Monthly Archives: April 2014

Honeybee eggs

I was helping my friend Larry with his bees the other day.  He’s our neighbor up at the deluxe shed and the husband of Granny Sue.  So he has bees and asked me to come take a look at his bees, offer some advice, and generally act like men.  It was a good time and we had a lot of fun poking around in his bees to make sure things were ship-shape.

Bees hanging on a beehive
Bees hanging on a beehive

We looked over the bees and found some brand new wax that was the most beautiful yellow color!  Fresh wax often ranges in color from white to bright yellow depending on what is blooming when they build it and what they drag in on their little feet as they walk across it .  Eventually, all wax turns black or brown from traffic so it a real joy to see fresh yellow wax I think.

Fresh Yellow beeswax!
Fresh Yellow beeswax!

The best part though, is that the sun was just right and the color was just right and I was able to get some really cool pictures of honeybee eggs.  Each hive has exactly one queen and she lays between 1000 and 2000 eggs per day during peak season.  These eggs are not much bigger than a comma on a page and are very hard for many beekeepers to see.

Honeybee eggs...the small white lines in the bottom of the comb
Honeybee eggs…the small white lines in the bottom of the comb

A good queen will lay only one egg per cell and always in the bottom of the cell…close to the middle and never on the sides.  A few times, I have seen a good queen lay multiple eggs in a single cell, but only when she is brand new and when first introduced to a colony.  I suppose, with her typical laying rate, she gets backed up a little and has to get some eggs moving.  Anyhow, a queen will always settle down and lay one egg per cell and rarely skips cells across an entire frame of honeycomb.

Honeybee eggs
Honeybee eggs…another view

In a hive where the queen has died, one or more workers will take on the role of a queen, but because they were not raised properly as a queen, they never become fertile.  Still, they will produce and lay eggs but their eggs are usually all over the place…often many to a cell and all over the sides.  Their eggs will develop into male drone bees and signal the end of a hive if a new queen is not introduced.

More bee stuff

All-county band!

I love band kids!  They are just some of the coolest, non-jerky kids I have ever met.  I am especially proud of my band kid and the fact that he recently killed it in the all-county band as well as the all-county jazz band performances.  You see, Isaac plays tenor sax and he plays it pretty well.  Well enough to earn first chair in both bands!

My band kid
My band kid!

These kids get together once a week for 2 hours at a time over the course of 6 or 8 weeks to practice.  They work very hard and it comes together in a fantastic performance that we enjoyed a few weeks back!  Isaac had a number of solos and he did a great job!

Tune #1
Tune #2
Tune #3
Tune #4
Tune #5
Tune #6
Tune #7
Tune #8
Tune #9

He didn’t show too many signs of nervousness (at least until we were getting ready to drive to the performance…maybe a little tension then) and he pressed right through and played so well.  I am very proud of course.  Take a listen and see what you think.  As always, this was recorded on my phone which was somewhat swamped at times by their sound and by random knuckleheads talking, the occasional cough or two and my stomach growling.  I still like their sound and hope you enjoy!

Pupae are people too

Well, they aren’t really people but pupae are interesting anyhow.  As I mentioned before, it is bee season so lots of exciting things are going on.  I suppose that you probably know that many critters, bees included, start as eggs.  Eggs hatch into larva or little white wormy/caterpillar-looking things.  After those larva eat and eat, they grow a lot and finally spin a cocoon after being sealed into their own little honeycomb.  Inside that cocoon, they undergo a metamorphosis where they change from ugly, fat worm of a larva into a regular old-fashioned honeybee…been doing it like this for brazillions of years (or maybe 100 million years or so in a form related to current honeybees).

Drone pupae and worker bees
Drone pupae and worker bees

Bees are funny critters.  They have serious OCD issues and cannot handle too much open space within their hive.  “Bee space” is generally regarded as about 3/8 of an inch.  That’s the optimum space for bees to walk around, make more bees, tend to the honey, etc.  Leave a space larger than that and they will build comb to fill the void.  Space much less than that and they will plug it with propolis, a tar-like substance that is super sticky and will stain anything and everything.  Actually, old fashioned violins and furniture were often stained with propolis. Generally, there are gaps larger than the bee space between the tops of bee frames and the lid, between the top and bottom box where the bees live, and other places that just crop up.  So, bees do what they do and build honeycomb.  The comb is usually drone comb…that is, comb that is a little larger in diameter to accommodate the larger developing drones.

