We’re Baaaaack!!!

April 19, 2010 at 11:00 pm (bee hive, Bees, Entertainment, Eydie Wight, Hobbies, Insects, movies, music, Plants, Uncategorized, Wine Making, wisteria) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )


Dandelion Wine

By Eydie Wight

Well, here it is midnight and I’m sitting on the couch with the laptop, in my pajamas (I am in my pajamas, not the laptop) Futurama is on TV, and I’m sipping on a glass of Lemon Balm wine. I made a small run of this wine on a whim at the end of last summer, eight bottles total, and I have to admit it’s become my favorite. Lemon balm, also called “Melissa”, is a square-stemmed aromatic herb in the mint family. It’s leaves, fresh or dried, make good tea, especially iced tea. In the summer, whenever I go out, I crush a few leaves between my fingers and then roll them along my arms. The scent is fresh, vaguely citrusy, and mildly minty. I get several cuttings throughout the late spring and up until the first frost from about a one foot by two foot bed on the side of the house. The plant is said to have a mild sedative action, and I’m not sure if it’s that or the alcohol content, but I feel pretty mellow. It was a good day today.

I picked dandelions for my second run of dandelion wine. This is the first wine of the year that I make.

Kamikazi Bird

(Sidebar. I fell asleep shortly after the first paragraph last night, and have now, after coffee, resumed. As I am typing here I am interrupted every few minutes by a thud or series of thuds against the bedroom window. We have this kamikaze bird who sees either the reflection of “his” tree in the window, or sees the reflection of himself in the window and thinks it’s another bird in his tree. It repeatedly bangs into the window. I would think by now the poor thing has brain damage, it’s been hitting the window MANY TIMES a day, starting shortly after dawn, for over a week. I just got the bird book to find out what kind of bird this birdbrain is. So much for animals learning and adapting for survival of the fittest. Thud. There he goes again.)

Mowing Like A Sailor

Anyway, I picked dandelions today while Sammy mowed the lawn. He had to leave the areas where I was picking until the last, and since I seem to wander blithely with my bucket in hand from patch to patch, he must have looked like a drunken sailor weaving around in the yard. It takes about a gallon and a half of dandelion heads for one gallon of wine, and I usually pick enough for two gallons at a time. If you have dandelions like WE have dandelions, that takes about an hour and a half. I went out in the afternoon. Dandelions have to be picked when the flowers are fully opened to the sun. Otherwise they are full of bugs. Although these bugs ARE edible, for the most part, they can make the wine have a bitter flavor. So, if the flowers heads are open, the bugs will either leave when you start to pick, or you can flick or tap them off.

Picking Dandelions

There are many methods to picking dandelions. I’ll share mine with you. It involves beer. My favorite apparel is a pair of very baggy shorts and Sammy’s Blind Melon t-shirt. I stole the shirt from him and cut the neck and sleeves out. The front of it is printed with the picture of the little bee girl from the “No Rain” video. That girl looks just like me at that age. (Hey! Brother John here… I would love to see a picture of you in your dandelion gear!) I never had the cool bee costume (wish I had, I’d have worn it every day) but I did have a black and yellow striped shirt that I appear in several pictures wearing. I also pick dandelions barefoot. Cool breezes and tender spring lawns are meant for bare feet. The only equipment needed is your hands, a bucket, and a can of beer. I use a bucket that has gallon lines marked on it. I tend to use a six gallon bucket because it’s tall enough to use like a walker when I’ve been picking awhile. Some people sit to pick, and I do at times. In fact, last week when I picked my first batch of dandelions in the 82 degree heat, I did sit. I’d pick everything I could reach, stretching out further and further until I was lying on the grass. Then I discovered that if I just rolled to the next patch it was much less bother than getting up to relocate. That worked fine, for about seven rolls. The last time I had apparently parked myself on a red ant hill. Little devils put me on the afternoon banquet menu. So today I would lean on my bucket walker and pick one-handed. I sat the beer on the arm of the glider-rocker that looks down over the grassy slope where the dandelions grow the thickest. Every fifteen minutes or so I would work my way back up to the rocker, sit down, sip a little beer, and just enjoy the day.

Blooms bustin' out all over!

There were blooms everywhere. Tulips and some late daffodils and hyacinths in the cultivated beds and pansies in the flower box. Dandelions, violets, speedwell, grape hyacinth, forsythias, lilac, redbud, crabapple, cherry blossoms, and ground ivy. The Wisteria trees are covered with bloom buds. This is the first year the white wisteria will bloom.

While relaxing, I can sometimes hear a hawk pair that court in the skies (and will later raise their family in a nest somewhere up on the ridge). And always there is the sounds of songbirds, the air is full of chirps, coos, and warbles.

The Italian Honeybee

I have been so tickled this spring to see my friends, the Italian Honeybees, out and about in the yard. Not in as great a number as they were two years ago, but last year there were next to none and I worried about them. I always let the honeybees go first when I’m picking dandelions. I watch them and sometimes have little conversations with them or sing to them, or follow one from patch to patch. My honeybees will be arriving later this spring. The hive is painted a lovely Bahama green and ready to set on its chimney block foundation up in the back of the six tree orchard.

Thud. The crazy bird is back.
Thud.

