Monthly Archives: August 2013

Back-up singer for Bryan Adams

Where has the time gone?  I swear we have been busy…in fact, too busy to even write anything I guess.  Really, my problem is that I have been in recovery.  You see,  a few weeks ago, Bryan Adams came to Charleston for a concert in the excellent Clay Center.  He asked me to sing back-up for him during the concert.  Actually, he wanted me to sing along from the audience…you know…to lead the common folk who were in the crowd.

At the Bryan Adams concert

When Bryan first announced his concert, Emily’s brother asked if we wanted to get tickets.  Of course we wanted to go and reminisce about our early days of dating.  I forgot how many awesome Bryan Adams songs there are!  This concert was a huge reprisal of all of his very best songs.  It was awesome!  Some concerts are not much fun when the musician focuses on new songs that no one cares about or the really bad old songs…but not Bryan Adams!  Every song for 2 hours was a classic song from my teen years!  He didn’t need any technology to sound great.  His live concert was just as good as his recorded work.  It was amazing!

Bryan Adams in concert
Bryan Adams in concert

The best part is that we had seats at center stage, six rows back.  The concert was acoustical and simple and a perfect date for Emily and me.  I tried to take some pics to share our date with you, my friends.  My iPhone 4 has a camera that was woefully inadequate for taking pictures from even 6 rows back.  So, not only is my voice in recovery, but so is my wallet.  You see, my iPhone ticked me off so much that I got a new phone…I switched from Apple and bought a Samsung Galaxy S4…love it!  No more bad pics I hope!

Bryan Adams Bare Bones Tour
The background is a portrait of Bryan Adams

Anyhow, if you get a chance to see Bryan Adams in concert, go.  It was a lot of fun and he has so many great and classic songs that you will know, even if you don’t remember that they were his songs!

The new American stealth fighter

We were working on the deck at the deluxe shed last weekend and we heard this incredible sound.  Circling about overhead was this oddly shaped black flying machine.  It wasn’t a black helicopter so I began to wonder if my tinfoil hat was screwed on a little too tight.  The black flying machine continued to circle though and finally came into my field on approach!  Honest to goodness, the new technology is amazing!  This new stealth fighter landed on one of the boards for the deck on which I was working!

Stealth fighter or giant black horse fly?  You be the judge!
Stealth fighter or giant black horse fly? You be the judge!

We moved over slowly to where it had landed, not knowing if we should be honored or afraid.  I pulled out my camera figuring it would be the moment of truth…either the flying machine would remain still and let me take a pic or I would feel its sting.  I felt bold and alive and the tingles of adrenaline poured over my body!

Stealth fighter or giant black horse fly?  You be the judge! Stealth fighter or giant black horse fly?  You be the judge!

I looked back at Abigail who had first spotted this stealth fighter and she said, “Dad, you’re an idiot…it’s a fly.  Take a picture before it flies off!”  Parenting is so humbling!  I think this baby is a horse fly (Tabanus atratus) but I don’t think I have ever seen a solid black one or one of this size!  He was a beauty and he posed very well for a pic…no bites at all!

The queen is dead…long live the queen

Just like at my house, the queen in a bee colony runs the show!  The queen bee is the mother to all of the bees in the colony who sort of live to serve her.  They feed her and clean up her waste.  They guard her and, based on the pheromones she releases, swarm with her when it is time to move.  The temperament of the queen has everything to do with the temperament of the colony as well.

Queen honeybee
Can you spot the queen bee?  Click to  enlarge the picture…it makes it easier
Queen honeybee
The pic above, only zoomed in on the queen

Queen bees only breed immediately after they are hatched.  Once a queen leaves her queen cell where she pupated, she takes several mating flights in her first week or so where she hooks up with male drones mid-flight.  Based on boy-bee anatomy, at the completion of the act, the boy parts are ripped from their bodies dooming them almost immediately.  The queen may execute this breeding process 1-10 times in her first week or so and in that process stores all of the sperm with which she will populate her colony.  If Africanized drones are flying near (which is a real possibility with Southern-made queens), the queen will produce bees with Africanized genetics.  If crazy males are flying by, the queen will produce crazy bees.  It’s a bit of a crap-shoot and the temperament of the colony will change as the queen “works her way through” the sperm she gathered during her breeding period.

