Monday, March 29, 2010

Bees are Powerful

I posted the first picture to prove that I'm not really unattractive as a general rule because the second picture does not show me in my best light and there's always a chance that someone who doesn't know me reads this. I wasn't really sure about posting the picture at all but it's just so fascinating. Two tiny, tiny little stingers from two little bees did quite the job on me. Biology is just so impressive. Mind you, the picture below in two days after the original sting. Thank heavens for ice packs, Benadryl, and anti-itch cream.

Latest Food

We kept not getting the latest cinnamon bread eaten so I made bread pudding for breakfast on Sunday. I'd never done it before. It was delicious. The recipe is basically this one.

We had some broccoli hanging out in the fridge and a lot of eggs so quiche was the obvious choice the other night. I found this recipe and made only a couple of minor adjustments based on what we had...okay, not so minor; minor for me? Bacon was about 1/4 lb. of ends that I had left from a batch we bought from a local farmer, Swiss cheese got replaced by cheddar, butter got left out, I used a can of evaporated milk instead of fresh, and added broccoli. Eggs, flour, salt and onion were unchanged. Not having the crust on it really cut down on the prep time and we didn't miss it. The egg/flour was enough to make it almost bready so it held form well but it was also very moist and gooey at the same time.

Q decided that both of these recipes need to make it into the rotation.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Saturday's Highlights

We got the bees transferred to the new hive, pictures coming soon. I didn't get pics when we were done today because I was too busy nursing my stings. I irritated them a bit and wasn't wearing a net so I got stung on my upper lip and on my eyebrow. They're still swollen and super tender to the touch but it could be worse. Q was the one wearing a net and gloves so he escaped unscathed. They had five frames in the original box and we were amazed how much progress they've already made in building comb on them. They've already almost completely filled one of the frames. We're choosing a biodynamic beekeeping route and, rather than giving them foundation we're just giving empty frames and letting them build their own comb. So far, they're doing a great job. We'll have to keep a close eye on them during this major blossom time so they don't run out of room.

We went up to Portland this afternoon to the peerless Portland Nursery to get our grapes. We already missed bare root season and I didn't want them to run out of the potted varieties that we wanted. We got a Concord (for juice and jelly), a Niagara (white table grape), a Muller Thurgau, and a Muscat Ottenel. The last two are wine grapes whose juices apparently work well on their own or blended with each other. We also got a raspberry. It's going to be anticlimactic when the finished product is at first just posts with wire strung between them and sticks planted between them but I'm looking forward to watching them develop. We also picked up a raspberry for the final section of that area, farthest from the street.

They have some great looking apple trees that are grafted M27 rootstock, which only becomes about 4' trees. I think that we'll use the bed at the far side of the driveway and put in a half-dozen to help feed our cider making in the future. We'll have to figure out how we could get them home...

Speaking of cider, we bottled 20 bottles tonight. This batch is the clearest we've made yet and, judging by taste we got from the tail end of the bottle, it's going to mature into our best tasting batch to date.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Making Cinnamon Bread

I've been trying to perfect cinnamon bread, the standard being what I remember of my grandmother's. I've got her recipe. I've got her cinnamon and sugar shaker. I had lessons from her as an adult before she died. It seems like it should be easier than this. :)

Most importantly - roll out the dough really, really long. Second most importantly - listen to her voice in your head constantly saying, "well, maybe a little more than that" and "don't forget the edges". I've started shaking it on thickly then spritzing it down with a mister of water, then sprinkling again.

Using the above method, I finally got visible rings in this last batch. It was sort of an unattractive loaf but it was also gluten-free so the dough was a major pain to work with. It was still yummy though.

The recipe as I've adapted it (the recipe as it was created)

  • 1 1/2 cups whey - constantly trying to use it up from yogurt making (1 1/8 c scalded milk + 6T warm water for dissolving the yeast)
  • 2 T sugar (1/4 c + 2 T sugar)
  • 1 1/2 t salt (same)
  • 1 egg (same)
  • 5 c flour - I've been using spelt or rice/tapioca/potato starch/xanthan gum blends (5 c white flour)
  • 1 T yeast (same)

I've been making the dough in the bread machine - liquids in first, sugar and salt second, flour on top, yeast poured into a hollow made in the flour mountain. I then prepare the loaf, let it have a final rise and bake it at 425 degrees for about 45 minutes.

