Sunday, May 31, 2009

Rhubarb Melomel (Mead) -- Part 1

One of the reasons I want to get into beekeeping is to experiment with making meads, which are basically wines made with honey instead of sugar. You can make a grape mead, which is called a pyment, a fruit mead, which is called a melomel, or herbal or spice mead, called metheglin.

We own the book Making Wild Wines & Meads, but true to our form, the first one we wanted to try wasn't in the book: Rhubarb Mead. We hunted the internet and found this recipe, but the method didn't match up to the book. So, a blended method.

First, the list of ingredients:
18 cups chopped rhubarb
1 package champagne yeast
12 cups honey
48 cups water
1 lemon
1 tea bag

So here's what we've done so far, along with what we expect will happen over the next few months if all goes according to plan. Here's my rhubarb plant!

Eighteen cups of chopped rhubarb, coming right up.

It takes a long time to bring all that honey and half the water to boiling. Almost an hour. Then I boiled it for 20 minutes. As you can see, the waxy impurities floated to the top and needed to be skimmed off. (If you're buying pasteurized honey, this will already be done, but I bought mine from a local apiary's farm stand.)

Once the honey/water blend had been boiled and skimmed, I dumped in the chopped rhubarb and stirred.

Once it had cooled a bit, we poured the blend into the primary (large plastic tub) and added the remainder of the water, stirred well, and put the lid on it to sit for 24 hours. That was yesterday.

So this evening I juiced the lemon, warmed the juice to baby bottle temperature, and sprinkled the packet of champagne yeast over the top.

15 minutes later, I stirred it thoroughly. Then we added it to the rhubarb/honey/water blend in the primary along with one tea bag (I tossed in an Earl Grey) for the tannin. Stir well to distribute the yeast.

Here's what we expect to happen next:

Allow to ferment for ten days, during which the temperature needs to remain between 68-77 degrees and we need to stir several times a day.

Then transfer to an airlock carboy for three months, then rack. (This basically means the liquid is siphoned off and the solids discarded.) Rack again every month or two as needed to clarify.

Six months from now it can be bottled, and six months after THAT we'll have an idea if we'd ever make this kind again! We'll keep you updated as we go through the various steps.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Bee Day

A few weeks ago I coerced Jim into writing a blog post about the beekeeping course he's been taking. After his second classroom instruction day, he didn't have a lot to say about it. On Saturday was his hands-on day. He'd asked if I could come along to participate, and they were happy to have me come. Also didn't mind that I brought the camera and stuck it many places!

We met on the property of Lance, the bee inspector for our region (and the teacher). Here he is expounding on the parts of the hive:

He'd set up various stations around his property with activities, and split the class up into groups to go through the stations. Everything from identifying disease, to learning how to set skunk traps, to treating bee diseases, to learning to build an electric fence to keep bears away from the hives, etc. And, of course, everyone got their chance to suit up and have a demonstration right in the bee yard.

Here's Jim:

Yep, I suited up and went in the bee yard also. It didn't occur to me how many people would be horrified that I'd do that, knowing I get allergic reactions from stings. But I felt quite comfortable in the suit--other than hot. The bees buzzing around didn't really *bug* me.

Not everyone suits up. The fellow on the right of this photo has been running bees for 45 years and says he hasn't suited up for over half that time. He did get a couple stings that day, but just gently flicked the bee away. Amazing.

He was in charge of the bee yard demonstrations and lifted frames out of the supers--yes, bare-handed--then handed them around so everyone could see the pollen, the larvae, etc.

Here the White Lab Overalls examine all.


So, now we have a bit of an idea what beekeeping entails and are on to the next steps: preparing our own bee yard and looking for hives to purchase. Will keep you updated!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Garden is IN!

We've got a fairly large garden that is being used by three families this summer, so it seemed wise to prune back the golden willow on the north side of the garden. It grows like a weed and provides too much shade, so every few years Jim gives it a good hair cut. His brother-in-law gave him a hand. Or some advice.

Once the branches had been hauled off, Jim brought in the heavy equipment, first bringing in numerous loads of manure while the manure-makers looked on.

Then the rotovator got hooked up to the tractor.

Then black plastic. Saves a lot of weeding, and the tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant in particular appreciate the extra heat.

This is one of the Manitoba plants we grew from seed. About half the tomatoes I planted we grew ourselves, the rest came from a greenhouse a couple miles up the road.

We place a piece of brick or rock to the north side of every bedding plant in the plastic, and as you may have seen in the above picture, boards and tires are part of the plan as well. All of these keep the wind from whipping up the plastic and ripping up the plants. Often the tomatoes in the middle of the tires grow even better than the ones just on the plastic! We put old boards along the edges of the plastic, especially along the outside edge of the garden. There I can run the wheels of the riding mower on the boards and save a lot of hand trimming.

So now that everything is in, it's just a matter of keeping things watered. We'll be weeding and mulching the un-plasticked areas over the next few weeks as things start to sprout.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


For six weeks from the beginning of May to the middle of June, I see this sight on my drive home from work:

And for six weeks I stop by several times a week and buy some asparagus picked that very morning.

Yep, that means we eat asparagus nearly every day, one way or another. I have to be honest. By the end of the season, it's pretty much okay that we can't have fresh, local asparagus again for ten and a half months!

I usually buy the *skinnies*--so juicy and tender. Mmm. But what to do with them day after day? Well, here's one idea, a fajita stir-fry:

Basically I use the asparagus in place of peppers in the recipe, using Old El Paso fajita mix. If you're looking for a more *from scratch* recipe, try this one by our daughter.

I also use asparagus in any recipe that calls for green beans. This recipe for Garlicky Green Beans is our favorite August recipe, but it's also very common with asparagus in May and June. Mmmm. Try it!

There's nothing in the world like vegetables picked this very morning. The asparagus fields are less than two miles from my front door. It doesn't get much better than that.