Shrooms!

As though bags of cucumbers and bushloads of tomatoes aren’t enough to deal with the week before heading back to school, we just discovered some amazing gourmet mushrooms growing along our driveway. These aren’t the cute little morrels that John found where the ginko trees used to grow.  These babies are enormous.

Hen of the woods or black staining polypore?


The first is growing near the mailbox.  We contacted our chef buddy who contacted his mushroom buddy who believed that we have a hen of the woods.  Mushroom connoisseurs go crazy over these.  One hen-lover makes special lasagna with it—one to eat now and one to freeze for later. Hen of the woods mushrooms grow at the base of dead oak trees.  Sure enough, this one is at the base of a dead oak tree, and two more are growing on the other side of the tree.  The hen is a fall mushroom and can be found as early as late August after heavy rain.  It is not quite mid-August here but it has been unusually cool and wet…as our flooded basement can attest to.  They often re-appear in the same location year after year.  Hmm.  So maybe we now have a morrel location in the spring and a hen of the woods location for the fall?

Or do we have a black staining polypore?  The black staining polypore turns black where you touch it or cut it.  Growing under the oak tree, this mushroom is beautifully white on the underside and does not turn black when we touch it. However, once it is harvested and sitting in the mudroom, it immediately begins to turn and the cut edges are definitely black. The polypore’s season is July and August.  It has a wonderful earthy fragrance, more intense than a portobello.  While not as exquisite as the hen, it is edible and freezable, even in its blackened state.
Walking back to the ‘shroom for more photos, I spotted another mushroom along the drive.  After having researched the hen, I was pretty sure I was now spotting a chicken!  A chicken of the woods mushroom.

Chicken of the woods


Chicken of the woods has been described as tasting like…ready?  Chicken.  Or crab or lobster. Our new mushroom friend recently dipped hers in egg and flour and fried it for a heavenly meal that even her ten year old step-son liked.  

I thought we were having hamburgers for dinner tonight with a slice of tomato and home-made pickle.  Looks like the menu is changed to mushroom surprise.  It’s a surprise because I haven’t decided which one to cook first or how I want it prepared. I also have to decide what to do with what we don’t eat.  

This is feeling like Part One of a mushroom series.  And I haven’t even gotten to the intriguing topic of cucumber chips.

Stayed tuned.  And if back-to-school side-tracks me, then you’ll just have to nag. I have a feeling we will be dealing with the bounty of the land for quite awhile.

Post-dinner update: guess what? The chicken of the woods tastes like chicken!  We cooked it up using a recipe from Forager Chef and it was like eating chicken tenders.  Once we’ve waited 48 hours to not die from the chicken, John plans to saute up some of the other.  I really deserve a prize for being a supportive wife.

Trees Must Die

Another tree made it onto my hit list this week.  It must come down.  It has attacked and offended me. 

The tree is perfectly healthy.  For years it has grown near the corner of our house, sneakily growing taller and reaching smidge by smidge over the driveway toward my car. And then, just as my car approaches its first birthday, the tree begins splotching sap. First, a curious clear sticky blob appears on the driver’s side door handle.  Then another streaks down the window.  Blip and blop, sticky patches bloom everywhere.  Where is the source of this oozy mess?  I look up and see just one possible source…the red maple that now arches all the way across the parking pad.  Last summer, when I bought the car, the tree did not reach this far.  It did not drip sap on the car last summer.  Last summer, it did not offend.

This summer, the tree has crossed the line.  Encroaching on the house is bad enough–it encourages the squirrels to find new access points to the attic.  But messing with my car?  See, Tree, now you have made an Enemy.

Mr. Handyman Husband already has tree-whacking on his To-Do List. He even has Son-in-Law salivating at the prospect of felling some trees.  However, there is a waiting list of trees that must come down.  

First in line are the two dead oaks out front that suffered a direct lightning hit a few years back.  These are the trees causing Son-in-Law to salivate, for standing dead trees mean instant firewood. Standing dead trees also pose the greatest risk of becoming falling dead trees, often in the middle of winter when a tree crashing through the roof is most inconvenient.

