Tuesday, August 28, 2012

This Does My Heart Good

Yesterday I noticed this happening at the front of my Carniolan hive and it thrilled my heart. I apologize for the sideways video. I sometimes forget that I have no way to correct that once it is posted. Humor me, cock your head to the left and witness the phenomenon of orientation flights (also known as play flights).

This happens quite often on sunny afternoons. This video was taken at approx. 3pm. Most of the bees shown are only about 3 weeks old. They are venturing out of the hive for the first time and this play flight lasts about 5 minutes. They do a lot of hovering close to the hive, with their faces and feet pointing towards it. This is how they learn where they live and how to get back to their home. I have witnessed these orientation flights many times this summer, outside the Italian hive, but this was the first time I'd seen it outside the Carniolan hive. That is why I am so happy. My new hive is finally strong enough and has enough new bees to show this kind of activity. Here is a picture showing the Carni hive and the Italian hive (which was not having orientation flights on this day). Click on the picture to enlarge it.

You notice the air traffic outside the Italian hive is much less. They are having business as usual. Just an hour later I shot this video. The activity at both hives is about the same. Play time is over.

BTW, that  brown stuff around the hives is coffee grounds (from Starbucks). A beekeeping friend told me it keeps ants at bay. I don't know if it works but it sure looks untidy.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Sorting My Fabric Stash

I have been in "acquisition mode", trying to inexpensively build up a nice fabric stash. Most of this was either free, bartered for, or purchased for $1 to $2 per yard. If I had to pay full price for fabric I would not be able to afford to sew. This is my neatest, tidiest fabric, my larger pieces of 100% cottons.

On a shelf above that trove I have my fat quarter bundles and jelly rolls.

In my big metal pattern file I have mostly cottons separated by themes.

All my solids.

Farm, wine, dogs/cats, bees and bugs, holiday/seasons, quilts/sewing...

Batiks and orientals.

It gets sloppier after that but at least I have it all sorted out by type and now know what I have and where it is. That's half the battle. In the closet I have my collection of pajama flannel, my fleece and corduroys (in the plastic tub.

In a large clear tub I have all my smaller pieces and scraps of quilting fabrics and a couple of smaller quilting kits.

I need 2 or 3 more large totes to contain the following. This is my stash of canvas, linen, chintz, upholstery fabric, etc...

...and this is my collection of juvenile themed fabrics.

That's not all my fabric, either. This dresser is full of gingham, eyelet, knits, satin, velvet....and my stash of 30's reproduction prints.

Now you understand why I needed a larger room.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Watch a Bee Drink Water

This is a video I caught of a little honey bee drinking from the "bee bath" I've provided in my backyard. I don't get many on there all at once but they visit it steadily throughout the day. Enough that I usually have to add some more water midday. The rocks give them somewhere to stand so they don't accidentally drown. I did not narrate this video so you can catch the sound of the bee as it finishes and buzzes off.

Japanese Knotweed Honey Flow

Sometimes what you are seeking is right under your nose all along. Maybe for years. Here in my area of the Pacific Northwest we have 3 major honey flows. Maple, blackberry and Japanese knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum ). I am familiar with what maple trees and blackberry bushes look like but I had never heard of a Japanese knotweed. I used my Google-fu and found pictures that showed a plant with broad oval leaves and sprays of little white blossoms. The flowers reminded me a bit of the blooms on my sourwood tree. For reference here is a photo of my sourwood tree, taken today. Notice the leaves are already starting to turn? It reminds me that fall is just around the corner.

I knew that the knotweed flow was imminent so have been watching vacant lots for signs of something blooming. Today, as we were driving Reggie to the groomers I suddenly blurted out, "That's it. That's it!" "What are you talking about?" my husband asked. I think I startled him. I explained I had been hunting for knotweed and I believed this was it. I began to see it everywhere. There seemed to be 2 varieties. One that was less attractive and seemed to be just about finished blooming and another that was more pleasing to look at and was in full bloom now. I had him pull over so I could break off a piece for closer inspection. He pulled up next to one of the less beautiful bushes. Here is the sprig from that.

Once I got a close look at it I thought, "Hmmmmm...this looks a lot like that bush that grows in front of the sourwood tree." It has always reminded me of bamboo with it's hollow, woody stalks. Once we got back to the house I crossed the alley to the shop and, I'll be damned, there it was. The most gorgeous example of a Japanese knotweed bush that I've seen.  

Here's a close-up of a branch.

And an even closer photo of the flowers in full bloom.

There it was, all along, right under the sourwood tree.

