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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Our trip to Scotzin Bros Beer & Winemakers Paradise

August 23, 2008 at 7:00 pm (Airlock, Carboy, Fermentation Lock, honey, Mead Making, Uncategorized, Wine Making) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )


By Sammy Wight

Scotzin Bros Beer & Winemakers Paradise!

Eydie and I worked last night and after getting off this morning, decided to ride into Lemoyne, Pa to the Scotzin Bros wine making supply store for an extra 6.5 gal. carboy, a few stoppers and 3 more fermentation locks. The store didn’t open until 10am, so we slept in our Saturn until someone came to open. After he had a few minutes to balance his cash drawer, we were invited in early and completed our mission, luckily so because they are only open Wed. and Sat. We have another transfer of wine to make, and we should be set until it is ready to sample.

NOW, we are curious if anyone out there has made Mead with anything other than Honey that might be a tasty adult beverage to try? We welcome recipes from other Mead makers. Our local Alcohol dispensing store pointed out to us a “Honeywine” Mead, so we bought a bottle to try. All i have to say is “Yeccch! Blah!” I did not like it in a wine format at all. So, recipes that make it truer to the 17th Century types, will probably be more acceptable to me. I do want to drive up the alcohol content as much as possible, because it tends to be much tastier with a “Kick” and a “Poof” in your belly when it goes down. I tend to liken it to “Shuttle Fuel” and rest confidently should the Space Program run low on fuel…, we may be able to help! 🙂

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Eydie and Sammy meet beekeeper Dan

August 3, 2008 at 11:00 am (Bees, honey, Mead Making, New friends) (, , , , , , , , , , )



By Eydie Wight

On the way home from Brother John’s house Sammy and I were discussing how every component needed to start our mead making attempt had fallen into place except the honey! We had priced honey at four or five places from the health food store to Sam’s club to the local grocery stores. We had also put out an all points bulletin to our friends to see if anyone had any leads on honey. Well, we had actually heard from three people who suggested the same person. I knew Dan slightly from his too infrequent visits to our writer’s group. I think I remember one piece that he had written about the sea that was very deeply attuned to the earth and it’s rhythms. I liked it and hoped he would keep writing. Sammy and I heard that Dan had begun beekeeping and possibly had some honey for sale. We called the number, left a message, missed his call back, left another message, played some phone tag, and finally got through as we were on our way home. Dan (our hopeful honey supplier) invited us to come by his house and check out the honey he had.

What a completely excellent way to end the best weekend we had had in a long time! Dan lives in an old farmhouse that has so much character. I didn’t want to be rude but I kept looking. There was an old wood stove in the living room, and varied artwork on the walls, two loving dogs to be petted, friendly cats (one a big orange poly dactyl, another a young yellow fellow just full of curiosity and life), bee books and articles inviting a good read at the kitchen table, china cats and knickknacks. I felt a wave of nostalgia, it was like being in my Granny and Granddad’s home again. It was comfortable. It was lovely.

We started talking about homemade wines and Dan mentioned that dandelion wine was one of his favorites. Well, I just happened to have part of a bottle that Brother John had given back to me (it not being one of Brother John’s favorites) and I dashed out to the car, tauting the virtues of my wine all the way. My dandelion wine is made the old fashioned way with baker’s yeast, fermented in the bottle, with the sludge allowed to sink down to the bottom. Dan brought out a bottle one of his friends had made that make my wine look like pond scum. He dandelion offering had the color of the first warm spring sunshine and tasted like a smile. Next thing I knew Dan had given us a bottle of his homemade strawberry wine to take home.

We started talking about bees, and beekeeping. Dan explained that he is new to beekeeping and has gotten involved after hearing if the dwindling of the American honeybees. He has four hives now and does all he can to not distress the bees. He told us he can tell a happy bee buzz from an unhappy one. I was sold right there without ever seeing (or tasting) the honey. Of course then I saw the honeycomb with it’s loaded amber treasure and had a spoonful. I was hooked. We bought 25 lbs right then and there, enough for the mead and a few jars for us. Dan also gave us some eggs from free range chickens. When I cooked them the next day they had the biggest, yellowest yolks I had ever seen! Sammy and I agreed that we had been truly blessed to meet such a gentle, courteous friend as we found in Dan.

