Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Honey House is Abuzz

This week is the 152nd annual Harford Fair in Harford, PA, and all the world is there. You can’t walk down the green alley between, say, the Sheep & Swine Barn and the Fine Arts Barn without seeing ten people you know.

Today I worked in the Honey House for the Susquehanna County Beekeepers Association, selling bottles of local honey and beeswax candles and the megapopular 25¢ honey straw. You bite the end off the little plastic tube with your teeth and suck the honey out of the straw. Numerous people confided to me that they looked forward all year to buying their honey straws and walking around the fairground all day, guzzling down the tiny amount of honey within. We also had honey tasting from plastic bear-shaped squeezie bottles—everything from the light, fine clover honey of spring through various shades of wildflower honey including the goldenrod that’s coming in right now to the very dark honey that comes from the white blossoms of the Japanese knotweed plant. Japanese knotweed was introduced into cultivation in the U.S. because it’s really striking and turns from nothing into a shrub-sized presence in just a few months. Unfortunately, it’s wildly invasive and almost impossible to kill without liberal applications of known carcinogens. But at least it makes good honey.

In the observation hive, we displayed a wild swarm that a Beekeepers Association member caught last week. All day we looked for the queen, but nobody ever found her. It could be that this colony doesn’t have a queen at the moment, in which case they will start immediately to raise a new one by feeding an infant worker bee royal jelly. This highly nutritious substance is the only thing standing between the QE2’s and the Melissa’s of the bee world. It is powerful stuff—a few extra days of noshing on royal jelly turns the resulting bee into an egg-laying wonder, the mother of the colony, she who must be fed, groomed, kept at a suitable temperature all year round no matter what the outside climate and also followed if she decides things are too crowded and it’s time to swarm and depart for more spacious environs. No wonder humans want to eat royal jelly! Who knows what amazing changes it might wreak in us! I personally would not want to never go outdoors again so I could lay thousands of eggs a week, but the perks are pretty good if you’re not really the outdoorsy type anyway. Or if bee eggs are your obsessive art form, the highest calling of your tiny, six-legged soul. Hmm. Maybe I’ll try some jelly after all. I could definitely use to log a little more studio time, as my artist friends say.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

An Eight Foot Fence Full of Chaos

I went out to pick whatever peas the chipmunk had overlooked, and I found the way largely impassable due to huge, sprawling catnip, lemonbalm, dill and borage plants covered with flowers. The garden is in a state of total chaos, and I am perfectly happy, because it has at least 2 garter snakes and many dozens of honeybees (not ours), hoverflies and other wild pollinators. Plus John’s garden at the studio is located on bottom land so fine and deep you would think you were in the Midwest, and it is very productive, so the wilderness inside the fence up here on Rocky Top is not causing us to starve.

For example, my new favorite way to consume large quantities of summer squash (which we must do in order to be able to navigate the kitchen) is to sautee them in olive oil with an onion and some garam masala, and then make a raita of it with whole milk yogurt. Ladle that over your rice and lentil kitchree, and you can ascend directly into summertime paradise.

This spring I sacrificed one garden bed to 2 fruit trees; next spring I am thinking of converting another to strawberries, which we love, and so do the deer, so planting them outside the fence is a fool’s errand. Slowly I seem to be converting the kitchen garden to a fruit-and-perennial vegetables garden, leaving the annuals to John and my talented farmer friends. This time next year when the herbs are feeding the pollinators, I will be one bed closer to admitting that this may be the real reason I have the garden to begin with.