Next in line is the perfectly healthy hickory tree on the other side of the driveway.  This tree does not drip. It drops hickory nut bombs.  Then they roll across the driveway like grenades, ready to pop under the weight of car tires.  The car parked beneath the hickory tree belongs to IBM, so Handyman Husband does not care so much if the hickory nuts leave dents all over it.  His lovely Ford F-250, however, is an altogether different story.  The truck can get muddy, but dents?  No tree will ping nut bombs at the truck. So, the hickory tree is next after the dead oaks.

There are easily five or six more trees on The List, but the sap-attack tree takes precedence and immediately earns placement as Tree #4.

“How many trees can you take down at one time?” I ask Handyman Husband.

“We could take several trees down, but then we would have to deal with what is on the ground,” he replies.  

He knows what I want.  I want all the trees to come down and he can deal with the mess in stages for the rest of his life. I know it is impractical and unsafe and probably beyond human strength. But he’s been doing things for years that have been impractical, unsafe, and beyond human strength.  His eye roll lets me know to back off.  He can only do what he can do.

In the meantime, I have to deal with tree sap stubborn enough to withstand a high-pressure car wash.  A little bit of research provides a quick and easy solution: hand sanitizer! I squirt a bit onto my finger, rub it into the sap to break it up, then wipe with a clean towel.  Repeat forty thousand times to hit every single sap drip and voila! Sap is gone. Well, maybe there were twenty drips, not counting the ones on the roof that I can’t see and can’t reach anyway.  It didn’t take long at all to remove a week’s worth of tree droppings.

The tree still must die.  And I still must wait.  But armed with hand sanitizer, I at least do not have to drive around town with tree boogies stuck to my car.

Squirrels with tiny shovels?

You know it has been a long winter when the woodland critters start digging themselves paths through the snow.

I wish I had seen them with their little shovels!

I wish I had seen them with their little shovels!

This morning, I looked out the kitchen window to see not just prints but a regular daggone pathway leading from the house to a hydrangea bush.  I figured it was a squirrel route, but squirrels (like my students) don’t have the attention span to dig a pathway.  They just leap and scurry.  No, this pathway must be the work of tunnel digging chipmunks.  In summer, the rock wall by that hydrangea is one of the entrances to their Maywood Metro System.  Yeah, I can just picture Simon, Theodore and Alvin (!!!!! ) with tiny little shovels working their way across the garden.

The snow pack  reveals a lot about who is coming and going out there.  For example, it revealed my brother-in-law’s visit to the front door the other day.  It also reveals all the routes the squirrels take to get to the house. One route is across the patio and over the abandoned hot tub where they leap on the house and into the attic to party until spring.  There are other routes that involve leaping, Tarzan-like, from trees to the roof.

Like the squirrels, the mice have no desire to shelter under a hydrangea bush in the Maywood subway system. No, they want the full comforts of home for as long as  they can get away with it.  Maywood Man keeps tossing snapped invaders and still they come.  You’d think they would  get the message that the one-way track of mouse prints leads to a cozy house of death.

Meanwhile, out yonder, the deer have gotten the message that we are turning the clocks forward tonight for Daylight Savings Time.  They have been seen traipsing across the field, brown against white, as though spring is coming, it isn’t below freezing, and they aren’t walking through nine inches of snow.  Is it the longer days or the lack of men sitting in trees that signals to them that it is safe to use their usual paths through the yard?  It sure isn’t the weather.

So it’s March, and we have no idea who remains in the beehives  because it has been too cold to look inside and they certainly have not been coming out to play in the snow.  We know at least one hive is empty and suspect that a second was not going to last the winter.  It would be great to find the two strong hives waiting for us when the temp breaks 50 later this week. Regardless of who has survived, we ordered four packages of bees for the new season.