We even talked on the way home about trying our hand at beekeeping. I have seen so many honeybees at our place, especially around my lavender, hyssop, and lemon balm. I think I could give them a happy place to live. We slept so peacefully that night, visions of honeybees and big yellow cats companionably drinking mead at the kitchen table…(Maybe I shouldn’t have had that second glass of wine!)

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We visit our friend Lew and get some equipment.

August 3, 2008 at 9:00 am (Bungs, Carboy, Fermentation Lock, Mead Making) (, , , , , , , , , )


By Eydie Wight

My friend Lew had generously offered to lend us two carboys, bungs, and fermentation locks that he wasn’t using at the moment. Actually he generously offered to lend us two carboys, bungs, and fermentation locks that he was borrowing from a mutual friend Sylvia who wasn’t using them at the moment. I work with Lew and used to work with Sylvia. Lew is a great guy, great sense of humor, do anything for you, give you the shirt off his back, cancer survivor, one of the best people I know. In the fall of each year, Lew and Sylvia make red wine. I’ve had a bottle or two, it’s good stuff. In fact, several years ago I met Sylvia at her house after we worked night shift and we drank a bottle of homemade wine while watching “The Big Chill”. Story for another time but I did eventually make it home and after all, I’ll probably never see that nice gas station attendant again. Anyway, I’m rambling. Not rambling as much as the day we watched “The Big Chill”, but nevertheless…

We called Lew’s house to get directions and talked to his wife, Angela. Now let me just say right out of the gate that Angela is a lovely, super intelligent woman whose directions were correct, concise, and easy. We just sort of didn’t follow them. We mistook a Karns grocery store for a Giant. And I couldn’t read my own handwriting. I’m quite sure that when I’m discovered posthumously as a great modern American poet, generations of students will work on hundreds of doctorates trying to decipher what exactly I did write in all those little notebooks and scraps of paper. Sammy was still at the point where we hadn’t been wandering aimlessly for too long and so he was amused at my conjecture that although we probably weren’t looking for “Compost Lane”, it was something approaching that. After a nice little tour of Hershey and accidentally taking a nice little tour of Palmyra, we found “Lamppost Lane”, followed by “Tally-ho” and finally “Cobblestone”.

Lew’s house is big, beautiful, and upscale enough to make me a little nervous about touching stuff. We were greeted by Otis (Redding), one of those pugs that look like the offspring of Peter Lorre and Bette Davis. Degas (pronounced Degas, not De’ Gah) was the other canine greeter. We followed Lew around to the back to see the new pergola he had just built. Very nice. Angela came out holding another member of the family, Isaac (Hayes), a young Red-fronted Macaw. Angela was petting Isaac and playing peek-a-boo with him and I was admiring Isaac’s beautiful red, green, and blue plumage and Lew was telling us about Isaac’s extensive vocabulary and then Angela said to me, “Want to hold him?” Oh Lord. I had heard stories from Johann, another co-worker who has stayed at the Casa de Lew several times, that Isaac was possibly possessed by the devil and speaks in tongues. And then, there is that little episode from my childhood concerning me and the chickens that has scarred me for life, but that’s another story for another time. Needless to say, disconcerted but wanting to make a good impression, I held out my hand in the “perch” position. Isaac, helped by Angela, stepped over, looked me up and down, and promptly took my finger in his beak. “He’s testing his perch”, said Lew. It was like that time in the Girl scouts when I got to hold some one’s pet blacksnake only to have it constrict around my neck. The pressure on my finger increased as I was saying (calmly, I think), “What a pretty bird. Pretty bird.” (That is possibly cutting off my finger now. No blood, that’s good, but crushing injuries can be just as bad as amputation…) Isaac went back to Lew at the first opportunity and the bird and I breathed a mutual sigh of relief. Birds don’t like me. I must have wronged the species terribly in a past life.

Well, we got our equipment, Lew gave us a bottle of his wine, we had a great visit, I didn’t spill or drop anything, and we made it safely home.

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