It had been quite some time since I last visited the familial plot of land in the northern reaches of the state. It was likely late January or early February, when I snowshoed in and replaced a lock on the travel trailer. At the time, the snow was dry and crunchy from the extended period of subzero weather. Later, during that visit to the north, I snowshoed up a trail to a parcel of land, near the Canadian border, that was for sale. We did not buy that bit of land – it actually sold later the next week. But we still have the familial plot of land to tinker with, and tinker we do.
Like years past, we bought trees for spring planting. Some for in St. Paul, and some for points north. I like fruit frees – there are so many varieties, they usually look amazing, in the spring, when in full flowers, and with the flowers, the bees love them, too. More than often, we buy our fruit trees from the Fedco Seed Cooperative in Clinton, Maine. We have been a member of this coop for years. I like the quality and variety of the trees. You might find the common nursery varieties – your honeycrisps and golden delicious, but you will also find Ashmead’s Kernel, Early Redbird, and Frostbite, to name a few.
Last year, we planted five Mesabi cherry trees, three apple trees, and two plum trees on the familial land. This year, we added five more cherry trees of the North Star variety. The eventual objective is to have maybe a half-acre orchard of fruit trees. In addition the flowering fruit varieties from Fedco, each spring, we usually get a trees from county tree sales. Around the perimeter of this orchard area, my mother also added twenty five flowering crab trees. We also planted twenty white cedar trees in a low region.
A couple weeks ago, on a Sunday, I got out to the beeyard here in St. Paul, I needed to check the hives. In November of 2016, during the just-before-winter-hive-check, we had two fairly strong hives – they were strong enough and had produced enough honey that we were comfortable harvesting honey from these hives. We left an ample amount for the bees to use throughout the winter. The other two hives, however, were not in great condition. The bees never moved up and beyond the first honey super, and in one of the hives, they had not even filled out that first super completely. The top deep on each of these two hives was also empty. After we pulled honey supers from the two strong hives, we wrapped the hives in tar paper, like we have done for many-a-winter-seasons. In addition to the winter tar papering, we have been using insulation boxes with a piece of Homasote board on the bottom of each insulation box, this, in theory, helps absorb excess moisture from the bees.
When I walked into the beeyard, two weeks ago, I had the feeling that things might not be good. It had been warmer than the usual the last week, and yet, there were no signs of worker bees cleaning the hives out. Instead, in front of one of the weak-hives was a pile of Homasote chips. I knew what that meant – mice.
As soon as I took off the outer cover, the smell of urea hit my nose. Mice. As I began to tear down the hive, I noticed a small rodent nose poke out of the hive entrance. It darted back into the confines of the fine – I assume this nose was attached the rest of a whole mouse. Bending over to get a closer look, it was apparent that metal hive entrances are the way to go – the mice just chewed on the wooden entrance until it was large enough to just saunter into the place.
With the insulation box, honey super, and top brood box off, I was down to the last brood box and bottom board. This remaining brood box was less frame-and-comb, and more shreds and pieces of Homasote board – soaked in mouse urine with feces mixed in for good measure. A rapid series of taps on the remaining brood box, and a deer mouse came shooting up from between two loosely clogged frames. I wondered aloud, if there were more in there?
I lifted off the brood box, and with a shower of daylight, twenty or so mice explode out from the hive, darting this way and that way, over my feet, and across my pant legs.
On to the next hive, I guess.
One other hive had signs of mouse damage in it, but only between two frames. The bees in that hive, one of the strong hives going into winter, seemed to have gotten above their nearest pocket of honey in a super, and, likely, were caught off guard when the temperatures swung lower. A similar situation was uncovered in the other strong hive. A frozen cluster of bees was at the top of the hive – just until the Homasote board. Plenty of honey remained elsewhere in the hive.
The last hive, one of the poor hives going into winter, had no honey remaining. What little honey had been produced by the bees, had been all consumed.
This unfortunate happening with all the hives being devoid of bees can be spun into a positive of sorts, I guess. We have been wanting to get the hives moved for a little while, and this presents itself as an opportunity to more easily deal with that desire. I spent the rest of the day removing the hive boxes and generally cleaning up the fenced in area. I also removed the pallets that the hives had been resting on for the last few years – the pallets were getting a bit soft.