Drone pupae and worker bees
Drone pupae and worker bees

When a beekeeper works within a hive, sometimes that drone comb necessarily gets torn apart as one lifts the lid or pulls out frames.  Any drone larvae/pupae/eggs are ruined of course, but it leaves a neat opportunity to see pupae in various stages of development.  Early on, they are all white but look very much like a bee…a zombie bee, but still a bee.  One of the first things to change during pupation is the color of their  eyes.  The entirety of the bee might be stark (Winter is coming) white, but their eyes turn pink and then a 3-day-old-bruise shade of purple.

Purple eyes on developing drone bee pupa
Purple eyes on developing drone bee pupa

Additionally, drones have a longer development cycle so varroa mites, the pesky parasite bugs that basically killed most wild honeybees in the 1980s, have a greater opportunity to hook onto the pupae.  In fact, they even prefer the drones for that reason and, based on smell, selectively choose drone pupae over worker pupae.  In fact, there is a school of thought that one should “plant” larger diameter foundation comb on which bees will build drone comb, to entice varroa to attach to drones in a beekeeper-selected area which can be culled.

Varroa mite on a drone pupa
Varroa mite on a drone pupa
Varroa mite on a drone pupa
Varroa mite on a drone pupa…up close so your skin can crawl

So, as I was checking out my drone pupae, I noted a small but non-zero number of varroa mites.  The level is, in my opinion, still manageable, but I will take measures to cut their number this season after I harvest honey.  So, while pupae are people too, varroa mites are not and must die!

Stonewall Jackson Middle School

Isaac was in all county band again this year and the practice sessions were at a local middle school, Stonewall Jackson Middle, here in Charleston.  It’s an old school that used to be a high school.  Anyhow, as I waited for Isaac to finish his practice one day, I noticed how striking some of the colors and scenes of the school are.

Stonewall Jackson High School, Charleston, WV
Stonewall Jackson High School, Charleston, WV
Red school doors
These doors look amazing…weird huh?

Sculpture on Stonewall Jackson High School, Charleston, WV


Stonewall Jackson High School, Charleston, WV

The brick pattern looked nice to me…so I am weird

As I was taking these pics, a man and his daughter wandered by.  The father was telling the daughter about the history of the school and the family lineage there.  It was cool to hear and sort of fun to think about history of schools.  I am amazed but the school where Emily’s grandpeople went through the elementary grades is still in use as an elementary school.  Maybe that isn’t so good but the old buildings certainly have character!

A beautiful queen bee!

I was poking around in the beehives the other day and was able to get a few cool pics.  Mainly, I wanted to check on the new packages of bees I got awhile back.  I just took the opportunity to look in on all of the bees as a beekeeper typically does in Spring.

Some beekeepers rarely see their queens, but I think that is usually due to inexperience and sometimes laziness.  I don’t always find my queen but I always look for evidence she is healthy (that is, I look for freshly laid eggs).  I can find her any time I want though.  All beekeepers should spend the time to figure out how to scan frames of bees to find a queen.  She moves differently than the other bees and the other bees usually give her some room as well.

I sometimes get my queens marked.  The beekeeper who sells queens can mark an ink dot on the thorax of the queen to make her easier to see.  The color of the dot coincides with the year she was born.  In my experience, the mark tends to wear off pretty quickly but it only costs a buck or two.  I think this marking is cool since it is heart shaped!

A queen bee
The queen and her attendants

So, here are some pics I got of one of my beautiful queens, new last Fall.   You can see her abdomen is significantly larger than the female worker bees around her.  Notice how the workers sort of make a circle around her, all facing her ready to serve at her beck and call…or something like that.

A queen bee and her attendants...with varroa mite
Notice the rust colored spot on the worker at 11 o’clock above the queen…that’s a varroa mite that will eventually kill that worker bee…and the hive if allowed to multiply

There is a lot of other stuff to see in the hive too (click the pics to enlarge if you want to see better). The bright yellow stuff is fresh pollen. There is a lot this year and the hive is full of different colors. The brown coverings on some of the honeycomb are covering brood…baby bees pupating into worker bees. Towards the top, you can see white horseshoe shaped larva.  There are several sizes representing various stages of development.  Female worker bees are in the larval stage for around 5 days.  After that, they pupate and turn into normal looking bees over the course of 13 or so days.  All told, a bee starts as an egg and 21 days later hatches into a worker bee, ready to begin duties in the hive.

I took some more pics that turned out pretty great so I’ll share some more in the next few days…it’s bee season after all!

