Monthly Archives: September 2010

Top bar bee hives

Back in the time of Robin Hood, Friar Tuck used to keep bees in a straw skep. Bees were plentiful back then so beekeepers could just reach in to a skep and grab a gob of honeycomb and go on with business. If a beekeeper wanted to harvest all of the honey, they simply destroyed the hive (sometimes by placing the skep over burning sulphur… yummy honey I bet). Anyhow, in 1851, the Reverend Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth invented a beehive such that bees would build orderly honeycomb on frames that could be removed and inspected.  Honey harvest no longer meant that the bees had to be destroyed.  Frames could be removed, honey extracted and the frames replaced.  This type of hive is the one most people think of when they think of a beehive…you know, the white boxes out in a field.

This style is not the only type of beehive though. In the United States, laws require that bee hives have removable frames for easy inspection. Beyond that, it does not stipulate how those frames must be arranged.

So, some new web friends of mine have sent me some pictures of their Top Bar hive. In this type of hive, bees are encouraged to build their own honey comb from scratch (not on wax “starter” comb that most Langstroth beekeepers use). The shape of the honeycomb frames is typically like a blunted triangle rather than a rectangle like a Langstroth hive.  A TBH encourages lateral colony growth (as opposed to vertical in a Langstroth hive) and many say healthier growth.  Please enjoy these pics and narrative by Bob and Gail, beekeepers who use both TBH and Langstroth hives!

from Bob and Gail…

Here’s a couple of natural comb shots.  As you can see from knowing the Lang- there’s no side or bottom bars, there’s plenty of brood along the bottom of the comb and honey along the tb.

taking off the cover. The TBH is horizontal compared to its neighbor Lanstroth hive.
Inside- 31 Topbars and one backboard.
a well-formed natural comb. The top third is capped honey while the bottom third is capped brood.
Holding the comb upside down to inspect both sides. The comb must always be held perpendicular to the ground or it will break off the topbar. Turning and rotating the comb around so that it is always vertical takes some getting used to.
Notice that the bees are "chaining." They are linking together by their feet, setting a pattern for building the shape of the comb. No side bars or foundation required.
a closer view of chaining
Inside the hive, the bees are chaining between two combs. Notice that the TBH has a screened bottom.
All three of our hives looked terrific.  We didn’t see any mites
and have used no chemicals.  Our second TBH is being fed because they
lost their queen, had to create their own so they had a small
population during the flow.  We noticed a number of bee carrying white
pollen which we think is from a cotten field just down the road.  We
saw two pollen-laden foragers doing a waggle dance- isn’t that fun?
Hope these photos reveal more than they conceal.
Bees have a great sense of smell. Bob's handlebar is waxed with a cosemetic containing beeswax so this hitchiker found him irresistible. Now when he observes the hives he has a droopy 'stache. When asked how he would manage to keep his handlebar up since becoming a beekeeper he replied, "Willpower!"

So, why bother? Here’s a great narrative by Bob and Gail that explains it perfectly!

Smelly Cat

I was never a “Friends” guy. The show just didn’t appeal to me for some reason. Anyhow, I did see a few episodes. One in particular makes me think of Seph-baby, our somewhat new cat. Seph-baby (we added the baby part, it just seemed right). So Seph-baby is the smelliest cat on the planet. We feed him science diet kitten food, the same brand we feed all of our wild-life. He is the only one that really stinks.

We clipped his claws the other day. We do it in the bathroom for some reason…I guess so we can lock him in. Anyhow, we grabbed him and started to clip when he, like all good cats, freaked. He jumped around and hissed and did all that cat stuff. His most effective counter-measure, however, was the stench that he somehow released. I initially thought it was just a flatulence bomb but my hands smelled like him as well. I wasn’t holding his hind parts so it’s not like he dropped a bomb in my hand. All I can figure is that his father was a skunk or he has some other extra-powerful reek capabilities.

The nasty beast has also taken to stealing tissues and napkins, new or used, from anywhere he finds them...

(Click above for a video or here if that doesn’t work on your computer)

Well, we finished clipping his claws and then had to scrub our hands. The whole room was fouled (which isn’t uncommon in our house…just not usually from the cat). Poor smelly cat, I don’t know what we’re feeding him, but I am sure it’s not his fault!

Irish cream + ice cream = goodness!

Ok, I know I said last week that I am eating a lower fat, lower cholesterol vegetarian diet…yeah, yeah, yeah. I still gotta live a little! It’s all about portions and frequency. You see, I discovered Ben & Jerry’s Dublin Mudslide ice cream. It’s really unhealthy and all but dang it tastes good.

