Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Beekeeping class

Sunday was a beautiful day for a drive up to Frog Belly Farm outside Longmont to take a class on beekeeping offered by Corwin, Karen and Amy of backyardhive.com.

They brought along a couple of their hives, which Corwin has refined over the years from the top-bar hives created by Peace Corps volunteers for use in Africa.
They are smaller, cheaper and easier to manage than the box-type hive you are used to (known as a Langstroth hive, or Lang).

A typical Lang consists of rectangular frames into which beekeepers insert pre-embossed wax foundation. The bees use the foundation as a template from which to build up the wax cells for holding honey.
This is a fairly efficient way for beekeepers to get more honey faster. When they harvest, they take out the frames, spin them in a centrifuge to get the honey out, then put the frames back in the hive for more honey.

But if your goal is to provide a good home for pollinators with a honey harvest as just a fringe benefit, the top-bar hive is touted as more bee-friendly. The bees draw out their own comb, using the top bars as a guide. Their natural honeycomb-cell size is smaller than most commercially produced foundation, and this also seems to promote the bees' health and resistance to pests. Which makes it easier to keep them organically.
Did you know that commercial bees are regularly dosed with antibiotics and other drugs? Yuck. It never even occurred to me that they might be.
I just happened to encounter the organic, no-treatments side of beekeeping right off the bat, happily; it meshes with how I garden. And the top-bar hive looks like it will be much easier for me to manage (love that observation window, especially). But it's all still considered somewhat subversive. (!)

This class went over a lot of stuff that I'd already learned through my research, but it was good to see and handle some of the products of beekeeping. For example, pollen:
Bees collect it from plants and carry it back to the hive packed into little baskets on their hind legs. (Why are bees furry? Their fur exerts a nice little static pull on that fluffy pollen, just like a stubborn piece of lint you can't seem to shake off.) They store the pollen in their comb and later mix it with a little honey to make bee bread. Nom nom.

Have you ever had Nerds candy? Pollen tastes a little like that. Kinda fruity and tangy.

There's also propolis, which is the sticky sap that trees exude around their new growth or to cover up broken spots. It has antimicrobial properties, and bees gather it to glue things together in the hive and to seal up holes.
This ball of propolis was formed by scraping off different parts of many beehives over the years. It's the propolis equivalent of the world's largest twine ball.

Bees also produce something called royal jelly, from a gland in their heads. It's fed to the worker larvae for three days, and to the queen larva for six. It's what makes her become a queen. See, it's the workers who decide whether they need a new queen or not. They will put an egg in a larger queen cell and fill the cell with royal jelly for the larva to eat. Here are a couple of queen cells:
As an experiment, Corwin carved his own queen cell and stuffed it in a hive. Sure enough, the bees filled it up with royal jelly! Pretty clever.
When I was in China, people would bring me vials of royal jelly when I got sick. I don't know it if it worked as a health booster, but it tasted good. The snake bile cough syrup was OK, too.

Finally, we got to sample some comb from that hive you see above. Sadly, the bees were doing really well, making it through the winter with plenty of stores left, but a recent huge windstorm blew off the top of the hive and they froze.
It was good honey, too.

We went over a few of the practical points of setting up and maintaining a hive and then suddenly the class was over. I emerged blinking into the balmy afternoon to find a bunch of baby goats gamboling about.
A cute end to an informative day. Bring on the bees!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

What is it? No. 31

Hey! It's been a while since I did one of these. Can you guess what it is? Click on the photo to see if you're right. As always, no spoilers in the comments, please!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Making it official

I wanted to hand out a card to my neighbors with bee trees. I've already talked to many of them, but a card is handy to put on the fridge or bulletin board.

VistaPrint happened to have a design on their "free" business cards that works well for my needs (shipping costs $10).

If I get many calls, I will pass along the bees or the jobs to others on the swarm list.

P.S. I printed out a handful of these "cards" at 3x5 and dropped them off at the neighborhood garden center. The gal there was super-interested and put one under the counter glass where you check out. Cool!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Friday gallery hopping


I was having a fairly leisurely morning, thinking, "Gee, this monster storm they were talking about sure isn't amounting to much." Then I tried to get to work early and it took me nearly two hours to get there. Total gridlock in the middle of the blizzard.