Spring is coming.  It always does.  The chipmunks are ready.  And maybe some  bees.

How Much Honey?

Honey box filled with honey

Honey box filled with honey

It’s the big question everyone has when we harvest a honey box. How much honey is in there?
Family wants to know, “Will we get some for Christmas?”
Colleagues ask, “Will you have any to sell this year?
Mr. Beekeeper asks, “How many pounds did I carry up from the bee yard?”
Mrs. Beekeeper asks, “How many jars do I need?”

One day this week found Mr. Beekeeper and Junior Beekeeper at home together. With the Star Beekeepers aligned, it was surely the day to harvest honey.

Removing the honey box

Removing the honey box

A peek through the queen excluder at the bees.

A peek through the queen excluder at the bees.

Hive D.  We took the lower brown box and kept the  top box on for a potential fall harvest.

Hive D. We took the lower brown box and kept the top box on for a potential fall harvest.

Only one honey box was harvested this time. Hive D had clearly finished filling one honey box but was still working on their second one. We leave that to them to continue to fill. Hive A, new this year and thriving, already filling two hive body boxes, received a honey box just a couple of weeks ago. We leave them to their work.
Hives B and C, who had come through winter with one hive box, have struggled to fill a second hive box. They currently have no honey boxes on them at all. Hive C had a honey box, but it was removed and given to Hive A.

Junior beekeeper examines the honey box

Junior beekeeper examines the honey box

So we harvested one honey box. In the fall we will see if we can harvest some more.

Junior Beekeeper spins the honey while his sister watches

Junior Beekeeper spins the honey while his sister watches

This was Junior Beekeeper’s first experience with spinning honey. Grandma Beekeeper has been working her arms lifting grandbabies and willingly handed the privilege of honey spinning to the Oldest Grandchild.

He also learned a physics lesson about centrifugal force. As he turns the crank, a basket containing two frames spins round and round, faster and faster the harder he cranks. The honey is pulled out of the frames to the side of the container. When he stops spinning, the honey slides to the bottom of the container. We open the valve and pour honey into the bucket. It’s just like that ride at the fair that he dislikes so much…the one where you spin and stick to the side walls while the floor drops out from beneath you. (Junior Beekeeper is more of a Tower of Terror guy.)

Straggler bee in the wax cappings a day later...right before his water ride

Straggler bee in the wax cappings a day later…right before his water ride

And sure enough, that’s exactly what happened to a lone bee who got processed with the honey. He got spun and dripped out onto the filter. Another lone bee got stuck in the cappings which were also placed on the filter to drain. He was still barely moving the next day when it was time to process the wax. Alas, he went down the drain on a “water ride.” Some people think raw honey should not be filtered, but I personally prefer my honey without dead bees in it.

Spinning the honey is a lot easier than scooping 48,000 cells with a little spoon

Spinning the honey is a lot easier than scooping 43,000 cells with a little spoon

So, how much honey is in a honey box? Time for some math.
There are 9 frames in each honey box.
Each side of each frame contains about 80 x 30 honey comb cells. That’s 2400 little cells per side…or 4800 per frame times 9 frames. That comes to 43,000 little cells filled by busy bees.

 

 

Frame filled with capped honey

Frame filled with capped honey

Or about 3 gallons.
One pound of honey equals 1 1/4 cups. We have about 48 cups. So maybe we’ll get 38 one pound jars of honey.

Maywood Honey 2014

Maywood Honey 2014: a delicate fruity blend of black locust, wild  grape, and wildflowers.

Which means Christmas gifts of honey will be liquid gold and jars for sale will have to wait until we see what we get in the fall. Or if one of the weak hives fails to make it, then we get all their honey. But who wants a hive to fail?

I’m Gonna Get Squashed

On a fishing pier Saturday with my mom, watching the waves roll to shore beneath us, I said, “Pretend it’s a tsunami and you have to outrun it.”  Right. The great-grandmother to my grandkids had already walked close to twenty miles with me during our week at the beach. Running was not going to happen.

