Friday, June 22, 2012

I am a terrible, lazy blogger. I mean, it's been a whole year since I've had anything to say. It's not like I haven't been busy like a cracked-out border collie, but I haven't done much in the yard other than try to keep my bees alive and the lawn mowed.

Today I have more to say than can be contained by a simple status update on Facebook, and I also want to illustrate with pictures. So I came back here.

This is from a few weeks ago. The crazy-lookin' yellow hive is empty with swarm lure inside. I don't know, something about my "apiary" looks like it's the trailer park version of bee yards. Ha!

This afternoon, I did another hive inspection of my three colonies. I wish every inspection could go like today. It's hot as blazes outside, but the bees were happy, calm, and didn't give a damn that I was in their homes. There were no signs of disease or infestation. I barely had to smoke them, I managed to remain graceful and not do anything stupid, and I didn't get stung. Pretty much perfect.

Bees! Doing what bees do!

The reason I went out in the first place was that I was concerned that my White hive was queenless. Two of my hives are in ten frame boxes, but the White hive is an eight frame box. Since it's a smaller hive, it should build up faster than my others. But it wasn't and that concerned me. I'm trying to learn how to gauge how a hive is doing just by watching the activity at the entrance, and I noticed two weeks ago that it didn't seem all the busy anymore. I couldn't tell if it was a slow dwindling or it happened all at once - I have been distracted with finished school and haven't been watching the hives like I should. But the Blue hive, which is the split I made from my old Green hive, is doing great. It's bustling like mad.

So I inspect it then. I find that the Blue hive is doing awesome. There are eggs and larva everywhere, and they are ready for another super (they already have one deep box and one medium super). I get into the White hive, dreading something terrible. I'm immediately confused because there really aren't nearly as many bees as there should have been. It's not bad, just lower than expected. Then I see that there are no eggs or larva at all. There is some capped off brood, but basically the queen hasn't been laying for at least two weeks before this. Goddamn. After my queenless experience earlier this season, I'm not real happy to discover this. BUT! I don't panic. I take a frame of eggs from the Blue hive and pop them into the White hive. So the bees can make their own queen.

A week later, I go check on the hive. I'm further confused because the bees are trucking along just fine, taking care of the frame of baby bees, but there is no sign of a queen cell. And they aren't acting queenless. They are cheerful and calm. Feeling like an idiot, I call an experienced bee friend to say "What the hell?"

He said that based on everything I've seen, the colony had swarmed. I expressed disbelief that a new package of bees would swarm so early, and he said that he's seen it often. That there probably is a new virgin queen and to just keep an eye on them. I'm super annoyed that they've swarmed, which has reduced the strength of the colony and dammit - I didn't get to see it!

Today, I go to look. Lo and behold, there are eggs everywhere. There definitely is a new queen and she's gotten to work. The frame of eggs I gave them wasn't a waste because it helped boost their numbers in the meantime and they were busily drawing comb way faster than they had been before.

Built up foundation - full of eggs! Look at all those happy girls!
Gorgeous new comb in the White hive. This is their own handywork in an empty frame.
I check the Blue and Green hives while I'm out there. Green hive is fine, like normal. They haven't given me much trouble since they got a new queen this spring. But the bees in the Blue hive are building comb in the most bizarre way. I have given them frames without foundation, but instead of drawing down from the top and center, they are starting at any old spot - sides, bottom, corners. It doesn't matter to me, I'm not trying to sell perfect comb. I just think it's interesting how different colonies will react differently to empty frames.

Weird comb in the Blue hive. I mean, what?

More strange comb. I mean, rock on. Don't let The Man get you down. You make comb how you feel like!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Funky harvest

My garden is a land overflowing with abundance and mutations. Seriously, I apparently can't grow anything normally. I planted over a dozen zucchini, which ANYONE can grow, and while they flower exuberantly, no squash appear. I mean, shit, everyone else in the world accidentally grows so much zucchini they have to force them on others at gunpoint. Then I plant carrots and cucumbers, which all decide to grow perfectly round. Instead of long, slender, beautiful vegetables, I get this:

I mean, what? I can maybe understand the carrots, since they might decide the ground is just too wearying to try to push through, but the cucumbers? They are all like fat weird balls.
Also, my marigolds are MONSTERS. I grew them from seed. For a long time, they didn't look like they would live. They drooped, and looked depressed, and lost leaves. Then, after two months of being emo, they shot up five feet into the air and exploded into flower. I've never seen marigolds so tall. 

