Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Drama Queenbees

Oh there has been quite the drama with the queens this year let me tell you.
But first let me catch you up on the prep. Most of these photos were taken mid April. Thus the very sparse growth in the background. I will have to post an image from a month and a half ago along side one from today. You wouldn't recognize it! 
Anyway - as I was saying - catch up.

When keeping bees, it is always recommended to start with two hives. That way if something goes wrong with one of the hives you might - might! - be able to help it from the strong hive. I decided this year I should follow this advice. Two hives. 
Apparently the boxes and beehives from previous years have been abandoned to me. I haven't heard from the person who left them in more than a year so now, I've claimed them. They are mine. I also decided to collect the abandoned equipment from a friend. This is a huge savings for me because purchasing the bees, while isn't cheap, isn't that expensive either. The equipment is $$$. 

I have plenty of room for the both of them.
 But I am tired of the ugly green and the stupid geckos.
Time to change that. All the boxes were stacked in the garden on a sunny day with no threat of rain.

Paint was chosen from the basement: left over paint from my bedroom. A cheerful yellow.
Much better!
You'll notice in the above image that there are different sized boxes. The larger ones are called deeps. I'm using two deeps for my brood chambers. The brood chambers are where the queen runs around laying eggs. The mediums (the narrower ones) are the ones to put on top for honey.  

Then there are a few extras, spacers and bases and stuff. Well, those had to be painted chartreuse of course.
 Finished! And don't' they look lovely? I thought about putting a little extra decoration around them, but by the time I had my bees it was too late. Maybe next year. Ya gotta be careful. Bees don't like paint fumes.

This year I decided to take the beekeeping class from Worcester Honey Farms and it has been excellent! I've learned so much about them and they are so interesting. It is quite a system they have worked out to survive. There is one queen. She is the mother to all the bees in the hive. At peak season that can be up to 100,000 bees.  Mostly she makes daughters. These are the worker bees. They live for six weeks and have different jobs at different stages from the moment they hatch. The drones are the boys. There are not as many of them, and they do absolutely nothing except mate with other queens. At a certain point the workers kill them all to be done with them. The queen makes new ones in the spring.
For one of our classes we had to practice picking bees up with our bare fingers. 
I was not thrilled because that lesson came when i was feeling particularly awful from allergies/upper respiratory infection mentioned in the previous post. But I'm rather proud of myself because I did master the art of picking up bees. First we picked up drones. They don't have stingers so you can pick them up by the thorax. They sure buzz a lot but you can keep a pretty good grip on them. We practiced marking them as if they were queens with paint pens. I have found the value in having a marked queen. She is much easier to spot. Even though she is significantly bigger than the workers, she is still hard to find on a frame covered with stripey bees. After marking the drones we had to pick up workers bees. This was the part I was really not interested in. When I get stung I swell up badly. Last summer I had to be on a steroid to get the swelling down. It was not fun. And I needed to be able to use my right hand on Monday! But I have to say, bee people are the nicest people you could ever meet. I was late to class (on account of feeling awful) and everyone had already mastered grabbing little workers by their wings and picking them up. I had to do it with a full audience. But everyone was kind and helpful and encouraging. They helped me find the ones with their wings in just the right position to be picked up. It sure made the job easier. I managed to pick up three bees without getting stung. I wasn't able to shove them into queen cages though. But at this point I'm still proud of my accomplishment. It came in handy later too.

So the drama of the queens this year! Good grief!
My teacher also sells the bee packages way out in in Blue Bell, PA. It is a 45 minute trip with no traffic. Which on the Schuylkill Expressway is a fluke. There is always traffic. I made it home with both packages. The queen was still alive in the first one so I installed it - no problem. The second hive the queen was dead. Called my teacher and made arrangement to drive back out on Sunday to pick up new Queen. Queens are bread separately from the Package of 9000 bees you purchase. They are housed in queen cages with a few attendants until the package gets used to her pheromones and accepts her.
Tuesday came and it was time to let the queen from the first package out of her cage.
She was dead.
I checked the other hive and the new queen was thankfully still alive.
Wednesday I had to head back out to my teacher to pick up another queen. You can't have a hive without a queen. She is the only one who is fertile. When I arrived he said, "you know, you should check to see if there isn't a rogue queen in the package. If there is, they'll never accept this one and they'll just kill her." Well. Okay then. I couldn't install her until Thursday morning and while I looked very carefully at the package and thought I saw someone extra large, I couldn't be sure.
I took the opportunity of being suited up to release the other queen but she had already escaped her queen cage and was contentedly wandering around on a frame. Yipee!
That Sunday was class and I thought I should look one more time to see if I could find a rogue queen. If I did, I could take the other queen back to my teacher. Again - a fleeting glimpse of one that might have been the queen but she was too quick. At class we picked up bees and had a very informative question answer session before we were rained out. I told my teacher what was going on and he said to let him know because he'd be checking on his hives at UPenn and could stop by and pick her up is she was indeed unneeded. By the time I got home the weather had cleared and so I looked one more time and this time I spied her! There was a rogue queen! I double and triple checked to be sure and then emailed my teacher. 
Tuesday morning when he was to stop by I retrieved the queen from the hive and there one one little worker bee who would not let go of the cage. She clung on through smoke, and shaking and brushing aside. Finally, I decided to put my newly acquired bee-picking-up skills to work. I deftly plucked her up by her wings and flung her back in the direction of the hive. Boy, if that doesn't give you a sense of empowerment I don't know what does.

