è tutta una questione di prospettiva - it's all a matter of perspective

the apple tree and our “friends”

Last fall I spread a lot of compost underneath the apple tree, in hopes of harvesting a lot of apples this year.  I had plans to prune the apple tree back in February; there are a lot of shoots on the top of the tree.  My thought was to get the tree shaped nicely so it might be easy to spread some netting over the tree and protect the apples from the birds that have stripped it the last several years.

However, February came and went, without me finding time for the pruning.  As warm as our late winter was, the tree burst into bloom in early March. The compost seemed to do the trick, lots of blooms and I saw continuous pollination going on with our bees and other insects. By May the tree was covered with apples.

Unfortunately it is now mid June to early July. The week that we spent at the farm, we noticed that not only birds seemed to like the apples. We saw a squirrel that the daughter has nicknamed “Sammy the Squirrel” climb up the tree, chew through the stem of the apple, climb down and pick the apple up in its mouth and haul it back to its nest. It seemed like it was all the squirrel could do to lug the apple off, it was almost as big as the squirrel!

Having watched this routine at breakfast one morning, we got into a discussion about why it was the first summer we had the house, we were able to get an ample apple harvest. I pointed out that the previous owners had a big dog that was usually chained in the backyard somewhere in the vicinity of the apple tree. He probably did a good job of keeping deer (which we have seen come up and nibble off the lower apples), the squirrels and the birds away.

Now before I relate where the discussion went next, I have to explain a bit of family culture. For many years, the Wife has had a mantra of no other living creatures joining the family. Every time the kids start begging for a pet (which usually coincides with one of their friends getting a pet), the Wife is steadfast in her rule.

Now, to be honest, I can easily support the rule, it seems like we have more than enough complexity with the three “animals” we already have in the house. We travel as a family pretty frequently and it would just be difficult to keep up with a pet. And I am also sure that no matter how much the kids claim that they will look after the pet, a lot of animal care will come back on the adults.

This rule applies to the Raleigh house and the farm. It is one of the main reasons that we have not given any serious thought to chickens, turkeys, cows, horses, ponies, dogs, cats etc at the farm. The farm has the additional complexity that no one is there full time to look after the animals.

Now in spite of all this engrained beliefs, I was amazed that as we watched the squirrel cart off the apple, the wife just blurted out that maybe we should get a dog for the farm. This was really surprising because the daughter, who has been the main champion for a pet, was sitting right next to the Wife. Of course the daughter didn’t miss a beat, I think she was almost out the door, on the way to a pet store to get a dog, before the Wife finished her statement.

It was really interesting to watch the Wife back peddle and explain that we would consider a dog when and if we live at the farm full time. Needless to say we don’t have a dog, yet.

As I visited the farm this week, I noticed not only Sammy, but the birds were going after the apples in full force. I saw several birds hanging from their own apple, pecking away at it! At this point I would bet most of the apples are almost gone. I seem to recall it was last year this time that the apples had disappeared and I had been able to solve the mystery of where they had gone.

Note to self, prune the tree next winter and spend some time on a netting solution.  I made apple butter from the apples the first year and it was absolutely delicious. I added no sugar or spices and it was very flavorful.  I really would like to make some more in the future, it is so good on potato pancakes in the winter!

Posted in Fruit and Nut Trees, Wild Things | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

nostalgia and other thoughts

Sitting here as a humdinger of a thunderstorm passes over. Windy, rainy, thunder, lightening and hail. Seeing 1/2-3/4″ hail on the porch. Kids were wondering where I came up with expression humdinger, but now I guess they know what humdinger describes.

Younger son wanted to go out and collect hail, I cautioned him that hail of that size could really hurt you.  He said not to worry, and came back wearing his two heavy jackets, knee pads and his baseball helmet.  At that point, I couldn’t think of how he could be better prepared.  Off he went and came in with a bowl full of huge hailstones.

Last weekend I stopped off in Ft Collins Co to attends the wedding of the daughter of one of my best friends. The first evening that I was there I drove up College Ave to Old Town and had a beer at Coppersmith’s. I initially tasted their jalapeño beer. It was tasty, but I couldn’t quite resolve how much I would enjoy it after consuming a pint. Settled on a wheat beer.

As I sat sipping the beer, I was reflected on what had changed. I had lived in Ft Collins for 17 years prior to my 10 year stint in the Bay Area. My older sons were raised there; I went through a divorce and several years later married the wife, my partner at the farm and mother of our three kids.

As I sipped my beer, I made a trip down nostalgia lane. Several businesses were still there and thriving.  The DQ which is only open about 6 months out of the year;  the younger of the two older sons once dumped a strawberry sundae on the carpet in the Chevette, never did get that out. The Taco Bell where the esteemed Chef son had his first formative experience in the food industry – washing dishes.

Several places were no longer in business, Nico’s Catacombs where I had entertained several visitors from Hitachi (and where they had experienced Rocky Mountain Oysters for the first time; No not oysters from the sea!). Hickory House South has changed hands; this was the only restaurant where we could take the two older sons when they were very young. Left large tips to cover the french fries and parts of toasted cheese sandwiches strewn under the table (later in his teens the older son waited and bussed tables there; a form of justice I guess you could say).

As I sorted my feelings, I guess it is not unexpected that things change and the memories of places were mostly positive.  I found, though, that my nostalgia went to dwell on the times that were less positive: the low points in life, the decisions or actions you wish you could have changed, the hard times that life throws at you, the missed opportunities or unfulfilled dreams.  Felt a bit down, interesting that this nostalgia trip takes you there, because in general, life was good in Ft Collins and things have moved well since then.

