Friday, September 5, 2014

Mead is here at last!

Finally! The news we've all been waiting for - the mead is ready for sale!! Here it is in all it's farmy, old timey glory. The back label reads, 'Mead is a traditional wine made from honey, long ago considered the drink of Kings and Queens. Enjoy the delicate, complex floral bouquet of our Wildflower Mead with meals or on its own. Handcrafted in small batches on our family farm in Prince Edward County.' You can buy it at our farm store at 705 County Rd. 24 or through our website.

This beautiful basket of flowers is bee balm or monarda. It is also called bergamot and Oswego tea. Talk about the herb with a thousand names! We call it bee balm of course. Is has the flavour of earl grey tea which is why the pioneers called it bergamot. Bergamot is actually a citrus fruit from Italy which is used to give earl grey tea it's distinctive flavour. We use bee balm in our Femininitea, a herbal tea for female complaints - good for PMS and menstrual cramps. We've had lots of great feedback about how well this tea works - it really helps if you have someone to make it for you as remembering to take it when you need it is the biggest challenge.

We caught a lot of swarms of bees this summer and finally managed to get one into our Warre hive. This is a top bar hive that a friend made for us. We use the standard Langstroth hive which is designed for honey production. The Warre hive is an experiment we are conducting to see if the survival of the bees is improved. There are many who claim this is a better way to keep bees but it seems that there would be less honey production. We will see how they overwinter.

This is the Warre hive later in the summer. It's well established and overflowing with bees. We added two more boxes and the peaked roof. The colour is closer to the actual blue we used to paint the hive in this photo. Looking good bees!

We had the pleasure of attending a medieval reenactment this summer. We had just discovered the world of larping (Live Action Role Playing) through our 10 year old son and then got to see it in action with knights in armour and ladies drinking from goblets. It was done so thoughtfully and with so much attention to detail. I was entranced by the canvas tents and wooden furniture.  

There were lots of children in costume too. We really wished we had some costumes to wear. Better start planning for next summer right away! I want a green dress and a tent.

These people definitely need mead! The elegant woman in the red dress looks like she already has a mead in hand.
This summer has been a difficult one for my family. We lost my mother Patty Woodyard after a brief battle with  pancreatic cancer in June. This photo was taken the last time I saw her up and outdoors - on Mothers' Day. My mother was well known for many things, her generosity, her hospitality, her creativity, her love for her family and for those who came to visit her, her thankful book. She asked everyone who was in the house every evening to tell her three things they were thankful for and she wrote them down in her book. She left behind so many books spanning years of gratitude. I can still hear her asking me, "What are you thankful for this day?"Today I am thankful for my wonderful mother, my whole family, and my beautiful home.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Springtime and things are green

 When we bought our farm in 2002 we fell in love with it on first sight. There was a small mature hardwood forest, a pond, hay fields and some areas that were starting to go wild. There was a definite lack of evergreen trees though - except for junipers.  We have added to the fields that were already going wild as well as thickening up our tree lines. We have planted hundreds of tree seedlings that we bought from Quinte Conservation over the years. Varieties include, white pine, jack pine, spruce, birch, butternut, black cherry, nanny berry, tamarack, viburnum, cedar. It has been so exciting to watch the trees grow. Our goal is to always be contributing to the diversity of species on the land. It has been an ongoing project for us to 'rewild' our property. We like to plant things that are native to our area and would possibly have grown here before the land was cleared for farming. The first picture is of ramps or wild leeks that I planted in our woods last year. They seem to have taken to their new home very well. We won't harvest any for a few years to allow them to establish.

 This photo of a jack pine was taken in early spring and shows how most of the field has grown up in junipers but we've added in a few other evergreens. It's hard to say how old this tree is.
 We have been working on making some new display beds for herbs in our garden. They'll be used for harvesting and drying herbs for our herbal teas and seasoning too. We're even making name tags for the herbs so people can go on a self guided tour of the garden. Emily was our wwoofer (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms) for the month of May. She did most of the hard work of preparing the beds. Since Hazel thought everything Emily did was awesome she even spent a few minutes helping! Thanks Emily!
The blue and white truck is my new herb dryer/greenhouse. It's a work in progress but I finally have someone working on it for me since I don't seem to have enough time to do it myself. More details and photos once it's done.

