The busy beekeeper tries to tuck the bees in for winter

Fondant for the bees

A twenty-five pound bag of sugar is empty in the kitchen.  Dinner was delayed because the stock pot of bubbling sugar water was taking up most of the stove space.  All of my pyrex casseroles are filled with sweets that we won’t be eating.  A five gallon bucket and a paint stirrer are coated with sugar syrup.  And there are splatters of syrup everywhere–on the counters, on the (freshly mopped) floor, on the floor mats,  even on my bee hat.

All the evidence points to John.  He’s been making fondant for the bees.

We did nothing to prepare the bees for a hurricane.  And nothing happened to them.  That’s partly because they are on a sheltered hillside and mainly because the storm pounded north of us.  Winter, however, has often hit the bees hard, so it is important to tuck them in for the season.

A nice day for playing with bees or just wandering around the yard

Today’s goal was to winterize the bees with insulation and to stock the hive with a store of fondant to eat throughout the barren winter months.  Only half the task got done.  Ironically, this November day was so warm that the bees were too active for John to wrap the hives.  At least the floor and ceiling of the hives got winterized and the fondant placed in the feeder box.

A piece of insulation board is fitted to the bottom hive box.  This will help protect the bees from cold air coming in underneath the hive.

Feeder boxes fitted with insulation

On top of the hive, John puts a feeder box.  It usually has a tray for sugar water, but for winter John removes the tray and fits the box with a piece of insulation.  This will protect the top of the hive from cold air.

John  places a big piece of fondant on top of the honey frames.  The insulated lid sits on top of it.

Fondant sits on top of the honey frames

Insulated lid goes on top

Later, when it’s colder and the bees are staying inside, John will insulate the outside of the hive too.

Alas, insulating the bees is akin to having the tractor in working order—it’s one of Murphy’s Laws that if we are prepared for winter, we won’t get one.

The tractor is running great at the moment.

Last week I got my first dose of winter on a day trip to New York City.  I can wait for snow.  For now, there’s plenty of autumn left to enjoy.  Apparently the bees think so, too.

In another month, I’ll be decorating with evergreens.

A perfect Maywood day

On a clear crisp October day,  where better to be than at Maywood, with a kaleidoscope of leaves floating earthward?  And what better things to do than sawmill and introduce a new family to the wonders of beekeeping? Top it off with a dinner of grilled bluefish caught last weekend in Cape May, N.J. and we’ve got the perfect Maywood day.

John has been a busy sawyer lately.  Word of mouth has directed several guys to bring tree trunks to our place for John to mill.  John’s lumberyard (literally, the part of our yard dedicated to lumbering) smells sweetly of fruity sawdust.  Today’s project was to mill a mantelpiece.  Originally thought to be pine, the wood turned out to be sassafras.  The pleasant surprise meant milling the rest into boards for woodworking rather than 2×4’s for more mundane use.

No sooner had the sassafras been cut, then it was time to do some apiary education.  Today we planned one last peek into the hives to check for any harvest-able honey.  A colleague from school wanted to watch, as he is thinking of getting some hives for himself.  He came along with his wife and six children.  The oldest, a student in my French II class, brought a camera along to work on a digital photography project.  The middle kid, Hunter, was just the right size to sort of squeeze into Harper’s bee suit.  He was also the most reluctant to be near the bees, but the only one who could wear the suit.

“Are you sure the bees can’t get through this?”  he worried.  “These gloves aren’t very thick.”

“Trust me, you’ll be fine,” I said.  He covered head to toe, zipped in so tight he couldn’t scratch his own nose.  The suit was a little short, but a pair of tube socks pulled up over the pants legs more than handled the gap from shoe to calf.

John checking a frame and showing it to the “visitor’s gallery.”

Down in the beeyard, Hunter’s family stood at a distance (the visitor’s gallery) while Hunter got up close to the hives.  At first, he did a constant body check.  “Are there any on me?”


“How about now?”