Then the next day, I started my whirlwind visits to catch up with old friends.  Had breakfast with the person who was my boss a large part of my career at HP. Visited another friend for lunch who I hadn’t seen since we lived in California.  Had dinner at El Burrito with a couple who were with the first team I joined at HP. (And had the wonderful Pork and Avocado Taco, Chili Relleno and Pork Tamale at El Burrito, my absolute favorite dishes; oh and a few margueritas were consumed too :) ).

Saturday, I caught up with our neighbors, whose two baby girls I remembered are now in college. Had a wonderful lunch with one of our dear friends and her family on their 40 acre ranch with over a dozen horses. Went to the wedding and then the reception dinner. “The Dolly”, my friend’s daughter, was beautiful and it was such fun to see her two brothers. I remember them all as babies I once held. The sons are now over 6′!

Sunday I caught up with another good friend who is going through one of those low times of life. He is doing well and in spite of where he is at, he has the same energy, optimism that I have always enjoyed being around. Before heading to the airport, had lunch with another couple. She had lived with us both in Ft Collins and California, we have known them for years. Their young kids were a delight to read to after brunch.

As I sat at the airport, I sorted my feelings and experiences. Nostalgia is a funny thing, it can certainly be a mirror to remind you of the less than happy times. But what I realized is, it is the friends that really count. They are here and now, not memories. Even though it had been many years since seeing them, I found they bring the same energy and happiness to your life. Visits with friends are gifts, to be treasured!

Since I have been traveling a lot more with my new position at work, I have been missing my farm time. I was able to sneak up one night this week, several co-workers were in town from California. I picked up pizzas from Pino’s, the small family owned talian place in Henderson, and iced down some beer. I went to the garden and the tomatoes are ripening. Picked some Sun Golds, Juliet’s and another variety (small/medium size, purple/green in color), snipped some basil and oregano from the herb bed. Sliced the tomatoes, cut the basil into thin strips and added the oregano leaves; some sea salt, black pepper, EVOO and balsamic vinegar; made a lovely salad. Introduced my friends to dinner on the porch, gentle breeze blowing, quiet evening sounds starting up. Mmm, it was nice to be back at the farm.

Posted in Deep Thoughts | Tagged | 1 Comment

hive – “beegone”

We migrated to the farm last Saturday, maybe this is the summer home and the Raleigh home is the weekend home.  Trying it as an experiment.  I will say working in the garden after dinner, watching the sunset, feeling the cool of the evening coming on is not a bad way to end a day.

Right now I am sitting on the front porch watching the sunset and working on the blog. I just finished some bush hogging. Note to self, the bees are cranky, not good idea to pass their hive, got chased second time by. Learned lesson, tall grass is still there. Maybe wear bee suit to mow? Hmmm.

 

So last Sunday morning, I finally had a chance to check on the new queens/bees. I suited up, got the smoker going and had made up some syrup. I checked the weak hive first. I am at a loss. When I put the new queen in the weekend before, the hive probably had several thousand bees in it. They had been storing honey and pollen. When I opened the hive, the queen had gotten out (there is a candy plug in the queen cage that she and the bees eat through). However, there were only a few hundred bees!!!! No new brood and no marked queen that I could see. There weren’t a lot of dead bees around so I am wondering if the new queen was released and immediately convinced the hive to swarm with her.

The gentleman that I bought the bees from had told a story of one queen that he had sold, the bee keeper couldn’t find it after it was released. The queen raising gentleman told him not to worry, it had probably flown back home and he would be happy to sell it to him again! It sounded like a tall tale to me, but after seeing the hive gone, I am not sure what to think.

I opened the second of the nuc hives and things were going well there, queen released, lots of new brood. Overall, looked great. I decided that I would put the decimated hive on to that hive. They recommend merging by putting newspaper in-between the hives deeps, but there were so few bees in the hive that I didn’t think it would matter.

I checked the swarm hive, which had a second deep on top. Not much was going on with the second deep there, but there was lots of brood. I wanted to move the two remaining hives together so I took both deeps off and move the base onto two cinder blocks. I put the hives back together and fed both hives.

Since I though the bees may have swarmed, I got motivated to put together the two swarm traps. I looked on my friend Google for hints. It was a bit sparse. I found a few pictures and they led me to understand that maybe the directions the gentleman gave me when I bought them might have been wrong. I didn’t have a clear idea, but I came up with something that worked. I used electrical wire and there were some punch out in the main pot and the top. In these pictures you can see how I tied the wire off inside the main pot and how I threaded them through the top to make some thing to hang.

I stapled the packet of bee pheromone in the main pot and hung it from the red bud tree outside the kitchen window. It is late in the season for a swarm, I understand, but worth a try.

