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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How Much Wood Would a Woodchuck Chuck?

September 9, 2008 at 8:16 pm (Authors, Books, Dogs, Jasper, Recipes, Rosina Lippi, Sara Donati, Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )


By Eydie Wight

Life is but a dream...

Sammy and I had come home from our long weekend of night shifts and slept the sleep of the deep and dreamless. Well, not dreamless. September is always a strange month for me. It is the month when I feel the change of the seasons pull me most strongly. When I was younger and first out on my own I used to change apartments every September. In these later years I roam far afield, collecting flower seeds and odd pods, watching leaves turn and grasses brown. I write more, create more, and dream more in September. So, the dream I had was typical for the month. I always dream in color, and usually in great detail. In the dream I was on top of a ridge admiring the long grasses that moved with the breeze and sloped down to the woods line. An old woman was standing with me, her white hair down to her waist. I asked her, “What must I do?” She told me that I must build a fence of green branches and she swept her arm across what seemed an impossible expanse of space. I started the work, taking only a branch or two from each tree, knowing I could strip the tree and take all its branches as some would do to shorten and ease the task, but choosing instead to roam further and further to find my branches. As I went, I would collect plants and seeds to plant along the fence as it took shape. When I stripped the branches I would fashion bird houses, and baskets that I filled with earth and seeds until the fence became a living thing. Sometimes as I returned I would see the old woman. She became younger as the time passed. And so did I. All the middle age weight came off as I walked and worked and my arms and legs grew muscular again and my own hair grew out long and beautiful. I woke up when I realized in the dream that I really had to pee. I kept looking for a place to pee but kept thinking, “Not here, I can’t pee here.” It’s good I didn’t find a place or Sammy might have had a rude awakening!

Warm hands, warm heart!

A few days ago I had called one of neighbor Dot’s sons who has a hundred acre farm about a mile from us. For the past umpteen years he has allowed us to cut firewood from this, his mom’s, or other properties he owns. He explained a long time ago that a good land steward will judiciously cut standing dead trees, fallen trees, and encroaching trees from field borders. This encourages straight growing timber and lets in more sunlight to field edges. What is culled is firewood. We heat primarily with a wood stove in the winter, using our heat pump only when we are going to be away for more than 24 hours. Our wood stove is a handmade affair my dad had made. The body will accommodate a sixteen inch chunk of wood. Let me just say that I’ve had all kinds of heating systems in my life (gas, oil, coal, electric, hot water baseboard) and wood beats them all in my opinion. With the wood stove going in the basement the floors are warm to the feet and the heat finds every nook of the house. I can stay barefoot inside in the winter and be comfortable.

Pickup that needs a 'Pick-me-up!'

Well, this was the day we had designated as our first day of woodcutting. It was late afternoon by the time we got up and we wanted to get one truck load cut and brought home before dark. We have an old Nissan truck that we use as a farm truck. It has a crunched in front end, more rust than paint, an acrylic driver’s side window and back window that are caulked in place (Sammy is so proud of THAT fix) and a tailgate that will fall off on your foot if you aren’t careful opening it. The gas gauge hasn’t worked in years so we pour a few gallons from the gas can in it each time we use it.

Best to be prepared...

Sammy and I “dressed for the occasion”. Long sleeves, pants, and sturdy shoes. Cutting wood this early in the season has a few considerations. Primarily, until the first hard frost, the poison ivy is still full of juice and vengeful. Until I wised up I used to miss a day or two of work every fall due to oozing, blistered, itchy, raw poison ivy on my forearms from carrying wood chunks to throw in the truck. Secondly, there are still copperheads around while the days are warm and the rocks offer heat and shelter. I’ve never (knock on the woodpile) come across one but it is very much a possibility. A copperhead bite is rarely fatal or even all that serious for an adult but it is frightening, unpleasant, and something I don’t want to have to tell a story about! As the day’s temperature was in the 80’s, humid, and breezeless (not the ideal day to run a chainsaw and heft chunks of wood) we also donned headbands so the sweat wouldn’t drip into our eyes. I know what you’re thinking and yes, of course, we ARE old hippies and we sure do look the part. Sammy has long hair past his shoulders and his headband was a rolled handkerchief. It was also pink and had dancing unicorns and rainbows on it. Mine was a rugged red bandanna. What can I say, real men wear whatever the hell they want and my man likes dancing unicorns and pretty rainbows. Have a problem with that and I’ll beat you up… 🙂

