Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Welcome to the world baby girl!

My niece was born yesterday!
Jesmyn Aoife
7.6lbs 20"

Sunday, April 15, 2018

No bees - but bottled Metheglin!

 So sad. No bees after all this weekend. No one's fault except Mother Nature or - Global Climate Change - take your pick of philosophies.

My Bee Guy drives down to Georgia to get our bee packages. It's a long and complicated story but anyway... then he drives them back up to Pennsylvania. Normally this is no problem, but this particular weekend (as opposed to last weekend when we were "supposed" to have a blizzard), this weekend it was about a bazillion degrees on the east coast. By the time they reached home, most of the bees where dead due to the heat. :( It was really sad. There was a notice on the website about trouble. I went up anyway. Unfortunately, while there were worker bees, the queens had been compromised. I have assurances that as soon as there are new queens I can come back up and pick up the ordered packages. I feel so bad for my Bee Guy. He was stuck between a rock and a hard place. He was already a week late delivering bees, the weather forecast wasn't accurate (let's face it - it was super warm here on Saturday), and he clearly wanted to get us our bees!

I am prepared at any rate. I spent a good deal of time on Friday cleaning out the hive boxes. Both had not made it and I'm pretty sure I know why. When I cleaned out the dead bees, I found varroa mites all over them - including still live mites! Uch, I was so upset. Especially since I treated the bees at the end of the season with the correct acid. Clearly, it didn't work. However, I am ready for this year's bees. This also gives me a bit more time to prepare the frames that go into the boxes.

In other news:
I continued to edition Luminary:
Three more, half done. 

I also finished a pair of socks for a good friend. SY moved to Buffalo with her family a little over a year ago and she is freezing. There is nothing better for freezing than very warm socks. 
I am really happy with these and I hope she likes them. 

And I bottled the Metheglin!

A few days ago it stopped furiously fizzing. I knew it was time to bottle it, but still had to plan that somehow.
On Saturday I stopped at the Philly Homebrew Outlet because they also have beekeeping supplies. I spied some things I might need to bottle the metheglin, and this morning I thought, what the heck, I'll go get some things. 
Of course, the bottles I'm going to use will be the cobalt. 
 I also invested in a siphon. This is a nifty piece of equipment that makes transferring liquid a piece of cake. Basically you create a vacuum and let gravity work it's magic. As long as the bottle that is receiving the liquid is lower that the original, the liquid will continue to flow.
This was a relatively easy process except I should have put the bottles into a bowl! That way, when I wasn't quick enough to pinch the tube to shut off the flow, the extra liquid would overflow into that and not onto the floor. It was all good though - it inspired a fit of long overdue cleaning to mop up the floor. 
I also added the rest of the ingredients: raisins, cinnamon, and lemon. I used Persian raisins (12 per bottle), real cinnamon, the flaky kind, and the rind of a lemon. Not much of that though, kind of a 1cm wide sliver, the pith removed. 
 As I mentioned before, I plan on letting these sit for a while. The first opportunity to sample will be when former tenants come back to town for graduation. One will earn his PhD. I think that will be the perfect time to uncork one of these and see how it turned out.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Metheglin, Luminary, and 50 Card Project

Metheglin Update: 
Well, something's happening. I left the metheglin in the kitchen overnight and when I came in the next morning, it was alive. It was foaming so much I took it into the bathroom and put it into the shower. That way if it exploded at least it would be easier to clean up! I was also so shocked by the drama I forgot to take pictures until a few days later. 
Here is an image of the foaming still happening, although much subdued. This was probably last Wednesday. 

By this morning the bubbles have slowed considerably and the liquid has cleared. It is quite the lovely caramel color. Dare I sample some? 
I opened the cork and sniffed. It doesn't smell bad. I went and got a straw and did the old, dip and pull method because I didn't want to disturb the sediment at the bottom. And what does it taste like?... beer. 

Okay Okay, I'm not a beer drinker, but I can manage a pale ale and that's what this tastes like at the moment. A very pale, light, ginger beer. I still have to add the cinnamon, lemon, and raisins. That might change the flavor a little. But as soon as I have another bottle, I'm making straight mead. I've got to see what the difference is. Project for this weekend? Figure out how to bottle this up. I'm planning on letting it sit for longer than the "fortnight" suggested by Mrs. W's book. 