I find it incredibly ironic that I have had these 2 plants, both of which are adored by bees, right here on my property for the past 13 years. I never in a million years would've guessed I'd end up as a beekeeper but apparently it was meant to be. BTW, the knotweed honey flow is on....right now! LOL!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Honey Labels & New Screw Driver

Of all the hobbies I've had, these are my favorites. There is always something to learn. I made up some "homemade" looking labels for my first batch of honey. How fortunate that our last name ends in "bee".

Yesterday we went on a scouting mission to Home Depot. The husbeast is threatening to install a storm door on the front entrance. He just has to figure out how. It's a wonky kind of door frame we have on there. While shopping we happened to wander down the tool aisle. Look what I bought. A ratcheting interchangeable screw driver to put into my sewing machine doctor bag. That is my latest victim...er....patient....on the operating table. It's zig-zagger is broken. Probably just locked up with hardened oil and crud. This was the machine I was using as an organ donor but I am going to attempt to get it back in running shape. I have harvested enough replacement parts from other, too-far-gone-to-save, machines.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Playful Hummingbirds

Late this afternoon I was sitting out on my back porch, eating ice cream, with Reggie by my side. We were sitting at the top of the stairs looking out over the yard and garden. Reggie was closest to the wrought iron railing. I was gazing down at the bee bath watching a little bee take a drink of water, when all of a  sudden

 I heard the familiar click-click-click of hummingbirds. There were at least 4 of them, chasing each other through the trees. Suddenly one of them swooped down and hovered less than a foot from Reggie's face. Reggie chases birds. He is always trying to catch the sparrows and chickadees. He's even tried to climb the apple tree after them. I fully expected him to start barking his head off but he sat stock still and didn't make a peep. He just stared back at the hummingbird staring at him. I went to get my camera and caught these photos of the playful birds.

They were flying all over the yard, sampling the blossoms as well as the feeders. They had some morning glory, some catnip, and they even managed to spot this incredibly late branch of apple blossoms.

I swear I could sit out in my backyard and be entertained for hours. My garden is finally starting to bear fruit. So far I have harvested 3 juicy ripe tomatoes and I am starting to get enough beans to do something with.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Cleaning My Wax

Today it was too hot to do much else so I set about melting and cleaning my beeswax. I first separated it into 3 groups based on color. The lightest, prettiest wax, then the light brown, and finally the darkest, dirtiest. The wax cappings from yesterday's extraction went in with the clean white wax. You can see the end result in the bottom left hand corner of the following photo.

The lighter brown wax produced the cake on the bottom right, and the darkest dirtiest wax produced the curry colored cake on top. Both the medium and dark wax cakes will need to be melted and strained at least once more. There is still some yuck in there, but this will be good enough for now. Below is what the medium and dark wax looked like before being melted and strained.

And this nasty stuff is the dross that was strained out. It consists of the bodies of dead bees and larva, pollen, etc....

I save every bit of wax that I remove from my hives. I hope to save enough to be able to enter some in the Puyallup Fair next year

My Honey Crop, Lazy Bees & Ginormous Spider

Here it is, the fruit of almost 18 month's labor. 
There is actually another jar's worth in the bucket but I need to wash another jar. I underestimated how much honey would come out of 2 frames. Today it is still sweltering here in the PacNW. I was hoping to have the bees do the clean up. I've heard, from more than one beekeeper, that if I set the extractor out in my yard the bees would take care of it. Yeah, right.  Roll Eyes Mine missed the memo. Here's the proof.

I leave you with something to haunt your nightmares. Meet George, the huge spider that lives next to my garage door. He makes me jump whenever I turn the knob and he comes charging down to the center of his web. I kid you not, he's the size of a mouse. For perspective that black thing he's munching is a good sized house fly.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

My First Extracting Day

   Today was a milestone for me. I extracted my first batch of honey . Sure, it was only 2 frames (and western frames at that) but it was 2 frames more than I got last year. For some strange reason I now feel validated as a beekeeper. Those bees and I have been through a lot the past year and a half. I managed to keep them alive over the winter (by blind luck, not skill), I was able to rectify a horribly botched split attempt, and now I  will have a few jars of golden nectar as my reward. I love those damned bees. Yes, they are a money pit. I've sunk well over $1,500 into this crazy hobby. But they give me a sense of enjoyment and satisfaction that would be hard to explain to a non-beekeeping person. 
   Which brings me to today's culmination of all my hard work. I got to rob my bees. I wasn't greedy. I only took 2 frames. Truth be told, I would've like 3. But when I pulled the 3rd frame I noticed a group of drone cells on it. And you can't have brood in the honey. "Didn't you have a queen excluder in place?" Why, yes I did. But the box above the excluder had no honey in it. OK, it had a little but not nearly enough to harvest. Which meant I had to look to the box below the excluder and I was well aware there may be brood there. There shouldn't be. The queen has plenty of brood space in the bottom 3 boxes. But she does as she pleases.
   My extractor had arrived late Monday afternoon. However I did not unpack it until this morning. I needed the husband to attach the legs for me. I named my extractor Gigantor, because he reminds me of a big ass robot. I guess this early Japanese anime from the 60's made quite an impression on me. And I wonder where my son, Errol, gets it from?

