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

The country mice and the city mouse

This is the third guest post installment….written by Lucy,  I mean Kristina the Home Engineer    DM

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I wanted to write about feminists and abortion or the Kingdom of Heaven. But Doug said no, so I will write about them (D and his wife,  M) . A subject a little less divisive and hostile.

I met D many moons ago whilst blogging, he commented, I commented, he asked me to read his book, I read his book.

Our family was going through some very trying times and I needed a vacation. They had a bed. and breakfast.

So doing something very uncharacteristic of me, I took my son and we ventured from Seattle WA to Eastern Iowa.

To let strangers take care of us for a few days.

They had a farm! They had a pig! They had apple trees and crickets and quiet and woods and quiet. They had chickens in the basement.

As extremely weird and awkward as it sounds, it quickly became fun and easy, relaxing and safe.

They had a little potluck music get together called the Apple Jam and families came with crock pots and desserts and curious people asking where we were from and feeding us. They have sloppy joes but they are called Maid-Rites!

I have visited these two people pretty much every year for seven years [?] now. Once they came here, to the big city, by train.

Just wanted to give you all a different perceptive of these people I have grown to know and love.

I saw their last family picture and envied at how I was not in it.

First the house… Its old, its a farm. It is real wood. It has the old original house attached to it with the old wallpaper and creaky stairs. I am still trying to convince them to remodel it so I can run away and live there. The barns are huge, and bats live there. It is quite a sight to see a billion crockpots and food lined up on  makeshift ledge table upstairs. Workshops, garage, land, apple trees, built-in freezer, apple press. Cellar for safety, buckets of dry good ready for an emergency. I could go on and on but suffice to say it is the opposite of what this city girl grew up in and exactly where this city girl wants to be.

As I said I was going through a bad time and this place was my run away dream, the opposite of all I was going through, no drama, no court dates, no crying, no anger, no having to explain all the discord. Heaven.

We have joked around about us being the country mouse and city mouse, but by no means is this a slam or disrespect in any way. A different way to live. Not better, not worse. I would drop everything and pack and live in that dusty farm community in a heartbeat and enjoy the rest of my days hanging out with Mrs. M and Doug, their friends and family.

Being with them has actually helped with my ”my way or the high way anal retentive” way of living I had grown accustomed to.

Even if that meant no fine restaurants or grocery stores with vegan options or quick access to, well, everything.

Doug: big personality, he is the humblest person he knows, I’m not buying it. I call him Pig Pen [He, is turn, calls me Lucy] for he leaves messes wherever he goes. He drinks too much coffee. He cooks and takes out the garbage.  He is eclectic, he writes, he builds, he creates. He has many ideas rolling around in that bald head, much to the dismay and worriment of his bride. If he were my husband, he would have me in the fits. lol

He has rough hands and a soft heart. He loves people, he wants to help people, but he also doesn’t take much crap from people. He loves his kids. you can often tell a person’s personality by the way they dress… he wears jeans, boots, t-shirts. Bright t-shirts. By the bright t-shirts, he wants to be seen [his way of standing out] but is a plain and simple guy dressed for the work he does. Labor. He thrives on connection. He lives life as it comes and sometimes throws convention out the window. He and I could be siblings, we argue and pick at each other like that. I sometimes think of them in a parental way and other times as friends.

To this day it amazes me that they can walk into any store in any small community near by and everyone knows them!!

It’s also funny to tell people where I’m from and that I don’t eat meat. They look at me like I’m crazy…and I am..when I’m sitting in the middle of farm land.

Mrs. M  : she is shy, simply beautiful, kind, old-school wife and mother. She struggles with the same things I do. Mothers and wives worry about their family regard of geography. She is soft-spoken. She is curious and is eager to try new foods, unlike Pig Pen. When she laughs it’s from down deep. She makes her own detergent.  She finds the good in everything. She cooks, she cleans, goes out of her way to help others. She writes notes. Lots of notes. She loves thrift shopping. Maybe a bit too much. But who doesn’t love a good bargain AMIRIGHT? I think with the line of work her husband is in and maybe her childhood she saves things. I understand the need. I never had to worry about those things, but I understand it.  The last visit I was informed I was to stay a longer period of time and help D with his book. So for 2 weeks I stayed. They offer me their best bed in the warmest room and turned on the shower upstairs so I don’t have to take baths. I hate baths.

