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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Our First Batch Of Homemade Mead!

August 7, 2008 at 8:00 am (Airlock, Bees, Fermentation Lock, honey, Mead Making, Nutrient, Recipes, Yeast) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )


By Eydie Wight

Having been up late the night before picking over blackberries and starting our blackberry wine, we slept late and spent a goodly part of the day doing house chores, buying groceries, refilling the hummingbird feeders, and checking the garden for any produce. Right now the garden is producing just enough squash and tomatoes to eat. In fact, we’re still at the stage in the growing season where we lovingly say to each other, “No, you take that tomato Sweetie, it has your name on it.” And then the other replies, “No, I had the last one last time, you get this one.” Later, as the garden becomes more prolific, it will be, “Sweetie, you have to start eating up some of those tomatoes, I don’t have time to can right now and they’ll go to waste.” As Brother John will agree, and it is a point I’ve addressed in earlier blogs, NO PRODUCE MUST GO TO WASTE! Better to eat it all until you burst and die, than waste it! (Brother John actually wrote his first, and only poem about the pressures involved when a garden produces a too abundant bounty. You can read his poem in our Poetry Section).

I also felt compelled to cook some food to tide us over the next few days of our work week. So, I thawed some of Dad’s fish that he had caught. My dad and his “crew” of friends go fishing at Quimby, Morely, and Oyster, VA on my Uncle Dave’s 19 ft. Carolina skiff, the “Binnie May” or on his friend Jerry’s catamaran. They go bay fishing for croakers, flounder, king fish, and shark. Actually my dad is famous in the family for being shark bit last year. Seems he had pulled in a small (five foot) shark. He intended to get his fishing line ready and back in the water, and then deal with getting the shark back in the water. His fishing buddy (name withheld) decided to help dad out and throw the shark back in. He picked it up by the tail and swung it and just that quick the shark twisted around and latched onto dad’s calf. They had to leave the shark there in full bite and cut it’s jaw with fishing scissors down both sides to work the inward slanting teeth out. And then they took dad off to the hospital, right? Of course not. They wrapped a dirty fish scaled rag around his leg and kept on fishing. The fish (and the sharks) were biting good. No fisherman leaves when there’s fish to be caught.

But I digress. So, I had thawed out some of dad’s fish, croakers they were, and decided to bread them with a little crushed saltines, cornmeal, and Old Bay seasoning. I dipped the fillets in a mixture of beaten egg and milk, and then in the breading, and then fried them in hot oil. Since we had a few zucchini that had to be eaten I decided to make a pancake batter, slice the zucchini, and then cook them in the batter. It is delicious that way.

Well, all of this took until about nine o’clock in the evening. It was then time to start making our mead, an event we had planned for and anticipated for weeks! We were excited, anxious, and tired. In honor of the occasion we had bought a bottle of “Mead” at the local liquor store, along with my favorite hard liquor (Laird’s Apple Jack). We poured two little shot glasses full, toasted each other, took a sip, and said simultaneously, “Blech”. Looking at the bottle we saw that the store bought mead was mixed with white wine. Not to our taste at all. Oh well, on to OUR mead.

The first thing we did was make up a couple gallons of sterilization solution. And boiled a big pot of water and then allowed that sterile water to cool for rinsing. Everything we used, buckets, spoons, measuring containers, utensils, HANDS, were sterilized and rinsed each time they were used. Step one was to pasteurize the honey. Now, my apologies to beekeeper Dan, about pasteurizing the honey, because many people believe this is an unnecessary step, but this was our first time, and the honey was raw, so we did. We first skimmed off any particles of wax and propolis that were on top of the honey. Then I had to make Sammy stop eating big spoonfuls of honey long enough to help me measure out 5 quarts of honey (about 15 lbs). I put one and a half gallons of spring water into a big pot, brought this to a boil, added the honey, stirred it, put the thermometer in the stuff and raised the temperature back to 160 degrees. This we let simmer at about 160 degrees for fifteen minutes to pasteurize the honey. All that sounds so easy and uncomplicated and it really is. But, you have to add to the equation my obsessive compulsive neat freak habits and the worry factor. Minsi Mountain honey is beautiful, tasty, wonderful stuff. But it’s sticky stuff. Sammy and I were ladling the honey into a two quart container to measure it and, of course, some dripped on the floor, and the counter, and the stove top, and my shirt, and my arms, and my face, and my hair. We stirred the honey for the entire time it was pasteurizing and kept playing with the heat to try to keep it EXACTLY at 160 degrees. Worried it near to death. Then, Sammy suddenly said, “I forgot!” and ran out of the room, leaving me stirring. I was hot, sticky, cranky, and none too pleased to see him come back with the camera. “I almost forgot to take pictures for Brother John!”, he said. Now, I’m in my pajamas (again), I’m honeyed but not too sweet if you know what I mean, and Sammy’s taking pictures. Fine. Couldn’t look anymore like a hillbilly then at that very moment. Yee-ha.

Well, after the honey was pasteurized we poured the honey mixture (called must) into the sterile bucket. We added two more gallons of the spring water (of the original four gallons there was now 1/2 gallon left) and stirred it up. It was at this time that we realized that the mixture was still way too hot and was going to take a very long time to cool down. One of our guru sites on the Internet suggested the two gallons of spring water could be frozen before being added. Or at least refrigerated. Next time we’ll do that. So we waited. We were waiting for for the honey mixture to cool to 80 degrees. We mixed up two packets of yeast in a half cup of warm (not hot) sterile water and let that sit for 15 minutes. After that time the yeasties were bubbling nicely. We added yeast nutrient, and yeast energizer to the must (per package directions) and added the yeast and stirred the mixture in the bucket actively for five minutes. I did dance around the bucket chanting, “Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble, cauldron boil and cauldron bubble.” but Sammy was back E-mailing Brother John with the pictures we had taken so far and he missed it. Gee. Too Bad.

We promised our mead that we would see it soon, (told it to be good and ferment “like a nice wine”), and then we put the lid onto the bucket. We added a fermentation lock out of curiosity (you don’t really need one at this point) and Sammy hauled the bucket down to the basement. Our basement is dry, stays about 70 degrees, is quiet, and mostly dark. We put the mead in the back bedroom/storage room. Here it would sit thinking secret thoughts for about two weeks.

I did have an image, as Sammy was going down stairs, of him tripping, falling, and splattering gallons upon gallons of sticky goo all over the basement where it would flow into corners and mix with dust bunnies and possibly grow into an evil monster that would kill us all while we slept. If that happened, I would just get beekeeper Dan to bring in some honeybees and they could just live in the house until the spill was all cleaned up. Speaking of honeybees, we put all of the propolis and comb that we had skimmed from the raw honey, out for the wild honeybees. They cleaned up the bowl in a few days, as beekeeper Dan said they would. The mead did demand a small blood sacrifice. I scraped my knuckle getting the lid on the bucket. No blood went in the mead, just a spatter on the floor.

Well, I scrubbed the floor, counters, sink, dishes, myself, and sat on the couch at last. Sammy and I “high-fived” each other a few times, I ate a half a celebratory box of Wheat Thins and drank a few shots of Apple Jack and Sammy, my loving soul mate, brought out the cocoa butter lotion and gave me a long, thorough foot rub. Life is good at the Wight House!

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