Sunday, December 14, 2014

Silly Hats for Little Boys

Could not resist buying a book with fleece animal hats for little kids - and then try some of those patterns.  These hats were for Toben (age 4 - Dinosaur) and Leif (age 2 - Monkey):

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Sewing Purses for Little Girls

When the holiday season starts, and the evenings are too dark to work outside,  I love sewing, knitting or weaving projects for presents.  Since I just got the ultimate new sewing machine for my birthday (a Pfaff Expression 3.2), sewing projects got priority and I started with making a little purse for my oldest granddaughter, who will turn 3 soon.

I found the pattern online, at a great website called "Make It & Love It" and used fabric remnants I had on hand.  This turned out to be so much fun, that I figured even the younger, infant granddaughters could use purses for later, as could 3 "grand-nieces" and daughters of friends.  What started out as one purse project, ended with eight little purses - all lined with shimmering satin fabric and little button closures.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Chambourcin Harvest - Take Two

We picked the majority of our Chambourcin two weeks after having picked the first batch (the grapes we used for the rosé wine).  Luckily we had loads of helpers - big and small, and we ended up harvesting the remaining grapes in just a few hours.




They were beautifully ripe, amazingly sweet grapes that should make a great wine!  We destemmed, crushed and sorted the grapes before dumping them into the fermenting tank.

This year, we were much more prepared for making wine and had all the necessary "ingredients" and lab equipment ready.  We also decided to use the same type of yeast for all our wines.  Check out this block of yeast:

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Greenhouse Installation

It has been a while since we purchased our greenhouse (see previous post).  We finally had time to actually set it up in it's permanent place, i.e. in the herbgarden in front of the house.

We started by clearing the space, measuring out the dimensions and marking the four post holes. We used the posthole digging attachment with the tractor to make the holes.

Next we cemented the four corner posts and let them settle overnight.  The next day, we build the frame that would anchor the greenhouse, leveled it and started filling it with gravel.

In order to keep the greenhouse level, we had to really built up the back part of the plot.  We used field stones from an old stone wall to build a retaining wall, and back-filled with gravel and dirt.

Once the frame was solid, and the inside filled with gravel, we laid down large cement platters for a center walkway.  After that is was just a matter of carrying the greenhouse frame (no glass yet) and securing it to the foundation.

Next step:  installing all the glass panels, the door and the louvered windows...

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Update on the Rosé Experiment

Surprisingly, both of the 3 gallon carboys full of  the "sludge" that had settled out of the pressed juice, did clear somewhat.  We were able to rack off another 2 gallons into the fermentation tank - the rest of the "sludge" went to the compost pile.

Fermentation of the soon to be  rosé wine is now well under way, and we'll be monitoring it daily until it reaches completion.    Stay tuned :)

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Makings of Rosé

There are a couple of options for making a rosé, including blending different wines together, but we opted for using red grapes and basically processing them just like a white wine.  

With other words, we picked the grapes, ran them through the crusher/destemmer and the put them into the press.  We collected all the free run juice first (about 40 gallons), and then started to gently press the grapes for another 5 gallons, which were added to the free run juice.  We continued pressing the grapes, but kept this juice separately - which yielded about 7 gallons.  Toward the end of pressing, the juice had a distinct “vegetative” flavor, from the bits of stems and seeds that got crushed – not nearly as pleasant tasting as the free run juice.

ice bag floating in the fresh juice
We cooled the juice by dropping previously frozen and sealed ice bags into the wine, to keep the temperature around 65° F. 

After treating the juice with SO2 and adding Pectinase, we covered the barrel and let the juice sit overnight.  This should help with settling out impurities.  We also took a juice sample to test the pH, sugar level and TA (total acidity).

Today we racked the clear  juice into a new barrel - you can see the rose colored juice being pumped through a clear hose in the left picture.  There was a surprising amount of "sludge" left near the bottom of the barrel, nearly 5 gallons.  We racked the sludge into two small carboys to see if it would clear anymore (I just don't see how it could).

