Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Bees Knees

My co-worker has been better about bringing a camera to the job than I have been.

Here's one where I look a bit too happy to be putting bee candy in a hive, and working without a veil:

I wondered if I was just enjoying the view in this one, then I remembered being asked to turn around to show the bees that were all over the back of my coat, a good reason to keep the veil on:

Here I am on top of the last truckload of bees heading south-there are 320 large beehives below me, this time the bees have the veil:

Happy holidays !

Monday, December 1, 2014


I have a few horse experiences to share from my past week.

The day before Thanksgiving I was still busy at the bee farm wrapping up hives for shipment down south.  The owner was back, and with a team of three we were knocking down the yards.

The owner took over my job of cracking and assessing the hives.  I darted about with the cordless drill closing up the entrance reducers.  My co-worker stayed in his slot of strapping the hives down to pallets.  I also ran interference, hauling boxes of bee candy and helping position straps.

We got to one yard, an Amish farm complete with windmill.  Far off in the distance I could see a group of horses, and as I stepped out of the truck, I said to my co-worker, "oh, I hope the horses come to see me!"

So we went about our business, tending the hives, and J said, hey, Tree, here come the horses!

I kept about my work, and he repeated, "here come the horses!"

So I stopped and looked up.  The hives were backed against a single line, and a group of 8 or so workhorses were coming to investigate.  And I mean workhorses.  They were VERY large.  At least 18 hands, most of them dark bays with white markings-Cleveland Bays? I haven't looked them up, but that came to mind when I saw them.

Three of the herd were more bold, one especially dark one came forward first.  I turned to face them, and unzipped my bee hood to reveal my head.

They were taken aback, literally,  the look on their faces was one of surprise, and they all stepped back. I extended my hand over the fence, but had no takers.

So I went back to my work, but still distracted.  Boss kept working.  I tired to lighten the mood, asking him if his Dad had had workhorses, but Boss was raised around tractors.  Hmmm.

I looked at the herd again.  They were hard to ignore, so huge and close, watching us.  Finally a huge graying chestnut muscled his way through the group, shouldering the others out of his way, and made his way to the fenceline.  I reached my hand out.  I talked softly.  he allowed me to stroke his muzzle.  I wondered what was going on with the heirarchy, the first arrivals appearing to be the leaders, but too shy to approach me, and then the old geezer finally shoving them out of the way to show his courage.

Maybe they just smelled the sugar in the bee candy.

There was a tiny chestnut mare in the herd, a little shetland or welsh pony that had her mane roached and it was growing out at all crazy angles.  She didn't approach the fence, but she clearly had a secure place among the giant geldings.


Sunday we worked at the goat farm.  There is a young Great Pyranees there that is such a handful at one point I nickneamed him "monster".  One of the many bad things he likes to do is torment the Norwegian Fjord filly. Not satisified with that bad behavior, he has moved on to the older Fjord mare.

Sunday we still had quite a bit of snow from our Thanksgiving noreaster. The mare was hanging about the barn area, Monster being loose.  All of a sudden I heard Boss shout, and exclaim, and saw the dog hot on the heels of the mare who was trotting out into the snow laden pasture.

I jogged toward the pasture, "Maaia, HO!" I shouted, while Boss, Mr Boss, and Firebird were all yelling at the dog.  The mare stopped in the field, the dog lunging and barking.  I went out to her, Maia, steady, easy girl, while the dog kept at her, all others yelling at the dog to quit.  The Firebird wisely kept his distance, and I called to him to get a halter.  I muttered, "I am getting her out of this equation."

He came with the wrong halter , but also a lead rope.  Of course the mare chose that moment to trot off, and the whole scene repeated.  I approached her, steady Maia.  I did my quicky lead over the neck and around the nose makeshift halter trick, accidently smacking her in the face with the clip as it sailed over behind her ears...sorry Maia, I said softly.

I slowly led her back to the barn, Monster trotting along at her heels, and put her in the paddock, feeling bad that she was getting punished.,  Monster was still avoiding capture.

