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I opened my hives this past Sunday with the help of my world-class beekeeper neighbor. We checked on the the condition of eggs, the number of new queens, the growth of baby bees, the presence of mites (none detected), and the amount of honey (lots).

 

 

The male bees (the drones) over the last weeks have been engaged in some crazy flight patterns in front of the hive as the mating of the queen takes place. The old queen has done her egg laying and the hives have lots of babies with nurse maids and other worker bees. From the hives comes the clearly audible sound of humming and the fragrant scent of honey.

 

 

The drone (male bees) are vital for mating with the queen; after that, they are unnecessary and are elminated

The drone (male bees) are vital for mating with the queen; after that, they are unnecessary and are eliminated

 

 

The drones are not now needed and the workers in the colony are doing away with them. I found a stack of drones at the front door of the hive this morning. Strange sight to see, indeed. But no more so than the many queen houses (formed from honeycomb by the worker bees). These houses are where the new queens are nourished; each contains royal jelly.

 

 

Search for the tubular circles and you've found the queen houses

The tubular circles are the houses where the baby queens will be cared for by the workers. The houses contain royal jelly for the feeding of the new queens

 

 

My neighbor told me to wait three more weeks to take honey, but since I didn’t take any honey during the fall/winter and there were huge stores of it in my hives and coupled with the fact that there’s a plethora of flowers now to provide pollen for the bees, we decided it would be okay to remove some frames. So, I took six frames (weighing roughly ten pounds each) from the hives.

 

 

The honey I harvested has a pale lemony color–significant for the wildflowers and almond and fruit tree blossoms from which the bees collected the pollen to make that honey. In the fall, the honey is darker and earthier tasting, thanks to pollen from the star thistle and eucalyptus blooms.

 

 

When we had finished with my hives and walked back to my neighbor’s house, we spotted a swarm overhead. We grabbed the pots and wooden spoons and started banging. The bees took refuge in the tall pepper tree and that’s where my neighbor rescued them. In all, it was quite a spectacular Sunday!

 

 

 

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Time Out to Review My Copy-edited Manuscript

Author: Meera, March 4, 2015

 

 

My debut novel, the first in a series of three cozy mysteries set on the Henny Penny Farmette

My debut novel, the first in a series of three cozy mysteries set against the backdrop of the Henny Penny Farmette

 

 

 

You may have noticed fewer blogs in recent days. And for good reason–my debut novel has just been copy-edited and I’m busy doing the the revisions.

 

 

I enjoy editing, so this is not only fun, but a learning experience for me. My attitude is to always try to learn as much as I can as I go through any new process. My editor is a dream and the copy editor is expert at what she does for authors’ books. I’m just plain lucky to be working with such talent.

 

 

I will be checking back soon with farmette goings-on. I have chicken issues that scream for my attention right now. The Rhode Island Red got a splinter in her foot and was limping around until I finally caught her. My husband removed the splinter and we treated her wound with antibiotic ointment.

 

 

Today, she seems fine, but another chicken has health problems. I’ve separated her from the rest and will be closely watching her.

 

 

So, I’m taking a little time away from all the farmette tasks to focus on the copy-edited manuscript. I want my readers to love the story of my sleuth, her coterie of friends, and the murder of the small town’s beloved pastry chef, Jean-Louis Bonheur. The book is in the pipeline and this is just one phase of the process. More on this to come later.

 

 

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Ginger Tea for Colds and Flu

Author: Meera, November 26, 2014

I’ve caught it . . . that nasty little bug affecting the throat and gut. Despite my best hygienic efforts at not catching the malady that many of my friends have recently endured, I have come down with it.

 

It started as a scratchy sore throat. Then a queasy stomach. Hoarseness and discomfort when swallowing followed. And the queasiness intensified to the point where even the sight of food sickened me. Oh, joy! Just what I didn’t want for the upcoming Thanksgiving week!

 

It’s always a good idea when you’re coming down with a cold or flu to increase your intake of fluids–herbal teas, juice, water, and popsicles. My former Chinese Tai Chi teacher advocated ginger tea to treat this type of malady; it’s my favorite home treatment for colds and flu.

 

Honey soothes the inflamed throat passages. Ginger settles the stomach. In fact, ginger has been used medicinally for 2,000 years in China to treat stomach upset, nausea, flatulence, and diarrhea.

 

GINGER TEA WITH HONEY

 

Ingredients:

 

1.5 inches of peeled and sliced fresh ginger root (about 1/2 cup)

5 to 6 cups of water

optional: 1/2 lemon, washed and sliced

optional: 2 sticks of cinnamon

honey or brown sugar, to taste

 

Directions:

 

Pour the water into a sauce pan.

