Feral cats can become snuggle cats! Learn how Yard Tiger became a snuggle cat in 8 steps.
A good friend recently asked for advice about making her home canning more streamlined and efficient. Luckily, Ruby spent the better part of the past four years developing systems to make canning easier and faster. Here’s her best tips!!
1. Use two canner pots
You can do two batches alternating (by the time I’ve filled one, the next one is usually ready to go) or you can have one for sterilizing jars and the other for canning the filled jars.
2. Hot/boiling water available
Keep a pot or kettle of boiling water or close to boiling that you can add to the canner(s) if the water level gets low so you don’t have to wait for it to heat up to start the next batch.
3. Spare canning tools
Having a spare set of canning tools helps too, especially a second jar lifter. If you hone your skills, you can pick up and put down two jars at once if you have two jar lifters.
4. Get a rubber mat to stand on
I stand on a rubber mat for chopping and then move it in front of the stove for canning. It saves my back and my feet from a lot of suffering.
5. Prep ahead of time
Lots of things can be chopped the night before without any deterioration in quality (for example beets, onions, and carrots). Prepping the day or night before make the canning day a bit more manageable.
Make sure your kitchen is clean before you start canning. It is worth the time it takes to clean and clear your surfaces before you start the prepping and canning processes.
Plan how you’ll store the chopped ingredients until they are ready to can (I use a set of food safe buckets labelled with masking tape; each bucket in the picture makes roughly two batches of pickles, so I know if I fill each bucket with the right length/cut of cucumbers, I’ll have enough jars to fit them all.
It is awesome to have a helper or two, especially for prep and cleaning. You can bribe helpers with yummy canned goods.
6. Fill jars over sink or rack for easy clean up
When I can for us at home, I put a baking rack (cookie cooling rack, I’m not sure the proper name) over the sink and I fill the jars on that so drips and spills go down the drain.
The sinks at the commercial kitchen are too big and too far from the stove to do this so I use a rack on top of a cookie sheet lined with a clean kitchen rag, so drips and spills are usually caught in the cookie sheet unless it’s an epic fail.
7. Include one smaller jar per batch
I usually include one jar that is smaller (half the size) of the batch I’m doing so in case there is a little extra that isn’t enough to fill a pint jar (for example), I’ve got a hot half pint jar I can fill completely.
8. Treat Yourself!
if you skim foam off of jam or jelly, save it in a little bowl and eat it with yogurt as a treat. It’s perfectly edible and very yummy. Skimming foam is merely cosmetic and I never even bothered doing it until I realized it could be a treat for me to EAT IMMEDIATELY. Now I don’t feel like it is wasting food to skim the foam - somebody is going to eat it (ME!).
I hope these tips improve and streamline your home canning experiences!
Honey bees are superorganisms, meaning that a single honey bee cannot exist without her colony. The colony and the hive itself make up the organism. The way that colonies reproduce is called “swarming,” and there’s a “swarm season” in spring when healthy colonies get the urge to reproduce themselves. First they raise a lot of drones (male bees), and then they start making new baby queen bees.
One the baby queen cells are capped (sealed off after about 9 days of developing as a larvae and getting fed by nurse bees), the reigning queen will leave the colony with about half the workers and some drones. The young queens left behind with a small contingent of workers/guards and young nurse bees will hatch, take mating flights, and one of the baby queens will take over as queen of the colony (if all goes well). If multiple young queens successfully mate and return, the hive may send out smaller secondary swarms with those queens (or even with virgin queens sometimes since only one stays in the mother hive).
The swarm will usually fly somewhere nearby and ball up. Depending on how many bees left the hive, this can be the size of a baseball, basketball, or much larger like a beach ball. They cluster in this clump and send out scouts who look for ideal conditions for a new hive. They are looking for a space that is protected, usually high up in a tree or in a crevice with a small entrance that is shielded from the elements and that fits the size of the swarm. Different scouts find different places, and return to the swarm to dance the location and convey what they like about the prospective new home. Other bees follow the instructions to check out the spot, they make their own evaluation, and come back to dance for the site if they like it. Eventually the bees come to consensus with all or a majority of bees dancing to indicate a chosen location, and they take off en masse to their new home, which may be miles away.
