Monthly Archives: August 2009

Bees gone wild

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In the bee world, I am like Joe Francis. When bees are at their wildest, I am there with the video camera!  A few weeks ago, we harvested honey.  The extraction process does a pretty good job of removing the honey, but it can absolutely not remove all of the honey from the comb.  That leaves the beekeeper with a potential problem.  The remaining honey will draw ants or bears or the Cavity Fairy if stored “wet”.  The remaining honey must be cleaned up.

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How the cleanup is best accomplished is a bit of a religous debate among beekeepers (as is most everything for beekeepers).  The bees do a fantastic job of cleaning the supers and will remove every last drop of honey from them and carry it back to the hive.  The religous debate is where the wet supers should be placed for them to clean.  You see, bees have this funny tendency to get frenzied when presented with a bunch of sweet honey.  They begin what is called robbing.

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The term robbing sort of makes more sense in the other context in which bees rob.  When a nearby hive is weak due to disease, swarming, etc, other nearby, stronger hives will raid the weaker hive and rob all of the honey.  Of course, a battle ensues and many bees die.  It’s not much fun for humans to be around either.  But the stronger bees will rob every bit of honey from the weaker hive, often killing the weaker colony in the process.


(click for video)

So back to the religous part…some beekeepers suggest putting the wet supers a long distance from the hives so as not to encourage robbing behavior between the hives themselves.  Others (like me) say that if all of the colonies are healthy and strong, it won’t be as issue.  The bees will “rob” the wet supers and leave each other alone.  I also don’t have 500 acres to work with so I have little choice.


(click for video)

This second video was taken 5 minutes after I put the wet supers and equipment outside.  The bees smell it very quickly and start to work.  It takes 1-2 days for the bees to clean the supers completely dry.  Afterwards, they quickly settle back into their routine and act like good little bees.  But, like Joe Francis, my cameras are always rolling and I got the evidence to make Bee-Momma proud!

My Lucky Cricket

I woke up this morning and the crickets were absolutely marvelous. There must have been a couple dozen of them, all chirping their own way. Their sounds were different and sort of surrounded me as I stepped outside.


(click to hear my crickets)

One of my favorite Disney movies is Mulan. I’ll leave you to find the details if you haven’t seen it. Anyhow, Mulan’s grandmother gives her a lucky cricket. The poor cricket goes through all sorts of things with Mulan and her “guardian dragon”. When things are at their worst, they all have a time of confession at which point the cricket admits he’s not really lucky. But really, they had gotten lucky over and over as the story progressed.

I was a bit of a pre-caffeine philosopher this morning, but it occurred to me, as I listened to the crickets, just how lucky I am. I have a great family, good health, incredible good looks, a good job, nice house, etc. I couldn’t really ask for more. I suppose I must be surrounded by lucky crickets…

Dazed indeed!

Did you hear that?  This entire week, it has sounded as if the entire planet was letting out a huge groan.  The San Andreas fault was not shifting.  BrittneySpears didn’t show he naughty bits to the world again.  No, school started.  Kids everywhere seemed to deflate a bit.  Of course, there must be balance in the universe, and indeed there was.   As kids were groaning, parents let out a cheer.  The same thing played out in our house…

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I don’t think they were as amused as we were.  Really, we are all a little excited and a little sad for school to start again…

Click to see the videos



Alas, we are back in school and that means we get down to business now. Of course, there must be balance in the universe…

Garlic, you sure do clean up real pretty

A couple of weeks ago, we harvested garlic that we had planted last fall.  We dried it under cover until Emily’s grandfather got sick of finding the dried out dirt from the roots on the hood of his truck.  We knew it was ready based on his blood pressure.

I took down all of the garlic from where it was hanging and loaded it up in the man-van and headed for home.  You see, I treat the man-van very much like most folks would treat a pickup truck.  Emily, on the other hand, sees it more as a family vehichle.  Of course, this causes some contention between us, but I always figure (as someone wisely said) that it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.  Anyhow, I loaded all of the garlic into the van and brought with it a bunch of dried dirt.  Emily’s blood pressure headed north as well so I knew the garlic was done.

