Monday, October 1, 2018

Moose Rutting Season in Alaska

It is axiomatic that hunters always see their target AFTER the conclusion of hunting season.  We have found that to be true of bull moose in our yard.

At twilight earlier this week, while my husband and I were thinking amorous thoughts, we heard a moose beyond the trees with the same idea.  He was repeating a gutteral “huh, huh, huh” sound which is apparently supposed to make nearby females of the species go wild with excitement.  Sure enough, a few minutes later, a large cow (moose) and her yearling calf emerged from the woods beyond our chicken coop, east of where we heard the bull.
Cow with calf this spring


The mother led the two of them on an ambulatory buffet, leaning down to the cranberries and reaching up toward birch and ash branches.    She seemed absolutely uninterested in the “come hither” sounds of the male in the woods.  The young calf, though, was curious or attracted.  She took a few tentative steps toward the sound, then looked back at her mom, and then a few more, reminding me of a teenager who is torn between a desire to date the bad boy in town and wanting her parents' approval.  She reached the edge of the trees and slipped among them before chickening out and trotting back to the cow.

Moose in game camera
Suddenly the bull appeared in the yard, like an actor making his appearance once the audience has anticipated it.  He was young, and smaller than the cow.  He halved the distance to the females and then displayed his manliness by swiping elderberry bushes with his paddles and pawing at the ground. The mother watched him out of the corner of her eye, while her calf peeked shyly from under her belly.  Then, with what struck me as absolute disdain, the two of them turned and slowly walked away from him up the hill into the darkness, leaving the bull alone, with no conquest for the night.   He trotted after them, in a half-hearted sort of way, maybe hopeful but without much confidence.  Any budding romance would transpire out of view.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Alaska Homestead Honey Harvest

For the past few years, our four hives have produced a total of 11-17.5 gallons of delicious and useful honey each summer (depending on weather and hive population). And to my delight, each year's harvest tastes different:  2016 tasted deliciously like caramel and 2017 offered a wonderfully floral flavor.  This year's low production (because of all the rain?) is tasty but without the extra quality of the prior two years. What will next year bring?
Lots of bees making honey!

To someone who thinks of honey as a topper only for an occasional biscuit, our homestead production volumes may seem excessive.  Me, too, at first. The harvests inspired me to find many uses for that delectable golden syrup.  I learned that food is only one end product.  Below are various frequent uses as well as information about the bees we raise and how we extract the honey.

Hygiene:
Honey is a humectant, so it attracts water molecules in the air, as a natural moisturizer. It can soothe sunburn or windburned skin as well as dry hair.  I give myself a honey facial and hair treatment 2 or 3 times a month.  Imagine how lovely that smells!  I simply dilute a few tablespoons of honey and slather it all over my head and face, letting it rest for about 20 minutes.  It rinses out (easily) in a bath or shower, leaving soft skin and fluffy hair with healthier looking ends.  I have made moisturizing bars with honey, beeswax, and lanolin for friends, but at home, it is easiest to spoon the honey straight out of a jar. If you have a pint in your pantry, give it a try.

Medicine:  Honey tempers the sting of a burn or bug bite, and its anti-microbial properties have  been known for thousands of years to protect cuts and scrapes from infection.  Many people add it to hot liquids to calm a cough or sore throat, and to render strong tasting medicines more palatable. For example, some people soak garlic cloves in honey and pop those to ward off pesky colds.
Regular hive check

Alcohol:  I have made several batches of mead.  For some reason, the straight honey/water/yeast mixture ferments less reliably for me than those mixed with wild plants and their natural yeasts. So I favor the latter.  Raspberry mead is my favorite.  The results have been dry with a gorgeous color, a fruit forward scent and a lingering nutty aftertaste. I have also flavored mead with elderflowers which impart a delicate flavor.  Maybe I will try a cranberry mead this fall.