 

 

Somehow when I wen to put the hives back together, I messed up. I didn’t discover this till I checked the bees Wednesday evening. I hadn’t been seeing many bees going in and out of the nuc hive and they hadn’t finished their syrup. (The swarm hive was dry!) I decided to do a quick inspection. I found I had not put the decimated hive deep onto the new nuc deep. I had put it on the swarm deep. The bees were going to town in the swarm hive, lots of bees up in the deep. When I looked in the new nuc hive, it had the new empty deep on it. There was no comb build up and the bees were down in the lower deep. Only a few were coming up for syrup. I put everything back together, it was too late to move the deeps around without causing a mess. I decided that if I needed to, in a few weeks, I may pull some brood frames from another hive and put into the weaker hive. Hopefully that would boost up the bees and get it going. Have to see…

While I was suited up I went to the one old hive where the bees had produced honey in the medium and shallow that I had placed above the queen excluder. I had put the trap in there over the weekend so that when the bees exited the bodies, they couldn’t return. Most of the bees were out of the bodies, so I pulled them off and set them on the porch of the house.  (BTW, I guess the bees were cranky when I went by on the bush hog, because they were missing their honey.  Amazing how they “think”.)

We will have a honey harvest here in a few weekends when we have a some time. Between the medium and the shallow, I bet there is about 70 lbs of honey! Mmmm, can hardly wait for the honey harvest day!

Posted in The Bees | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

hives

And not exactly like the ones you might imagine I would write about.

Early last week I was somewhat frantically looking for two queens. Since there were no brood in the combs and no active queen cells in the two nuc hives that I had bought, I had to guess that the two new hives had lost their queens and didn’t have eggs at the right state where they could be raised into new queens. I called several places and left emails.

I had spoken with my bee keeper friend to see if he had any ideas. He actually found someone in the local Wake County bee club who had queens. I spoke with him about mid week and he thought he could have two queens for me on Friday or Saturday. I also got a lot of good advice about how hives can raise their own queens (again assuming eggs in the right state). He also suggested an idea which I had considered which was to take a frame from an existing hive with eggs and put it into the hives. The colony could then raise a queen that way. Given that I didn’t have a lot of time, arriving back home late Thursday and then leaving again on Sunday, I opted for two queens.

However the whole experience left me wondering about how to propagate my on own queens and hives in the future… A topic for more reading and a future posting.

I picked up Dad Saturday morning and we went to get the queens. The bee keeper raises nucs for sale and he had two packaged and marked queens for us.

It was after lunch by the time we got back to the farm. I suited up and got the smoker going. I opened the hives and checked a few frames. No change in status. Some pollen and honey stored, but no brood or eggs. This queen case is a thinner profile and I didn’t have to remove a frame to put it into the hive. I just wedged it between a couple of the center frames. I think that when you pull a frame and wedge the larger queen cage in, the bee will produce a lot of comb to fill the space gap. I have had to clean that out in the past, so I think this will result in less wasted energy on the part of the bees. I was out of sugar so I didn’t try to feed the bees this time. Pretty short order, I had the hives closed back up.

I decided since I had a few hours I would try to bush hog one of the front fields. I started up the tractor and made several rounds. At one corner of the field, I suddenly felt a “pop” one forearm and then the other forearm, of course I had on a short sleeve shirt. I pretty quickly concluded that I had a yellow jacket bite on both arms. The stings were a bit painful, but I decided it made no sense to stop mowing.

I have found honey bees to be gentle. Wasps and bumble bees won’t bother you unless you really threaten them. But yellow jackets nest in the ground and they just bite and ask questions later. Not very nice members of the bee family, in my opinion.

I had to stop the tractor after a few more passes around the field. The grass seed accumulates in the filter in front of the radiator and causes the engine to heat up. I cleaned out the debris and started to go again. I don’t know whether it was the yellow jacket stings or something in the field, but immediately after starting again, I started itching all over. I could not quite figure out what was up. Made a few more passes and then noticed splotches on my arms, hives.

I decided it was time to quit for the day. I put up the tractor and headed home. The air conditioner in the car and a cool shower helped when I got home. I took some antihistamine. By dinner time the hives were gone, but the forearms were doing the typically swelling thing. The next morning, the hives were long gone but I looked like Popeye and the forearms really itched. Oh well.

Took a few notes to self:
-Wear jeans and a work shirt, even in the middle of summer. It will protect against stings and sunburn.
-Yes, better talk to Dr about getting an epi-pen.

Went to Camp Raven Knob for the week on Sunday, taking the younger two kids who had finished school. I get a volunteer week off each year and the last several years I have help at the Scout camp where I had worked as a teenager/young adult.

I had ordered some deep hive bodies from Miller Bee Supply. I hadn’t received them yet and I knew I needed more foundation. I also decided I wanted to get two swarm traps. I called them up and ordered the additional items and since they aren’t too far from the Scout camp, I told them I would pick them the order.

The kids and I drove to North Wilkesboro on Tuesday afternoon. We picked everything up. I had asked my good friend, the Scout Executive of the camp, (btw, we were boyhood friends in Scouts) about a scenic drive back. He recommended Haystack Rd. We stopped at Stone Mountain Park and hiked a bit and then found Haystack Rd.

It is a beautiful, winding drive. Some of it was even dirt road. My friend told me that they had found maps from the 1700s and Haystack Rd existed even then as the main road between Mt Airy and North Wilkesboro. It was a pretty drive.

This weekend I will check the progress of the hives. Hopefully the queens will be out and in command of the hives. I also am going to put in the separator that causes the bees to exit the honey shallows and not return. I hope to pull the shallows off and have a honey harvest soon. Can hardly wait to taste this year’s honey!

Posted in The Bees | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

food revolution – jamie oliver

I used to really enjoy watching Jamie Oliver’s Naked Chef program on the Food Network.  I loved his casual style to producing wonderful meals with very simple preparation of good ingredients. I have a few of his cookbooks.

