Sunday, September 13, 2015

Crab Apple Jelly

I was watering my garden a few days ago and noticed how heavy the branches of my crab apple tree was with fruits.  I've tried eating them fresh in the past at various stage of maturity (talking about the wee apples, not myself here) and found them extremely tart with strong astringency (like you would taste from certain berries like chokecherry, banana skin, or concord grape skin or over-steeped tea) that linger on and on.  I had all but given up on eating, but kept coming across people mentioning crab apple jellies.  The tree was so heavy with fruits and they are just dropping onto the ground, fermenting and enriching the soil...  I finally had to look into how to make jellies with this stuff because this abundance surely should not be wasted!  (Although I've read that bees and wasps like sucking the juice from the fermenting fruits, which can have alcohol from fermentation.  :D )

This tree is the undisputed star of my front yard in spring.  It gets covered with frothy pink flowers and burgundy buds before the tree leafs out.  I planted this tree when it was just 3 1/2 feet tall and had to wait a few seasons before it finally flowered.  Ever since, it's been unstoppable.

I asked Jr. to help me pick these baby apples.  We filled a large popcorn bowl.  Then cut the blossom end and removed the stem together in the kitchen.  It was tedious, but we had fun.  It felt good to be taking what nature provides and making something with the bounty.

We filled the pan with halved apples and filled with water to cook.  At this point, we were still debating whether to make crab apple jelly or crab apple jam.  We were leaning toward jam because we both like the texture (and the fiber content) of jam,  and we did see a video on YouTube of someone actually making crab apple jam, but the apples in the video looked more like wild apple (just a smaller version of what you'd find in market, not like our crab apples - ours look almost like cherries).

Once I started heating the crab apples with water to cook, I kept tasting the juice and the solid at different stages.  I soon came to the conclusion that it's the skin and pulp that contain so much tannin that if we tried to make a jam, it's going to taste just awful.  ^^;

So I start looking up recipes online for Crab Apple Jelly for sure.  So many slightly different versions, some with a lot of sugar, some with pectin added, some without.  Confusing enough for a first time jelly maker.  ^^;  In the end, I went with the recipe I found on BBC Good Food site.  It was simple and straight forward.

I'm not a big sweets person, so wasn't sure if I'd be able to use much of what I was making, but I figured that if the jelly turns out well, I could share with friends and neighbors.  :D  How lovely would that be?  I ended up doing a lot of tasting and jelly set tests during the boiling down stage after we added sugar to the juice we collected after the initial cook and then straining to separate all the solids.  The juice was a lovely blush pink, but adding sugar changed the color of solution to deep rose.  I was surprised, but still delighted by the beauty of the unexpected color.

I got Jr. to help me once again when the hot jelly was ready for pouring.  We purchased these cute 4 oz. Ball jars and got them ready based on directions we read on how to can jelly.  Isn't it such a pretty color?  The exact shade is less orange and more of a rich rose, but it's so hard to capture.  This photo was taken in the morning when they were still resting in the windowsill after being there overnight.     Still waiting for the 24 to 48 hour set time to expire as I write this before I eagerly open one of these jars to take a look.  I hope it turns out nicely, so we won't be discouraged from trying this again.  Not to mention being able to share with friends and neighbors!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Boiling Driftwood and a New Betta

I bought a piece of driftwood from a seller on eBay for my Angelfish tank and it arrived yesterday.  It soaked in hot water all of yesterday with multiple water changes every time it got cold.  It is leaching a lot of tannin, so I've decided to go ahead and boil for several hours this morning.  My previous driftwood pieces (one Malaysian from LFS and one African root from a different eBay seller) discolored water, but nowhere near the extent of this new Mopani piece.  ^^;  I know some people soak the wood for weeks and months, but I do want a little bit of that tea color for the tank water, so I will not soak this for weeks on end.  But I don't want my aruarium water to be so dark that I'd have to be changing water all the time, either.  ^^;

Driftwood in water.  This is after the first boiling resulted in coffee colored water - couldn't see the bottom of the pot.  This was taken at the beginning of the second round of boiling. ^^;

In 45 minutes, the water was this color. You can see the reflection of the hanging plant on the water surface. XD  I boiled it until it got even darker and I couldn't see the wood at all.

It's going through the third session of boiling as I write this.  I'm hoping that it will start to slow down...  Nope.  Just checked the pot and the water is just as dark again. XD  That's a total of 4 hours of boiling so far.  I guess I'll continue some more during the afternoon.