We have been very fortunate to get a lot of great press this spring. Food and Drink magazine featured us on their coveted inside back page. This involved us driving in to Toronto and bringing several costumes for them to choose from and getting a lot of makeup done. It was fun to see how it all happens. I got the job of holding the bountiful basket of goodies which weighed a ton while my honey man stood there with his hands in his pockets! Every few minutes I'd have to put the basket down on a nearby stand. Honey is heavy!

The question everyone asks us is 'when is the mead coming?'. We keep saying soon but we really do think it should be ready to sell from our farm store in the next couple of weeks. We have a couple of things left to do but the permit is in place and the labels are approved. I'll make another post all about the mead once it's ready. In the meantime here's the label design for our first variety Wildflower Mead which is a traditional style mead made from honey, water and yeast. I've designed five different mead labels over the last few months and am so happy they're finished and I'm out in the garden!

Here's our best family portrait yet- taken by my sister on a recent visit to Ottawa. The tulip festival was on and we made the most of it.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Welcome 2014!

Here's a little review of what we've been up to since the last time I wrote something.  Last year was a big one for us with our farm store opening.  This year will be even bigger as we are about to get a permit to sell our mead (honey wine) from the farm!  We don't have any photos of the mead yet as I'm still working on the label designs.  The photo at the top is of our hives ready for winter. 

We were walking in our woods in the fall and were so excited to find this tree covered in reishi mushrooms! This medicinal fungus (ganoderma lucidum) is used in traditional Chinese medicine as an anti cancer treatment. It is said to stop the growth of tumors. This is a woody type of mushroom with a shiny red surface, in the polypore family. The ones growing on our tree were past their prime and not usable but the fact that they are there is encouraging. We will have to check back in the coming year for new growth.
 We did the One of a Kind Christmas show again this year.  It was a great success and we had fun with our fellow crafters.  I made this bear for our booth to help get the conversation started with people about what's happening with the bees. People are concerned and so are we.  I think it's important to remember that this isn't an isolated event. The use of pesticides has been going on since World War II and people have documented the damage they have done to the ecosystem from frogs to birds to humans.  The class of chemicals that people are upset about now are called neonicotinoids. They are considered more serious than other pesticides because they don't break down in the environment. They have been found to kill large numbers of honey bees as well as cause secondary poisoning such as interruption of egg laying.  These chemicals are used on field crops like corn and soybeans but also on plants that are sold to gardeners for home use.  You may have gone to a garden centre to buy flowers to attract bees and brought home the very thing that poisons them.   If you'd like to sign a petition to save the bees, the Ontario Beekeepers have one here.

During the big ice storm this tree fell on some of our hives. One of them was destroyed and the lids of two others were damaged. The weather has been very cold for the bees but the blanket of snow on the lids helps insulate them. You can see in the photo that the hives have a black covering on the sides. This is a bubble wrap insulation jacket that we put on for the winter. Honey bees, like all insects, cannot move when the temperature drops below 10 degrees C. They stay inside the hive and generate heat by buzzing.  Their mission is to make sure the queen survives the winter so they form a ball around her and keep her in the centre. When the bees on the outside edges of the cluster get cold, they burrow in towards the centre to warm up.
We took so many beautiful photos of the ice covering everything.  I like how this one on the pine branches looks like ice flowers.

Our 7 year old daughter, Hazel, decided to make her own lip balm to sell.  It's pink and sparkly and cupcake flavoured! We used vanilla and cinnamon essential oils for the flavour. She drew the cupcake for the label herself.  We're putting a portion of the profits in her education savings account.

Here's a photo of Gavin and his beekeeping class last summer. He's offering the class again this year for the third year. We offer a discount for those who sign up for the class by Feb. 15.  Click here for more details and here for the Facebook page.