Digit and String

Digit's had a thing for strings since he was a kitten. His latest best friend is a piece of a tie that was too long from a shirt I made. We often hear a loud insistent meow nearby, whether we're in bed or watching TV or making dinner, and turn to see a cat intensely, pointedly looking up at us and then down at "String". He sleeps with it and carries it around the house, and now, thanks to the magic of video, makes a fool of himself on the internet with it. The first one (before we were filming) was better. He got going faster and faster until it finally flew off the end of his tail. It was totally like he was, inadvertently, teaching String how to play crack-the-whip.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Pollen Question Answered

Thank you internet! That site along with a little bit of other research has led me to believe that the orange pollen is probably dandelions and the yellow is probably the cherry tree. I'm totally going to have to keep my eyes open to see what pollen colors the bees bring back throughout the season.

Bees wear Legwarmers?

I haven't been able to capture it in a photograph but the bees are coming back with full pollen baskets from two different sources. Many return with neon orange or bright yellow huge fuzzy clumps on their back legs. They seriously look exactly like Flashdance bees. I wonder what plants the different colors are from. Hmmmm...keeping bees just keeps raising more and more questions.Isn't this a great picture of my many pets. Digit and Binky love the fact that I have the door open so I can hear the buzzing and that I'm hanging out with them in their favorite sun spot. Cat heaven.

Blueberry in bloom, a picture I promised my Colorado mama (who still is living under the threat of spring snows). It was prettier, with more fresh blossoms, last week but I forgot to take a picture.

Beekeeping Day One

Fifty degrees is apparently the magic "bees become active" number. Yesterday, they weren't out at all during the morning and I knew the magic number so I didn't think anything of it. Then, around 1p, I came into the bedroom and was shocked. Outside the glass door, I had a whole bunch of bees buzzing around in the sunlight. I was worried they were swarming again at first but then I saw them going in and out of the entrance and there were really only about a hundred out. You can sort of see some against the backdrop of the house but photography doesn't really do it justice. They kept it up until about 5p. From that point on, the activity decreased as the sun got lower and lower and the temperature dropped.
It was funny watching them go in and out. It reminded me of a subway station at rush hour. A whole rush would push into the entrance and then the moment there was a slight break there would be a push from inside out. They kept taking turns like that all afternoon. My theory is that they were all kind of just hanging out near home trying to get their bearings so they could find their way's back to the hive after longer excursions. I did see some flying back over the fence from the farm and also saw some sampling the cherry blossoms that are almost above the hive. I also got to see several sitting on the face of the hive and scenting with Nasarov pheremone. Apparently, they use it to mark "their" hive. The sit and expose the underside of their abdomen (where the gland is) and move their wings really fast to fan the scent. I need to find more info on bee behavior. Interesting stuff.

By 6p, when we returned from the beekeeping store with all of our new supplies, the activity above was only a memory and one by one the last foragers were returning to the hive. Only one dim-witted bee ended up outside on the box overnight. She kept trying to get into the crack at the top where the lid meets the box. Natural selection at work. Looks like one dead little bee statue on top of the box this morning.

At Glorybee, we apparently lucked out because they got a shipment in yesterday morning after being completely out on Friday and Saturday. We got two deep supers (which will be their home that they always have the brood and winter stores of honey in), 20 frames, 10 sheets of comb for putting in the frames, a screened bottom board, a metal covered telescoping top, and a protein cube and top of hive feeder for getting them through the last rainy days of spring in their new home. We also got a veil and gloves for Q. We didn't get gloves for me because even the smalls were way, way too big. Apparently some online company sells children's bee gear so maybe I'll try them. Until that time, when I feel like I need to wear gloves, I'll just use some gardening ones. All of the hive gear is unassembled so Q's going to be doing some hammering tonight. I'll be handing him parts, as per my usual job of "lackey".

Sunday, March 21, 2010

We've Got Bees!

We realized last night that we could capture the wild swarm that was settled on the tree across the street. Duh! How else did people get bees for centuries? Sure enough there was lots of information on the web about catching a wild swarm. I called my friend , Mary, who I knew keeps bees. She was very excited and got the extra gear she had all ready! Of course, we're capturing bees on a Sunday, the only day of the week that Glorybee, our local beekeeping supplier is closed.

I called her this morning after I got the go-ahead from my fascinated neighbor. I was so worried she would tell us no. Silly me, apparently offering to remove a swarm of bees from someone's property is seen as a favor by most people. :)

After Q got the branch sawed through, he passed it down to Mary, who carried it across the street to the waiting super. She'd put a bit of honey in the bottom to get them started. She put the branch in and some crawled off but not a bunch. We'd read that you just give it a firm shake to dislodge them. This really got the bees all riled up but bit by bit it did the trick.

After they'd calmed down a bit we started putting the frames we'd taken out back in. Nice and slow, letting them move out of the way as we eased them in. Mary put this one in and then she let me do the last three. It was way cool.

