Sunday, May 29, 2011

Local Bees Working Hard

    I got a pleasant surprise a few days ago when I discovered my sweet cherries are setting fruit.  Last year it rained practically every day the cherries were in bloom.  I ended up with only a handful of Rainier cherries and not one cherry from my other seven cherries trees. When I say handful, I'm not exaggerating. I could literally hold my entire cherry crop in one hand.  We've had a fairly rainy spring this year too, but the trees bloomed almost a month later than last year.  There were just enough breaks in the weather by the time the cherries finally bloomed that my honeybees were able to do their job. All those blossoms turning into cherries is really a beautiful sight.

    While honeybees may be hardworking, they are not the most efficient pollinators when it comes to cherries.  I read somewhere that when a honeybee visits a cherry blossom there is only a one in thirty chance that particular blossom will set fruit.  Those are long odds.  Nature compensates in several ways.  First, a cherry tree produces many more blossoms than it needs for a full fruit crop. On the other hand, the bees bring such a large numbers of workers to the table that in good weather most blossoms get visited more than once.

    One of the reasons I have six different varieties of sweet cherries is as a hedge against our variable spring weather.  I have one each Lambert, Bing, Rainier, Hudson, Lapins, and an unknown variety purchased from Home Depot. It was labeled as a Montmorency pie cherry but turned out to be a sweet cherry.  I love sweet cherries and each year hope springs eternal that I'll actually get a good crop from them.  I usually get some cherries every year, but rarely do I get as many as I'd like and I've only had extra cherries to can one year so far.  The Rainier cherry is doing the best this year with the unknown variety coming in a close second. The poorest is the Lambert, but I never expect any cherries from it.  It blooms first and I don't think I have another cherry that blooms early enough to pollinate it well. Even the Lambert looks like it will have at least a few cherries on it this year..  However, in spite of the Lambert's consistently poor track record in fruit production I won't be cutting it up for firewood anytime soon.  It has the very important function of holding up one end of my hammock all summer long.

    My two pie cherry trees, a Monmorency and a Surefire, are just now coming into bloom. They are both fairly young trees. Even if they produce well this year I'll be lucky to get one cherry pie out of their combined crop.  The Montmorency has clear juice while the Surefire is a morello cherry with dark red juice.

      A brief rundown on the rest of the fruit crop is as follows:

      1.We'll have a light crop of Asian pears.  So far it looks like two of my four varieties have set some fruit.
      2.We can expect a good crop of plums.  The Shiro limbs ( my earliest plum) set very little fruit, but the two later varieties, Obilnaya and Santa Rosa seem to be making up for it.  I'm expecting to have sufficient plums to do some plum jam this year.
       3.We have expanded our strawberry patch again and the plants look pretty healthy with lots of blossoms forming. I'm hopeful that we'll have lots of ripe strawberries when all of the grandkids show up in late June for cousin camp.
       4. The blueberries are looking good with the exception of three plants (all Darrow) which appear to have caught some kind of disease.  I'm going to dig up the infected plants and burn them.  Last year we had fresh blueberries for several months and the grandkids never did seem to clean them out.
       5. Red and Black Currants will not be on the menu this season.  I've pruned all of the red currants so as to eliminate all fruit in an effort to get rid of my currant sawfly infestation.  I pruned the black currants way back too and I'm also going to pick all of the black currants while they are still green for the same reason.
       6. It is way too early to tell if we are going to have a good apple crop this year.  The trees blooming so late may help reduce our scab problems.  I have ten apple trees with seventeen varieties represented. (Akane, Ashmead's Kernal, Aroma, Chehalis, Jonagold, Karmijn DeSonnaville, Lodi,  Melrose, Mott's Pink, Pristine, Red Cort, Sansa, Spartan, Yellow Bellflower, Wealthy, and Winter Banana.)

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Viking Fest

  Linda and I went over to Poulsbo and watched two granddaughters perform with their Irish dance group at the Poulsbo Viking Fest.  I questioned the relationship of Irish culture to the vikings.  I was under the impression that their main connection was as victims of viking raids.  However, one excuse for Irish music and dance works as well as another.  Sofia and Annika both did wonderfully well. and I got some good pictures.  Cozette looked awfully cute in her little costume.  She wasn't actually participating in the dancing, but the brightly colored costume did make it a lot easier to keep an eye on her.

We had a lovely trip over to Poulsbo and shared a ferry ride with James and Beth and their three children.  Our neighbor, Cassie came as well.  It was so much fun to watch the grandkids having a good time together.  We drove south to Port Orchard for a lovely dinner with the Romeros before returning home via the Tacoma Narrows bridge.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Chicken and Dumplings II

   The rooster had to wait an extra day in the fridge.  He was pre-empted by white beans and ham with rainbow corn bread. We took the beans and corn bread over to the Veatches and had Sunday dinner with them in their new house.