And now... I can't find the rogue queen again. 
And I don't think she is there. No idea why. Did she leave? Did she die? Did I accidentally squish her? Evidence that she is no longer there: 
1. This is not a happy hive. They are extremely agitated when I open the hive. 
2. There are no eggs.
3. There were significantly less bees than the other hive.
4. There are four queen cells on the bottom of a frame.
The long peanut looking things are the queen cells. The other flat orange disks are capped brood. There is a pupating larvae in those (worker larvae).  The fact that the queen cells are on the bottom of the frame indicates that they might be wanting to swarm. Maybe the queen already left!? I just don't know. What absolutely cannot happen is that the workers start laying eggs. They aren't fertilized so they will just be drones. The drone larvae are bigger and will destroy the comb. (The queen lays the appropriate egg for the size of the cell. Smallest are worker bees, larger are drones, and the workers make the queen cells. They decide when they want a new queen.)
So here is a frame from that hive of a circle of capped brood. I am hoping that the empty circle in the middle is because they all hatched and they are still working on these other ladies hatching. But there are no eggs in there :(.
I've emailed my teacher and so we'll see what wisdom he shares with me. If there is one thing I've learned from this experience is that this profession takes a lot of experience to master. There are just so many variables and so many different things that can go wrong.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

April showers bring May allergies.... and a new patio

This year was the worst for allergies yet. April 28th, Friday evening, my allergies hit me with the force of all that is evil. Eyes itchy, sneezing non-stop, completely congested... oh brother. I was out of commission. Unfortunately I couldn't be out of commission. Saturday the 29th I had to pick up my bees. I ordered two bee packages this year and took the class. There was tons of drama with the queens, but that is a story for another post.
Long story short - that weekend I sought the advice of my local pharmacist who gave me excellent recommendations:  keep taking the Zyrtek, supplement with Sudafed for allergies, Flo-nase for the congestion and if that doesn't work, come back for the Zatidor eye drops before you rip your eye-balls out. By Monday I had to get the eye drops I was so miserable. By Thursday, it turned out, I was allergic to the eye drops. You've never seen anything like it. My eyes were completely blood shot, tearing, and itchy like crazy. Not to mention the gunk! There was so much gunk coming out of them they sealed shut over night. All of this stress strained the rest of my system and by the following Tuesday (when I could see a doctor) she decided that in addition to all of the allergy nonsense I had an upper respiratory infection. I took an entire week off from work because I was totally useless. And I'm still coughing, although things have gotten much much better. And to top if off, May has been a little bit miserable. We had a three day heat wave, temps in the 90s out of nowhere, and then promptly back to the 60s. I'm not complaining about the cool weather because soon enough it will be broiling, but it's still weird. And the cool weather allowed me to take care of another long overdue project, replacing the "deck".
Remember the deck? I layed down four wooden pallets, topped it with weather proof fencing and voilá! Instant deck. This worked just fine until last summer when the pallets started rotting through. It started to become more of an amusement park fun house ride than a safe and secure deck. So it was time to replace it with a patio.
Here is the deck in its last hurrah. It served it's purpose well. 

One of the collapsed pallets that proved the most wobbly. 
 The Senior Inspector was curious but didn't seem to exhibit any great feelings about the removal of one of his garden thrones.
 Once the furniture was moved, he did settle comfortably in his favorite chair.

Meanwhile, the Junior Inspector monitored everything from the ground. 
 Cleared space is approved.

Next came the incredibly laborious job of leveling the ground. Ooff! What a job.

