Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Cooking Non-Stop

Braised Octopus
At least, it feels that way. After making all the jam yesterday, I went out to pick up the farm share. This week we started to get zucchini and summer squash, plus kale, lettuce, scallions, bok choy, cucumbers, shell peas, snow peas, fava beans, Swiss chard, spinach, and herbs. The strawberries and snap peas are done for the season.

When I got home I shelled the peas and the fava beans and was able to get the fava beans blanched and marinating. I used the greens from the scallions, plus oregano, tarragon and parsley, to braise four small octopi in preparation for marinating them and then grilling them on Friday. (Also for Friday, I will make Baba Ganoush and grilled summer squash. And the fava beans will be a nice addition.)

For dinner, I made a huge salad with shelled peas, strawberries, lettuce and cucumber. There was strawberry shortcake for dessert. After eating plenty of fresh berries, we have almost none left from that 11+ pounds we picked yesterday!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Late in the Season

For strawberries, at least.

It's been hard to find a day when the weather was good and we were free and the strawberry fields were open. Today we got two out of three. It rained most of the way up to the farm but since it was supposed to clear up they opened the fields anyway. Good thing, as we didn't have another day to go and the fields should be depleted by the end of the week. We picked just over 11 pounds.

So far, I have made one batch of Strawberry Margarita Jam (note to self, ran out of triple sec and used a wedge of orange instead), one batch of Strawberry Jam and one of Strawberry Lavender Jam. For the latter, I infused the jam as it was boiling with 2 T. of lavender buds in an herb strainer. I have an idea that I can enter regular strawberry jam in the fair and then maybe try the themed entry again with the other strawberry jams - one each of lavender, thyme, and margarita.

I also set aside a quart of strawberries with sugar so I can make strawberry shortcake tonight. That leaves a quart for eating and another quart for...something. Suggestions welcome. I know the 11 year old would like a pie.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Still No Swarm


This is the last time, hopefully, that I'll have to go into the main hive for a while. I wanted to make sure I'd closed up any gaps and take an opportunity to "checkerboard" the bars. This is putting blank bars between brood comb bars to give the bees more space to build brood and not push back into the honey areas. I left them with the orientation: HSEBBBEBBBSHSHSESSF (H=honey, S=spacer, B=brood, E=empty, F=false back). When I get the nuc box I can take some of the empty bars and put them back into the hive and move the false back to the back of the hive. I did not take out any more honey because the combs I found were all honey and brood and I didn't want to jeopardize the worker brood by taking out too many cells.

Still didn't see the queen, but I think if she is still there she is in the three front brood combs that I can't examine. If I try to take them out the entire 3 comb structure will likely collapse as they are all attached to each other. I can, however, slide them en masse back and forth, which is how I was able to insert an empty comb in front of them. In an effort to encourage forager bees to move to the nuc box I made the entrance to the main hive smaller.

Also, as I'm waiting for the new wooden box and it has rained a little and may rain some more, I propped the nuc box up on some scrap wood to keep it off the roof of the main hive. I also put some plastic over the sides and back and then replaced the ventilation roof. That should keep the box dry enough in the interim. My box should be here in a few days.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Trying to Prevent a Swarm

Of which I'm sure the neighbors would approve.

After contacting the beekeeping forum in my area it is possible that either (a) Queen Beatrix isn't dead but is getting ready to swarm or (b) she is dead and the bees are making a new queen and getting ready to swarm. Either way, the important part is "getting ready to swarm." This is something that I unrealistically hoped I wouldn't have to deal with. Regardless, the advice was to make more room in the hive and create a nuc, or smaller colony, with the queen cells so that they would have a new place to go and the hive would have less incentive to swarm.

While I'm waiting for my nuc box to arrive, there wasn't any time to spare as they could hatch a new queen and swarm any day. So I converted a paper box to my purposes: created ledges on which the top bars would rest, covered the side holes and cut out a door.

