Monday, May 30, 2011

Pi Party

My teenage daughter has a birthday around Pi Day (3/14).  What better way to celebrate than with all things Pi.  I made a Pi-nata for the occasion, with some inspiration from a St. Patty's Day craft found at the Celebration Generation blog.

In addition to smashing the Pi-nata, the kids enjoyed pi-neapple, pi-zza, pi-ckles, and of course, pi-e.  I was very impressed with two of my daughter's friends showed up with pies they made themselves.  One made a delicious rhubarb pie and one girl made a strawberry pie that I smuggled away from the teens and ate by myself. 
Just kidding. 
Sort of.
It was after sunset when we finally got around to taking aim at the pinata, so some of these pictures are a bit dark.
 Below, you can see that even big kids love candy.Teenage boys can smash pinatas pretty hard, I've learned.  Candy flew several yards. I'm still finding candy in the mint bed. 

Harvest Shot

The strawberries are in!
Just when I thought it would be a bad year for strawberries, I come back from a weekend holiday and find that the slugs, the birds, and the fox did not eat all of the fruit after all.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Bee Check

We had some friends join us this weekend for a bee inspection!  It was a lot of fun.
 We removed the entrance reducer (that stick shown below on the brick).  The bees were so cute, though, and continued to enter and exit the hive from the exact spot where the hole was located in their entrance reducer.  We removed the reducer so that more air can get in and out of the hive, allowing for greater ventilation as the weather warms.
The bees are looking good!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Collecting Pollen

The bees are having a great time collecting pollen.  Judging from the queue in the picture below, we will need to widen the entrance soon.

The pollen is in little sacs on their legs called pollen baskets. Some collected orange pollen and some have collected a yellow pollen today.  Different flowers, different pollen.

In the above picture, a bee who has already deposited her collection is now departing to go get some more. Her legs are pollen-free.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Viking Birthday Party

What do Vikings like to do when someone turns 6? Throw a party, of course!

If you haven't looked for Viking birthday party supplies lately, you'd be surprised to learn that there just aren't any.  The trusty Internet also seems to have skipped the Viking theme as a viable party idea.  So, we were on our own when our youngest child announced that this year we would party like the Vikings.  Luckily, Lego and Playmobil toys make great party displays to set the mood.

For other decorations, we had to do some adapting.  Above, you'll see a Blues Clues banner that now sports a drawing of a Viking long ship taped over Blue's face.  (Making decorations provided the boys with a good outlet for the pre-party crazies.)

As you probably know, nothing beats brown paper lunch bags and some clip art when it comes to goody bags.  We stuck to candy, since clever-Viking-theme-goody-bag-junk just wasn't an option.

Our opening party activity is usually coloring, since kids can work on coloring while party guests arrive.  We found a few Viking coloring sheets online.

We made Viking shields ahead of time by cutting circles from card stock. 

Children picked a color for the shield and a color for the center circle. 

Using a Viking alphabet key, each boy found his name and glued it to his shield before decorating the shields.

When all the guests had arrived and were happily coloring and eating Viking food such as chicken nuggets and these long boat celery sticks,

we were visited by a friendly dragon who held a note in her mouth.  The note contained a quest for worthy Viking warriors and our party participants were excited to accept.

Please help me! All of my baby dragon eggs have been stolen by a faraway kingdom. I need you to find them and save them.

For your quest, you will need
• A strong Viking hat

• A ship that can sail

• Skills to cross the rough seas

• Skills to defeat the castle of the kingdom

When you cross the rough seas and defeat the castle, you’ll surely find my eggs.

Thank you.

Be brave!

The first part of the quest involved our go-to party game, "Pin the ___ on the ___".  This time, it was "Pin the Viking helmet on the Viking", thanks to some great party props made by my oldest son.  This game never gets old.  Everyone was a winner and earned a fantastic Viking helmet.

To make ships that sail, we gave each boy a large square of aluminum foil, a skewer, and a square of paper.  The boys fashioned sails from the skewer and paper, and boats from the tin foil.  We tested each boat in a tub of water.  Admittedly, this would have been much more fun outside, but we had a rainy day and limited this part of the fun to our kitchen. Every boat was a success!

To "cross the rough seas" the boys had to make their way through an obstacle course my party helpers created in the basement.  Once again, this was intended as an outdoor party, but we made it work.  The kids had fun crawling through a tunnel, wading through a pool of stuffed animals, climbing over the couch, and shimmying under a blanket. Who wouldn't?

Now comes the part of the party in which a) the brave Vikings defeat the enemy castle, b) my older son revels in his love of catapults, and c) I find justification for the fact that I can't stop collecting wine corks.

I'm not sure why I never found this when I was a cub scout leader, but there is a wonderful tutorial online for making a simple catapult from a wire hanger.  We gave each boy a wire hanger, two rubber bands, and a plastic spoon.  With the help of my fantastic middle and high-school helpers, each boy made a catapult. 
We then shot spare corks at a castle made of corks.  (Had the weather cooperated, we would have shot ice cubes outside.)

Hidden in the castle was a note that directed us back upstairs to hunt for the hidden dragon eggs.

Once we found the eggs, we made a paper 3D dragon.  I found one online that I easily mimicked by drawing a dragon, drawing a simple wing shape, and printing both on card stock.  I cut them out ahead of time, slid the wings through a slit on the dragon shape, and the boys colored their 3D dragons, adding feathers or other decorations as they pleased. 

The dragons were fun for them to 'fly', by bouncing the wings up and down.

