Sunday, September 26, 2010

New Family Member!

No, I know what you're thinking; "The crazy cat people got another cat!"  Nope, not true!  Todd and Jenna, my brother and sister in law in NYC, rescued/adopted a dog from a shelter in NJ!  His name is Teddy (aka Theodore, aka Tedward, aka Teddington, aka the Lighthouse Keeper, aka Captain) and he is a 6 yr old Maltese that I am told is perfect!  They wanted a dog that was small, hypo-allergenic and in need of a second chance.  We can't wait to meet the little guy and I know that Traveler wants to meet his dog cousin.  Traveler loves little dogs!  No really he does, not for lunch either.  He may be big but he has a soft spot for small animals (ie kittens and dogs).
For those of you that ever consider wanting to get another animal I highly encourage you to consider rescuing one.  Even if you want a specific breed there are breed rescues for every breed out there; simply do your homework.  If you really want a puppy you may be able to find one.  There are a lot of good breeders out there but most are not so before going that route at least consider rescue.  There are thousands of animals out there in need of homes.  Many get euthanized if one cannot be found.
Congrats to Jenna and Todd on the adoption of our "dog nephew" Teddy!  Welcome home!
If you check Teddy's petfinder page it states adopted!  Gotta love it!

James (The Band): Trip to Philadelphia

We took a road trip to Philadelphia this weekend to see one of our favorite bands: James.  Yes, "James", that's it, one name, a first name-the name of the band not a guy or anyone in the band for that matter.  I am guessing that most of you have never heard of James, which is hard to believe seeing that they have been around since the early 80's.  Incredibly popular in Europe they have only achieved moderate success in the states due to the song "Laid" and the band admits that this song, while it gave them legs to stand on in the US, it is not representative of their sound or everything that they do.  It is a mystery to me as to why a band like this never achieved the success that bands such as U2 or Coldplay have.  James like U2 and Coldplay write songs that are big in scope and sound and whose melodies worm themselves into your brain, never to be forgotton.  Don't get me wrong, I am a Coldplay fan, sort of a fan of U2, but if we agree to say that they are cut from the same cloth James does what the others do 1000 times better.  Believe me, their music is big, beautiful, life affirming, anthemic and to their live shows you can add spiritual (not religious), magical and a once in a lifetime moment that you will never forget.  To the people that know them and love them, James mean as much to modern rock and roll as anyone else does.
To learn more about James visit their web-site here.  If you want to check out any of their songs perhaps start with "Ring the Bells," "Born of Frustration," "Tomorrow," "Getting Away with It" or "Sometimes."  I have never known a band that hits me emotionally more than this band does on so many levels.
The show was perfect!
Philly seemed very nice for the brief time we were there except for rush hour/Phillies traffic that we got caught in!  Thank god for the GPS that Sarah bought the day before!!!!
The venue-The Trocadero Theatre was smack in the middle of Chinatown (maybe even Asiatown) and had we had more time I would have loved to explore it.  Food is one of my favorite things in life and I felt like we were in an episode of Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations.  Alas we were in a hurry and caught a quick bite across the street from the venue at a great Vietnamese restaurant named Pho (a noodle dish/soup pronounced Phuh) Cali.  It was delicious!
So yes, for a long time James has been one of my favorite bands, top 3 actually along with Wilco and The Tragically Hip.  Throw in the Flaming Lips as the fourth.  For the second time in 2 years we saw James live (almost 2 yrs to the day-last time was in Toronto).  Life is good!  you can pick up the new album here:

ps-Our good friend Gangloff (aka Eric the other, etc) is going to see James within the next 2 weeks in Denver so I won't give away the details.  He may be taking his son, James (coincidence-I think not!  His next child is in trouble; his second favorite band is Ted Nugent (just kidding)!  Truly in trouble if it's a girl!  Click this link to see a photo of James at Czar of the Woods from this past summer.  He is ridiculously adorable!