Picking up new bees

So I drove to NC a few weeks ago.  When I lived in PA, that would have sounded like an impossible trip.  Heck, from Charleston, it is only 4 hours or so.  I know you are wondering why I drove to NC…I mean, it is a lovely place, but so is WV.

Beautiful scenery on the way to NC
Beautiful scenery on the way to NC
Welcome to Brushy Mountain
Welcome to Brushy Mountain

I ordered a few packages of bees from Brushy Mountain Bee Farm and it was delivery day!  So, I drove down in the morning in full anticipation of getting bees.  This is not my first time to get bees and not even my first time to Brushy Mountain, but it is just so darn exciting contemplating a few boxes of buzzing honeybees awaiting my arrival to take them home to their new hives.  I drove through some pretty wild snow which made me ponder whether this was the proper time to be getting bees.  Of course, like spring across the country, wait a day and the weather will change.

At the Brushy Mountain living room...I mean store
At the Brushy Mountain living room…I mean store

The bee farm has a small retail outlet not much bigger than my living room.  I wandered about it for 15 minutes or so.  I bought a few supplies and stuff , but I felt like I ought to stay longer.  I know once you walk to the bee pick-up location, they grab your bees and send you on your way.  It’s sort of anti-climactic, you know?  I mean, I drove all that way, full of excitement, to spend 20 minutes actually getting the bees…20 minutes if I stretch it out.

My package of bees
My package of bees

I could linger no longer so I got my bees, which looked very healthy this year.  Sometimes bees have a hard trip from wherever in Georgia they originate.  This year they were great.  I made sure they were braced into my back seat well and I headed back home.  I tend not to stop much when I drive by myself.  It’s funny but I can drive all day by myself, but put another person in the car and I sometimes get groggy.  Weird.

Under the mountain and then onward to home
Under the mountain and then onward to home

Anyhow, we made it back home in one piece after another exciting trip to the bee farm!  The buzz of my new bees kept me entertained and seeing the occasional escapee always makes me laugh.  I especially wonder what would ever happen if an officer of the law pulled me over and saw that…I think I will try to avoid that situation…but it makes me sort of laugh!  Yeah bees!

Our road keeps on slippin’ slippin’ slippin, into the neighbor

In high school, I really enjoyed listening to Steve Miller Band.  The music is a little funky but I still really enjoy it.  They had one song called, “Fly Like an Eagle”.   One of the lines is, “Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’…into the future…”  It’s catchy and seems to sort of fit with a fun little thing that is happening in my neighborhood right now.

When we bought this place 8 or so years ago, the road was in less than stellar shape.  It was obvious a slip of some sort had occurred at some point.  As time passed, we noticed that the road gapped a little now and then…it was still an active slip!  Every year the city…or maybe the road elves…someone would bring a load of asphalt to patch the gaps that developed and we went on our merry way.  This year, however, the issue became serious.  Over the course of a week or so, half of our road dropped a foot.  The city brought rock to fill the slip to allow everyone to pass.  Of course, that was a hopeless battle because the rock added weight to the mix which worsened the slip.

Road slip

Our road is one lane and a dead end.  The way our driveway is shaped, we typically back up or down it to the road, drive to a turn-around where we change direction and then drive out to the main road.  We need to cross the slip to turn around but we can survive without being able to do that.  Fortunately, for us, this is a mild inconvenience compared to what some of my neighbors are suffering.   More than half of the residents of my street live beyond the slip and were at risk of not being able to access their homes, being left without refuse service or emergency services.

Road slip panorama
Click to see the larger view

I’ll give credit to the city, the water company and the sanitation folks.  Oh yeah…in varying forms, there have been water and sewer disruptions in addition to the road mess.  All three agencies seem to have come together nicely to drive piles, dig holes, cut trees and in general, fix the road.

Just last night, however, the urgency has grown.  The pilings are mostly in place so our road appears to be safe, but the earth below the road and wall-in-progress failed.  A 40ish foot swath of earth slipped significantly down the hill towards another neighborhood below over night.  I’d be terrified to stay in those houses, especially with the forecast of rain and possible snow tomorrow.

The road slip worsens
The road slip worsens

I’m typically one to find the good in situations though, and I have definitely seen good come of this mess.  In addition to improving our home values with a good road, I have been given the opportunity to stand upon the road once the work crew leaves, with my neighbors.  We all knew each other but we rarely just stood around and talked.  We have done more of that lately and it has been a good and fun thing!

