It’s driving me mad. Not to belabor the topic (see previous post) but I think I’ve reached the breaking point. I woke up this morning to more snain (my term for the miserable combo of mixed snow and rain), this time the ground was white. It was gone within the hour, as the snow quotient faded and the rain kept coming. The ground is saturated, soaked, soggy, drenched, sopping, waterlogged, and whatever other word applies to the squelching, sloppy mess out there. I spent the afternoon today vacuuming and washing the area rugs, and as soon as the dogs went out and came back in, it was as if I’d done nothing. It’s enough to drive me over the edge. When it was coming down in sideways sheets during one particularly schizophrenic day of weather last week I looked out the window at work and forgot to delete the expletive.
I suppose it’s better than freaky tornados (in Michigan last week, an area that doesn’t get tornados historically), but the creepy 70s weather in Chicago (creepy because it’s March!) sounds much better than it should at this point. A friend lamented with me about the weather and remarked that maybe we were in for another spring and summer like last year. I didn’t even know how to respond to that. The first thought is to drop the speed loader into the chamber. The second is to pack up the farm and head out for drier territories, in a rig similar to the Clampitts’ but without the advantage of Texas tea to support the move.
We did have a downpour-free day on Saturday (and Friday, too). After the morning snain it actually cleared a bit and I even saw a weak shadow or two. It was nice enough to let the sheep out to nibble on the early spring growth, which I do whenever we get a day like this. It makes them happy and that makes me happy. Their shearing went well two weeks ago. I moved them into the shed with the panels up and they did well (thought there might be some freak-outs as they’d never been confined that way before). When the shearer got here (10 minutes earlier than I expected) I was able to move them in the small holding area (so no rodeo chase, like last year’s circus) and it went smooth as buddah, with Eifion Morgan, shearer extraordinaire, zipping through them in less than 30 minutes (shearing all five, hoof trims, vaccines and worming). They all felt tons better without a year’s growth of itchy wool, though the cold weather has been a bit of a trial. In two weeks they’ve gained some fuzz and a little bit of cold tolerance (and they each have their own internal furnace with the rumen works), so I don’t see the girls shivering like I did that first week. And the good news is that both of the girls look to be gestating! Yes! Nothing outwardly noticeable (still at least a month to go yet) aside from larger than normal teats. No other mammary growth yet. I’m making my list and slowly getting my lambing toolkit ready, and next month I’ll be putting the panels back up to exclude the boys from the shed and keep the girls (and the babies!) protected from them.
Though it still feels like January, the days are getting longer and nature is slowly waking up. The Indian Plum buds are nearly open, and of course the nettles are coming up all over the place. I harvested a pound or so of nettle tops yesterday (wearing gloves of course) and had some with dinner (in a stir fry with some of my home grown chard from the freezer). I have some more drying in the oven, and the rest are in the fridge. I decided to try harvesting maple sap, too, after I read a great (cook)book by Jennifer Hahn called Pacific Feast: A Cook’s Guide to West Coast Foraging and Cuisine. Big leaf maple are not sugar maple, but the sap is usable, according to the book. I ran to the hardware store to get some makeshift equipment to stand in for maple spiles and came home and drilled a couple trees. I have to say the production was underwhelming, though without a covered bucket the rain kind of ruined my experiment anyway. And when I read it takes 40 gallons of sugar maple sap to make one gallon of syrup, well, that was the end of that experiment. The sap I collected tasted like water, so I imagine it would take even more than a 40:1 ratio of big leaf maple sap to make enough to cover a pancake or two (a gallon of sap to make a half cup of syrup?). Since I can’t remember the last time I had pancakes, much less maple syrup, my experiment was abandoned. The buckets have been collecting mostly rain; the water is tinted yellowish brown, so who knows if that’s sap or tree dirt. I’m now merely curious to see what kind of sap flow I might get; with all the rain the trees have plenty of water table to draw on.
With our semi-nice day yesterday the bees were out a bit, thought nothing like our spring tease in February, when they were out in force. These cold wet days are hard on them. I popped the lid to see what was going on and decided to give them some honey. So the little bit of honey and comb I harvested last year mostly went right back to them. I put it in there, in some Zip Loc baggies with a slit cut into it and closed the lid. A short time later I took a peek and saw them belly up to the honey in a crowded line along the slit in the baggie. Oh. Hungry bees. I put some local honey I purchased last fall in another bag and put it out there too. Now I’m hoping for some warm weather so I can get out there and open things up to put the feeder in there. It’s too cold to open the hive like I need to put the syrup feeder in there. Fingers crossed they’ll make it and will thrive again this year.
And last week I ordered my 2012 package of bees for my new hive. I purchased a Warre hive from House of Bees, a vendor at the Country Living Expo last January and am excited to get it started. It’s a top bar hive, which is the kind of hive I wanted from the very beginning. This means there are no frames for the bees to use for honeycomb, just a bar (top bar) that they’ll build their own comb in the size and shape that they want. Judging from my few foundationless frames in my Langstroth hive, the bees will love this. They build gorgeous white comb in the foundationless frames, in preference to the frames with foundation (a pre-loaded honeycomb patterned board they use to draw out the comb). I still need to paint the hive, but since the new bees won’t be here until mid-April, I’ve got time.