I have a couple of whimsical rules when I pick dandelions. I try to pick at least a few flowers from all over the yard. That way the wine will reflect home. I never pick all the flowers from a patch, leaving some to go to seed. That way the wine will reflect bounty. I’ve picked thousands of dandelions, and there are still thousands more. And no two are ever exactly alike. Cool! As I picked today my hands become so full of pollen I left yellow hand prints on the bucket. A couple of the bumblebees I saw had such loaded pollen baskets they could hardly lift off from flower to flower.

It's a Dandelion Involucre!!!

After I finished picking the dandelions I took the bucket inside and let it sit while I made supper. That way, not only did I get supper made, I gave the flower heads time to close. Supper was venison chili and a simple dessert. Yummy. Once the supper dishes were done Sammy and I sat down to cut the stems off each dandelion flower head. Some people leave the stem bits attached, but I think the sap from the stems is bitter. We just grasp the now closed flower petals with one hand and cut the stem off at the base. The green “involucre” (a ring of small leaves, or bracts, at the base of a flower or flower cluster), is left on. You can pull the stem away with your fingers but I think cutting is easier. It takes about as long to prepare the flowers as it does to pick them. By that time Sammy and I were both getting tired. So we channel surfed while cutting and cutting and eventually settled on “Captain Ron.” After the heads were prepared I placed them in a bucket, poured in three quarts of boiling water to each gallon of heads, stirred the mess, and put the bucket lid on tightly. The mash will be stirred once a day for a week and kept covered. Then the process of adding the yeast, sugar, and lemon juice will begin.

Thud. Little bugger has to have a headache. He never knocks himself unconscious but the cats are starting to hang out under the tree.

I’d better finish this and try to fit in a few things before work tonight. Maybe play my fiddle a bit. I’ve been working on a Scottish version of “Amazing Grace” using drone tones. And trying to combine two versions of “Bill Cheatham” that I like. And I found a peppy little version of Bach’s Bourree in E minor. (Remember Jethro Tull’s version?) Or I might go for a jog. I should go for a jog. Okay. I will go for a jog!

Sunday Supper: My chili recipe is nothing special except that it uses ground venison (courtesy of Dad) to replace the ground beef, tomato juice Dad and I canned last summer, and a cup of finely diced young dandelion and chicory leaves from the yard. The chili needed a handful of mashed potato flakes to thicken it slightly and was served over brown rice and topped with cubed Colby cheese.

Dessert was easy. Mom made and froze a million zucchini breads last year in our never ending search for ways to preserve the summer squash harvest. I put a crumbled slice of zucchini bread in a small bowl and added a heaping spoon of chunky applesauce. I microwaved this for one minute. Then I added a big spoonful of vanilla yogurt and drizzled the top with cinnamon and honey.

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The Walk

September 29, 2008 at 10:00 pm (Bees, Brother John, Dogs, Family, Felon, German Shepherd, Hiking, Jasper, Pets, pit bull, Plants, sedum, Stonecrop sedum, Visit) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )


By Eydie Wight

Just keep truckin' on...

I went for my first walk of the fall season this afternoon. We had been down to Brother John‘s yesterday for his BIRTHDAY!! and he had made a request that I take some pictures as I go on my walks. Brother John likes to stress me. (Brother John here… I really don’t enjoy stressing out my dear Sister. Honestly!) I’ve only just figured out how to use the digital camera, and the thing still hasn’t quite learned who its master is. It likes to flip into other realms like video footage, stored photos, and settings. Sometimes it will just sit there and refuse to take the picture. Other times it will snap off about 20 shots of the same thing before I even know what button I pushed. The more advanced we become technologically, the more I want to cower in my cave and paint on the walls.

I have a little “purse” I take with me when I go walking. I got it ages ago from some army surplus magazine. It used to be a Swiss medical field bag and I’ve found it to be just about indestructible. It has a shoulder strap I place over my head and across my chest, and a flap closure that keeps stuff from spilling out when I lean over, yet is quickly accessible. I always take a a few plastic bags for any wild plants, seeds, nuts, feathers, stones, or other interesting “stuff” I might come across. I have a knife for taking specimens and in the heavy flower season I take my medicinal and flowering wild plant books. I also take tissues (for… well you know), a bandanna, cell phone (’cause Sammy makes me), notepaper and a pen, granola bar and a bottle of water. I know the home woods well enough that I am never truly lost. Up hill leads to ridge tops where I can see and identify the “big” ridges, Raccoon Ridge to the north, and Middle Ridge to the south. Downhill eventually leads to water, water eventually leads to the Big Buffalo Creek, and the Big Buffalo Creek eventually leads to a road. So, lost for days, no. Lost for an hour or so longer than planned, yes. There are so many little glens and valleys and knobs and passes. They can all look pretty similar, especially when foliage is out.

