A Monster Wander Through the Not-So Wintry Garden

After going on a lot recently about monsters – Doubt Monsters, Amazonian Monsters – I’ve been looking forward to a post featuring that far-friendlier monster, Finn McSpool!

This year, the Pacific Northwest has thumbed its nose at the seasons and declared that winter is definitely NOT coming. While I was putting away all the dragon glass I’d stockpiled in the event of an invasion of White Walkers, my garden was scratching its head, having a few committee meanings, and coming to the executive decision that it was time to get blooming.

And of course, Finn saw the buds and blooms as a perfect chance for an outdoor photo shoot.

His first stop was to check out the pink blossoms of the border of Bergenias just outside my back door. He looks like he’s diligently studying those flowers, doesn’t he?

Of course the giant leaves of these plants were perfect for a game of hide-and-seek (I don’t have the heart to tell Finn he’s not very good at this game). Continue reading

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Finn McSpool Minds His Beeswax

Those of you who have been with me a while know I share my backyard with a hive full of bees. The girls are all tucked in for the winter, but after realizing I could no longer close the freezer door due to all the honeycomb I’d been stashing away over the season, I decided time was well overdue for a round of beeswax rendering.

And, as you may have guessed, a certain monster was eager to supervise the process. Although I’m not quite sure who gave him the promotion to Supervisor from his position earlier this year as Assistant Beekeeping Beastie.

Still, with an eager monster ready to learn some new skills, I decided we’d discuss this new job title later so we could get our wax on.

Beeswax Beginnings

Some of my wax comes from shifting combs around in the hive especially toward the end of the season when I cluster honey-filled combs into one part of the hive so the ladies have an easier time getting their sweets during the winter. The honey-less comb is all mine!

Other comb comes from collecting honey during the season. With a top bar hive like mine, you remove the entire comb to extract the honey. Sometimes the comb isn’t completely full and the portion that has no honey in it simply gets cut off and tossed in the freezer (kills any icky-ness that might be lurking).

The honey-filled comb, however, gets crushed and squished to squeeze out that liquid gold my bees offer up as their rent payment. Okay, “offer” may not be quite accurate. More like, me trying to act cool and collected as I remove the comb, then having all dignity disappear when one or two bees get too close and I end up running away from the hive doing my oh-my-god-they’re-going-to-kill-me dance. I imagine the neighbors get a good laugh on honey collection days.

Once as much of the honey has drizzled out as I can get, the leftover wax gets added to the freezer pile. Since rendering beeswax is a pain in the stinger, I prefer to do it in one large batch rather than each time I remove combs from the hive….which is why the freezer ends up containing more honeycomb than my actual hive by the end of the season.

Let the Rendering Begin

Since freezer space needs to be allocated for the products of holiday baking, it was time to face the chore of rendering. Knowing how much I hate this task. Finn, boasting his new self-appointed job title, stepped in to supervise from what he called his “Executive Seat.”

Rendering needs to be done not only to melt down those perfect little hexagons into a more useable (and more easily storable) form, but, let’s face it, beeswax that has been used by thousands upon thousands of bees gets kind of gross and that gross-ness needs to be cleaned away if the wax is to be any use.

Why does it get gross? Because making babies is messy business.

The cells of a honeycomb aren’t used only for honey, but also for making babies. Wait, I should rephrase that….my honeycomb isn’t some sleazy by-the-hour motel. It’s more like a nursery where the baby bees grow from teensy tiny eggs into bees…and they do that growing within casings that get shed into the cell as the future honey makers change from larvae to pupae and all that other insect-y type of stuff you learned back in grade school.

Plus, bees are going in and out of the hive all day during the spring and summer. And I’ve yet to see one of these girls wipe their feet. So, even though bees are fastidiously clean, some dirt gets brought into the hive and left on the comb.

