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.

************************************************************************************

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

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Pioneer Chronicles or More Reasons Why I Don’t Do Camping

Never underestimate a snow storm.

It sure isn't summer time.

It sure isn’t summer time.

I should know this by now.  Twenty years at Maywood.  We survived the Winter of 1994 when the stream froze and the ground was white with snow and/or ice from Christmas until the first day of spring.  We sledded groceries down to the house…when we could get out to get groceries.  We wheelbarrowed wood to the wood furnace to try to stay warm in the uninsulated Maywood House.

In ’96 we made the evening news when we were the last family in Baltimore County to get plowed out.  They needed front-end loaders to deal with all the snow.  That was the year we drank raw milk from Vernon Foster’s cows.  His grandkids didn’t want to drink it, but we were plenty glad to have it.  One mile of road and we couldn’t drive it.  The only way out was to drive over the corn fields where Robert Warns had plowed a path with some farm machinery.

In 2010 we survived Snow-pocalyse, two back to back monster storms and a snowed in family party that I thought would never end.

We got this much snow.  YOU go out and measure it.

We got this much snow. YOU go out and measure it.

So what’s a little prediction of 3-6 inches.  That changes to 6-12 inches.  Accompanied by single digit temperatures and high winds. Right?

First, my in-laws lost land-line phone service.  My father-in-law called on his cell phone to let me know.  Our land-line is with the cable service so it didn’t affect us.

Then the cable went out.  No phone, no internet, no TV.  No Pandora on my new wireless Bose speaker.  It was looking like hubby and I would have to spend the evening in scintillating conversation.  Fortunately, the smart phones still worked.  I could text and post to Facebook.   Cable service was restored amazingly quickly.  No small feat for Comcast.  Music was playing again within two hours.

No sooner had I finished cleaning up the kitchen and taken a potty break, when the power went out. No lights.  No water.  No heat.

At least the dishes were done and my bladder was empty.  Pottery Barn wickless candles all over the house provided soft illumination. The flashlight app on our smartphones guided us around the house.  We read by the glow of the Nook.

Now, we were relaxing by the wood stove without a fire because hubby said we were out of wood.  With no heat (although the house was still warm), it was time to get picky about what “out of wood” meant.  It did not mean “no wood.”  So the few pieces down in mancave were put to use in the fireplace insert.  Which, by the way, does not have a blower fan when the power is out.  Radiant heat is all you get.

When BGE updated the return of service from 11:15 pm to 6:45 am, it was time to call it a day.  Up to bed fully clothed in fuzzy sweater, fleece pants and socks.  The bed was piled high with blankets.  And hubby puts off a lot of heat.  I was rather comfortable.  Hubby was so comfortable that he slept right through the return of power at 1:55 am, at which time the bedroom was a toasty 56 degrees.

With morning we have lights, water, internet, phone, heat.  There is even a fire going in the fireplace. (“Out of wood” today means that there is wood but it needs to be split.)  It is time for Pioneer Man to get out there on Betsy the Tractor and plow us out.  Yeah, so it’s like 5 degrees out there with a wind chill.  Betsy is not cooperative.  She refuses to start.  Oh, she was quite willing to start two nights ago when it was 40 degrees out.  But now her hydraulic fluid is like sludge.  I don’t blame her, really.  I feel that way too on cold mornings.

Don't you just hate it when your hydraulic fluid feels like sludge?

Don’t you just hate it when your hydraulic fluid feels like sludge?

But how will we get out?  This snow is not going to be melting anytime soon.

Pioneer Man calls our neighbor who also has a vintage tractor like Betsy.  Neighbor and family are sick with the flu.  They hired someone to plow them out.

“How much?” asks Pioneer Man.

“Don’t know.  He’s going to bill me,” replies flu-stricken neighbor.

Whoa.  He’s really going to feel ill when that bill comes.

We ponder ways to warm up Betsy.  There is a torpedo-like heater in the  Room of Outer Darkness.  (“Which room of outer darkness?”the daughters may ask.  We have so many. The Room of Outer Darkness is the room off the shop underneath the side porch.  It would make an excellent wine cellar for someone organized and with an ability to not drink every bottle as soon as it enters the house.)  Anyway, this torpedo heater is like the ones you see on the sidelines of football games to warm up the players.  It was left here by a contractor once upon a time.  It runs on kerosene.

We don’t have any kerosene.