Well, I set off up Hominy Ridge, stopping to take pictures of the upper pond. Or what used to be the upper pond. We had a lovely little eight by eight, five foot deep pond that our to-remain-anonymous neighbor had dug out for us several years ago with his back hoe. There originally was an existing depression where a spring head comes out. The water was clean and clear and supported lots and lots of frogs. I tried putting koi in it the first year, only to find that after the first couple of days either the koi were being coy, or I had no more koi. I learned that not only do bullfrogs enjoy a nice, young, tender koi, but so does the snake we caught swimming through the overflow pipe and into the pond. A few years later, the tree on the south side of the “pondette” put roots through the dam wall, causing the pond to spring a leak. Instead of water going through the overflow, down the cut I had so carefully “prettied up” with rocks to create miniature waterfalls and planted with daffodils and day lilies, and then flowing into the little frog pond I had so lovingly created with my own hands and a shovel, the water leaked out of the dam wall and began to flow down the access road and right across the driveway! Then, the bullfrogs tunneled into the sides of the pond for their winter sleep, and water followed those channels in the spring to create MORE leaks. We shored it up and packed it down, tried lining it with plastic and some bags of concrete until finally about two years ago we gave up for awhile. It’s still on my long term list as “Do something about the @#$%&*!! pond!” (Brother John here… I LOVE ponds! What a wonderful and natural habitat for all kinds of creatures! If only I lived closer to ya Sis, I’d find a way to restore it!).

For those that don’t know me, I am somewhat of a survivalist. Not at a “live in a commune” level (at least not yet) and I still like my flush toilet and the occasional movie, but I decided about 16 years ago that I don’t ever again want to live somewhere I don’t have a reasonable chance of growing or harvesting or hunting enough food to sustain me and my loved ones. I have just enough medicinal plant knowledge to slap a reasonable poultice on something I’ve stitched up. And just enough edible plant knowledge to feed us without either starvation or poisoning! I view this knowledge and the people who have imparted or inspired it in me as gifts. Not only do I want to accept them gratefully and gracefully, I don’t want the knowledge to be lost. Harvest only what you need, and never harvest all of something.

Was I proselytizing? Why yes, can I get an “Amen!”

Click on the image to see a larger view of Sammy and Eydie Wight's Upper Pond

I wanted to get a few pictures for Brother John so I walked around the pond to try to get an angle that might show something of what it used to be. As I worked my way around to the north side, I got nearer and nearer to my aster supping beautiful “wild” Italian honeybees. They were just as numerous and active as they had been when Sammy had first noticed them the other day. I moved close enough to them to try to take a few pictures, but none came out showing the bees as more than a blur. I realized that the view of the pond I wanted was smack dab in the middle of the asters. So, I thought, “might as well see how even tempered my fine Italians are.” I slowly waded into the aster clump, covering my sweatpants (no pajamas today), with dot sized dusting’s of pollen. The hum of the bees (either really, or just in my imagination) grew a little louder, but not (really, or just in my imagination) angry or threatening. Maybe just a communicated “what?”. I stood there in the midst of honeybees and asters with the sun warm in my face and counted a quick blessing and said a quick “thanks”. Life is good. I got my picture of the pond and slowly waded out of the asters. During the time I had stood there a few bees had briefly landed on my clothing, but none on my skin, and none that seemed at all upset.

Click on the image to see a view looking down Hominy Ridge

Jasper, Felon (Brother John here… we could use a nice Felon story hint, hint 🙂 ), and I headed on up the ridge. As we began to go up the access road Jasper and Felon checked out all the really good smells while I panted a little and remembered what a trek it is up to the top. I kept having to stop to duck under or step over spider webs that were spun across the way. I can’t remember who it was, my dad, or my granddad, that used to tell me spiderwebs across the trail meant no Indians had been there in the past few hours. I didn’t know whether to be relieved or disappointed. On one hand meeting up with an Indian would be really cool. On the other hand, meeting up with a startled, unhappy Indian might not be. I believe the tribes that would have hunted, scouted, and traveled in this area were Iroquois. Our unidentified neighbor has found arrowheads and artifacts along the Big Buffalo Creek.

Click here to see a full sized picture of the deer stand.

I can never seem to find the deer stand up at the top of our property. Even though I know where it is, tucked right in the northeastern- most corner, I can still be looking right at it and just not see it. My second husband did the camouflage paint job. He was very talented and did nearly too good a job. It sits about 20-25 feet up a nice tall ash tree. Our access road joins with one that runs east along the top of the ridge and across the back of several of the neighbor’s properties. There are no houses up this far. As we head east, first Jasper, and then I, startle a large gooneybird (it’s actually a pileated woodpecker that we call a “gooneybird” in these parts due to the sounds it makes) and watch it fly from the standing dead tree it had been pecking on to the top of a red oak.

Turkey Feeder

As I walk along, I can hear chainsaws in the woods south of me. Firewood time. I can also see scrapes where the wild turkeys have been feeding, the remains of acorn and hickory shells where the squirrels have been cutting, and the deep nipped underbrush where a deer took the easy path of the access road and grazed as it went.

My sort of goal was another access road that cuts across the ridge and ends up on the top of Asper Hill. But, rather than connecting to the one I’m currently on, it appears about halfway down the backside of the ridge. I can never find it. And, I can never find another trail that ends up at an old, many years abandoned farm that sits in the plateau near the top of Asper Hill. I know this much, I go east on the top access road until it peters out into an impenetrable (I know this for a fact) bramble and sumac patch. Then, I keep to the right of the twisted lightning struck tree and head northeast along the edge of the huge boulder field. If I continue east, I should run into part of a road that was put in when timber was cut about 40 years ago.