I walked over to the pasture gate, he trotting ahead of me, to avoid capture, and I started to shut him out in the pasture.  Boss said, What are you doing?"  Well, I had a plan.  Given the choice of me clipping the lead on his collar or being shut in exile out in the pasture, he conceded and came to me.

He then was tied to his lead in the barn aisle, and the filly and mare let back out.  They eventually worked their way to the farrrrr end of the pasture by the time I had to bring them in.

I love horses, but bringing the horses in I find somewhat of a chore, because they, especially the older mare, choose to get as far away from the barn as possible because it takes longer to fetch her and more grass she can stuff in while you are making the trek. And I have heard the filly won't allow herself to be caught by some.

So I headed out, trudging along the fenceline through the deep slush, two halters slung over my shoulder.  The filly saw me coming and started trotting towards me.  Yes, she literally trotted across that length of hill and field and came right up to me.  Pretty little Estrella.

Once I put her up I still had to trek across the whole field to get Maia.  But she had a rough morning, so I didn't mind too much.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Almost Thanksgiving

The weather has been rather cold for bees, but at least we don't have 8 feet of snow on the ground, my sympathies and prayers to Buffalo, New York area!

My co-worker and I, the "outside kitties", have been busy readying the ten frame hives for shipment down south for the winter.

We have been averaging about 5o hives a day.  There are four hives to a pallet, and usually about four pallets to a "bee yard".

The town is a rural Maine farming community, must be good dirt up there, lots of farms, lots of owner builder camps.  Being an architect nut, I have been immensely enjoying driving from bee yard to bee yard on the  back roads.

The weather has been surprisingly compliant compared to the rest of the country; most of the bee yard locations are sheltered, and the early winter sun has made the job not as miserable as it could be.  There is still snow in the shady parts of the fields, but basically just crumbs.

We have a nice pace worked out.  We arrive at the yard and J starts hauling boxes of bee candy.  I grab the riobi drill and start shutting the entrance reducers on the first pallet, then move on to cracking the top covers while J moves on to the entrance reducers on the rest of the pallets.

Cracking the top covers is a bit like Christmas-what's under there? Are there a pile of bees on top of a queen excluder, buzzing and perhaps flying right at my face?  Will  I see a few bees? Will they be the bright yellow Italians, or the dark carniolans? Will I be met with dead silence and have to press my ear against the top of the frames and listen to detect a buzz in the lower super, or with a stillness that determines the hive is an "out"?

Depending on what I discover determines my next course of action.  If there is no queen excluder, I am to carefully place one on top of the frames and then two bricks of candy and then replace the cover.  Sometimes the inside of the cover is covered with honeycomb and bees.  Bees make use of available space, and I have just used that space up with candy and have to remove the comb to replace the cover.

Being a softy, I want to save every bee, even though by this point I usually have at least a dozen trying to get me through the gloves, pants, hood, back....

So I shake the cover over the candy, trying to get the bees off.  The owner can do this magically with a flick of the wrist, but either I am lacking in skill or the bees are just more tenacious when the temps are30 or a combinations of both....it just is not that simple.  So sometimes I lean the cover in front of the entrance while I am placing the candy, and then shake, and then thump a corner on the ground to get them in the corner of the cover so I can shake them in, but they are clinging little creatures and this usually involves several thumps and shakes and on a rare occasion results in a clump of bees on the ground near the entrance.

There was one hive today that I kept returning to, scooping up bees off the ground-they ball up when cold- and trying to shake them into the entrance to save them.  My seniors on the job scoff at this behavior, but in my greeness I feel every bee matters and keep returning to try and save every stray bee, knowing that a bee too long outside the hive will just freeze to death.  I have flicked many off my coat that had died in  place.

Sometimes they burrow into the folds of whatever-and hours later come crawling out of what feels like every orifice ....and  I have bees emerging from my clothes in the car, the grocery store, my home...

Because when you are working the whole day outside in these temps, you dress in layers.  I found my bee coat doesn't quite come down over my hoodies.  The first few days this week I left my bee hood off until I had to, and then bees had worked their way inside the hoods of my coats.  I wear a sleeveless tank long enough to tuck in, a long sleeved shirt, a fleece hooded coat, and two hood sweatshirts and then the bee coat.  I wear a pair of sweatpants and a pair of jeans.  I gave up on the leather bee gloves this week-the sleeves are just a pain to get over the bee coat and they get cold wet and slimy-and wear a pair of insulated gloves. The bees haven't managed to sting through them yet, although they have been trying. 