The garden tsunami beginsReturning home I encountered the first wave of our garden tsunami. Cucumbers. And yellow squash. And zucchini. With blossoms on the patty pans, acorn squash, butternut, watermelon and pumpkins.  My farmboy (oh, fahmboy!) husband loves to say, “As you wish” to his Princess Bride, but the profusion of squash plants in our garden is most definitely his wish.  His 100 x 100 foot fenced garden is about half filled with squash plants, including seeds from a ginormous pumpkin that promised to produce more ginormous pumpkins.

In addition to blueberries, the wild blackberries,  brambles, and raspberries are ripening.

In addition to blueberries, the wild blackberries, brambles, and raspberries are ripening.

When the blueberries ripened, I was pleased with the pacing of the harvest…just enough every day for us to eat. As the blueberries waned, the wild raspberries ripened. What a God treat to have the berries coming in delicate succession like that, like little waves lapping at our ankles.

Ah, but the squash. How to keep ahead of the tsunami of squash.  To be precise, what we have is a tsunami of cucurbits, or gourds.  Cucumbers and melons and summer squash and winter squash and pumpkins belong to the family of  cucurbits.  And here’s a little etymological tidbit to ponder while scooping the innards and adding fillings, dips, and soups: the word came into Middle English by way (of course!) of the Old French cucurbite which came from the Latin cucurbita, meaning gourd or cup.

So cucumbers are not squash.  They are cucurbits.

We picked four pickle cukes the day before vacation and immediately made two jars of pickles. One jar was gobbled on vacation and the other when we got home. But we came home to eight cukes plus about four that my in-laws saved for us with our mail. (That does not include the ones they ate while we were gone.)

Monday I began running to beat the tsunami.

The paletas are cucumber lime ginger popsicles.  They are amazingly good and just as amazingly simple to make. Daughter, grandboy and grandgirl joined me in sampling them.  There is enough ginger to provide grown-ups with a pleasant gustatory zip, but not so much to turn away a three year old and his one year old teething sister.  Follow the link above to the easy recipe at Bon Appetit.

The pickle recipe began with a refrigerator pickle recipe from Allrecipes.com, but after comparing a few recipes with ingredients I had on hand, I ended up with this. I share it here so that I will not lose it!

Refrigerator Pickles

The measurements for the brine make enough to cover 4 cups of pickles.  Adjust quantities according to the amount of cucumber you have.

  • 4 cups pickles, sliced in rounds or in spears, whatever you like
  • 3 1/2 cups water
  • 1 1/4 cups white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt

Bring water, vinegar, sugar, and salt to a boil.  Let cool completely. (Pouring hot brine on the cucumbers will soften them a  bit.  We want crisp cucumbers!)

Fill quart size mason jars with cucumbers.  To each jar add:

  • 1 tablespoon dill seed
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • sprinkle of dried dill weed or sprigs of fresh dill (for effect!)

Pour cooled brine into each jar to cover cucumbers.  Put lids on.  Store in fridge 3 days  before eating.  Pickles keep 6 weeks in the fridge…if you don’t eat them first.20140723-143512.jpg

So, I have used up all the cucumbers… for the moment. Now to outrun the zucchini…

 

 

 

Berries and Bugs

In addition to blueberries, the wild blackberries,  brambles, and raspberries are ripening.  The bugs on those berries eat ME.  My competition for that fruit is the deer.

In addition to blueberries, the wild blackberries, brambles, and raspberries are ripening. The bugs on those berries eat ME. My competition for that fruit is the deer.

It took a couple of weeks for the Japanese beetles to discover the blueberries. For those couple of weeks I blissfully picked a daily supply of berries, rejoicing in the amazing abundance of them. After three years of waiting, the bushes were loaded with fruit and every day or so just enough of them ripened just for me.

