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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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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