We did the same with the 7 gallons of pressed juice, added the hydrated yeast to both containers and let the fermentation begin!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Harvest with Upgraded Grape Equipment

We harvested over 750 lbs of our Chambourcin grapes this morning to experiment with making rosé wine.  This relatively small harvest served a double purpose:  to try and make rosé, and to make sure our new (used) grape processing equipment will work as we hope before be pick the bulk of the grapes later this month.

We got an early start, the fog had not even lifted, and it was still pleasantly cool.  First order of business:  remove the bird netting:

nice cluster!
We alternated picking and crushing/destemming, then dumping the   grapes into the press.  All this took five of us about two and a half     hours, plus another half hour for clean up.

The used crusher/destemmer we got earlier this summer worked surprisingly well.  Jeff had to rewire the barn in order to get a 220 V outlet, and a friend build us a stand for underneath the destemmer, which made it a lot more sturdy.  Yesterday we scrubbed everything again with soapy water, then power-washed it prior to using it today.  Here is a video showing how it worked:

We then dumped the crushed grapes into the press, and collected the free run juice first.  This will be the juice we use for the rosé wine.  We then pressed the grapes and collected the pressed juice for a separate batch of wine.  

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Meet our Basket Press

Our latest equipment upgrade was a used "Zambelli" basket press with a capacity significantly larger than anything we had ever used before.

We actually found this on Craigslist - in Maryland (and pulled it on a trailer across the Bay Bridge).

Not only does this press have larger capacity, it also comes with a hydraulic mechanism, making it a manual hydraulic press.  And it has a pressure gauge!

The basket itself is so large that it can be taken apart into two sections, which is handy for cleaning, but even handier for removing the pomace after pressing is done.

We have to move the press with the tractor though, it is much too heavy for any of us.

Crushed and destemmed grapes are
dumped into the basket

Grapes are pressed and juice runs out

When the pressing is done, the basket pieces can be removed and the pomace is exposed, which can then easily be removed with a pitch fork and carted to the compost pile.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Blueberries on the 4th of July

One great way to celebrate Independence Day is with a feast of blueberry desserts.  Since we have an abundance of fresh berries right now, we came up with the following selection for the day's picnic.

Fresh blueberry pie with vanilla ice cream:

Blueberry-sour cream custard tart:
Adding the layer of berries to the custard

The always favorite fruit pizza, one version with a berry variety in every bite and another version of artistic flowers (both are courtesy of Sam's skills):

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Mulching the Herbgarden

I was gone for nearly a week and the weeds had taken over my herb-garden.  After a very thorough weeding and hoeing, the reward was to spread a thick layer of mulch.  What an improvement:

Sunday, June 22, 2014

A Greenhouse!

We had another lucky "Craigslist" find this weekend.  Around 10:00 in the evening, Jeff was browsing through the "Farm and Garden" category and someone had just posted an ad for a Greenhouse.  Not just any greenhouse, but an 8 by 12 ft GLASS greenhouse.  Jeff emailed immediately, and a few minutes later the phone rang.  It was the couple selling the greenhouse - we were the first persons to contact them, and we got it!  We drove to Hershey the next day to see it, and pay for it, and then went back with a trailer and a lot of tools (and helpers!), to dis-assemble the greenhouse and take it home.

The greenhouse is in really good shape, and we were able to order replacements hardware from a greenhouse manufacturer in the UK.  Seems that the majority of greenhouses in the US are made with high tech plastics, not glass, but in England the preference seems to be toward glass greenhouses.  Shipping will take about 2 weeks they said.

In the meantime, we re-assembled the structure, and carefully stored the glass in the barn.  We figured that if we did not put the greenhouse  back together while we still remembered how it came apart, it would turn into a major fiasco later on.