The hope is, once the ground thaws, put four concrete pillars into the ground – similar to the base of my previous chicken coop, and build a nice, solid platform for the hives to reside on; make it easier to work around the hives and not be confined by the old chainlink enclosure.
A week ago, a couple friends tagged along with me to Racine, MN, where we have just two hives remaining. We have had hives in Racine for a number of years, and surprisingly, we have on hive that has had bees – through three winters.
The sun was out when we arrived at the farm. Each of us put on a beesuit, and we walked the short distance from the car to the hives. I rapidly tap a bit on the first hive, the hive that had made it through three previous winters. I could hear anything. Neither could my two friends. We had the smoker going, just in case the bees were actually there.
The tar paper on these two hives was in shreds. The wind must have been fierce earlier in the winter.
With the first set of ratchet straps removed, I lifted off the outer cover and insulation box. The thing that hit me first was the smell. A live hive has a distinct smell, and this hive had it. I lifted off the top honey box, and bees began to make their way up. A peek under the next honey box showed a teaming colony of bees hard at work, in the hive, on a nice sunny day. The honey boxes also had ample weight left in them, evenly distributed, there was no need to supplement with winter pollen patties (which was great, because I had forgotten them back in St. Paul).
My friend, also named Alex, who was also a beekeeper in Vermont a few years ago, got to work at unclogging the entrance of dead bees. I started to unstrap the the remaining hive. Our friend, JP, watched and asked us questions.
The second hive turned out to be even more active than the first. Removing the insulation box, showed the bees were busy moving about on the south-facing side of the hive. A quick check on the weight of the two honey boxes showed an ample amount of mostly well distributed honey. Alex worked to unclog the entrance this hive after he finished up the other hive’s entrance.
With that, we made sure each hive was reassembled with no gaps to let out warmth, or let mice in. The entrance guards were back in place, and the ratchet straps snug. We headed back to Minneapolis and St. Paul.
Many months, I wrote about the beginnings of our first attempt at fermentation: making cyser. Cyser is a type of mead. Mead, of course, is honey wine, one the very earliest fermented beverages made by people. Think of mead as the parent category, under this umbrella, you have a handful of different makings. Metheglin is mead made with herbs and spices. Braggot is mead made with the addition of grains. Melomel is mead made with the addition of fruit. Within melomel, you will find pyment, which is mead with grape juice, and cyser, which is mead made with the addition of apple juice.
Cyser is what we made. With an excess amount of past years’ honey, not quite enough apples to make a cider all of apples, we settled on making cyser. Neither Melissa, nor myself are much of consumers of alcohol. We like the occasional glass of wine; I like malbecs and fochs, while Melissa fancies rieslings and ice wines. I can find a good Spätlese drinkable, but anything sweeter, like a Beerenauslese, is too sweet for me.
Six to eight weeks after we put the mixture of honey, apple juice, yeast, and yeast nutrient into the first fermenter (a six gallon, glass carboy), we transferred the fermented mix into a five gallon glass secondary fermenter. And, there it sat through the spring, through the summer, and into late fall.
Over the course of the fall, we began to purchase the things we would need to bottle our first experiment. Champagne bottles. A rough, back of the envelope calculation put our 5 gallons of liquid needing at most twenty-four 750ml bottles. We picked up two boxes of 12 bottles each. Given that we would be back sugaring the inbibement to make it sparkle, we would need cork cages, and champagne corks. Purchased. Finally, we needed a way to put corks into bottles. Champagne bottle corks and Belgian beer bottle corks are not your ordinary wine bottle corks. For starters, they are often wider than regular wine bottle corks. For the most part, you cannot simple “push” the corks into the bottles as is. We needed to purchase a “champagne floor corker”. That is, a device that sits on the floor, has a place to secure a bottle, has a cork-crimper – a series of brass jaws that squash the cork’s diameter to that of less than the bottle’s opening, and a lever to push said squashed cork into the bottle’s opening. And finally, we needed a “bell capper” to put a finished crimp on the bit of cork that is left exposed out the top of the bottle.