Nuc Box
After opening the hive, even though the bees were very active, they were clearly in a better mood than two days ago. Maybe because I wasn't being as destructive? Not sure. Regardless, I moved some open honey combs and some brood combs, with pollen as best as I could find, into the box and then found a comb with a queen cell on it and installed it. As I was moving combs around in the hive one of the queen cells fell off but it wasn't damaged so I moved the whole chunk into the bottom of the nuc box. That ultimately got closed up and placed on top of the hive with the ventilation roof on top of that in case it rains. The temporary nuc box is cardboard, after all.

In the hive, I moved everything forward and found a few interesting things. For example, a comb that had absolutely no top bar. That's currently sitting in a bowl under the hive in the hopes that the bees eventually leave it at nightfall and I can get the honey out of it. Also, a small colony of large ants living behind the false back. As soon as I released them, the bees attacked them with a loud and angry buzzing. It was amazing to watch.
Sting count: 0
Total sting count: 4

Friday, June 17, 2016

RIP Queen Beatrix

After a pretty normal inspection a few weeks ago, today I checked on the hive and there were queen cells. This is what the bees do when they need to replace the queen. I surmised that Queen Beatrix was either dead or not doing well and that I needed to inspect the hive.

Starting from the back of the hive, I did clean out the large bit of comb that had fallen off before that the bees had not removed on their own. I was concerned that it was getting in the way of the new comb they were building. Those new combs are white, with some honey in them.

Moving toward the center of the hive, there was a comb that was almost entirely capped worker cells. There were some drone cells. There was a LOT of honey. I found a couple more queen cells, all on the edge of the comb which is a good sign that this is a true queen and not an emergency queen. Some combs were almost completely empty. Even more forward I found some larvae but nowhere in the hive did I find eggs. That suggests the queen died 4-9 days ago. Granted, I have never been able to find eggs whenever I've looked, nor have I ever been able to identify the queen.

The other issue is that there is a lot of cross comb construction going on. This means that the bees are not exactly following the guide of the top bars to build their comb; instead the comb will be attached to two bars. In the process of trying to inspect the hive I had to separate a lot of it. No doubt the bees are unhappy with this but I had no choice. I did also damage one of the queen cells in the process of trying to get the comb out; after this I was less excited about getting the rest of the bars out. I looked at all but 3 of the bars.

Ultimately I'm not sure if I should let the hive form a new queen naturally or if I should buy a new queen, and I did sent a note to my beekeeping connection. I may have to ask on the forum and see what people say.

At some point a bee managed to get INSIDE my veil. I took it off but couldn't get it back on easily so by then I was trying to close it all up and managed to do so without the veil. The bees were rather angry and I had to keep getting them out of my hair. Literally. Not one of my best moments, for sure.

Sting count: 1.
Total sting count: 4.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Combining Fruits with Herbs

Today's farm share included two quarts of beautiful, almost too ripe strawberries! And fresh herbs. After visiting The Tangled Garden in Nova Scotia, I have been inspired to try to include herbs into some of the jams I make. So I was torn a bit between strawberry-lavender and strawberry-thyme. After polling the 14 year old, thyme won.

Also, for the first time in a while I used liquid pectin. I'd stopped using it because sometimes it failed on me but today it worked fine. I guess it can't be old so, if I'm going to use it I have to buy it new each time.

Anyway, I used the immersion blender to crush the berries more thoroughly than usual in the hopes that there would be less floating of the fruit on the tops of the jars. Usually the fruit all sits at the top and there is a clear strawberry jelly at the bottom. Not this time. This is more of a chunky purée. So. Five cups of strawberry purée, two sprigs of thyme, 7 cups of sugar and a pouch of Certo. This made 9+ cups of jam. I fished out the cooked thyme sprigs and put two tiny, fresh stems of thyme into each jar before I poured the jam. Also, I'm setting two aside for the fair.