Drop in the slices of ginger. Optional: add slices of lemon and cinnamon.

Simmer for 10 minutes.

Pour tea into a cup.

Stir in honey or brown sugar to sweeten.

Enjoy.

 

 

 

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Try Having a Cup of Tea with These Dogs

Author: Meera, October 29, 2014

 

Remington, the white, short-haired lab is climbing into my strawberries, while  Moose has his sights set on something else

Remington, the white, short-haired lab, is trouncing over the strawberries, while Moose has his sights set on the chickens

 

 

I just wanted a nice cup of tea and to sit on the grass and sip it while listening to the birds and watching my bees and chickens. Fat chance. It would take five minutes flat for my daughter’s little dog Moose to knock over the cup, spill the tea all over me, and then traumatize my chickens so badly that their egg-laying is now out of wack; they’re just squatting and dropping.

 

 

As a favor to my lovely daughter and her family, I agreed to dog sit on my farmette for four days. My daughter assured me the two family pets would enjoy four days of freedom to romp around our acreage despite one of her dogs being a little high strung. His breed used to chase rats, she said. I didn’t make the correlation. It didn’t seem to matter then.

 

 

I reminded her that my bees and chickens both forage freely over the land. The  chickens would necessarily have to remain in their chicken run during that period since the dogs might chase them. The bees probably wouldn’t bother the dogs, but I’d take the name of her vet, just in case. Of course, the dogs might not actually like it here.

 

 

In retrospect, I believe I underestimated my concerns. Oh, the dogs seem happy enough; it’s my sanity I’m worried about.

 

 

The Irish lab named Remington has had some professional training. He is a lovely, well-behaved gentleman. I enjoy him and wish I could same the same for the small dog with the mighty name of Moose who is high-strung, has allergies, and arrived with special gluten-free food, his round bed, and a bag of medications, including a vet-prescribed tranquilizer.

 

Moose is good-looking and high maintenance, like some guys I used to know

Moose is good-looking and high maintenance, like some guys I used to know

 

 

Moose barks a lot. It’s an annoying high-pitched bark. In the yard yesterday, when he wouldn’t stop, I heard my neighbor barking back . . . and that’s just ridiculous!

 

I thought Moose was going to have a meltdown when he discovered the chickens, barking at the highest decibel he could muster, running the length of the chicken run in one direction with the chickens one step ahead on the inside their poultry-wire pen before hitting the wall where the dog and chickens reversed their direction.

 

 

I got half as many eggs yesterday and found two on the ground instead of in the nesting boxes. When the chickens free-range, they always return to the nesting boxes in the hen house to lay their eggs. It’s like they got so scared, they forgot not only where to go but how to properly lay their eggs. I hope things return to normal when the dog visit is over.

 

 

I decided to spend the day outside, doing chores like digging planting holes at the front of the property. Moose saw it as a game so as soon as my back was turned, he refilled the holes, pawing like a dog on a mission. I finally gave up on that. The shovel and rake seemed to scare him, so I put those away. And he didn’t like me playing ball with him or the other dog. So we quit on that, too.

 

 

By the day’s end though, both dogs seemed tuckered out. Both wanted to sleep in our room. The big dog contented himself in his bed on the floor (by my husband’s side of the bed), but the high-maintenance Moose threw himself onto my pillow, pulled my fleece bathrobe over his head, and nodded off like he owned the place.

 

 

When our alarm went off at four o’clock as it does every weekday morning, the yip-yip-yipping and chaos started all over again. Only three more long days and nights left.

 

My chicken run draped in sheets so the dog couldn't see the hens

Remi wasn’t the problem but with Moose frightening the chicken feathers off my hens, I draped the chicken run in sheets

 

 

I’m going to need a vacation when these four days are over. I just hope my chickens will resume their egg-laying schedule once I take the sheets down off the chicken run (I hung them so Moose couldn’t see the chickens) and I have the energy and some decent weather ahead to re-dig those planting holes. I look forward to having a cup of tea again, too, while I listen to the birds and quiet clucks instead of that shrill yip-yip-yip, amplified by by neighbor’s imitation of it. Ridiculous!

 

 

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Pomegranates hang heavy on the tree that is beginning to lose its leaves

Pomegranates hang heavy on the tree that is beginning to lose its leaves

 

I begin obsessing about soil and manure this time of year after the summer garden is gone. The old adage of: take care of the soil and it will take care of you (via your plants) is really true. Out here on the farmette, the clay soil is so heavy that it cracks open in fissures during summer, so we are always working to improve it.