And then I'm sitting there in traffic, a block from the office, and the car in front of me is not moving, despite having many opportunities to do so. I get out, run up and see that the driver, an old guy, is slumped over the steering wheel. I yank open the door and shake him, "Sir! Sir! Are you OK?" He wakes up. "Huh, wha ...? I'm fine. I was just resting."

Well, he was either drunk or having some kind of medical crisis. I told him he needed to pull out of traffic at the next street. Which he did, then did a U-turn and got right back on the road. This while I was on the phone with 911.

I was able to jump out of my car again and go after him (traffic wasn't really moving), but he refused to pull over again. The police and paramedics couldn't do anything, they said. But they put his license plate on their "Be on the lookout" list, whatever that means. Sheesh.

Oh and my friend Jenny turned out to be driving right behind me when all this was happening. Small – and weird – world.

My commute home only took 15 minutes. There are some good drifts but I don't think we got more than 6 inches at my house.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Salvage operation

You may recall that at the end of January I brought home a big hollow branch that had once housed bees. I wanted the comb for a swarm lure and also because beeswax is handy for a lot of things.

My bees enjoyed exploring it, looking for anything of value they could carry home – honey, pollen, propolis. But I couldn't let the log stay intact. I wanted the comb, and I didn't want a new swarm deciding that would be a good place to live. So today the jigsaw came out.
The weather was just cool enough that only a few bees came by to see what I was up to.

Here's a little video of the log. (I also filmed the actual sawing. Wow, was that ever boring.)
There were a fair number of dead bees in there, including a very small group of what appeared to be the original cluster. But it was clear that the hive had been thoroughly scavenged. That made pulling the comb out a non-sticky task. I got a good amount.
Melting this stuff down will be another adventure, involving pantyhose, and pots from Goodwill.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Banh Mi from Little Saigon Deli, San Francisco

Last Monday the Sergeant and I wandered over to San Francisco to meet up with a friend for drinks, and we stopped at Little Saigon Deli for some banh mi. If you work in the financial district or are headed to a ballgame on a weekday, you can get a nice sandwich here for $4.

When the weather is warm, the order window on the street side is open; otherwise you enter Steuart Place and order inside.
There are seven sandwich varieties: pork, fancy pork, chicken, meatball, tofu, a couple combos and an egg ham and cheese croissant. I got the fancy pork, which was slices of paté – I'm not sure what made it "fancy."

You'll want some iced coffee, too, and maybe a green coconut waffle for dessert. The bay is right there, so wander on down toward the bridge, where you'll find a table and a view.
I wasn't particularly impressed by this sandwich, though it wasn't bad. The pickling for the carrots and daikon was a little sweeter than I'm used to and I didn't think the pork was all that exceptional. Still, for $4 in downtown SF, it's a great deal (anywhere else it would be $2.50; I'm guessing the rent there is pretty steep). I sure enjoyed that waffle, and the coffee is most excellent.

Little Saigon Deli
131 Steuart St, Suite 101
(between Howard St & Mission St)
San Francisco, CA 94105
(415) 284-7375

Monday, March 23, 2009

Floral parade

First, a couple of mysteries.

My neighbors have this lovely blooming shrub that I never noticed before. From a distance I thought they had hung decorations on it – the flowers all look so perfect and unusual.
What is it? If I had to guess, I'd say some kind of magnolia. It's about waist-high.

Then there's this orange shrub, which I've seen in many yards. I have no idea what it is. Do you?
We were supposed to get rain or snow today, but as far as I know, there was only a little drizzle this morning before I got up. Later this week, the highs will only be in the 30s. So they say. I don't believe them anymore.

The bees were going to town on this weeping cherry. I really notice bees everywhere now. You try it; go stand under a flowering tree (once your trees are flowering) for a few minutes. Whoa! There's a lot of bees there. It's delightful.
In another few days I'll have some delight indoors, too. I didn't get around to forcing dormancy on my amaryllis bulbs until Thanksgiving. Brought them out a couple of weeks ago and they all have bud stalks now.
I should repot this one, but it seems happy the way it is.