Another boys gets hooked on bees

Then, he was drawn to the hive, fascinated by the thousands of bees.

“I want to touch one.”

“Go ahead.”

“I want one to land on me.”

Outer frame is not very full; best to leave it all for the bees.

It didn’t take more than ten minutes for the bee-wary boy to have his face right up to the frames, staring down into the hive.  Alas, there was no honey for the humans to harvest today.  What’s there is what the bees need for the winter.  The hives were closed up and it was time to call a bee-day.

Sorry to see the hives closed, the newest young convert to beekeeping made a pronouncement: “Dad.  We have to get bees.”

We sent them on their way with honey and lip balm, then went inside for a late lunch of some fresh eggs they had brought us.   Later, John grilled his bluefish, seasoned with salt, pepper, and lime, over some applewood and then topped it off with cranberry-dill sauce.

I’d have taken a photo of the meal, but was too busy eating it.

Good weather, good projects, good company, good food.  What a good day.  And, oh yeah, I even got the laundry (mostly) done.

(Note: the recipe for the cranberry dill sauce was posted in December 2010 “A Hunting They Will Come.”  I usually serve it with venison, but it was in the original cookbook next to a recipe for grilled bluefish.  And wow, it goes really well with bluefish.)

The lazy gardner: Drying hydrangeas in September

These were actually cut in August and abandoned (on purpose) in the music room.

If  I were a proper gardener, I would not be drying hydrangeas in September.  A proper gardener cuts blooms at their very peak, preferably in the morning of a beautiful dry sunny day.  For hydrangeas, that would be in late June or early July.  I know of one proper gardener who takes those perfect blooms and plops the stems into a bucket of anti-freeze.  The flowers soak up the anti-freeze and are preserved in their perfect summer state.  Or so I’m told.  I haven’t actually tried it.  A proper gardener also dead-heads spent blooms and trims the bushes back at the right time of year.  That would mean that hydrangeas in September should be cut back and absolutely, positively shorn of all their now-faded summer glory.

But I’m not a proper gardener.  I didn’t dead-head the blooms because they still had color in them.  They weren’t all black and crusty like the cone-flowers or black-eyed susans.  Plus it was hot.  When it’s hot, I’d rather sit on the porch beneath a circling fan and sip iced coffee (preferably laced with kahlua).  So forget about actually cutting back the overgrown bush.  Ack!  That would work up my sticky perspiring glow into an actual froth of sweat.

Overloaded hydrangea

So now it’s September and the cone-flowers and susans are looking ready for spooky Halloween centerpieces.  The hydrangea bushes look like they have been on steroids and plan to take over the planet.  There are actually little baby hydrangea bushes growing and I would love to (get my husband to) dig them up and plant them in other beds, but I have to trim the overgrowth to find them again.  (This I will do myself. If you have seen how he trimmed the lilacs, you would understand.)

Step one is to harvest the leftover blooms.  They are no longer the pure blue that inspires wedding bouquets.  They are turning like leaves into autumnal hues of purple and green.  They won’t go icky brown until after the first frost.  Now is the perfect time to just snip and decorate with them.  I cut the blossoms and arrange them right into the basket.  No water.   Nothin’.  I put the basket in the hallway.  Ta da. Done.  A week later the soft autumnal flowers are dried crispy but retain the same color.

Lest you think I am overly clever, I began drying hydrangeas by accident.  And often, if I am successful, it is because the magic drying fairy has taken pity on me.  The first time I dried hydrangeas, I cut some flowers, put them in water in a vase and put the vase in the music room.  And completely forgot about them.  Um…I do this a lot.  Some flowers don’t mind this.  I have a vase of pretty yellow roses from my orthopedic surgeon that dried quite nicely.  Usually, though, I end up with vases of dried twigs sitting in oogy water with goopy leaves.  The hydrangeas, however, looked great.  I decided after that to leave all the hyrangeas in their vases until dry–and I ended up with a lot of shriveled up hydrangeas.

After much trial and error, I have figured out some general principles to lazy hydrangea drying.