Rendering cleans away all this…after a while. To make the wax more liquid and easier to strain, you heat water and then melt the wax directly into the water. And let me tell you, this first melting is disgusting. All manner of muck (those casings I mentioned) comes out of the wax making a soupy mix so nasty even the most heartless Dickens character would hesitate to serve it to an orphan.

“Please sir, may I have…ew, never mind, I’d rather starve.”

This batch of witches’ brew gets strained, leaving most of the casings behind.

Blech!

The wax-water medley is allowed to cool and, by the magic of physics, the wax floats to the top while the icky water stays on the bottom. Finn, in his supervisory capacity, made a close inspection of the wax and declared it wasn’t clean enough yet.

Unfortunately, one round of melting-straining isn’t enough to fully clean the wax (you can see why I put this off, right?). It takes about three or four rounds of melting and straining fun, each time using finer straining cloth, to get the wax fully clear of muck. Of course, this would go faster if my supervisor would stay out of the sieve.

Even with Finn’s “guidance” I eventually got the wax clean enough for use. And what was that use? Well, since this has already turned into a lengthy post, you’re going to have to come back next week for the results of Finn’s waxy workings (no, Madame Tussaud is not involved).

“Um, Finn, that isn’t cheese.”
“I thought it tasted a little waxy..”

What about you? Have you gotten around to any projects you’ve been putting off? if you have bees, what do you do with your wax? Any favorite bee-related products? Go ahead and share in the comments!

Again, I’ll be back next Saturday with the results of all this rendering, and next Wednesday I’ll once again be seeking your opinion on some book covers, so be sure to drop by then and throw in your two cents…into the survey, that is, not the wax.

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Finn McSpool’s Treacherous Trip to Kula Botanical Garden

This week’s look back at Finn McSpool’s Hawaiian Adventure takes him away from the beautiful beaches and bustling towns of West Maui and whisks him off to the slopes of a volcano in East Maui where he got into a little trouble at the Kula Botanical Gardens.

Some Back Story

Now, before we start this tale, I need to give a little background about Finn’s first evening in Maui when he had a rough encounter with a couple of the natives. As you know from a couple weeks ago, our vacation rental came complete with egg-providing chickens. It also featured the hard-to-find amenity of the brother-and-sister-cat-duo, Kuma and Yuki. Don’t they look innocent?

Since Finn lives with cats and really enjoyed meeting gobs of cats on his trip to Italy last year, he thought he’d give a big “Aloha” to his two new roommates. Unfortunately, Yuki (who we later learned loves to hunt, especially geckos) thought Finn might make a tasty treat. Finn’s screams of horror as he was caught in her death grip were probably heard across the island. Continue reading

A Hellacious Garden Stroll

Since Finn McSpool is busy with a DIY project that isn’t quite ready to show off to the world yet, this week seemed like the perfect time for another garden stroll post. Unfortunately, my garden tour took a side trip into the bowels of hell. Or at least it seemed like a fiery inferno when Portland was smacked with a heat wave.

Things started out well, not a bit of damnation in sight.  While at the home supply store to get the goodies we needed for our DIY project, I couldn’t resist bringing home this new friend for the garden (and for the house when winter arrives). Meet the Flamboyant Miss Caladium.

If you don’t think plants don’t try to one up each other, let me tell you, the minute I brought Miss C. home, I think someone wanted to show off her own stuff because Lily, that’s Water Lily to you, popped into bloom the very next day. Continue reading

daylily, hemerocallis

Another Stroll Through the Garden

Instead of my usual work time, this Saturday is going to be filled up with cabers, kilts, and clans (NOT of the KKK variety) at the Portland Highland Games. But before I take Finn McSpool to celebrate his Celtic heritage, I thought I’d deliver this most recent tour of my garden to the Blogosphere.

First off, my favorites….daisies! Okay, I know that orange one is technically a coneflower, but it’s daisy-like. And just to add a bit of creepy irony to this picture, these daisies are growing in the bed where I buried my dog Daisy.

How about a closer look at those Shasta Daisies…. Continue reading