I have adopted one of his recipes as a signature dish: take Sun Gold tomatoes fresh from the garden, slice in half, cut a red onion first into thin wedges, add pitted kalamata olives, a can of mandarin oranges, a few jalapeno peppers with seeds and membrane removed cut into an ¼” dice, some EVOO (extra virgin olive oil) and some red wine vinegar.  Add cracked pepper, mix together and then chill.  When ready to serve, mix in some fresh spinach leaves and you have a delicious salad.

I haven’t kept up with Jamie too closely although I have started following him on Twitter. I have read and seen where he is really involved with embarrassing public officials and educating the public on the poor state of food and nutrition in schools.  And a few weekends ago he was hosting a Food Revolution weekend.  He was travelling the world and using his social media to educate people about eating and the importance of where our food comes from.  He is an amazing guy, thinking about where he has gone with his celebrity chef status.

So the meals we had that Saturday and Sunday for dinner were cooked in honor of Food Revolution and let me share them with you.

Saturday I got up to the farm around midday and started the spring bush hogging of the fields.  A little later in the afternoon a friend came up, an intern from work, and I put him on the tractor.  He really enjoyed finishing mowing the field (I really need to start charging ride fees I think!).  The wife came up and he helped her in the garden with planting the pepper and eggplant plants that I had picked up from Durham Farmer’s Market and with weeding.

We had harvested our first artichokes (we had successfully planted them last year and they had over wintered to produce this year). I harvested green garlic and one of our red onions.  I headed in to make dinner while they finished the garden chores.

When I had first arrived at the farm I had made a batch of Sangria with the improved recipe that I previously shared. It was chilling.

I took the artichokes and cut the tops off of them. I put them in a pot with about 3/4” of water in the bottom.  I spread the leaves open and poured in EVOO and added some finely chopped garlic and put the lid on and set them to steam for about 40 minutes.

I topped the onion and the garlic and sliced them in thin wedges.  I added them to a pan where I had heated EVOO and butter. I had the pasta water on to boil (had added a bit of EVOO and salt to the water).  I sautéed the onion and garlic as I cooked the spaghetti. I added some sundried tomatoes from last summer to the onion/garlic mixture.  As the onions and garlic finished wilting, I added fresh chopped spinach leaves from the garden.  I added salt and some cracked black pepper and added a few sprinkles of pepper flakes. As the pasta finished cooking, I added a couple of cups of water from the pasta to the “sauce”, drained the pasta and tossed it with the toppings.

I quickly sautéed some asparagus, adding coarse sea salt at the end.  We sliced some cheese and bread and sat down to a wonderful meal based on several things that we had just harvested from the garden. In fact, I realized we had not had artichokes since we moved from California.  Oh they were nice!

After dinner we retired to the rocking chairs on the front porch with more Sangria and discussed some of the thoughts in my converged ideas postings.  We listened to the night noise start up and saw the first fireflies come out.  Mmm, I think Jamie would have approved.

Sunday night we were back at the house in Raleigh.  The kids were back from their various outings and my son, the Chef, was over.  I decided it would be fun to make a crespou and for the family to eat out on the porch. I had first read of crespou in Peter Mayle’s  “A Year in Provence”.  When we got the BBC video series for the book, I got to see what crespou looked like because I had never heard of it before.  I did some research on the web and finally found a recipe that seemed like what I had seen/read about.  It is not a very common dish, given how much digging I had to do to find recipe.  After making the dish for several years, I got a Spanish cookbook that had layered omelets like crespou and they used the same technique that I am going to describe.

So basically a crespou is four thin egg layers with filling in between each layer, all bound together with an egg omelet around it.  It is made and flipped just like you would make a Spanish Tortilla Omelet.

I first make the fillings; I have two frying pans that are identical in size to help. I choose the fillings based on tastes, color and what is available. One layer will usually be mushrooms, thinning sliced and sautéed in olive oil and butter.  You only need about half dozen mushrooms, just think a very thin layer covering the bottom of your frying pan.  I like to have another layer be a colorful pepper layer.  Sometimes I use the colored bell peppers, but in summer like to find what is in the garden.  Again I sauté it in butter and olive oil and again an amount to just cover the bottom of the pan.  Another layer I used this time was sautéed onions and spinach from the garden.  A small dice on the onions and coarse chop of the spinach, sautéing the onions first and add the spinach after the onions go translucent. I will also grate a hard cheese to mix in one of the layers.  You can see the four filling ingredients here in bowls ready to the next step.

So I butter one frying pan and add a sprinkle of finely chopped parsley across the bottom.  In the other frying pan I heat butter on medium heat and add two whisked eggs.  I immediately cover.  The two eggs are usually thin enough that with the cover they will cook through.  When the layer is done, I slide it into the first frying pan and add one of the filling layers, spreading it thinly to cover the egg layer.

I fry out three more layers and build up the tiers in the other frying pan as I go.  I then whisk 7-8 eggs, adding salt and pepper.  I pour over the tiered omelet, lift the sides to allow some of the egg to flow under the bottom tier. I then cover and put on medium-low heat.  As the eggs mixture cooks, I will take the cover off and push down on the side of the omelet to let more egg mixture flow underneath to cook.

When it looks like it is mostly set it is time to flip it.  This is most highly skilled step, I think (having learned once by flipping the whole Spanish Tortilla into the sink).