We go to thrift stores, Amish discount stores, Walmart and lunch. We take walks with the dog. We decided this last trip that the house needed some sprucing up and emptying of accumulated stuffs. I tested my ‘clutter clean-up’ job skills. [I’d actually love to be one of those, but I’m a bit too hard on folks..so I’m told] we gathered everything up in one spot, wrote out decluttering plans, bought some storage stuff and went to work. Mrs. probably had the hardest time getting rid of stuff. I know I do. She did great tho and got rid of dusty forgotten duplicate things and made a promise to have the rest of the house done by the time I get back this year…which is coming up soon, girl!

Something I told her she remembers…. two things to think about .. do you need it and do you have a place for it [not hidden away] if not..don’t buy it. I don’t know if it’s a woman thing, or a people thing, but we tend to have things scattered and not in the same place, like bathroom goods stored in 3 places or important paperwork in different rooms. Sometimes we don’t realize how much stuff we have until we can get it all together.

We talk of life, love, hardships, relationships. The good, the bad. We have made charts on the chalkboard, lists and talked how to make a better world.  They live a slower life, a quieter life. No TV, just a computer. They had never seen the show Hoarders, we watched a few episodes. They both love books. They have wallpaper on a wall that looks bookshelves. They keep ‘the books’ on paper.

She would never tell Pig Pen that he leaves his stuff around. When I brought it up, he asked her if she agreed. She did. He put that in his mental file and helps more around the house.

Does it seem like I’m being weird about these two people? I probably am. They fascinate me. Because they are different yet the same. They are so kind. Everyone I have met there is so damn kind. In the city it’s so easy to lose that. I miss it. Even in our little church fellowship community it’s not as common.

I’ve met the kids and have nothing but nice things to think and say about them. They’re kind and funny and sweet just like their parents.

Doug’s mom and dad are the best. I wish I could move in with them and let Janet cook for me and tuck me in bed and let Don shake his head in wonderment that I keep a pig inside my house. He has a farm and still grows soybeans and corn.

One visit I actually carried homemade cinnamon rolls home to my son from Janet! Can you believe it? She is the quintessential mom/grandmom who wants to feed you and love you and remembers what you tell her!

They do not attend a conventional church. They have a group of friends that get together once a week to pray, read over scripture, exhort, encourage and listen to each other. And there again…I just wanted to embed myself into their lives. Doug doesn’t like to impose his faith on anyone, doesn’t mention it much on his blog, but he and  M keep the greatest commandment:

“Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Thanks for letting gush on and on about your family and lives. I could think of many more things to crow on about them.  I’m not a creeper honestly. I crave the simple quiet real life you all have and am blessed beyond measure to know you.

kristinap2008-003

Kristina the Home Engineer when she met Winston the pig

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

EverClear

everclear

 

Back when I was eighteen, I used to bum a menthol cigarette off Mike Cooper at break. It  started when he teased me and offered me one, knowing I didn’t smoke.  Not wanting to look like a sissy I  smoked it.
This  went on for ten days.  I can still remember the day,  I went from doing it to fit in, to actually thinking about it, and looking forward to having a smoke at break.

Right then I knew something had shifted in my mind….I was on the precipice of taking up smoking as a habit…did I really want to do that????

Naaa….better quit while I was ahead…sissy or not, in the eyes of my construction co-workers, I decided to back away from the ledge.  No  more cigarettes…that’s not to say, I didn’t try a few other things, but those are conversations for another day.

Pause-  (I hope those of you that smoke don’t think I’m judgmental, because that is not where I am coming from.)

I’ve never regretted that decision to stop before I really got started…especially after watching my grandpa Conley, laying in a hospital bed, hooked up to oxygen struggling to breath. He whispered, it felt like someone had a pillow over his face….all because of a lifetime of smoking.

Anyway, a new interest,  has gradually been  creeping into my life the past few weeks.  It started  when I got a call for a gallon of freshly pressed apple cider.    Merle, who is a foreman at a business I occasionally do carpentry work for, wanted to find some fresh apple cider for his wife.   She was making “apple pie” for a labor day get together.  Legally, I can’t sell fresh cider, but I can give it away..so I  pressed a bushel of ginger-golds  for Merle,  and quipped, “I wanted a sample of this “apple pie” when it is ready.”

