Monthly Archives: May 2014

A weekend of swarms!

We were all out at the deluxe deer stand working on drywall last weekend when a few of the neighbors came by on atvs.  One neighbor asked if I was busy  and if not, whether I could help him with something.  It was clear it was something urgent so I jumped on the back of his atv.  He drove me over to his brother-in-law’s place…another neighbor, to see a huge swarm of bees!

A huge swarm of bees!
A huge swarm of bees!

Dang it!  It was a huge swarm, undoubtedly out of one of my hives.  A number of people asked me why bees swarm and why I was mad they were my bees.  Bees swarm usually when their hive location becomes unsuitable…usually when they run out of room.  In those cases, the worker bees prepare a number of new queens by feeding royal jelly to fertilized larvae.  When the time comes, the old queen and half (or so) of the original bees strike out on their own to find a new place.  That is how bees naturally propagate and it is not unusual.  I don’t like when my bees swarm, however, because that leaves me with two colonies, neither of which is probably big enough to make much honey.  I like having more colonies, but I prefer when they make me honey too.

My hand in a huge swarm of bees!
My hand in a huge swarm of bees! Look Ma…no gloves!

I usually try to intervene before the bees decide to swarm.  I usually make a split…basically, I take a number of bees out and sort of make my own controlled swarm.  By controlling the size and the timing, I can usually prevent swarming and end up with plenty of honey.

Some of the swarm on my hands
Some of the ladies held on…

So, the neighbors called around and a bunch of folks gathered to see me hive this colony that was 7 or so feet up in a tree…that’s a perfect height.  I showed off some of course.  I stuck my hand up into the swarm.  I got super close and took pics.  I sang the song of the bee people…well, not that part.  Anyhow, I brought my new hive box in and shook the bees into the new box…easy-peasy…except not.

Swarm in the hive box
Swarm in the hive box

The next day, the bees had decided the new box was not acceptable.  This time, they decided to swarm again about 20 feet up in the same tree.  I didn’t have much of a way to get them up that high so I did what any young (?) strapping(?) American (check) boy (check) would do…I tied a rope around a hammer and threw the hammer up in the tree so I could use the rope to shake the swarm out.  That worked well and I re-hived this swarm again.  We’ll see what happens.  It occurs to me as I ponder the process, that throwing a hammer over my head into a tree might not have been all that smart, so don’t try that at home.  Still, it worked and hopefully I still have my bees!

Swarm video
Click for a video of the swarm in progress…with audio!

Well, this is long enough…I have more swarm stories to tell so I will put them off until Part II

Remember Gordon?

Last year, I had a brief but special relationship with Gordon, the girl turtle.  She was a beauty and came to live with us for a time at our house.  I had picked her up at the deluxe deer stand and always wanted a pet turtle.  After I read about the plight of turtles in captivity, I returned her to the wild figuring I would never see her again…but at least she would be free and able to breed, live, do what turtles do.

Ming the Turtle
Ming the Turtle

Last weekend, I was weed-eating around the bee yard when I grazed across the top of the weirdest looking rock I had ever seen.  I bent down and saw a turtle shell buried in the grass.  I didn’t bury him/her in clippings…the turtle was actually down in the grass and seem to have been that way for a little while at least.  Anyhow, I figured it was an empty shell so when I picked it up and a turtle peeked back at me, I was delighted!  “Gordon!” I screamed.  Of course, the turtle retreated back into the shell and I nearly dropped him as well.  After I settled, I realized this wasn’t Gordon, but was almost assuredly kin to Gordon…or maybe her beau.

This Turtle, who I named Ming, is a boy I think and was pretty good size!  I was so happy that the turtle population at the farm is still apparently alive and well and that my girl-turtle Gordon may be responsible for at least some of that!

Old school popcorn

I wandered the grocery store awhile back, probably hunting for something important.  That’s why I found myself in the snack food aisle.  I hadn’t noticed it in a long time, but before my eyes, hidden on a low shelf, was a Jiffy-Pop popcorn pan!  I didn’t know they still made Jiffy-Pop!  I really thought pretty much all popcorn had gone the microwave-bag route…an American tragedy I say.

Jiffy Pop!

Jiffy Pop! It’s still a thing!