I have a plate the matches up exactly or larger than my frying pan.  I turn off the heat and I remove the cover, put the plate on top and then put a folded towel across the plate.  I use the towel as a hot pad and hold the pan/plate on opposite sides.  I cross to the sink and flip the mixture over the sink (in case of disaster).  I lift off the pan and set it onto a hot mat on the counter.  I sprinkle in more chopped parsley and then slide the omelet from the plate back into the pan.  I have found it is a good idea to wipe the outside of the pan because it is not unusual for drippings to be on the side after flipping.  I cover and then put back on the burner on medium-low heat.  Once it is done, I will do one more flip to put it onto the serving plate, using the same process described above.

As the omelet was cooking, I defrosted some of the frozen tomato sauce we made last summer. I brought it up to the point where it was just thawed, still cold.  To server the crespou we cut a wedge for the plate and then spread the cold tomato sauce over the top.  This is a perfect hot weather dish, a warm omelet and cold tomato sauce. Here you can see the layers in the cut omelet.

The son, the Chef made a batch of oven roasted new potatoes.  Basically cutting the potatoes into wedged about a 1/4-3/8” on the side and adding them to a tray with ample olive oil , salt and cracked black pepper to taste.  Mix all potatoes to coat with oil and then put in oven at 425 deg.  Stir every 15 minutes to brown all sides.  In the last stirring add in chopped rosemary and the son added chopped lavender this time which was really a nice touch.  They are done in 40-45 minutes.

We had a few chilled bottles of white wine, the crespou, the oven roasted potatoes, some bread, cheese and olives.  Sat out on the back porch and enjoyed the family company on a warm spring evening.

So Jamie, as Anthony Bourdain says in “Nasty Bits“, you are a hero.  Thanks for standing up and helping us understand the importance of food and that where it comes from matters. Here was our contribution to the Food Revolution!

Posted in Recipes | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Harvest and Weed over Memorial Day Weekend

Hi,

It’s me again – The Wife – but now I have my own account;)

Yesterday we weeded and harvested.  I now have a ton of red onions and some beets.

 

The Harvest

Huge Beets

Huge Beets, especially when placed next to a normal size lemon

All the beets and a few turnips

All the beets and a few turnips

Turnip

I'm saving this turnip. The greens came up on their own. We'll see how this progresses.

Red Onions

Holy onions - need to start thinking of recipes for using all of these :)

The Garden
The garden looked pretty good. Here are a few pictures.

Herb bed

Cilantro is seeding nicely. Basil (middle) still growing. Oregano (closest) is coming back - amazing.

Ginger

If you look closely, you'll see more ginger has come up than last week. Perhaps it's not a hopeless cause after all.

Peppers

Looks like all the pepper plants survived the planting last weekend.

Tomatoes

The tomatoes have practically doubled in size. I saw a few more blooms.

 

That’s all for now.  Need to get cracking on dinner.  The husband should be back from the neighborhood pool soon with hungry kids.

Will make a roasted beet salad with goat cheese…

Posted in Garden Corner | Leave a comment

bee update

Last weekend I wanted to do a thorough hive inspection on the five hives and to make sure I really checked the three new hives well.

I stopped by the three new hives as I drove in on Saturday and I was pleased to see that all three hives had active bees congregating around the hive entrances. I was surprised that even the hive that I had overheated seemed to have the largest group of bees going in and out.

Sunday morning was when I planned for the inspections and feeding the new hives. I got up early and made a batch of syrup so that it would be cooled by the time I was ready to inspect the hives.

I suited up, got the smoker going and went to inspect the two older hives first. I inspected the new hive that came from last summer’s split. It was much the same that I last inspected: a fair amount of brood and honey in the upper deep, some brood and honey in the lower deep. The two shallows that I had added really seemed to have no progress; no honey stored and the comb has not been built up on the newer frames. I cleaned out the hive beetle traps and was happy to see no evidence of hive beetles. There was a good population of bees, but the lack of progress on honey had me wondering if this hive had been responsible for the swarm that I had captured.

I next smoked and opened the older of the two hives. I no sooner got the top off than I saw that the bees had totally filled the upper shallow with honey, all the frames were full and capped. I lifted off the top shallow and saw that the bottom shallow was exactly the same, overflowing with honey. I decided there was really no point of inspecting the hive for brood etc. The hive was doing as well as it had last year. I took one of the shallows off of the other hive and added it so the bees would have room to continue the honey work and have room (I understand a “full” hive leads to swarming). I didn’t see any evidence of hive beetles and I didn’t clean the traps given that I didn’t do the full inspection.

The weather has been ideal this spring. We have had plenty of moisture, but not too much and it has not gotten hot and dry to slow the blooming. You can see here the clover patch that we have left un-mowed is still blooming away. We regularly see the bees gathering nectar and pollen there. I am hopeful that we can get even more honey this season!

I got the syrup loaded into the Polaris and headed to the new hives. Again there were lots of bees coming and going. I opened the overheated hive first; I had been a bit worried that maybe the hive was being robbed by the other two hives. That might have been the reason why there were more bees at the entrance. However inside, I saw that they had been doing a good job of storing honey and pollen. I inspected for brood and didn’t see any sealed brood chambers, I tried looking for eggs but I am not sure I saw any.

I inspected the second hive that came from the nucs I had bought. It looked much the same as the first hive, honey and pollen being stored, but no sealed brood. This left me worried that maybe the queens have gone from both of the new hives :( . There was not the disturbed buzzing, so I don’t know. I will be re-inspecting these hives this weekend and make a determination of whether I call Busy Bee Apriaries to see about queens.