 

 

Recently, a generous friend brought us a truckload of horse manure. It was no small truck either. The manure seemed mostly aged and I could easily rake it into our flower beds and little lawn. Some of though is still relatively green, not aged, and I worry about using it to grow my winter crop of vegetables for fear of E-coli contamination.

 

 

 

There’s a new area where we are debating or not to put down a stone floor and just grow trees and flowers in a container wall on two sides. It might be the perfect place to use some of that horse dung.

 

 

In the meantime, on the property behind ours, the horse manure has been spread out with a bobcat to keep the growing areas fertile for the trees that were planted there nearly four or five decades ago.

 

 

I gathered what was growing on the trees and in the garden for the table

What’s left in the garden this time of year

 

 

 

There are all kinds of manures one can use in the garden, from bat guano and worm casings to animal waste products–horse, cow, sheep, steer, turkey, rabbit, and chicken, for example.

 

 

You can get manure tested, much like you can soil, to detect levels of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Not all manures are high in nitrogen, which is loved by many gardeners for that sudden growth and burst of bloom. Some manures, like cow and horse, also can carry seeds of weeds or whatever the animal has grazed on, which can emerge in your garden.

 

Succulent, sweet, and juicy, these hachiya persimmons are worth waiting for

Sweet, and juicy, these hachiya persimmons are lovely to give and receive as gifts

 

 

Most manures can be made into a fertilizer “tea” by mixing with water. Whether you apply aged manure or manure tea, always wash your fruits and vegetables well before eating to reduce the risk of consuming contaminated fruit or produce.

 

 

We appreciate our friend’s gift. Now . . . we wonder how to repay his kindness. I’m thinking a basket of persimmons and pomegranates, a French sugar pumpkin, a dozen organic eggs, and jars of jam and honey.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Bee Garden Favorites

Author: Meera, September 22, 2014

I spent Sunday building a rock circle around the circumference of our towering elm tree. I want to conserve water around the base of the tree and to also grow more plants for my bees to have abundant food.

 

 

We had a pile of river rock donated to us, so I thought it might look nice to create a wide circle, maybe three feet high around the tree like a watering basin/retaining wall, using the rock.

 

 

 

The round shape of river rock forms the basis of a water basin, flower/herb bed around the base of a tree

The river rock piled on top of retaining wall stone forms a water basin around the base of an elm

 

 

 

Inside the circle, I transplanted some yarrow and white geranium. Already, there are white roses  that boom all summer long under the tree.

 

 

But bees like nectar-rich plants with pollen, so I’ve put together a list. Over the next week, I’ll add some of  these in my new bed beneath the elm. This is a partial list of plants bees love.

 

  • Rosemary
  • Lavender
  • Russian sage
  • Basil (African blue)
  • Honeywort
  • Mexican Sunflower
  • Borage
  • Cerinthe
  • Greek oregano
  • Sweet marjoram
  • Purple coneflower (echinacea)
  • California poppies
  • Lupine
  • yarrow
  • sunflowers

 

Eucalyptus on the property behind our farmette is not yet covered with fall bloom. The bees love that bloom but now they make do with the star thistle on the brown hillsides and by foraging on the French perfume lavender and the Spanish variety in my garden.

 

 

Honeybee forages on Spanish lavender blooms

Honeybee forages on Spanish lavender blooms

 

 

Of late, I’ve discovered the honeybees foraging on the sweet nectar at my hummingbird feeders, so I worry about them getting enough food. The drought has sapped everything. At any rate, I’ll hold off taking honey this fall, leaving it in the hives for the bees. They’ll need food to get through the rainy season.

 

 

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A 6.1 Quake Shakes Up the Napa Wine Country

Author: Meera, August 24, 2014

Our neighbor (two houses down) called to say he wanted some of my Henny Penny Farmette honey and would be at the front door at 7:30 a.m.

 

I was out feeding the chickens, but after my husband gave me the message, I got a jar off the shelf and went to meet our neighbor. He asked me if I’d heard about the quake that had happened at 3:20 a.m., centered in American Canyon, about five miles southwest of Napa.

 

I hadn’t felt it, but his wife had. Napa is exactly 34 miles from our farmette and it was a fairly large quake at 6.1, according to seismologists. The 1989 Loma Prieta quake, by contrast, was a 7.0 quake on the San Andreas Fault, a major fault line.

 

The Loma Prieta Quake is the one I’ll never forget. At 5:04 p.m., it interrupted a Bay Area World Series game that my husband attended with a buddy. Candlestick Park went dark and San Francisco, because of  broken gas lines, erupted in flames. My husband couldn’t get back home until 4:00 in the morning.

 

According to Dan Vergano, writing for National Geographic, the Napa Valley quake likely was caused by a series of cracks beneath the earth “tied to the famed and feared San Andreas Fault.