   Beans and corn bread are serious comfort food for me.  It reminds me of time we spent at my grandparents farm near Mystic, Iowa when I was about ten years old.  My grandma cooked a lot of beans and corn bread. I'm sure she cooked other things, but all I remember are the beans and cornbread and her squash pies. I was too young to really notice, but my mom has told me that Grandma Tunnell wasn't a particularly great cook.  We actually spent a lot of time there during the two years we lived in Centerville, Iowa.  I guess if she had been a really good cook there might be a few other dishes I would remember.  Her squash pies were certainly noteworthy.  She used some sort of winter squash other than pumpkin and used different spices than what is used in pumpkin pies.  She told me many years later that she only used allspice in her squash pies. I tried to replicate them once, but they didn't turn out the way I remember grandma's pies tasting. I would like to give squash pies another try this winter.  I'm planting a small hubbard variety in my garden so hopefully I'll have lots of squash for pie fodder.

   We took the two littlest Veatches home with us to help facilitate the packing that was supposed to be happening today.  Natalie is always up for a sleepover at Grandma's house.  Since the bee store is closed on Mondays I got to spend the day with them.  I made waffles for breakfast with a little help from Natalie.  I actually made them from scratch using half white flour and half whole wheat flour. Natalie had helped me grind the whole wheat flour the night before.  I used a recipe from a whole wheat cookbook that we bought when we purchased our Magic Mill many years ago.The waffles turned out well and earned Connors approval.

     After running a few errands with the kids we had lunch at the Buzz Inn at Harvey Field in Snohomish. The food was good and the prices low, a great combination.  Connor really enjoyed running around on their outside deck and watching the airplanes take off and land.  After we got home Connor went down for a nap and I spent some time gardening in the rain.  I'm trying to put in a large vegetable garden this year, but I am having a hard time getting it done.  So far I've planted beets, rutabagas and a few cucumbers.  I'm starting quite a few cucumbers, zuchini, winter squash, and red cabbages in jiffy pots and I planted potatoes.

     I'm doing much better on the fruit front. I've reclaimed our strawberries from the dandilions and pruned most of our grape vines.  I should have pruned our blueberries, but it isn't going to happen this year. I do need to weed the blueberries. I'm pruning all of our currants way back (both red and black) so as to eliminate any possibility of fruit this season. This is part of a scorched earth program to eliminate the currant sawfly from my garden.  I'm not sure what kind of fruit set I'm going to get on the sweet cherries, but I've got enough different varieties(six) and we've had enough breaks in the wet weather that I'm hopeful we will get cherries from some of them. My two pie cherry trees are just starting to bloom.  My plum tree is appears to be setting fruit and I'm expecting to finally get some asian pears this year.  Its still too early to tell with the apples as they are jsut starting to bloom, but it can't help but be better than last year was.

   Later in the afternoon I took Connor for a walk during a break in the rain.  He loves to visit all the animals and seems to be quite taken with the goats. I've never seen another little kid so determined to spend as much time as possible outside. Whatever he ends up doing for a living when he grows up, I'm sure it outdoors.

     Meanwhile, back at the chicken and dumplings...  After reading a lot of recipes on line I decided to give Bisquick a try as a starting point.  The last time I made chicken and dumplings, the dumplings were too fragile. I found that recipe on-line but I don't remember which one I used. If I use Bisquick as a starting point and they turn out too fragile or too hard, at least I'll remember which recipe it was and will know better how to adjust it. I'd like a result similar to chicken and dumplings I remember from a little place in Houston, Texas. This wasn't a regular restaurant where you ordered from a menu.  They served one main dish for lunch only each day and if you didn't want to eat that particular dish than you needed to eat somewhere else. I seem to remember that Thursday was chicken and dumplings day. Some of the guys at work actually planned their week in order to make sure they didn't miss out on chicken and dumpling day. Their food was really quite good.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Chicken and Dumplings

  A few days ago I was working in the garden prior to going to work at the bee store.  I had let the chickens out so I could clean out the chicken tractor. Our black copper marans rooster has always been a bit aggressive, but had seemed to have calmed down lately.  As I was minding my own business trying to finish pruning the grapes on the duck pen, that rascal rooster came running halfway across the yard to try to attack me.  In the past I've simply taken a stick to him until he would run away and leave me alone.  He didn't want to give it up this time so I finally just grabbed him by the neck and finished him on the spot.  I'd been meaning to do him in before he spurred one of the grandkids but I've been so busy until recently that I kept postponing the job. The rooster picked the wrong day to come after me.

    I butchered him in our apple orchard.  I hadn't intended to go to the trouble of plucking him, but I decided I wanted to save some of his feathers.  While he was mostly black, his wing feathers were black and white similar to eagle feathers.  I think we can find a good use for those when we do cousin camp this year.  We had already decided to do an indian theme.  The rooster also had really good neck and saddle hackles suitable for fly tying.  I was late getting to work, but the rooster was in the crock pot by the time I left.  The cooked and deboned rooster is now waiting patiently in the fridge for me to pick another chicken and dumpling recipe to try out.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Boulder River Hike

   I took a nice hike today with my boy scouts.  The point of the hike was for the boys to fulfill a requirement to take a 5 mile hike using a map and compass. There are a lot of wonderful places to go hiking in Western Washington.  I chose the Boulder River hike because it is relatively low elevation (1,000 to 1,400 feet) so we wouldn't have to worry about hiking through the snow. I've done this one quite a few times. Linda and I did this hike while we were here on a househunting trip when we first moved back to Washington State from Texas.  I've been on several scout campouts at that location and even went camping there with my daughter Rachel and our dog Mozzie.  Anyhow, that particular hike has a lot of good memories.