 My corn looks beautiful... from the outside. I peeled back the husk on a few ears of corn, and found that each one seemed to be the home of a new and interesting bug. None of them would be edible. They certainly didn't look appetizing. I am disappoint.

 Speaking of bugs, the yellow jackets are doing fine. Bastards. I tried to take a picture of them as they flew in and out of their burrow, but they were not cooperating. They were flipping me the bird as they buzzed past. So, instead, here is a dumb picture of their evil festering nest.

Also, here is a caterpillar. She's huge. I was picking tomatoes, and I was startled to find this big darling hanging underneath one of the tomato plant branches. I poked her a little, and she pulled her face out of the branch and drooled juice everywhere. I would be annoyed, but as you have read before, I have approximately 28,000 tomato plants. I can afford to lose a few. I already have gathered several big baskets of tomatoes by now and there are still dozens green still on the vine.

I found a nifty catepillar ID guide online so I could figure out what she is, and found that she's a Great Ash Sphinx. I like her shiny green face.

Despite everything else being weird and funky, my green beans are still producing like mad, and if I'm REAL FAST I can scoop out some potatoes a few at a time, and I'll eat the carrots and cucumber despite their questionable heritage, so I can get a whole big bucket full of happy fresh foods! I look at this and feel pretty damned satisfied with myself. And I think, someday I will grow normal-looking things! And maybe even the mighty zucchini!

In other news, my bees are not making me any damned honey yet. I mean, they are finally making some honey, but I'm worried they won't have enough even for themselves once winter hits. I really don't want to have to feed them syrup to get them through to the spring, but it looks like I might have to. I also noticed two weeks ago that Small Hive Beetles have finally found the hive. At first, I freaked out. I thought they would kill the colony. I made a bunch of stupid and worthless traps that managed to catch, like, one ant. But the last time I got into the hive, I saw that it wasn't that bad. There were only a few beetles, and when I opened the cover, the bees were actively murdering the couple of beetles that were suddenly exposed. Rock on, you hardcore babes. Here is a picture of them looking busy without actually doing much work:

Newsflash: Yellowjackets are little bastards

I haven't posted in a long time for two reasons. 1) I've been very busy and haven't had much time other than mowing and random weeding. 2) I forgot my password to this blog and it took forever for me to remember it.

I still had adventures, though.

About a week ago, I decided I REALLY wanted to have potatoes for dinner. I didn't have any in the pantry, and I didn't want to go to the store, but never fear! Because I have a beautiful lush garden full of opportunistic weeds and also potato plants.

Last spring, I had read about all the different and strange ways people grow potatoes, and I picked what sounded like the easiest method, which is under straw. For those who are not seasoned gardeners ('cause I sure ain't), it's the simplest thing in the world. You simply mow the future potato patch as closely as you can. Then you put down the seed potatoes right on the ground. Then you just cover them up with a thick layer of straw. The potatoes grow throughout the straw, and there's very little weeding, and the soil under the straw breaks down and makes it ready for it for planting with something else next year.

I had noticed that my potato plants had yellowed and began to fall over, so they were ready for harvest. Rock on. That means it's potatoes for dinner! Get yo forks and butter!

So I go out there and start digging around in the straw. I pull out a few spuds, but they are small, so I want more. After another few minutes, I notice one of my hands kinda hurts. As I'm thinking that, I realize, no, it REALLY HURTS. Like burning acid and horror.

I yank my hand out of the straw, and a damned yellow jacket is stinging the crap out of my finger. I go to smash it off, and then my world turns to pure hell as an entire swarm of the little beasts come flying out of the straw right at my face.

I had dug directly into their nest. Like a boss.

I go AAAAAAHHHHHH! and throw myself backwards. They are all over me - my shorts, my shirt, my legs - stinging like mad. I keep screaming and start swiping them off of me as I dash for the fence. I notice they are stinging right through my clothes, so in my panic I just start ripping my clothes off in the yard as I'm still running for the house. On the other side of the fence, all four dogs are barking HOORAY! at me, because obviously this is some new and incredibly awesome game I've thought up.

I finally rid myself of the yellow jackets and most of my clothes, and make it into the house in only my boxers and shoes. I want to vomit. I start shaking. I realize I'm crying like a baby. I see that my shoulders and my knees are covered in red swelling welts, and my hand is on fire. I think I'll probably die of some ridiculous sudden new allergy to stinging insects.

And I think, fuck... all I wanted was some damned butter potatoes for dinner and now instead all I get is pain. Blah.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Gardening = Terror?

