Bees: Movin’ on Up

hiveinspectionsinshineif you’ve encountered either me or my Mama at a cocktail party in the last year you will have heard all of this and more: the first question anyone asks us when they hear we’ve started keeping bees is “when do you get the honey!?”. That is a good question. The answer is sort of complicated because the final answer is “Maybe never, or perhaps in October?”. A little explanation: bees make honey for themselves, to nom nom nom through the winter, and you have to be sure they have enough for themselves before you take any. When you first get a hive, the bees are all in one hive body, a single box. They build out comb and store honey and the queen lays eggs and they raise their brood, growing, building up their hive until they fill up that box. Just like any growing family in a Brooklyn apartment, there’s a lot of discussion on what to do next, how to renovate, whether to move upstate. Luckily for the bees it’s possible to just double the size of the available real estate just by adding a new hive body up top. If only it were that simple for the Brooklyn brownstone (just add another one on top!). BeeHiveWith the addition of a 2nd box, the bees have room to grow, to begin filling that hive body up with honey, pollen, eggs, and brood. Then when/if they have that hive body filled up, then you can add another, smaller box to the hive called a “honey super” and that’s extra, that’s gravy, that’s honey. We might not get that this year, we might not get that ever, but as of now we’re about halfway there. Two weeks ago we added the second hive bodies, and last weekend, after my great uncle Tall Paul’s 94th birthday party, Mama and I came home and did a late afternoon hive-inspection to see how the hives, Shangri-la+Xanadu, were doing. Shangri-la is always busier, always has a scrum of bees outside in the late afternoon, while Xanadu is a little mellower, her bees coming zagging in backlit in the afternoon sun heavy with loads of pollen and nectar. It’s almost impossible to tell what they’re up to until you open up the hive, and we’ve been consistently surprised. They’ve both started building out comb in their new additions, but Xanadu (quiet thunder) has stepped it up, is already putting away honey and is growing fast. The glistening comb in this picture is full of almost-ready honey, and the white capped comb at the top is honey stored and ready to go.honeycombhiveinspectionhiveinspection

Mama took the top picture, I took the middle two, and Daddy (getting very close in just his shirtsleeves!) took the last one. Love+Honey indeed.

Finally, some Flowers

FlowerSeedsThis is the year of the rookie garden. Someday I will have my mother’s hands and my grandfather’s understanding of what plants need to go where (or at least maybe my other grandfather’s brilliant knack for just hiring someone to do it right), but in the meantime, I’m just playing fast and loose with seeds and starts and trials and errors and sun and shade and just trying to appreciate the loveliness of small successes as I make a (totally delicious) dinner involving 4 peas and 3 radishes. In all of this vegetable garden planning and hand wringing and dirt moving and cucumber roadtripping, I forgot about flowers. So, in some went. Two packets of impulse-purchase dollar-store wildflowers and the entirety of the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange’s Wild Garden Perennial Insectary Mix (for the bees) sown. Look at these seeds! Strange curlicues, barbed instruments of war, tiny drinking gourds, beach balls, tomatillos, snailshells, armaments, and toboggans. Go forth little seeds, go forth and bloom.flowerseedmix

Mulberry Pie

mulberriesThese are Mulberries. I have no idea how I hadn’t heard of them until just this spring. I mean, I knew a Mulberry Tree was a kind of tree that existed and that there was something vaguely to do with silkworms liking them, but that was it. I had NO IDEA that literally EVERYWHERE there are big beautiful Mulberry Trees growing with millions of dark, juicy, sweet, totally edible, totally delicious berries on them just ripe for the picking. I have a bunch of trees growing wild at my house, Sweetheart and I stopped for lunch at a roadside stand and there was a Mulberry Tree in the parking lot (dessert!), even on our block in Brooklyn, right by the bus stop, there are low hanging branches of this sweet fruit (and a bunch of bamboozled people waiting for the bus looking at me funny as I stop en route to the subway every morning to pick+shove a handful of the sticky sweet berries in my mouth). pickedmulberriesThe Mulberry itself tastes most like a blackberry (almost I-dentical, actually), but bigger and juicier than the wild blackberries that are just starting to green up on the thorny embankments around here. So much sweet bounty, just growing for the taking? I say: FREE PIE! When the boys were down visiting from New York, Tony had specifically asked for a pie, so Seth and I took a ladder and a bowl out to the back yard and spent 20 minutes in the tree canopy, picking classically: a berry for the bowl, a berry for me, a berry for the pie, a berry for the pie-hole. We filled our bowl and baked her up. Deee-licious.mulberrypie

