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 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!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Ass end of August

wow that was summer?

Two separate sign thermometers flashed 86F at 430 pm today, and I was clad in a long sleeved shirt and jeans.

The house has been cold and damp, temps at night have been kissing 40 and the sun dipping lower with each day passing just does not give the house enough recovery time.

Mold has been starting to creep in the ground level.

The weathermen seem oblivious, claiming that we are below normal for August in temps-having spent 35 Augusts here I will be the first to tell you that Maine is wet and chilly in August.  If you don't get your summer in by the end of July you better be ready to wait a year.

We do have micro climates here-our location at the end of the pond with a stream for frontage does give us a lot more moisture this time of year.  We also have snow on the ground long past the neighbors, since snow blows off the pond all winter and dumps in our front yard.

The garden is really floundering.  The last few years I have sworn that I am going to give up attempting to grow vegetables.  We have been harvesting a few purple beans.  And a single zuccini.  You know things are bad when you have one zuccini by August 20 and no signs of more.  The beans and zuccini were very tasty in a homemade pasta alfredo last night.

We have one early girl tomato turning red.  No pumpkins setting fruit.  The acorn squash look good.  One nice stretch of days I made my way into the garden to find the acorn squash had gone nuts and climbed over the early girls and two rows of beans.  I waded in and pinched the grasping tendrils of their clutches and hauled the squash vines back in their assigned places.

Yeah, I have been busy and not finishing anything,  started trying to repair the torn building paper on the side of the house and went as high as I dared on the ladder and called it off until I could build or beg staging or a higher ladder.  The house is 23 feet on that side.

Been working on the subbie, spent 5 hours digging out a clogged EGR pipe thinking for sure that was the cause of the trouble, and had it run worse than ever afterwards.  Have some spark plug wires on order since it is not firing at all on number one and barely on number 3 and the coil pack is good,  Could be a head gasket, a death knoll for Betsy.

Summer soccer came and went, The Firebird performing well.  Tryouts just ended, Captain of the Varsity team.  :)  And a senior!  The college brochures have been pouring in.  We are both suffering separation anxiety already. 

his senior pictures are coming due,  We went across to the dam and down the stream and I took about 50 pictures over two days, and I think we finally found a keeper.  I decided to have the Willow snap one of the two of use, rather impromptu, but I knew I would want to hold the moment in my heart.

Tempus Fugit.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Things that Scream in the Night

It started with one of the chickadoos.  Early spring the poultry were allowed to free range around the yard, and one of the incubated pullets took to laying eggs under the hay pallet out back.

One night I went to lock them up as usual, and came up one short.  I checked around the usual places and thought maybe she would turn up the next morning.

I found the feathers the next day, a few yards off the property line not far from where she had been laying her eggs.

I assumed some raptor must have gotten her, because they like to pluck birds after they kill them.  Also, the ice fishing had just come to an end, and several fishermen had been tossing their catch on the ice to flop to their deaths, to be enjoyed later by the bald eagles in the area.

I figured the eagles were probably nesting and the free food supply had dried up, so they saw an opportunity with a wayward hen and took her.

The poultry went on lockdown the next day.  That inconvenienced me to some degree, because I had bought the guineas because I heard they were good at taking care of ticks, and I had to make a pen to keep them in if I couldn't let them free range.

I also had to do something about Chooster, our ancient giant barred rock rooster.  I had been keeping him with the chickadoos after his last hen died, but he really didn't seem interested in any young chicks.  He kind of beat up on the new rooster in the group, Elvis.  But, Chooster seemed to get along pretty well with the guineas, so I decided to keep him in with the guineas.

After about a week I came home and noticed Chooster in the back corner of the guinea pen with blood on him.

I Immediately took him out and examined him, and noticed some bad wounds on his back.  I cleaned him the best I could, he was such a good guy. In retrospect I should have put him on antibiotics and treated the wounds with iodine.  He died from his injuries.

About that time someone dumped two bantam cochins at the pond.  I saw them in the morning standing there looking lost, and when they were still there in the afternoon I decided I couldn't leave them abandoned. There was a piece of paper from the inside of a box near them, so you could tell someone had dumped them.

The hen was in bad shape and was easy to catch.  I figured exhaustion and shock and put her up in isolation with food and water and she perked up but still had some difficulty breathing.  The rooster was a lot harder and I spent some time trying to herd him back over to my house, through the woods around and around.  Finally when the kids got home I had them help me, and once he saw the hen he calmed down and we were finally able to corner him and put him in with her.

She continued to gasp, and I diagnosed her with gapeworm.  I treated her topically with ivermection injectible but she died a few days later.

So we lost the little hen and Chooster and gained a new rooster we named LB. That's because I called him little bastard.  He had red eyes and would attack my hand when I tried to feed him.  Willow took over his care and called him little buddy and got so she could pet him.