I opened the third hive, the one where I captured the swarm. The frames had only been foundation, no comb when I set it up. The bees in this hive have gone to town. There were 5-6 frames that had been built up with comb. There was plenty of honey and pollen stored and lots of capped brood. As I write this I wonder if I should have just ordered the queens last week before I left to travel. Hmmm. I feed all three hives and closed them up.

One thing that was surprising about all three new hives was the presence of hive beetles. I had followed my friend’s advice and set them up in the field away from the woods. This lead me to order some hive beetle traps from Busy Mountain Bee.

I also realized that I was probably going to need second deeps for the three new hives. I have frames and new foundation for three more deeps as well as one deep. I ordered two more deeps from Miller Bee Supply. I am thinking I may need to build out more shallows as well, so that may be a future order. Will probably be putting deeps and frames/foundation together this weekend.

So, still worried about the queen situation but we will have honey again this year!!!

PS I wrote this on the plane back Friday night and didn’t have a chance to post before going to the farm. Yesterday, I inspected and fed the three new hives. The situation is exactly as it was: the swarm hive doing well and the two new hives are definitely queen-less :( . I called Busy Bee Apriary and they are closed today. Will be calling tomorrow from the layover in Houston. I really hope I can pick up two on Friday when I am back in town. I added a second deep to the swarm hive and put hive beetle traps in all deeps.

PPS When I got home from the farm, I got a call from my college roommate. He was having a swarm trying to enter the wall of his home through the wood shingle siding. Guess they thought it looked like a nice hollow tree. Unfortunately the best I have been able to do is to point him at some people who might be able to capture the swarm, if the queen hasn’t yet made it into the house wall. This makes me think that I should invest in some swarm traps and lure…

Posted in The Bees | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

converging thoughts – conclusion

And now for the “so what do I want to do with these thoughts”.

I have a farm and I have resources.  I may not have time for a full time second job, but I think I have an idea that I can act on.

Today in the US there are about 200 micro-distilleries and in North Carolina there are currently 8.  If you think about the micro-brewery business, there were a handful about two decades ago and now there are many.  It is not usual for a major city to have several. With beer and wine, the laws allow for small level production for home use.  This is not so for distilled beverages.  There are still many rules and regulations that exist for distilling and you have to go through quite a lengthy approval process with the federal and state agencies.

The core of my idea is to re-furbish one of the out building on the farm, a former metal shed workshop, into a small facility capable of providing for early trial and pilot production of distilled spirits.  The facility would have space for the fermentation of the mash, the distilling and storage.  The intent would be to provide a micro-distillery incubator for start-up distilleries.  As part of the vision, I would work with or encourage the formation of local farms (maybe even initially utilizating some of our land) to product the raw ingredients.  And I would like to power the facility as much as possible from solar sources and recycle the bi-products into compost, feed etc.  Focus on local, sustainable and providing opportunity for the local community to benefit from the business success of the micro-distillery start-ups that I incubate.

I have done research on the basic processing of distilled spirit production. I have downloaded The Home Distiller’s Workbook and The Making of an American Small Batch Micro-Distillery on the Kindle reader on the iPad. I have spent a lot of time reading the Home Distillation of Alcohol and American Distilling Institution websites. I have found small batch stills at milehidistilling.com and hillbillystills.com.  I have started researching all of the requirements for licensing such a facility and have commissioned my brother, the architect, to put together a rough scoping of the work for refurbishing the metal shed into a facility that we could successfully get licensed.

This idea grew out of a set of discussions that I had with my former boss, who retired from Netapp last fall.  She was Netapp’s first employee in RTP and it was through her efforts that the site has grown to one of Netapp largest sites away from the Sunnyvale, Ca headquarters.  She had plans to travel and spend time at the spa getting herself back into shape upon retiring.

She contacted me in January to see if we could go for a lunch date and talk. I think for someone who was used to being on a crusade for the last decade or more to grow the RTP facility, she was finding travel and fitness didn’t exact provide the same thrill as her former crusade. I told her that I had an idea for her next crusade and we set a date for lunch.

I had long been thinking about production of alcoholic spirits of some sorts.  I find the notion of a vineyard and a winery to be incredible romantic.   I have even read a lot about what is required. The “From Vines to Wines” book and the tales in Ferenc Mate’s “A Vineyard in Tuscany” where he planted his own vineyards and made award winning wines  are certainly inspirational. I will say it is important to balance the romance with the reality.  It takes several years for the vines to mature and then even more years for the wines to age. The realities come back to mind once the inspiration wore off or after one of those “share the dream” conversations with the (always practical) wife.

However my son, the chef, kept suggesting the distilling idea because there were un-aged spirits that could be produced from ingredients that did not require years to grow.  Finally this idea clicked when I thought about my suggestions for the “next crusade” pitch that I was going to share over lunch.

My former boss is a native of Poland and she is pretty legendary with respect to spirits, especially Polish Buffalo Grass Vodka. It seems that every party at her house has had an ample supply of bottles in the freezer and late at night the bottles and shot glasses come out.  So taking my interest and research into spirits and her natural abilities to appreciate fine Polish Vodka, I thought what she needed to help form was North Carolina’s first Polish Vodka micro-distillery, aimed at premium product made from local ingredients in a sustainable fashion. I pitched the idea over lunch and by the end of lunch she was enthusiastic about the idea.  In fact the next weekend was her annual holiday party and she had me pitch the idea to all our fellow workers at the party, of course after the first round of shots from the Buffalo Grass Vodka.  Everyone thought this was an absolutely perfect idea!