 

Vergano went on to say that some early reports suggested that the quake may have been provoked by the Franklin Fault that has been dormant for 1.6 million years. See http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/08/1400824-earthquakes-usgs-napa-california-faults-science/

 

The news reports videos on local television stations showed cracks through vineyards and across Highway 121 as well as wine bottles strewn on the floor at wineries. See, https://www.yahoo.com/travel/this-is-what-it-looks-like-when-an-earthquake-hits-wine-95640002407.html

 

The Napa airport control tower lost its windows. The Gold Rush-era buildings downtown are badly damaged, some in spite of earthquake retrofitting.  The quake ran roughly 6.7 miles beneath Napa wine country (by contrast the Loma Prieta quake ran about 11 miles deep).

 

The cleanup is on; the community is pulling together as our Bay Area folks and first-responders always do in times of emergency or natural disaster.

 

 

 

 

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Those Entertaining Rascals, the Sparrows

Author: Meera, October 24, 2013

 

A white crown sparrow on the birdbath glances

A white crown sparrow on the birdbath studies food foraging options in the garden

 

I enjoy watching the sunrise over the hills that jut up between the inland valley of the East Bay, where I live, and the waters of the delta flowing down from Sacramento to dump into the Straits of Carquinez before entering the San Francisco Bay. A lot goes on in our backyard garden at sunrise.

 

 

With feeders filled with birdseed, all sorts of songbirds visit to eat before bathing in the bird bath perched in a raised bed of blooming geraniums, asparagus ferns, and foxglove flowers. The squirrels search feeders for sunflower seeds. And clusters of house sparrows twitter away as they forage for seeds, insects and other interesting morsels to devour.

 

 

These cutie pies descend to the lawn as soon as the sun is up. They bathe, drink, and eat, often stealing food from other birds. A robin with a beak full of worms better take heed of the presence of sparrows or those little cheep, cheep, cheepers will steal the food right out of the robin’s beak.

 

 

The sparrow’s thievery isn’t limited to food; no, it will also steal nesting material from each other’s nest. But these scrappy little fellows will just as readily engage in their birdbrain version of fisticuffs as they will dart into trees for cover.

 

 

Without a doubt, of all the birds that are visiting the garden of late, the sparrows provide hours of entertainment.

 

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Blending Your Own Herbs de Provence

Author: Meera, October 10, 2013

 

Herbs de provence is a blend of herbs found in the Provence region of France

The name Herbs de Provence originated about 40 years ago for a blend of herbs that grow in the Provence region of France

 

 

My fingers are lusciously scented this morning with the oils of rosemary, thyme, oregano, lavender, and mint that I’ve just gathered from my garden. Herbs play an important part in the seasoning of many foods of the world, including the blend famously known as Herbs de Provence. But did you know that you could make your own Herbs de Provence?

 

A basic blend that cooks in the south of France use often includes savory, fennel, basil, rosemary, and thyme. Americans associate lavender with Provence, so the commercial spice companies have blended lavender in as well for the American market. Depending on the cook, she might also add to the basic blend some sage, bay leaf, chervil, French tarragon, and even mint.

 

If you’d like to create your own blend, start with equal parts of the following dried herbs: thyme, rosemary, savory, marjoram, and chervil.  Judiciously add some lavender. Be equally cautious about adding fennel seeds and French tarragon, since both herbs taste of liquorice and can quickly overpower, even ruin, your mixture.

 

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Friends, Figs and Goat Cheese, and a Bee Swarm

Author: Meera, August 26, 2013

Yesterday held a surprise for us. It was lovely late-summer weather, not too hot and not too cool. As my neighbor’s husband chatted with mine in the front yard, I went to the back of the farmette to work on pulling weeds from my garden. That’s when I heard the bees buzzing in flight. I saw them swarm.

 

It’s kind of late in the season for a bee swarm. All I can figure is that we fed the bees a week or so ago when we took honey and closed the hives for the fall. The hives are strong and one hive, in particular, must have had two queens.

 

So, I grabbed a metal lamp and a stick and began clanging to keep the swarm close and it alighted on the fence. My neighbor retrieved a box with some frames with wax and the swarm moved in.

 

The rest of my neighbor’s family, their children, and another family gathered on my patio. We shared wine and conversation. I put out a large cutting board of fresh strawberries, goat cheese, pistachios, and crackers and my neighbor brought over figs and a thin-crust pizza cut into slices.

 

It was an altogether lovely way to watch the sun go down on a late Sunday afternoon. I don’ t think we’ll have any more swarms this year. We’ve reduced the hive size and given the bees food to help them through the winter. Hopefully, the next swarms will occur in late spring–the right time for swarming.

 

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