I got that far, and started down the road, and then realized that both dogs had disappeared. Jasper never strays far, and did come running when I called his name. Felon will follow his nose to the ends of the earth. I called him, no answer. But, if he’s having a good time, he could be ten feet away and still not answer. So, I clapped my hands. Clapping my hands is like when your mother has called you to get up for school three times and she is now sending your dad up the stairs. I immediately heard Felon‘s panting coming up from the hollow. The dog sounds like a steam locomotive. Once the happy family was reunited, I looked at my watch and realized I had to start home to get a nap in before work.

This trail I was on may or may not lead to the ones I want, and I’m dying to find out. On the way back I noticed that the wild blueberry bushes are dry as a bone. Most of the leaves have fallen into a little brown heap at their feet. We need some rain. As we head home Felon races ahead, his attention already moving on (he’s like an ADHD kindergartner after nap time). Jasper hangs back to walk with me at exactly the right pace for me to ruffle his fur. He looks at me, and I swear he is smiling, saying, “Didn’t we have fun?”

More of the Deer Stand

One more view of the Deer Stand

Tree Fungus (Fairy Ring Not)

Seedum w/ Butterfly

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Spiders, Snakes, Aphids, and Bees!

September 21, 2008 at 11:30 am (bee hive, Bees, Brother John, Jasper, Plants, Recipes, Wine Making) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )


By Eydie Wight

Snakes And Bugs And Bees... Oh My!

Today was another of those days when the place for morning coffee was on the deck. I opened the door, let Emy cat out and fended off the boisterous good morning activity of the dogs. I wasn’t out for more than a minute before I went inside to grab a jacket to throw over my pajamas, and slide my new moccasin birthday slippers on my feet. The temperature had dipped down into the 40’s over night. I am surprised that the home hummingbirds are still present, active, and seemingly in no hurry to leave. They continue to dive bomb each other, hover in front of my face, and perch on top of my wind chimes. Emy discovered a few days ago that she can jump on top of the deck rail and walk along it, tantalizingly out of reach of the dogs. They whine, they entreat me to get her down so they can chase her, they finally pretend indifference until she casually strolls over to where I am now leaning against the rail and rubs her face against mine. That does it, the dogs explode in a frenzy of jealous barking, making so much noise I have to trick them away from the house with a stick I throw far out into the yard so that Sammy has a slight chance of continuing his sleep.

Today is the last day of vacation! I love the changing of the guard of the seasonal flowers. Right now there are asters of all kinds in the un-mown areas of the yard. New England Asters willingly cluster around the mailbox, their light blue flowers seeming to glow in the morning light. Small white asters (I’ll have to look those up in the flower book) grow in abundance, creating bushy clumps. Fortunately none of us are allergic to goldenrod, because it is everywhere. My thoughts this morning, besides a song that is stuck in my head, are on wine. (The song, by the way, is “By the light of the silvery moon.” I don’t where all these obscure tunes come from, but this one must be one of my mother’s old barbershop quartet tunes, because it’s not only in my head, it’s in my head in four part harmony.)

Wine, we plan to bottle the blackberry wine today if all goes well. The wine has “cleared” and is a gorgeous color. I keep telling myself what the wine book says, that the wine must “mature” but the little voice inside my head (I think it’s the same voice that’s singing baritone) says, “Drink it. Drink it. Drinkitdrinkitdrinkitallnow.” But don’t worry, the last time I listened to that voice it was telling me that “no, of course not, bell bottoms will NEVER go out of style.” As I wandered around the yard I took notice of several fat rose hips on the Jacob’s Coat of Color Rose. My old wine book mentions that one of the truly exceptional elites of the homemade wines is rose hip wine. The author of the book only made a few bottles a year and prized them above all other. I don’t have nearly enough rose hips of my own, but I know a place where the multi flora rose (wild rose) grows thick. I went there a few years ago to pick some hips for rose hip tea. Like the blackberry session, each fat rose hip pulled me further into the brier warren until I suddenly found myself surrounded on all sides by impenetrable thorns. Thorns grabbing my shirt, pants, gloves, hair, holding me fast until some handsome prince came to magically free me and kiss my waiting lips…Right in the middle of THAT pleasant daydream a deer leaped out of the briers, not more than three feet from me. Well, by the time I tore my way out of the warren, yelping all the way,with the deer gracefully leaping unscathed in the other direction, I was pretty sure I would need plastic surgery and a pint or two of blood.

It’s not unheard of to have September frost, and I’d been planning all week to take the house plants inside for the cold season, so we decided to make that one of our last vacation projects. We really only have one southern exposure window downstairs in the spare bedroom, and each year all of the “big” plants get crowded around this one window until the room looks like something out of Jumanji. When I met Sammy and we began our courtship, he had one fairly big avocado tree that he had grown from a seed. At the time we met this tree was decorated with colored lights and red bows and was Sammy’s Christmas tree. I promptly named her “Iris” and would blow big Co2 laden kisses on her whenever I saw her. (Plants like that, you know. They don’t even care if you’ve had garlic, or Kosher pickles, or never brush your teeth-not that I know about that one, but I know someone who does!!!) Anyway, now, some four years later, Iris brushes her head on the ceiling and throws her arms out in a six foot span. Her “little sisters” (also grown from seed) number four, and we’ve even given some away to loving homes! We also have a beautiful “walking” iris we got as a start from my dad, a robust calla lily, some elderly Dieffenbachia, and a Mimosa pudica (“sensitive” plant). This plant curls it’s leaves up whenever they are touched, then slowly unfolds them again. All in all there were nine plants to bring in. Before they left the great outdoors each plant was trimmed of wind tattered or bug eaten leaves, re-potted if needed, had a scoop or two of potting soil added to “top off” the pots, and was sprayed with a soap solution to kill off aphids.