We loaded up the truck with the chainsaw, 2 cycle oil, gas can, chainsaw tool, bottles of water, bug spray, toilet paper, our dog Jasper, and we headed out. Our friend had called us to say he had trimmed and cut down trees that had grown along the fields on his property and we were welcome to the wood. We headed out. The property isn’t too far from home and the short drive led us on a dirt road through Frog Hollow. This is a still wild area where I’ve seen deer, fox, a huge blacksnake hanging from a tree, skunk, raccoon, groundhog, red-tailed hawks, mink, and sometimes fairies and other enchanted folk. One of my favorite poems, “Verbena” (written by my alter ego September Butterfly) came from my wanderings in this area.

Fear the Chiggers!

We drove up the dirt drive and across the fields up to the top of the ridge to park the truck. Despite the high humidity the view here was still breathtaking. We could just see the tip of Buffalo Mountain, seven miles away! And, if we had remembered the binoculars, we could have just made out the clearing that is our own modest homestead two ridges over. Before we got started we sprayed each other down with enough bug spray to have the pesticide environmentalists paying us a visit. This is a fairly recent anointing following our experience when we harvested elderberries for our elderberry wine. We had, on that occasion, neglected to wear suitable clothing or any bug spray and suffered the ravages of chiggers. Chiggers, for those who have never experienced them, are microscopic insects that burrow under your skin and emit an enzyme to liquefy the surrounding tissue which they then feed on. The area becomes red and unbearably itchy. The little bastards are self limiting in about three days but it is a miserable three days. Along with my elderberries I got about a dozen or so bites but Sammy became a metropolis of chiggers. They had condos and apartments and went jogging in the park. He must have had 40 or 50 bites. We now have a borderline irrational fear and hatred of them.

Eydie and Sammy stock up on firewood for the winter.

Anyway, Sammy fired up the chainsaw and I began loading up the truck. The small brush that remained I stacked into piles that our friend will later use his backhoe to push into a huge mound in the field. Come this winter and a good snowfall he will have a magnificent bonfire. The pieces we cut this first load were all small enough that they would not have to be split. Pieces that have too big a circumference have to have the axe taken to them. Our sons are good at splitting wood. One mighty well aimed blow and a chunk is split. Me, I have to use a wedge. And use a wimpy little thunk for fear of missing and chopping into my leg. It isn’t pretty and I generate more heat getting a piece split than I do burning it! We got a truck load of wood cut and we were done in for the day. Cutting wood when the fall air is crisp and clod and the leaves are falling in little dances as you work and the sweat cools as it forms is delightful. Cutting wood when there is no air moving and the sweat soaks into every crevice of your body and the wood chips as they fly stick and itch and make you look like you have a fired chicken coating is a CHORE. And all the poison ivy sits there with a smirk on its leaves and waits to ambush any exposed skin.

We filled up the back of the truck and packed all our gear and started for home. Jasper had to sit half on my feet and half on my lap but with his head hanging out the window he was content. As we drove home with the last of the day’s light we agreed that we would NOT unload the truck that night. I was ready for a shower. We striped off our poison ivy contaminated clothes and hung them outside until wash time. As I padded upstairs to the shower in the clothes God gave me I was glad I live in an area where I have no visible neighbors. And the neighbors would be glad I wasn’t visible just then either!

After we got cleaned up I was “whupped”. Hungry. Cranky. I knew before Sammy even opened his mouth that he would suggest we snap the huge bag of green beans we had picked a few days ago and cook them with some potatoes and ham. And make some of Granny’s homemade cornbread. I was whining, opting for some cheese and pretzels and a beer. But, and chant along with us, Brother John, NO PRODUCE MUST BE WASTED! So, for the next 45 minutes, Sammy sat in the big brown chair and I sat on the floor and we companionably snapped beans and watched politics on TV. Sammy watched politics. I kibitzed until Sammy told me to be quiet so he could hear. I cooked up the ham, green beans, and potatoes in a little chicken broth and made up a pan of cornbread in the big black iron skillet. (Granny’s Cornbread Recipe is in our Food and Wine Recipes section). We put on some corn to boil and Sammy cut up a few ripe tomatoes. I felt much better after we ate. I felt so much better that since I was already in my pajamas I climbed into bed and read an hour or so of Into the Wilderness.