A few of us have been meeting regularly to work on the idea and a lot of my research has been directed in support of this idea.  My former boss was researching potatoes that could be the basis of the Vodka, of course heirloom potatoes came to mind.  She found Blue Heirloom Potatoes online and thought they might provide a potential foundation for the vodka.  I have ordered some. There are about 7 pounds in the refrigerator and I took 3 lbs and sliced them into seed potatoes.  As you can see the blue potato bed is doing wonderfully.

So this is an idea that I can start small with and I think it has a potential to grow.  Ceratinly a local community will need other things in the future, more organic produce, organic proteins raised in a humane fashion, cheese, bread, compost, heirloom seeds, sustainable energy and …

Having set on this course for myself, I am reaching out to the community to find other like-minded people who might participate and pick up pieces of this vision.  I have amazingly found one of my neighbors, who is an investor, to be very focused on the notion of a more sustainable, less vulnerable food supply. I have reached out the sustainable agriculture program coordinator at Chatham Community College.  She has pointed me to Earthwise Company, a private enterprise with offices very close to where we live in Raleigh and to the farm incubator program at NCSU.

My neighbor and I have been visiting with these people.  We had an amazing meeting with Mike at Earthwise Company, who laid out their vision, their passion, their business focus. It was a fascinating experience to meet other with exactly the same thoughts and with lots of fascinating ideas.

I know that I want to pursue the micro-distillery incubator idea because it is a manageable step that I can take.  The wife is even enthusiastic about the idea. And it is a blast to be meeting and sharing ideas with others.  Who knows exactly where this goes, but my deep hope is to build a better world, a sustainable, profitable community for our kids to grow up in.

Posted in Deep Thoughts | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

harvest, weeding, planting

Hi,

This is the wife. By some last minute changes in weekend plans, I find myself enjoying a quiet morning at the farm without kids. The hubby is out feeding the bees after having some coffee and sugar cake. I’ve always wanted to blog about the garden, more for my own benefit of remembering what we did than for any other reason. Today seems like a good day to start given I have no other distractions.

Yesterday, we harvested, weeded and planted. I have a feeling this is going to be a common theme throughout the blog entries.

Ginger

I have been wanting to grow ginger for quite some time. My small attempt last year was a bust. This year, I consulted with the expert, my grandmother. She and my aunt got me set up with some ginger that had already begun to sprout. I planted ginger in two beds (each is 4′ x 16′) at the farm. Most of it is not coming up – but I’m still hopeful. Here’s one that looks promising:

Sprouting Ginger

This ginger seems to be doing well

Peppers
We planted 30 peppers and eggplant plants yesterday.

Peppers just planted

Peppers just planted

Eggplant

Eggplant just planted with lemongrass in the middle

Eggplant just planted with lemongrass in the middle

Purple Potatoes

Purple potatoes are doing well

Purple potatoes are doing well and there were no potato beetles that we saw

Tomatoes
I didn’t see any tomatoes but the plants seem to look healthy. I saw a few flowers on the middle bed.  This year we went with three tomato beds instead of the normal four since we needed one for the purple potatoes.

Tomatoes

Tomatoes needed some tucking into the cages

Artichoke
We had artichokes for dinner last night from the garden. The hubby steamed them with olive oil and garlic. They were yummy and tender. We shared them with our friend ZA (he’s from South Africa). It was his first artichoke. I’m not sure he liked it but he was a good sport about it. A lot of work for a little bit of yum (much like escargot???).

I saw a few more little ones last night. Here’s one:

Artichoke

Artichoke

Strawberries
We have two strawberry beds. Both are doing well. Weeding seems to help. The strawberries are small but very sweet. They never make it into the house since the picker usually eats it before stepping away from the bed.

Two strawberry beds

Two strawberry beds. Berries are small but very sweet.

Peas
The peas are doing great this year. We planted them earlier and that may have made a difference. Last year the plants did well but we didn’t get many peas – perhaps it got too hot.

We had some with dinner last night. We ate them fresh, no cooking, no seasoning. Yum Yum.

The fava plant isn’t doing too well this year. We have some flowers but not a lot of pods.

Peas on fencing with Fava bush in back

Peas on fencing with Fava bush in back. Peas doing great. Fava not so well.

Onions
The onions are doing great this year. The hubby said to not pick until we can consume so they will stay in there beds a bit longer. I may pick more next weekend, cook with some, and saute some with garlic and olive oil and save for future meals…

Here’s a close up of a red onion.

Red onion looking good

Red onion looking good

Garlic
The garlic is doing great. Earlier in the spring I harvested some garlic greens and cilantro to make chutney. It freezes well and can be used as a dip or to doctor up hummus. I also like it in baba ganoush but some people have a hard time with green baba ganoush.

We have two beds and they should be ready to harvest soon.

Two beds of garlic almost ready

Two beds of garlic almost ready

Apple Tree
The apple tree in the garden has some little apples. They look promising. We just need to get to them before the birds do!

Apple tree in the garden

Apple tree in the garden

Asparagus
The asparagus is growing strong. We read to let it grow for a few seasons and let the roots develop. Next season, they should be ready to harvest.