The last thing we needed was dextrose, or corn sugar, for the back sugaring. Back sugaring is the process of putting a tiny amount of sugar into each bottle, adding fermented goodness into the bottle, and the corking. The sugar does not add sweetness, instead, the little bit of remaining yeast in the liquid consumes the sugar and produces carbon dioxide. This, in turn, makes the beverage carbonated or fizzy.
With nearly a month having passed since we back sugared, bottled, corked, caged, and waxed the bottles, I opened one bottle up to give a taste test. We initially sampled a small bit a few days after bottling the majority of the inbibement; we were left with our 24th bottle being only ¼ full, we drank it as a test. Cold with no carbonation, it was light and drinkable. It was very light. Almost like “dirty water.” Even with the “dirty water” or “cough drop water,” as one friend described it, it surpassed our initial hopes. We set the bar low with just hoping we did not end up with five gallons of honey-vomit. The question in our minds, after the initial taste testing, would the carbonation make a bit of depth to the beverage?
One month after bottling, what is the verdict?
It remains very light tasting. There is a very nice carbonation; the dextrose produces copious amounts of tiny bubbles. There is a light honeyed scent, light alcohol smell – from a microbiological scents, there are remaining yeast notes – not quite like bread, though. Upon taking my first sip, I immediately thought of the drink having a herbaceous and green olive taste. Not sweet, somewhat sharp – perhaps the carbonation. It paired well with salty potato chips. I imagine it would go well with pizza or other salty-savory dish.
We did not have a hygrometer on hand when we were making the must and getting the mix into the first carboy, and such, we do not have a clear sense of what the ABV of it is. However, having had a couple glasses with a some potato chips, and not much else, I can say the alcohol content, like its flavor, is light.
The drink, on ice, eventually flattens out and has that near-minty taste with a tinge of honeyness at the end; it seems to be best drunk neat, from a heavily chilled bottle. Overall, I will rank this endeavor a success. We ended up with a nice quantity of a light drinkable beverage, and that is what we were aiming for – nothing more, nothing less.
As a young boy, I was fascinated with the Danny Dunn series of books. Danny Dunn, Time Traveler.Danny Dunn and the Homework Machine. Danny Dunn and the Weather Machine. Danny Dunn, a young boy, in a fictional New England city, had a professor-friend at the local University who was always inventing devices and substances (there is an invisible paint-themed book in the series, too). One way or another Danny was left alone with the invention, and, curiously, he turns on the machines or uses the substance that is the theme of the book. Adventure ensues. It is the kind of adventure that catches a young mind (or not so young), and takes the imagination along for that adventure.
A friend (also named Alex) and myself, for a little while, have been aficionados of old time radio. Alex is a fan of Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar. The series originally aired from 1949 into 1962, and featured a clever story device of reading an expense report. It sounds boring, but the story unfolds from cab fares – you will learn why Johnny took a cab in the first place, to why Johnny needs to be reimbursed for a hotel.
I became hooked on old time radio by listening to the radio version of Jack Webb’s Dragnet. Webb cut his crime-drama-teeth in the film-noir, He Walked by Night, which helped kick start what would eventually be Dragnet. The Dragnet radio program aired from 1949 into 1957, with 314 episodes produced. If you are familiar with the television version of Dragnet, you will know most of the radio versions’ storylines. I hope everyone agrees that the stolen-baby-Jesus-Christmas-episode is an infuriating and all together inane episode — radio or television.
In that Danny Dunn sort of adventure-craft-way, Speed Gibson, is an intelligent, young teenager with a streak for adventure – and he has a pilot’s license. Speed has an uncle, Clint Barlow, who, in the first episode, is revealed to be in the secret police along with his friend, Barney Dunlap. The term secret is really only implied, as it seems that with every new person encountered, someone is blabbing about being in the secret police.
The series itself consists of two story arcs. The first story, 100 episodes in length, you follow Speed, Clint, Barney and host of others along the way, travel to Hong Kong and other parts of Far East in search of the Secret Polices’ arch nemesis, The Octopus. The second story, 78 episodes in length, you follow the gang to Africa to foil more of the Octopus’ evil plans.