Well, I was so excited that I just had to buy the formerly-metal-now-space-age-fireproof-cardboard  pan of popcorn.  Of course, with this magical new pan, it recommends not cooking over a grill or a glass-top range…but that’s all I have so I dared the popcorn fates and fired up the glass range (which we hate).  Heck, we use a huge canner on it breaking that rule too!  I ain’t skeered….and darned if it didn’t pop just fine!

It's alive!
It’s alive!

I was so excited to hear the sizzle of the faux-butter and the first pops.  I dragged the kids in to hear, fully expecting they would be as delighted as I was when we made Jiffy-Pop at home when I was a kid…it was a magical time, the 1970s.  My kids were less inspired by the magic.  It’s a shame I guess…they know Led Zepplin, Rush and Jim Croce.  They know how to dial a rotary phone and have seen all episodes of the Dukes of Hazzard!  They now know Jiffy-Pop but are not as enamored with it as they should be…or as they are with the Duke boys.  I don’t understand kids these days I guess…Oh wait…did I just say that?!

Every boy needs a ballista

There is a special bond that a father and son sometimes get to share…when building a siege weapon, for instance.  In one of Isaac’s classes, the final project was to build a siege weapon of some sort to throw a water balloon as far as possible.  Wen Isaac mentioned the project, I immediately though of building a catapult or a trebuchet.

Building the ballista

Building the ballista

Isaac and members of the class had done research though so there wee a number of other weapons that he learned about which are more unusual (to my mind) and a lot more fun for their uniqueness.  Isaac decided he wanted to build a ballista.     A ballista is basically a crossbow on steroids.  That’s perfect!!!

Dry-run testing the ballista
Dry-run testing the ballista
For Pride...for honor...for goodness sakes
For Pride…for honor…for goodness sakes

Original Greek ballistas used two arms that were wrapped with twisted sinew, leather, who knows what to produce tension.  Regular bows use flex in the arms to produce tension that ultimately dives the projectile forward.  In the original ballistae, the torsion in the sinew generated tension to launch the projectile.

The ballista
From behind
This doesn't look safe now that I look back on it
This doesn’t look safe now that I look back on it

We decided to modernize/pervert the old design to use flex  in the bow arms to provide tension to launch our projectile.  PVC pipe to the rescue!  Isaac and I cut, hammered and cussed this thing into existence this week and launched a tennis ball several times…our max shot was 20 yards.  We had one somewhat serious design flaw for which we had no time to remedy.  We ran a single rope from bow-end to bow-end passing through the projectile cup in the middle.  The rope went through the back of the cup so when we released the tension, the rope had to push the cup which often caused it to flip as it tried to push so hard and fast.  A better design would have been to attach a rope tot he leading edge of the cup on each side so the rope would pull the cup rather than push…I suspect we could have easily thrown a tennis ball 50+ yards.

Ballista Movie
Click to watch our first launch!

Isaac’s event went well and he got his credit.  I see more design enhancements in the coming weeks…this project isn’t over for me yet!  And that’s the best part in my mind…sure, the grade was the main driver for this project, but the best part was shared time and cussing with my son!

Two swarms so far

It’s swarm season and swarm season is my favorite time/part of beekeeping!  Swarming is a natural part of a bee colony but one that is pretty unsettling to folks who see it happening.  In the last 10 days or so, I have gotten two good calls about swarms of bees in Charleston.

An easy swarm on a bush in Kanawha City
An easy swarm on a bush in Kanawha City

The first call was from a postal carrier who was walking in a neighborhood delivering mail.  He came upon a swarm hanging low in a bush.  The homeowner initially wanted to call an exterminator, but the postal worker pulled out his phone and found my contact info.  I was delighted to come and take care of the “problem”.  Most people are terrified and also fascinated/curious about swarms so I try to describe what happened, what I am going to do and why it is so important to save bees rather than kill them.

Shaken, not stirred
Shaken, not stirred
Traffic jam...
Traffic jam…

So this swarm was easy.  I placed my sheet on the ground and my nucleus hive box on top.  With a quick shake and a giggle, most of the bees dropped into the box and my work was done.  It’s unusual, but I actually saw the queen on the top of the pile of bees.  I watched as she marched into the box whereupon I put the lid in place and waited for the rest of the colony to catch up with her!