We have wine and whiskey, though.  I stocked up on important things before the storm.

In the bee’s midwinter

In the bee’s midwinter frosty winds made moan,

Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone.

Snow was falling, snow on snow, snow on snow

In the bee’s midwinter not so long ago.

beesmidwinter2

Ok, so I changed a couple of words.

After a morning fussing with the tractor, he identified the problem as the ignition switch.  But he got the job done!

After a morning fussing with the tractor, he identified the problem as the ignition switch. But he got the job done!

Winter has hit hard with the New Year.  Six  inches of fresh snow blanket Maywood.  My car remains halfway down the driveway where I abandoned it last night for fear of sliding right into the house.  (I had already inched my way down the Wicked Curve on Miller Lane as another car tried to make its way up the Wicked Curve, neither of us able to back up.) As I click at the keyboard this morning in blinding snowlight, Maywood Man is outside trying to get the tractor to start so that he can begin plowing.

It is 11 degrees with 25 mph winds. The snow dazzles under cloudless blue skies.  Gusts of wind blow through snow-laden branches and send the powdery flakes whirling like smoke. It is stunningly beautiful from my indoor perspective near a cozy wood stove.   Homemade butternut squash awaits my frozen plowman when he comes in from clearing the road.

Judging from the dip in the snow on top, the hive is warm enough to melt it.  Icicles are on the outside of the hive.

Judging from the dip in the snow on top, the hive is warm enough to melt it. Icicles are on the outside of the hive.

I’m guessing the perspective inside the bee hives is less spectacular.  It is the bleak midwinter  for them.  Too cold to leave the hive, they huddle in a  ball to maintain the hive temperature.  They eat the honey they stored last summer.  They also have grease patties that Mr. Beekeeper/Plowman made for them, a combination of sugar and Crisco.  If they have sufficient numbers, they can keep the hive warm enough to move around to the honey.  If not, they eat what is nearby and hopefully don’t starve before the weather warms up.

At Winter Solstice, bees were busy, but  still had plenty of grease patties.

At Winter Solstice, bees were busy, but still had plenty of grease patties.

Two weeks ago, on a balmy almost 70 degree day, we took a peek in the hives to assess their strength and to offer more grease patties.  The hives were all active with plenty of bees coming and going.  Although the bees have no plants to pollinate in winter, they use the warm winter days for cleansing flights.  Yes, the ladies must keep the hive clean!   Some bees were nibbling at the grease patties,  but they had still had plenty from the last gift– good sign, I think, that they had plenty else to eat.

A week later, Mr. Beekeeper took another quick peek.  Hive B was low in numbers.  So now he has reason to worry.  Should he have removed the grease patties and replaced them with easier to digest fondant?  Is there enough air circulation to keep moisture from building up and freezing into tiny stalactites in the hives?  Should he sweep the snow from around the hives?  Or leave it to act as a blanket?  If he could put tiny little blankets on each of his bees, I think he would do it.

A couple of dead  bees at the entrance to Hive C.

A couple of dead bees at the entrance to Hive C.

Last winter we lost all four hives before Christmas.  It hadn’t even gotten really cold yet, but their numbers were too low to keep themselves warm.  This year, the hives are wrapped for solar heat in tar paper and they have plenty to eat.  They just need to stay warm.  Weather like today’s does not make it easy.  As my son-in-law commented, we went to bed in Maryland but woke up in Siberia.

Ah, but that’s the thing about Maryland.  The weather is always changing.  If the bees can get through this week’s projected snow, rain, ice, and minus two degrees, by next Friday it is supposed to reach 40.

Minus two?

Hang in there, little bees!  We’ve passed the Winter Solstice.  The days are getting longer.CIMG8068

Hey, Murphy, pass the hydraulic fluid

Q: What does one do the Sunday between football play-offs and the Super Bowl?

A: The things that didn’t get done while lolling on the sofa quaffing beers every Sunday since August.

One could watch TV–there’s a Barry Manilow themed ice-skating show on.  That’ll get a man outside doing manly things quicker than you can say, well, Barry Manilow.  It’s bad enough getting sucked into Downton Abbey, but ice-skating?  One has to draw the line somewhere.  And this is why Maywood Man is outside with his vintage Maywood equipment doing Maywood tasks.

Best alternate source of heat is the woodstove.

Best alternate source of heat is the woodstove.