Q got stung once and Mary got stung twice and I didn't get stung at all. Q said his hurt for just a moment and then didn't hurt at all after that - even though he got stung on the top of his ear! I was lucky. It's fun when they're walking all over you though.

We eased the top back on, let them settle and find their way in and then moved them to the back yard, just outside our bedroom door so we can watch them go in and out. This is a little starter box called a "nuc" and we'll get a full sized one this week to transfer them into. This one holds five frames, the full one will hold ten. It's lucky that we'd just replaced the water meter valve box about a month ago so we had a nice sturdy thing to set them up on (along with three cinder blocks we stole from the top of the compost bins).

Considering how long we've been talking about getting bees, this was quite providential. Talk about the universe needing to give us a big broad hint that it was time to finally start our journey into apiculture. More to come soon...

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Swarming Bees and Retaining Walls

The first picture is tricky to see but there was a swarm of bees settled on the tree across the street today.
It forms the third point of an equilateral triangle with the bottom two angles at the places where the two house roofs join the walls.

A little closer...

And very close. The bees were all crawling all over. I wonder if it will be there tomorrow.

Here's the new retaining wall Q put in this weekend and last. The potatoes are going to be between the chives (far left) and the white post. The white posts are marking where we are going to put in wooden post to create the grape trellis. Looks like we'll have space for 4 grape plants and the space farthest from the road can be used for raspberries.

Q mowed the grass today and we got the cloche frames over a couple of the beds, ready for the tomatoes and peppers in about six weeks.

Grass had been trying to take over the big strawberry bed. I admit, I finally gave up on physical control methods and turned to a grass killer. I feel pretty good about this because the strawberries hadn't really leafed out yet. I've gotten the dead grass mostly removed now. There are still about 8 square feet at the corner under the window that I just couldn't bring myself to finish with today. It's spring break though so I have high hopes of getting it done Monday. If the allergies don't kill me first. :)

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Bagels and Beans

We've been the adventurous cooking types lately. The first experiment was trying to find new ways to use beans and rice for delicious nutritious lunches. (Nobody can actually have a bean, rice and cheese burrito every day and not get a little bored.) Q wanted to try something Cajun. I was skeptical. As usual, he was right in the end. It turned out really good. We used this recipe but left out all of the meat and the pickled onions.
I didn't want to make up a batch of the "Creole seasoning blend" until I found out if we liked the recipe so I just got out all the spices and used 1/2t for every T mentioned in the original recipe. Quite the way to make me feel like a real cook, madly tossing bits of this and that and more and more into the pan.

The final product was super good. This is coming from someone who doesn't really like green peppers either. It wasn't even too hot. I can see why it's a staple. It's really good and the simple ingredients make it dirt cheap.

Bagels were the other experiment. As my first batch, I'm posting them because they're so pathetically unattractive that I'll get to gloat to myself over future improvements. They can't look worse. They were really good though. They ended up a bit dense but that may have had to do with funny dough handling. Time constraints ended up having the dough made on Friday night and then formed, boiled and baked on Saturday morning. Boiling dough products also takes a bit of getting used to so I'm hoping I can learn from my experiences.

They were pretty great that day for lunch with homemade pesto and yo-cheese and some deli turkey. If I can get the hang of it bagels might make rather frequent appearances around here.

This week we're in the middle of the chicken challenge posed here and I'm looking forward to posting our results. Unfortunately, I've now forgotten to take pictures for all three nights, so it won't be a very visually interesting post!

Tomorrow's Friday (yay!) and then on Saturday we're taking this class through OSU Extension. It should be a lot of fun. I've never been interested in things that were "trendy" before. It's kind of fun to easily be able to find seminars and classes in things that interest you.

Spring's Progress

I've been too busy lately and have been terrible about keeping up with posting. So here's the garden update and I'll do the cooking update next.

There are about four asparagus crowns that have started putting up baby shoots. No harvesting this year but knowing I didn't kill them...priceless. ;)

The first true leaves on the babies in the second flat. The Oregon Cherry tomato gets this honor.

The second flat. The tags are hard to read so, starting from the back left:
Nova (Roma tomato variety), OR Cherry and Siletz tomatoes (1 cell each) and cabbage across the rest of the back. Front row starting left: peppers, eggplants, basil, broccoli and cauliflower.

The first flat. Onions are starting to look meatier and the celery is looking leafy. I'm worried that the babies seem a bit leggy - but maybe it's just a phase? The celery has enough true leaves that I'm going to transplant to larger pots this weekend to give it some actual soil so it can get some nutrients.