Large swarm on a concrete wall
Large swarm on a concrete wall

A few days later, Charleston’s 911 dispatch called me about a large swarm in the middle of the city in a fairly public area.  When I arrived, the fire department was in place keeping people away.  They had taped off a large area and were waiting nearby patiently.  I whipped in and saw a very large swarm stuck to a solid concrete retaining wall.  Luckily, I brought along my handy-dandy-bee-swarm-retrieving dustpan.  I am pretty tough but I cannot shake bees off of a concrete wall so I just used the dustpan to gently scoop the bees into my hive box.  Easy-peasy!

I wish I had a banana for reference
I wish I had a banana for reference
Full house!
Full house!

I am pretty vain so I figure that is most of the reason why I love catching swarms so much.  I always get an audience and lots of oohhhs and aahhhs.  It’s usually relatively safe and pretty simple to catch a swarm, but I look brave and tough.  It’s a vain man’s dream!  And on top of that, I get free bees which will (hopefully) make me lots of wonderful sweet honey.  Heck, the world needs more bees as well as more sweet honey so it’s a win all the way around!

More bee stuff

Peonies and Ants

For as long as I can remember, my family has grown pink peonies.  My great grandmother had a substantial stand of them at her old home place and it has been a tradition that a few toes go with family members as we move about so we can propagate the blooms and share something in common no matter where we are.  My grandparents had them planted at their place and my parents have them also.

To me, peonies are about as lovely a flower as they make…secondly only to daffodil I expect.  Both flowers have the most wonderful fragrances of anything in the world too.  I could honest-to-goodness start every day for the rest of my life smelling daffodils and peonies and be a happy man.

Ants on my peony buds

We planted our peonies a few years ago when we bought our home in WV.  We waited and waited and nothing really showed the first year or two.  In fact, I sort of forgot that they were in the ground until last year when familiar shoots started up through the ground.  I do not think a single bloom grew but I knew the leaves and was hopeful.

This year, the flowers came on strong and we have buds waiting to open!  I took a few pictures of the ants that always go with peony blooms which I thought was pretty cool.  I always heard that without the ants, peonies would not bloom.  Apparently that is an old wives’ tale.  Ants just like the sweet nectar the blooms produce.  The blooms will be just fine without the ants though.

Ants on my peony buds

So, ants and aphids are welcome…peonies now grow in my yard as they have in my family for at least 4 generations!

Burn it…bury it

I was talking to my brother the other night and we were discussing the finer points of getting rid of stuff. After much discussion, partially fueled by liquid wheat, we decided that the solution to any problem can be solved with one of two options…burn it or bury it. Burn it…if you can’t burn it, bury it.

You might wonder why burn it is the first option…I think it is two-fold.  First of all…hello…fire.  Secondly, there is something cathartic about the finality of burning stuff.  One can un-bury stuff and, depending on the item, may find it in the same condition as it was before the internment.  But fire…that’s pretty much permanent.  I always say the hardest part of starting a project is starting the project, so when I finally work up the nerve to begin, I jump in with both feet…I “get committed”.  For home improvement, that usually involves smashing into a big wall or tearing out the flooring…something big that makes you mean it.  Burning is like that I guess.

I got to thinking about stuff that I keep around the house.  Stuff that I don’t even know I have…stuff that junks up corners and shelves and closets.  It made me consider the therapy aspect of burning stuff too.  We keep so much stuff that we don’t even know what we have.  Stuff that might have some meaning or memory.  Of course, when I look at those things, I often wonder what the memory was…and the really good memories, well, I have them regardless of the object…so burn it…if you can’t burn it, bury it!

It was a lot of fun to talk with my brother about pyromania a little bit the other night and it brought back other old memories…every couple of years, we would get a new couch or chair…hand-me-downs usually.  It was a ceremonial thing, but when we got the new piece, we would haul the old furniture out into the driveway and set it ablaze.  If we had an old tire, we’d throw it on top too, just for good measure.  Ahhh…the sweet memories and sooty faces….sweet times indeed.  Now those are the memories that are strong in my mind (or what is left of it after inhaling all of the tire-smoke)…the memories that don’t need any special prompting…only a conversation with my brother.