Generally if I get a lively hive that comes at me, I back off and start flicking them off, hoping they haven't suicided on me yet and might get back to their hive before they freeze to death.

So it's been a lively week...

The Firebird is getting enquires from colleges about soccer recruitement, just not the colleges he has applied/been accepted to.  So I hope wheerever he settles he will be able to continue with soccer.

The Willow has had artwork accepted to hang at the capital.

My freezer is filled with turkeys @ 59 cents a pound.

Turkey turkey turkey.

Saturday, November 15, 2014



Well I have been pretty busy. Here's a pic I took of a sundog on the way home the other day.

The shop bee colonies all headed south this week.  I wanted to take a pic of the truck all loaded up but it was gone by the time I walked from the employee lot to the front door.

That was a lot of hard work.  We had a freak snowstorm that dumped two foot drifts the week we were supposed to be strapping them up, and we had to spend a day shovelling the hives out of snowbanks.  My feet were wet for two days straight.  Apparently my new boots are not entirely waterproof!

After the snow melted, a cold front came through, and the wind was whipping across the fields.

The day of the storm I was working on the goat farm and managed to walk into a barn door and gave myself a bloody nose for two hours.  We lost power for two days at the house.  So that was quite a week!

This week ended on a high note, I finally found a replacement vehicle.  A big SUV-filled it up today and it cost $50!  Ouch!

Our land line has been pretty much out since the storm, along with our dialup internet.  So today I invested in a wifi hotspot and some datacredit and now we have wifi!  Ten years on dialup, three years in the subbie, a big week for change!

This week we have to gather up all the local outlying bee yards and get them ready to ship out.  We spent two days making a pile of "bee candy" sugar and water and pollen substitute.  I really can't stand the smell of the pollen anymore. 

We mix the sugar and water in big enamel canning kettles and then cook it on gas burners in a box truck.  Then my co-worker lugs it out and I wait for it to cool to 180, then add the pollen and mix it.  Then I pour it into molds in another box trailer to make big slabs that go right in the hives.  I don't know how many big kettles worth I poured in two days!

We managed to make it a little more fun by rigging the radio out in the yard and cranking oldies.  The first day it was a balmy sunny 50,  Friday was in the thirties and we had a snow squall.  My co worker took a few pics-I am sure I looked quite happy out there mixing bee candy in a snow squall.

At least the paycheck is being put to good use.  :)

Thursday, October 16, 2014

B E E utiful

I have been enriching my pockets and my brain the last few weeks working as an assistant beekeeper.

I have always been interested in beekeeeping, but other things have taken priority and I have never gotten around to  purchasing the hives and bees.

SO when I saw an opportunity to work with one of the largest beekeepers, I went for an interview.

The pay is minimal, but I was intrigued with the opportunity to work in a situation with somone highly experienced in a field with which I have limited knowledge.

I started out in the extracting room, processing hundreds, no thousands, of pounds of honey, super after super, frame after frame.

I had an opportunity to learn about the scourge of beekeeping and the preventative measures, varacoa mites , and followed the beekeeper from hive to hive inserting mites strips in between frames decked out in full bee outfits and marveled at co workers going along in bee coats and no gloves.

I went a few weeks without suffering any stings, but the occasional oops came along here and there, the sting mitigated by promptly scraping the still pumping venom stinger out with a fingernail or other flat object-I found hive tools came in handy.-

Then there was the day I helped unload 5 thousand pounds of honey supers out of the back of the truck back from up north - I disdained bee coat and went with a pair of nitrile gloves, and got stung three times in the back of the neck, once in the thigh, once in the ankle, and once in the hand.  Those were angry bees that day.

I have sorted frames to go south-big commercial operations move the bees south for the winter to get an early start in the spring.  I will stay behind at the shop through the bitter cold building equipment for next season.

I look forward to building nucs in the spring- nuclear hives made up of a queen and workers, brood and frames, a jump start from the typical "package" bees which you basically dunp in a bare hive and start from scratch.

