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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Beekeeper Dan Comes For A Visit (Part 1)

September 6, 2008 at 10:03 am (Bees, Carboy, honey, New friends, Recipes, Visit, Yeast) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )


By Eydie Wight

A visit from Beekeeper Dan

We had been anticipating a visit from Beekeeper Dan for a couple of weeks and just couldn’t seem to get schedules to mesh, so when he let us know that yesterday would work out, we were tickled pink. The day before we had racked our wines from carboy to carboy to get rid of the first lot of “settlement” (dead yeasties and fruit pulp and such) and had been delighted to find that our mead was not in “stuck fermentation” as we had feared and agonized over for better than a week, but was still working, just working at it’s own slow pace. Sammy had worried so much that he had driven after work (night shift) to our local wine making supplier and slept in the car (again) until they opened. He was advised to go home, have a home brew and relax and let the mead ferment at its own pace. That was okay with us, even though our yeasties ride the little yellow school bus, we still love them!

I had been having a shamefully laid back day off. I had slept the long sleep of one who was avoiding watching the the republican convention (or any other convention) and woke up early. It was promising to be a scorcher of a day, hot and humid, but the morning offered a coolish breeze as I fed the shed cats and house kittens, cleaned litter boxes, rinsed and refilled water bowls, rescued Guido’s tank mates from his cannibalistic hunger, and fed the dogs. Sammy has decided that we should try to limit our power usage to off grid hours so he had done a load of laundry near midnight. As I hung the clothes out on the line the hummingbirds seemed to be fascinated either by my pajamas or Sammy’s socks and underwear because they hovered for seconds at a time in front of me in a rather quizzical fashion.. Best not to speculate the ADHD mind of the hummingbird. House chores done, I poured my second cup of coffee and wandered out back to check out my fine bed of Stonecrop sedum that was in full bloom. It was covered with honeybees and I couldn’t wait to show Beekeeper Dan. They were beauties, amber abdomens with black stripes against the pink sedum flowers. I watched to see where they went as they flew off. Somewhere into the sun…

Next thing I knew it was time to take a nap. Night shifters as we are, day time functioning requires a mid afternoon nappy. I melted into the bed even before Sammy had finished checking his E-mail. 45 minutes later I sat bolt upright, gasped, and said, “Granny!” Sammy said, “Wzzzt wzzmm?” I said, ” I don’t have any food made to offer Dan!” My grandmother (Granny to us, God rest her soul) would have been appalled that I had company and didn’t offer to feed them something. It’s the code of the country that as soon as someone crosses your doorway you start trying to stuff food into them. I can remember coming home from college to visit my Granny and Granddad and no sooner had I hugged and kissed hello than Granny was pulling out platters of sliced ham or turkey and Granddad was taking a pan of cornbread out of the oven and soon the table was groaning under the weight of “a little snack to tide you until supper”. Sammy was, by this time snoring again so I laid there and quietly tossed and turned and fidgeted and wracked my brains for an idea. We had been putting off going to the grocery store for several days to maybe over a week or so and Old Mother Hubbard ruled the pantry. I had racks of canned stuff I was going to share, but few people other than me can really sit down an enjoy an entire meal of pickled beets.

Blueberry Cobbler

So I lay there, mentally going over every offering of cupboards, pantry, fridge, and freezer. Freezer! I had it! The frozen blueberries from neighbor Dot! The day was saved and Granny’s spirit could rest easy. I got up and in short time had made a blueberry cobbler. Easy, and soooo tasty. Dot had frozen her blueberries in one cup baggies so I took four of these and ran cool water over them in a colander until they had thawed. In a medium saucepan I mixed a half cup of sugar and two tablespoons of cornstarch. To this I added the blueberries and heated the mixture, stirring constantly, until it boiled. This was allowed to boil for one minute (stirring) and then poured into an ungreased 2 qt. casserole. The oven had been preheated to 325 and the blueberries were placed into the oven while the topping was prepared. The topping consisted of a half cup of exceedingly lumpy brown sugar, a half cup of flour, a teaspoon of cinnamon, and a half cup of some multi grain high fiber cereal with oats and bran flakes, honey “clusters”, and rocks and twigs. A third cup of margarine was “cut” into this and this topping was crumbled on top of the blueberries. This was heated through until the topping was browned and crunchy. Since the topping was already crunchy this was a little hard to assess. I winged it and hoped for the best. If you don’t have any “twigs and rocks” cereal a half cup of oatmeal will do. And it really is better if the brown sugar isn’t lumpy. I had to beat mine with the side of the meat tenderizer until it submitted to my demand. (A recipe for Eydie’s Blueberry Cobbler)

Then I put together a care package for Dan of some of my recent canned goods, some flower seeds I’d been collecting (lunaria, hollyhock, poppy, zinnia, and marigold), and his empty honey jars and wine bottle. Next I did a quick poop scoop of the area around the house. Nothing kills the mood of a nice visit more than a shoe full of dog poop. The evening was shaping up nicely so I sat out on the deck with the mandolin and worked on the waltz “After the ball was over…”

Dan arrived on his Italian motorcycle. The purpose of his visit (other than a visit) was to asses our property for “bee worthiness” and discuss the best site for a hive. We also wanted to “talk chicken.” Sammy and I had been meeting such happy, friendly free range chickens over the past week that we wondered if a few might like to join our household. (And not be terrorized by the other animals. I, for one, have heard Guido express a fondness for chicken, should one ever pass near his tank.) More about our visit later.

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