As I listened to first story, I could not help but think about how the Octopus was a lot like Dr. Claw of Inspector Gadget. As the story plays out, I feel that the creators of Dr. Claw had to, at bare minimum, take inspiration from the Octopus and his gang of inept henchmen. There is little comparison on the protagonist side of Inspector Gadget, but the antagonist side, there is plenty to draw from. The Octopus, like Dr. Claw, has a huge ego, and feels that at every move, he will easily trap his enemies with an overly complicated, yet, ultimately, easy to foil trap. Upon nearly being captured by Speed and the gang, the Octopus slips away with a quip about ruing the day that Speed Gibson crossed him.
Aside from the simple plots, heavy reliance on coincidence, the use of shortwave radios, and having some of the worst “Chinese” accents of any drama, radio or television, Speed Gibson of the International Secret Police is a great serial to listen for at the office, or on a road trip. Between the introduction music, the exit music and a recap of the previous episode, you get a solid 8 to 12 minutes of new, if slow moving, adventure.
Do you remember as a kid, going door to door, dressed in something ridiculous – maybe a ghost or a Ninja Turtle? That’s what I thought, you probably do. I don’t. In the mid to late 1980s, when I would have been at peak-trick-or-treating-age, our mother was deep into a fundamentalist christian conviction. Halloween, All Hallows Eve, was off limits. No tricks. No treats. Lights out in the house. Oh shoot, that family down the block was out with their kids before sundown. Our mother would ignore them at the door. They’d keep knocking.
During the era where our father was care taker for a cabin on a lake that was about 30 minutes away, for several Halloweens in a row, we would put Betsy our basset in the basement of the house, pack up the minivan and head out the cabin. On the way, we would stop at the video store to rent a movie, there was a pizza place next door, so we would pick up pizza, well. One year, I distinctly remember our father renting the 1986 classic, Iron Eagle – the first in that franchise, the movie featured Louis Gossett Jr. The cabin did not have a resident television, so, we would bring an early 1970s, portable black & white television. The TV was all sorts of fancy – it had both UHF and VHF. We would also bring our VCR. How else were we to watch a movie? We did not have a Betamax player.
By 10:00pm, the pizza was gone, and the movie was over. Was it safe to the return to town?
Looking at back on this era, it seems ridiculous. Why did we have leave the house? Would have ignoring the one or two early treat-or-treaters been a feasible option? Likely, but abandoning the town which was clearly in the tight grip of satan was what my mother thought was reasonable and not ridiculous.
It certainly makes for those laughing moments with my sister; I sent her a text this evening, do you remember watching Iron Eagle at the cabin, 29 years ago? She did.
I wrote about our pear trees a few years ago. At that time, if you check out the post (there’s a time-lapsed video of myself picking up pears), you will notice that the ground is more or less thick with pears. That year, we picked up (and composted) push-carts full of pears — hundreds of pounds. This year, it was a ho-hum year for fruit (and nuts) in general.
On the apple front, we are down to a single, mature apple tree. The crabapple tree next our house was taken down in the spring. The roofing company that redid our roof recommended that it be taken down as it was too close to the house and the roof. It was likely a great move. The heartwood of the trunk, about 12 inches above the ground was rotted and about half of the sapwood was intact; there were also many, many dead branches. The other apple tree to come down was the tree we had gathered apples from for the cyser last season. The heartwood on this tree was long gone and the entire weight of the tree was supported by the sapwood, which was beginning to give under the stress. That said, if the cyser turns out, and we do not have need to make 5 gallons of vinegar, it will be a sort of unique, never-to-be-produce-exactly-again beverage. The other apple tree that I gave little attention to, resided in the way-back woods behind our main yard. It was tucked along our property line, behind a buckthorn thicket. That tree died over the winter. With one, mature tree, we have had zero useable apples.
The walnut trees on the property had a crumby year, as well. Melissa is pleased that the dogs are not bringing in greasy-black bits of walnut husk, but it is sad to have not seen all the small green orbs growing over the course of the summer. I suspect that at the peak time when the catkins on the trees were just right for pollination, it rained heavily and for an extended period and washed the pollen into the ground. In fact, a quick survey of the neighborhood walnut trees also show no nuts. It will be a sparse winter for the squirrels; we will need to keep an eye on the chicken coop this winter for squirrels raiding the feed.