People process and store garlic in all sorts of different ways, but I like to cut the stalk off leaving only about 1-2 inches still attached to the bulb.  I knock off all of the dirt from the roots and then trim them down to 1/4 inch or so in length.  I peel a few layers of the outer “paper” from the garlic and that’s it.  One should not wash garlic to remove the dirt.  Of course, part of the point of drying the garlic was to remove excess moisture that would cause rot.  Garlic cleans up very nicely without water so I figure, there is no sense in taking a chance.

So, I did an actual count of the garlic we harvested and we have 116 heads hanging in onion sacks in our basement ready for use.  Some we’ll save for seed to plant this October but the rest we’ll use.  If we estimate 6 cloves per head, that means we have 696 cloves of garlic for use this year.

The really cool thing is that garlic is its own best medicine.  It seems to raise the blood pressure of folks in my family, but it also, apparently, is a good way to lower blood pressure as well.  Garlic is almost like a blood pressure perpetual motion device!

Ever hula-hoop on a hillside?

We went to a family reunion this weekend.  It started a few years ago as a pig roast but after Aunt Margaret got into the liquor cabinet and decided the pig needed a drink too, we have toned it down some and now have burgers and similar picnic food.  We always have a great time but it’s never really a reunion until Emily’s cousin and I blow something up or do something stupid.

This year, we opted for stupid…we started off by hula-hooping on a hillside.  See, in WV, there is very little flat land.  Any land that is flat is a flood plain and lately, that land is pretty soggy with all the rain.  So, we decided to hula-hoop on the hillside.  Isaac was the only smart one.  He started off wearing a helmet.

The kid is a genius with a hula-hoop!  He can walk around spinning it.  He can walk and talk and probably could bake a cake while hula-hooping.  It turns out, his sister is similarly gifted.  Me, on the other hand…I am not so blessed.  I got the rhythm and lubricated joints, but I just cannot hula…and especially not on a hillside.

Cousin “D” and I discussed it and we decided hula-hooping on a hillside was no where near stupid enough.  The kids brought their razor scooters.  We stood at the top of the hill and a dim light lit above my head.  A-ha!  I know stupid when I see it.  Both my Mom and wife said at the same time, “He won’t be happy until he hurts himself or someone else.”  Oh how I wish all of you could be known that well by somone.

Anyhow, I jumped on the scooter and headed down the hill.  The first few rides were fine but I quickly discovered that the front wheel bore too much of my weight on the wet ground.  Finally, just like my Mom and wife said, I was able to finally be happy.  I sunk the front wheel in deep and the scooter stopped.  I was not so lucky.  I went head over heels and did a very dramatic roll down the hill.  Now that’s stupid!

(click for a video)

I want you to notice the whole row of adults watching the geniuses ride down the hill. Just like a car wreck, they had to watch!

The Stop Sign Artist of Charleston, WV

I like art.  Most of the time, I like pretty mainstream stuff, but can appreciate all sorts of things (I am flexible like that!).  Last July, someone in Charleston expressed their creativity on some stop signs in my neighborhood.  In my neighborhood, graffiti is almost unheard of so you can imagine the excitement I felt when I saw it.

No doubt, some of the more uppity folks were offended.  Our city is really great about cleaning off any graffiti that might show up.  I only captured one of the art pieces before they had cleaned everything up.  I was sort of sad.  Not in a “they’re defacing the Mona Lisa” sort of way, but I like clever stuff.

Now, I hate the idea of what traditional graffiti means…”We own this area” and the like.  That sort of thing makes me mad.  The seniors (and sometimes juniors) at the local highschool typically go around and paint their graduation year all over everything.  That makes me mad too because they are thoughtless and careless and their work is sloppy.  I really dislike that mindless defacement.  Anyhow, the stop sign graffiti was pretty clever though so I was sad that I didn’t get to enjoy it a little longer (and didn’t get to take pictures of it all).

Lo and behold, a week or so ago, the artist struck again!  With all of the rain (it’s pouring again today), I think the city is a bit slower to clean things up so I got pictures!  I don’t have anything particularly thoughtful to say other than, “Thanks, Stop Sign Artist of Charleston, WV.  I appreciate your work!”

But Stop Sign Artist, I do not think I am ready for this…I barely know you!

