Another evening at a beekeeping class

The chiefest cause, to read good bookes,

That moves each studious minde

Is hope, some pleasure sweet therein,

Or profit good to finde.

Now that delight can greater be

Than secrets for to knowe

Of Sacred Bees, The Muses’ Birds,

All which this booke doth showe

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From the preface to First Lessons In Beekeeping

     I am inhaling a 6 week evening class on the basics of beekeeping.  Last night was week 3.  There are 35 men and women, boys and young ladies in the room,  all spell-bound by the wisdom we are hearing. (“and learning the secrets of the sacred bees”) 😉

    It is one thing to read a good book, it is something entirely different, to be able to interact with someone in person.

ie.  “This is what they suggest in the book, BUT……………. Here is what I’ve discovered happens  if you do that in our area.”

     Our instructor Jim has been keeping bees  for ???? (Not sure how many years)   I do know he  manages  around 400 hives in a three state area.

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       And on a personal note….

    Last Saturday and again on Monday,  I had the opportunity to mentor two different people interested in either starting an orchard or tending existing apple trees.  Both spent a couple of hours with me as  we talked specifics.  I enjoy those kind of opportunities.  It feels like I am passing the torch on to the next generation myself,  although in this case, both students were at least as old or older than myself). 😉

    Back to the bees…..

      I feel like a racehorse in the gate at the Kentucky Derby when I think about managing a bee hive (or 3)….

    The creative juices are already starting to flow…..

     wild-bee-2012

Wild bee in our  orchard

2012 growing season

Everybody Move!

When the kids were growing up  Princess Bride was one of those movies we watched again and again.  We still quote lines back and forth  to each other….

“Anybody want a peanut?”

Either you get it or you don’t.  😉

When anyone leave our place, if you were to glance at the kitchen window, you would see whomever’s home waving.

We got into the habit years ago.  Often muttering under our breath...”Have fun storm’n the castle…” 😉

 

have-fun-storming-the-castle

So, Monday afternoon I got a call from my eldest..

She’d just gotten home from the grocery store.  Said the place was crazy busy.

Came around the  corner pushing a cart and the aisle was block….snarled up like a traffic jam.

Her mind immediately went to a scene in Princess Bride where Fezzik the giant took command of a similar situation.

In her best deep Fezzik voice. it just came out….

Everybody move!

 

People scattered.

Her husband turned red and took off in another direction.

When daughter got home from the store, she had to call her papa.   (Me )  Both of us howled.

Daughter was pretty sure by the look on most of the faces, they had no idea that they’d just heard  a line from a movie.

Eldest daughter…

You rock! 😉

I love your sense of humor.

I love hearing your laugh.

I’m  so glad we share crazy movies like this with each other.

Love you!  The papa.

Wild Flowers on the Brain

honey-bee-flowers

photo by google

Of late, my brain has been percolating on a new project…

A couple of them actually.

Honey bees and wild flowers.

Our small apple orchard already and consistently provides me with loads of joy and I think bee hives and a field of wild flowers would dovetail nicely into my life.

For  years, random people in my life…I’m talking random… would say, “You need to get honey bees!”..and I would think..”yea, right,  like I need another ball to juggle….”

But…

I am finally at the place where I would like to take the plunge.

We live on  4 acres of property…most of it, is taken up by buildings  but there is an acre of ground just north of our windbreak that is just sitting there, growing a nice crop of weeds.  I’ve toyed around with planting more apple trees out there but the 100 apple trees that I currently manage, more than satisfy that “itch” for an orchard.

So……………what I’m wanting to do, is plant that field  permanently into wild flowers that would bloom throughout the summer (so once the bees are done with pollinating the apple trees they would have an acre of flowers to work in and not have to travel too far.

I have been fascinated with wild flowers for years.  I think it’s the artist in me. 😉

There are several details that still need to come together, the biggest being money. 😉

I could hire the field work done, but properly prepping a field for flowers after this many years of growing weeds requires much more attention and work than just planting it into corn or beans.

The cost would not be as much as an investment in a tractor and rotor tiller but would still be a couple of thousand dollars, plus I would have to be dependent on someone else’ s  schedule and flexibility.

Besides,  and this is important…

I want to work the soil myself. (Must be the farmer in me.) 😉

I hate debt, and will not borrow money unless it pencils out long term. A dozen hives and an acre of flowers would take quite a while to generate $5,000…

So I wait…

And learn…

And put out feelers…

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And on a completely unrelated note, I moved (it’s called racking) the hard apple cider into smaller containers last weekend.  1/2 gallon of it, is covered with cheese cloth and exposed to the air so it will continue to ferment and morph into apple cider vinegar..the rest is still hard cider.  When I tested it with the hydrometer, it tested at 10.9% alcohol content.  That was fast.  We’re not big consumers of alcohol so, I’ll probably turn most of it into apple cider  vinegar.