Requeening a beehive
This is sort of what it looks like when I start the search…but they don’t stand still!

Hey, here’s a fun fact…female bees, which make up the majority (~95%) of the hive, are the workers who make the honey, guard the hive, and raise baby bees.   Only female bees are made from fertilized eggs.  The queen lays a certain number of unfertilized eggs which become male drone bees which only exist to breed with other queens outside the hive.  That is, if a nearby colony makes a new queen or if the queen in the current hives dies, drones will mate with the newly made queen (more on that in another post).  If you thought life required fertilized eggs, you are wrong!  Male bees come from unfertilized eggs!

A queen cell
Two queen cells…where the queen changes from a egg to a full grown mommy bee!

Anyhow, most good beekeepers will, at some point, requeen their hives to ensure that the colony will have a good supply of female workers, to alter the temperament of the colony or to ensure that the queen is young and vigorous.  The typical queen will last 5-7 years maximum and will, over that time, produce a weaker and weaker colony.  In the end, she will run out of stored sperm and will make a colony full of drones which do not make honey and will ultimately die.

Queens in introduction cages
Queens in introduction cages. The candy is the white stuff in the long tube

Last weekend was the weekend for me to requeen my colonies.  Imagine if you will, looking through a colony of 60,000 bees, one of which looks a little different, and all of which are unhappy about having their home inspected.  It’s like finding a slightly longer needle in a needlestack!  Some beekeepers go their entire beekeeping career never seeing their queens.  Those beekeepers often have trouble throughout their careers which is a shame.  Anyhow, I blur my eyes a little and watch for “queen movement”  She just moves differently and I can spot her easily if I look for her special “shimmy”!

Introducing a new queen
Always put the candy “up” so any debris won’t block the hole and trap the queen inside

Once I find her, I mash her and introduce a new queen contained in a special cage that has sugary candy in the end.  The idea is that the bees will eat through the candy because it’s…well..candy.  In that time,  the old queen’s pheromones dissipate and the new queen’s take over.  If that goes well, she is accepted and life goes on.  Of course, if it doesn’t go well, they immediately kill her and I am out $25 and a lot of work.  In that case, I order a new queen and try again!

As a special treat, here is a recording I made of one of my queen bees piping as she waited to be put into a colony.  Piping is a way the queen communicates that she is ready to do battle with other queens and that she rules the roost…many people have never heard this sound so I am pleased to have recorded it.  I only ever heard it one other time when there was a virgin queen still in a queen cell, but nearly ready to hatch.  She and the old queen were throwing it down!  Apparently, queen bees pipe in G#!

I’ll check next weekend to make sure all of the colonies have freed and accepted their new queens…lets’ hope for the best…long live the queen!

She decked me

We always ponder the priority with which we need to work on parts of the deluxe shed.  We need running water, electric, and heat.  There are lots of things that need to be done in a particular order so that we can get electric, water and heat.  Would you believe a deck around the entire place is one of those things?

Building the deck Building the deck

You see, we plan to bury the electric from the pole to a wooden “electric wall” on one side of the house on which the meter and shut-off will reside.  We have always planned on a wrap-around deck so to build the wall, we need to know exactly where the deck is going to be.  Once that is done, we can trench between the pole and the wall.  The rest is sort of easy once that is done.

Building the deck

I don’t know if you have ever been to West-by-God-Virginia, but we have mountains here.  There is precious little flat ground here and that which does exist floods every time it rains.  So, we are building on an incline and in the mud.  It has been fun!  We finished the deck on one side and that has been great as far as getting us in and out of the house…and out of the mud!  The remaining sides are all elevated, with the highest being 9 feet off of the ground.  Still, building deck is easy and makes a dramatic change to the appearance of the place…plus it will allow us to finally get electric, water and heat!

Building the deck

Here’s the cool part about the side deck…Emily, with a little help from Isaac, completely finished it completely by herself.  I was working on the bees while she sawed and hammered and cussed.  We worked together on the frame but she put all of the decking on by herself!  One heck of a woman!