Finally, time for cake and opening presents!

I made the cake by inserting two chocolate covered bananas into a bundt cake.  The bundt cake was filled with a cupcake before icing.

(Yes, I removed the wrapper.)  I filled in the spaces with pieces from another cupcake.

For the family party that followed this kid-party, we enjoyed the remaining cupcakes, decorated with banana Runts and raspberry gum drops that my daughter fashioned into Viking hats. 

I am grateful to the college girl who works at the candy shop in our local mall.  She eagerly consulted with me about which candy combinations made the best Viking hat, saying that she appreciates a good challenge.

Bee Check

The bees are starting to outgrow their two-deep hive, so today we added a third box for them. 

 Above, you can see the box full of empty frames.  We added it to the top of our existing hive.

While we were in the bee yard, we took a look at how the girls are doing.  It is so nice to see that they are successfully raising a new generation.  Look closely in the picture below to see the C-shaped larvae in the comb cells. The workers feed the larvae and eventually cap the cells when the larvae stop eating.  What emerge just a few days later are honeybees, ready to work.

Chickens as Gardeners

Besides laying beautiful eggs each day for us, our chickens are fantastic gardeners.  They till one garden plot each season for us (they follow the squash garden and the Italian garden follows them), turning the soil, eating all the weeds and spent plants, and removing bugs who have overwintered in the soil.  This year, they've also agreed to monitor the pole beans for us.

Pole beans are a favorite here.  They are easy to grow, give a large yield without too much effort, and the kids enjoy the growing plants and the finished product.  We were surprised last year to find, for the first time, Mexican bean beetles on our plants.  What look like yellowy-orange lady bugs eat the leaves of the pole bean plant, thus depriving the plant of photosynthesis.  We still got beans, but much less than normal, and the plants looked really ugly with their decimated leaves.
So, what's a gardener to do?

 That's right:  bring in the chickens!

Rather than rotating the pole bean crop to a new garden with the squash and cabbage, we planted them in the same spot as last year.  Normally, that would be an invitation to the overwintered bugs for a repeat performance, but this year, the chickens are in that garden.  I installed rabbit fencing along one wall of their yard, with bamboo stakes for support (and for the pole beans to climb).  The pole beans are planted in between the rabbit fencing and the fenced wall of the yard.  So far, the chickens have not dug under the fencing. I'm *hoping* that by the time they undermine the rabbit fencing, the pole beans will be well-established.  Once the plants are tall enough, the chickens will do little damage to them.
As the plants grow, any Mexican bean beetles that emerge will become chicken food (if they cooperate with my grand scheme).  Any that appear on the leaves can be easily knocked off for the chickens...integrated pest management and organic gardening.  It will be a win/win...if it works.

This morning I found Indigo trapped in the pole bean part of the chicken yard.  We were not in the garden at all yesterday, so we didn't notice her in there.  She seemingly dug her way under the rabbit fencing and must have spent the night in there.  Needless to say, the pole beans are all broken and/or eaten.  I planted some more today.

Rosemary Contenders

Every year is a new attempt at getting a rosemary plant to overwinter.  None of our locations last summer worked.  Not being gardeners who give up easily, we've planted some new rosemary.  The first plant pictured here gets my highest vote of confidence.  It is near the house, in an alcove to protect it from high winds, and will get full sun all morning.
 Below is a shot of the plant for which I have the least confidence...seeing how the plant in this location died last year AND the year before.  It is just such a nice location, convenient to the kitchen and near lots of other herbs (who all manage to overwinter--go figure!) so I keep trying.  The big disadvantage to this spot is that the plow tends to dump 8' piles of snow here every winter, which may be too much for a rosemary plant to tolerate.  You think?
 Here we see another failed location, but for some of the same reasons listed above, we're going to try again.  This little plant will get lots of sun, is near other herbs (who also do quite well), and the guy we planted here last year *almost* overwintered.  It had a tiny section of green on it this spring, unlike the other rosemary plants that were shriveled and brown. See below that I've surrounded this newcomer with rocks to help it retain some heat.  Do I think that will work?  No, not really;  but it looks nice and helps ease my conscience.  The sage behind it is gorgeous, by the way.  I'm hoping it will be a good role model for the new rosemary plant.
I'm very excited about this last location.  Close to the wall of our outdoor grill, this plant will benefit from the warmth that the stones collect all day in the sun.  It will also be partially protected from the elements all winter.  I deem this plant "second most likely to succeed".

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Bee Check

We made a bee check this weekend and were mostly pleased with what we saw. Above, you can see the bees using the top feeder to eat sugar water.  They crawl up through an access hole, over a wooden wall, and down to the water.  Somehow one or two bees still manage to get into the large pool and drown, but for the most part, the feeder works pretty well. We noticed some mold on the inside wall of the feeder, so we will ask about that at our next bee meeting.

 In this picture you can see that the bees are mainly in the center frames of the hive.  On top of their frames is a grease patty they eat to help them manage mites.
 We noticed on this visit that our ten frames still allow some space in between each one.  The bees can't stand the space and fill it up with extra comb. Above, you can see a large example that fell off when we removed a frame to examine.
Brave Husband (who didn't even wear gloves on this visit) holds up a frame to check.  In the sun, wearing a veil, it is hard to see what is really going on inside this frame; but thanks to modern technology, we were able to enlarge this photo on the computer and look inside some of the cells.  We were very pleased to see eggs and larvae which means that our queen is laying!