The cherry tree we planted the year after we moved into our house had a good year, a good for a tree just beginning to produce useable quantities of cherries. We also had no plums this year.
But, back to the pears. There was not a heavy load of pears on the two trees this year. The east-tree, which I have yet to identify the variety of, had an alright year. We have not had to pickup many, if any, of the fruit from the ground. The west-tree, which, as best as I can tell is a Seckel pear tree, produced a decent amount of fruit. About 82 pounds worth of fruit. With mead and cyser in carboys, we decided to branch out into the more fruit-based hard beverages and less honey-based. We’re going to tackle making a perry (pear cider) this winter. The 82 pounds of pears are currently taking up space in one of the freezers. There are still fruit on the tree; we’re hopeful to make the total an even 100 pounds before it is too late.
As I worked in the yard today, near the pear trees, I started thinking about the Seckel. I thought about curious size of the fruit – quite small. I thought about the particulars of this one tree – how old was it, who planted it, why was it planted in the location it resides in? On a short break from the work I was attending to in the yard, I searched the internet for history of the seckel pear. I knew that I would not find results on our Seckel, but I might find more information on the origins of the Seckel variety. The results returned included a few tree nurseries that carry Seckel trees – many of the nurseries’ online catalogs all have very similar text that spins the mysterious origins of the Seckel. Other results that were returned from the search included recipes that use pears as a primary ingredient in a dish. Amongst the results was an article from a horticultural and rural life journal from 1880. The Gardener’s Monthly and HorticulturistDevoted to Horticulture, Arboriculture and Rural Affairs, Volume XXII, 1880. The seckel is actually mentioned a number of times in this issue. There is, however, an entire article on the seckel; titled: THE OLD SECKEL PEAR.
There is a print of an engraving of the the old seckel pear tree in the journal — surprisingly, our pear tree has the same harrowed look, complete with droopy, arching downward-swept branches.
So, for the reader’s amusement and enjoyment, the following the article.
THE OLD SECKEL PEAR.
I had heard from a friend, of the old, original
accidental seedling, the parent stock of all of that
ilk extant, and the story gradually infected my
imagination. It began to haunt me. I saw it –”
” In my mind’s eye, Horatio,” –”
standing like a sentinel down there in ” The
Neck ” among the dikes and ditches ; living
through slow and patient history; watching
through its ” two hundred years,” so the story
goes, and listening to the hum and stir of distant
life in the Quaker metropolis, and the growing
traffic of the two rivers that washed the meadow’s
foot more than one hundred and fifty years from
this 31st day of July, 1880.
” More than one hundred and fifty years ago”
–”say the “Neckers” –” the first dike was thrown
up to reclaini the meadows on which they and
their fathers’ fiithers have lived and moved and
had their being; fighting the waves at spring tides,
and the rheumatiz’ nipre at their leisure ; but
never much troubled with a dry time, even
though there be but a fraction of an inch of rain-
fall in a month, or a whole dry summer never so
It is a fat land down there, and has its bless-
ings and its drawbacks like other places. A
hardy race grows and thrives, and feeds others
out of the rich alluvial, but lays its bones away
on higher ground, for
” water is a sore decayer of your whorson dead body.”
And SO they lay them down at last, on green
and gravelly slopes, afiir from the music of the
singing birds of their household groves ; and so
their sons and sons’ sons have come and warmed
the old homes and kept the old names and man-
sions awhile in the meadows, and then followed
on to the narrow house in the higher ground.
But this is wandering from the old Pear tree.
That, I had some trouble to find, of which more
The ” facts” above stated, expressed more in
the local vernacular, I had from an old Necker,
who did not dream himself, but set his listener
Who munched the pear, and thoughtlessly
dropped the core over the side of what vessel, as
she passed the “Back Channel? And when?