Also in the share: cilantro, garlic scapes, spinach, mustard greens, braising greens, komatsuna greens, and radishes. Looks like I'll have to make those strangolapreti dumplings again! Tonight, though, I will toss some of the spinach with chicken tortellini and alfredo sauce. Mmm.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Freezer Room

With the start of the farm season, it's time to clear out the freezer a bit. I brought out 3.5 gallons of tomatoes I'd frozen last fall and finally got them made into sauce. Boiled, run through the food mill, and the liquid reduced by about half to get 4 pints of sauce and a little extra. All 4 pints were flavored with Persian spices (coriander, cumin and lime) which always makes things easier when I'm cooking. I'd picked up some dried barberries (zereshk) while I was in Halifax a few weeks ago and I'm psyched to make some zereshk polo and khoresh. Having these jars of sauce ready to go will save time.

Also in the freezer are loaves of chocolate zucchini bread - we had one for dinner tonight and there are 3 left. That I can find. 

Growing Season

Yesterday was the first farm share pick up of the year. I am always so happy to get back to the farm, to walk around in the fields and enjoy the sights, sounds and smells.

As usual, the first share is relatively light. A pound of spinach, 1/3 pound of arugula. Broccoli, scallions, bok choy, and radishes. In the fields: a pint of strawberries and herbs. Dill, cilantro, thyme, tarragon, sage and chives. I only took what I needed, and the tarragon and thyme were dried overnight.

We celebrated the first share with a big salad of spinach, arugula, goat cheese, radishes and strawberries. The berries on the salad actually came from the front yard. Since I have to pick them a little early to thwart the chipmunks I thought they'd be better in the salad rather than plain. The pint of berries from the farm got eaten straight out of the bowl and were gone in short order.

While I was picking herbs I got into a conversation with two women about canning. It seems that a lot of people are interested in it but aren't sure how to get started and are worried about contamination. I've been thinking about teaching a class on canning, perhaps I need to work more on setting one up...

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Didn't Really Go As Planned

Today I was checking on the bees and noticed they were building combs like crazy and getting close to the back of the hive. I needed to get in to add spacers between the bars and I figured as it was a sunny day I had time to do an inspection. I got dolled up in my gear as I was going to be more invasive than usual. That turned out to be a very good idea.

Things were going great until one of the new honey combs fell off the bar and landed on the bottom of the hive. Bees came charging out of the hive with a loud, annoyed buzz and some started drowning in honey at the bottom of the hive. I continued on with my inspection, thinking that I might have to get that comb out of there or maybe they'd figure it out on their own? As I got further along and could see the bees were doing just fine with raising more bees, I decided I should get it out. I ran back into the house for a bowl and then tried to lift the comb out of the hive. All covered with angry bees.

My total beekeeper sting count is now up to three. I got stung once on each hand, through my gloves. At least that allowed me to get the stingers out with minimal effort. I went back into the house for a large spoon.

Today's on the left, the older honey on the right.
After getting the comb out, finally, without any more stings, I gradually got the hive put back together. Then came the task of helping the still alive bees out of the bowl of comb and honey. Hopefully, they can get the honey off themselves and find their way back into the hive. If they can't I will feel bad but at least I know the hive is healthy and can recover from the loss.

Once I got all the living bees off the comb I brought it into the house and strained it. The one comb yielded 2.5 cups of honey. You can see from the photo it's much lighter in color (and less dense) than the honey I got after the winter. It also tastes different. The wax will be set aside for my friend and her soap making.

Lastly, I made a batch of granola as we were out. I love making granola because the coconut oil smells so amazing when it bakes. 

Friday, June 3, 2016

Can't Get More Local Than This

Last year we redid our front yard as the Town had to take down the trees on the curb for a road project. The change from shady to sunny meant all new plants and a new look. Once everything was planted, on a whim I bought 8 strawberry seedlings and tucked them in between the roses and lilies. Well, those 8 plants took off and now a full third of the garden is strawberry plants. Which have made huge amounts of strawberries. Which have just started to ripen. We've gotten 1-2 berries a day so far, until yesterday.
And there are so many more waiting to ripen! I just have to get to them before the chipmunks do.