I am growing several sweet as well as hot peppers. One evening I witnessed my Bengali family try the Habanero. Now, these are people used to hot and spicy food. At first they claimed not to be impressed with the pepper, but by some fluke they must have tried a part of it that wasn’t very strong.

Soon the expression on their faces changed, to one of sheer pain. It was like they had an acute  and communal tooth ache. Yet their mouths were saying yum and they asked for more. The tiny pepper was cut up into tiny slivers, which were passed around like they were the host. “I am doling out pain,” said DH with a smile, and a tear in his eye. There was wincing and shouting, but it was not appropriate for me to sympathize. Instead I simply said, gratified: “I grew pain.”

Here is one of those Habaneros – still in its green stage (they’ll turn orange soon) – in its first context for tonight’s dinner, a bowl of daal (lentils):

It was kept whole or else the daal would have become inedible for myself. After it had steeped in the daal for a bit, it was transferred, whole again (thank goodness), to the aloo posto (fried potatoes with roasted poppy seeds):

~

My dehydrator will be arriving soon – I was gifted an Excalibur for my birthday – and as soon as those peppers ripen, they’ll go in. Don’t worry, I will not have to remind myself to wash and wash and wash my hands after handling them.

Amie is at the moment in her tent, erected with sofa cushions and a sheet in our living room a couple of days ago. With the aid of a flashlight she reading aloud from an Usborne Farmyard Tales book. She has made strides reading. If she keeps it up, she’ll read fluently from, say, Henry and Mudge, in a couple of months. She is also getting better at addition and subtraction, and is “getting” the rudiments of multiplication. One of her favorite sayings these days is “seven plus seven is fourteen. That’s two times seven, you know?” She says this almost once a day. The “you know?” and “right?” are added for  emphasis, or rather coercion. They mean “don’t you disagree with me now!”

I must admit that we haven’t kept up the “bridge schedule” we had planned: 3 pages of  math (we use the average exercise book) and 3 pages of reading/writing (Explode the Code) a day. Our family life  this summer has been in a mess (in a fun way, mostly), and we’ve not been disciplined enough. Especially her writing has suffered, but I’m happy enough with the reading. She is realizing that to be able to read a book yourself is a real treasure and privilege. Now comes our task of finding good books for her.

~

There has, of course, also been lots of art making. When Amie’s Dada (paternal grandfather) suggested that she become a doctor – a real doctor, not a Permanent Head Damage kind of doctor like her Mama and Baba – she immediately and vehemently protested that she was going to be an artist.

There was drawing from nature. With Thaam, the few sunflowers I managed to grow despite the squirrels and chipmunks:

The resulting drawing:

The butterfly we caught:

And Thaam (paternal grandmother) watching the fishes (love those kissy mouths):

And lots of drawing from imagination:

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and my favorite:

~

Under the influence of her grandmother she has learned all the songs from The Sound of Music. I’ll try to capture her singing “Do a Deer” sometime and post it. It’s very cute, but after the fiftieth time I have ask her to sings something else.

~

Amie turned five this August – we both blew out the candles because she was, of course, born on my birthday (it’s all hers now). We had a mega party (potluck). Though she was on the verge of angry tears for a moment, when I told her I had asked people not to bring presents, she bravely listened to the reasons and then agreed. Some people broke the rule anyway (grrr!), so she did get some presents, including the pottery wheel in the picture. It needed some Mama magic to make it work.

~

The most important event was that magical two-week play date with her friend from New York City. One week they played and swam in Cape Cod, the next week they spent playing here at home. E. is a year and a half older than Amie and they get along so well. E at 6 is a fluent and voracious reader and that was a great model for Amie. They played intensely and when it didn’t work so well anymore they had no problem separating and finding a spot to be by themselves a bit.

~

When you ask her “What will happen in September?” she’ll respond: “Pottery class with Lisa!” I enrolled her in a hand-built clay creations class with my teacher, Lisa Dolliver. Let’s see how much she will insist on working on the wheel -  wheel throwing only starts at age 11. She’ll be getting a break as it is, because the clay creations class only starts at Grade 1… Oh, and then there is, of course, also Kindergarten.

When Tom (the hive inspector) pulled out one of the frames, he said it looked like perfectly good honey and I could  harvest it.There would be another flush of nectar at the end of summer, so whatever I took they would easily rebuild and refill.

So yesterday  I did just that.

The bees only got upset with me taking it when I started brushing off the 200 or so bees that were working on the frame. It was a quick job  and I walked away with a clear frame within minutes. The point, I’ve found, with beekeeping is to set your goal, to go in and act resolutely and confidently, and leave things in order.