Yesterday I made up "bee feed" different from the bee candy I worked on last week.  This is basically sugar and water, and I mixed 100 gallons of water to a thousand pounds of sugar.  That was into a tank with a small opening which is partially blocked by a large recirculatling hose, so yeah, fun.

Outside with the polite bees and yellow jackets and bald faced hornets all trying to get a sip.

Today we went off to the bee yards and filled the feeders.  Beekeeepers keep their bees all over the place.  We went to three bee yards, they have about thirty or so colonies in each one.  So the beekeeper goes along, opens them up, assesses them like a physician, and we come behind filling the feeders and picking up extraneous equipment,

At one point the beekeeper and I doubled back and started swapping covers around for shipping, so we were pulling the covers off the hives and switching them around.  I picked one up and the bees just boiled out.  Then I realized I had a gap between my coat and glove because the bees started stinging the crap out of my wrist..

So I made a hasty retreat, but the bees came right along with me.  I couldn't take the other glove off to scrape the stings off my wirst, because I was covered in bees.  So I picked up a piece of wood and scratched them out, but my whole wrist is swollen and hurts still.  Those darn bees dove right into the glove I removed  so I was shaking that out and I could feel the stingers scratching me on the back of the bee coat.

The beekeeper tossed me his gloves and went along barehanded-two days out of hernia surgery- in cold sweats- and barked orders at me to gather up the equipment.

Gotta love those tough Mainers.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

ALS challenge

I have accepted the ALS challenge-a few weeks ago, but have been unable to upload the vid, so I have decided to post a screen grab instead.

in honor of Leon, diagnosed with ALS in 1998; a dowser who dowsed my well, and taught me how to dowse.  I challenge my readers to participate in the ALS ice bucket challenge, and to donate, if able, to the ALS foundation to fund research to search for a possible cure for Lou Gehrig's disease.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Almost September

Things have been mostly quiet on the predator front.  I finally gave up and cleaned out the accumulation of guinea eggs after the willow complained about the odor the other day.  I dumped them on the compost pile, which I had been avoiding because I didn't want to draw any egg loving critters.

Later that night we heard some screaming before midnight, and I think it might have been coons fighting over eggs or maybe a skunk and a coon having a disagreement over them.  But the predatory mammals seem to have learned there is a hot line here after dark and have left the live ones alone.

Not so our friend the barred owl.  The Firebird takes care of the geese, and he likes to wait until near dark to lock them in at night.  Deepening dusk night before last, I heard a god awful goose yell followed by a loud "HOO!" and bolted out the back door.

A very large owl took flight from the edge of the goose fence, over the pen into the woods.  I sent the Firebird right out to lock up the geese. I directed the Willow to look up barred owls in the Audobon Field Guide, and it seemed they preferred smaller prey than full grown ganders.  So I assume that the owl was waiting for the mice and whatnot that come out at night to clean up the spilled goose grain...(geese are sloppy feeders)

I have seen small sparrows in the goose pen pecking at the spilled grain, with the geese a few feet away, and it is a funny sight to see a bird a few inches long  feeding almost at the feet of a large gander,.


We rented Noah a week or so ago.  Right as the movie started, the heavens opened up and it rained buckets.  The sun stayed out.  I ran from one window to the next expecting to see a rainbow, but one never appeared.  The rainbow is supposed to be God's promise that he will not destroy life with flood again and the origins are from Noah and the Flood.

So I was very taken aback but the torrential rain and sun and no rainbow just as the movie Noah was starting!  (I didn't think much of the movie, btw.)

Here is a pic that doesn't really capture what I was seeing out the window:


The Willow and I were able to catch one of the Firebird's soccer games yesterday.  The team played very well, Firebird as stopper all but 10 minutes of the game.  We saw the JV game for a few minutes, and it emphasized how far the varsity has come along, almost looking like a pro team in comparison to the JV.


The Willow doesn't start school until next week, so we have been trying to make the most of the last few days .  Tonight we fired up the old wood cookstove out back, the Willow loading and lighting and maintaining it on her own.  I made the burgers yum!