It’s good timing for a by-week from football.  Last week, just as the arctic chill sent Maryland temperatures into the teens, the furnace conked out.  The new furnace is being installed tomorrow, as the temperatures begin to climb this week toward the 50’s.  It hasn’t been too painful, though.  Like NASA, we have engineered redundancy around here.  We have two furnaces.  Bedroom doors stayed open while the downstairs furnace worked to heat the whole house.  The wood stove supplemented the downstairs furnace.  At night, we shut bedroom doors and kept quite comfortably warm with space heaters.

Murphy's Law #658--If you buy an extra heater for the classroom so that your assistant principal doesn't have to give up hers, your room will become too hot to need a heater.

Murphy’s Law #658–If you buy an extra heater for the classroom so that your assistant principal doesn’t have to give up hers, your classroom will be too hot to need a heater.

But we are now out of firewood.  Well, not out of wood.  We’re just out of pre-cut pieces ready to toss in the wood-stove. This afternoon, I type to the soothing buzz of the chain-saw in the “lumber yard.”  Tonight, I look forward to watching Downton Abbey in real time by a roaring fire.  Maywood Man will probably fall asleep from this afternoon’s exertions.  Maybe–just to get a rise out of him– I’ll jump up periodically and scream, “Come on, Flacco!” like our toddler grandson John.

It's a fuzzy picture because I took it through a screen.   You think I'm going out in the  cold to take a picture of a tractor?

It’s a fuzzy picture because I took it through a screen. You think I’m going out in the cold to take a picture of a tractor?

Big John would have cut firewood yesterday, but he was wrapped up with tractor repairs.  Well, of course.  Or as the French say, Mais oui.  Murphy’s Law #342:  The furnace will conk out when the temperature nose dives into the teens.  Murphy’s Law #572: The tractor will break down if it snows.

It snowed.

Not a lot.  I got a two-hour school delay for snow on Thursday.  Friday I got a two-hour early dismissal.  Mere dustings…just enough to cause massive traffic delays around the Baltimore-D.C area.  Just enough to tell the tractor to break down.

What this time?  Points and capacitor.  Don’t ask me what that is; I thought it was related to spark plugs.  According to John, they work together to provide spark to the spark plugs.  (I knew the spark plugs were connected somehow.  I’m learning bee-lingo; I have not mastered tractor mechanics.)  I suggested that he call before heading up to Shrewsbury–to avoid Murphy’s Law #690:  If you drive to Shrewsbury, they won’t have the part you need.  Ah, sure enough, he ended up driving to Hanover to get the part he needed.  While in Hanover, he looked at hydraulic fluid and thought, “Nah, I’ve got enough.”

Murphy’s Law # 691: If you think you have enough hydraulic fluid at home, you will discover that you do not.

This is where I find myself not believing that I’m actually saying what I’m saying:

“Dear, maybe we should just always keep a supply of hydraulic fluid on hand.”

Today, before bonding with his chain saw, Maywood Man took a ride to Shewsbury for hydraulic fluid.  The tractor is now ready to go.   Tomorrow the furnace will be purring and the firewood will be stacked high on the porch.

Pottery Barn wickless candles--great for ambience but useless as a heat source.

Pottery Barn wickless candles–great for ambience but useless as a heat source.

Dare I predict balmy weather in Baltimore for the Super Bowl?  I’m not going to get cocky.   A quick check at weather tells me that the furnace could be delayed by ice tomorrow.

Murphy’s Law #343: Ice storms will hit the day you schedule a furnace installation.

Now I have a real dilemma.  Do I wish for a day off school due to weather?  Or do I wish for clear weather and a furnace?

What I wish for is to watch the Raven’s win the Super Bowl in a nice warm house.  And Murphy is not invited.202380576976815018_hG09CAUH_b[1]

The busy beekeeper tries to tuck the bees in for winter

Fondant for the bees

A twenty-five pound bag of sugar is empty in the kitchen.  Dinner was delayed because the stock pot of bubbling sugar water was taking up most of the stove space.  All of my pyrex casseroles are filled with sweets that we won’t be eating.  A five gallon bucket and a paint stirrer are coated with sugar syrup.  And there are splatters of syrup everywhere–on the counters, on the (freshly mopped) floor, on the floor mats,  even on my bee hat.

All the evidence points to John.  He’s been making fondant for the bees.