Mulberry Pie 

This recipe was pretty inexact, which is usually not how I roll with baking, but with a berry pie, (apparently) it doesn’t really matter.

-One large bowl freshly picked Mulberries, enough to fill a tarte pan
-1/4 c. sugar
-2 tbs. flour
-2 piecrusts (I cheated and used pre-made)
-butter
-1 egg white

Preheat oven to 400

Toss Mulberries in sugar and flour

Line tarte pan with one pie crust, cutting off any excess, fill with berries

Cut a design into your top crust (or lattice it, or cut a slit… do what you feel! I cut stars)

Dot the top of the filling with as many pats of butter as you are comfortable with

Layer the top crust on top and crimp the edges (again, cutting off any excess)

Lightly whip egg white and brush crust with it

Bake for 15 minutes at 400, reduce head to 350 and bake for another 30 minutes, or until crust is golden brown

If you can possibly stand it, let the pie rest until cool so the gooey berry filling will set (cutting the pie warm means the filling will be oozy, you can make your own t-chart about the detriments of oozing filling vs. the benefits of eating warm pie).

Have any of you ever made mulberry pie? mulberry jam? I’d love any stories or recipes since I feel like I just discovered this AND it’s supremely old fashioned (my favorite combo).

Easter Egg Radishes

EasterEggRadishesO Easter Egg Radishes, with your multitude of colors and strange bulbous shapes, how delicious you are pulled right from the garden, thinly sliced, and put on a plate with thick dutch cheese, bread, and mustard (and a nice cold beer). We felt very European, and also, even though the chilly spring and our beginner-gardener-flailings means we aren’t pulling our radishes until mid-June, pretty proud of ourselves.

Shangri-La + Xanadu

BeeHivesWe’ve been spending our mornings drinking coffee and watching the bees zoom in and out of their hives. They leave the hive, shot out like a bullet, up and over the house making, yep you guessed it, bee-lines towards the ancient and gigantic blooming tulip poplar in the neighbor’s yard. On the way back, they weave woozily, back and forth in a zig zag, lady bees laden down with yellow bolls of pollen on either side of her back legs, under the wing, like saddlebags. BeeWithPollenAnd after much discussion (and minor confusion about which one was which “the one on the left is bringing in more pollen than the one on the right” which left? which right?) we have decided to name our hives: Shangri-La and Xanadu. Paradise.

 

Mama took the picture of the bee with the pollen. Isn’t she good?

Miss McKay’s Moon Vine

McKaysMoonVineIn the short almanac days of dark December, a care package came from Miss McKay. A burnished new short story and a bright yellow envelope, rattling and full of purpose, marked “open with care”. Inside the envelope, a dozen (magic?) seeds, labeled McKay’s Moon Vine, and accompanied by these instructions:

In May soak seed overnight. Plant in sunny spot where she can climb, a spot you walk by every evening. Enjoy big, white, fragrant blooms with sweetheart at cocktail hour.

Oh heart, those are my kind of instructions. And, through the trials of this strange and cold spring, almost at the very tail end of May, it is finally warm enough to plant them. Welcome Home.

