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 Beehive (and other ramblings)

March 4, 2009 at 11:55 am (bee hive, Beekeeper Dan, Bees, Brother John, Family, Hobbies, Insects, Mead Making, movies, poetry) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )


The New Hive!

By Eydie Wight

Well, here it is nearly 5:30 AM and another night has passed in work rather than blogging (I’m hearing wheezing, sneezing, and coughing in my after work sleep these days.). Brother John may have to post another yummy recipe while waiting for me to catch up. But, Sammy and I have the weekend off and I have a list. Writing a blog is on it. Somewhere near the top. Along with painting my beehive, filling out Roger‘s Fafsa form for college this fall, cooking the turkey that’s been in the freezer since Christmas, repairing Roger‘s hematite frog necklace for the fifth or sixth time, sending Uncle Dave a get well card, sending Uncle Mike a very huge thank you for doing our taxes, moving the old refrigerator out to the shed so the work on finishing the basement can continue next week and, of course, the usual weekend dusting and vacuuming, laundry and litter box detail. I may hold off on single-handedly solving the national recession until next week. Ditto world peace.

Perry County Council of the Arts - Coffeehouse

Sammy and I plan to sleep most of today, then go to coffeehouse tonight. We’ve been working on the song “Good Riddance” by Green Day and I thought maybe we would have it ready, but we both had a few days of feeling a bit peaked this week and I didn’t have enough time to get my part comfortable. Sammy does the singing and plays guitar throughout and could walk on stage with five minutes practice. I have two measures here, three or four there, and a little chording at the end, but my fiddle has a HUGE problem with stage fright so we’d better practice some more. I do plan to read a few of my poems. Our usual coffeehouse has a nice mix of musicians, poets, and storytellers. I think I’ll read “Street Busker of Her Heart” and “The Musician’s Wife.”

The New Hive!

I think I mentioned in some of the Christmas posts that Santa brought me a “beginning beekeeper” kit. It came from the Dadant catalogue (making beekeeping a family tradition since 1863!) Ever since Sammy and I made our first batch of mead and started having conversations with beekeeper Dan I’ve been dreaming of honey bees, writing poems in their honor, and catching every show I can find on National Geographic and Animal planet about them. Last summer I discovered “wild” Italian honeybees in great numbers all over my flower beds and nearby wildflowers, and became fascinated with them. So, this year, Sammy and I are going to give beekeeping a try.


Dadant & Son's Bee Kit #2

My “hobby kit #2” came un-assembled and contained two medium ten frame supers, an inner and outer top cover, and solid wood bottom board and some essential equipment. (Smoker, gloves, hive tool, feeder, beginner’s book, veil.) This was about $153.00. A little plug here for the Dadant catalogue. Not only does it offer everything a large scale beekeeper might need, but it also has equipment, cool bee factoids, and helpful hints and suggestions for us “newbees” (ha ha.)

I have to admit that my hive sat unassembled in it’s box until last week. It was only partly procrastination on my part. Sigh. Santa had also brought me several books on beekeeping. I made the mistake of starting to read the big flashy one with all the fancy expensive pictures (and I won’t mention it’s name ’cause I’m not going to be very complimentary.) The very first thing the author started opining about was that you should NEVER get an un-assembled hive to start out with because they take a rocket scientist to assemble, the instructions are lousy, the parts are never cut to fit, and it’s all “oh so off-putting.” And of course here I was with the unassembled hive. Then, as I read on, it was a never ending series of “you can’t do this, you can’t do that, people do it that way but that’s WRONG.” I know nothing about this author and she may be a pleasant enough person but boy, I was stressing before I got halfway through. I just didn’t want to read the section on foulbrood, hive beetles, varroa mites, tracheal mites, and wax moths BEFORE I read about joyful, happy, healthy hives. I want the “Joys of Beekeeping,” not the “Buzz about Bad Bee Bummers.”

So I agonized about the whole beekeeping idea for a nearly two months, and then did what I should have done from the start. I talked to beekeeper Dan. His advice was to “put that book down and start another.” He also said, in his gentle way, something that interpreted as, “You’re not an idiot, just sit down and put the darn hive together.” So I did. Both. Seeing as the Dadant catalogue had been my friend, I opened the book that had come with my beginner’s kit, “First Lessons in Beekeeping.” It started with POETRY. I was sold. And, Sammy and I sat down that night and in a few hours had the hive together. It was easy. Once all the pieces were laid out in matching groups, and the nails sorted, the diagrams made sense. We put the whole thing together on the living room coffee table with a minimum of mess. We put the whole thing together while watching “City Slickers” and drinking mead. I was in my pajamas. Putting together the frames with their foundation wax was just as easy, but a bit more time consuming as there are ten frames to a super and two supers. I did that the next day in about an hour and a half while watching CSI New York.

