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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