I am determined to eat healthy but this treat is a nice diversion now and then. I eat a spoonful here and there and I have found that it’s enough to curb my sweet-tooth…plus Ben & Jerry’s ice cream is sooo expensive that I can only afford to eat this sweet goodness now and then anyhow!  It sort of keeps me in check because, above all, I am a cheap-skate!

I found some great news about my new diet too.  I have been on blood pressure medicine for years.  I have tried a few things here and there to try to get my blood pressure to change but nothing ever seemed to have an impact.  Lately though, I started feeling light-headed and dizzy a little too often.  In consultation with my doctor, we decided to go off of the medicine and see what happened to my blood pressure.  After two weeks off of the meds, I went back and found that my blood pressure was great (I had been monitoring it at home too and consistently found the same thing)!  I am off of blood-pressure medicine!  I can only attribute it to my dietary change as nothing else is different!

As much as I might like to go and gorge on Ben & Jerry’s after finding the news, I think I will go get a tofu burger instead!

Another apple cider press!

Some nice folks emailed me awhile back asking for my thoughts on building an apple cider press of their own, similar to the one I built.  We talked back and forth a bit and discussed stuff I liked about mine and stuff I would do differently if I were to make another one.

Attached are some pics of their finished product and a bit of text describing their setup.  I think it is super exciting to make homemade cider so congratulations to my new web friends on a job well done!

from the builders

“here are some pictures of our press.  We ended up making ours a lot shorter, because the bottle jack wouldn’t reach.  The holes in our pot were 5/32″ diameter one inch apart around the bottom, and two inches apart in two staggered rows up the side of the pot (the blue tape is just so that I can keep the height semi-even).  I love your set up it was very inexpensive, and easy to build.”

I am a veggie-saurus

I haven’t said much about it but I decided to become a vegetarian as of June 1. I am not really interested in crusading for any causes, but I decided to become a vegetarian for a few reasons. Mainly I want to get my cholesterol under control. I am following a regimen of eating a low fat/low cholesterol vegetarian diet that has worked for some folks to control or regulate their health. I have no idea yet whether or not it will work for me. Still I expect to remain a vegetarian regardless. Again, I have no intent to crusade about this and the rest of my family still eats meat. For me though, I like the lower environmental impact that eating vegetarian requires. I have seen commentaries and debates one way and the other about the topic. I have no interest in debating the topic but this just works for me and I am all about “live and let live”.

I am not sure why I feel compelled to even talk about this subject with so many qualifiers but I suppose it’s because I am fully aware that food and environment and green topics often result in “religious” debates on the topics (that is, people hold their opinions on these topics somewhere very close to their hearts).

Anyhow, I was pretty worried at first. I like fruits and veggies and beans and grains and all, but could I live on those things? Would I lose a lot of weight? Would I lose all my strength? Would I be more gassy than the local Exxon? Yeah, just shooting straight here. Anyhow, I discovered that with some work, it’s not too difficult to eat a healthy, not overly processed, tasty vegetarian diet. I also get more protein now than I ever did when I ate meat. The stuff I eat often takes care of that very well. And that list I gave above…well, it’s a mixed bag, but I gotta tell you, it’s been well worth it. I never feel bloated or crampy or sick after I eat now. I have plenty of energy and I just plain feel better. Aside from the potential health and environmental impacts, I will remain a vegetarian because I flat out feel 10x better than I ever did when I ate meat!

So, just like the humble brontosaurus, I am now a veggie-saurus! I surely hope I fare better than my reptilian cousin!

Practically Perfect Pumpkins

We grow all sorts of stuff in the garden…we grow beans and corn and peppers and tomatoes.  We’ve grown gourds and squash and zukes too.  This year though, we tried pumpkins.  Last year we bought an absolutely perfect pumpkin at the local farmers’ market.  We carved it up and roasted most of the seeds.  I saved a few though figuring I would give it a go this year.  Holy cow those seeds made more perfect pumpkins this year!

Most of the garden is pretty well done for us this year.  I expected  that pumpkins would take much longer to develop…you know, so they would be timed right for the coming of the Great Pumpkin (Charlie Brown).  I suppose real pumpkin farmers plant their seeds a bit later than we did.  Anyhow, our pumpkins turned orange and were looking awesome last week so I decided to harvest them.  They are winter squash so I expect that they will last a good long time (’til Halloween at least I hope!)