More about building our cabin

First day of school – 2013

How can it be that summer is over already?!  Well, not really over but for all intents and purposes, once school starts, Summer is basically (I’ll quote Sergeant Schultz here), “Kaput”.  Our county sent those poor darlings back on Friday.  I get why the send them back on a Friday in some ways but couldn’t they wait just a few more days?

First day of school 2013!

We woke everyone early (compared to Summer wake up time) and I offered to make breakfast.  No one took me up on it.  I am not sure how to take that but I guess we just had some really really good tasting cereal at the house.

First day of school 2013!

As we scurried around, Abigail was literally singing, “Ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall” as she searched around for her shoes and stuff.  Emily was singing “Happy days are here again…”, much to the dismay of the kids.  Isn’t it great being a parent?  Driving the kids nuts is so much fun!

First day of school 2013!

Anyhow, poor Abigail was sort of tentative about the whole school thing.  She wants to like school but she really likes to read and they don’t let her just read at will during the day so it could be better.  Isaac was basically non-responsive but what would you expect from an 8th grade boy?  He’s an inch-and-a-half taller than I am now and his voice is a man’s voice.  I’d say he thinks like a man but that should go without saying…he’s an 8th grade boy…I never got beyond thinking like an 8th grade boy.

So, every year I interview the kids and ask them about their plans and such.  Here are this year’s installments…

First day of school 2013 First day of school 2013

Click to play the videos. They are sideways and my converter program keeps crashing so use your imagination!


Varroa mites suck!

We pulled honey off of the hives the other day and a typical part of that process is taking a general gander (technical term) at the health of the colony.  I usually look for the queen although I don’t spend a lot of time on that during the harvest.  I do definitely look for eggs though.  Eggs mean a queen was nearby in the last few days.   I like to see a good number of worker bees and a typical brood/pollen/honey pattern in the nest.  I usually get a good feel pretty quickly whether the hive is “hot” or overly defensive.  In no way do I tolerate a hot hive.  It’s dangerous for me, for other people and animals nearby and it is generally just not any fun whatsoever to work in a hot hive.  I’ll tell you how to correct that in another post soon.

Varroa mite on honeybee larva
Varroa mite on honeybee larva

Anyhow, the other thing I do is a varroa mite check.  Varroa mites (or just plain mites) are what began decimating wild honeybee colonies in the late 1980s around the United States.  The mites are parasitic little pieces of evil that literally drink the bees dry.  They are vectors for disease and just plain suck.  I look for obvious signs of varroa mites… the mites actually hanging on the bodies of adult bees as well as  for misshapen wings (they look chewed upon) that often indicate varroa.  I also pop open a few capped drone cells (drones are the male bees that serve no purpose this time of year for me…queens are already mated and healthy.  They will be thrown out of the hive in a few weeks anyhow.)  You see, varroa like to attach to the bodies of the larva where they simultaneously mature with the bees.

So, I popped open a few cells and did indeed find varroa on some of the drones.  There are several mostly effective methods to treat against the varroa and I am due for another treatment anyhow so I will add that in the next week or so.  Most treatments take a few “doses” so that’s what I will do.

I also use integrated pest management (IPM) techniques including screened bottom boards and small cell honeycomb to help.  Working around varroa is a necessary part of keeping bees nowadays so I just keep up on research and assume varroa exist in every hive.  Following the routine has kept my bees alive and healthy for years now!  I still hate those nasty little bugs though!

Honey Harvest 2013

Weather this year has been quite unusual.  Typically we harvest honey on the absolute hottest day of the year.  I don’t know that we usually plan it exactly like that, but it certainly seems to work out that way.  It’s always been a bit of the tradition that the honey harvest is miserable because of the heat.  You see, honey is extremely heavy on the hive and the heavy bee suits trap heat like crazy.  It is significantly hotter in a bee suit than not.  So, couple the hot bee suit with heavy honey and tens of thousands of bees that aren’t always thrilled that I am in harvesting their hard work and you end up with a tough day.

Honey harvest day!
Honey harvest day!

