Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Hanging Out with My Honeybees

   I spent a few hours this morning hanging out with "the girls". I know for a fact that I enjoy their company a lot more than they enjoy mine. In fact they would rather I just leave them alone.  I would be more inclined to let them have their space if not for the fact that the bees do derive some benefit from my unappreciated attention.  This morning I was giving them sugar syrup and some varroa mite medication. The particular treatment I used, "Apilife Var" is pretty benign as far as medicines go. Its actually more like an herbal treatment. The active ingredients are Thymol (you've experienced this personally if you've ever gargled with Listerine), Eucalyptus, and Menthol. It is as effective as the "hard chemicals" without the nasty residue problems.  I also gave them an antibiotic in their sugar syrup intended to thwart a fungal parasite called Nosema Cerana.  I don't like using the antibiotic but I have lost a lot more hives during the few years I didn't use it than I do during the years I have used it.
The base of my modified Warre hive

    I harvested the top box of my modified Warre hive. I had just used starter strips in that box rather than full sheets of foundation. The bees actually did a fairly good job of drawing out the comb on most of the frames but the comb did lean a little bit to one side in a few of the frames.  There was the equivalent of one full frame of honey scattered over three frames. Part of my incentive to harvest this box is to see if the frames will work in my Italian SAF honey extractor. I think the bees will be better off without the partially drawn comb as there wasn't much honey in that box anyway. That leaves them with three full boxes, which is probably the equivalent of two eight frame deep boxes.  I haven't done much management with my Warre hive this year other than the normal feedings and medications. I'm curious to see if they manage to overwinter this year. I am also going to put a mouse guard over the entrance as I had a mouse move into the bottom box last winter. The base of the Warre hive sits on some flat rocks right on the ground so it provides easier access for mice during the winter.

   Linda spent a good part of the day helping a friend sort through her stuff. Sadly, this friend has recently been forced by ill health to move into a nursing home.  The task took longer than planned so I ended up dining alone.  That seemed like a good occasion to make sushi as Linda doesn't care for it. A good friend had recently given me some tuna and I've been wanting to use my salmon caviar with it to make sushi. I used a rice cooker this time so the rice turned out better than my last attempt at sushi. I was glad that my Korean son-in-law wasn't here to try them. First of all, they had way too much salt for his health due to the caviar.  Secondly, I'm sure they were far below his standards for sushi.  Linda commented when she returned home that I always had to make things complicated. It actually was pretty simple to make, not any harder than a salad and easier than most soups.
Tuna caviar rolls

Monday, September 23, 2013

Home Made Ketchup

   I had to do something with all of the tomatoes ripening on our kitchen counters. I thought about salsa, spaghetti sauce, or simply canned tomatoes. As I looked though the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving I noticed they had several ketchup recipes. That struck me as a worthy use of the tomatoes. As it turned out, I had about 25 pounds of ripe tomatoes, just enough to make one batch of ketchup, I cored and quartered the whole lot of them with a little help from my favorite daughter-in-law. Before long I had a whole big kettle of tomatoes cooking on the stove.
Three gallons of cooked tomatoes

   The next step involved running all the cooked tomatoes through the "Juicemaster" strainer I had purchased a week earlier. This device effectively purees the tomatoes and removes all of the skins and seeds. That part went relatively quickly.  I also had to make up a spice bag containing allspice, celery seed, cinnamon stick, and ginger which was then used to make an infused vinegar that was later added to the ketchup before I cooked it down.  The only other seasonings used were salt, sugar, and a teaspoon of cayenne pepper. I actually followed the recipe very closely and resisted the urge to get creative on the seasoning.  It was pretty easy up to this point. As it turned out, the big task was cooking the three gallons of seasoned tomato sauce down to about ten pints of ketchup without burning it on the bottom. It took a lot longer than the book suggested.  I'm sure it would have been much easier if I had used just Roma tomatoes or some other type of paste tomato.  The 25 pounds of tomatoes I used were a serious mixed lot of about ten different varieties. As we had various visitors throughout the day, I let them sample the unfinished product. Most of them commented, "It tastes like ketchup", sounding a little surprised. It was like they all had expected it to taste like something other than ketchup.
Home made ketchup; both tastier and more satisfying than store bought.

