Thar be Bees!

June 1, 2010 at 3:48 am (bee hive, Bees, honey, Insects) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )


By Sammy Wight

Photos from the WightHouse, and our newest addition to the household. Our First Beehive.

Our Bees are a mixed breed of Carniolan, Russian, and Italian. They are very calm and have great temperament. Only the Italian Bees are a bit more calm than ours. They seem to be happy here. We have had them since last Thursday. They reside in our orchard. Our Nuc had 4 pounds of Bees in it, with one Queen. Hopefully she will be busy and lay lots of babies, and we will have an extra 200+ bees a day born. We won't harvest honey this year, but next year we should be able to extract up to 90 lbs.

We are underway with out Dandelion Wine with Champagne Yeast, Plain Mead, Sweet Mead, and still have Blackberry, and Elderberry to go yet. Eydie made herself some Lemonbalm wine that she loves. Not my cup o' tea. Eydie's brother is supposed to be posting stories and photos to our “WIGHTWAY PRESS” SITE, but i haven't seen any lately, just keep an eye out for it. More adventures to follow.

 

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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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Eydie and Sammy meet beekeeper Dan

August 3, 2008 at 11:00 am (Bees, honey, Mead Making, New friends) (, , , , , , , , , , )



By Eydie Wight

On the way home from Brother John’s house Sammy and I were discussing how every component needed to start our mead making attempt had fallen into place except the honey! We had priced honey at four or five places from the health food store to Sam’s club to the local grocery stores. We had also put out an all points bulletin to our friends to see if anyone had any leads on honey. Well, we had actually heard from three people who suggested the same person. I knew Dan slightly from his too infrequent visits to our writer’s group. I think I remember one piece that he had written about the sea that was very deeply attuned to the earth and it’s rhythms. I liked it and hoped he would keep writing. Sammy and I heard that Dan had begun beekeeping and possibly had some honey for sale. We called the number, left a message, missed his call back, left another message, played some phone tag, and finally got through as we were on our way home. Dan (our hopeful honey supplier) invited us to come by his house and check out the honey he had.

What a completely excellent way to end the best weekend we had had in a long time! Dan lives in an old farmhouse that has so much character. I didn’t want to be rude but I kept looking. There was an old wood stove in the living room, and varied artwork on the walls, two loving dogs to be petted, friendly cats (one a big orange poly dactyl, another a young yellow fellow just full of curiosity and life), bee books and articles inviting a good read at the kitchen table, china cats and knickknacks. I felt a wave of nostalgia, it was like being in my Granny and Granddad’s home again. It was comfortable. It was lovely.

We started talking about homemade wines and Dan mentioned that dandelion wine was one of his favorites. Well, I just happened to have part of a bottle that Brother John had given back to me (it not being one of Brother John’s favorites) and I dashed out to the car, tauting the virtues of my wine all the way. My dandelion wine is made the old fashioned way with baker’s yeast, fermented in the bottle, with the sludge allowed to sink down to the bottom. Dan brought out a bottle one of his friends had made that make my wine look like pond scum. He dandelion offering had the color of the first warm spring sunshine and tasted like a smile. Next thing I knew Dan had given us a bottle of his homemade strawberry wine to take home.

We started talking about bees, and beekeeping. Dan explained that he is new to beekeeping and has gotten involved after hearing if the dwindling of the American honeybees. He has four hives now and does all he can to not distress the bees. He told us he can tell a happy bee buzz from an unhappy one. I was sold right there without ever seeing (or tasting) the honey. Of course then I saw the honeycomb with it’s loaded amber treasure and had a spoonful. I was hooked. We bought 25 lbs right then and there, enough for the mead and a few jars for us. Dan also gave us some eggs from free range chickens. When I cooked them the next day they had the biggest, yellowest yolks I had ever seen! Sammy and I agreed that we had been truly blessed to meet such a gentle, courteous friend as we found in Dan.

We even talked on the way home about trying our hand at beekeeping. I have seen so many honeybees at our place, especially around my lavender, hyssop, and lemon balm. I think I could give them a happy place to live. We slept so peacefully that night, visions of honeybees and big yellow cats companionably drinking mead at the kitchen table…(Maybe I shouldn’t have had that second glass of wine!)

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