It must have been between 1682 and 1720 ; for
that core floated to fast land, seeded and inaugu-
rated its celebrated distinct vai-iety far inside the
old dike that more than one hundred and fifty
years ago first barred back the waters from their
accustomed flats. May it not as likely have
been in the first named year as at any time
in the interval between that and the latter? For
what is thirty-eight years, more or less, in the
life of a pear tree, whose ” more than one hun-
dred and fifty years” have to-day been resolved
out of its indefinite past? And who shall say it
was not Penu himself, as likely as any of his
fellow-voyagers, –” or as those in the few following
years, –” who cast overboard the unconscious seed
of the land-mark of the two centuries then to
Up to the day noted in the first paragraph, I
had never seen the object of my lately awakened
enthusiasm. Nothing would do until I could set
eyes on it, if yet standing ; and if not, alas what
had I thoughtlessly neglected, for a lifetime!
My friend had described it as ” still standing
fifteen years ago, but with one-half decayed ofi”
the trunk, the balance a mere shell, supported
by props, and piously guarded with posts and
rails,” ready to fall and pass away forever. He
gave me a verbal notion of the direction and dis-
tance, relying more upon a reference for par-
ticulars to his description of his own visit
published long ago in the Gardener’s Monthly.
Neglecting this at the lime, I was not aware of
its more particular reference to exact locality.
His interesting article is well worth reading, and
will be found in vol. 7, page 44, Feb. 1865.
I had, therefore, a loose notion of the general
locality, comprising, perhaps, a couple of square
miles, anywhere within which it might be, and
over which I might have to roam vaguely and
guessingly. In that area there were, possibly,
many descendants of the old patriarch pear,
themselves aged; and one might risk being
sentimental over some decayed sample of several
generations later than the real, simon-pure-
great-great-grandfather of them all. My friend’s
verbal directions were months old, and, refracted
by my own unsafe keeping, were, as a guide,
about as reliable as young Launcelot’s directions
to Old Gobbo.
” Old Gobbo–” faster young gentleman, I pray yoa
which is the way to Master Jew’s?
Launcelot –” Turn up on your right hand, at the next
turning, but at the next turning of all, on your left;
–” marry, at the very next turning turn of no hand, but
turn down indirectly to the Jew’s house.”
Thus prepared (?) for the search, I started for
it overland, on the hottest day of this hottest of
Julys ; but was driven back by the heat, fotigue
and uncertainty of location, reinforced by grow-
ing lateness of the hour. So on the last day of
July I tried my second parallel, and attempted
to flank the position by water, taking the little
steamer at foot of Chestnut street, Schuylkill.
Making a demoralized landing at a rotten, half
burnt, plankless oil wharf, I reached land by
perilous gymnastics over the tops of bare wharf
piles, and formed again in good order. But a
Necker’s ” half mile” is a full mile and a half I
walked to and fro four miles, prospecting around,
and brought up* at a country hotel on the ” Old
Eope Ferry Road,” corner of a lane. Reader,
don’t try my route, but take the one I found out
since. It is very simple. A stage from Peter
“Wright & Sons, 307 Walnut street, goes all the
way twice a day, passing this point ; fare 75 cts.
round trip. And so cut your eye teeth on my
experience. It is easier.
A busy ostler was sponging a critter at a
trough. We had a talk.
Jafet –” How long have you lived in these parts ?
Ostler –” Boy an’ man, all my life, –” some forty
Jafet –” Then perhaps you know of a very old
pear tree somewhere in this region.
Ostler –” The old Seckel d’ye mean ! Know it?
Ish’d think I orter; many’s the pear I’ve had
ofl’n it too. D’ye see that lane right wher’ yer
standin’? That big yaller house down ther’s John
Bastian’s, and he has the old Seckel, if’t has’nt
blowed over. But stop, mister, tha’ don’t ripen
jist yit, if that’s wot yer goin’ fer.
To think I should reach Mecca in this unsenti-
mental way, and not on a cloud, or the back of
a camel !
I found Mr. Bastian sitting on his porch. He
received me very kindly, and directed me to the
identical spot. Sure enough, there stood the
ancient of days and its surroundings, ” the old
stone house, the sloping meadow and the ditch.”
The half trunk was a mere shell when Mr.