    At the end of the day, I thought it turned out rather well. It indeed tasted like ketchup and looked like ketchup, although spicier than the ketchup from the store.  A teaspoon of cayenne pepper didn't seem like much when I put it into three gallons of tomato sauce. It was significantly more concentrated in the finished product. Now that I have made both hot dog relish and ketchup I'm thinking I should try my hand at mustard and barbecue sauce.  I would then be pretty close to attaining true condiment self-sufficiency. The Ball canning book mentioned above happens to have both mustard and barbecue sauce recipes.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Green Tomato Surplus

     I knew it wouldn't last forever, but I have really enjoyed our abundant fresh tomatoes for the past month or so. Now the inevitable has happened. Late Blight has reared its ugly head. I've worked diligently to keep it at bay. I planted the tomatoes through a three inch deep straw mulch. I put up a row cover to keep the rain off the plants and I've avoided wetting the leaves when I watered. After the past few weeks of wetter weather the tell tale patches of brown have started to appear on the vines,  Now I have several five gallon buckets of unripe tomatoes still on the vines. If I pull up blight invested vines and hang them in the garage, the tomatoes won't continue to ripen but will be ruined by the blight. However, I can pick them green and use them right away.

    I looked in my big Ball Canning book and found two likely uses for green tomatoes. One was a recipe for Green Tomato Chutney. It called for 16 cups of sliced green tomatoes, 16 cups of chopped apples, 3 cups of chopped onion, and 3 cups of chopped bell pepper. I still had half of my 50 pound bag of onions left and I had apples available for the picking. The only thing I had to buy was the bell peppers. I spent a good part of the SeaHawk game slicing green tomatoes and peeling them. The slicing went pretty quickly, but the peeling was a lot of work.  The recipe was supposed to make 7 pints, but I ended up with about 12 pints. That may be due to the fact that I estimated the 16 cups of green tomatoes. The seasoning was just three tablespoons of pickling spice in a spice bag and a teaspoon of chili powder.  It turned out to be quite tasty. I let both Linda and my son James sample the finished product. They both liked it then asked, "What do you use it for?" Traditionally chutneys are used as a topping over rice or a condiment on meat or fish. I think this would go very well with chicken or pork chops. It ended up looking very much like applesauce, only with telltale tomato seeds sprinkled throughout.

Green Tomato Chutney

     The second recipe I found was for Green Tomato Hot Dog Relish.  I plan to try that recipe as well.  The big advantage of the recipe for hot dog relish is that I don't have to peel the tomatoes. I just have to chop them finely. The other ingredients are chopped red and green bell peppers and chopped onions. All I have to buy is celery seed and a few red bell peppers.  I would consider using the green tomatoes for Salsa Verde but I have plenty of tomatillos growing in the garden. The tomatillos are totally immune to Late Blight and I think they are better for Salsa Verde anyway. In addition to the hot dog relish I have several other canning projects in immediate my future.  I need to find something to make with all of the red tomatoes ripening on our countertops and I have a large quantity of green beans demanding my attention. I'm planning to pickle the green beans and I will make either salsa or spaghetti sauce with the tomatoes.

I'm ready for my pole beans to give out on me.
    Early in  the spring I was looking for ways to garden later into the fall with row covers and my cold frame.  Now I'm ready for a break from the vegetable garden.  Before I can finish one canning project something else in the garden is demanding to be preserved.

Gerrit and Linda

      Gerrit and his girlfriend, Linda, left this past Friday to continue their vacation into British Columbia.  They had planned to rent a car but ran into the complication of Linda's age (24).  Rental car companies are very untrusting of young people (for good reason in many cases) and want to charge them much higher fees. (Darn those actuarial tables) They decided instead to take the ferry to Victoria and Vancouver and wait to rent a car in Vancouver. My Linda drove them to the Anacortes Ferry.  I thought I should post a photo of them in which neither of them are wearing a bee veil.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Beekeeping with Visiting Friends

    I needed to do a few things with my beehives and invited one of our visitors to help. Gerrit's girlfriend, Linda, was a very good sport as evidenced by the fact that she is actually smiling inside the bee veil. She actually seemed to enjoy it, commenting on how much she learned and how interesting the bees are. The task I needed to accomplish was to remove extracted honey supers. I always put my extracted supers back on the bee hives for at least a few days to give the bees a chance to clean them up and move all of the remaining honey downstairs to the brood nest. If I were to store the supers wet with honey in our damp climate they would be green with mold by spring. This way none of the honey goes to waste and it contributes to the bees surviving the winter. I also started my Fall mite treatments, several weeks later than I had intended. This year I am using a product called ApiLife VAR which is made in Italy. The active ingredients are Thymol, Eucalyptus, and Menthol, so it is really sort of an herbal treatment.  I've used it before with good success.
Another Happy "Newbee"

I gave Linda the job of puffing the smoker occasionally so it would stay lit.
     After watching from a distance Gerrit came in for a closer look. He had apparently decided my bees are indeed pretty gentle.  I always tell people I have gentle bees but most people take a little convincing.  Since I wasn't pulling out frames we weren't giving the bees much reason to become annoyed at us.