 

Apfelwein…..already at 5 %

Apfelwein: German for Apple Cider

There is 5 gallons of raw,(  freshly pressed) apple cider,  sitting  in a food grade five gallon plastic bucket, fermenting behind me as I write.  I checked it with the hydrometer yesterday, it is already up to 5% alcohol content since I started.

This is my first attempt at making hard cider (freshly pressed, raw apple cider juice intentionally handled to morph into alcohol.)

I mentioned a few weeks ago, my latest life goal/ project is to become a fermentation master.

Some of it I hope to bottle up for gifts, some of it I hope to make into apple cider vinegar and some of it for personal consumption.

It is almost impossible to find (or buy) raw unpasteurized apple cider. Big brother has made it illegal to sell to the public without first being pasteurized, which is all well and good, but in the process, the good stuff is killed along with any potential harmful bugs. (just like its almost impossible to buy raw milk…unless you own a cow or buy it on the black market, it is not to be had)

I had to grind and press 2 bushel of apples to get 4 and 1/2 gallons of cider. The  #2 apples sell for $30 a bushel.   $60 worth of fruit,  2 hours of my time. and over $1000 of equipment  ( the whizbang apple grinder and a cider press.)   When someone recently suggested I could sell the cider for $6 to $8 a gallon I just kept quiet.    I told my wife, this stuff is conservatively worth $25 a gallon before it’s fermented.

I have no very little tolerance  for people who try to work me over  on a price of something I’m selling.

On another fermentation note…

I wanted to transfer the peach mead that I started fermenting a few weeks ago into another container this week.

Sampled some of it first.

My oh my.

Smooth and mellow.

Again, you can’t buy this stuff anywhere.

And finally, I am experimenting with a batch of what I will probably  call Jailhouse hooch.  Had a guy that used to work with me that did a little time in the Cook County jail.  One day over coffee break he gave me skinny on how they made hooch when he was in jail. …the only change I am making is instead of using a garbage bag and hiding it under my bed, I’m using a food grade plastic pail  😉

I started a batch this morning.

1 pound of firm fresh strawberries, 3 pounds of sugar, 3/4 t of baking yeast, one gallon of cold water and a 1 gallon food safe plastic bucket.   Before the fermentation process started I got a reading on the hydrometer.  It registered 60./ potential alcohol content 15%.

We will see.

I am taking copious notes in case I hit one out of the park. DM

Fermentation

Two weeks ago , I spoke at our library on  the publication of my latest book on local history.  At one point during the question and answer period, Terri asked me if I had any new projects in the works.

Her question took me off guard, but since I sensed she really wanted to know I told her this:

“Well, actually I do. There are two.  One requires a good chunk of money so until that piece of the puzzle comes together ….

My first project in the wings is this….I would like to retrace (on foot) the Scottish pioneer settlers that came to our area late 1830…they started in the Red River Area of Manitoba Canada..worked their way down through Minnesota and into eastern Iowa.   All told, a 1300 mile trek on foot.  Realistically, I would need two and 1/2 to three months to pull that off. and because I would not be working,  enough money to off set the lost income…so until that piece of the puzzle comes together…..

 I have discovered another area of life, that combines several things.  I have been intrigued for years about various processes (making cheese, fermenting wine, starting sour dough starter from scratch with wild yeast… etc)  I realized a few weeks ago, they all fall under a general category of fermentation….so my latest quest is to become a “Fermentation Master”   (whether it’s sour dough, wine, sauerkraut, or cheese, curing meat, food preservation, etc.  I want to understand the theory behind these life skills…”

(Fermentation master is a term I DM have coined for myself…like acquiring a masters degree in college). 🙂

Pause

If you were to stop by our home currently, you would discover I have 2 things currently fermenting.   A two quart jar of peach mead, (from local raw honey and some peaches off one of our trees)  and 2 jars of red sauerkraut.  I’ve been nibbling out of one jar of  sauerkraut the past few weeks just to have a handle on the taste…I’ve noticed my incessant food cravings have tapered back between 50% to 75%…(which I have battled for years.   I’ve also dropped 8 pounds).  In some of the literature I’ve read about lactic acid fermentation  (which is what is going on when making sauerkraut)..it mentioned the link between food cravings,  obesity, healthy gut bacteria, the brain/ probiotic links etc.

So last night, I messaged a friend who also happens to be a family doctor that specializes in nutritional and lifestyle choices  (who is much more up to speed on the medical angle of these things) and asked her if there could be a connection…here is what she said:

“It makes perfect sense, Doug! What happens is that by eating the sauerkraut you have been changing the microbiome of your GI tract. You may have had an imbalance of yeast, which ALWAYS causes you to crave carbs and sugar.”

Pause.

Anyway,  here is a link to a great blog with  information about fermentation and some recipe’s you can try yourself at home that I stumbled across recently:

http://modernhippiehousewife.com/fermented-food/

And here is a link to a user friendly, in depth book on fermentation by Fermentation Master  Sandor Katz.  I  got my hard cover copy two weeks ago.   It is  so readable and full of practical wisdom.