So the structure is sitting in the back yard, while we are making a spot for it in the herb-garden - between the house and the garage.  This is a very sunny spot, and putting the greenhouse between two existing buildings should shield it from the high speed winds.  We will have to do some leveling first, then concrete in some posts, and get a bunch of pressure treated lumber for the foundation.  And we need to get a load of gravel for the floor. Updates will come later...

Friday, June 20, 2014

Passport in a Day?

Ever wonder if it is possible to get a passport in a day - without any previous plans?  Well yes, it is... if you are extremely lucky.  Here is one crazy passport story that began with a plan for a trip to Italy way back in January.  The very important part of this story is the reason for the trip:  Shadley and Tom's wedding, and Omi had to be there for her granddaughter's important day.

Everything went as planned, trip was booked,  dress was sewn (Omi would not have had it any other way than to maker her own special dress) and suitcase was packed.  Then all plans fell apart when Omi tried to check in at the Pittsburgh airport.  "I am sorry, Ma'am - but we cannot take you".  Omi thought the fight attendant was kidding, but she was not.  When you travel to Europe, your passport has to be valid for 3 months - from the date of arrival.  Omi's passport was set to expire September 9 - she could not fly.  The helpful flight attendant told her that the only alternative was to either drive to Washington DC or Philadelphia for the nearest passport office that could actually issue a passport the same day.

It was about 7:30 pm on Wednesday, when Sam and Tina heard the story and decided that no matter what, they were going to try and get Omi to Italy in time.  First thing was to call the airline and make sure that Omi could get on another flight.  We were assured that there were openings for Friday, Saturday or Sunday (the wedding was Monday) and the airline would honor Omi's original ticket.

The problem was that one needs a pre-scheduled appointment, with an appointment number,  in order to get into the passport office.  Appointments can only be scheduled via the 24/7 automated passport appointment system.  Tina called for DC and Philadelphia and no appointments were available, at either location, for at least a week.  We could not talk to a "real" person until 8 am the next morning, so we decided that Omi should sleep and leave for Carlisle early the next day, so we could try to drive to either DC or Philadelphia.

At 8:00 am the next morning, Tina talked to the passport hotline, and was told that we could not get in without the appointment and they did not see any available.  When we asked what would happen if we take a risk and just show up, we were told that we could try, but they were not sure if it would do anything.  However, they did take the time to tell us about all the info we needed to have, which included proof of the immediate flight in addition to all the normal passport application papers.  Note that were were  NOT  told that just driving to the passport office would be useless.  But we were told to keep trying and calling  the automated appointment system, on the off chance that someone would cancel.

Wouldn't you know it, that by 9:00 am an appointment opened in Philadelphia for 10:30 am.  This was incredible luck.   We just reserved it,  so that we would have a number to get into the office, knowing full well, that we could never get there until 2 or 3 in the afternoon).  Tina called the airline and got them to email  an itinerary for a flight with today's date.

Omi left early from Pittsburgh, and met Tina and Sam at the Cumberland Valley Turnpike Plaza to save time. We got off at the Carlisle exit for a new passport photo (this took less than 5 minutes!!), and got back onto the turnpike towards Philadelphia.

We made it about 15 minutes before they closed (you were supposed to get there before 3:00 pm), and luckily Sam was along, because she and Omi ran in while Tina found a place to park.  The lady at the counter was not too happy, since their appointments was 4.5 hours earlier, and they were told that they had 10 minutes to complete the forms - Sam filled it out, while Omi read off all the numbers.  They handed in the form before by 3:00 pm, and we had the new passport before 4:30!!!

Crazy luck that this worked out. On the way back, Sam called the airline and got Omi's flight confirmed for Friday.  We got off at the Carlisle turnpike exit, where Jeff met us, and Tina and Sam went home, while Omi continued to drive back to Pittsburgh.  She made her flight, and made it to the wedding in plenty of time.  The wedding must have been absolutely beautiful, in a most spectacular setting - and we have a happy end for Shadley and Tom, and for Omi's travel adventures as well!!