Here's Gigantor posing out in front of my garden. He'd just had a bath in preparation for his big debut.

A view inside. The basket holds the frames of honey.

And here he is with the lids in place.

Isn't he a handsome devil? And so well built! Like a brick you-know-what. I was anxious to put him through his paces. I washed up all the other needed supplies (bucket, jars, strainer, uncapping tank, uncapping knife, capping scratcher....) and set them out to dry. Meanwhile I went out to the hives to collect those 2 frames. I had put them into a box, up above a bee escape. The bee escape lived down to its expectations. There were still plenty of bees on the frames. I shook them off, brushed them off....and pretty much just pissed them off. In the end I managed to get the frames into a box, under a towel, and kept them free of bees until I could get them into the house. Aren't they gorgeous?

I brought in 3 empty hive boxes and stacked them up in the kitchen. I put the honey strainer into the honey bucket (no...not that kind, silly) and placed the bucket inside the boxes. Then I placed the uncapping tank (cheap sink) on top of the boxes so that the drain was centered over the bucket. I do not have an electric uncapping knife so I placed my knife into a big jar of hot water, shook off the excess water, and started slicing through the wax cappings on the first frame. Release the honey!

I flipped the frame over to repeat the process on the opposite side of the frame but ran into a problem. The bees hadn't built the comb out far enough on that side. Luckily I had anticipated this and had purchased a capping scratcher. Which looks kind of like a wool comb (for those of you who are spinners).  Once I got the honey released from both sides of both frames it was time to insert them into the extractor. This is also when I realized that the plastic frames would not fit into the extractor radially (which will make no sense to non-beekeepers but would be too hard to explain. You'll have to Google it). Nope. Ain't gonna happen. The plastic frames I've been using can only fit into the Maxant (read "high end" & "expensive") extractor tangentially. That would've been good to know but it never dawned on me to ask. No huge deal. I plan to switch to shallow honey supers next year anyway (we really don't get that much honey up here), and will make sure to buy frames that will fit this extractor. 
   Moving right along, before I started cranking the extractor I needed to clean the honey and wax out of the uncapping tank. A kitchen spatula helped meet that end. You can see the capping scratcher there, with the turquoise handle.

The view down the drain and into the bucket.

Now we get to the fun (?) part. I had the frames inside the extractor and began turning the crank. Slowly at first, then increasing in speed. As the speed increased Gigantor began strolling across the kitchen floor. I tried holding him still, stepping on his feet, partially laying on top of him...but still he walked. Being an extremely stubborn girl I was bound and determined to get the honey out of those frames. I kept adjusting the frames inside the extractor and finally figured out how to balance them. Things went much smoother after that. Because I could only spin these frames tangentially I had to stop and flip them over in order to spin the honey from the other side. Look! That's honey flowing (more like oozing) out of the honey gate!

I spun the dickens out of those frames. Over and over. I wanted to get every last drop of honey. This might be all I get this year and I need to make the most of it. Look at how empty of honey the frames are.

I needed to prop up the side of the extractor to enable the small amount of honey to reach the honey gate.

Good thing I am also a winemaker. The long handled "wine stirring" spoon came in handy for pushing the honey towards the gate.

The honey is now in the honey bucket, being strained through a fine mesh bag. Tomorrow we bottle! And clean up all our equipment.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Fixing Up The Homestead

Today my husbeast installed a new storm/screen door. He did a lovely job. We won't mention how many years I've been asking for one (mumble....4....mumble). The dog and cat are a little freaked out by it, but they'll adjust.

The husbeast has been very busy. Look at how nicely he patched our disintegrated step. Now I don't have to worry about breaking my neck on it.

It feels good to be able to cross some things off the "honey do" list. This week has been especially busy. Yesterday I made and canned another batch of applesauce.

That brings the total to 10 quarts and 3 pints. I think I'm done with applesauce for this year. I have a small amount of apples left for making some crisps. Maybe even some raspberry apple wine. We'll see how energetic I feel. My extractor arrived yesterday but I haven't unpacked it yet. I'll probably have to cut it out of the box. It's pretty heavy. I plan on extracting my honey either Thursday or Friday. The weather is supposed to cooperate and be in the 90's. Meanwhile the bees continue to do their thing. The catnip is blooming in my backyard and the bees are all over it.

They have been bringing in pollen like crazy. I hope they've been gathering nectar, too, and there will be plenty of honey for me.