And then one day I spied a shimmering iridescent bug chomping on one of my berries. How dare he! He has all of Maywood to eat! Stay off my berries! And then I noticed them everywhere. On the wild grapes. On the coneflowers. On random weeds. Ok, they can have the weeds. And maybe even the wild grapes, which do not usually amount to much.

But the berry battle had begun.

What to do about the beetles? I know NOT to buy a Japanese beetle trap. Those bags on stakes just announce to the beetles where the party is. Sadly, the garden wisdom I encountered indicated the futility of trying to eradicate the pests. Effective beetle “management” involves disrupting their life cycle. Using milky spore to attack the larva can take three to five years. Oh my. And there is the dilemma of where to apply it. It is unrealistic to apply milky spore to all of Maywood.

Step one in disrupting the beetle life cycle is to prevent adult beetles from reproducing.  This requires menial labor.  This involves chemistry. This requires battle equipment. And a little bit of bug psychology.

The age old tried-and-true method for battling Japanese beetles is to individually plop them into a container of soapy water. It is so age old that half a century ago my husband’s grandparents (who bought Maywood in the first place ) used to send him outside to pick off the beetles. Yeah, the beetles have been here that long.

The chemistry involves the soap which breaks the surface tension of the water so that the beetles can not float on top of it. They sink and drown. Rather rapidly. The process is long enough to watch but not so long that it sucks the life out of your day.

That said, Mom and I wasted a few minutes of our lives staring into a plastic bowl of drowning beetles one evening. We would wish those moments back but it was such a special bonding moment.
Mom (staring at drowning beetles): I can’t believe we’re standing here doing this.
Me (head to head with Mom staring at drowning beetles): Yeah.

Right. So, I now carry two containers with me on my daily walk to the blueberries:

  • 1. My berry box–a lovely ceramic replica of a cardboard berry box, the kind that has been replaced by lidded plastic boxes that rip the skin off your fingers when you open them. I bought it at Anthropologie for $14 and it makes me happy.
  • A plastic tub from Wegman’s olive bar, empty now of olives but filled with water and a squirt of dish soap.

The best time to pick beetles is in the morning because they are slower then. (Kind of like me.). I don’t actually pick them. I sort of push them, holding the water under so they fall into it. However, if one is actively chomping a berry, flicking is a bit more effective. At each bush, I look for beetles first, because picking a berry will shake the beetle into flying away. I don’t want it to go away; I want it to die.

Killing the adult beetle hopefully prevents it from laying eggs at the base of the plant so that larva won’t emerge next spring. And it keeps the invaders from chomping on more berries. Beetles (like college students) tend to go where the popular party is, so diminishing the size of the blueberry party discourages other beetles from showing up. Tossing away the beetle-chomped berries minimizes the smell of party food which is so attractive to us all. Leaving dead beetle carcasses at the base of the plant may also be effective (dead bodies deter most party-goers), but I’d rather not risk a potential bug resuscitation.  Most importantly, one must show up regularly to pick off the trouble-makers.  Going away for the weekend is an open invitation to trouble.

In the battle for the berries, the one with the most berries wins. And for the moment that happens to be me.

 

The Newbees Have Arrived

20140425-150027.jpg

 

It’s a brisk morning, but delightful on the porch, where I am swaddled in a blanket, sipping hot coffee. From the comfort of my porch swing and the warmth of a sunbeam, I watch as BeeMan comes and goes from the bee yard. He is getting the hive ready for the new bees.

 

More bees than you want to count!

More bees than you want to count!

Yesterday we drove out to Whitehall to pick them up. Out the lane past the horse farm, along the road past the freshly manured field–so odoriferous the farmer had to post a “sorry for the stink” sign. (He should also have offered free car de-odorizers!) North we go, past the winery, the alpaca farm, a dairy farm, a sheep farm, a cattle farm. Finally, we come to a barn by a non-descript little rancher. Beyond the barn are dozens of beehives. In the barn are hundreds of boxes of bees.