Brace Yourself

A few months ago, I went to the orthodontist to determine just how crooked my teeth are.  Sure enough…crooked.  I need braces if I intend to ever have straight teeth.  I figure I need straight teeth in order to get on Survivor which will virtually guarantee me a place on Dancing with the Stars.  When Katie Holmes watches with Tom, she’ll see me and call right away begging me to sing and dance with her on Broadway (Tom’s no good for you Katie!).  Of course, Lady Gaga will be dazzled in her seat in the theater and will ask me backstage to sing with her on the next album.  I know Brand and Angelina are hip so they certainly listen to Lady Gaga and we’ll do lunch, talk about the kids and our next new blockbuster together.  After that, I am sure that I will be a shoe-in for the White House and maybe even global rule. You see, I have it all planned out if not for these dang crooked teeth.

(I have to chew on that green thing 2x a day to force the aligners over my teeth)

I also have an ulterior motive.  Emily told me she always wanted to kiss a boy with braces when she was growing up.  I got Invisalign aligners so it’s not like real braces, but I figure I may get some mileage.  Invisalign aligners are a series of plastic molds shaped such that each transition between aligner sets moves my teeth toward their final destination.  I stay in each set of aligners for 2 weeks or so and they slowly force my teeth into position from the tension the plastic exerts on the teeth.

(that cost how much?!)

I say the aligners work slowly but when I put my first set in yesterday, it sort of felt like my teeth snapped into their slightly adjusted place (and not in an exactly pleasant way).  Even more scary was when I removed them to brush.  My head clattered as they snapped back into their old positions!

(Most of those chips are from my brother!)

Really, it takes some getting used to I guess, but they aren’t too bad.  I figure they can’t possibly be worse than metal/ceramic braces and these surely look a lot better.  I have to wear the aligners for 22 hours a day, taking them out only to eat and brush.  I can’t eat or drink with them in place so I suppose I will really cut back on my beloved Mt Dew since it isn’t worth jerking these things in and out of my head and brushing every time I want a sip.

So, I guess a year from now I will be healthier without all of the sugar and my teeth will be straighter and I’ll be even prettier (somehow…hard to imagine I know).  Lady Gaga here I come!

EDIT:  The end result!

Tionesta Indian Festival 2009

(well…there are some indians)

Every year for the past thousand or so years, my home town has hosted the Indian Festival (feather not a dot) in celebration of the original inhabitants of the area.  Anyone who has ever driven through NW PA has seen the names of rivers and creeks and, no doubt, pondered how on Earth to pronounce them.  I know this isn’t exclusive to PA, but it is definitely a part of the area’s Native American history.

(don’t ask…)

In the past few years, sadly, it has become less about Native Americans and more about…ummm…something else.  Still, it is the town event from my childhood that brings me home every year.  This year, we watched the parade and the fire trucks and cars and twirling teams.  I ate the awesome hot sausage that they sell at the Methodist church and I had a great chance to visit with some folks with whom I went to high school (I’ll probably say more about that another day).

(sausagey goodness!)


It’s weird I guess how things stick with me, but I love to go back and see the town.  There are so many faces that I am sure I knew 20 years ago.  People who were my age then are now retiring and life is generally moving on..but I see glimmers of my growing up there and it makes me smile a bit on the inside.

(Abigail and Aunt Laura)

(Abigail loved climbing that growth on the huge tree!)

So, Indian Festival isn’t what it once was, but then, I am not sure anything ever is. Still, with a little work and imagination, there are some awesome memories of times long gone…and even better, there are lots of new adventures for my kids!

They got high

We went back to my hometown this weekend to visit my family, have a high school reunion and give my kids a chance to get high.  Yup, you heard it…my kids got high with my Mom and my cousin!

(The flight crew)

(The flight crew)

My cousin Bob has been a private pilot for 30+ (?) years, flying both airplanes and helicopters.  He and my Mom fly pretty often and it’s become a tradition for Isaac (and now Abigail starting this year) to fly with them in August.

(This is fun, right?)

(yup…must be fun!)

(Another thumbs up on the fun!)

Abigail has flown on commercial planes before but it was when she was much younger so she remembers none of it.  In her mind, this was effectively her first time to ever fly.  She’s a little timid lately about “stuff”.  It is not always predictable what will upset her so we weren’t sure about flying.  Although she tried to be scared, my Mom said they had an absolutely wonderful time.  Abigail was amazed at all of the tiny little cars and houses and buildings.  Without time to be afraid, she quickly got over her trepidations and had fun.