I have enjoyed thinking about saving seeds and have done it some but this year I was impressed and really see the point of saving seeds from the best fruits.  We’ll keep seeds from the best of these pumpkins again this year.  I’ll be playing Gregor Mendel with pumpkins here in W-by-God-VA.  Mark my words folks…WV pumpkins are gonna be incredible in a few years!  You can say you heard about it here first!  Well, either that or I will end up living in a monastery when Emily gets fed up and throws me out…I am hoping for the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown!

The HOT light is on!

Isn’t it strange how sometimes your brain follows some stream of consciousness and you end up someplace completely different from where you started?  Yeah, well, welcome to my life…actually, welcome to my lovely wife’s life putting up with me.  Anyhow, Monday morning we started off planning to make some sort of healthy vittles where we end up hungry again a half hour after eating.  Well, a bunch of twists and turns went through my head and we ended up making homemade donuts in one of the world’s most ingenious creations – The Magic Chef Donut Bakery machine!  I am not sure how I got there but I suppose the idea of eating some sort of fru-fru breakfast sparked some sort of ancient survival mechanism deep within my hindbrain…something screaming, “give me donuts, not some fruity-I-am-still-hungry food”.

It’s really hard to beat hot donuts.  Isaac was born at Baptist Hospital in Nashville.  His birth was complicated so we spent a good bit of time in and around the hospital.  Our room overlooked the Krispee Kreme donut factory so whenever the “Hot Now” light came on, I hustled down and bought a dozen.  I don’t know how many meals of donuts we ate but Krispee Kreme stock hit its high point when we were active consumers.

My parents had a version of the Magic Chef Donut Bakery machine though theirs made only three donuts at a time (but they were larger).  Anyhow, somewhere between 8-10 years ago, I was at my brother’s place in Indiana.  We were bored so we went junkin’.  We trapsed around town and looked over other peoples’ junk.  I didn’t expect much but under a pile of 8-track tapes, I saw it…the Magic Chef Donut Bakery machine…and it was marked $1…and it worked!

So, like I said, the stream of consciousness this weekend somehow reminded me that I had that glorious donut maker tucked away behind the pile of 8-track tapes I bought in Indiana.  We broke out the recipe and made a gigantic batch of cinnamon donuts.   Sometimes my streams of consciousness make for some pretty fun times and this time, I found that the “Hot Now” light is on!

We’re in the honey!

After the first unsuccessful attempt at harvesting honey this year, we decided to give it another go last weekend.  I had removed about half of the honey from the hives the weekend prior (before things went south).  I suited up again this Saturday to finish removing the honey on the remaining hives…not one single sting while I was removing the rest.  Not one!  That’s the way it is supposed to work!  I am not sure I would recommend it, but if one has normal freakin’ bees and works slowly and deliberately, one could almost work the bees buck naked.

Anyhow, I pulled the rest of the honey and we extracted on Sunday (with the help of my family!)  I nearly fainted as Isaac and Abigail both actually helped with the process.  Typically they swoop in and swipe bits of honey, then retreat to unknown locations planning their next attack.  But this weekend, they actually stuck it out for an hour or so!

Some years we get different colors of honey.  Different nectar sources produce different colors of honey.  This year, all of the honey was the same color.  That doesn’t mean that all of the honey came from a single type of flower…just that all the types of flowers they worked happened to make the same color of honey.

We have converted our honey frames over to plastic Honey SuperCell frames which I cut to size to fit in the shorter honey boxes.  There are many advantages to these type of honey frames but one thing that is both good and bad is that the bees don’t draw out the honeycomb too thick.  Really, they don’t draw it out beyond the depth of the plastic that is already drawn.  That’s good in that I don’t destroy any honey getting the frames out, but bad in that it means it’s harder to cut the cappings off.  Rather than using a knife to remove the top caps of the honey comb, we had to try something new this year – a capping scratcher.  That’s basically a fork with long thin tines that we drag over the sealed honey cells to break open the honeycomb so it can be extracted.   (All that may be confusing…basically, I can’t use a knife any more to open the honey cells…now I need to use a fork)

We spent about 4 hours on Sunday and extracted about 193 pounds of honey this year.  I am pretty satisfied with that especially considering I destroyed 25-40 pounds of honey in one of the hives I had to kill.  It’s exhausting work but we really enjoy the family time too (right family?  right?)  Like so much at this time of year (i.e. the garden), I love the build-up and the harvest but even more-so, I love its completion!