It should be on every person’s book shelf.

https://www.amazon.com/Art-Fermentation-Depth-Exploration-Essential/dp/160358286X

And finally, here’s a link to Sandor Katz  on Youtube talking about how to make your own sauerkraut and the health benefits.  Check it out!

So that’s some of what’s been on my mind the past month.   DM

 

Keep It Simple

When I stopped by our self serve apple wagon on Saturday, there was a van parked in the road, with eight Jr high girls milling around  and a mom trying to take their picture.

The mom said to me….”So you’re the guy who always wished he could have had a lemonade stand when he was growing up?”

Her question took me off guard,  then it dawned on me, she’d read the instruction sheet on the apple wagon:

 

General Instructions

This is a self-serve stand because…

  1. We trust you
  2. We’re busy
  3. Inside of me lives a little boy who always wished he could have had a lemonade stand.

     We  do spray so make sure you wash the apples before you eat them.

The apples are $1.50 a pound, just put them on the scale leave your $ inside the chicken.

There are plastic bags in the hanging dispenser if you need them.

Thank you for your business! DM’s Orchard

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The wagon and how it’s run does several things for me.  It is a social experiment…. I am convinced the majority of people today will live up to your trust in them if given a chance.  And that trust is validated week in, week out, where I live, and has been for the past five years.

Second, I like to mess with peoples heads and challenge their ability to trust the next guy.  Here’s how it works:   When you buy apples off the wagon, you stick your money  in an un-attended peanut butter jar, sitting inside a metal chicken 🙂

If you’re like me, you’ll probably think as you drop your money in the jar…

What about the next person ??? Can they be trusted to leave that $5 or $10, or even $20 bill alone when they stop?  And the answer is most of the time yes.

Finally,while yes, we can most definitely use the income from the apple sales, at the end of the day, this is a hobby for me.  This is a fun way for me to spread a little serendipitous joy in a world that is seriously in need of it. There is more to life than the almighty dollar.

Here is a picture of some Cortlands after going through the antique polisher equipped with horse hair polishing brushes that you will find on the wagon:

crates-of-polished-cortland

I didn’t know this until just last year.  Apples naturally have a wax on them but due to the way  commercial orchards process apples, many times that is removed and an artificial wax is reapplied.

I like to keep it simple.

Simple is good.

 

 

 

Hospitality

The house is still quiet.

This morning we are starting a new project, residing a house with hail damage. Insurance company could not find matching siding, so what should have been a 3 day job has suddenly turned into two  weeks.  I’ve worked for this family several times in the past, they have 8 kids ranging age from just a couple of years up to 20.  It is understood when we work there, they feed us lunch.

Here’s a portion of something I wrote last time I worked on this farm:

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“You can sit by me if you like,” Jarret said to me at lunch today.

“Do you know why I asked you to sit by me?”, he asked.

“No, Why do you ask me to sit by you?” I replied.

“Because I like you! “he said with a shy smile.

Jarret is 4 years old.

He has been asking me to sit by him now for the past three weeks.

Our crew is building a shop at their farm.

They feed us lunch every day.

When I sit down at their  14 ft farm table  I think,...this is what it must have felt like to be a part of a large threshing crew..

dinner-for-threshers-unframed-center - Copy

Grant Wood’s Dinner For Threshers

 

Today lasagna  was on the menu.

Yesterday I thought  Jarret’s mom had asked if I wanted a piece of “cheese cake” for desert?
“Yummy I said..I love cheese cake…!

“No” she replied, I said  “sheet cake”

Whoops 😉

Well, today, guess what we had for desert?

Cheese cake topped with a blueberry filling.

I had to pry the guys away from the table today….

They did not want to go back to work.

John said it was the best tasting lasagna he’d ever had.

 

I work with a great bunch of guys.

The morale on this crew is second to none.

Nothing worse than working around someone with a bad attitude.

At this point in my life, when I’m looking to hire someone, the numero uno thing I am looking for is  ATTITUDE.

I don’t care if you don’t know how to properly hold a hammer or read a tape measure.

I can teach you those things.

What I really detest is a whiner, someone with a dark cloud following them around.

 

Jarret’s comments were still rolling around in my head when I got home from work tonight. (Heck, they are still rolling around in my head 3 years later) 😉

There is just something serendipitous about a 4-year-old   requesting that I be his lunch buddy 3 weeks in a row.

I will miss Jarret when the job is done…

Heck, I will miss the whole family…

Here is a picture of the shop we’ve been working on:

IMG_9212

End view of shop

 

The word hospitality literally means “a lover of strangers.”

More caught than taught I would think.

I am excited to be on the receiving end of some good old fashioned hospitality the next few weeks.

I’ll let you know what we have for lunch as the job progresses.

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Have you ever heard of  the term “threshing crew” and any idea what that would have looked like? What’s the closest thing to a threshing crew you have ever been a part of?