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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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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