Chicago-yup, it’s cold but there’s cider

Chicago skyline at night

Chicago skyline at night

We are at CiderCon, the national conference for cidermakers. Some big snow storm dumped a foot and a half of snow right before we got here. The roads are clear, but it is cold, nasty and not going to improve out there.

All that is the same as last year. What’s different is that, when we picked up our badges, one of the conference hosts told us about the Chicago Pedway, a mostly underground interconnected walkway that runs all over downtown. All sorts of businesses operate in the Pedway, from donuts to dry cleaners. You could literally do 95% of your life business, doctoring, get a key made, grab food and get a massage and never step out into the weather.

The Pedway is short on posted maps–you pretty much have to have a plan on how to get from point A to B, because the phone maps don’t overlay the subway map. Other than that, it’s been a great discovery.

We did do a bit of outdoor walkabout this afternoon during a break, to soak up the Chicago vibe-big architecture, big business, big lake, big wind, big ambitions. We love life on the farm but getting to the big city is energizing every now and again. Not for too long, but there are a few more restaurants and a blues club or two to hit up before we head back to the ranch. In between cider learning, of course.

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Norman the Elder

Norman the Elder cocktail, an original recipe with hard cider and St. Germain liqueur

Norman the Elder cocktail, an original recipe with hard cider and St. Germain liqueur

So I invented a cocktail. I wrote about it in the Stray Arrow Ranch newsletter that went out this week. What newsletter? Glad you asked. Here’s a sample recipe. You can see the most recent issue here and then subscribe here (on the right) if you want to read even more about cider, apples and this evolving business we have going on here. Either way, enjoy a glass of Norman the Elder soon. Salut!

In the glass: Norman the Elder

Not much is happening in the orchard right now. While the trees are dormant, we are playing in the kitchen. Riffing off the French 75 champagne cocktail one evening, R and I invented a cider-based concoction I call “Norman the Elder.” We start with a dry cider-Normandy’s traditional bubbly. St. Germain liquor adds intriguing elderflower aromatic notes and a touch of sweetness. Mix these for your next celebration or make a big bowl for a Wassailing party.

Norman the Elder
for each champagne flute:
4 oz dry cider
.5 oz St. Germain
dash citrus bitters
garnish with blackberries

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Zero. Nada. Empty

Zero Inbox

Zero Inbox

It’s been years since Rich Legg introduced me to my Holy Grail of productivity: the zero inbox. One of my goals for January was to get there. To tend untended business. To stop using the inbox as a to-do list for things I don’t want to do.

I’ve been working on getting to zero for a while and had it down to 10 messages at the beginning of the year. Those last 10 items just dragged on and on. The final one was a simple phone call that I procrastinated on for 6 weeks.

If this sounds like a good idea, there are some good tips in this article on getting unburied. Unsubscribing to vast numbers of things that no longer interested me helped immediately. (Not to mention the commercial spam machines: just because I buy one thing from your company does not mean we are BFF and I want to hear from you every day.) SpamSieve helped even more.

It’s true what the GTD gurus preach about committing to a system. A few months ago I embraced the Calendar program like a long-lost twin. It works, especially if I set reminders when I enter a new appointment. I don’t need to keep those emails to remind me to show up. I still need to decide which program to use for my task list, but it ain’t going to be Apple Mail.

Zero inbox, achieved today at 11:43:44. It feels weird. I keep checking it to see if it’s real. Surely I forgot SOMETHING. It is truly empty. Long may it reign.

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Harbingers of spring and heralds of small victories

Small hollows and last year's leaves shade the snow from the increasing angle of the sun.

Small hollows and last year's leaves shade the snow from the increasing angle of the sun.

We went for a walk in the lovely warm afternoon light. I wish I were motivated by such a pure desire as experiencing the moment. Instead, it was because I got this Misfit Shine fitness tracker and it is kicking my butt. On days I go to the gym, I easily meet my goal, but when I skip the workout, I have to focus on getting more exercise. Which is sort of the point of these devices. I’ve only had it a week and I have met the goal every day (yay me). I’m still thinking about how I feel about being so motivated by this external object.

On our walk into the piñon/juniper uplands nearby, we observed flocks of robins, the first of the year. They call them the harbingers of spring, because it ain’t spring yet. But seeing a robin is as reliable an indicator as the lengthening days and the increasing number of eggs from the hens that spring really is going to come back around.

The geese already have spring fever. We added some nest-making material into their pens for the hens. The books all say they will know what to do with it. The ganders are squabbling, which they have never done before. Jack drove Ike into the electric fence the other morning and I was late to spin class because I had to rescue him. He managed to weave his neck through five wires of the electronet before I got to him. He’s no worse for the wear and has stopped hissing at me. We still haven’t seen any preferences for pairs yet. Maybe this is such a tight group they’ll just form a polyamory family and be done with it. In a couple more weeks we should know more about domestic goose pairing than I really care to imagine.

The bees were out today too. I can’t blame them, it was 50 deg. But winter isn’t over yet: it’s supposed to snow next weekend. I wonder how the Misfit Shine will count snowshoeing. Surely that gives extra credit? Let’s hope we get enough snow to find out.

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Planting seeds to feed the bees

Borage is another good plant for bees

Borage is another good plant for bees.

After my mini-rant yesterday about seed catalogs, someone asked on Facebook what new things we are trying this year. It’s a several part answer. Because we need so many plants for permaculture design for the orchards, we are putting in a mini-nursery this spring. It will take a while to grow out from seed all the perennials, but when your plant list is in the thousands, it’s the only practical way to get it done.

Tops on the list are plants to feed the bees when the apples aren’t in bloom. That would be about 50 weeks out of the year. For about a third of the year, the bees are huddled in their hive and living off their honey, but the rest of the time, they will need food. They say that bees can forage for miles but it stands to reason that the closer they stick to home, the more trips to the hive they can make and thus more honey.

We are still learning what flowers here and when, but I am interpolating the general order of bloom from what we grew in Salt Lake. There’s a period between the lilacs and the summer flowers that is hard to cover with herbaceous flowers, so we are hoping eventually the later blooming trees will fill that role. We will encourage some alfalfa to bloom as early as possible, and go from there. So what else are we planting? Not all of this is going to be from seed (like the trees) but we are going to propagate where we can.

  • Nepeta (catmint), one of our earliest bloomers, and if sheared back, will bloom again.
  • More clovers, especially the perennial white low-growing varieties.
  • Honey locust trees, which have extra duties as nitrogen-fixers and coppiced support trees for grapes.
  • Linden trees, which will take years to flower but is said to be a big bee favorite.
  • Chestnut trees, if only because we have tasted an amazing chestnut honey. It could work. If not, it gets replaced by mulberry.
  • Monarda, lavender and hyssop are all bee magnet perennials. Plant once, I do nothing and it comes back next year-I like that.
  • I’ve been promised some native penstemon seeds. These will be excellent for the bumblebees, if not the honeybees.
  • All of the carrot family, especially perennials like angelica, bronze fennel and lovage. Dill may be another plant we can grow to cover the late spring gap.
  • Perennial arugula: this may be our wonder crop. It is a deep-rooted, drought tolerant, edible plant with yellow flowers that seem to keep coming until frost.
  • Sunflowers: there are so many reasons to grow this plant. The geese devour the leaves as treats, the stalks produce massive amounts of shreddable mulch material, the bees and bumblebees are all over it. And it makes me happy, especially at sunset when the sun is behind them. I don’t need even one more reason than that.

What are you planting for 2015? Have you considered planting for the neighborhood pollinators?

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