While I was re-potting and puttering and rearranging, our cats were having an adventure. Sammy called me downstairs from the kitchen where I had been stuffing a pickled egg into my mouth (and yes, Brother John, you DO have to chew them at least once!)

NOTE: Brother John here… you may be interested in knowing that I do NOT like pickled eggs! Probably comes as a surprise to my family. See? You learn something new every day!

Sammy had that mildly interested, not distressed at all, manly tone to his voice so I suspected immediately that the kittens had “found” a new toy in the basement, one that Sammy wasn’t real comfortable with. The toy turned out to be a little ring necked snake. These little guys are hardly bigger than a good sized earthworm and are pretty laid back. Not, of course, when they’re being batted across a concrete floor like an air hockey puck while being chewed on from the backside up by two brave kittens honing their hunting skills. (I guess snakes have a backside…) Sammy wondered aloud two or nineteen times if there were probably more snakes in the basement. We did have a nice sized garter snake in the basement beside the soda tub on our wedding day. Sammy’s not overly fond of snakes. Or the multiple ladybug infestations we get inside the house each winter after the stove is fired up, or the rather large (actually very, very large) hairy wolf spiders that take up residence also in the basement come winter. I actually had a spider one year, before I met Sammy, named Tawanda. She was very curious and liked noise and vibration. Often she would “come out” to check out company. My sister-in-law and her husband were visiting one late fall and we were sitting around downstairs enjoying the wood stove and drinking beer. Enough beer that when all of a sudden my brother-in-law’s eyes bugged out of his head and he said, “Ohmygod, what IS that?”, Tawanda looked much bigger to him than she really was. Tawanda had come over to investigate and was nearly on his foot. Tawanda’s body was about the size of a somewhat flattened walnut. I had difficulty preventing George from flattening her more. Finally, they took pictures and went home claiming I had a pet tarantula.

Today was the kind of day that called for a woods walk and hot soup. I’ve been hungry for a thick, full bodied, stick to your ribs soup or stew. I bought the ingredients to make potato soup but then as the vacation days went by the ingredients disappeared. The milk went into cereal, the sausage went into pizza, the onion went into spaghetti sauce. The potatoes are still there, waiting patiently as potatoes do. I’m like my Scottish friend who, when I asked him what his favorite food was, said “Stovies”. I said, “What’s that?” He replied, “Any thing that’s made from potatoes and cooked on the stove.”

I did get a little bit of a walk in. Just as I was finishing re-potting my plants, Sammy came down the ridge with the camera in hand and said, “You have to come see this. This is incredible.” I said, “What’s that Sweetie?” He said, “Bees.” Well, I was pretty sweaty despite the cool day so I broke off some of the lemon balm that grows by the basement door and rubbed it on my arms. I walked up the hill toward the “orchard” where we have our six fruit trees. To the right of the orchard is the ‘upper pond”. This is an eight by eight round pond, about five feet deep, that is fed by a spring that runs all year long. Sounds lovely but two years ago some tree roots in combination with winter burrowing bull frogs resulted in a series of leaks. Now there is only about two feet of water in the pond, but it is nice, clear water. Between the orchard and the pond is a large patch of yard we decided to let fallow this year. It is covered at the moment with the bushy asters I need to identify. It was also covered with Italian honeybees. Not covered by a swarm, these little girls were busy gathering nectar and pollen from the asters. It was so covered I heard the busy hum of hundreds of bees before I even got close. I watched them for the longest time. I wonder, who has hives near here? I know all the neighbors, in fact, should we take to this beekeeping life, I plan to ask them to let us hive the protected niches of their fields. Could these fine little Italians be a wild hive? If so, will they be okay for the winter? They had such delicate little flights from tiny flower to tiny flower. They were happy bees that day and I wished them a safe trip home and safe winter.

Jasper had, of course, followed me up the hill. He patiently waited for me to interview the bees, and then, when I started back down toward the house, ran a little way up the hill and gave me a look that said, :”Come on. Up this way.” So I followed him up. Jasper is my hiking buddy. He loves the winter, and likes nothing better than the woods in snow. One year he and I set out after a storm had given us several inches of white powdery snow. It was so cold and dry the snow kicked up in plumes as we made our way up the ridge. I lost sight of Jasper, not difficult since he’s white, so I called him. All of a sudden he was there above me, on an outcropping just exposed enough to catch eddies of wind that swirled the snow around me. I had a sudden image of myself in buckskin and furs, my long black hair plaited as I searched beneath the snow for wintergreen berries to take back to add to venison jerky for trail mix to feed the tribe. Jasper and I shared one of those moments when the world is is suffused with joy and all of heaven stops to approve. Today we just walked up to the top of the ridge and then raced back down. Actually, Jasper was the only one racing, but I let him think he won.