Saturday, I took a break from studying and spent some time in the garden. I mucked out the pond (and found teenie tiny baby goldfish!!!) and planted some flower seeds. At one point I was digging around the base of a tree with a hand trowel, wanting to make a space for some shade flowers. I'm stabbing away at the dirt and, suddenly, this THING popped out of the ground like it was on a damned spring and almost splatted into my chest. Thankfully I have ninja-like reflexes developed from a lifetime of being highly anxious and tweaky, so I was able to throw myself back while shouting like an idiot.

This horrible ball of slime is what sprang out at me:

It was the exact size of a chicken egg, covered in 1/2 inch thick layer of slime, and smelled terrible. I thought I had dug up an alien baby. I was not happy that my serene garden contained such horrors. I knew Dani wouldn't believe me if I simply described it to her, so I scooped it up on my trowel and carried it into the house. She was taking a nap, but this was too important for sleep! Her reaction was: what the crap is that? Is it alive? How about you put that outside? 

I plopped it onto the front porch and, in the interest of science, I cut it open. That little bastard was as hard as a rock. It also released a hideous stench once it was sliced into. It took being putrid very seriously.

I have no idea what the crap this thing is, which means I need to hit the internet. I'm guessing if it truly is not an alien baby that is about to sprout tentacles at me, then it is probably a fungus of some kind. I get on Google images and type in the most unfortunate series of words, bringing up pictures I should have never seen, wish I could erase from my brain, and will probably alter my psyche forever. Things like mucus, eggs, slime, gross, fungus, etc. It was a bad idea.

Finally, I discover that my unholy friend is a stinkhorn "egg" or fruiting body. How interesting is that? It's deliberately nasty to attract flies, and the adult stinkhorn looks disturbingly like a phallus with some kind of terrifying STD. 

Of course I had to show the girls. They were delighted and yelled, "GROOOOOSS!" and poked it with sticks. Then I put it in a bowl on the porch and forgot about it until today. I went to dump it out and saw that it has grown. AHHH! It's still alive! It's trying to reach for me! And it's slimier! I don't like nature anymore!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Bike for coolness

Dani and I have very recently bought bikes. My last bike was trashed (by me, on purpose) a year ago. I had bought it at a large chain department store for super cheap. So what I got was a super cheap bike. As in, it was TERRIBLE. It was heavier than a car, the gearshift locked up, the brakes squealed despite everything I did - and what finally made me go crazy and bust it up and throw it away was that every time I rode it and had to shift gears - the stupid chain would spin right off. So I'd be pounding up a steep hill, attempt to shift, and suddenly I'm pedaling against zero resistance and I have a dramatic fall to the ground. FURY I tell you.

I wanted to like bikes. I wanted to ride my bike to work every day and be a good-for-the-earth citizen. But hell no.

But Dani *really* wanted a bike, and the idea seemed more attractive as time went on, so she bought one for me because she's awesome like that. Now I have a nice bike. A *very* nice bike. As in, it's bloody expensive and it's rugged and manly and wants to crush you under its thick, mountain-bike tire treads. I love to ride it. It's like the wind. And the frame is delightfully feather-light. I look for excuses to zip around the block on it.

What's funny is that, all of sudden, I have unintentionally joined the Cool Bike Kid Club. A dread-locked about-to-be-a-Cambodian-missionary dude went into spasms at the sight of my bike. That I could understand. But today I rode to the local farmer's market (I'm such a goddamned hipster now), and this old man with an impressively huge bristly beard and large dirty overalls ran up to it to gush over it like it was a prize race horse. He takes his cigar out and drawls, "Now thiiiiiiiiis is an expensive bike!" And then he touched it in a way that made me uncomfortable.

I feel like I'd better educate myself on bike etiquette and bike secret handshakes and bike winks and nods and accessories. I don't want the Bike Club police to realize I'm an outsider and take me down in some vicious bike gang back-alley murder. Bike riding is intense, yo.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Beekeeper's daughter

Ivy has expressed a lot of interest in the beehive; to the point of occasionally getting in trouble for inviting neighborhood kids over to check it out and getting a wee bit too close. So today I suited her up for the first time and took her with me when I went to check the hive. I wanted to teach her how to act around the bees - how to be responsible, slow, and quiet.

Normally a not particularly cautious person, she surprised me by showing some reservation about this situation. So I duct taped her pant legs' closed, let her wear the enormous hive gloves, as well as the big hat and net. This made her feel more confident - though she was constantly paranoid that a bee had somehow made its way under the hat and she refused to believe me that it was one of her braids moving around.