This is our motley crew of boy scouts

   The sun did peek out briefly , but the weather was mostly overcast.  I felt pretty lucky that it didn't rain on us. When left the highway and started to drive up into a cloud filled valley towards the trailhead I was expecting some rain.  We were amply rewarded with some wonderful views of waterfalls and lots of spring wildflowers.  Below are pictures of Trillium and Salmonberry in bloom. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Warre Hive

   I installed bees in my modified Warre hive a week ago. I say modified because this year's Warre hive has regular frames. I did a conventional Warre hive last year and did not get good results.  A Warre hive can best be described as a vertical top bar hive.  The depth of the Warre boxes are very close to the depth of a conventional deep hive body but their width is that of an eight frame hive and the length is reduced as well. These comparisons won't mean anything to non-beekeepers. The Warre hive was developed by a French monk who died in the 1950s. If anyone has an interest in Warre hives there is quite a lot available on the internet, including an English translation of Abbe Warre's book. I think he had a number of very good ideas. I'm just not very enthused about the top bar aspect.

    Last year's Warre hive was something I inherited from my daughter Rachel.  She got stung and while trying to put bees in the Warre hive and went into anaphalaxis.  I got to take her to the emergency room while someone else put bees in the hive.  With such an auspicious beginning I shouldn't have been surprised when other things went wrong with the hive.  First of all, the bees chose to draw out the comb diagonally connected to a least three different top bars. That made it impossible to check on the bees progress without damaging the comb where they were rearing brood.  The swarm that was placed into the hive turned out to be a secondary swarm as opposed to a prime swarm.  That meant it had a virgin queen as opposed to a mated queen.  Queen bees don't mate within the hive.  Rather they mate on the fly about 50 feet in the air on a sunny calm 70 degree day.  We don't usually get many such days in western Washington until June. As a consequence the queen bee in this April swarm never got mated and became a drone layer.

     An unmated queen would have been a minor problem in a conventional Langstroth hive with moveable frames.  As soon as I discovered I had a drone layer I would have replaced the queen and all would have been well.  Due to the problems mentioned above, I didn't discover I had a drone layer until it was too late to fix the problem. I was going to give the conventional Warre hive another go this year, but a customer talked me into selling the hive to him.  As I said, I am intrigued with several other aspects of the Warre hive and wanted to experiment with those concepts without dealing with a top bar hive.

     I build the modified Warre hive last summer. I used the same width as the conventional Warre hive, but I lengthened the boxes a bit so as to retain the 12 inch by 12 inch interior size of the brood nest after I had added frames.   The size of the Warre hive is supposed to replicate the approximate size of the cavities bees find in hollow trees.  The idea is that the bees should winter better if the diameter of the nest approximated the normal size of their winter cluster.  Another aspect of the Warre hive that I wanted to try out was his "quilt" in the top of the hive.  Warre included in his lid, a box full of leave or wood shavings that was designed to act as a moisture buffer.  A hollow tree has a lot of punky wood at the top of the cavity that serves this function for a feral colony.  Warre stretched burlap cloth across the bottom of the box.  Anything that acts as a moisture buffer is probably a good thing to try out in wet western Washington. Anyhow, I'll try it out for a few years and see if I think it helps the hives seem to winter better.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Package Bees III

    The last of our second group of package bees were sent to their new homes on Wednesday, May 4th.  As a consequence of that and the rainy weather the store has been relatively quiet for the last several days.  After the mad rush of the past month or so it was kind of nice to have a quiet day at the bee store.  While it is nice for the store to be busy it is also nice to get a break now and then.  I was  actually able to take Wednesday off this week and spent a good part of the day working in the garden and working with my own hives.  I think its been more than a month since I was able to take a day off other than a Sunday.

    I'm really getting tired of the cooler than normal spring we've had so far.  I would really like to understand how global warming is responsible for our unusually cool spring weather. Everything is running late from the fruit trees to the maples. I am really ready for several days of nice sunny weather.

     We are now back to living in our own house seven days a week.  For the past six months we've been living in nearby Granite Falls four days a week to help take care of grandkids.  While it is nice to be home more I will miss spending the time with the Veatch family.  Mike's sister, Jenny, has moved up from Utah and will be taking care of the kids for the near future. Its also great to be able to stay in grandparent mode and not to be in the ackward position of having to parent grand children.  I feel like my major accomplishment while living there was getting Madelynn (9) and Abby (7) enthused about cooking breakfast.  It started out with me cooking pancakes, french toast or waffles for breakfast for the kids.  Several months ago I was able to coopt the two older girls into learning how to cook pancakes, waffles, and french toast.  Now they have realized that cooking is a great creative outlet and they are taking some pride in the fact that they can do breakfast by themselves.  They also have shown great interest in expanding their breakfast repetoire.  Madelynn made omlets the other day.  Self reliance and confidence are wonderful things to encourage in kids.