Bastian first knew it forty years ago, and he says
it was “much the same as now.” At least half
the circumference is gone. At 3 feet 6 inches
from the ground, it measures 5 feet 4 J inches
around the half trunk and across the exposed
diameter. The diameter, Irom bark to bark
is 23j inches. I estimate the full circumfer-
ence when whole and sound, as having been
at least 6 feet 6 inches, 3J feet from the ground.
The fraction of all that remains of the old storm-
beaten, ancestral Seckel Pear is 26 feet in height.
It had about one peck of pears, when I saw it.
The old stone house must be one hundred and
fifty years old. It is of one storj” and attic, and
the walls are like a fort in thickness. Mr. Bas-
tian now lives in his more commodious mansion
near by on a rising ground. His son, who was
born in the old stone homestead, lives there now
with his family. There are many very old
homesteads all through the Neck. They are
perhaps, with the exception of the old Swedes
Church, among the oldest buildings remaining
in the city. Mr. Bastian has ‘owned the old
Seckel farm forty years. At the time he moved
there the late Thomas P. Cope told him that the
Seckel family had known the old tree for eighty
jears. Eighty plus forty makes one hundred
and twenty years to begin on. Perhaps some
one reading this article can furnish data of an
earlier experience, going backward from the
year 1760, which this gives us, –” and so verify the
tradition of ” more than one hundred and fifty
years and perhaps two hundred.”
It had been too long since I last checked the hives in Racine, MN. I had intended to check them when we were down to butcher chickens, a few weeks ago in August. But, I forgot the varroa mite treatment in St. Paul. Besides, the butchering, albeit much faster than prior butcherings, took a chunk of the day. I did not want to consume more time, post-butchering, to check hives — and run the chance that I’d get stung and have a reaction; we had chickens to quarter and get into the freezer!
The drive, like the many, many times we have driven before, was uneventful. Hastings, Cannon Falls, Zumbrota, Pine Island, Oronoco – the river-towns of southeastern Minnesota – their signs clip by as we head south. It was somewhat early, and there was very light traffic. When I notice the speed limit had dropped to 60 miles per hour, I know that we are at Rochester. Past the Apache Mall; when the South Broadway Avenue exit sign can be seen, it’s time to change lanes to the right and take the exit. The Rochester International Airport, followed by Stewartville. The speed limit drops to 30 miles per hour within Stewartville, and picks up again upon exiting south of the city. I always chuckle to myself as we exit Stewartville, there is a 30 mile per hour marker, and less than 75 feet past it, there is a 55 mile per hour marker. I find the nearness of the two signs to be funny, I don’t know why. A few minutes down highway 63, Racine can be found.
Melissa commented, as we were entering the turn lane for Main Street, that her friend in Racine, said the fatal accident the day before resulted the intersection being closed for much of the morning. The heavy rain during the night had erased many of the signs of the accident from the road. Tire marks and a bit of spray paint on the pavement could be seen but even with the temporal proximity to the accident being just the previous day, the intersection felt normal. This was the second fatal accident at this intersection, this year. A left turn onto Main Street; a left a few avenues down and then a right into the driveway of the farm. Wingnut, one of the farm dogs, greets us. Her face is covered in mud, but she’s happy to see us. Mel and Buster, the two house bassets, soon can be heard barking at us through the kitchen door.
It rained off and on, on the drive down to the farm. As we pulled into the farm, it was now on, again; it was raining. Might as well take care of the business I needed to take care. Melissa grabbed her things from the car; she needed to say hello to her horse, Victor, and then walk puppies from the kennel. The puppies are not so puppy-ish anymore; they’re closer to being just very rubbery full sized creatures.
The other business to attended to was to return nuc boxes from the bees purchased in June from Cresco, Iowa. I could keep the nucs for $20 each, or return them. It’s only a 45 minute drive from Racine to Cresco, and it’s the edge of the driftless area of Minnesota and Iowa – the scenery is pleasant with rolling hills, rivers and creeks.
If your mental image of farm country is that of neatly divided squares of 160 acre pieces of land with road on all four side, this is not that. The roads are more a series of swooping curves and short straight-aways than a grid-like system. The drive is a familiar path – this is the fourth trip to Linda and Manley’s, twice to pickup bees in early summers and, now, twice to return empty nuc boxes in late summer and early fall.