Then one afternoon she saw something had tried to dig into his pen.  I figured it was a skunk after the grain, and since it was part of the old goat pen I thought the bedding was so deep it would discourage digging, so I told her to put a rock there and figured that was good enough,

Well the next morning there was another hole and lots of feathers.  We tried to follow the feather trail through the woods but lost it after about 100 yards.  Willow and I felt awful about that.  I found a chunk of hair on the fence and Willow thought raccoon but it didn't seem right to me.  I started thinking Fisher.

During all these events the guineas had been laying eggs.  Lots of them.  The main flock of chickens has also been laying lots of eggs, so I decided to let the guineas keep their eggs thinking they might hatch some.

Two nights after LB was taken, the next day we found something had dug under the fence in the guinea pen and undermined the nest and had an eggs feast.  Like, egg shells all over, and eggs too.

This was getting to be a serious problem. 

I figured given the time of year something must have some hungry babies it was feeding, but boundaries are boundaries.

I looked things over and took stock of what materials I had on hand, and ran a hot line from the goat fence. I put the line about 6-8 inches off the ground all around the guinea enclosures and the goose pen.  That took most of an afternoon.  Then for good measure I found a metal bed rail-the one I was looking for when I was making bow stock-and laid it on the ground right in front of the hot wire where the nest raiding had occurred.

Things had been kind of dry, so I damped the ground and rail down pretty good. I read about 2000 volts on the fence tester. I like my fences to be about 3500-4000 but I recently hit the fence with my arm and shoes on at 2000 volts and it made me yell.  I figured 2K would be good.


The Willow and I were watching the tube that night and the Firebird called downstairs that something was screaming and crashing through the woods.  I stepped outside and heard all kinds of screaming down the drive a bit, so I jumped in the car and drove down.  I couldn't see anything but the screaming stopped.

I have to admit I must have some sadist in me, because I thought that was pretty funny.

The next day I went out and checked the damp ground for tracks.  I saw LARGE and small feline track.  Uh-oh.  Looked like Bobcat and baby bobcat.

I had seen bobcat track and seen a bobcat within a half mile up the road.  I heard one had been shot a half mile down the road a year or two ago. So I knew they were around but didn't think they would come around.

Two nights later we all heard a bleating that sounded sort of goat like and the Firebird yelled down again.  I grabbed the flashlight and ran out to the goat pen and took a head count. While I was counting goats a heavy chuffing was coming from down the ridge about ten yards away.  The goats and I ignored it. The goats were looking past me down the drive and I was counting goats.

"Huff, huff huff!"

My light is really bad and I couldn't see what it was.  The goats were all accounted for, so I went back in and got the maglight going with fresh batteries and a bulb out of another light. The chuffing was still going on down the ridge.  The Firebird said he heard a truck go up the road right around the time the bleating happened, so I started down the drive to see if a truck was stopped.  The chuffing had moved along the ridge towards the front of the house (I was on the other side) I didn't see anything down the drive.

I went back in the house and Willow and I listened out the bathroom window at the chuffing.

Then a barred owl started calling, first down the drive where we first thought we heard the bleating, then out back where I first heard the chuffing, and then where I last heard the chuffing, and then down to the marsh.  It was very freaky.  It was like the owl triangulated the whole scene.

"Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-hoo?"

We thought maybe whatever it was was in the lower pasture, so I went back out and unplugged the fence so it could get out, thinking maybe it was trapped in there.

Finally I couldn't stand it and went out afterWillow went to bed.  I had the maglight and a stick.  LOL.  I went to the top of the ridge and tried to scan with the light, but the fenceline was just at the edge of the light.

But I still wanted to see what was down there, thinking maybe a hurt deer but not wanting to approach a hurt deer or a rabid chuffing raccoon or bobcat or whatever. I crept about halfway down the ridge and could hear something moving along but still couldn't see it. I called it a night and went in and loaded up my favorite search engine.

I decided that the bleating was a faun, or baby deer.  The huffing was it's Momma.  The next day I went looking and found deer tracks outside the fence on the house side.  So Momma was not in the fence.  The fence didn't look disturbed at all, so most likely it was not baby getting zapped.

Finally I found baby deer track along the drive, but lost them.  No sign of blood. Thought I saw bobcat track by the mailbox.

Did the bobcat grab the faun? I read that bobcat can take faun.

The next night, or rather 3 am this morning, Willow and the Firebird both yelled and woke me up.  Something screaming.  I listened,  Silence.  The I heard a yowl and another yowl. Then an owl-Hoo! Hoo! The saplings insisted it was horrible and went on for twenty seconds or so.  I got up and grabbed the light and stepped out on the deck.

I couldn't see anything and went back to bed, figuring the bobcat or a regular cat had hit the fence.

Right now it's midnight and I unplugged the fence about an hour ago because we had wicked thunderstorms coming through.  Now it is just raining lightly so I am thinking about plugging the fence back in.  I just don't want the charger to take a lightning hit, which it is prone to do with all that metal fencing nailed to trees out back.

I just wish I didn't have to go around the house in the dark to plug the fence in. Who-WHO knows what's out there?