 Once it is mostly flat sand needs to be added.
I added 200lbs of sand and smoothed it out. I was so tempted to run the rake through it to make a faux zen garden. But the thought that I would have to smooth it out again took that desire away right quick-like.
And as I stood there surveying my handiwork at the end of the day, I realized I could not be done this evening. What does that giant sand pit look like to you? Now, what do you think it looks like to a cat? A deluxe kitty litter box! Am I right? So the work continued to prevent any treasures appearing in it overnight.

I was removing bricks from the walkway next to the porch for this project.
The walkway is only ever totally clear in the winter time when I'm not really using it. And the rest of the year it one giant weeding nightmare project. Plus the flower beds between the walkway and the porch just aren't substantial enough to do anything wonderful with. I decided that if I lifted the bricks from there for the patio, I could then expand the flower/vegetable beds. 

After getting the first load back to the deck in the wheel barrow (checked out from the West Philly Tool Library - yay!) my earlier suspicions about the vast sand pit were tested.
The Senior Inspector was mighty interested!

But to my great relief and surprise, that sand pit looked like the best kitty-bath in the world!
The Senior Inspector had himself a grand time in the sand.
And I let him.
(Sorry about the video quality. I'm working with my vintage Canon from ought five.)

I managed to make quite a bit of progress before it really was time to call it quits.
I covered the leftover bit with an old shower curtain to thwart any other kitties who think more like me.
At the next opportunity I finished my patio!
The sand is key. It allows you to make the whole thing completely level and for a time, thwarts any weeds from sneaking into the cracks. 
The above brick was sticking up at least 1/4" higher than everything else. So you just pull it up, scoop out some sand until it lies flush with the rest of the bricks. Fabulous technique!

Once I had reinstalled the furniture, the Junior Inspector checked things out. 

 New deck approved!

The project made quite a mess of the garden, and I'm looking forward to having that cleaned up. 
My lovely new veggie garden at the side of the house has tomatoes, kale, and fennel along with various flowers.
But I don't think this project is quite finished. I have extra bricks and I think it would be wise to make a pathway from the patio connected to the rest of the bricks in front of the shed. This would be nice just for general barefoot travel and also for a good place to put the grill.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Politics, Cats, and Knitting

Yup. That just about sums it up for me.
Well, there were a few other things too like the weather - which has been bat-crap crazy, but mostly Politics, Cats, and Knitting.

So let's get the politics out of the way.
By the way, still not my fault.
I won't go on and on here because, why bother? This is not where the action needs to happen. The action needs to be out there. Since the first march in January, there have been so many things to do. Miss Mary is now my official protest buddy and we've been to two more since the first one. Most recently the Women's Strike march in Center City.

This one went on so long it was dark by the time we were done. Two hours we marched all over the place. Parts of the route had been blocked off for us, but other parts had not. 
We blocked traffic, marched between cars and made a lot of noise! The chant leaders had bull horns and kept up a good chant the entire time.  
In addition to the protests, I've been writing post cards like crazy. When I first went to pick up post card stamps at the mail post office in Philadelphia the clerk told me they were sold out. Sold out! I printed out oodles of the postcards from the Women's March First Action and a group of co-workers and I have been meeting every Monday to write postcards, commiserate, and plan more actions. 
I will say this; I don't understand what has happened. How did we find ourselves here? It is though we have slipped into an alternate universe and everything is sliding very quickly to the forces of evil. I only hope we can survive this madness. 

I have a new member of the family. Butch has officially moved in. This is not going very well. Jacques and Swee'Pea are not pleased. There is always someone howling, shrieking, growling, hissing, or else pretending nothing is wrong. Here we all are working on perfecting the latter. 

Same here....
But here, it's pretty much the howling, growling hissing tournament. 
Greenies might actually end up being the great peacekeepers of the world. Kitties like their Greenies so much they will come up to within a foot of each other just to be sure to get their little crunchy treats. But as soon as the bag is put away - its everyone back to their corners.

 Butch is a handsome fella.
He finally moved in during a very cold week in February. I had been feeding him inside the first floor kitchen after I came out to get Jacques and found Jacques and Butch both staring at a raccoon who was happily munching on Butch's food. The last thing Butch wanted to do after a nice warm supper inside  was to be kicked back out in the cold with the raccoons. He let me know it and I caved.

 How could you not with that pretty pink little schnoz?

It has been interesting watching him figure out what it means to be an indoor cat. Mostly he has had very few problems adjusting. He inspected the second floor thoroughly, found the bed, Jacques food, the litter boxes, and the toys. 

