It could be that I have a truly hor­rid mem­ory. But it’s also quite pos­si­ble that nature is just mess­ing with me.

See, it seems every spring some­thing out there in my gar­den takes on a life of its own and just grows. In par­tic­u­lar, nature really likes mess­ing with my con­tainer plant­i­ngs. I have a habit of just let­ting them go to ruin in the fall because the archi­tec­ture of the foliage acts as nature’s art­work when there isn’t much else to look at except the leaves I haven’t yet raked.

A few years ago nature sur­prised me with some self-seeded pan­sies and a sun­flower in one of those con­tain­ers. Lookee here!  I did not do that. I don’t even think I’m capa­ble of think­ing like that.

Here’s nature’s lit­tle sur­prise for me this year.

Okay, nature didn’t stick those pussy­wil­low branches into the decay of last summer’s con­tainer plant­i­ngs. But I’m pretty sure she put the hyacinths there. I think I would have remem­bered dig­ging down into rock hard soil under dead plants to plant bulbs.

Kathy Jentz at Wash­ing­ton Gar­dener mag­a­zine calls this squirrel-scaping. It’s just as good a name as any for nature’s lit­tle jokes. Now that I think about it, I could use more of this type of humor in my life.

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Feb 26

Homemade Hooch

I was at a fam­ily funeral last week. Yes, a sad day. As my hus­band and I were get­ting into our car to join the pro­ces­sion to the ceme­tery, I grabbed a cou­ple of bot­tles from the back seat and tucked them into the wait­ing arms of my lit­tle brother—the same lit­tle brother who is the some­times giver and receiver of our birth­day and Christ­mas gag gifts. I can’t decide if my favorite gift to him was the taxi­dermy frogs in a com­pro­mis­ing posi­tion or the straight jacket. My favorite from him was the dead horse head in the bed.

Any­way, I digress…

More than a cou­ple of peo­ple saw this illicit-looking exchange, but only one man asked me what was in the bot­tles. Well, what could I say?

It was my home­made Hooch! Noth­ing to be ashamed of. We were in North Car­olina, after all.

My brother is the one who set me on my wine mak­ing path. Until now I have mostly stayed with the kits avail­able from places such as North­ern Brewer, also the place where I get my wine mak­ing equip­ment. But in Jan­u­ary of last year I started a batch of apfel­wein. (The recipe and instruc­tions are here.)

It wasn’t dif­fi­cult at all and only required apple juice, dex­trose (corn sugar) and yeast. I mixed it all up and put it into a car­boy with an air lock. I stored it in the base­ment and waited patiently (pro­cras­ti­nated) for a year to bot­tle. And before bot­tling I added another two cups of corn sugar so that now it is a won­der­ful, apple-y, wine-y tast­ing brew. Sur­pris­ingly good!

I’m not sure what’s next. I am embold­ened by this apfel­wein. That is, I’m embold­ened by the suc­cess of this apfel­wein, although it would also embolden me if I were drink­ing it right now. It does pack a lit­tle punch. I didn’t mea­sure the alco­hol con­tent (a process that involves a hydrom­e­ter, two mea­sure­ments of the spe­cific grav­ity and a math­e­mat­i­cal cal­cu­la­tion).  But it def­i­nitely earns the name Hooch.

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Garden and food writer Robin Ripley is co-author of Grocery Gardening. Her new book, Wisdom for Home Preservers, is now available from Taunton Press. Bumblebee is about her life in rural Maryland, her garden, cooking, dogs and pet chickens. She also blogs about food and chickens at Eggs & Chickens. Follow her on Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook. Thank you for visiting.


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