This year, the weather was pleasant on harvest day.  We might have gotten into the 80s but it was the low 80s at best.  I was in a better mood…the bees were in a better mood.  All in all, it was a delightful experience!

A frame with pollen, bees and honey
A frame with pollen, bees and honey. The orange semi-circle is pollen. The bees are on honey. In the middle are baby bees  and eggs

I burned aspen shavings from the pet bedding department which made a great smoke.  The bees were active as one would expect but not bad.  Carrying honey was heavy but not terrible.  We pulled every frame I own off of the hives and they were nicely filled out.  The bees looked as healthy as they ever have and every hive had nice looking brood, pollen and honey patterns in the nest (the center part where the bee raising happens…not in the honey area up above where I harvest the honey).  We didn’t extract the honey (spin it out of the combs) yet so I don’t know exactly how much honey we have this year but we should finish that up this week sometime.  I think we may try to avoid the hottest day of the year when we harvest next year.  I may be a slow learner but I think this message made itself apparent, loud and clear!

Where I’m from

I am from pickles in mason jars; from returnable Pepsi bottles and snow tires.

I am from the small house with a fan in the window; from a well you pray won’t go dry.

I am from goldenrod, wild blackberries, and maple tree helicopters

I am from sitting around a fire pit and from bald heads; from Mom and Dad and Grandma and Grandpa and Aunt Laura and Uncle Bill.

I am from hot tempers and strong wills; from roller skating in the basement and Johnny Cash on 8-track.

From “Come in and sit a spell” and “untie your brother”.

I am from an old stone church with many wise old gray heads

I’m from Appalachia, both Pennsylvania and West Virginia; from parsnips and cold beer.

I am from the strawberry patch lovers, the “pull the weeds, not the tomatoes!” crew and from the “Someone get up and turn the antenna!” labor force.

I am from camping in the back yard, hoeing in the garden;  I am from the woods and mountains and streams that were my world.


Grandma and Grandpa
Grandma and Grandpa

I saw this over at  Blind Pig and the Acorn and it really struck something in me.  Part of it was from this new old picture of my grandparents and from my longing to go back to simpler times.  I began to wonder how my kids would fill this out 30 years from now and whether I am doing right by them.  I wonder why my memory stinks so bad and how many important things I have forgotten.  I guess I need a little something right now, but looking back over this list, I can’t think what else I could possibly need.  Where I’m from, we have all we need!

If anyone else wants to share, I’d be happy to post where you are from too…here’s the format

Some bugs and stuff

Not much been going on around here lately.  We are mostly laying low, trying not to get anyone hurt.  School starts in a week and we sort of just want to make it to that point without any more drama…so, I took a few pics of stuff I have seen around lately…

Bumblebees on coneflower Bumblebees on coneflower


I love both bumblebees and coneflowers.  This is a perfect picture I think!  I like to sort of trick bumblebees to land on my hand and walk on me.  Honeybees do it naturally but you sort of have to trick bumblebees.  It’s a cool feeling!

Huge spider

I was cleaning out a shed and this big spider was hanging around.  I think he wanted to eat my leg but I left him alone and he wandered off to eat someone else I guess.  Impressive though!

Robber fly

We installed new motion lights on the house and this pesky robberfly would not leave me alone.  There is a variety of robber fly that eats bees, called a beekiller.  I used to have an observation hive and one of this guy’s cousins hung out near the pipe that lead from the hive in my house to the outside.  He picked off bees all day long.  I never could catch him with my shoe…

Size 15 shoes!

Speaking of shoes, we went shoe shopping for Isaac the other day in preparation for school…size 15s!


If I wore size 15s, I might have stepped on these roly polies…I generally live and let live but pill bugs like these creep me out in numbers and this is only a portion of the ones that I saw in this pile.  I never knew it but these things are also known as wood lice.  No wonder they creep me out.  Anyhow, with my mere size 10s, I walked on without disturbing the pile!

Boats at the levee - Charleston, WV

I was in town the other day and took this cool pic of boats docked on the levee downtown.  It may not look it here but there was a good storm going on and I was stuck under a huge metal lightning rod…I mean shelter…freaky!