In related news,  I have great news on the bee front. I will pick up my bees tomorrow! This was not guaranteed because I was a real ding-a-ling about ordering them. I sent my check and application well before the deadline. We're talkin' weeks here. I really wanted my bees early so they could get a head start on everything and I might get a summer harvest of honey. 

I forgot to put a stamp on the envelope. 

It came back after the notice was put up on the website that there was only a waiting list for bee packages this weekend. I was so bummed. I stuck the entire envelope in a new envelope and wrote a pitiful message on it pointing out that technically I did mail it before the deadline. I also mentioned that if someone didn't show up for their order, I would be more than happy to drop everything and come pick them up. My bee man is the best and put me on this weekends list. I am very excited! That's what I will be doing for most of today... reviewing my notes and remembering what to do for this whole bee thing. 

Last weekend, I got lost in the studio to edition my book Luminary. 
 It was accepted into the Guild of Bookworkers traveling exhibition, Formation. I only had the one copy and before it leaves me for two years, I really needed to make another for reference.

There are 15 pages and my goal is 10 books. They are all sunprints which is quite an ambitious project let me tell you! The sun and clouds are not exactly ideal studio mates. It's taken almost two years just to print the spreads. And of course, I already have to print more due to stupid mistakes.

I got three put together last weekend. And before I forget what I did, I want to finish as many others as possible.
 The wonderful Silhouette Cameo cutter Ann gave me for Christmas a year ago, is an absolute life saver.  It took some fiddling, but it is cutting a perfect circle in all of my spreads exactly where they should be. Big sigh of relief.

50 Card Project
I received a wonderful surprise in the mail this week. In response to the election last year, my friend Melanie did this project. 

It was a monumental undertaking funded by Kickstarter.  In spite of so much misery for the past year, she managed to find quotes and responses to the madness that were positive and uplifting. More information about the project can be found here:

You can find (and purchase!) your own copy here: 

Congratulations Melanie! It is really fabulous!

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Happy Rejuvenation!

Yes, I am still here.
Happy Easter, Happy Passover, and mostly happy Spring! Life returns. Which is the perfect time to restart this blog.
Full disclosure, my New Year's resolution was to return to blogging, but well... that didn't happen.
I have no excuses... just explanations - this past year really sucked politically. And since it was so crazy it was all I could do to meet my obligations and then go home and pull the covers over my head. I have high hopes for this November though. Something's gotta give.
There is much to catch up on and report. Last year my blog came in very handy as a diary of things that have happened, including a "neighbor" who wanted to re-zone his property inappropriately. I was able to go back and document the baloney he had pulled on us. Super motivation to keep this little project up! But with what?
Well, the one idea I've wanted to do is post more of my recipes. This year at work I've started leaving historical recipes in my "out-of-office" reply email. I've had some very fun responses. The last one was Martha Washington's Metheglin recipe.

This is from Karen Hess' fabulous transcription.  If you have any interest in historical cooking, this is a Must Purchase. The introduction and appendixes alone are worth the price. (It's still in print!)

I've wanted to make mead for a long time. We went to a mead tasting a few years ago at the Wyck house and I was converted. Mead is not just thick, super-sweet, syrupy alcohol, it can be light, bubbly, and pear tasting. Now that I have a surplus of honey, time to try this out. But looking online is a little intimidating. There is all this crap about chemistry and ph, and managing the yeast and blah blah blah. Finally last week I stumbled on a blog post that basically said, hey - people 400 years ago didn't know or monitor any of this stuff. They just put things together and watched what happened. That gave me courage. Onward Ho! and I have forged ahead. 

A quart of honey is about 3lbs of honey. Yep - I've got that. I gathered the rest of the ingredients and got started. 

The honey. 

The water.

I forgot to take a picture of the three races (hands) of ginger. Not quite used to this blogging thing again I guess. The thing I remember is how good it smelled! Fresh peeled ginger. Hmmmmm. 