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Canning Tomatoes and Other Painful Processes.

September 1, 2008 at 8:00 pm (Books, Family, Uncategorized, Visit) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )


By Eydie Wight

The joy's of Canning

I got up fairly early this morning for me (who lives in the twilight realm of the permanent night shift worker) and the morning was so stunningly gorgeous that I actually stopped in mid shuffle to the coffee pot and noticed it. Usually the house could have been completely ransacked or have burned to the ground or there could be an insane grinning clown or flesh eating zombie waiting in the living room as I passed by and I would merely nod good morning, mumble something that ended in coffee and pass by. I’m not an all day gotta keep the buzz going cup in my hand constantly need caffeine kind of gal (unlike my Brother John), but me and my first cup have a religious communion. Sammy had opened up the windows yesterday to let in a little fresh air and save the air conditioning while I was blanching Lima beans for freezing and then canning tomato pieces. (More about that later.) But this morning, this morning was simply FINE. I did get my coffee and went out on the deck. It was cool and the mist was still hanging in the hollows. Our plumpest hummingbird was perched on the rail above her feeder. She was chirping away and gorging herself on the sugar water, preparing for the long trip south that is coming soon. When I leaned against the deck rail she hovered about two feet from my face. Probably it was the multi flowered coffee cup, or maybe the tie-dyed tee shirt of Sammy’s I’d thrown on.

After coffee I started in on the house chores. Guido (the fish) was, of course, near starvation and kept butting the glass of the fish tank to get my attention. I hung out the laundry Sammy had washed last night. We’ve had this big maroon towel for ages and the thing STILL will find the one white pair of socks or underwear or hand towel in the wash load and cleave to it until it’s nicely pink. I can firmly attest to the statement that, in Sammy’s case, real men DO wear pink. Especially when they do laundry.

Today, Labor Day, is my self declared day of rest. I did make a “To Do” list yesterday, and I have wandered over a few times this morning to look at it. It is an orderly and well executed list, but I am mutinous today and will resist its allure.

Sara Donati's Into The Wilderness

I had been down at my mom and dad’s last week helping them out after my dad’s knee replacement surgery (more about that later too) and we came back late Saturday night with two carloads of stuff. There were several boxes of produce I had canned and blanched for our freezer while I was there. I also had taken my fiddle and mandolin, chords and lyrics book, my canner in case we needed another one, all my work stuff as I’d gone there right form work, my pillow, four books I never got around to reading, a bag of clothes, my kit bag, the laptop, and my poetry book manuscript for mom to see. Sammy had come down Friday night and brought his clothes, kit bag, pillow, more canning jars, and coolers. We also brought home a gunny sack of green peppers, hot peppers, and cucumbers, a large plastic bag of shelled Lima beans, and a five gallon bucket of tomatoes. By the time all was unpacked it was after midnight. I have to say that, after five nights in the wonderfully antique slat bed in mom and dad’s guest room that creaks with every little movement and would drop slats were it not for the fact that my mom stuffed everything she could fit under it when they knew I was coming, I was ready for my own bed. I lay down on top of the soft, soft quilt that Sammy’s had forever (and may be one of the reasons I married him), stretched out in a few synchronized swimming moves, opened my book (Sara Donati’s Into the Wilderness), and then vaguely remember Sammy taking off my glasses and picking the book up off my face. The home bed is good. It loves me.