Fall has Fell: Autumn's Here at Czar of the Woods Farm

It's official, one of our favorite seasons has arrived at Czar of the Woods: fall.  Fall in the Western New York area is arguably its best season.  You still get the beauty of summer weather (without the deadly heat) at times yet the light has changed, the smell in the air has changed and there is an undeniable crispness in the air-not quite cold, rather crisp.  The leaves begin to change color, daylight fades quickly and the desire to want to put on a sweater outweighs the desires of summer.  The cats come back to the bed at night and share blankets while acting as little cozy heat sources themselves rather than spending the warm summer nights cooling off somewhere.  Everything gets a bit cozier. 
It was one year ago that we first laid eyes on this house and property that would become COTW.  It was on a night that was perfect fall/late summer in feel.  Warm enough but that fall light cast a glow over the crisping air.  It was love at first sight!  This is our first fall at the farm and we couldn't be more excited!
After a long summer of growing we are excited to welcome our first pumpkins and squash.  Fall is also the time of harvest and what better to mark the start of fall than picking a pumpkin grown on your own land!
Happy fall everyone!  Go put on a sweater and take a deep breath.  The smell of fall is gorgeous!  Especially once the leaves begin to fall.
and PS: Sarah and I got married in the fall, as did my brother and his wife as well as my parents who will be celebrating 40 years of marriage this year!  Fall is good!
Also, my gram-Irene celebrated her 90th birthday on September 20th.  We went out to dinner and it was a perfect evening full of laughs and tears of happiness.  My gram has more energy than I do at times and she is one of my best friends!

Plugging the Plugger

A fellow blogger-ite found me by searching "farming" on blogger.  Kind of cool and still mind blowing really.  We are modern farmers, hobby farmers if you will.  We aren't the kind of farmers that provide life to our country that struggle day in and day out.  But we are related in some way to that and we have a better appreciation as a result.  The one year anniversary of when we first laid eyes on our now paradise that we call home is coming up at the end of this month.  So yea, one year ago at this time if someone sought out 'farming' they sure as hell would not have found us.  
Kyle Wilson, the blogger-ite in question, was kind enough to feature one of my photos on his blog, Trampling Out the Vintage (a cool reference to making wine): here is a link to the post:
Be sure to check out the rest of his blog as well.  Here is an excerpt from this post. It seems kind of fitting of us.  

A man leaves industrial New York for the woods. For the novelty and rarity we call rural. He grows his own groceries. He notices the way the sun falls on the leaf. Perhaps he ponders this plant’s synthesis. He can behold the bold moon unabridged by the city lights. He is awakened, like Emerson, by those heavenly bodies’ rays and he has the same certain reverence. His is no ordinary reformation. There is no bureaucracy conducting him but that of his own righteous mind. His is a restoration. A restoration of self-governance. A condemnation of the bondage that is orthodox codependent life. A restoration of self-reliance. And in so striving to become a more independent self, he is able to become a more interdependent self. A sense of community will grow around such integrity. A plow cultivates freedom just as effectively. A restoration of freedom obtained by reducing one’s sense of economy to its simplest terms. A quality of life that is not easily attained elsewhere. A restoration to what was and what ought to still be.

Bee Update: And Then There Were Two???

I wrote this a few weeks ago:
Yesterday started out as a beautiful late summer day at COTW, the light has changed to that of fall, but it was warm enough and sunny. It was a perfect day to work with the bees.

The hive currently has 2 hive components, both brood boxes, that basically serve as nurseries for new baby bees and a food supply for the adults, which they make by bringing nectar and pollen back to the hive. The have been this way essentially all summer. As fall approaches an established hive would be deep in honey production but mine is not quite there. A few months is extablished but not established enough. What they needed is a new component called a "super" which is a more shallow box with frames in it that the bees will use to make the honey in. Between the two brood boxes and this super I had to place what is called a "queen excluder" which ONLY allows everyone but the queen bee to move from the brood boxes to the super. The basic concept is to keep the queen bee in the brood box, aka nursery, area laying eggs to make more bees-her only purpose in her bee life. All of the other bees as workers can freely move up to the supers to work at making honey. Whatever they make can then be extracted and will be their sole source of food during the cold winter here in the hills of East Aurora.