No direct sunlight in the hallway…a good place for drying.

  • Let them dry on the plant until they no longer have the original color, but before they look like toast.
  • Trim off all leaves.
  • Once inside, put the flowers in a dark room, out of sunlight.  This is where a log home is not only the perfect venue for showcasing dried flowers, but also to dry them.  With wood ceilings and surrounded by trees, it is dark inside.  My house has the perfect conditions for drying flowers.

This was a good blooming year. (Or should I go Brit and say “a bloomin’ good year”?)  I have baskets full of dried blooms to show for it.  But only because the flower fairy was nice to me.

These were cut a week ago and are now dry.

Leaf management

For those who were worrying--you can get to the front door now

It was a great day in the Hereford Zone today. John spent the morning fixing the brakes on the Jeep while friend Mike and son Gage were hunting in the woods. It was Youth Day today and 15 year old Gage got a young buck.  So Mike and Gage butchered the deer by the driveway while John repaired the Jeep.  Mike’s wife Shelley stopped by and we both thought someone should take a picture but neither one of us wanted the images on our camera.   So we didn’t.
After years of despair over the amount of leaves we have to process, we have come up with a system that works for us.  I rake the leaves out of the beds and then John blows them into the woods with the riding mower.    John likes this system because he can do it with a beer in his hand.  (As you can see in the picture.)  He can also sing very loudly and think that no one can hear him.  (He’s wrong.  I can hear him over the tractor right now and I’m inside the house!) 

Why is smoke coming out of the leaf pile?

Today John discovered that there is a limit to how high a pile he can mow.  If the leaves are too high, the hot tractor engine can set them on fire.  Hence,  the smoke in the picture.  Ok, they didn’t quite  burst into flame, but they were burning.  We raked them out and that seemed to do the trick.  (If you hear that 83 is closed due to a forest fire, then you’ll know that it didn’t do the trick.)  If you want a better picture of John’s look of  bewilderment, click on the picture. : )

Hershey inspects our work

Hershey enjoyed supervising the yard work.  She’ll come this evening all tuckered out from the effort. 


Oh, where is the driveway?


How do you know you are with a city kid?  When, driving up I-83, you enter  the Hereford Zone, and he points at the trees and asks, “Is that Fall?”

Yes, it is.  The leaves are falling by the buckets.  We could probably measure the leaffall in inches, like we do the snow.  In theory, today is a great day to get out there and rake them.  But they aren’t finished falling, so what’s the point?  It’s really demoralizing to clean off everything and then have it disappear again.  I  have a good rationalization for procrastinating though–I read that butterflies that cocoon over the winter need the leaf cover to get started and that it’s best to leave the leaves.  Once they’ve finished falling, though, they become a nuisance by flying in the door every time we come home.  So they will have to be dealt with. I’m thinking of a certain city kid who might want to make a big pile to jump in.   In the meantime, they are pretty to look  at.

Fall viewed through the front door

Last night was Friday.  On Fridays John and I like to “snack” for dinner.  Ok, snack is understating it a little.  “Snack” is Fritos and clam dip while watching football.  “Small plates” might better describe the meal.  Last night we had oysters with mignonette.  And goat cheese bread.  It was really yummy, a great appetizer, and just right on a fall evening.  I got the recipe from But,having followed their directions, I’m tweaking it.  So here is my tweaked version.

 1 baguette, sliced into rounds
1 granny smith apple, peeled and sliced to fit on the bread round
1 package of plain goat cheese (chevre)-9 to 12 oz.
herbes de provence
Spread a little bit of  chevre on each bread round (to hold the apple slice on!). 
Put one slice of apple on each bread round.
Put a 1/4″ slice of chevre on top of the apple.
Crumble some herbes de provence over the cheese.
Bake for 10 minutes in preheated 350 degree oven, until cheese is soft.
Then toast (in toaster oven or broiler) just until cheese is golden brown.

Looking through the door wreath

Pain au chèvre