The Villanelle

Winter Morning

As I write this it’s now Saturday morning. Coffeehouse went well last night. It was a packed, appreciative house with a pretty even mix of musicians and poets, about a half dozen of each. I read three poems and received an official congratulations on my recent “specialty”award for a poem I had entered for our county’s annual poet laureate competition called “Winter Morning”. The poem was a villanelle. Now for those of you who aren’t into this stuff, maybe just skip this part. You’ll find It’s going to be boring. A villanelle is a highly structured poem consisting of 19 lines and only two different rhymes throughout. It has five tercets (three line stanzas) and one final quatrain (four lines.) The first and third lines all rhyme. The second lines all rhyme. In addition, the poem has two “power lines” that are used throughout the poem. They are the first and third lines of the first tercet. The first line becomes the third line of the second tercet, the third line becomes the third line of the third tercet and so on. The quatrain has the two power lines as the last lines of the poem. One of the most famous villanelles is Dylan Thomas‘ “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night.

Well, I’m an “old hippie” free verse poet by nature. I don’t rhyme, it stresses me. But, like a dog with a bone, I had to try this villanelle thing if for no other reason than the gauntlet had been laid down before me. So for weeks I agonized. At first I tried this Celtic story of murder, kidnapping, betrayal. My power lines were “‘Tis naught but one left to tell the tale. With voice that falters and lips that pale.” I had rhymes of: tale, pale, fail, sail, ale, nail, jail and: greed, need, freed, bleed, deed, mead. Maybe it would have worked. But it made me crazy. Then I tried a magician story. I had: mage, stage, wage, page, cage, age, rage and: illusion, delusion, confusion, profusion, exclusion, occlusion. Again, though the possibility was there, it made me crazy. Finally, in the wee hours of the deadline day for the competition entries, as my friend Lynelle and I communicated with each other with increasingly frustrated and desperate e-mails, I put together an idea while I was standing at the kitchen window drinking coffee and waiting for dawn. It made me crazy. But, I agonized on and ended up hand delivering it to the arts council gallery with ten minutes to spare before the deadline, saying that it was “The worst piece of crap I’d ever written.” Go figure it would win. My villanelle experience is, I hope, laid to rest eternally.

Back to the Bees

I’d better finish this up soon so I can wake Sammy and we can go accomplish our daytime Saturday errands. Two of which are buying paint to paint the outside of my hive to weather proof it and calling Bjorn Apiaries to order “nucs” for beekeeper Dan and Sammy and I. A “nuc” or nucleus (I just love learning this new “beespeak.” I probably will get stuff wrong or misuse terms and I would appreciate being corrected by those more knowledgeable than I) is a good way to get started. It contains four or five frames of nurse bees, brood, food, and a queen which is introduced to the incipient colony. I wanted to order Italian bees (Apis mellifera ligustica) because that’s what my “wild” girls were that I enjoyed watching as they foraged on the property last year. I think this apiary may have only Russian Carniolan (Apis mellifera carnica) which is what beekeeper Dan wants. That may be a good idea in the long run as the Carnolians seem to be more resistant to some of the bad bee bummer mites. So much to learn!

I have learned that beekeeping is an up and coming area of interest. Those that were wholeheartedly into knitting and bead stringing the past couple of years, and gardening and canning last year, are looking at beekeeping. Any why not? Beekeeping (so I’ve been told and have read in numerous sources) is relatively inexpensive, relatively easy, less time consuming than most gardening, harvesting, canning experiences, and can be done in very little space. There are even New York City beekeepers who have rooftop hives and bees that co-exist with the flowers, musicians, homeless, and knock-off watch entrepreneurs of Central Park! Honey has long, and I mean like Biblical, ancient Egypt long, been a natural sweetener. It has medicinal uses for healing wounds that “modern medicine” has given up on. Honey makes mead, mead makes one happy, therefore (a little twisted Aristotle) honey makes one happy. I could go on and on extolling the virtues of honey, propolis, beeswax, and honey bee pollination services, but let me just end with some way cool facts I lifted from the Dadant catalogue:

  1. If honey bees ceased to exist today, about 1/3 of all the foods humans eat would disappear
  2. It would take one ounce of honey to fuel a bees flight around the world. The average honey bee will make about one twelfth of a teaspoon of honey in its lifetime.
  3. The honey bee is the only insect that produces food eaten by man.
  4. A honey bee visits 50-100 flowers during one collection trip.

And now I must get out of my pajamas, take Sammy to our favorite little restaurant “The Joyful Bakers” for breakfast as I promised, and get to the post office, hardware, and grocery store. The sun is shining, the sap is flowing in the maple trees (although I don’t think any of the neighbors have tapped their trees yet,) my tulips, daffodils, and surprise lilies have broken ground in the front flower bed, and we were just visited by two whitetail deer that we could see from the kitchen window. It is a propitious day, rife with possibility.

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