It was raining when I pulled into their driveway; house on the right, a neatly kept garden on the left, trees. The house was dark; no one appeared to be home. I pulled up to Manley’s pole building. It was raining hard. The nuc boxes are fairly light, being made of corrugated plastic, if the wind picked up, they would likely get scattered about. Next to the pole building, perpendicular and to the right, was a shed with a car parked in front it. The car and shed might work as a windbreak. I left the nucs tucked behind and to the left of the car, and near the shed’s door.
The rain stopped just north of Linda and Manley’s; dark clouds and lightning could be seen further to the northeast.
After lunch, I set to work on checking the hives. We are down to just two hives in Racine; we started with four hives several years ago, the count peaked at six, and with winter kill and uncertain future plans for the continuation of hives on the hive, we arrived at two. One of the two hives has been mediocre at producing honey but has been stellar at overwintering, having successfully made it thru four winters.
The first hive to tackle is one that contains bees purchased from Linda and Manley the previous year. Three honey boxes sit atop two brood boxes. The bottom brood box appeared to have been knocked off the hive base — likely by a lawn mower. The half-inch gap between the bottom box and the base makes for a nice exit and entrance for the bees; it also might be wide enough for a field mouse to squeeze in.
As I waited for the smoker’s wood chips to catch fire, I got my protective jacket on. Even though there are only two hives, the late-season smell of golden rod nectar being turned into honey drifted across the wind. It’s a sweet, musky scent. I have heard the smell described as being like a gym locker. Maybe without adequate ventilation, a locker might smell a musty, but the scent of golden rod nectar turning into honey is nothing that I kind of like; it means that fall is on its way.
I pulled the outer cover off, and gave the inner cover’s center opening a few puffs from the smoker. A quick pry with the hive tool, and the inner cover came off. A heavier stream of bees came out of the bottom gap; a few puffs of the smoker seemed to do the trick; calming and confusing them.
The top honey box came loose from the one below with a bit of hive tool prying. The box was loaded with honey – all ten frames. I set it on cross-ways on the upside-down outer cover on the ground.
The second honey box had ten nice frames of honey; it was stuck something-fierce to the box below it. A bit of prying and minimal movement, and the box came loose. I set it on top of the other honey box I had just removed.
The third honey box was similarly cemented to the top brood box with propolis. The top brood box looked great. No burr comb, and without tearing heavily into it, no queen cells. Anecdotally, strong bee numbers. More smoke was puffed across the top brood box before I pried it off and set it onto of the reverse-ordered honey boxes.
With the weight of a 100 or so pounds of honey, and the top brood box off of the bottom box, I was able to square it up on the hive bottom. The bees seemed to be getting a bit hot. Guard bees repeatedly flew into my face screen. More smoke across the top of the brood box on the hive base.
I fiddled around getting the package of Hopguard II open. This particular product works best at the end of the season, after most of the larvae have emerged. Early September is likely a bit early, but I figured I would apply a treatment of it anyway. Four strips of Hopguard II to each brood box. The first strip went well.
As I pulled the second strip out, the box resting on the hive base turned into a bee-volcano. Bees flew up and got tangled in the cuff of my jacket; I began to get stung through the cloth. Many puffs of the smoker, and I remaining calm, and I had four strips of Hopguard II in the one box. I moved a bit quicker with more purpose.
I lifted the brood box that I had moved off, back onto the one that I had straightened on the base. More smoke. I rotated puffs of smoke and inserting Hopguard II strips. More smoke. Lots of smoke to clear out of the layer of bees so I could return the honey boxes atop.
My wrist felt like it was on fire. With the hive of Manley’s Spicy Russian Bees reassembled, I moved onto the other hive. This turned out to be almost a non-event for the bees in this hive. A little smoke, moved the honey boxes and the top brood box away, inserted the Hopguard II strips, and reassembled the hive without incident.
If you are curious about the efficacy of Hopguard II, there was an interesting study done that more or less concluded what I have anecdotally observed. The study is here.