One neat thing about this process (other than the fact that bees have a better functioning direct democracy than humans do) for the beekeeper is that you have an opportunity to catch or attract (‘trap”) them while they are in the stage of scouting and dancing for new locations. With traps, you simply provide a box that meets “bee specifications” for an ideal home (size of cavity, entrance size, pheromones and bee smells, evidence of prior bee residents like honey comb present), and wait for a swarm to choose your location. They will literally just fly into the box and take up residence if they like it best compared with other available options.
To catch a swarm that is resting is a bit more challenging, but well worth the effort. Ideally the swarm is low to the ground and in an easy to reach location, but often they are 40+ feet up a tree (that happened to us this year, a small swarm was simply too high to catch and didn’t choose the box we out out for them). Ruby had never caught a swarm before - and to be honest she was a bit intimidated at the prospect but wanted to try it. She was praying for the “perfect swarm” - size of a basketball, less than 10 feet off the ground, and in our town at a time she was available to collect them, and her bee gear was with her (not up at the land). Sounds like a tall order, but that’s just what she got!
A few weeks ago, Ruby received an email alerting her about a bee swarm on her street, just a few houses away, and she responded within minutes. The garden is a certified Pollinator Garden, so it was extra special. The swarm was on a branch just at Ruby’s face level. She was able to give the branch a good shake and collect the bees into a box. Once the queen is in the swarm box, the rest of the bees, and the scouts that are out flying when you catch the resting swarm, will march into the box.
The swarm has settled into the apiary nicely, and is building quite a lot of resources, and laying lots of baby bees. We named her after the “mother of pollinator gardens” in our town, Gerlinde Smith. She is thriving, with the lowest mite (bee parasite) count in the apiary (zero mites!) and the fastest growth.
We LOVE seeds… but organizing them, and finding the seeds you want to plant when you need them can present a challenge. We wanted to share Ruby’s system of organizing our seeds and planning a multi-season garden.
TL;DR: We store seeds alphabetically by type in 3-ring binders, and we pull seeds selected for this year’s garden into a separate binder organized by season.
We have three large 3-ring binders, with plastic “page protector” inserts, and homemade “tabs” (post-it notes + clear tape) to store our seeds.
The seeds are organized in alphabetical order in two binders, by crop categories (like carrots, radishes, sunflowers, tomatoes, etc).
The third binder holds the seeds - and plans - for this year’s garden, and it is organized by season.
Each crop has one plastic page protector, which contains a tracking sheet, any information we have about the particular type of seeds/plants, and all of the seed packets.
We may have just one variety for certain seeds (like kale or spinach right now) or we may have multiple varieties (for example, we have more than a dozen kinds of lettuce and half a dozen types of carrots). Regardless of how many varieties we have, all of the seeds go in the single plastic pouch for their crop type.
The third binder is for this year’s garden, and it is segmented into sections for spring, summer, fall, and overwinter cover crops. When we decide — usually in January or early February — what we want to plant for the year, we pull out the seeds we have selected from the alphabetized binders. We temporarily store those selected seed packets in the “crop tracker” binder until we plant them and they sprout. Once the young seedlings have sprouted in sufficient number, we return the seed packets to their regular homes.
The crop tracker allows us to plan for successive plantings of different varieties throughout the season, and provides an easy way to keep track of what is planted and what needs to be planted throughout the year. It also facilitates the planning process to ensure that crops (and varieties within specific crops) are grown in their optimal conditions.
Using this system, we can easily select cold-tolerant varieties in early spring gardens and bolt-resistant varieties for summer gardens, without a lot of fuss. It removes the chore of sorting through seeds every time you want to plant another round of lettuce, because you only do the sorting once (during winter when you’re dreaming about your garden).
Using this system, we select the types of lettuce (for example) that we want to grow from all the varieties we have saved. Looking at cold/heat tolerance, we slide the seed packets into the correct “season” pocket in the crop tracker.