(The co-pilot)

Like last year, Isaac was the co-pilot and was able to steer the plane some, much to the dismay of his sister (did I mention she was a perceptive child?).  Isaac is an old pro and wants to take lessons to fly just as soon as he is able.  I have no doubt that he will love it (time to get a job kid)!


After flying and seeing the sights, they did several touch-and-goes and then called it a night.  Abigail was exhausted and fell asleep on the ride back to Grandma and Grandpa’s house.  I am sure there will be more stories to hear about their adventure this morning!

Honey Harvest 2009

Every year, on the hottest day in August, we harvest honey.  In WV, the honey season basically runs from Tax day (April 15) to Independence Day (July 4).  That’s a rule of thumb of course and some will disagree but this is easier for me to remember.  Anyhow, we always wait from July 4th until some day in August.  We don’t usually wait for the hottest day of the year on purpose, but it just seems to work out that way.

Hives are pretty typically built of 2 deep “brood boxes” which house the baby bees, pollen, and honey stores for the winter.  Most beekeepers use 2 deeps because the queen (which lays up to 2000 eggs per day) will remain busy in the space contained in 2 “deeps”.  Anyhow, around honey season, I add additional supers which are identical to the “deeps” except they are shallower.  Guess what they’re called…yup…shallows.  They are also called honey supers, shallow supers (actually, I use Illinois or medium supers which are between shallows and deeps in depth).  So, typically, the queen lays eggs around the bottom boxes and the workers store honey in the upper supers.  Some folks use a queen excluder to make sure the queen can’t get up into the supers to lay eggs.  I have never found it necessary and the one year I used an excluder, I got significantly less honey.  It’s a religous debate for some beekeepers…for me, I skip the excluder.

Ok, so we put supers on in April and wait.  Last Saturday was the hottest day we could find in August so we caught breakfast at Panera Bread and then started pulling honey supers off of the hives around 9am.  Now, as you might imagine, the bees are not thrilled about some white-suited beast taking the roof off of their house and removing their food.  I always joke that if I didn’t harvest honey, they wouldn’t feel appreciated or needed though.  Some folks jerk the entire super off of the hive (which can weigh 40+ pounds) and try to manage the sticky honey, the weight and the angry bees.

For me, I prefer to remove individual frames from the supers and shake the bees off back into the hive.  I don’t use a smoker because I would feel terrible if my bees ended up with a smoker’s cough.  I have found that I don’t need smoke and my bees are more calm for it.  Anyhow, I remove frames, shake the bees off and carry them to house where my lovely and brave wife accepts the bee-less (usually) frames.   This method would be completely unmanageable for a larger scale beekeeper but I am able to manage 10 hives this way.

Once all of the honey is off, we load the frames/supers from the house into the van (very quickly so the bees don’t reacquanited with the liquid gold).  We removed honey from my house and my in-laws’ house and then headed to Emily’s grandparents’ house where we removed the remaining honey and began the extraction.

Honey extraction is pretty basic…we make sure 80% of the honey cells are capped.  Honeycomb holds the liquid as it makes its transformation from nectar to honey.  The bees add enzymes and other magical stuff and then remove the excess moisture from the honey (by fanning it with their wings).  Once the honey gets below 18% or so moisture, they put a wax cap across the top of the honey comb to keep dirt ad additional moisture from getting back into the completed honey.  So, we make sure that the majority of the honey is “ready” as deemed by the bees.  I test the honey on my own for moisture content using a refractometer, just to be sure.  Honey that is too moist can ferment and that would be a waste.

So, once we cut the cappings off of the comb, we put them into my extractor which spins the frames around.  The spinning slings the honey out of the honeycomb cells on to the sidewalls of the extractor.  We open a drain at the bottom of the extractor and run it through a coarse filter and into jars.  We then add a lid, and we’re done.  The honey goes through no other processing.  As long as the lid is kept on so no moisture can get into the honey, it will not go bad.

So, that’s all for harvesting honey.  We worked until around 6 pm.  Emily’s parents and grandparents did a tremendous amount of work on the harvest and it would be almost impossible to do this work without them.  I appreciate their help tremendously.  We collected approximately 176 pounds this season so I am pretty pleased.  I’ll write again on how we clean up the “wet” supers once we remove the bulk of the honey.  That’s an entirely different adventure!

By the way, you can check out a few previous harvests here.