Milk and eggs and baked ziti

Here's an old familiar face.
Dozer hasn't changed much in looks from the last time I saw him. He's got little horn nubbins coming in, but he's still cute. But watch out! He is a total bully now. Ever wonder about that word's origin? Go hang out with a young bull and you'll know. He very much wanted to push me around, even though I was outside the pen. So I wasn't able to get any closer than this to the new girl being milked:
Her name is Minnie, and she's a Jersey like Daisy. It didn't look like Dozer was doing his duty by Daisy, who needs to produce a calf before she can produce milk, so Minnie joined the herd. Now, though, Daisy's looking a little ... round. So maybe? Anyway, there's milk.

And eggs. Those gangly chicks are now happy biddies. The hour was a little late, so no pics this time, sorry. But you can see their output.
That stuff on the left? That's about two gallons of milk, turned into ricotta.

And the stuff on the right? That's baked ziti, made with the ricotta and tomatoes from last year's garden.

I've made ricotta before, with goat's milk. I followed the same method here, but the stuff refused to curdle! I used buttermilk as the curdling agent, but I suspect I didn't use enough. In desperation, I juiced two lemons and threw the juice into the pot. That seemed to do the trick, though the whey still looked more white than watery. But hey, I got cheese, and it tastes just fine.

For the ziti, I followed this recipe, very roughly. I used a gallon bag of tomatoes, thawed. I had seeded and cored them before I froze them, so I just had to spend a couple minutes pulling off the loose skins before running them through the food processor.

I sauteed half an onion and garlic, minced, added the tomatoes, a bunch of dried basil, salt and pepper. Meanwhile, I had the pasta boiling until nearly al dente, and separately mixed up a couple cups of ricotta with two beaten eggs and a handful of shredded mozzarella and shredded parmesan.

Toss the pasta with a little sauce, layer it in a casserole, add dollops of cheese mixture, then sauce, and repeat once or twice, depending on the size of the casserole. Bake at 375 for about a half-hour. (The recipe said 350 and 20 minutes, but I like mine really baked.)

It's awesome.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Spring is a-cumin' in

Well, it's now officially spring! I'm not sure where winter went. Everyone's a little freaked out by the warmth and lack of snow. I guess you can blame me – it hasn't snowed appreciably since I bought that snowblower.

Not only are the daffodils in bloom, the smaller trees are already leafing out:
I am enjoying the nice days but have a little worry that a late, heavy snowfall could do a lot of damage to trees that are fully leafed out. The leaves catch the snow and the extreme weight breaks the branches.

And yes, the cheery forsythia is blooming (last year it was April 2nd):
And even more cheery, a cherry:
A cherry with a bee on top!

OK, maybe it's a crabapple. I don't know! Do you?

I need to go back and take more photos. The tree was being mobbed by bees, but the combo of back lighting and macro lens on a dark, fast-moving subject is a tricky one.

With more blooms every day, the bees are further out of danger of starving, though a late, prolonged cold spell could really mess them up. They spend the winter in slo-mo, eating through their stores, but once spring arrives, they ramp up brood production. Lots of hungry babies who will become hungry workers ready to go get nectar and pollen for next winter's honey.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Kitt's-eye view

When I lived in South Dakota, most every air journey started with a 12-seat puddle-jumper to Minneapolis. The plane would fly just above Highway 12, propellers droning, and I could pick out all the landmarks I knew from driving the same route.

These days, the scale is bigger! No silos and steeples visible, but I still get a thrill from spotting the familiar. If you click the top photo, you can see it larger, and pick out the ski areas. Keystone is the large one just to the left of center, Copper Mountain is on the right. Lake Dillon is between them. If you know your mountains, you can also spot Loveland, A-Basin and Breckenridge.
Google satellite images are helpful for verification.

That flight eventually took me a few miles lower, right to sea level. The view was pretty nice there, too.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Scooter kitty

Yeah, I took a little blogcation. Hadn't planned to, but that's the way it worked out. I hope you had a nice weekend without me!