Save your Bees for a Rainy Day

IMG_6224Actually, TODAY was the day. Mama and I went out to the east side of town to pick up our two nucs from a very sweet beekeeper named Jacob who I immediately wanted to set up all of my friends with (laaaaaadies? he breeds his own queens!). You can see our two nuc boxes resting on top of the two hive bodies above. A “nuc”, or nucleus hive, is a short box containing a fully-functioning mini-hive, five frames (as opposed to the 10 in a standard hive) of bees who have already drawn out and built the wax comb every aspect of their lives is based on, who have already been storing honey and pollen in those combs, and a beautiful queen painted with a red dot who has already been diligently laying brood to make more bees to go off and harvest the sweet nectars that are flowing as we speak. Last night, we strapped down the two long, audibly buzzing, rectangular boxes to the back of our little pickup and began the hour long trek home. When we got back, not only was it dark (ok for bee move-in day) it was also raining (NOT ok for bee move-in day). So we had to put the bees under cover and wait for the morning to move them in. When we woke up, the pent-up bees were making so much heat trying to cool down their plugged up hive, it fogged up my camera lens, air hot to the touch being beaten out of any vent hole by the flapping of 40,000 wings.BeehivePlugWe puffed them with smoke to calm them down, then sprayed them with sugar water to zuzz them up and then moved them, slowly and surely, frame by frame, from their temporary cardboard hutches to their forever-homes. They immediately took up ancient established positions- some moved to the empty frames to start exploring, some situated themselves at the door of the hive, fanning their wings with a special perfume to let any sister-bees know that this was home, so come on in, and some of them alit on the dewey honeysuckle nearby to cool off after a hot night in cardboard city. Needless to say, after our very first time handling our very own bees, meeting our very own beauties, Mama and I are two very happy beekeepers.BeesOnFramesIMG_6236IMG_6234IMG_6227

Cucumber Road Trip

CucumberRoadtripThe cucumbers have not been happy. And, as we all know, the most surefire cure for a little malaise, when your roots are in a twist and you need a little sun on your shoulders is a ROAD TRIP. So we packed a wagon with all of their earthly possessions and have gone on a little adventure, all the way across the yard. We’ll see if they like it.

Living Things Everywhere

JeffsRosesThere are living things covering pretty much every surface of the house right now. I used to make it a priority to always have fresh flowers at the Brooklyn brownstone but, with the exception of when I smuggled bundles of fresh apple blossoms from our newly-discovered tree up there last time I went, or when I felt like celebrating something big by dropping some coin at the Chelsea Flower Market for lilacs or anemones, Brooklyn flowers usually means whatever-is-cheapest-at-the-bodega-on-the-way-home-from-work. Slim pickins’. Lots of daisies, the occasional lily, gorgeous hydrangeas that die immediately. Always lovely, never bountiful. But, ah, bounty! Right now we have these beautiful, delicate pink roses that Jeff, chimneysweep and green-thumb extraordinare, brought us yesterday when he came to ready the woodstove for next season and make sure no birds would build their nests in the chimney in the meantime. FigRootingWe have fig cuttings Miss Ravenel brought me from her french fig tree in rooting medium on the windowseat, hoping they’ll take root and we’ll have figs next year. There are peonies blooming on the coffee table (and I stole one for my bedside) courtesy of Abby and Catherine, who came by to get our bride ready last Saturday. There are peonies in the bud at the kitchen sink, brought by my mama. There is a low slung bowl of languorous thyme, trimmed from an unruly transplant. A clear bottle on the kitchen counter with Brookie’s rosemary, a pint glass of mint plucked from by the stairs for juleps. Bud vases of lysianthus and spirea dot the sideboard and on top of the piano, and there are pink trumpet azaleas brought in from the garden to amend the last gasp of sweet Meags’ parrot tulips. It’s a serious bounty, and to be surrounded by such love and beauty is a rare thing indeed.TrumpetAzalea

Men with Machines

BackhoeToday the men are coming, and they are bringing their machines. The big diggers and claws and shovels and saws will take care of 50 years of brush piles, fallen trees, wild honeysuckle, deadstands, and brambles, revealing wild cherry and strawberry and apple and hickory nut already (and that’s just before 9am). I’ve never seen a more beautiful sight. They might as well put this backhoe in a centerfold.

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