He loves them and is very playful. He's gained at least a pound since moving in and at first had absolutely no interest in going back outside. I think he was scared I was going to kick him out again. A month and a half later, he is starting to realize I will come back outside and call him. One of the things he hasn't quite mastered though, is how to accept a treat. Instead of taking the Greenie from my hand, he nuzzles it until I put it on the floor in front of him. Jacques and Swee'Pea watch him with looks of, "what's wrong with this guy - take it already!"

 Swee'Pea is having the most difficult time adjusting. I think because Jacques has had so much more time to get used to Butch outside but this is entirely new for Swee'Pea. I try to make sure he and I have alone time and I give him lots of pets and reassurances. But he is more skittish than usual. The other day I found him all bundled up under my sheets and comforter. I didn't have the heart to roust him so the bed stayed unmade that day.

 Mostly I've been knitting in my spare time. I made loads of the pink hats and gave most of them away. I still have a few more to knit for people I've promised them to. I'm partial to that eye-watering shade of pink on the right. I also made one for a favorite professor of mine, who has her own brand of style and so she needed something a little more, um, unconventional. 

I made this one with all my pink scrap yarn and I really like it! I think I'll have to make a few more like this. 

  When I went rootin' around my yarn looking for all of my pink extras, I realized what a mess my stash is. I'm so proud of myself for taking the time to make these origami boxes and organizing my yarn by color! It is much easier to find what I want now. And tangles are kept to a minimum. I think I will have to do this for a few other boxes of yarn, but at the moment, they are being well guarded. 

Last week I took a few days off for a Spring Break. I had a list a mile long, but of course I got caught up in a knitting project which has become kind of a mess.  This is a pattern I've made twice before and really like. I had this lovely ice blue yarn which I thought would be enough but I ran out. I had to improvise on the sleeves, which meant I had to wing-it on the pattern, which is never a good idea. sigh.
  I'm taking it to my Stitch & Bitch on Sunday to see what they think. It's possible that I will have to rip it back out to the armpits and do a different top construction. I hope they approve the choice of buttons though. I went with the big turquoise ones. Although if I rip it out it won't matter because the button holes will also be gone. For now it is hanging in a bag, waiting to travel. 

In the middle of February I taught an endband or headband sewing class which went really well. These are notoriously frustrating for a lot of book binders. So much so that you can buy simple, manufactured head band "ribbon" to glue on as faux headbands. But this is really only suitable for those who have not yet discovered the joy of tying one's own. I'm hoping to teach another workshop in the fall with more advanced headbands. But I gotta learn 'em first. ha! Good think I like doing that. 

An interesting building appeared a few months ago in Center City. I first noticed it when I was going back to work from the dentist. 
It is completely wrapped in this "mural" of dandelions. There is a small circle cut into a window with that when you look through it you look out onto a field of dandelions. It is really cool. Apparently this building was purchased by a group that wants to develop the parking structure next door. And so while they are making plans for that and have purchased this building as part of those plans, in the mean time the building can be used for public artwork. It is a really nice surprise as you walk through town. 

Which brings us to the bat-crap crazy weather we've been having. 
I am sitting on my deck listening to water dripping everywhere. It is a lovely mild 55°F and all of the snow that came down last Tuesday is melting with ferocious speed. Finally.  I'm not complaining though. We had a lovely snow day on Tuesday. The weather was strange though. It was very icy, and when I left the house on Wednesday morning my hedge had a dome of ice over everything. It was really beautiful.  
Thank goodness I had had the foresight to cut all of the daffodils that had mostly bloomed. Instead of finding smooshed flowers after the weather, I had lovely sunny friendly blooms on the kitchen table. 

There are still a few that will bloom once things warm up again, which I am looking forward to.

Why was the weather so crazy? Well, because the last two weeks of February were unusually warm. We had a few days in a row of 75°F! In February! That's unheard of. It was so warm I did some early garden clearing.
Jacques and Butch helped, but Butch was careful to stay on the observation side of the fence. 
I'm glad I held off on my seed starting because it is no fun to work in the snow. Next weekend, I'll go and get some mix and start all kinds of things. Zinnias, marigolds, echinaceas, basil, and whatever else I was saving from last year. The garlic has already come up, as has the mustard. The violets are starting to come as well. I'm going to have to do some serious pruning next weekend too so that roses and raspberries come in appropriately.  
I also applied for a small grant from a local nursery on behalf of my neighbors. The Els have a two small sidewalk plots which are perfect for planting flowers. Last year Mr. El finally let me plant some things in there at the end of July. It wasn't enough time for everything to grow but we've talked and I hope this year we can start earlier. The grant is for some good soil, a few extra plants, and some nice border fencing. We'll see if we get it.  If not, we are still going to put something in there.We'll keep you posted.