Combined it all in my "vegetarian" pot and measured the liquid so I could be sure to boil away exactly 1/3. 
5 1/8 inches or 13cm. Well, one third less of 5 1/8inches is 3 7/16inches. OR, one third less of 13cm is 8.7cm. Much easier. Stupid Imperial system. 

When the liquid was reduced by 1/3, about and hour and 15 minutes later, I turned the heat off and allowed it to cool before adding the yeast along with a yeast nutrient the shop owner convinced me I needed. It was $1.50 so heck, why not? 

While it was cooling I prepped my containers. 
I've been buying my olive oil in bulk from the International Food and Spices shop in West Philly. And yes, I'll admit, I was sold on the bottles! ;) 

Unfortunately the bottles don't stand up to much heat.
The first one I poured boiling water into burst at the base! Thank goodness I was holding it over the sink at the time. 
I was a little concerned that I didn't have enough space after that, even though the label on the bottle states 101oz. 

Hm. Yet there are 64oz in a gallon. 
Somethin' don't add up here. 

I didn't have much choice. I don't have anything else i can put the overflow into. I bottled as much as I could with a bit of ginger and we'll see what happens next! 

Now I let it sit for three days and then I'm supposed to add the cinnamon, lemon and raisins. 

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Drama Queenbees

Oh there has been quite the drama with the queens this year let me tell you.
But first let me catch you up on the prep. Most of these photos were taken mid April. Thus the very sparse growth in the background. I will have to post an image from a month and a half ago along side one from today. You wouldn't recognize it! 
Anyway - as I was saying - catch up.

When keeping bees, it is always recommended to start with two hives. That way if something goes wrong with one of the hives you might - might! - be able to help it from the strong hive. I decided this year I should follow this advice. Two hives. 
Apparently the boxes and beehives from previous years have been abandoned to me. I haven't heard from the person who left them in more than a year so now, I've claimed them. They are mine. I also decided to collect the abandoned equipment from a friend. This is a huge savings for me because purchasing the bees, while isn't cheap, isn't that expensive either. The equipment is $$$. 

I have plenty of room for the both of them.
 But I am tired of the ugly green and the stupid geckos.
Time to change that. All the boxes were stacked in the garden on a sunny day with no threat of rain.

Paint was chosen from the basement: left over paint from my bedroom. A cheerful yellow.
Much better!
You'll notice in the above image that there are different sized boxes. The larger ones are called deeps. I'm using two deeps for my brood chambers. The brood chambers are where the queen runs around laying eggs. The mediums (the narrower ones) are the ones to put on top for honey.  

Then there are a few extras, spacers and bases and stuff. Well, those had to be painted chartreuse of course.
 Finished! And don't' they look lovely? I thought about putting a little extra decoration around them, but by the time I had my bees it was too late. Maybe next year. Ya gotta be careful. Bees don't like paint fumes.

This year I decided to take the beekeeping class from Worcester Honey Farms and it has been excellent! I've learned so much about them and they are so interesting. It is quite a system they have worked out to survive. There is one queen. She is the mother to all the bees in the hive. At peak season that can be up to 100,000 bees.  Mostly she makes daughters. These are the worker bees. They live for six weeks and have different jobs at different stages from the moment they hatch. The drones are the boys. There are not as many of them, and they do absolutely nothing except mate with other queens. At a certain point the workers kill them all to be done with them. The queen makes new ones in the spring.
For one of our classes we had to practice picking bees up with our bare fingers. 
I was not thrilled because that lesson came when i was feeling particularly awful from allergies/upper respiratory infection mentioned in the previous post. But I'm rather proud of myself because I did master the art of picking up bees. First we picked up drones. They don't have stingers so you can pick them up by the thorax. They sure buzz a lot but you can keep a pretty good grip on them. We practiced marking them as if they were queens with paint pens. I have found the value in having a marked queen. She is much easier to spot. Even though she is significantly bigger than the workers, she is still hard to find on a frame covered with stripey bees. After marking the drones we had to pick up workers bees. This was the part I was really not interested in. When I get stung I swell up badly. Last summer I had to be on a steroid to get the swelling down. It was not fun. And I needed to be able to use my right hand on Monday! But I have to say, bee people are the nicest people you could ever meet. I was late to class (on account of feeling awful) and everyone had already mastered grabbing little workers by their wings and picking them up. I had to do it with a full audience. But everyone was kind and helpful and encouraging. They helped me find the ones with their wings in just the right position to be picked up. It sure made the job easier. I managed to pick up three bees without getting stung. I wasn't able to shove them into queen cages though. But at this point I'm still proud of my accomplishment. It came in handy later too.