I've bought some more of the African roots from the same seller I bought the piece that's in my 72-gallon tank to compliment that piece.  His pieces are pre-soaked and scrubbed, so they don't leach nowhere near as much as this Mopani in the pictures today.

We have a new resident in our Marimo nursery tank.  Meet our new baby, Cordelia!

She looks really bright in this picture.  The red in her fins are a little darker in real life and her light body is more peach colored.  Very pretty!  And she has electric blue eyes.  She was at the LFS in a partitioned tank.  This 6-gallon is planted with Java Moss, Marimo, Cabomba (pulled from my 29-gallon tank where it was scattered by boisterous Emperor Tetras), Wisteria, and some floating Amazon Frog Bits.  She's pretty small, but surprisingly 'interactive'. :D  I hope to get a better picture to post soon.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Shopping for Java Moss Online

Since my local fish store doesn't stock Java Moss in their live plants section, I resorted to ordering it online from eBay sellers.  I kind of cringed at the thought of ordering anything live online, but after checking feedback comments on two sellers, I decided to give them a try.

Seller 1 (I'm not going to give out the user name though.) was located in Montana.  He was selling a 'golf ball sized portion' for $4.99 with free shipping.  You saw what I got the other day.

Mostly brown/ olive green with strands of vibrant green.

I put some on the driftwood in my 29G tank.

This batch was bought on Feb. 15, shipped on the 17th, arrived on the 21st.  Arrived in a bubble mailer, carefully wrapped in a layer of newspaper, then aluminum foil, then some more newspaper.  When I got the Java Moss in a Ziploc bag out.  It frankly looked squished.  The outer layer was mostly brown/olive green.  I found the bright green bits mostly in the middle after carefully loosening them in a bucket of aquarium water.

And here's the second batch I just received from Seller #2 to the right of this 6-gallon baby Marimo tank.

To the left, of course, is the Java Moss from the first batch after being in this tank for 4 days or so.

To be fair, I'll show the close-ups.  It's not entirely dead-looking.  There are some strands of bright green in there.

You just have to look really closely. LOL

And here's the interesting part.  Seller #2 was offering 'grade A, baseball size clump of Java Moss' with free shipping for $12.99 (I know it's a lot, considering you can get them for free from fellow hobbyists ... if you know any in your area that is.  ^^; )  It arrived in a regular basic white business size envelope with "security" printing on the inside, packed simply in a Ziploc bag with no additional wrapping whatsoever.  The seller did put a slip of instruction explaining Java Moss and how to best take it out of the bag and place in your aquarium.

Both arrived flat and wet.  But the second batch was VIBRANT GREEN and HEALTHY looking.  I was amazed ... shocked almost to see it arrive in such an inconspicuous packaging and ended up looking so good!  The seller #2 was located in Pennsylvania.  The second batch was purchased on the 17th, shipped on the 20th, and arrived here in Colorado on the 26th.  I have to say, I was impressed with Seller #2's Java Moss.

I'm usually a patient type, but looking at the two clumps, I can't say I like the look of the moss from my first purchase.  So I pulled them out of my 29-gallon tank and placed small clumps from my new batch. :D

Yes, I think it looks much better now. XD  I'm waiting on a piece of Mopani wood I won on eBay from a seller in Texas to put in my Angelfish tank.  So I'm going to leave the good-looking moss in the baby Marimo tank for a little longer.  ^_^    Meanwhile, I'm leaving the not-so-good-looking clump in there to see if it greens up more if I give it enough time.   Well, it's been fun shopping online so far. Many hits with a few misses here and there.   

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Having Fun with Fish

Since I mentioned that I'd post a pic of my 72-gallon tank in the previous post, here are some pictures.  I only have a point-and-shoot camera, and am finding photographing aquarium and fish to be kind of tricky.  I have yet to take a satisfactory photo let alone a great one.  The tanks and fishes are way prettier in person... T_T

This one is located downstairs in our basement over an old wooden 'buffet' piece.  The fit is pretty good and the furniture is definitely strong enough for the weight of this 72-gallon tank.  I've had community of small fish to goldfish (not at the same time, though) over the years, but right now, since two years ago, this has been a community tank of tetras.  The decor went through a fantasy "sunken city of Atlantis" to "mermaids with a sunken ship" to this rather bare-looking tank (work in progress).  I've just recently put two Marimos and an African root piece I bought on eBay.  I would like to change this tank over time to a more natural looking setup. (Well, my kid's older, and our tastes have changed, so...)