So I suited up, started my bee smoker, grabbed my camera, new (and freshly painted white) super, and excluder. Upon arrival up at the hive, which is located in the Northeast corner of the property, nestled next to an apple tree that the deer use for shelter and just east of where our vineyard will someday go, I noticed that the hive was more active than I had ever seen. A lot of flight traffic in and out and generally a lot of bees hanging out "on the porch" of the hive. I figured that this was due to the fact that goldenrod is in full bloom right now and the bees are gorging on it in preparation for winter. It is one of the most productive times of year for honey due to this goldenrod (sidenote: depending on what nectar and pollen the bees use to make honey will determine its flavor: bees that live near apples = apple flavoring, near clover = clover honey, near orange blossoms = orange flavored, etc. You get the idea.) The amount of goldenrod out right now is a smorgasbord. So it seemed to make sense.
When I lifted the cover off the hive and looked into the top brood box, which was the second of two to be added; working from the bottom up, I was VERY surprised that they had used the frames very little up to that point if at all. It had been on a month or so and should have been well on its way. Peering down into the bottom (first) brood box it looked exactly as it should and was full of bees. I was starting to wonder whether or not I would be able to add the super if they hadn't yet even really used the second brood box.

As all this was happening I wasn't really paying attention to the bees coming and going from the hive. It still seemed like a lot. When I took a break from what I was doing I looked up and could not believe how many bees were flying around the surrounding area (especially within 50 yards west of the hive)! Something was not right. Why was this. They didn't seem upset that I was working with them yet seemed to have decided to leave the hive in mass exodus, but why?

I walked back to the barn after putting the super on and decided to check on the situation in a bit. Within 5-10 minutes I looked back toward the hive and most of the thousands of bees that were flying around had disappeared. I may not know much about bees yet but I knew that this was not good. There is no way that this many bees had returned to the hive so quickly but where were they? As I walked back to the area it became apparent that the bees were busily flying around a few bushes not far away, but far enough from the original hive. As I got closer I realized that the bees were swarming. Not one swarm but 3 separate swarms!

In the world of bees swarms are not good! They typically do this after leaving the hive due to overcrowding or turmoil (ie lacking a queen for one reason or another). Overcrowding was definitely not the issue so your guess is as good as mine. If they swarm and the bees are not reclaimed they can be lost forever once they move on. So what does one do when one's hive swarms? Call your bee mentor! Steve to the rescue! It was about noon when this problem occured and Steve said that he and his wife Cindy would be over about 5pm to see what he could do to help. This would also give them a chance to settle down and be easier to handle for transport, hopefully.

By the time Steve and Cindy arrived the three swarms had combined down to two, in two different bushes ~ 10 yards apart. But why? Steve tells me that when the bees swarm they do so, so as to surround the queen but why were there two swarms? Were there two queens? Who was queening the original hive? All questions that Steve and certainly not I, could answer. One of the fascinating things to see at this point was that these bees had calmed down to the point where they were one unit, of one purpose. Plenty of bees remained in the original hive but these thousands? had defected.
Steve wasted no time, gave each swarm a puff with the smoker which surprisingly didn't anger them. Typically this is done to calm them and make them workable but oversmoking can have the opposite effect. He tells me that these bees, in swarm, are groggy from gorging (think post Thanksgiving dinner) and typically easy to work with. So he expertly cut the whole branch off and in one fell swoop shook the first swarm into a new brood box with comb heavy frames (new frames are bare). He did the same with the second swarm and we closed the lid, gave them some honey to keep them busy and we waited. A few more bees were still trying to collect on the branches where the initial swarms were. Steve informed me that this is because the queen most likely left her smell on the branches and they were trying to find her.
That night before it got dark I placed a feeder on top of the new hive. This is a holding unit for a very concentrated sugar solution that will help them feed, build the new hive and develop a sense of place (read: we didn't want them to leave and swarm again, which could happen).

Today after work I took a walk up to the hives to evaluate how things were going 24 hrs later. Luckily all seems well with both hives (knock on wood). It's a little late in the season to be starting a new hive I suppose but I was left with little choice. Both hives seem happy and hard at work. Bees coming and going, air traffic control no doubt very busy!

And then there were two? At this point we don't know. We could leave the two hives and simply put we have two hives. The other option would be to rejoin the new hive with the old hive and let them work it out. To do so we could assume that each hive has its own queen and let them duke it out or we could find the queen in the new hive and kill her. Not sure what we will do yet but we have some time. Steve said we should wait until the honey flow is over. This occurs after the goldenrod is gone, typically after a September frost. I will keep you updated.