So the drama of the queens this year! Good grief!
My teacher also sells the bee packages way out in in Blue Bell, PA. It is a 45 minute trip with no traffic. Which on the Schuylkill Expressway is a fluke. There is always traffic. I made it home with both packages. The queen was still alive in the first one so I installed it - no problem. The second hive the queen was dead. Called my teacher and made arrangement to drive back out on Sunday to pick up new Queen. Queens are bread separately from the Package of 9000 bees you purchase. They are housed in queen cages with a few attendants until the package gets used to her pheromones and accepts her.
Tuesday came and it was time to let the queen from the first package out of her cage.
She was dead.
I checked the other hive and the new queen was thankfully still alive.
Wednesday I had to head back out to my teacher to pick up another queen. You can't have a hive without a queen. She is the only one who is fertile. When I arrived he said, "you know, you should check to see if there isn't a rogue queen in the package. If there is, they'll never accept this one and they'll just kill her." Well. Okay then. I couldn't install her until Thursday morning and while I looked very carefully at the package and thought I saw someone extra large, I couldn't be sure.
I took the opportunity of being suited up to release the other queen but she had already escaped her queen cage and was contentedly wandering around on a frame. Yipee!
That Sunday was class and I thought I should look one more time to see if I could find a rogue queen. If I did, I could take the other queen back to my teacher. Again - a fleeting glimpse of one that might have been the queen but she was too quick. At class we picked up bees and had a very informative question answer session before we were rained out. I told my teacher what was going on and he said to let him know because he'd be checking on his hives at UPenn and could stop by and pick her up is she was indeed unneeded. By the time I got home the weather had cleared and so I looked one more time and this time I spied her! There was a rogue queen! I double and triple checked to be sure and then emailed my teacher. 
Tuesday morning when he was to stop by I retrieved the queen from the hive and there one one little worker bee who would not let go of the cage. She clung on through smoke, and shaking and brushing aside. Finally, I decided to put my newly acquired bee-picking-up skills to work. I deftly plucked her up by her wings and flung her back in the direction of the hive. Boy, if that doesn't give you a sense of empowerment I don't know what does.

And now... I can't find the rogue queen again. 
And I don't think she is there. No idea why. Did she leave? Did she die? Did I accidentally squish her? Evidence that she is no longer there: 
1. This is not a happy hive. They are extremely agitated when I open the hive. 
2. There are no eggs.
3. There were significantly less bees than the other hive.
4. There are four queen cells on the bottom of a frame.
The long peanut looking things are the queen cells. The other flat orange disks are capped brood. There is a pupating larvae in those (worker larvae).  The fact that the queen cells are on the bottom of the frame indicates that they might be wanting to swarm. Maybe the queen already left!? I just don't know. What absolutely cannot happen is that the workers start laying eggs. They aren't fertilized so they will just be drones. The drone larvae are bigger and will destroy the comb. (The queen lays the appropriate egg for the size of the cell. Smallest are worker bees, larger are drones, and the workers make the queen cells. They decide when they want a new queen.)
So here is a frame from that hive of a circle of capped brood. I am hoping that the empty circle in the middle is because they all hatched and they are still working on these other ladies hatching. But there are no eggs in there :(.
I've emailed my teacher and so we'll see what wisdom he shares with me. If there is one thing I've learned from this experience is that this profession takes a lot of experience to master. There are just so many variables and so many different things that can go wrong.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

