Friday, April 22, 2016

Bee Swarm

Last summer, we were delighted when a friend of ours, who is a beekeeper, asked us if she could place some of her beehives on our land.  There are many insects that pollinate crops, but bees are exceptional pollinators.  So, we were really excited to have some bee hives on our land.

Most of the winter, the bees stayed in their hives.  But, on warm days we would see them out and about, looking for pollen.  Unfortunately, there was nothing for them to eat during the winter.  That all changed this spring when flowers started to appear and they became very active. 

Our beekeeper told us there was a possibility a couple of the more active hives might produce swarms.  This is where the hive produces a new queen and the old queen is forced out along with a good portion of the bees in the hive.  When this happens, they normally fly to a nearby resting place where most of the swarming bees stay with the queen while scouts are sent out to find a new home.

We were, therefore, not surprised when we found this in one of the peach trees a short distance from the hives.

It was an amazing sight and we immediately called the beekeeper.  Her first words were "Tell me you don't have a swarm!".  Ha!  Spring is a busy time for beekeepers as the hives come out of hibernation and become active.  At any rate, she came right over and prepared a small temporary hive in which to put the bees.

The hive is a small rectangular box.

Inside the box are frames containing wax cells to give the bees a starting point for their new home.

Once the new hive was prepared, it was time to put the bees in it.  Fortunately, the swarm was not very high off the ground and was within easy reach.  The bees were so distracted that she could touch the swarm without getting stung.  

She held the temporary hive under the swarm and gently shook the branch.

Most of the bees fell right into the box in one big blob.

She had to make sure the queen dropped into the box with the swarm.  As it turns out, there are ways to tell if the queen is in the box, other than actually seeing her.  The main way is to look and see if there are bees at the entrance to the hive fanning their wings with their bottoms pointed up, like this.

They are releasing a pheromone to tell the other bees that the queen is there.  Fanning their wings disperses the pheromone into the surrounding air.  

A few of the bees kept going back to the branch because some of the queen's scent was left behind.  The beekeeper used a brush to brush them into a container and "pour" them in the hive.

After she had captured as many as she could, she set another box on top of the first one and added a container of sugar water to it so the bees would have some nourishment to get them started in their new home.

Then she put a lid on top and bound the 2 boxes together with a strap.  She said it was best to leave the new hive in place for a couple of weeks to let the bees get settled.  Once they are settled in and she is sure they are not going to fly off to look for new quarters, then she will put them in a permanent hive, like the ones shown in the first picture.  

It has been such a fun experience having the bees on our farm.  I've been mowing around wildflowers and clumps of clover to give them more pollen sources.  And, once we have tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, squash and other crops blooming, I know they will pay us back by pollinating those and boosting the amount of fruit and veggies we get.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Green Garlic

In February last year, I wrote a blog entry about the many different types of garlic that are available, Garlic for the Garden,  which includes a link with pictures of our 2014 garlic harvest.  

If you read that article, you will learn that we normally plant garlic in the fall and harvest it the following June.  This method gives you nice big heads of garlic that contain many cloves.  However, if you wait until the spring to plant some of your garlic, then you can have what I call "green garlic".  Green garlic is like green onions in that you dig it before it is ripe.  Here is what it looks like at this stage.

Notice it looks very much like a green onion.  But, the leaves of garlic are flat.

The leaves are too tough to eat, but the bottom part below the leaves can be sliced and sauteed to give a nice mild garlic flavor to whatever it is cooked with.

I like to saute green garlic with asparagus to make a tasty side dish.  Just slice the asparagus into 1 inch slices and throw it in a pan along with the sliced garlic and a tablespoon of olive oil.

I have a well-used wok that I use for this task.  Stir-fry it until the asparagus is crisp-tender.  Then, add salt and pepper to taste, and you have a vegetable dish that is to die for!

I didn't realize when I took this picture that the food in the upper right looks like pizza.  It's actually a piece of pork steak that was cooked in the oven along with rice, tomatoes, onions and peppers.  It just so happened that I cut the meat into smaller pieces and the piece I ended up with was triangular shaped.  

I don't know why I felt compelled to clarify that point, except that I'm not a big pizza fan, and the thought of eating rice, pizza and asparagus is, well, just disgusting to me!

Monday, April 4, 2016

Dandelion Fritters

Do you have any of these in your yard?  

If you do, I hope you are not wringing your hands and gnashing your teeth because of them!  In fact, dandelions are very nutritious and all parts of the plant are useful.  The leaves are full of nutrition and can be sauteed or used raw in salads.  In the old days, folks would make spring tonics from dandelions.  These tonics supplied much needed vitamins that were missing from their winter diets. 

Dandelions have thick deep roots from which the plants come up year after year.  

The roots can be roasted, ground and stored in an air-tight container to later be used as a hot beverage when mixed with boiling water. The roasted roots are supposed to taste a bit like coffee and chocolate.  I plan to dig some of them and give this a try.

One thing I have tried this spring are dandelion "fritters".  Tom was skeptical about these, but ended up trying them and said they weren't bad.  Ha!  That is a big thumbs up being that he is not the most adventurous soul when trying new things.

Here's how I made them.  First, I picked flowers that had longish stems.

Then I made a batter of milk, eggs and flour and used the stems to dip the flowers in the batter.

Next, it was just a matter of placing the batter-dipped flowers into hot oil and frying them until they were browned.  

Once they were drained on paper towels and slightly cool, we ate them like Popsicles by holding the stems and biting off the flowers.  

I've been reading about making dandelion wine, as well.  The flowers are used to make wine, but the recipe I saw called for a gallon of dandelion flower petals.  The stems and core would have to be removed.  It seems to me this would take a LONG time and I'm not sure my poor back would tolerate bending over long enough to pick that many flowers!  So, I think I'll leave the dandelion wine to someone with a stronger back and more patience.