When it’s time to plant the spring garden, we have all the seeds we need, when we are ready to start the summer seedlings, everything is already in place … and so on throughout the year.
We often do “successive planting,” meaning that we will plant carrots or lettuce or whatnot every couple of weeks throughout the spring and summer - when this happens, we just store the seeds in the crop tracker for the current or next season (for example right now, we have radishes we’ve planted already that will be planted again in the spring garden and then planted in the summer garden several times. So the seeds are hanging out for now in the “spring” pocket of the crop tracker, but as soon as we finish the last spring sowing, we will move the seeds to the “summer” pocket. After the summer crop is sown, the seeds will be returned to the alphabetized binder. As soon as whatever variety is sprouted/established and we know we are not planting more this year, we move the seed packets back to their permanent home in the alphabetized binders.
Your Crop Tracker
You can use our crop tracker template to create your own system. Here is our crop tracker document - feel free to use it as is or make edits to fit your needs.
(you can download and print, or download and edit, or make a copy of the template document)
Our farm is a finalist for a $10,000 "Cultivating Change" grant! If we win, we would use the grant funds to increase the apiary (more bees, new hives, and bigger electric fence), and to contribute toward the purchase of a 4WD vehicle to safely transport bees and people.
The winner will be decided by online votes in January, so we need your help to win. Voting only takes a minute (you'll need to give your email address to register), and each person can vote once per day.
You can sign up right here to vote for us to win! (Note this form will direct you away from this page, and you’ll have another chance to sign up at the bottom if you want to read through first).
Riding in Cars with Bees
Our most pressing need is a dependable vehicle. Until recently, we had an old Ford Explorer, but the truck was retired this year. It is extremely challenging to transport bees and bee equipment in Ruby’s 20-year-old two-wheel drive compact car. The apiary is located more than two hours from our home, over several mountain passes, culminating in an unmaintained dirt road to get to the farm. Conditions can be dangerous in inclement weather, and the route is best driven a four-wheel-drive vehicle.
Ruby typically makes the four-hour roundtrip journey several times per week - sometimes the car is full of farm equipment, soil, or tools but often, the car is full of bees. When she purchases new hives or brings the bees to pollinate local organic farms, she must transport several hives at once, and they won't all fit in the trunk. There is no alternative other than to drive with bees in the back seat, stopping frequently along the way to release escapees. It will be a game changer to have a proper vehicle that would allow Ruby to safely transport the bees -- and all their bulky equipment -- to and from the apiary in a separate compartment.
Ruby’s Goals for Apiary Expansion
I successfully established the apiary in 2017 with two hives, and increased to five hives overwintering in 2018. In 2019, I will increase the apiary to at least 10-15 hives: this expansion plan requires infrastructure to support sustainable growth. Creating a larger apiary requires building more benches (the bee hives must be sited a few feet off the ground) and building more bee boxes to house the bees. These additional hives and benches will require an expansion of the existing solar-powered electric fence which surrounds the apiary to protect the hives from predators including bears and skunks.
Of course, apiary expansion also means I need more bees! The most important outcome for the apiary is to raise bees that are best suited to thrive in the local climate. When expanding the apiary, the goals are two-fold:
1. To increase by splitting our hives and encouraging the bees to raise their own locally adapted queens.
2. To introduce new genetics that improve and diversify the gene pool with characteristics that increase hardiness to local conditions by purchasing nucleus ("nuc") hives and queens from reputable sources with successful genetic lines.
I will split healthy, thriving hives in spring of 2019; some of the "splits" will raise their own queens, and some will be re-queened with new genetics. We will purchase up to five nucleus hives, plus five queen bees to add Russian and Saskatraz genetic lines to the apiary. These breeds of bees are uniquely adapted and evolved to thrive in the rugged climate of Oregon's Klamath Mountains.
Bees - $1,325= 5 nucleus hives ($225 each) & 5 queen bees ($40 each)
Bee Equipment - $2,150 - 10 Hive Bodies ($150 each), 3 Benches ($50 each), Electric fence materials ($525).
