Could we change our attitude, we should not only see life differently, but life itself would come to be different. ~ Katherine Mansfield

Friday, April 4, 2014

Spring Beekeeping...or, Crazy Little Bug(ger)s!

Bees. I'm finding them to be like children - just when you think you know something they pull the rug out and you're back at square one, doing your best and putting money into the therapy jar for their future.

Remember when I wrote the Cherokee Girls off as dead? Well, somehow they survived the bulk of the winter. Two weeks ago, there were signs of life in the hive, and their fuzzy brown bodies were all over the place. I think that by giving them only one full deep to heat throughout the winter, I inadvertently helped prolong the life of this tiny colony.

So it was with great sadness and dismay that I opened the hive this past weekend only to find the colony clustered in a small, fresh-dead bundle. The most recent freeze did them in.

And I couldn't even steal the remaining honey because the EXPLODING population in the neighboring hive was already busy with the same idea. (Note to self, figure out how to harvest the vast amounts of leftover wax.) We cleaned the hive, and moved on. And by "we," I mean my little brother and beekeeping buddy, Kris.

Next, Kris and I popped the top on the Great Grand hive, and the bees who weren't out foraging for the day filled 3 deeps. It's always been easy to tell the two colonies apart, as the Cherokee Girls were light brown, and the Great Grand Girls have a brighter orange body. And those orange bees were everywhere!

The top deep was 90% full of capped honey. And bees. The second deep had capped honey, larva, and capped drones. And bees. The bottom deep was so packed with bees that we didn't pull any frames. The ladies were calm (initially), but the volume was high with that many residents packed into such a small space.


Next came the tricky, hope I don't regret it, hastily made decision. There were a lot of bees, loads of capped honey, and the nectar flow is officially on. Conditions were ripe for a spring swarm. Why wait and recapture half the colony when I had a perfectly good hive that was now clean and empty? So we did a split. A winging-it, didn't plan it, Googling-as-we-go split. I'd done one before, but that was with Bee Mentor Don and over a year ago.

First, Kris moved the Grand hive over a few inches to confuse the returning bees. Then we set up the vacant hive right next door.

We left the bottom deep on the Grand hive alone, and took most of the second deep - keeping the brood frames in order - and gave them to the split. Honey from the top deep was divided, and a 5 new frames with no honey or drawn comb were divided between them. Why did we not just put the second deep, as is, onto the bottom board of the empty hive and call it good? Well, that's a really good question in hindsight, but the bees were crazy mad, the frames were already out, and shut up. Live and learn.

Finally, since we were still really close to the 7/10 threshold of full frames in both hives' upper deeps, and since there was plenty of honey in both hives, I added excluders and a super to each hive. Maybe a misstep, but one that we risked. This is the year for honey, dammit!

So now we wait. I'll check the ladies in a week or so, weather allowing, to look for signs of queen cells and determine where the resident queen ended up. All things considered, it was a good day. No stings. Potential for a new colony. And the imperfect forgiveness that is nature. Even with all of our blunders, both hives have food, brood and bees. Come on girls, do your thing!


Six days later, and things are looking okay from the outside. I am seeing activity in both hives, but the original is definitely busier. I am doing my best to chill out and follow the advice on Honey Bee Suite:
  • You can put splits side-by-side, no problem. Just remember that for a long time, the part without a queen will look like no one is home. Gradually, as nurses become foragers, the discrepancy will decrease. Don’t let the number of foragers in the one part freak you out. If the split is raising a queen, everything is working according to plan.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

My Little Bronies, Sweet Little Bronies

My boys love My Little Pony, or as Aidan calls it, "Little My Pony." It reminds me of being a kid myself. One summer, for 3 wonderful days, Applejack and I were best friends. Then the neighbor dog got her and turned her into a chew toy. Childhood can be cruel.

Odd glamour shot I stole off of eBay. Creepy say what?

Oh Applejack, I miss you still. What a great toy for a nerdy, bookish little kid like me! Ponies were much like Care Bears in their embracing of individuality, friendship, and celebrating the differences in others. Every pony was unique. Aside from the commercials that branded Ponies as "girl" toys, they were perfect.

When Jude developed his current obsession with the Ponies, I couldn't have been happier. Until I went to get him a few for Valentine's Day. All I can say is, WTF Mattel? What have you done to the Ponies??

In my day, those cute sturdy little ponies definitely sported Disney eyes and super shiny manes, but they still looked like ponies. As a refresher, ponies are short, stout, kid-sized.

And THIS is the current rendition of My Little Pony and Jude's favorite character Twilight Sparkle:

Notice anything different, on this current "girl" toy? How about her super slender physique? Her giant bedroom eyes? And, most telling, her lack of a muzzle?! It's a pony! This one looks part anorexic teenager, part squirrel.

Suffice it to say, I'll take Ponies over Super Heroes (less "Hulk smash!" more "You're my best friend!") but if I had had daughters instead of sons I'd be writing Mattel some hate mail. According to the show, friendship is magic...but so too is food, the innocence of childhood, and a pony with enough snout to breathe and legs sturdy enough to keep it upright.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

(Un)Happy Meals

So, like all good parents, we decided to take McDonald's away from the kids a few weeks ago. Kids love that!

No, we didn't do it because it is so gloriously unhealthy. Let's face it, sometimes we all need a fat burger and some fries. We did it because we felt like hypocrites when we were feeding the chickens organic fruits and veggies and allowing our kids to consume the flesh of a thousand sad cows in one filthy bite. And, that's how I sold Jude on it as well.

I talked to him about the difference between happy animals - like our chickens, and the cows we see in the fields around our house - and the cows and chickens who live their lives like this:

Harris Ranch feedlot

"Free range" factory farm chickens

And I have to say, I'm proud of Jude's response. He didn't freak, like I'd anticipated. Instead he wanted McDonald's to change their policies so that he could return to their burgers and, more importantly, their toys. He asked if we could go home, after our stop at animal-friendly Good Times (free range beef and Humane-certified chickens - it can be done!), and write Mr. McDonald a letter. He wanted me to put it in his mailbox. So, by the power of the internets, let's see if we can get it there. (He was dictating, hence the reference of himself in third person.)

Dear McDonald's,

Jude and Mama don't like your food because you be mean to your cows and chickens. Please be nice to them because you guys be really mean to your chickens and cows. Jude misses your toys and Jude loves animals. He cares for them very much. And when we get goats Jude will be very nice to them and not be mean so they don't head butt him and kick him in the face.

Thank you very much for listening to this note.

Jude and Mama