.  The following Monday, Merle called and said, he wanted to return my plastic jug, and send home a quart of apple pie..

Oh my.

It was the sweetest, most tasty drink I have sipped on, since I don’t know when….

His wife also sent home the recipe.  Fresh apple cider, cinnamon sticks, a little sugar…and…190 proof alcohol.

Moon shine…Ever clear…and one of the things about this concoction is you can not taste the alcohol.

I had one small glass of it, the night I brought it home ….

and been thinking about it ever since….

In my worldview, having an occasional drink of alcohol in and of itself is not wrong. The issues lie more in the areas of self control, moderation, financial,  addiction, and the butt load of spin off issues that come with it.  Alcoholism runs in both sides of my family, and my wife’s as well.  I have experienced first hand (some of) the long term heartache that comes with alcoholic addictions.

Do I really want to go further down that road?

At some point,  and I’m not sure where that point is,  our physical body, and the alcohol start calling the shots, and and as a friend of mine who struggled with  this addiction told me, “It’s like there is a monkey on your back, and when he pulls the chain, you feed him.”

So, right before logging on this morning , I dumped the rest of the apple pie down the sink.

Side note- I’ve written before about my grandpa sharing with me the family recipe for making moonshine.  It is a piece of family history I found intriguing.  There is a little part of me that feels some sort of connection with the past, (by entertaining the idea of cooking up a batch or two of my own apple pie)…  but then I think, you know, that same grandpa that shared that recipe with me, also had his battles  with the bottle…

and that is a part of my family history, I would just as soon not repeat….ever.

 

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.

 

 

 

Climbing The Uber-Ladder

Uber:  German for  ultimate, supreme, outstanding, amazing.

We only see Edna Moehl a couple of times each year, so when I got a phone call from her it piqued my curiousity. She said she was moving off the farm and had something she thought I should have…. antique apple picking ladder. Now normally, I  will pass when someone offers me something free or extra, or its too good to throw away because I’m tired of stuff.  But in this case, I said I would consider it.   It is a one of a kind contraption, made from an old windmill frame.  Two steel wheels and a set of handles to push it around.  It is surprisingly balanced.

I said I would take it.

The ladder is parked in the East orchard all year round, I only use it to pick the apples I can’t reach with my 8 ft step ladder.

Tuesday I  had one last Ginger Gold apple tree to pick.  There were fifteen to twenty beautiful  apples way on the top, that the Japanese beetles hadn’t found (yet.)

view from the ladder (3)

View from the base

As I got about 3/4’s the way up, a little tinge of fear started rumbling around in my gut. It’s the last couple of rungs that can get a little interesting.

Anyway, as I was picking those beautiful apples on the top of the tree, it triggered a flood of thoughts, other times in my life when I felt the fear, but kept going anyway…and the result was I got to experience something I otherwise would never have experienced, had I played it safe on the ground.

The biggest memory is getting a date with that girl in homeroom, who used to sit with all of the popular kids in the back of the room, while I sat in the front row, ready to scoot out the door, the second the class bell rang.

My values have changed since those days, but just to give you an idea what I was up against… She was cute, very cute.  Her dad was a doctor, She was an athlete.  Played varsity basketball, her freshman year. She was genuinely a nice person.  Eventually, the student body elected her homecoming queen….You get the picture.  Me on the other hand, well, I was shy.  So shy  I can count on one hand,  the number of conversations I had with girls up until that time. I loved to read, had a musical bent.  We lived on a dairy farm, so my life pretty much consisted of work, school, and more work.

There was a guy who worked for my dad, whose name was Lowell.  Nice guy, probably in his 40’s …single and shy.  I did not want to wind up like Lowell.

So the short version is, I asked that cute little girl in my home room out on a date to a movie.. she said she’d go.  Only went out on one date originally…and it took a couple of more years and dating several more girls, before I was able to shed more of the shyness..but it was a start. After I graduated high school, I happened to run into that girl who was my first date. She was working in a local pizza place.   The guy who was with me that night knew about my first date with her…and how I wished I’d handled things different, but at the time, I was just too socially, clueless. He leans over the table and whispers …“If you don’t ask her out, I will…”

And the rest is history….we celebrated our 37th anniversary this Spring.

There will be opportunities to climb the Uber-ladder sprinkled throughout our lives.