4WD Vehicle - $6,500 in Grant Funds (plus funds from our savings, since the full cost is estimated at $10,000-$12,000)
Why This Matters
Honey bees, native bees, and other pollinators are declining - and our farm is uniquely poised to support both our honey bee colonies and our native pollinators. The apiary abuts 2.3 million acres of wilderness land in the Fremont-Winema National Forest, where the bees forage on a plethora of wildflowers from early spring through late fall.
Our land management strategies are designed to increase and strengthen the natural biodiversity of the ecosystem, for example raising native mason and leaf-cutter bees as well as our honey bees, and planting native wildflowers and trees.
Organic farming creates a safe environment for bees and pollinators. Healthy bees mean better pollination, which results in greater crop yields for the farm.
Some of the world's most pressing problems can be addressed by supporting small farms and apiaries like ours that prioritize restoration of habitat, support for native species, and farming in harmony with nature.
Please Sign Up to Vote for Valhalla Organics to Win This Game-Changing Grant!
Each month, we send an email newsletter to folks who want to know what’s happening on our farm and where to find us at events around the Rogue Valley. In case you missed our emails, or you just want to see what we’ve been up to each month this year (starting in April with our very first newsletter), here is our year in review!
As you can see, we include a lot of pictures and stories about what we’re building, growing, and making — and there is always a coupon or deal you can use to save $$ on our homemade goodies.
If you’re not already signed up for our emails, please join by clicking here. We ONLY send one per month, so we never spam you… and we never share your contact info with anyone!
Did you know that you can order our delicious goodies in bulk? You can save $$ while stocking your shelves with our homemade homegrown treats. All of our products are naturally vegan and gluten-free. We grow vegetables, fruits, and herbs - and we source ingredients from local organic and certified naturally grown farmers.
We offer discount pricing for bulk orders (5 or more jars of the same size/type) for our classic recipes.
Jams, Jellies, and Preserves
▪ Apple Butter
▪ Apple Jelly
▪ Apple Pie Jam
▪ Blackberry Jam
▪ Grape Jelly
▪ Habanero Apple Jelly
▪ Jalapeño Jelly
▪ Mulled Apple Cider Jelly
▪ Peach Apple Jelly
▪ Peach Blackberry Jam
Our preserves are available in half pint (8 oz) for bulk orders of five or ten jars.
You will receive FIVE half pint (8 oz) jars, and save $$ by ordering in bulk. You’ll be prompted to select from our full line of goodies when you check out with this item.
You will receive TEN half pint (8 oz) jars, and save $$ by ordering in bulk. You’ll be prompted to select from our full line of goodies when you check out with this item.
▪ Bread & Butter Pickles
▪ Cowgirl Candy (sweet pickled jalapeños)
▪ Garlic Dill Pickles
▪ Dill Pickles
▪ Pickled Beets
▪ Pickled Jalapeño (savory)
▪ Pickled Vegetable Medley
▪ Spicy Dill Pickles
Our pickles are available in half pint (8 oz) or pint (16 oz) sizes for bulk orders of five or ten jars.
You will receive FIVE pint (16 oz) jars, and save $$ by ordering in bulk. You’ll be prompted to select from our full line of goodies when you check out with this item.
You will receive TEN pint (16 oz) jars, and save $$ by ordering in bulk. You’ll be prompted to select from our full line of goodies when you check out with this item.
We ship anywhere in the U.S.
Shipping rates are determined by the weight of your package; we strive to keep the cost as low as possible.
Or you can pick up your bulk order at the local farmer's markets or at our mini-farm in Talent.
If you plan to pick up your order, please use discount code "LOCAL" to remove the shipping charge at checkout.
One of the most challenging things about building an off-grid farm is managing water. We don't have a well or running water on the property, so we had to haul water until we could get our tanks installed, and then of course, the tanks have to be filled, and water has to be moved around the property for different things (like bathing, drinking, watering bees, trees, & plants, etc). We just got the final water delivery for the season, and it's a huge relief to know we have the water that we need to live and support life on our land.
It was amazing to watch the truck that delivered the water navigating down the driveway - it got a bit sketchy on the way back up, but he made it out so that's what matters.