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Preparing for the Dormant Season

September 13, 2008 at 3:46 pm (Authors, bee hive, Bees, Blackberry, Books, Carboy, honey, Mead Making, Plants, Rosina Lippi, Sara Donati, Wine Making) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )


By Eydie Wight

Super Eydie

I woke up this afternoon to the sound of a steady, gentle, windless rain. I woke up this afternoon to the knowledge that we are off work for a week of vacation! Woohoo! (I hate that exclamation but sometimes if the woohoo fits you gotta go with it.) This is somewhat of a working vacation, a time to get the property ready for the change of seasons from the growing season, to the harvest season, to the dormant season. So, some seasonal things that are in the works this week if the weather cooperates: Wood. A priority. Last year we cut wood from our property and from the adjoining property of our new Amish neighbors. Last year they hadn’t built their home and weren’t yet living on the property so they hadn’t a need to cut firewood from there. Last year had some time consuming components occurred that resulted in the plain and simple fact that we didn’t cut enough wood to see us through. We were reduced to slogging out in mid-winter when the weather cleared enough to allow and cutting a truckload of wood here and there. On one memorable (but not pleasurably so) occasion I was clearing the snow off dead fall with my boot, then pounding the ice off with a stout branch so Sammy could take the chainsaw to it. The days worth of firewood had to be placed around the wood stove the day before it was used to thaw. Sammy developed the habit during those last winter weeks of slowing the car down whenever we saw a particularly abundant woodpile by someones home and drooling, “wood.” The same drooling word applied to tempting dead fall tantalizingly close to the roadsides. We did “liberate” a bit of this. One night as we were coming home from the movies (the nearest movie theaters are an hour away) Sammy put on the brakes, skidded to a stop, jumped out of the car and next thing I knew he was struggling with a frozen hulk of storm downed dead oak. I was not dressed for the weather (although we do carry emergency boots, tow rope, shovel, overalls, sleeping bag, water, granola bars, and in my case a steamy romantic novel stashed under the seat) and I found myself putting the back seats down and spreading an old blanket over cargo space as wet slushy snow filled my “good” shoes and my fingers froze to the chunk of wood as we levered it in.

Our Real Wood Burning Stove!

Another chore for the week is to prepare the wood stove for the season. I always try to hold off having the first fire until Halloween night. This week on the appointed day I will dismantle and carry outside the three pieces of stove pipe that connect the wood stove to the chimney and Sammy and I will carry the wood stove outside. I have two kinds of stove black, both leftovers my dad gave me from his stove. One is a paint on stove black and one is a rub on buff off product. I’ll use the paint on stuff this year because I didn’t black the stove last year and it’s a bit scaly. The stove first has to be gone over with a wire brush to remove scaly rust and accumulations of burned creosote from the last winter’s fires. Creosote forms from the sap contained in wood and from burning “green” wood or wood that still has a high moisture content. Pines and “soft” woods like soft maple contain a higher degree of creosote and as such are less desirable for wood stoves. These “soft” woods also burn faster, requiring more work and attention to keep a fire going. Once the stove is scraped clear I’ll paint the thing with the stove black and allow that to dry. After a stove is blacked and is “fired up” for the first time it will stink to high heaven and give off nasty fumes that will fill the house. That’s a project for a day when the windows can be opened. Also, the first fire should be run “hot” (the dampers opened to allow more oxygen in to cause a hotter fire) to season the new black.

Which brings me to the next chore. The chimney must be checked and cleaned. This is Sammy’s department because I am moderately not okay with heights. I CAN do heights if I have to, when I was widowed the first time (I’m a widow X 2, Sammy is a brave man of strong faith) my dad had me get up on the roof of my house at the time and help in the re-roofing. And I do fly these days without needing to drink heavily as I did my first couple of flights. Now I drink heavily merely for the pleasure (ha ha). The chimney for our house runs outside the east wall of the house. At the base of the chimney, outside the house, is a small metal door for the “clean out”. This is opened at the start of the wood burning season and several times throughout to scoop out the accumulated ash and creosote that falls to the bottom of the chimney. After this is cleaned out, (if I didn’t do it at the end of last year and I’m guessing I didn’t), I’ll take a hand held mirror and angle it up the chimney, if I see light reflected I know the chimney is at least patent. Sometimes during the summer birds will nest in the chimney. Come the start of a fire, any blockage, if not cleared, will not allow oxygen to reach the fire or the chimney to “draft”. In a clear, well functioning chimney, the air flowing over the top will entrain the rising warm air to cause it to be literally pulled out of the chimney. This decreases smoke, which will otherwise fill the house, and also allows the fire to burn more efficiently. A “cold” chimney (one in which a fire is just being started) will also smoke and refuse to draft. This is why a “cold” fire should be started with some quick, hot burning materials such as newspaper twists or pine needles. I find that the dried out stalks of my summer day Lilly’s work great. Once the chimney is checked with a mirror Sammy climbs the ladder to the roof and pushes down the chimney brush. (Go watch the movie “Mary Poppins” if you need to see what one looks like.) A rope is tied to the handle so he can pull it back up to brush out the chimney. After several passes I scoop out the “clean out” and we’re ready for fire!

A few other chores that are on the list for this week are: Bring in the house plants that have enjoyed the summer outside underneath the deck, bring down the fall (and winter) clothes from the attic and pack up the summer clothes, harvest the pears from the one tree in the “orchard” and make some pear butter, harvest flower seed from the sunflowers, Cleome, morning glory, etc. I discovered a few years ago that sunflowers, especially the giant sunflowers we like, make an excellent support for a variety of climbing flowers. I have a large flower bed Sammy named “the solstice bed” because not only does it have all day sunlight, but we grow beautiful sunflowers in it. I plant a few morning glory seeds with each sunflower seed in the spring and have a gorgeous “wall” of morning Glory’s that climb the sunflower stalks in the summer. I have read that the native Americans used the same technique with corn and beans that I will try next year. Another chore (well, I’m REALLY looking forward to this one so maybe chore isn’t the best word) is to get the base prepared for our future bee hive(s) next year.