Another view of the same tank with the room lights off.  My camera cannot seem to capture the gravel color accurately...  I've tried so many shots and failed. XD  The tank is "bow front".  I took this one from the right side near the African root.  You can see some Serpae Tetras and Red & Blue Columbian Tetra swimming in front of the wood.  You can't really see them since they float in the front corners, but I also have some Amazon frog bits.  The other floating plant to the upper right of this pic is the common house plant, Pothos.  I had problems with my goldfish rearranging and eating all my live plants and they were the only thing left untouched.  ^^;

This is our Angelfish tank upstairs.  It's also a bow front.  I'm in the process of putting some live plants in the tank, but there's more artificial plants at the moment.  I also have my biggest Marimo in the family in this tank, which was purchased from an Etsy seller.  Just one year ago, these angelfish were tiny babies about 1/2 inch long (not counting the tail).  Today they are about 1 3/4 inches in body length.  Seem pretty happy.  The red plants look darker to my eyes though.  This pic is so bright, it's downright Christmasy.

I have also set up an old small Eclipse tank, which used to be in my child's room many years ago.  It's now being used as a Marimo nursery. :D    The tiny marimo balls I talked about in the previous post now live there.

This morning, I ended up spending an hour looking for a missing fish in my 29-gallon tank.  I had captured the Brilliant Rasboras from the tank and moved them downstairs for more room to swim yesterday.  Since I didn't see this small Black Neon guy (still alive after all his school mates have died over the years), I panicked and even looked at the nets I used yesterday and checked downstairs tank as well.  I thought maybe he was hiding because the Emperor Tetra boys have been acting territorial (= fighting among themselves), the poor guy got scared and was hiding somewhere.  After looking for almost an hour, I finally lifted the Malaysian driftwood ever so gently to see if he managed to get himself wedged somehow (I have had a goldfish get himself stuck in a small ornament before...).  Sure enough, there he was.  Looking sideways and pale.  He was probably stuck there since about 5 pm yesterday and missed out on this morning's feeding.  As I write this, he's looking much better.  There's a tiny tear in his tail, but other than that, the color is back and he's swimming like normal. ^^;  Glad I found him and he was OK. :D

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Late Winter Post

It's been a warmer than usual winter for us on the Western Slope of Colorado.  This has been a nice break for us since we've previously experienced bitter cold inversions that lasted for weeks with grey sky, no snow, but arctic temperatures.  This winter though, especially for January and early part of February, we've been enjoying daily highs in the 60s and 70s.  Maybe too good to be true...

Nothing like warm sunny days to inspire us into gardening and spring cleaning around the house, is there?  I decided to start by cleaning my 3 fish tanks - 29G, 39G, and 72G.  Two of the smaller ones are on the ground floor, while the 72 gallon one sits downstairs in our basement (and I don't own those suction/vacuum device with a long hose...).  It's good workout carrying my 2 gallon bucket up and down the stairs for water change! :D  It's a pain in the rear when I have anything like foot injury. :(

Anyhow, the fish tanks needed serious cleaning on the inside glass as algae had obscured the view while I was too busy/too lazy to take care of them during the months leading up to the holidays.  I did regular water changes, and these tanks are almost 10 years (fully mature), so things are stable and no fish died or even came down with any sign of illness.  Just got unsightly. ^^;

It's kind of funny how I can be OK with green algae on the front glass for months, but once I got one tank cleaned, I just had to get the other two equally clean ... all in one day! :D  It just looks so nice when they're clean.  What really kicked me into action, though, was the busted pump downstairs.  It started making noises and it got louder and so annoying that I was ready to dish out $70 to 80 for a new one.  Once at the LFS (local fish store - in our case, an old friend of ours), the owner showed us I only needed to buy a replacement part for it for a fraction of the cost of a brand new unit. :D  For less than $15, I was able to get it fixed and running like brand new.

With the downstairs tank getting plenty of air (I used to keep goldfish, but I only keep small tropicals.), I decided to replace the old sorry pump upstairs with the same model I have downstairs the next day.  While getting a new pump, I had to go check out the fish tank area of the shop.  Saw some healthy Emperor Tetras, so I got four for my 29 G, since it had all but 3 little fish living in it after most of my Diamond Tetras had died over the last few years (From what I can find, their longevity is about 5 years, so mine lived a full life.).

My camera was set on auto-flash when I took the pic above. ^^;  But you can see the Emperor Tetras.  Although I now have a lot more in this tank. 