Mr. Beekeeper ordered four pounds of Russians bees. He is given four pounds of Italian bees. It was too cold down in Georgia. No Russians are ready. Are you kidding me? They’re Russian. Do they need little balaclavas to keep them warm? The BeeMan thinks the Italian bees are more aggressive and prone to robbing other hives. Still, we accept the bees and bring them home to join all the Russian bees in the yard.  Let’s hope they can peacefully co-exist.

How does one bring home four pounds of bees? In the back seat of the car. We probably should have buckled them in. The box fell over on sharp turns, so I had to hold it straight for most of the ride home.

Shoulda buckled them in!

Shoulda buckled them in!

Back home, the bees were placed in the mud room. Mr. Beekeeper was feeling under the weather, so the bees would spend the night inside rather than going straight into their hive. We checked on them before going to bed ourselves. They huddled all together, quiet in one big four pound clump. Awwww. How often do you get to see a hive of bees sleeping?

(This is sign of experienced bee keepers. The first time we had a package of bees in the house I was freaked out. Those bees had arrived via U.S. Postal Service. The post office had called at 6 a.m. to tell us to come get the bees. I spent the day at work thinking, “There are thousands of bees in my basement!” Now I watch them and say, “Awwww! Aren’t they cute?”

As the sun rides high in the sky, we don our bee gear and take the Newbees to their new home, Hive A. It doesn’t take long to dump them in and set up the sugar water feeder to get them started.

First, BeeMan sprays them with sugar water to keep them too busy snacking to bother with him.

First, BeeMan sprays them with sugar water to keep them too busy snacking to bother with him.

Next, remove the queen and put her in the hive.

Next, remove the queen and put her in the hive.

The queen and her attendants arrive in their own little box.  The other bees will eat through a sugar plug to release her into the hive.

The queen and her attendants arrive in their own little box. The other bees will eat through a sugar plug to release her into the hive.

The queen box is installed in the hive.  This will be removed once the queen is no longer in it.

The queen box is installed in the hive. This will be removed once the queen is no longer in it.

The rest of the bees are unceremoniously dumped in.

The rest of the bees are unceremoniously dumped in.

The sugar water feeder is set up to help the hive get started.  Straggler bees still in the shipping box will join the rest soon.

The sugar water feeder is set up to help the hive get started. Straggler bees still in the shipping box will join the rest soon.

A peek in the other hives...

A peek in the other hives…

We peek in the other hives. Hive D already has a honey box on and is filling the comb with nectar. Nothing capped yet. Hive C is busy building up into the second brood box. Hive B has a second brood box but is not making much progress. BeeMan has doubts about the queen. The joy of beekeeping…there is always something for him to worry about.

Hive A settles in. Mr. Beekeeper will pop down often to keep an eye on them. They arrived at a good time. The red maples have finished flowering, but today honey bees were all over the black cherry blossoms. That bodes well for a cherry harvest as well as for yummy honey!

Honey frame or brood frame?

Honey frame being filled

Happy to have 4 hives full!

Happy to have 4 hives full!

Gobble, gobble

This part of Maywood is photo-enforced!  Thanks to Tim McQuaid for these photos.

This part of Maywood is photo-enforced! Thanks to Tim McQuaid for these photos.

There’s more gobbling going on at Maywood than just me eating up the Easter candy. It’s turkey hunting season. For the first time, Maywood Man is taking on the turkey.

We’ve lived here for…gulp…twenty years and the first turkey John saw was last year. I was dumbfounded when I saw a couple of wild turkeys a few years ago, and my father-in-law was the next to see one. But they have been scarce.

Well, they are shy and have excellent vision, so they are likely to see us first and avoid us. Usually our turkey sightings have been from inside the house. That’s where I was when I saw our dog chase after a turkey, who charged down our driveway like it was an airstrip and took off with great lumbering wingflaps over the trees. It was amazing, like watching an ostrich fly.