One side was entirely capped, the other had about 1/10 of uncapped honey on it. I harvested only the complete side – never harvest uncapped honey because the bees haven’t evaporated it enough and it will ferment your entire batch.

First I sliced/sawed) off the wax caps with a bread knife warmed in a glass of hot water (a serrated knife would have been better, in hindsight). I didn’t want to ruin the comb, so at first I set the frame at and angle and let it drip, but it was soon clear that I’d have to wait days to get enough honey out that way. During that time, the honey would soak up humidity from the air, making it unsuitable.

Letting go of my hopes to keep the comb intact, I pressed the comb with the back of a spoon. The wax of the cells is so fragile , it gave away almost immediately. I squeezed the honey out with the spoon, trying to keep as much wax out as possible. I transferred this honey into a fine mesh colander and let it drip through into a stainless steel pot. Then I scraped off the wax comb – I thought it would take the bees less time to rebuild it from scratch than to clean that mess and rebuild it. This mess still had a lot of honey in it, so I set that to drip in a different colander, for more immediate use, since it took longer to drip out than the first batch.

Altogether we collected 2 lbs. 1 oz. of gold!

Then I returned the frame – the other side  completely untouched – to the hive. The bees weren’t happy but I came away with no injuries. My husband helped carry the tray with the frame. You have to be careful not to leave even one drop of honey on the outside of or anywhere near the hive, because this might attract other bees who will then rob the hive. This can seriously weaken even a strong colony. It’s a good thing I didn’t wait until today to return the frame because even after 4 hours the bees had already built a lot of bur comb and propolis into the gap.

It’s all for Amie – 1 teaspoon a day to combat her allergies – so I won’t be presenting friends and family with jars of liquid gold, yet. But, wow, 2 lbs off one side of a frame! A deep frame, to be sure, but still. When Tom said I could have 100 lbs next year, if all goes well, I was skeptical, but no longer.

How does it taste?

Mmmmm. Incomparable!

You may remember the quinces (2 lb. 4 oz.) I was given by my friend. My MIL tasted them and after her face stopped puckering she happily concluded that we could make an Indian atchar (a kind of chutney) out of them.

I cut and cored the small, hard and dry quinces – peeling them was fortunately not necessary for this recipe. I put them in a jar with a spoonful of salt (for taste) and a little bit of turmeric (anti-septic) (*) and shook them so every surface was coated.

Then we put them on a screen to dry in the sun (that’s the herb spiral behind it: it has grown up!).  The quinces should be dried through and through. This will help in the preservation of the atchar.

This is how they do it in India, and they actually make the entire preparation in the sun. Over here, however, it finally decided to rain, so we had to continue in the kitchen, on the stove.

Mix the dried quince with melted “jaggery” (“gur”) (*), which is raw crystallized cane sugar.  This is stirred on very low heat until big bubbles appear and the contents of the pan no longer stick to the sides of the pan. Then allow it cool. When cool, mix it with 1 teaspoon (or to taste) roasted and then ground “panch  phoron” (*), literally “5 spices,” which are fennel seeds, fenugreek seeds, onion seeds (kala jheera), mustard seeds and celery seeds. Let it set, store.

If possible t, take it through these two stages in full sun in a wooden bowl, until it is a sticky mass. This will take up to five to six days of full sun. Scrape and store in jars.

This yielded 1 pints: one 1/2 pint jar for us and one for my friend.

(*) for sale at the average Indian grocery store. For the jaggeri you can substitute crystallized maple sugar, or raw brown sugar.

~

I’ve also made and canned 19 pints of blueberry jam and 8 pints of plum preserves. For my birthday I was given 20 lbs of self-picked, perfect white peaches, half of which were eaten, half of which I want to turn into peach jam peach-cranberry jam tomorrow. I also hope to score some more fruit at the Farmers Market tomorrow. My jams are very popular with our friends and especially their kids, so I am making more than our household can consume in a year.

~

Realizing that all the food within the local food shed (friends’, Farmers Market’s) is also sustainable (i.e., “my” food) has been  liberating for me!

Hive inspection by the county inspector

That’s one whole frame full of good honey, both sides. I’ll harvest it when the rain holds up.

~

I apologize for the dearth of posts. Our household has been in such a flux and beset by crises these last few months, it has been hard to sit and write something down. Here is what has happened so far.

June

- my 13-year-old nephew arrives, we get him from JFK and bring him home. Car breaks on way home.

July

1 week of farm camp for Amie and my nephew. Have car problem(s) fixed over several visits to mechanic.