That was Saturday night. Yesterday, Sunday, when God rested, I didn’t. I started by blanching Lima beans so they could go in the freezer. I didn’t have many, about two quarts of shelled beans, so it was a quick and easy matter of boiling them at a roiling boil for three minutes, immersing them in the cold water bath in the sink for three minutes, and packing them in pint bags. I then put on the stove to heat three pans of water. The biggest kettle, the medium kettle, and a saucepan. The Goldilocks of canning. While the water heated I hung out a load of laundry. It was time for the tomatoes. This is the point where Brother John should add some dire and doomy music. Canning tomatoes is simple, but it is a time consuming pain. The tomatoes are first washed off, then dipped in boiling water for half a minute or until the skins crack. I don’t have a nice canning basket (Christmas anyone? Mom? Sammy? This is your subtle hint…) so I used an old metal colander that I held with tongs in a death grip to dip the tomatoes. After dipping, the tomatoes go into a cold water bath for a minute. Doing this causes the skins to slip right off. They are then cored, skinned, and cut into pieces. This takes time and the kitchen was hot and sticky and I got a little grumpy. Sammy was out tarring the shed roof so that it doesn’t leak on the shelf where Big Fat Sherman and Mr. Carter sleep. I peeled and cored and skinned and skinned and cored and peeled until the small cuts on my hands (from picking Lima beans) stung from the tomato acid. While that was going on I had canning lids, rings, and jars in a kettle of hot (not boiling water). Once the tomatoes were ready I packed them tightly in the hot jars, using a spatula to remove any air in the pack. I added two tablespoons of white vinegar (dad does grow one low acid variety of tomato and so do we) to the top and a teaspoon of salt, leaving a half inch of head room. I put the hot lids and rings on, hand tightened them, and put the jars in the big kettle of hot water. The jars needed to be covered with an inch of water and I had maybe a gallon and a half too much water in my kettle so I dipped that excess out. I brought the water to a rolling boil and set the timer for 45 minutes after the actual boil had first started.

Then I washed my hands, took a much needed bathroom break and headed out to Sammy to grump some. The day was so beautiful that I had to forestall my grumpage and instead admire the patch job on the shed. I went back inside and washed the green peppers, dried them off, and put them in freezer bags to go in the freezer. Green peppers are simply preserved this way and can be used for cooking dishes or for stuffed peppers for several months. The hot peppers I strung on cotton cord and hung from a hook in the kitchen to dry. They dry nicely for cooking and look good, as long as they don’t hang somewhere that is dusty! I did, as Brother John can well sympathize, forget to rub a little cooking oil on my fingers before handling the peppers. Let me just say that my dad grows hot peppers that greet for the sinners in hell. Half a pepper nicely puts the heat in fifteen quarts of tomato juice. Well, I strung all those peppers, and then unthinkingly rubbed my mouth with my hand. And then rubbed my eye when the heat from my mouth brought tears to it. And then explained to Sammy, who had come inside, why I was crying and cursing as I hauled jars of tomatoes out and set them on a tea towel to cool. (My dad always puts another towel on top of the hot jars to shield them from drafts as they cool. I do too now that I saw him do that. I call it “tuck the babbies in luv”.

After all that, my loving super hubby Sammy rubbed my feet and then took me out in the cool evening air for a country ride to chase the sunset. We stopped at a neighbor’ to give her some blackberry jam, pickled beets, and tomato juice, and to talk to her son about cutting firewood off one of their farms. She gave us some peach jam and four cups of frozen blueberries from her bushes. We stopped at our “egg lady” to get some brown eggs but they were away for the holiday weekend. We did peek at her plump and happy chickens as they prepared to roost for the night. Eggs from these happy “free range” chickens (Beekeeper Dan raises them too) are like nothing that comes from the grocery store. The yolks are dark yellow, huge, and rich tasting.

When we go on our rides we seldom have a destination or route in mind. Usually we take roads as they catch our fancy, always looking for some little back road that, by chance, we’ve never been on before. In the evenings we try to head westerly. Last evening we were truly God led because we saw some of the loveliest meadows, mountain creeks, crop fields, a covered bridge, and beautifully kept farms. The sunset wasn’t spectacular, but it was ruby red. As we got out of the car the Milky Way stretched across the sky and Sammy saw a shooting star. The evening had the faintest hint of the autumn, crisp air and the smell of falling leaves, and I felt both honored and blessed in my life. I had a glass of Beekeeper Dan’s homemade strawberry/blueberry wine, listened to the Country Gentlemen singing “Fox on the Run”, the next tune I want to learn on the mandolin or fiddle, and Sammy took the book off my nose before midnight.

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