We did nothing to prepare the bees for a hurricane.  And nothing happened to them.  That’s partly because they are on a sheltered hillside and mainly because the storm pounded north of us.  Winter, however, has often hit the bees hard, so it is important to tuck them in for the season.

A nice day for playing with bees or just wandering around the yard

Today’s goal was to winterize the bees with insulation and to stock the hive with a store of fondant to eat throughout the barren winter months.  Only half the task got done.  Ironically, this November day was so warm that the bees were too active for John to wrap the hives.  At least the floor and ceiling of the hives got winterized and the fondant placed in the feeder box.

A piece of insulation board is fitted to the bottom hive box.  This will help protect the bees from cold air coming in underneath the hive.

Feeder boxes fitted with insulation

On top of the hive, John puts a feeder box.  It usually has a tray for sugar water, but for winter John removes the tray and fits the box with a piece of insulation.  This will protect the top of the hive from cold air.

John  places a big piece of fondant on top of the honey frames.  The insulated lid sits on top of it.

Fondant sits on top of the honey frames

Insulated lid goes on top

Later, when it’s colder and the bees are staying inside, John will insulate the outside of the hive too.

Alas, insulating the bees is akin to having the tractor in working order—it’s one of Murphy’s Laws that if we are prepared for winter, we won’t get one.

The tractor is running great at the moment.

Last week I got my first dose of winter on a day trip to New York City.  I can wait for snow.  For now, there’s plenty of autumn left to enjoy.  Apparently the bees think so, too.

In another month, I’ll be decorating with evergreens.

Honey Harvest 2012

Maywood Honey 2012

If there’s anything more satisfying to a beekeeper than seeing buckets of harvested honey, it is seeing that golden sweetness in jars.  It’s a little bit  arrogant on our part to take pride in a good harvest since the bees make the honey, but there’s enough work on the part of the beekeeper to justify it.  Thousands of cranks of the honey-spinner and sixty-seven jars of honey later, we can rightly call it our harvest.  And it’s a yummy one too.

Last weekend, we spent a calm morning in the bee yard.  Our goal was three-fold.  First, to collect four honey boxes.  Second, to do so without making the bees really angry at us.  And third, to get the honey back to the house without bringing along a horde of buzzing companions.  That third goal was not insignificant!

Off to the bee-yard

Very few bees in this honey box because of an effective bee-escape

John’s pre-harvest preparations were overall pretty helpful.  The bee escapes that he put on the hives significantly reduced the number of bees in the honey boxes of Hives A and B.  Hive C still had a honey box full of bees.  John wonders if perhaps the bee escape got blocked with burr comb.  And Hive D’s honey box was empty but they had not been doing anything up there anyway.

Setting the fume board on a hive

To clear out the honey box on Hive C and to clear away the cloud of Hive A bees who were looking for a fight, John used the fume board.  The fume board is a hive lid that you squirt with a nasty smelling liquid.  The bees can’t stand the smell and dive deep into the hive.  Humans aren’t too crazy about the smell either, which explains why the bottle was shipped in a bazillion layers of plastic wrap.  After a few minutes of fume board, the honey box is nicely empty of bees and John can easily remove the honey boxes and load them onto the tractor cart for transport to the house.  The fume boards get stored in the cabin where we don’t have to smell them.

Taking the honey to the houseWith the hives closed back up and the honey boxes covered with plastic to keep bees off, John brings the honey to the house.  We take the honey inside immediately and, after a quick beer (hey, it was hot in those beesuits!), begin spinning the honey.  Honey is dripping off the boxes and we want to get it  contained  before the ants find out that there is a party in the mudroom.  The mudroom, by the way, is so clean you could almost lick the honey off the floor.  (Almost being the operative word here.)  Amazingly, considering the thousands and thousands of bees down at the hives, only four (that’s right, 4) bees make it into the house.  They are unceremoniously but apologetically squashed.  (For all you theology nerds, that means that we were sorry to kill them but we gave a good defense on why we had to–namely, self-defense.)

Removing the cap

At the sink, John cuts the caps off the frames of honey.  The wax is put in a colander to drain into a pot.  I’ll deal with the wax later.  The frames, now oozing honey, are placed into the honey spinner.  The spinner is a big low-tech centrifuge made out of what looks like a plastic trash can.  It works with good ol’ fashioned elbow grease.  Round and round I spin the handle while inside the tank the honey spins out of the comb and drips to the bottom of the tank.  Let’s just say that it is a good upper arm work-out.  There are lovely stainless steel electric models that one could buy for hundreds of dollars, but until the spinning sets me up for another joint replacement or we get a lot more hives, the manual model will suffice.