- MIL arrives

- chipmunks harvest tomatoes and eggplants

- letter from our Town giving us 2 weeks to fix an unknown leak in the main water pipe

- lice!

- trip to NYC to drop off nephew, come home and have water pipe fixed – but good news: insurance will pay – deductible

August

- FIL arrives

- leave for 1 week on the Cape. Friends (3) from NYC come to visit for 1st weekend, after which the mom leaves, the dad and 6-year-old and 9-year-old golden retriever stay on

- friend from Belgium comes to visit, sleeps in tent because cottage is so packed. Leaves after 3 days

- bring 7 people home

- find out we need to replace all tires on both cars

- surprise for our birthdays: SIL arrives

- mom from NYC arrives

- big birthday party, 50 people in back yard, main drain gets clogged, basement flooded with reeking water. Friend from NYC devotes the evening to cleaning up the basement!

- NYC friends and dog leave. For hours try to fix clogged pipe ourselves, no use

- lice?

- cave and get plumber: he fixes it in 1/2 hour! Clean basement

future

- SIL will leave this week, FIL the week after that. A second visit from my Belgian friend expected, plus a visit from another friend from Belgium. Kindergarten starts. MIL will leave mid September. My parents come in October.

We’ve been loving it: family, friends and fun. Amie basically had a two-week-long, uninterrupted play date with her friend from NYC. But it is hectic, so I haven’t been able to do much of what I planned to do – work (harder) in the garden, build a shed, read more about herbalism, blog.

~

{UPDATE 24 August}

add to the list, for today:

car with MIL, FIL and SIL breaks down in the middle of their shopping trip

While I’m trying to get tow-truck and mechanic arranged for them,

Amie wakes up from an uncharacteristic nap with a 102 F fever

It doesn’t end…

This morning I had a visit from my county’s hive inspector. He was a nice man with almost 20 years of experience. We talked about Italian bees vs Carnolians, packages vs. swarms, treating versus letting the bees fight it out, win or loose. The inspection showed a good amount and variety of healthy bees, lots of brood – eggs, larvae, pupae – and quite a few frames loaded with honey.

We decided to take the honey super off. The bees had not drawn it out and wouldn’t do so anymore anyway. The inspector did confirm that I shouldn’t hesitate to pull one frame of honey from the top brood box. Amie’s allergies have been acting up and I am keen on gathering some of this local honey for her.

The inspector pulled out a clump of drone cells. Varroa mites are attracted to drone cells  because drones take 4 more days to develop than workers.  Safely and comfortably inside the capped cell with their defenseless victim, varroa destructor can have on average 2.2 – 2.6 offspring, compared to 1.3 – 1.4 offspring when on worker brood. The inspector burst one of the cells and we could immediately spot a mite. I brought the piece inside to show everyone at my house (that is, at the moment, 6 adults, 2 kids, 1 dog).

I sliced open the dark cell and so in fact released the drone that must have been just about to hatch.

After depositing the drone outside, I opened the larval cells and was disappointed to see that there were more mites, sometimes two, in each of them.

yeah, those are not eyes

Varroa does proliferate in Summer, so the minimal mite count in June no longer counts. I’ll put in another sticky board soon to see what the mite population is now.

What a great day I had yesterday. I spent many hours in my garden, pulling weeds and dead plants, bulking up my compost, pruning the tomato plants, harvesting three (3!) nearly ripe tomatoes and any more cherries, a blond cucumber, a purple cabbage, a red carrot, multicolored dry beans and lots of green herbs. So much cleared, clean space now, awaiting new seeds. Today I am buying canning materials – lids and rings – and I received some scented geraniums. They make my birthday!

These are the herbs (all culinary) in our current drying setup:

It will not do.

~

But about herbs. I’m thoroughly enjoying The Herbal Medicine Maker’s Handbook, a Home Manual, by James Green. It is very informative and quite amusing. Even the more esoteric stuff (about the “spirit of the herb,” etc.) is worth the read. (Generally I don’t go for this kind of writing at all, preferring to devise and experiment with my own spirituality.)

I wrote earlier about discovering the surprising ways of bodies of water, and was intrigued to read that water is so important in the herbalists’ kitchen/lab. It is used as a solvent to draw the goodies out of the dried herbs through rehydration.

So drying herbs is the first step. I’ve been struggling with our drying setup. I wanted to build a solar dehydrator, but I realize I can’t control either the temperature or the humidity of the air in it. It would be good enough for culinary herbs and drying tomatoes, etc., but medicinal herbs, being more dose-sensitive, seem to require more control in the drying process. The same goes for moving the drying setup shown in the picture into the attic – which is unused, gets quite hot, and is well-ventilated. Also, the attic contains heaps of semi-loose insulating materials that could be floating around (eek).