After adding the fish, I had to add some plants (I have both fake and live plants along with a marimo.).  This tank was looking pretty sorry after not seeing much action for so long.  I also picked up a nice Malaysian driftwood and put it in there as well.  It was fun when hubby walked into the kitchen one day while I was boiling the driftwood.  "What the heck are you cooking in here?" LOL

I've bought a marino last year on Etsy, and that one lives happily in my 39 G tank with 6 angel fish I bought from my LSF when they were 1/2 inch long.  After a little over a year, they are all about 2.5 inches in body length (not counting the tail).  Marimo was bought at about 2 and a 1/4 inch, and it's now about 2.5 inches across.  Decided to buy 3 2.3 inchers from a seller on eBay.  You can see one of them in the pic above.

I put the remaining two in the 72 G tank, but after looking at them for a while, it just seemed weird to have two green balls of the same size side by side.  I took one of them that looked rather oblong out, along with some aquarium water, and cut away about a 1/3.  Then trimmed the two large pieces to achieve a roundish shape, and gently rolled the trimmings into nano marino balls.  Now instead of 1 large marimo, I have 1 largish, 1 medium, and 15 little ones ranging from 5 mm to 1 cm. :D  I leave these guys under my desk lamp, and they start to photosynthesize, tiny pearls of bubbles appear on surface, and they float to the top of the water. :D  Cute little moss balls.  I might bring one of my unused tanks into action and use it as a marimo propagation tank.  ^_^

So I buy the stuff I can't find at my LFS online.  I like looking at stuff on eBay.  Live stuff, I tend to stay away, but I've been looking to add Java Moss, and since my LFS does not stock it, I decided to buy online. This is what I received from the seller in Montana.  I guess I should have looked more closely, especially about the location.  It's been warm here in Colorado this winter, but in many parts of the US, it's bitter cold.  It's winter after all.  So my guess is that the moss started the trip in the USPS system, looking green and healthy.  After 6 days in the mail, with no light, they just kind of lost their color.  I gently took them out of the bag in a bucket of conditioned water and gently untangled them.  Some bits of vibrant green are in there, but good 95% is dark green/almost brown. ^^;  I keep seeing everywhere that these suckers are almost impossible to kill, so I'll give them some time to bounce back and see what happens.  

Meanwhile, I've tucked some on the driftwood in the 29G tank.  This pic was taken without the flash (on the same day as the previous aquarium pic at the top of this post), so you can see the brownish Java Moss sitting on the wood.  You can also spot a little brownish spots on the marimo - I believe that is from getting blasted by direct sunlight the first morning after being put in the tank.  Owner error.  Not worried about it too much.  As I write this (Day 2 of Java Moss), it looks maybe, just slightly, greener, but it could be my wishful thinking. XD

On the other hand, my African root driftwood purchase on eBay was exactly as expected.  I'll take a pic of my 72 G tank in the coming weeks to show.  It's a beautiful piece of wood with LOTS of character, but now I feel I need to buy more! ^_^  I also bought a Mopani wood (for my 39 G) on eBay from a seller that had a WYSIWYG listing.  There are so many Mopani wood listings with stock photos where you don't get to pick nor get to see what you're getting.  I think I'd go to Petco before I'd buy blind (for the fear of getting a totally boring wood by chance).  Anyhow, the fish tank nerd is back in action! :D

The other news around the backyard.  All five chickens are now laying!! :D

Since the winter was milder this season, I didn't use the heat lamp in the coop at all.  Last year, though, we had it on once it got brutally cold - it's not fair to have temp lower than Alaska in Western Colorado! From what I've learned, chickens need 14 hours of daylight to produce eggs.  Warmer temperature also helps.  So no wonder our girls didn't lay much for the past 3 1/2 months or so!  They went through molting in fall, which is also the time they stop egg production because generating feathers requires so much protein.  Then the shorter days and colder temperature came, so no eggs!  Vanilla, our young Easter Egger, kept laying light pink eggs pretty much all winter.  I've noticed she's also the one that's up and out of the coop first - way before the rest of the ladies.

Now that all five are laying eggs, we know who lays what color of eggs. :D  We knew that Fiona laid olive green eggs and Dorito laid brown eggs.  And we also new Vanilla laid pink eggs.  I'd also seen small light brown eggs from Sage.  Imagine my excitement when I saw the blue green egg in the coop!  Mocha, whose feathers are very similar to Fiona, but with more black, lays this beautiful color of eggs.  That's got to be my favorite egg shell color. :D

We had to supplement by buying eggs at the grocery store during later fall and winter when girls weren't laying regularly.  It looks like we'll be able to start sharing with neighbors again soon!  Love spring~!!