But, all that’s in the future for now, tonight is an evening to anticipate, plan. and relax. We had some leftovers for supper: ham, green beans from the garden, and potatoes from dad’s garden for supper, a cinnamon raisin bagel topped with Minsi mountain honey for desert, and a look at our wines for entertainment will about fill the rain filled evening hours. The blackberry wine is about ready to bottle and has become a clear ruby red. The elderberry, in puberty to its pathway to the sublime, is still cloudy and will need to be racked soon, and the mead, still fermenting slowly, has just begun to clear somewhat. I did watch a introduction to beekeeping video tonight. The result of the video was that my “Santa” list now includes a bee veil, smoker, and hive tool.

Sammy and I would like to proudly show off our “Girls”. Please click on any of the images to get a larger, clearer view. Aren’t they just beautiful?

Mead Image #1 Mead Image #2 Mead Image #3 Mead Image #4
Wine Image #1 Wine Image #2 Wine Image #3 Wine Image #4

And now, a self indulgent gluttony of the second Sara Donati book, Dawn on a Distant Shore. I wish I had some of our wine, alas, it’s not ready yet. I’ll have to settle for a beer. Sammy, being a southern boy, drinks “red eye beer”, which is beer with tomato juice. My dad has a conniption fit about using good canned tomato juice to “pervert” good beer. But Brother John and Sammy like it. Who am I to say? I eat stuff I pick out of the yard each spring.

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Beekeeper Dan Comes For A Visit (Part 2)

September 8, 2008 at 7:13 am (Barbara Kilarski, bee hive, Bees, Books, Carboy, chicken coop, chicken wire, Chickens, Fenton, honey, Jasper, Lunaria, mandolin, mastiff, New friends, pit bull, Ranger, sedum, Stonecrop sedum, vines, Visit, wisteria) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )


By Eydie Wight

A visit from Beekeeper Dan

I was out on the deck playing a little mandolin and enjoying the evening when I heard the sound of an approaching motorcycle. Beekeeper Dan had arrived. He was greeted by the boisterous and inquisitive Love Mongrels. Felon is a rescue pit bull who at 50+ lbs. thinks he is a lap dog. I’ve tried my best, but he thinks all visitors will welcome his habit of jumping up and butting his head into whatever part of the anatomy he can reach, until he gets petted. Fortunately Dan has two dogs of his own and took Felon’s rude demands pretty much in stride. Jasper was a little better behaved, but I did catch him peeing on Dan’s tire as we went inside the house. I confess I pretended not to see. Just one more pebble dipping my judgment scales to the “hell side”…

We went inside and I showed Dan the flower seeds I had packaged for him and explained that the Lunaria (money plant) was a biennial. I had wanted to include some Cleome seeds but they weren’t quite dry enough to harvest. Cleome, I had discovered when my friend Carole and I visited Scotland a few years ago, is an undesirable roadside weed there and exists in prolific abundance. I find that even though it has a somewhat rank and stinky smell, it has a beautiful pink flower and bees and butterflies absolutely love it.

Sammy and Dan briefly discussed the Beatles motif of our kitchen and then we hauled out for perusal the wine carboys. The Minsi mountain mead stepped up to the plate and showed a little fermentation activity to “Pappa” Dan. Then we were ready to go check out the ‘bee zen” of our property.

Before we discussed bees, however, we went out to the shed to show Dan our current dog house and fenced in run. This was the proposed site of the future possible chicken coop. Dan had brought me a book to borrow called Keep Chickens! by Barbara Kilarski. The existing dog house could probably hold a small pony. It was built when our two dogs were an Old English mastiff (210 lbs) named Fenton and an akita-lab-mastiff mix (110 lbs) named Ranger. Like our dogs now, those two never really spent much time there. Only when we went on vacation and during deer hunting season when local hunters do cross our property. The fenced in area is roughly 20 ft X 20 ft. and shaded with a beautiful wisteria vine. I hastened to explain to Dan that the run has never doubled as a maximum security prison, despite its look. It just happens that our Shepherd/husky mix Jasper can climb anything. When we first got him I would put him in the run when I went to work and come home to find him sitting on the deck. We spied on him and found that he was hooking his hind legs on the wire of the fence and climbing over. So my husband put up inward slanting chicken wire along the top. I came home the next day, Jasper‘s sitting on the deck. We spied again. He was jumping on top of the dog house roof, then up on the roof of the shed, then down to the ground. So my husband put a wire enclosure on top of the dog house roof. Next day, Jasper on the deck. Spy result: He would run and hurl himself against the back of the shed, reaching high enough to catch paws on the edge of the dog house roof where it met the shed. Then he would use that corner where the two buildings met to give enough leverage to literally scale the fence around the dog house roof until he could reach the roof of the shed, then jump to the ground. We gave up but left the dog run as it was.

