Infusing Oatstraw

I made my first oatstraw infusion, a quart of it, with 1 oz. of dried herb. It’s very mild, sweet and fresh, just lovely after steeping a good 14 hours. Not grassy at all. I added some raw honey to it and have been sipping it all day long.

Oatstraw is one of those toners, herbs that nourishes gently and deeply and that, though slow to take effect, acts for a long time in the body. You drink the infusions every day for a couple of weeks.

One cup of this infusion contains a whopping 300 mg of calcium (as much as a cup of milk). It also contains B-complex vitamins, silicia, flavones, saponins and Vitamin A. It can be used for both physical and nervous fatigue and is helpful for depression. The perfect herb to ferry me out the Winter floes into the tempests of Spring! And going by the taste alone, the kind of herb that will get me through the day, sip by sip.

Sip. Sip.

When you’re down, there’s nothing better than to give yourself a gift. Mine is this:

to start writing in my journal again, every day.

My present self will go to a trusted place every day, my future self will be happy we got the habit back, and all the good things that are happening will be recorded. I’ve already cleaned my fountain pen and located the ink.

In the picture: microgreens from the basement.

I must admit that I am down-hearted. I have managed for a couple of days now to avoid the news. A quick check in the morning and the evening and quickly look away again. Nuclear has always been my bugbear.

I was 15 in Belgium when Chernobyl happened and it impressed me tremendously. That was a very different situation in many respects, one of them being that we all found out about it many days after the event. Actually, I only found out how close we came to planetary-wide disaster a few months ago, when I saw the Battle of Chernobyl. Then I saw Countdown to Zero (and managed to keep my sanity)…

You see, I have to look away or it sucks me in. It sucks me in and prevents me from what I am doing - doing as against undergoing.

What I am doing is Transition, here in my hometown. The launch is in April but already so many good things have happened and I have met  so many good people. We’ve talked to two local  groups who have been bumping up against limits of expertise, energy and community support and we have invigorated them again, just by talking about Transition and offering some advice. We’ve become the volunteers in charge of a plan for an “edible park” at a very popular and visible place int he middle of town. We’re deeply involved with the Earth Day Celebration. We have a website up and are adding to it more and more every day. Now the local newspaper wants to do an interview…

I musn’t get used to writing about myself in the plural. Someone said “that’s a great group you have there.” So far it’s still just a group of one! I am kind of happy that it looks like a group to people, but am also very keen on making it a group very soon.

Why can’t we just be happy with what we need. Why do we gamble away our lives and the lives of many more who have no say in it, to our greed and our misplaced sense of rightfulness? Don’t tell me, “where will you draw the line between what we need and what we want?” Let’s look into it together and draw the line together. It’s not so hard to ask oneself,  “do I really need this? Is it worth it?” I know there is a large grey area, but up to a point – a point we have overshot by a mile – the difference between our needs and our wants are clear to all but the most unwilling of us.

Let’s start there.

I opened my last bottle of ginger soda yesterday.  It had been in the fridge for two weeks – I had sort of forgotten about it till now. I did open it over the sink…

Yeah, blew the top right off! My bottle! And then, when I poured it…

DH and I finished the whole bottle at once, of course because we couldn’t close it anymore. No one got hurt. But now we know how dangerous this soda making can be. Always open the bottle outside or on the porch, and make sure no one’s in range.

Some days ago I had a chance to run out and pull one side of the hoop house plastic out from under the leftover snow (it thawed some, finally!). It involved breaking up the huge slabs of ice that had formed inside the “hoop sloop” and pulling them out, then draining the melt water. You can see the pile of plastic – still intact, that woven stuff is strong! – behind the structure. It is still stuck in the ice and snow on that side.

This took about an hour, at the end of which I was cold and sopping wet. And it started the rain. Still, I had just enough stamina left to cover the three beds with row cover (Agribon) and plastic. I am happy to report that these beds still have –  miracle of nature! – living plants in them. They’re not exactly thriving, but they’re still there and will hopefully take off soon.

I came in and washed my freezing hands in a bowl of warmed up ginger tea – the tea I brewed from the ginger peels. Aaaaah!

In order of sowing:

  1. scallions
  2. chives
  3. mizuna
  4. Evenstar collards
  5. rouge d’hiver lettuce
  6. Olympia spinach
  7. Bloomsdale spinach
  8. Mache
  9. Champion collards
  10. Claytonia
  11. Space spinach
  12. Red marble onion
  13. Bright lights chard
  14. Ventura celery
  15. Safir celery
  16. Redventure celery
  17. Dianante celeriac
  18. Wintebor kale
  19. Russian kale
  20. Brussels sprouts
  21. Waltham broccoli
  22. Krausa parsley
  23. rube red New England Aster
  24. Giant Winter spinach
  25. Cornflower
  26. Lobelia
  27. Tom Thumb bibb lettuce
  28. Crystal palace blue lobelia
  29. Lincoln Leek
  30. Lavendula Angustifolia
  31. pennyroyal
  32. elecampane
  33. wormwood
  34. monarda bee balm
  35. hyssop
  36. valerian
  37. salad burnet
  38. garlic chives
  39. minutina
  40. maltese cross

That makes for one shelf with heat mat and 3 shop lights (6 bulbs) and 1 shelf with 3 shop lights.

Honestly, I have no idea. But I do have a bad feeling about it. Grasping the small window between the bees flying (i.e., warm enough) and the imminent rain, I opened the hive to check on them. It seemed to me that there are even less now than last time I looked.

The bees were docile and didn’t seem put out by me opening the hive, so I went ahead and accomplished several things.

First of all, I could see they hadn’t taken much of the sugar fondant I put in last time, and almost none of the pollen patty. I pulled out some of the outer frames, those furthest away from the cluster, and just by their heft immediately know they are still loaded with honey. It has obviously been too cold for the bees to get to it. I exchanged these full frames for the ones right next to the cluster.

As I was pulling the empty frames next to the cluster I took a closer look at the dead bees. The sight is a sad one.

All these bees are dead. Bees head first in cells is a sign of starvation. I used my bee brush to remove these corpses.

The frames switched, I turned my attention to the living bees. We have just bought a new camera and the macro mode is amazing, and revealing.

Can you spot it? Let me blow it up for you:

It’s a mite!  The puplish-pinkish bump on the bee in the lower part of the image is varroa destructor. And it wasn’t just the one. In another image,

I can spot a bee grooming another bee, trying to get rid of a mite on her back:

Ugh, just looking at these images make me itch all over!

Mites survive on the bees over the winter,  but they can’t reproduce (they reproduce by laying eggs on brood, and during Winter there is no brood rearing).

So now, on top of the bitter cold, starvation, and dwindling numbers, my colony has to deal with varroa. I doubt I can treat them at this point. I would use Apiguard, like I did last year when I first installed them,  but I’ll have to wait until the outside temperatures are above 59 F, that is, until the bees are active again, breaking cluster and moving the fumigant all over the hive so it can get to most of the mites.  But is the colony strong enough? Might it might interfere too much with the queen’s egg laying (assuming the queen is still alive and well)?

Brood rearing should have begun by now. In a strong hive well-stocked with honey and pollen, the Queen should start laying by the end of December/beginning of January, even in the Northern States. The determinant is not the temperatures but the length of day (source). It was too cold, of course, to pull the frames with the cluster: it would have chilled and killed any brood if it was there.

So I don’t know what to think of this surviving population. I’ve scoured the internet looking for some idea of how many bees make it a viable cluster.

The last thing I did was  replace our improvised rim board (made out of an old landing board) with a new and proper rim board. The hive looks like a usual hive again.