Maywood Man has been getting up in the wee pre-dawn hours to call in the turkey. His turkey caller (a disc scraped with a wooden stick) sounds not unlike nails on a blackboard…or certain family members when they get squawking. The annoying sound is supposedly a real come-on for the Toms. They come toward the screeching in search of a mate. Again, not unlike certain family members. He almost got one..a turkey, that is. The young male came walking right toward him. Fifteen feet away, Maywood Man aimed (sort of) and missed.

photo by Tim McQuaid's field camera at Maywood

photo by Tim McQuaid’s field camera at Maywood

A few days later, a turkey sauntered across the top of the driveway while we were grilling dinner. Clearly taunting us. We were chatting with Tim, one of the hunters who had stopped by to change the batteries on his field camera. This was Tim’s first glimpse of a turkey at our place. That is, until he got home and viewed the pictures on the field camera. The corn he had set out for the deer turned into a gathering spot for a few gobblers.

A certain family member who shall remain unnamed wondered how a camera strapped to a tree could get such great photos.
“It’s a motion activated camera.”

“Yeah, but the birds are so well centered in the photos.”

“It’s a motion activated camera.  It takes a picture when something is in the viewfinder.”  It took awhile for that to sink in to her turkey brain.  Nevertheless, she has a point.  The camera on a tree took some pretty good pictures.

No bird to cook on the grill yet. In the meantime, I’m rather stuffed myself from MarySue Easter Eggs.

Turkey selfie.  But the photo is  courtesy of Tim McQuaid & his field cameral.

Turkey selfie. But the photo is courtesy of Tim McQuaid & his field camera.

Bees alive as glaciers recede at Maywood

Let It Bee Spring--Beekeeper starts the season

Let It Bee Spring–Beekeeper starts the season

It’s sunny and positively balmy with temps in the 50’s as we trudge through the snow to get to the bees.  Some parts of the yard still measure six inches of snow.  This snow is not uniformly melting so much as it is receding, like a slow moving glacier.  Or, to think more positively towards warm beach days, like the tide going out.  Winter tide.

Down in the  bee yard, we are delighted to see three hives busy, with bees coming and going and buzzing and sunning and enjoying the day.  We have exited winter with more  bees than ever before. Red maples are budding and these bees are ready to charge into spring.

Hive D is thriving

Hive D is thriving

Tar paper comes off.  After all, tonight begins daylight savings!

Tar paper comes off. After all, tonight begins daylight savings!

Sugar water feeders go on each hive.

Sugar water feeders go on each hive.

Today’s task is to unwrap the hives from their winter protection of roofer’s tar paper.  Mr. Beekeeper also wants to set up the hive feeders.  The bees are ready to go, but there is not much for them to get to yet.  Red maples are the first flowering tree for the bees.  Fortunately, in spite of the semi-glacial look around here, the maples are waking up right on schedule. Why are humans so desperate for spring to arrive and then so surprised that it actually does?

Red maples are budding right on schedule.

Red maples are budding right on schedule.

Lids come off the hives to remove the tar paper.  We get to peek in at the bees.  They look so happy.  They buzz around us, landing on our jackets and hanging out on my camera.  Are they as happy to see us as we are to see them?

The bees don't know that they can't take selfies through the viewfinder.

The bees don’t know that they can’t take selfies through the viewfinder.

They are happy to bee with me.

They are happy to bee with me.

Little bee, don't freeze on the snow!

Little bee, don’t freeze on the snow!

The golden burr comb is a delightful contrast to the snowy ground and the emerging mucky mud of March.  Yet, here and there, single bees lie frozen on the snow.  I wonder, do they die because they landed on the snow?  Or did they land on the snow to die?  I watch one crawling slowly across its frozen landscape, slower and slower, and finally not advancing.  I lift her off the snow.  She warms up and takes flight.

Switching the top box to bottom.

Switching the top box to bottom.

Hive D, which went through winter with two boxes, is going gangbusters.  Mr. Beekeeper decides to go ahead and switch the boxes.  The top box–where the bees have been clustered all winter–gets moved to the bottom.  The bottom box gets put on top.  This will encourage the bees to build up.  Literally.  Soon, Hive D will get a honey box.  Maybe next week.

Back in the house, Beekeeper Man orders another package of bees to replace the hive we lost over the winter.

And another season of beekeeping begins.

Yay!

Golden honeycomb...a beautiful contrast to still barren looking March.

Golden honeycomb…a beautiful contrast to still barren looking March.

Snow Bees and Honey Butter

He deserves some pumpkin bread and honey butter.  And maybe even a backrub.

He deserves some pumpkin bread and honey butter. And maybe even a backrub.

There’s a break in the weather.  After a foot and a half of snow, Mr. Beekeeper trudges out to the tractor to plow  before the next batch of snow comes in this evening.  The “break” means that it is merely raining.  “Merely raining” means that the foot and a half of snow is  getting packed down.  He will be out on the tractor for hours.  And then it will snow some more.  It might be nice to do some cooking for him.  I’m thinking pumpkin bread with his homegrown pumpkin and some honey butter using our Maywood honey.

But first, a trip to the bee yard.

One of the advantages of cleaning out a closet is finding things.  Often it is useless stuff the girls left behind when they moved out, but today I have found snow pants.  And they fit! So, even though it is lightly raining, I don snowpants and boots for a trek through the snow.  I can’t access the yard from the driveway because John has plowed a wall of snow there (which I will back into with the car until it melts), so I exit the house from the screen porch and wade through knee deep snow to get to the bees.

The bee yard during the Winter Storm Pax.  Who names a winter storm "Peace?"

The bee yard during the Winter Storm Pax. Who names a winter storm “Peace?”

I’m feeling bad for all the hard work John is doing plowing, but it is no easy hike to the bees today.  I have marked my walking stick in six inch increments.  Even packed down with rain, the snow still measures 18 inches with every step I take.

Hive B

Hive B

Down at the bees, the hives are putting off enough heat to keep a slim gap between the snow and the hive.  I only look at Hives B, C, and D.  Beekeeper Man determined recently that Hive A is kaput.  Probable diagnosis: dysentery.  (My last bee post commented on signs of dysentery on the hive.  With all the cold weather preventing more frequent cleansing flights, they succumbed.)  However, three hives are still hanging in  there.

Trudging back up to the house, I am tempted to swoosh snow from the garden bench and take a breather.  In the drizzling rain.  Visiting the bees seemed like a good idea when I was heading down to the bees.  Well, I’ve gotten my heart rate up and had a little workout, so even if I haven’t worked as hard as John, I won’t feel guilty having some pumpkin bread with honey butter.

It was easier walking down to the bees, than coming back up!

It was easier walking down to the bees, than coming back up!

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Here’s my ratio for honey butter:

  • 1 stick of butter
  • 1/2 cup Maywood honey

I blended the two with my immersion blender.  This is because I couldn’t find 2 matching beaters for the hand mixer, but the immersion blender worked better anyway.  So creamy!  The honey we have on hand right now (from the hives we lost last year) is really dark and loaded with pollen.  John spun it from the brood frames after losing the bees.

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And here’s the recipe for the pumpkin bread:

  • 3  1/4 cups flour
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1  1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 2 cups fresh, not canned pumpkin (mine was frozen, then thawed in microwave)
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 4 eggs (I used jumbo sized)
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Put all dry ingredients into large bowl and mix together with spoon.  Add all wet ingredients and the nuts.  Mix until combined.

Pour into 3 greased bread pans.  Bake at 350 degrees for an hour.  Test with toothpick for doneness.  My loaves took an extra 10 minutes or so.

(I found this on Allrecipes.com.  The recipe originated from the mother of V. Monte, who used canned pumpkin and added 2/3 cup water.  Reviewers suggested eliminating the water, especially if using fresh pumpkin.  Even without the water, this is a yummy moist pumpkin bread!)

Pumpkin bread with Maywood honey butter

Pumpkin bread with Maywood honey butter