To convert the former dog digs to a chicken coop will be relatively easy. All we have to do is put some type of covering over the open run such as a mesh or chicken wire. Then we’ll have to cut an opening in the bottom of the dog house to be able to clean the droppings out, and build some type of shelf inside for nests to be off the ground. Dan also suggested some posts here and there for roosting. We talked about chicken eggs, and free range chickens, and my bad experiences as a kid with broody chickens. Tactlessly forgetting that Dan raises happy chickens who are pets and family members, I indelicately told the story of Great Grandma and the blindfolded chicken. Seems that when my Great Grandma was a young girl (about 14) she was sent out to kill an old chicken for the stew pot. Her mother went to check her after some time had passed and found her sitting on the chopping block with the bloody axe in her hand crying her eyes out. A neighbor heard some commotion and looked out his window to be met with the sight of a half headless chicken (like Nearly Headless Nick for Harry Potter fans), flopping past his house sporting a gingham blindfold around its head. Apparently not content with blindfolding the chicken against the coming judgment day, Great Grandma had also closed her own eyes at the moment of truth and missed!

I thought it prudent at this time to steer the focus away from the topic of chickens before I made gentle Dan cry, and talk about bees. Dan said the bee hives should face in a south easterly direction where they will receive the morning sun. The lower part of the yard was too close to the road. Our “traffic” is meager, but I did have a brief image of our Amish neighbors and their buggy meeting our future bees under less than happy circumstances. It would take more than a good will gesture cake to fix that bad bee business. (Yes, I did welcome them to the neighborhood with a Better-Than-Sex cake but I didn’t TELL them that’s what it was called so that was okay, right?)

We walked up past the garden and to the upper edge of our “orchard” (six fruit trees) and found the future spot for our bees. The bees like a clear “runway” back to their hive and we keep the orchard mowed. I asked about mowing. Dan said mowing doesn’t usually bother the bees as long as you mow so the clippings shoot away from the hives. Makes sense. On the way back down to the house we found several tomatoes for Dan and I showed him the “wild” honeybees on the sedum. He said they were Italians, meaning the original bee ancestors came form Italy. These honey bees have golden abdomens with dark stripes.

Blueberry Cobbler

Back at the house we sampled my blueberry cobbler and kept loading Dan’s backpack with canned tomato juice, pickled beets, blackberry jam, blueberry cobbler, tomatoes, a couple of books, empty honey jars (returns), and a lamp or two (remember Steve Martin in “The Jerk?”). I was a little worried that his motorcycle would just upend and leave Dan weighed to the ground by the backpack, waving arms and legs like a flipped turtle while he feebly tried to raise a helmeted head, but my overactive imagination gives me these little visions from time to time.

Sammy and I stood outside for a little admiring the broad expanse of Milky Way that stretched across the sky. Then we went inside, he to watch the republican convention, me to contemplate chickens and the image of myself licking the remains of the blueberry cobbler from the dish. It was a good day.

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Fruit of the vine.

August 28, 2008 at 2:35 pm (Ampelopsis, brevipedunculata, Plants, Porcelain Berry, vines) (, , , , , , , , , , , )


By Brother John

Ampelopsis brevipedunculata, Porcelain Berry

Simply the most gorgeous porcelain vine berries!

For many years I had a beautiful Morning Glory vine which regrew annually from seeds it dropped at the end of each growing season. In the Spring, the seeds would sprout and I’d have Morning Glory vines all over again. As I said, this went on successfully for quite a number of years. But then one Spring, all that changed.

Once again a vine sprouted, but only one. It grew and at first I didn’t notice that the leaves were different and so I continued to believe it was a Morning Glory vine. And then I noticed it wasn’t.

The vine was way too aggressive and was quite hearty. Its single vine began to take over an entire fence that usually supported a number of Morning Glory vines. It had tendrils that wrapped around everything it found, and in so doing anchored the vine securely in place. If it found a nail, or a link, or a post, or a wire, it threw out tendrils which quickly wrapped around each object like some living beast. It was fascinating to watch, (and maybe just a bit scary). Then I noticed that its leaves kept getting bigger and bigger and turned a very healthy green. It was quite the vigorous and vibrant vine!

I let it go where ever it wanted to, and watched it growing each and every day. And then one day toward the later part of summer, it began to put out tiny little flowers. Actually they were more like tiny yellow dots, but if you looked very closely you could see that they were indeed a flower. Soon each tiny flower was getting a lot of attention from several different types of bees who hungrily visited each and every one.

One day, tiny little green berries began to form where once there were flowers. And they grew bigger with each passing new day! And then they did the most amazing thing. Each berry started to take on a bluish color while tiny dark blue speckles randomly patterned its surface. I was amazed and thrilled and humbled by what nature can do. And they got bluer every day! Some of them also turned purple with the passing of time.

Winter forced the vine to go dormant and I didn’t have time to rip the remains off of the fence. I was glad this happened with the coming of Spring. Because this vine didn’t have to start over like my Morning Glory’s always had. This just started sprouting leaves where the dormant vines already were. And it picked up where it had left off (so to speak).

I know this is just a “weed”. Some say the berries are probably poisonous. Most caution me to get rid of it and perhaps I will in time. But for right now, I just love the beautiful show it gives me at the end of the summer. And it amuses me that this “volunteer” chose my fence for its home.

Breaking news! I just learned its name, and evidently the berries are NOT poisonous. They just don’t taste very good to humans. Birds love them!

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