Friday, January 30, 2015

Blizzard, Winter storm watch, active weather pattern

Welcome to the end of January in Maine.  I used to want to see snow falling on Christmas morning when I awoke, and have resigned myself to the fact snow will probably be falling on my birthday-or it

 will be 20 below zero.I

I have pledged that once before my years come to pass I will spend my birthday someplace warm and sunny, and one has to be careful what they wish for, because that may mean spending a birthday in Georgia moving 100 pound hives onto a truck bound for the California almond pollination.

This week we had an official blizzard on Tuesday, we think we got around 2 feet.  The Firebird and I spent three hours midday in the teeth of the snow moving the snow out of our 300 + foot driveway.  The wind was howling and like idiots we were revelling in it.

Wednesday night we had to move the last 6 inches of it to make way for today-our area to have "the jackpot" of 12-18 inches.

I crawled up to work today while the saplings slept in-their third snow day of the week.  I made it to the shop on Wednesday to be greeted with eight foot high drifts in front of the doors which needed to be cleared-after our drive, and then work, and then our drive again my legs were pretty sore yesterday.

I have to take comfort in the fact that I must be pretty ripped for my age-once I get out of these sixteen layers of clothes sometime around April I will be able to tell...

Sunday, January 25, 2015

RIP Cricket the Beautiful

Cricket passed Friday.  Willow and I found her at evening chores;the the does were all riled up.  Cricket was always tied last because she was at the bottom of the pecking order, always submissive, always going to her spot when it was her turn.  Lately she had been lingering in the houses in the morning, but when it came to tie her that night, Willow said, "where's Cricket?" and found her stretched out on the icy ground.

She had been failing of late, picking at her extra helpings of grain, so I had been trying to prepare for the inevitable.  She was such a good goat, that she died on the least inconvenient time possible-the evening before my only day off.  Willow and I interred her against the rock wall in the upper pasture, since the ground is too frozen.  The Firebird had a track meet that day.  Cricket's daughter Anna and the other goats as well as her human friends are all mourning her loss

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Framed and Floored

So what happens in the northern beekeeping realm after all the bees have shipped south for the winter?

Making new equipment of course.

Initially I was thrilled to hear, "we have a bunch of new equipment to build".

Then this translated into 3,000 deep-or brood-frames. 

Frames parts consist of a top bar, a bottom bar, and two side pieces.  each top and bottom bar has to be attached, in our case, stapled with a pnematic air gun, and glued, to the side pieces.

Then plastic foundation is snapped into each frame, and each frame gets a counter staple on each side.

I was a bit apprehensive, since I once had a job at a woodworking shop assembling wooden windowboxes, and we were supposed to meet a quota of so many an hour, and I had a penchant for blowouts, whereupon the person at the receiving end had to fix the nail jutting out.

Now I had the pleasure of being under the tutelage of a college attending employee on winter break, and we got into a bit of competitve mode.  She made 18 perfect frames in 8 minutes.  I followed with 18 in ten minutes with two minor blowouts.  Since my "quota" was 40 in an hour, things were looking good.

Until days stretched to weeks and I woke each morning to a half hour drive at sunrise to staple frames all day arriving home at sunset....the days are supposed to be getting longer, and they certainly appeared to be never ending, frames after frames after frames....

I recognized I certainly am a victim of ADHD, because I would have cheerily stapled my hand to relieve the endless monotony of standing in the same place doing the same thing.

Luckily for me, my outdoor kitty co-worker, who normally did whatever he could do to avoid doing anything involving work, took a shine to the repetition.  he stapled perfectly.  I assembled, he stapled, we listened to the radio and disagreed about every song, (he being a semi professional musician, and me having extensive music recording experiece, but favoring different genres), but we still banged out the frames.

Then the boss reappeared and put J back on a picky little task and stuck me solo on frames, which was a disasterous combination, as I grew grumpier and grouchier by the day while he sauntered in and out to the woodshop pretending to cut wood for his project.

Finally the day arrived that Boss and J left together to join the other J in Georgia, leaving me to start assembling hive pallets.

Boss went over the dimensions prior to leaving, sketching out a few drawings.  My eyes lit up.  I am the type of person if you ask me for directions I have to draw you a map. I love architectural drawing.  My job was to build jigs for pallets, and then the pallets.

Boss left me to the jigs and proceeded to rip up enough pressure treated two by fours and 1 inch stock to make 100 pallets.  The jigs are done and two proto type pallets are finished. 

Just 98 pallets to go.

*wanders off singing, off key, "98 pallets of bees on the wall, 98 pallets of bees....*

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Christmas Miracles

Happy 2015!

So what's all this about miracles?

Well, the last few years I seem to manage being able to dig potatoes for Thanksgiving, which is really unusual for Maine.

This year we had a huge snowstorm November 2nd, and a big freeze shortly afterwards, so there was no digging potatoes for Thanksgiving.

I resigned myself to the fact that last row of Kennebec whites was lost.

Then we had rain Christmas Eve day.  

I walked by that last row of potatoes at nightfall coming in from night chores, the digging fork stuck in the ground next to row, and gave the fork a wiggle,  The fork moved! 

I started poking around, flipping frozen earth crust in large pizza sizes...and lo and behold, the potatoes below were not frozen yet.  I kept digging and digging, and this is what I ended up with-enough for Christmas dinner and a hearty serving of homefries a couple days later.,  Best potatoes evah!

These were also "freebies"-descendants of the 50 pound bags for 5.99 I bought fall of 2013, leftovers that had started to sprout.

Follow up number two-the bow building.  I failed at that attempt, the oak twisted horribly and I couldn't string a good piece out of it.  Willow in the meantime took matters into her own hands, cut a good sapling, tied on a string, and was shooting Jeruselem Artichoke stalks in lieu of arrows.

I picked her up a real arrow for her birthday, and she got a lot of use out of that with her little homemade bow.  It had a pretty good draw strength-more than this 15 pound draw I bought her for Christmas, along with a handful of arrows.

Here her brothers are taking their turns along with her on Christmas afternoon:\

The Firebird has had a goal to break the school record for 55 meter dash, which he did this past Tuesday.  Here's a pic of him on the long jump, one of his other events:

courtesy event photographer

Me?  Having the winter blahs, underpaid, underappreciated, overworked...but at least I have some money coming in-can't have everything! (don't we wish)

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 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.