Asparagus is having a bad hair season

Asparagus is having a bad hair season

The End
Enough time spent blogging. Need to get back into the garden

Until next time…
The Wife

Posted in Garden Corner | Tagged | Leave a comment

converging thoughts #3

Tonight I have several ideas that I want to talk about under the notion of community. This is the third pillar of my converging thoughts.

My brother lent me Ferenc Mate’s third book on Tuscany, “The Wisdom of Tuscany” last winter and over a few cold nights and a few glasses of wine, I read through the book. The sense I got from the book was that rural Tuscany was still very much a community. It was a group of people with deep relationships with one another. They all had their roles, their place in the community. They all worked to support each other, through good times and bad. And they learned to enjoy their community/communion with each other.

Towards the end of the book Ferenc may have made the point or I realized it: the industrial revolution and industrialization of society has led to a loss of that sense of community, that interconnectedness. I think one of the things that is a common point among Mate’s, Mayle’s, Mayes’ books is that they are immersed, living in a community. The sense of satisfaction that brings is one of the appeals of their books.

For Christmas, I got a copy of Ben Hewitt’s book, “The Town that Food Saved“. I picked it up shortly after I finished Mate’s book. It is a fascinating book. In a sense it is portraying two communities in one town. A small town in New Hampshire had been a granite producer around the beginning of the 1900′s. When granite went away as a major building material, the town moved to an dairy based economy. As the food chain consolidated with industrialization, the town drifted towards a somewhat “closed” community that didn’t produce much for “export”, but managed to look themselves, subsistence.

A new community has been developing in the town. It was a more “open” community, focused on producing premium product, aimed at the 1% ers. I had had this theory of how to generate an economy by catering to the 1% ers before reading the book and it was a huge “aha” moment. Here was a community that was doing exactly what I had theorized. In producing product for the 1% ers, they were also lifting the economy of the town. What also fascinated me is that the new economy was very much a community in the same sense that Mate described in Tuscany. It was like a post industrialization model. Such an imagine has had me hooked since I finished reading the book. Not only do we discover a post industrialization model to create value, but we re-connect to the community that we lost with industrialization.

I think this notion of community is really key to think about. As I kid growing up in North Carolina, Mom kept me out of trouble by having me spending all my spare time either at church or in Boy Scouts. As an adult I drifted away from organized religion for many reasons, but I remember the “Golden Rule”: Treat others as you would want to be treated. In Boy Scouts, there is the phrase, Do a good turn daily. These are fascinating concepts that have stuck with me.

However, as an adult, I moved into the “real” world. I regret to say that the “Golden Rule” has a much different meaning in other parts of the world, i.e. He who has the gold, rules. It is fundamentally the notion of Every Man for Themselves. This was hugely apparent to me when I travelled to India. I worked for Hewlett-Packard, where the “old” HP practices the first version of the Golden Rule, but then as I moved away from that environment, I saw that the second version of the rule was true in a lot of the technology industry. And the more I have come to think of the finance industry, the second version of the rule certainly seems the stereotype. In fact, the thing I realized is growing up believing in the first version of the Golden Rule left me ill prepared to deal with the world that ran by the other Golden Rule.

All of that being said, Every Man for Himself is a world without community and I think Do unto Others is a key part of the world with a sense of community. I ask myself where I feel more satisfaction, more happiness, it is a world with community. Ironically, this is true even though I am at heart a lone wolf introvert.

I think in one of my earliest postings, I described how the three M’s (Mate, Mayle and Mayes) neglected to focus on some of the obvious negatives. If we don’t think much of the government in our state or country, we could always do worse…

That being said, I do think there is the “General Welfare” clause in our constitution, that never seems to get much conversation, but  as I think about it, being a student of US history, the founding fathers really meant that government should care about the general welfare of the population. As I look at how this works, it is central to the core debate going on in our country. Clearly not everyone believes as I do. When you see the injustice, the enforced poverty, the disadvantaged, it is hard to turn away and at least I tend to have a response: the government should do something about that.

Another book I read was “Fast Food Nation” by Eric Schlosser. My learning that I want to share from that book is not about the notion of whether you should be vegetarian or not (which is a something to think carefully about). There are two entirely different main points that stick with me.

The first is the discussion of Monfort meat packing in Colorado. For almost 20 years I lived close to Greeley, Colorado. There was the joke that to find Greeley, starting from the East, you went West until you smelled it and then North till you stepped in it. I do recall the distinct odor of feed lots and meat packing. However, my memories were that Monfort was a fairly decent company to work for. I didn’t realize how they had transformed as described in the book. After reading this portion of the book, I was definitely in the camp of the government should do something here.

But then I got the end of the book and the author made the point that pushing on the government or hoping the government would fix things was a futile effort. He did point out however that by going to the largest customers of the meat packing industry, i.e. the “Golden Arches” and protesting against the problems in their supply chain was an effective approach for change. In other words, don’t rely on the government, follow the real money and figure out how to make a difference. To me, this was the central lesson of the book.

All of this leads me to the fact that we need a new economy. Not one based on industrialization, but one based on producing value add, premium products for the 1% ers. And it most definitely needs to operate in a community where there is mutual support and mutual success. As I think about it, either you enable your fellow citizens of the community to achieve success or you end up paying for in one unhappy way or the other. Community and Do unto Others seems like the path to follow, I think it just gives a much better result, for yourself as well as your fellow man. And the government doesn’t make the community, you do.

Ok, next, and so what do I think can be done with these thoughts…

Posted in Deep Thoughts | Tagged , | Leave a comment