April showers bring May allergies.... and a new patio

This year was the worst for allergies yet. April 28th, Friday evening, my allergies hit me with the force of all that is evil. Eyes itchy, sneezing non-stop, completely congested... oh brother. I was out of commission. Unfortunately I couldn't be out of commission. Saturday the 29th I had to pick up my bees. I ordered two bee packages this year and took the class. There was tons of drama with the queens, but that is a story for another post.
Long story short - that weekend I sought the advice of my local pharmacist who gave me excellent recommendations:  keep taking the Zyrtek, supplement with Sudafed for allergies, Flo-nase for the congestion and if that doesn't work, come back for the Zatidor eye drops before you rip your eye-balls out. By Monday I had to get the eye drops I was so miserable. By Thursday, it turned out, I was allergic to the eye drops. You've never seen anything like it. My eyes were completely blood shot, tearing, and itchy like crazy. Not to mention the gunk! There was so much gunk coming out of them they sealed shut over night. All of this stress strained the rest of my system and by the following Tuesday (when I could see a doctor) she decided that in addition to all of the allergy nonsense I had an upper respiratory infection. I took an entire week off from work because I was totally useless. And I'm still coughing, although things have gotten much much better. And to top if off, May has been a little bit miserable. We had a three day heat wave, temps in the 90s out of nowhere, and then promptly back to the 60s. I'm not complaining about the cool weather because soon enough it will be broiling, but it's still weird. And the cool weather allowed me to take care of another long overdue project, replacing the "deck".
Remember the deck? I layed down four wooden pallets, topped it with weather proof fencing and voilá! Instant deck. This worked just fine until last summer when the pallets started rotting through. It started to become more of an amusement park fun house ride than a safe and secure deck. So it was time to replace it with a patio.
Here is the deck in its last hurrah. It served it's purpose well. 

One of the collapsed pallets that proved the most wobbly. 
 The Senior Inspector was curious but didn't seem to exhibit any great feelings about the removal of one of his garden thrones.
 Once the furniture was moved, he did settle comfortably in his favorite chair.

Meanwhile, the Junior Inspector monitored everything from the ground. 
 Cleared space is approved.

Next came the incredibly laborious job of leveling the ground. Ooff! What a job.

 Once it is mostly flat sand needs to be added.
I added 200lbs of sand and smoothed it out. I was so tempted to run the rake through it to make a faux zen garden. But the thought that I would have to smooth it out again took that desire away right quick-like.
And as I stood there surveying my handiwork at the end of the day, I realized I could not be done this evening. What does that giant sand pit look like to you? Now, what do you think it looks like to a cat? A deluxe kitty litter box! Am I right? So the work continued to prevent any treasures appearing in it overnight.

I was removing bricks from the walkway next to the porch for this project.
The walkway is only ever totally clear in the winter time when I'm not really using it. And the rest of the year it one giant weeding nightmare project. Plus the flower beds between the walkway and the porch just aren't substantial enough to do anything wonderful with. I decided that if I lifted the bricks from there for the patio, I could then expand the flower/vegetable beds. 

After getting the first load back to the deck in the wheel barrow (checked out from the West Philly Tool Library - yay!) my earlier suspicions about the vast sand pit were tested.
The Senior Inspector was mighty interested!

But to my great relief and surprise, that sand pit looked like the best kitty-bath in the world!
The Senior Inspector had himself a grand time in the sand.
And I let him.
(Sorry about the video quality. I'm working with my vintage Canon from ought five.)

I managed to make quite a bit of progress before it really was time to call it quits.
I covered the leftover bit with an old shower curtain to thwart any other kitties who think more like me.
At the next opportunity I finished my patio!
The sand is key. It allows you to make the whole thing completely level and for a time, thwarts any weeds from sneaking into the cracks. 
The above brick was sticking up at least 1/4" higher than everything else. So you just pull it up, scoop out some sand until it lies flush with the rest of the bricks. Fabulous technique!

Once I had reinstalled the furniture, the Junior Inspector checked things out. 

 New deck approved!

The project made quite a mess of the garden, and I'm looking forward to having that cleaned up. 
My lovely new veggie garden at the side of the house has tomatoes, kale, and fennel along with various flowers.
But I don't think this project is quite finished. I have extra bricks and I think it would be wise to make a pathway from the patio connected to the rest of the bricks in front of the shed. This would be nice just for general barefoot travel and also for a good place to put the grill.