Gerrit functioned as official photographer of the event
  Gerrit and his girlfriend Linda have been visiting us for the past few days. She seems very nice. I think Gerrit has succeeded at what is every man's most important task in life. That is finding a woman who is much nicer than what he deserves.  She seems to bring out the best in him. He was very anxious as to her comfort and needs. We have enjoyed their visit very much.  It also gave me an excuse for baking an apple pie and making sour dough pancakes.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Salmon Fishing

   A good bee friend took me salmon fishing yesterday in the Sound near Mukilteo.  Dave has a nice little 15 foot boat which is a good size for fishing. I caught two pinks, he caught four, and his daughter was skunked. Since his freezer was full I ended up with six fish to process.  The weather was absolutely lovely. I couldn't help but think how very grateful I am to live in such a beautiful part of the country. Between the Cascade Mountains and the Puget Sound we are surrounded by scenic beauty. I really have no desire to live outside of the Pacific Northwest.

Dave and his daughter, Anna
    The fishing trip was punctuated by two rather strange events.  First of all, while motoring towards Mukilteo, Dave crossed a really big wake which almost resulted in me being thrown out of the boat. The front end of the boat went up pretty high and slammed down very hard several times. It was all I could do to hang on to the railing. I lost my seat and fell to the floor of the boat landing on my knees. I ended up with some loss of dignity and two very sore knees but nothing was broken. I was just grateful they didn't have to fish me out of the water.  I was wearing my life jacket as I always do in small boats

    Several hours later as I was fishing I felt a sharp pain in the back of my neck. I swatted at it and knocked a honey bee into the water. There was absolutely no doubt that it was a honeybee as we all could see it floating in the water.  At this point we were fishing about a half mile from shore.  It's not that a bee sting is a big deal for me. I was just amazed that some bee would travel a half mile from shore to sting me in the back of the neck while I was minding my own business fishing. Considering the rough ride out to our fishing spot it seemed very unlikely that I had brought the bee with me.

The sun setting over Jetty Island

     As we headed back to the Everett boat launch we were treated to a beautiful sunset.  I took some photos but my iPhone isn't really capable of capturing the majesty of a gorgeous sunset. The sunset actually improved on the drive home. I would say the end of a perfect day, but I still had the fish to take care of when I got home.

The sunset improved as we drove home

     When I got home, I cut the salmon into filets, put three of them into the freezer and three into the fridge to brine. I'll put them into the smoker before I leave for work tomorrow. I'm going to experiment with some different brine recipes this year. This time I tried a simple brown sugar and salt brine with some garlic powder added. The ratio was 4 cups of brown sugar to one cup of pickling salt. Then I added a tablespoon of garlic powder. That made enough for me to brine three fish. My smoker is rather small so I'm actually not sure I will be able to fit all of them into the smoker in one batch.  I want to try a honey and salt brine for my next batch and I would also like to try a low salt or no salt version for my salt sensitive son-in-law. The salt and sugar both serve to remove moisture from the fish.  Less salt but more sugar may give the same result as far as pulling the moisture from the fish. I have a very good supply of honey this year. I may just try covering filets in honey in place of a brine recipe.

    Only two of the fish were females so I only have four egg skeins to turn into caviar.  My son-in-law is out of luck on the caviar. Since by definition caviar is just salted fish eggs, there is no way to make caviar without salt.  Salt free salmon caviar would just be raw salmon eggs. I suppose I could cure them in diluted honey but that would be sugar cured salmon eggs and not caviar.


Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Perseverance of Spiders and Fried Green Tomatoes

    I have had a Robert the Bruce experience over the past few days as I have been inspired by watching a spider.  On Sunday morning as I got into my old beater van to drive to church I noticed a spider had made a web from the outside mirror frame to the van door.  As I drove to church on Highway Two the spider's new web was ruined. He clung tenaciously to his web as it fluttered in the 60 mile per hour winds I had generated for him. Eventually he made it to the shelter of the mirror itself.   Later that afternoon I returned to my van only to find the spider had rebuilt his web while I was at church. The web was once more destroyed as I drove back into Snohomish to put the tithing in the night deposit at the bank. This process repeated itself on Monday as I drove to the Evergreen State Fair to do a shift as a volunteer at the Honey and Beeswax exhibit.  The spider's web was destroyed as I drove to the fair, the spider rebuilt the web while I was in the fair, and the spider's web was destroyed again as I drove back from the fair. Each time the spider ended up clinging to the mirror to find shelter from the wind.
A wiser choice for a "Web Site"

    I went out to my van on Tuesday morning and noticed there was no spider web attached to the outside mirror. I got into the van, thinking the spider had wisely given up and built his web elsewhere. As I was driving through Snohomish on my way to the Beez Neez I noticed the spider had merely moved his web into the van itself. The new spider web was attached to the metal cage behind the passenger seat and the ceiling so as to be located above and behind the head of any passenger in the van.  In the new location the spider web was protected from the wind and suffered no damage on its way to and from the bee store. By moving his web into the van, the spider eliminated the need to rebuild it every time I drove the van. There is no shortage of insects inside my van as I often transport bees and occasionally leave a window open.  I think there is a great moral in this story.  While perseverance is definitely a virtue, its also a good idea to occasionally reassess our situation and see if there isn't a better way to reach our goals.

      I am very grateful to my friend Jeff Thompson, who earlier this year gave me a gift of 12 tomato plants. I've had so little success with tomatoes in the past that I wasn't even planning to include them in the garden this year.  Since I had them, I went ahead and planted them.  As it has turned out, we've had a fairly warm and dry summer, much better weather for tomatoes than what usually passes for summer in western Washington.  I am currently experiencing a bountiful tomato harvest. I'm sure I've picked at least five gallons of tomatoes over the past few weeks, with lots more still on the vines.  Late blight, the bane of tomato growers in western Washington, has yet to rear its ugly head.  I'm sure the main reason for success has been the warm sunny summer.  However, I recently learned on You Tube that a deep mulch will also help prevent late blight.  Apparently it spreads from the soil when the plants are wet.  Watering from below, covering the plants with plastic to keep them dry, and a thick mulch covering the soil all are supposed to help prevent late blight.

     In the midst of this plentiful tomato harvest I got a hankering for fried green tomatoes. I don't think I've eaten them since we moved back from Texas in 1993. I looked up some recipes on the internet and made some last night.  I know its not the healthiest way to eat tomatoes but they sure hit the spot.  I'm pretty sure the terms "healthy" and "fried" are rarely used to describe the same items on a menu. Linda make fried zucchini a few times every summer. I like the fried green tomatoes better because of their tangy flavor.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Breakfast with the Veatch Kids

     When we asked what the Veatch kids wanted for breakfast on Saturday morning, Natalie requested biscuits. Connor decided he wanted to help Grandma make them. I think it is a wonderful thing for kids to learn how to cook, even when they may be a bit too young. It builds their self confidence and gives them a sense of self-reliance. Who knows what it may inspire them to learn to do in the future.  I'm sure the good feelings Connor experienced helping Grandma make biscuits will make him more inclined to want to learn to cook. Linda acted a little offended when I took this picture, like I was trying to document some extraordinary event.  She pointed out that she has known how to make biscuits for a very long time. Linda does make good biscuits, but I really just wanted to capture a photo of Connor helping Grandma. While I am usually the person making biscuits these days it was fun to have someone else make the biscuits.

Connor learning to make biscuits
     Later in the day we went to Hill Park with the kids.  It was a little bit of a challenge keeping Connor out of the water.  For some reason  if his hand goes in the water his feet have to be in the water too. He enjoyed hanging out on the fishing dock and watching the ducks, all of which he called "baby ducks". I asked Connor to smile for the camera and he immediately went into "show off for the camera" mode.
I just asked him to smile for me
    I'm not a big cake fan as a general rule.  Given a choice, I will take a pie over a cake every time.  However, I was very impressed with these cakes I saw at the Evergreen State Fair. I can't even imagine how long it took to decorate these cakes. Each scale on each of the three dragons was made individually, then put in place.  I was particularly impressed with the last cake,  the cowgirl snuggled up with her cow for a nap. I would never even have guessed that was a cake if it hadn't been labeled as such. The red stuff by the cow's head is a blanket. The cowgirl has braided hair with a ribbon in it. The whole thing is done on a bed of shredded wheat with for the straw. The same lady made both the dragons and the cowgirl cake.