I had great photos of the swarms but had a problem downloading them and lost them. Sorry about that. This is a great image of what they look like:

Thanks to Steve and Cindy for saving the day! I wish it were as simple as taking roll call of our thousands of Italian bees. Luigi, Mario, Isabella, Giovanna, Massimo, Antonio, Marco, Franca, and on and on!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Don't Take Beauty for Granted or Jeff Bridges in Niagara Falls

For my birthday (which is next week) Sarah got me tickets to see Jeff Bridges and his band The Abiders (aka The Crazy Heart Band) play at the Fallsview Casino last night. For those of you that know me and read this blog you will know that I have a man crush on Jeff Bridges. Actor, musician, photographer, artist and The Dude. Yes, that Jeff Bridges played right in our own back yard for 2 nights. They were the bands first "official" shows. No idea why Niagara Falls but we certainly took advantage of it. I heard, after the fact, that he landed at the Buffalo Airport on Monday night. Jeff isn't your typical movie star turned musician (ie Kevin Costner, Bruce Willis, etc). He's the real deal and this is part of why his film for which he won the Oscar (told ya!), Crazy Heart, was as good as it was. He isn't the best musician ever nor was it the best show that I had ever been to but it was Jeff Bridges! Anyway, they played music from the film and several covers of songs of friends of his. All in all it was a magical night and I can't believe we were feet away from the dude, man! I tossed a card up on stage for him from Sarah and I. As they walked off the stage I yelled "Jeff!" to his attention and then said "look down." He did, picked it up and off he went. It has this blog's address on it so maybe he will post a comment. Yep, I'm a dork!

This photo is from the show. Kind of blurry but the security guards were hyper strict about not taking them so I could only sneak this one.

It was his first time visiting the falls and he was blown away by the beauty of it. Having taken a ride on the Maid of the Mist earlier that day he liked it to a religious/spiritual experience second only to "being intimate with his wife." He told us not to take this beauty for granted despite it being right in front of us. So true, this is the same felling I have every time we visit the falls. It blows me away every time as if it were the first time.  Thanks mom and dad! Because of you and dad I don't take NF for granted. You always made a point of taking us there as kids and showing us the beauty in our own 'backyard.'

This was the view that woke me up this morning. Thank you for this trip Sarah! When I got up and looked out at window at about 9am this is what I saw. Sarah wanted to sleep "for a few more minutes" but I said you have got to see this! You know, not take it for granted. Mind blowing! PS-we stayed at the Embassy Suites. Highly recommend it. Million dollar view.

Sleepy heads taking in the view...

Today, priot to heading home we stopped at one of my favorite places, the Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens which is home to the School of Horticulture and The Butterfly Conservatory. We walked around the grounds of the Gardens for about an hour and a half getting ideas for our gardens at home. If you have never been here and you are into gardening or nature you should go! It is 99 acres of pure beauty. Don't take this for granted either.
Here is a photo of Sarah walking under a natural arbor.

Photos of Morgan = Daily Dose of Happiness

Take 2 of these and call me in the morning. They are bound to make you feel better.  See the mud in the background...after dumping one of the water tubs Morgan decided it would be a good idea to dig her own mud hole (her first)!  It was actually quite hilarious.  BAD PIGGY!  Had to fix it afterwards.
Making taking of advantage of the late summer sun. She is soaking up what she can while she can. Summer is quickly fading. I LOVE fall but that means winter and I am NOT ready for that again.

Ember in the Full Moonlight...Yes, Moonlight.

You're probably thinking that this photo was taken in the early morning. If so, I've fooled you. It was taken slightly after midnight within the past couple weeks (whenever the last full moon was). Ember and Czar were outside in the front arena happily nibbling on hay and I couldn't pass up the opportunity to get this shot. Ember was backlit by the full moon. I sat in the ground and took an ~45 second exposure shot to get this. She actually walked away at one point but because of the long exposure you don't really see it other than some ghosting of the image. I was using my phone as a flashlight to set my camera as well. The next morning when I woke up I couldn't find my phone in the house. Yep, you guessed it I left it in the arena. Found it face down in the dirt and it looked like it had been stepped on. Luckily it was not damaged despite 1200 pound horses having stepped on it.