Here's a cute kitty I met. Check out his tag. Reportedly the name came first, then the perch.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Fuel sources

I'm always eager to spot the first flowers of the season. The early snowdrops and crocuses, then the daffodils, the grape hyacinth, the tulips. This year, though, I'm even excited to see the first dandelions. The sooner the nectar starts flowing in force, from no matter what kind of bloom, the sooner the bees are out of danger of starving. And the closer we are to swarm season.

Guess I'd better get cracking on acquiring a veil and such.

My poodle is dorky, too

Schmutz on the cellphone camera lens gives this the soft focus of an '80s Glamour Shot.

Sophie is not thrilled to wear my old sweater, but when her teeth are chattering even indoors, drastic measures are necessary. She's like a little old lady who needs a coat even in the middle of summer.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The daffs are up

We did get a little snow yesterday and it's chillier. All because Sophie's hair came off. So today she's wearing a sweater and giving me the stink-eye.

But the daffodils don't mind a little chill.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Bee Club!

I told a cow-orker I was going to a Bee Club meeting and she said, "That sounds like Glee Club, only dorkier." Well, yes, but we've already established that I've embraced my dorkiness in so many ways. And Bee Club was fun!
The subject was "swarm catching," and I took the night off work so I could go. And I learned a lot. Two gals from BackyardHive.com brought their swarm-catching gear and offered some pointers. Above, they're holding up a branch and showing the different variables you have to consider.
Here's a list of the gear you likely will want to have handy for swarm-catching:
  • A box with removeable lid, which you can modify by adding screened windows (use aluminum tape; it holds up better if you're misting the bees through the window). You also want to put a teeny flap door on one end for stragglers to pass through.
  • Water for you and a spray bottle of water for the bees. Some people use honey water, or add chamomile.
  • Lemon grass oil (just a few drops work well as a lure).
  • A stepladder.
  • Clippers and loppers (for trimming branches that might be in the way, or for cutting the branch the bees are on)
  • Flashlight or headlamp (in case it gets dark while you're working)
  • Box straps. Handy for attaching the box to the ladder. You want to leave the box as close to the original swarm spot as possible to catch stragglers, and this may mean strapping it to the top of your ladder.
  • Wide masking tape for sealing the box for transport.
The flowerpot-like thing above is a swarm trap made of cellulose. I had seen them before priced at $40, but I just found them at Mann Lake for $13.50. So I think I will be ordering one or two. More later on why.

Then there was the most interesting piece of equipment – something I'd never seen before: a bee comb. It was invented by Corwin Bell of Backyard Hive as a gentler way of moving a clump of bees around, rather than thumping, bumping or brushing, all of which agitate them unnecessarily.

Reportedly he started by taping two afro-picks together, then hit on using barbecue skewers. You can make your own with a duct tape handle, or get all fancy as Corwin did with this carved handle. You can see below how the skewers are set into drilled holes and glued. You want the skewers spread out just a little, since you're picking up the bees, not skewering them.
I've seen people use dustpans or pieces of cardboard to pick up a clump of bees, and someone at the meeting said she'd even used a frisbee as a bee scoop. But this comb sure looks a lot more elegant.

There was also a guy there who brought along some honeycomb and broodcomb from a cutout he'd done the day before. You could see all the different stages of bee development in it.
Cutouts are the removal of bees from inside the walls of a building. If you do get honeybees in your house, you need to cut open the walls and remove the bees and clean out all the comb. If you just poison the bees, you will still have all that honey in there, which will eventually seep through your walls and also attract all kinds of horrible pests, and possibly another bee colony. So you might as well get someone who is bee-friendly to do it.

Our host had a top-bar hive in his backyard, with a crazy roof on it. He was aiming for whimsy, but now he's rethinking it because it's too attractive to wasps, with that big empty space inside.
It was just after sunset and cooling down, so the bees were quiet, with just a couple coming out on the front stoop to look at us. Once the weather warms up more and there are things blooming, the entrance reducer will come off and the bees will have the whole open bottom strip for a door. Reducing the entrance helps prevent robbing, as the bees have less area to defend.

There, now you've learned a little, too! I'm on the swarm list now, so one of these days, maybe you'll get to see all these theories put into practice.