Everyday Life

Oftentimes we have very little control over the twists and turns our lives take. We do have a good bit of influence, though, on the everyday we create.

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Choosing peace and beauty wherever possible in our day-to-day lives means that we are surrounded by peace and beauty when we need it most.

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Things are not the same here, in our house, in our family. But even in this most difficult of times there is sweetness in our everyday.

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In With the New

Remember I posted that the bees were flying? Well, they were, and then they weren’t. On inspection I found a dead hive with lots of honey and no signs of disease. We had some very chilly nights in April, and that could be the cause of the problem, but I’ll never know for sure.

I’m an optimist in the garden, but a cautious optimist. Not all plants will grow, not all seeds will germinate, not all bee colonies will survive. Plant extra, expect some disappointment, order a three pound package of bees over the winter, just in case.

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Andrew was ready to try an install, so I talked him through it and did my best to stay out of his way.

We pulled a couple of frames out of the bottom hive box,

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pried the plywood off the top of the package,

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then pulled out the can of sugar water

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and the queen cage.

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We made sure the queen (marked with a blue dot) looked ok.

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And then it was time to shake the bees into their new home.

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The queen received gentler treatment. We removed the metal disc on the top of her cage, exposing the candy plug which blocked her exit. We poked at the candy a bit to get things started, then placed her cage between two of the frames in the box. The thinking here is that it’s best if the worker bees have some time to acclimate to the queen. By the time they get her out of the cage, there will be no doubt that she is in charge of the hive.

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Two days later I took a peek, and found that the bees had done a thorough job of opening the plug to release the queen into the hive. I removed the queen cage, made sure the frames were positioned properly, and left them to it, cautiously optimistic that they will thrive.

(All photos by Dagny Dream, Dream Photo.)

Hope Springs Eternal

Our asparagus patch grew by twenty-one plants last week. Exciting. But not as exciting as the fact that this year we can finally cut from the first ones we planted three years ago.

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A lot of people don’t seem entirely clear on where asparagus comes from. The ground, of course, but how? And exactly what part of the plant are we eating?

Asparagus plants are tall ferns. They die back in the fall and reemerge in the spring. What we plant is the crown, which looks a little bit like an octopus with many extra tentacles.  The part of the asparagus we eat is the shoot that comes up in the spring. It pushes up out of the soil just as you see in the photo. When it’s of an appropriate height, we’ll cut along the soil line.

For this year, we’ll only cut for about two weeks, so that these still-young plants can continue to direct their energy towards growing strong roots. Each year we can add another two weeks to our harvest, up to about eight weeks for plants over six years old. The plants should live twenty years or so, and we plan to add new ones periodically to keep the patch going strong.

I love the inherent optimism in perennial gardening. Planting food today for people to enjoy in twenty years’ time is hope made material.

In the Eye of the Beholder

Anyone driving by my house would see flower beds looking neater than they did two weeks ago, but nothing pretty, nothing worth stopping to look at, nothing like what I see in my mind’s eye as I rake and separate bulbs and uncover beginnings just emerging from the earth.

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We’re weeks from color, and years from the great swaths of it I am working to make reality. But I see it all the same.

Use It or Lose It

Round about this time of year I start to get serious about using up what’s stored in the freezer. Summer’s coming, and with it new crops of fruits and veggies, new jars of basil pesto and scape hummus. I’d love to say I’m one of those super-organized people with a list of each and every thing we’ve got available, but no. The only running inventory of our stores is in my head, which means I take on the responsibility of being sure we’ve got what we need and use what we have.

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I made a reconnaissance mission recently and found piles and piles of frozen fruit and enough shredded zucchini to give a gardener flashbacks. The fruit I’m not too worried about – we’ll be downing smoothies regularly just as soon as the house warms up a bit – but for the zucchini we’ll have to make more of a conscious effort. (As I write I wonder if we couldn’t incorporate zucchini into our smoothies…) Effort number one, a recipe we enjoy with homemade ketchup or barbeque sauce, or with just a good sprinkle of salt.

Zucchini Pancakes

1 1/2 cups flour

2 1/2 cups cornmeal

5 teaspoons baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

2 Tablespoons sugar

2 eggs

2 cups milk

4 Tablespoons vegetable oil

2 cups grated zucchini

1 small onion, diced

Mix dry ingredients.

Add wet ingredients and stir til combined.

Fry in a drizzle of oil over medium high heat until golden and cooked through. (About 4 minutes a side.)

Money in the Bank

Yesterday I was able to begin cleaning up the gardens. As I raked the soil I found I was spreading a plethora of iris seeds, deposited at the base of the plants last fall as the pods dried and burst open. The seeds are smooth and roundish, and remind me of shiny copper coins when I see them scattered on the soil.

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Gardening can be expensive. It doesn’t have to be, though, thanks to the generosity of other gardeners and the generosity of nature. I was very lucky to receive these irises from a friend, who divided them in her own garden and delivered them all the way from South Carolina. Now the plants are doing their own part to multiply. As I watch them spread I look forward to passing some along to another person with a bit of earth to fill.

Nature and Nurture

All winter, I wonder about the bees. There’s no way to check on them. No way to know if they’re safe in their warm cluster or if they’ve fallen lifeless to the bottom of the hive.  When I feel the weather begin to change it becomes an exercise in patience. As much as I might want to, I will not risk opening the hive to take a peek, as that could cause them to break cluster early. So every day I glance in their direction, hoping to see activity, and finally, on a day like today, they fly.

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I did a lot of research when we got the hive. Most of what I learned I decided to ignore completely. For our hive there are no ‘treatments’, no chemicals, and minimal intervention. My job, as I see it, is to be sure I’m providing enough space and enough food for them to do what they need to do, not to attempt to manipulate their development. This is anathema in parts of the beekeeping world, but it’s my belief that our interference is likely to do more harm than good, and that bees can manage themselves to maintain a strong colony. My mantra when making decisions about entering or manipulating the hive is, when in doubt, don’t.

This particular hive is now emerging for its third Spring. They have had plenty of honey to see them through each winter, and we have brought 30-35 pounds a year into the house ourselves. Seems they know what they’re doing.

A Watched Pot

Every morning we set a giant pot of sap on the burner. It boils and roils and creates its own damp weather system above the stove. At the end of the day, we are left with golden sweet syrup.

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Unless, of course, we mistake the amount of time left to boil and step away from the kitchen, as I did today. Then we are left with billows of smoke and a pot lined with foul-smelling ash. Can’t say I recommend it on pancakes.

On the Mend

I can’t remember where this blanket came from or when I got it. It seems it’s always been here. Fireworks, meteor showers, picnics, drive-in movies, camping – it goes where we go.

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Its latest trip through the laundry reminded me that I had better do a bit of repair before it became more hole than blanket.  A podcast on permaculture provided background interest as I exercised my rudimentary sewing skills, and now both the blanket and I are better prepared for the coming Spring.