Thursday, May 5, 2011


  The birds are out in force this morning.  I have been seeing several pairs of Canada Geese winging past.  The cardinals love the feeders and never leave.  The bright goldfinches are here in great numbers. I have started seeing the house finches with their lovely red feathers. A gorgeous iridescent  starling  even took a beakful of seed this morning.

     This morning I had the treat of seeing a pair of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks.  I am not certain that I have ever seen them before - both a male and a female came to visit the feeders.
they are quite stocky - I thought at first it was a young robin, but then it turned to show the chest

the female

    The photos are, unfortunately, not very clear as I was shooting through a window. Actually, there ate at least two males and a female - so pretty.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


Listening to a news article on modern discoveries from shipwrecks. I am scared out of my mind at the thought of diving with sharks, but I would love to scuba dive in a wrecked ship.

Peas, beets (three types), lettuce and carrots are in.  Squashes, shallots, tomatillos and peppers are all growing in small pots in the basement.  Warmth... PLEASE!

If I ever change careers, archeology would be a possible choice.

I loved the book, Water for Elephants so much that I am leery of seeing the film version - thoughts?

My basement and backyard are flooding - not a lot, but enough to be a royal pain in the tush.

Going on a field trip with the kindergarten class on Friday to the Audubon Bird Sanctuary.  I hope it is dry.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Cleaning out the dead bees

  Yesterday the weather was fine - warmish and sunny so I spent some time outside - planted twenty bayberry bushes and cleaned out one of the hives.
    The hive I was working on was my first hive - and they were dead and moldy. Yuck!

 I know they died of starvation as many of them were head first in comb, obviously trying to get to the last bit of honey in each cell.
you can see all their rear ends sticking out of the cells

The irony is there were probably thirty pounds of honey in the hive when I opened it.
Apparently it was so cold, fairly early on in the winter, and for so long, that they were unable to break from the cluster and move over to the next frame of honey, thus starving. 

So, I undertook the unenviable task of scraping out the dead bees, and gouging out chunks of comb in which many of them had died.  

I feel terrible after all their work to cut out so much comb, but it will get rebuilt by the next ladies in the hive.  I had a few wild bees sniffing around the hive as some of the honey comb dripped a bit, but not the robbing I was anticipating.  My bee guy who I order my packages and nucs from has called postponing the arrival of the new packages three times. At the last notice we should be getting the girls around May 28. Not the most convenient time, but that's what happens. 
    So, the Flower Hive is clear and sealed up to keep robber bees out. 

 This week I will crack open the Blue Hive and get that cleared out before I have to start work on my next show, get into finals week, take my Scouts camping and go to my children's various games and races.

Maple Syrup, as promised

  Just a few shots to finish the discussion of how we do our backyard sugaring off.  My husband created a temporary fire pit of cinderblocks and the grill off of the barbeque.

 We burn deadfall from around the yard.  The most helpful thing is to use a pan with a large surface area and low sides - in our case, my turkey roasting pan.
I keep a metal bowl  or a small pot to the side to start warming the sap before pouring it into the boiling sap in the pan. The key is to keep the sap boiling to have the most efficient evaporation. Since there are the occasional ants or flies in the sap bottles, I pour it through a sieve before putting it in the side bowl, then again before putting it into the pan, to help filter out ashes that might have flown in.  The sieve is also useful in skimming off the tan scum which forms on the surface periodically.  I do not know what this is, but ridding the pan of this scum leaves more surface area for evaporation.

It usually takes us all day to boil down about 40 gallons of sap.  When it is too dark to really see the surface of the boiling sap, or when we are  well boiled down, we move the process inside to finish on the stove.  This is a sticky process, so I  surround the burner with aluminum foil. There will be small sticky flecks of syrup all over your stove.

Being careful not to boil over, which I assure you is a smelly mess, you boil the syrup until it is about 7 degrees above the temperature of boiling water. (This  number varies depending on how high above sea level you are).  We boiled a bit longer than usual this year, trying to create a slightly thicker consistency to the syrup that we have had in past years. 

 Some folks store it in coffee cans and keep it in the freezer, we just put the syrup in mason jars and store it in the basement storage room.  Do not pour it straight into the jars or cans you plan to use. There is a substance which forms called nitre (some folks call it sugar sand). It settles in the bottom of the jar and is very bitter.  To remove this, long ago it is said that men filtered it through their hats - the wool felt caught the nitre and allowed the clear syrup to run through.  I use a damp piece of wool felt (NOT craft felt which is made of polyester or acrylic and can melt). The process is not swift, but do not cut corners as you will have bitterness at the bottom of the syrup. 

  So there it is - very easy with the investment of a small amount of equipment and some time.  There are folks who have much more elaborate systems - I even know a guy with a professional sugar house - but this suits us fine. We have the satisfaction of  making our own syrup from our own trees, and in teaching the children that with some time and effort, they do not have to depend on the grocery store for everything.