Spinning the honey out of the combs

From spinner down into the bucket

One of our favorite moments in the harvest is when the honey starts pouring from the spinner into the storage bucket below.  The deep golden sweetness oozes from the spininer, passes through a filter, and fills up the bucket.  This year we had to buy a second bucket.  All told, we collected about six gallons of honey.

Buckets of honey waiting for jars.

After a few days, the air bubbles settle out of the honey, my arms recover, and my order of jars arrives. Now it is time to jar the honey. An evening is spent filling the jars, writing “Maywood Honey 2012” on sixty-seven self-adhesive labels, slapping them on the jars, and wiping the stickiness away.  Stickiness, by the way, is everywhere–the jars, the counters, the floor all have a slight film of honey.  And bits of propolis, which is what bees use instead of duct tape.  Propolis on a counter can’t be wiped; it has to be scraped off.  And then you have to figure out how to scrape it off the scraper.

Finally, it is all done.  The harvest is in.   The kitchen island gleems with jars of golden-brown honey.  A celebratory bowl of maple walnut ice cream drizzled with our own honey is my reward.

Little man hands

Lesson 1 in tractor maintenance--he'll be working on this same tractor for the next forty years

It was too quiet Friday morning, so I looked outside and saw the little guy working on the tractor with PopPop.  From the upstairs window it was just the cutest thing.  Then I went outside to inspect closer.  Oh my.  Grandson was busy at work scraping gunk off the tractor engine.  This is a 1952 tractor and I know for a fact that no one has cleaned any gunk off that tractor since we moved up here in 1993, and who knows when before that.  But PopPop had the six-year-old happily at work.  The smile on kiddo’s face attested to “happy;” the automotive grease smeared all over his face, winter coat, and jeans attested to work.

And then there were his hands. We have countless pairs of disposable gloves around the house, but why would you give a boy gloves to wear to scrape twenty years of engine gunk off a tractor?   Hmmm????

The kid had man hands.  No, I’m not referring to the Seinfeld episode.  I’m referring to the man-sized grime on those little mitts.  He looked like a regular mechanic, and he was proud of it, too.  Well, before Mr. Junior Mechanic entered the house he needed a lesson on how to use the de-greaser.  It’s pretty cool for a kid to have hands are sooooo dirty that he has to use a pre-wash on them.  He dutifully used the de-greaser (twice, at my insistence) and rubbed the grimy glop off his hands with paper towels.  Then we went upstairs to the bathroom, with me opening all doors and turning all knobs.  Gobs and blobs of soap followed, with a soak in the sink and a nail brush loaded with more soap.  Grimy clothes were removed and deposited by the washer to await PopPop’s grimy additions later.

Cleaner than tractor grease, but dirt + water + boy still = needs a bath.

Earlier in the week, grandson helped PopPop with sawyering.  That was a cleaner project–even with the tumbles into the dirt.  His job was to hose off the logs and then each board as it was sawn.  When not busy with the hose, he climbed all over any logs or branches he could find.  He made an impromptu see-saw from a few pieces of wood.  Later, he practiced his balancing by walking across logs.  I pondered briefly whether he might break his arm or something if he fell, but  I still managed to get distracted by PopPop cutting down a tree just as the little guy fell from his balancing post.

“MomMom, I fell.”

“Are you hurt?”

He points to his chest.  A quick examination reveals a three-inch scratch.  We go inside to clean it and apply a band-aid the size of Montana.  I warn him that a band-aid that size will freak out his mother.  And sure enough it does, because he knows just how to present it.

“Mom!!!  I fell off a tree and hurt myself!!!!”

“Oh my gosh, honey, are you ok?”

He pulls up his shirt to reveal the band-aid the size of Montana.  I’m upstairs but can hear her maternal wail.  The kid is totally messing with her.  There is nothing wrong with him.  He is 100% boy.  And he knows his mom is 100% girl.  He has already figured out how to work that.   And after a day of hosing logs and falling over trees, he doesn’t understand why he might need to change and wash up before heading off to a birthday party.

Ah…little man.  And learning from the master of dirt himself–PopPop.