The bees seem to be doing alright. I'm not sure, though, since I don't exactly have any experience yet. There do appear to be less of them. Bees live only about 3 weeks during the summer months, and since there hasn't been much time for the next generation to be born, and it's been a good three weeks since I've had them, there looks to be a sharp dip in the population. I'm crossing my fingers that nothing terrible is happening. They haven't made much progress since I checked them last weekend.

I couldn't find the queen, but again, I suck at that and haven't seen her since I put them in the hive. So that doesn't mean anything. I looked closely and didn't see any evidence of disease or mites, which is awesome. They are also still very chill about me pulling out the frames. They just don't seem to give a damn. I use a smoker, but only lightly. They are all, "Whatever!" and completely ignore me.

My garden is doing... not too shabby. I haven't been able to give it much attention because of school, so I can't complain too much, but I do wish I could have it looking/producing better. I have to keep reminding myself that 1) I am not supporting my family with its bounty, so it's ok if it fails, 2) it is only for my own amusement, and 3) I am not trying to get in Better Homes and Gardens or some shit like that. 

But I'm sad because my spinach bolted. It's been so damned hot that they barely made it six inches tall before farting out on me. I love spinach so I'm bummed. I did read that in my area it's easier to grow spinach in the Fall because spinach also prefers short days. I'll try again then.

My potatoes are getting tall. I forgot what potato flowers looked like and I think they are puuurty. Here, I took a crappy photo for you. I think that I had a smear on the lens.

 My regular peas did not grow at all, which is bizarre, but my snow peas have gone crazy. All of a sudden, there are snow peas all over the damned place. I picked several handfuls, ate a good dozen of them as I went, and then made dinner with them. I am very excited that this is the first time that my dinner was dictated by what was growing in my lil' garden. It feels really good, you guys.

Very first garden meal! Stir fry with snow peas, spinach, carrots, and "chik" patties. This is one professional food photo - it deserves to be featured in a snotty food blog. Or something.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Filtration - The Totally Sweet Method

After seeing how much it would cost to buy a properly sized filtration system for my little 1,000 gallon pond, I decided to build my own. I love projects. This one seemed perfect: I get to research something extensively, I get an excuse to buy more tools, I get to be creative, and I get to muck around outside. Honestly, I probably could have spend the extra money to buy one premade, but I love how mine turned out.

Instead of focusing on mechanical filtration, I went for biological. The basis of this method is having water flow slowly through a reservoir containing something that houses beneficial bacteria. This bacteria then nabs the ammonia produced by my fishes and fixes it. Then plants can take it and use it for their own planty uses.

First, I bought a big plastic planter and drilled out a few holes for inlet and outlet. The PVC piping is where the water flows in and down to the bottom. When it comes out of the elbow joints, the water swirls around and then up through all the filtration media. The media could have been just about anything, but I choose cut up sponges (can house a shit-ton of bacteria) and lava rock (also good surface area and also looks awesome).

The biggest problem is that I only vaguely knew what I was doing. So there was a lot of false starts and many frustrating return trips to the hardware store. My daughters and their various neighborhood friends all found this pretty damned amusing. So I'm sweating and cursing in the hot, hot sun, trying to figure out how to make everything work, while they sat in a row and watched, making comments such as:

"Why aren't you wearing a shirt?"
"My dad is more bald than you."
"Was that supposed to happen?"
"OoooooOOOOoo! That was a BAD word!"

I finally finish with the pot and its innards, and go to hook it up to my pump. Well, great - somehow I break the damned pump while I'm cleaning it out.

This is what I find when I clean out the pre-filter on my old pump. This is some damned fine American homegrown marinated fish crap. You want some. You know you do. Don't hold back now.

I then realize the pump should have have heart failure months ago as it was designed for a tiny statuary pool, not a decent sized garden pond. I go back to the hardware store and buy a big-ass pump. I'm excited about this pump. It will sure as hell pump some damned water around.

Problem is, that when I hook up the pump, it is so bad-ass and forceful that water simply sprays through the system instead of percolating through. It's like a damned fire hose. So BACK to the store to get a more reasonable-sized pump.

Full of media:

Full of lava rock, too:

Plants added to the top of the filter:

And does it work? BY GOD IT DOES. And I also bought a bunch of bog plants to put in the top, so the roots can be part of the filtration system. So what I have now is a large pot that overflows into the pond, with some pipe that goes to the smaller pot and adds to the mini-waterfall, and tons of lava rock for bacteria to flourish on. All I have left to do is hide all the the pipes, but I don't want to do that until I'm sure nothing goes haywire in the next few days.