The chickens have left the building

It occurred to me that I haven’t mentioned a thing about our chickens since we first got them.  I have been amazed at how fast they have grown up…they look like real chickens now!  When we started, of course, we kept the chicks inside under a heat lamp.  The brooder was just a washtub with a piece of fence I wrapped around the sides to make a wall.  At first, the setup worked well and the chickens grew very well.

Our chickens

I really needed to get a coop built so we could transition them outside, but we have been super busy lately.  The chickens were fine in the brooder after all…so what’s the hurry?  I mean, the brooder was in our office at the house which has it’s own heat source and I can keep the cats out very well.  Heck, the chickens might even enjoy looking out and seeing the beautiful cork floor, right?

Our chickens

They did indeed like the look of the cork floor.  Apparently, one day, the decided to mount an attack on my fenced in brooder wall…they somehow knocked the wall over and escaped into my office.  Now, if you have never been around chickens, I need to tell you…chickens can poop a lot.  I mean a lot!  And they are generally pretty messy.  Imagine, if you will, 7 chickens free to roam about my office.  They didn’t exactly admire my cork floor in the traditional sense, but they did apparently walk about every square inch of it, dropping blobs of chicken poop wherever the wanted.

Our chicken coop
I upgraded the roof a bit

Of course, that was it…I could not wait to build my coop any longer.  I ended up buying a coop which was not quite what I had originally planned but it looks nice and works pretty well so far.  I still need to build either a chicken tractor or an extended run to give the chickens more space but this has alleviated my original problem…and now, let’s hope cork flooring comes clean without too much work…

It once again rolls downhill

Awhile back, I mentioned that we had a pretty bad Saturday that culminated in erupting sewage in our house.  There is more to the story of course and you dear friends, are always so patient to listen to my ramblings…

The tool of doom!
The tool of doom!

So we finished our ’round-the-clock pumping and called the plumbers.  They immediately told us that our city sanitary board offers a free service where they will run a camera through the system to identify the location of the problem.  In fact, a simple clog will sometimes break free when their camera passes so we were pleased with the possibility.  The city came and did their thing…after they finally found a spot that the could even access the system.  You see, in our old house, there are essentially no viable clean-outs they could use.  Luckily they were able to access the system through the floor drain that was the original source of our problems.  After some work, they identified a spot 44′ out into the yard that was the problem…it just went black on the camera.

Replacing our sewer line
Replacing our sewer line

We called our plumbers back and they began the task of roto-rooting the system.  Of course, without a clean-out, they had problems.   The only option for their bigger tool was to remove one of our toilets and go through the system that way.  Luckily we have 3 bathrooms so we weren’t immediately doomed.  The problem, however, was that they got their tool stuck in the system somewhere 80′ or so in from the entry point.

Replacing our sewer line
Replacing our sewer line…all the way down to the main!

The only solution was to excavate to retrieve their tool.  I figured that since they were going to have to excavate, we might as well replace the old clay tile pipe with new pvc and hopefully avert future crises.  So, with a huge tool still stuck in our bathroom and plugging a large part of our drain system, we entered day 3…or was it day 4?  Who knows?  Anyhow, the excavator came and dug up a large part of our yard, including the water line which was apparently buried on top of the sewer line.  Yeah!  More problems and expense!  Yeah!   #+@#$*!  It turns out the line was full of roots from the house clear to the city’s tap.  The city had to replace their tap and a section of their line as well…luckily that won’t immediately cost me.

Replacing our sewer line
Covered again…waiting for the mud!

Everything eventually got put back together and reburied.  We flushed and flushed to make sure it all rolled downhill as…stuff…is meant to do.  There is nothing left in our basement so it seems that all is well once again in our little piece of Heaven!

Our new land

We bought 30 acres a couple of years ago and we sort of figured that would be it.  We love the land we have and do not intend to ever leave it.  We weren’t looking for any more land, but it turns out that their was another piece of land within walking distance of our original property that came on the market.  It’s within decimal places of being the same acreage of the original property and the price was right…so we closed on our second piece of land on our beloved ridge last Friday.  I walked the perimeter a few weeks ago and took some cool pics.  Now that Spring appears to be here finally, I hope to explore some more and maybe find a hot stash of Molly Moochers!

A stream on our new land   I have no idea what we are really going to do with the property but if nothing else, the kids can have equal inheritance!

Now that I look at these pics…meh…but I like the stream for sure and it’s a nice property in spite of these pics!

I have no idea what we are really going to do with the property but if nothing else, the kids can have equal inheritance!