amateur entomologist, you might notice that some times of the year there is only one kind of flower blooming in a given area.  And as a result, that patch of flowers becomes a veritable smorgasbord of pollinators.  We noticed it last summer on our hawthorn tree.  A few weeks ago, we also noticed it on a blackberry patch while visiting family in Wisconsin. (For what it's worth, blackberries make junk food-like pollen, but may be a good source of nectar.)  

Shrugging off the puzzled and slightly concerned glances of our relatives, we grabbed the camera and started snapping photos...let's see what we found!

Blowfly on blackberry blossom, Syrphus ribesii
There were plenty of hover flies hanging out (including this Syrphus ribesii), but they weren't very cooperative as far as landing on flowers with good lighting.

Mason bee on blackberry flower, Osmia lignaria
A fancy blue metallic bee was slightly more accommodating.  We're pretty sure it's a blue mason bee (Osmia lignaria), but the midsection looks kind of thin and the abdomen looks not very hairy compared to other photos online.

Paper wasp on blackberry flower, Polistes carolina or Polistes rubiginosus
This paper wasp was our best customer, as it was willing to be in focus and was visiting only the most attractive flowers.  We think it's a Polistes rubiginosus, or Polistes carolina but it's hard to be sure.  They're very similar, and neither one is normally found as far north as Wisconsin.

Bumble bee on blackberry flower, Bombus griseocollis or Bombus impatiens
An aptly-named bumble bee was also buzzing drunkenly from flower to flower.   Looks like it's probably a Brown-belted Bumble Bee,  Bombus griseocollis., but possibly a Common Eastern Bumble Bee, Bombus impatiens.

Butterfly on blackberry flower, Boloria selene
Even a butterfly (we think it's a Small Pearl-Bordered Fritillary, Boloria selene) was getting in on the action!

There were probably half a dozen other species that wouldn't hold still long enough to get their picture taken, but we'll have to check out this blackberry patch again next year!  Not sure if we'll be back in time this year to enjoy the fruits of these pollinators' labor, but hopefully our relatives will remember this post and have a greater appreciation for these fine fellows while they're munching on delicious blackberries later this summer.

Where are the pollinator parties in your neck of the woods?