So I am eying the electric dehydrators. I would use it for medicinal and culinary herbs as well as fruits and vegetables. I found a used 9 tray Excalibur  on Craighslist  for $80. Is it worth the try? Let me know what you use!

{UPDATE} I never heard form the craigslist seller, but a received nice Amazon gift card which made the Excalibur 3900 quite affordable. Thank you!

We’re back from a week at the Cape. We stayed in a little salt box cottage among the stunted pines, under the constant screep of the mating (and molting) cicadas. We saw the Perseids, built castles in the sand, went looking for beaches with waves not too intimidating for a four-year-old and a six-year-old. It was fun, especially since we had lots of friends unexpectedly staying for much longer than we had thought, and we even got to bring them home with us! It will make for an interesting Riot calculation.

My highlight was that DH and I got to kayak from the far end of Swan Pond all the way to the ocean, and back again. It was my first “serious” kayak ride and I was fascinated with the ways of water. I had no idea a moving body of water could be so complex, so beautiful, and surprising… I had always wondered about those river passages in Jim Harrison’s books. Now I know the attraction.

But the garden suffered. My neighbor watered it and he went beyond the call of duty, but weeding and harvesting and the extremely hot and dry weather that week were not his responsibility, and I came home to a garden that is half dead. We should find some other time to go on a trip, next year. I remember experienced gardeners warning me, in books, in person, that a garden can be a heartbreak, and again I believe it.

But there are some bright spots. I harvested a zucchini as soon as I got home, at 1 lb. 7 oz., and we put it on the grill that evening. It was so creamy and flavorful, a real cheerer-upper. The zucchinis,  cucumbers and squashes are finally coming in, and that bed will be a good producer.

The critters seem to have retreated from the hoop house somewhat, perhaps due to the cayenne pepper I strewed all around. I have three brandywines still on the vine, very near completion, and I hope they’ll be allowed to ripen, just one or two more days.

While I wait my friend gave me some of his own homegrown tomatoes (above).  He has some critters, but not nearly the plague I am dealing with. I hope he realizes how special his gift was, since, as he himself remarked, it shows that I could still have such an abundance, even if it’s not coming from my own garden.  How good it is to know this! It was a barter for my help with his growing dome experiment, and as such twice the treasure. Underneath the tomatoes there are quinces form his grandmother’s garden, and I hope to get two pints of jam out of them, and to give him half.

I hope to get some garden work done this week: pull all the finished dry bean plants (2 beds), all the dead lettuce (1 bed), and the bolted brassicas (1 1/2 beds). I’m putting in fast growing Fall crops, such as lettuce, spinach, and the slower growing hardy ones, like broccoli and kale. I also want to start canning, so I hope to score big at this Wednesday’s Farmers Market. It will pull me out of these garden blues. The blueberry jam I made last year was a big hit with friends, so I need to make twice as much this time. There will also be plums. And more tomatoes, of course.

I was showing off my comfrey patch (above) to my mother-in-law when suddenly she asked “what is that!” I confessed not to know. I had weeded the bed – which also has some hostas, feverfew and columbine in it – some days before, and I had noticed this one weed, very beautiful, very singular, and had left it, wondering what it was, then forgetting about it.

“That’s dhatura,” said my mother-in-law. “It is a hallucinogen, and very poisonous.”

Really?

Really.

In the States it’s called jimson weed, devil’s trumpet, devil’s weed, thorn apple, tolguacha, Jamestown weed, stinkweed, locoweed, datura, moonflower. Its botanical name is datura stramonium, Datura from dhatura, quite mundanely an ancient Hindu word for a plant, and stramonium from the Greek strychnos (nightshade) and, more interestingly, manikos, for mad.

It turns out that all the parts of this plant are indeed poisonous. It contains tropane alkaloids, which are autonomic nervous system blocking agents. Eating from this plant (apparently even after it has been cooked in a stew) may result in delirium, hyperthermia, tachycardia, bizarre, and possibly violent behavior, and pronounced amnesia, and even death. Some native Americans tribes use/d it sacred ceremonies. In India it is used by the followers of Shiva, so my MIL said my garden is now blessed by Shiva.

Now this may sound crazy but I find this incredibly cool. After being so down about my garden I am now elated to find something poisonous in it!

It’s in a part of the garden (the “utilitarian part), where kids never come, or livestock (as I haven’t any yet). I want to leave it and observe it. Or should I pull it? What would you do?

~

Unrelated, part of my new line drying setup: