Friday, April 29, 2011

Hive check #2: Grody can be good news

Most people attribute Easter with white bunnies or fuzzy chicks or wayward roosters but around here, we look for larvae.

Why? Because my beehive is a strange and ever-changing beast and Easter this year meant that it was time to check on Boss Lady #2 to see if she was doing her job. Specifically - was she or was she not laying eggs.

Hooray! She was.

After we got home from Ass Sitting-a-thon 2011, I checked on the ladies to see how they were doing food-wise and found that they had been hogging out. That feeder, which had taken them well over a week to eat down to 1/3 full before, was nearly dry after 6 days.


Which, fine, because they just turn all that into honey to feed the babies.

The babies that were TAH DOW totally happening in one of the center frames of the hive.

And this is where I apologize for sucking on two separate counts:
  1. I haven't uploaded the video from the second hive check where I don't make any mistakes or release any swarms into the wild. So, you know, you haven't seen video evidence of a miracle. YET.
  2. I didn't even wear the GoPro for Baby Bee Check #1 because, er, I forgot? No, that's not true - I was lazy. I was outside and remembered I needed to check the hive, so just threw on the jacket and veil and went out there without going inside for the camera. I should just put the camera in the garage with my jacket. Maybe this weekend! Maybe not. We'll see.
    Also, I'm done with wearing proper shoes and tall socks with my jeans tucked into them because when I was being lazy checking the bees without my camera, I also didn't wear proper shoes. Specifically, I left on my flip flops and it was fine. A few bees crawled around on my feet, but no one cared and I didn't have to wear EW SOCKS when it was warm out. Yay.
So, that's my roundabout way of saying, no pictures or video of the miracle of a fully functioning beehive in my yard. Which seems retarded since I have tons of footage of my non-functioning and frankly terrifyingly ill-behaved beehive from just a few weeks ago and you'd think it'd be in my best interest to show you some evidence that I've improved as a beekeeper since I released the rapture on my backyard, but no. My laziness abounds and so all you get are words.

My words saying Hey friends! All is well! Babies are happening! and me expecting you to believe me.

You believe me right?

Say you do. I'd be crushed otherwise.

Meanwhile, keep in mind that bee larvae are grody looking (thanks for the photo reference, friends at Curbstone Valley Farm). I mean, they look just like any other larvae. So, you know - whitish, squigglyish, wormish - GRODY. You don't need to see that.

But, when you know they're going to be fuzzy productive bees soon, you sort of get over the EW LOOK HOW GROSS factor when looking through the hive.

Though you'll just have to take my word for it that I didn't go, "EW! Bubba! Look how gross these bee larvae are! They look like wormy white boogers!" because I did not.

Really. Bubba wasn't even near the hive and should not be coming close to the hive because - HELLO he swells.

Though I was thinking it for sure. I was also thinking that I needed to keep a supply of sugar the size and dimensions of Mt Hamilton in the house so that I could refill this feeder pretty regularly given that I have a hive full of fuzzy yellow Hogathas.

So - in sum - the status of the hive is:
Set-up: 1 deep 10 frame brood box, 1 deep empty box with hive top feeder 
Bees: Calm. Eating sugar syrup and collecting pollen. Filing single file in and out of the hive like normal bees. Listening to their Boss Lady.
Boss Lady: Present and accounted for. Laying eggs. Keeping these bitches in line.
Comb: Built out on 3 - 4 of 10 frames. Capped honey. Uncapped brood (means the babies are less than 9 days old and sitting as naked larvae in the cells before being covered with a lid to pupate and grow into normal bees). Stored nectar and pollen.
Feeder: Empty. Refill, please!

And, now that I've gotten a bit more comfortable with the hive and its inner workings, I may bring in a friend or two to help out so that I can take some proper photos during these checks. Although who knows what kind of hell I'll unleash with that behavior.

Bubba - dial 9-1 and wait for the screaming.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Returning to the scene of the crime

 About seven years ago, Bubba and I honeymooned on Kauai for a few weeks.

We had a lot of cocktail hours, ate a lot of overly expensive roadside pineapples ("I will pay a king's ransom for a pineapple!" became Bubba's Hawaiian catch phrase), snorkeled and did other honeymooney things I won't detail here.

You're welcome for that.

One night we went by a nice looking place with a ridiculously good beach front and had cocktails. They had chaise lounges on their ridiculously good beach front and these chaise lounges had those little white flags which you could prop up when you wanted someone to bring you a Mai Tai while you sat on your ass starting at the water.

Because HELLO I'm trying to live a life of luxury right now, I can't be expected to fetch my own beverage or anything, what the fuck? Am I right?

And then we watched the sunset, had dinner and vowed with all our vowing power that'd we come back some day, stay at this place with its ridiculously good beach front view and service flag-equipped chaise lounges and snorkel at all the hidden away spots we didn't somehow get to during the honeymooning times.

I'll be honest, I didn't really think we'd do it.

BUT! A scant seven years later and Done.

Why, hello service flags, prepare to be abused.
No umbrella, but this definitely counts as an umbrella drink.

We stared at this for, like, a long time.

This is what the palm trees saw for, like, a long time.

When you nap on the beach, sometimes your wife's Camera Dork comes out and takes cliched vacation photos.

The sunset view from our room did not suck.
No umbrella still, but this one has orchids. Fair enough.

Hidden Chicken Beach. Find the chicken!

No chicken here. But I DID see a shark while we were snorkeling. SCORE.

Chicken? This is the ocean, baby, chickens don't swim in the ocean.

HIDDEN CHICKEN! I see you, big boy.

Happy chicken finders.

View from above Hidden (Chicken) Beach - you can see why it's called Hidden, I suppose.
So, yeah, we had ourselves a fine time and even found a hidden chicken EVERYWHERE WE LOOKED. It's Kauai, there are fucking chickens everywhere. It's sort of their Thing. Goodie.

Fetching drinks.

Hunting for Easter eggs.

And now we're home and I'll get back to telling you about the bees (there are babies in there!), the garden (I have blossoms on the tomatoes! Holy shit!), the front yard meadow (It might be growing *too* well), the farmshare, how I'm wrecking the house again and running (Somehow signed up for 4 races. What tha?) because I'm sure you don't want to hear any more about us getting drunk on the beach even though we loved it A. LOT.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Oh the irony of hive check #1

So, I was going to post another video - of me checking the hive to make sure Ms Fancy #2 Queen Bee had been released into the hive and was starting to do her baby having business - but I have to edit the thing and can't find the patience or hour that it would require to accomplish, so instead you get this post with some pictures my neighbor surreptitiously took while I was checking the hive on Sunday.

Have I told you these neighbors are awesome? Because they're awesome. At one point (after the Weekend of the Apocalypse) they even came over through the dutch door in the fence to check out the hive. The same neighbor who declared during the swarm that, "What's the big deal? I'm not allergic to bees. What's to be afraid of?" even strode over in her bare feet, sidled up to the hive and declared, "That's so cool."

And, while I was checking the hive on Sunday, her husband, the other awesome neighbor, stood quiet and unnoticed at the gate and took pictures of me in my ridiculous get up because, apparently, he too thinks it is quite cool.

Laugh at my tucked in pant legs all you want, I really don't want a bee in my butt.

And then he also took pictures of bees on his fava beans which he claims to be certain are My Bees.

Yeah. This chick looks like she's fresh off a bender, doesn't she?

I mean, obviously.


Anyway, that's not at all ironic.

What's ironic is that, after the I Can't Keep A Queen Bee IN It's Cage scenario that unfolded during my first queen installation attempt and the part where I said that she was "installed without error", my second attempt could only be classified as an I Can't Get A Queen Bee OUT Of It's Fucking Cage scenario and that she was not, in fact, "installed without error."

When I opened the hive on Sunday - with the soul purpose of confirming that Ms Thang had been released from her tiny prison by way of her workers eating through the very firmly installed marshmallow at its end - I found that LO she was still in there.

And do you know why she was still in her cage after five day's time?

Because someone not good at installing queen bees (one guess), when attempting to extract the very stuck ("like glue") cork from one end of her cage, pushed in the cork after multiple attempts at trying to pull it out.

And then this same not-good-queen-installer said something exactly like, "Well, sorry girls. You're just going to have to live in there with that cork. That's close quarters.", smushed in a marshmallow, and then left these small not muscle bound insects to fend for their damned selves.

And then the cork fell down into the hole effectively resealing the thing.

Can you believe?

I laughed. I laughed and laughed and shared the story with Bubba who was, again, sitting nearby not afraid of being stung, and laughed some more and then went to get the pliers to finally remove the thing without any real concern about her flying away.

My assumption was that she was Theirs now and, even if she did fly off, she'd fly back because they KNEW her. OR - they'd all join her, fly over my fence and be gone forever.

I'll just spare you the suspense and tell you that neither of these things happened.

Nope. I pulled out the cage, popped the cork once and for all, re-hung it back in the hive and went about my cocktail hour.

In my back pocket you will notice seeds. Seeds which I somehow lost in transit and then spent an hour looking for. I'm a genius.

And once I have the video clipped and loaded, you'll see that I also confirmed that these formerly listless bachelorettes are now working hard drawing out comb and gathering pollen of all colors and that there are more than the five bees left in the hive that I predicted would be in there after The Swarm Of The Century on my fence.

The hive check was ironic, but at least it was basically uneventful and everything that could go right - so basically anything that I didn't influence directly with my awkward lady actions - was going right.

When I get home from my trip next week, I'll open the thing up again and see if Ms Thang has started laying her eggs. And I'll probably take another video that I'll then have to clip and load and what not, which takes a while, so forgive me if you just get another post like this with lots of me typing and a few pictures and only the promise of a video. I really think the video is getting better. If only because this last one has less footage of my chicken legs and more of frames full of bees.

Oh, and hey, I'm going to Hawaii for a few days, so I probably won't post until I'm back. But, if you want to keep up with any shenanigans that I have the sobriety to post to Facebook or Twitter, you just go ahead with that.

Otherwise, we'll meet back here next week when I hope to report that we have many buns in the oven. Where the oven is the beehive. And the buns are small bees.

You get it.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Bees and burgers.

You know by now that the queen bee #2 has been installed without error.


What you don't know is exactly how it all went down, particularly what it looked like to chase a bee around a backyard with a tiny cage that had no chance of ever re-capturing said bee.

Wouldn't you like to know what that looks like? OK - but don't judge me.


After that, Bubba and I had celebratory cocktails and then a few days ago I made a really good burger.

How are these things connected? They're not. I just don't want to go another day without correcting two of my household's strongly held beliefs so that we can all lead more delicious lives:
  1. A good burger can only be made on the grill.
  2. Cook's Illustrated recipes must be made EXACTLY AS DIRECTED otherwise IMMINENT FAILURE.

In this month's issue of Cook's Illustrated there's a recipe for a pub-style burger. The picture in the book, even though it's in black and white because CI really likes their old-schoolness, looked like heaven. Like heaven would look if blue cheese and beef and shallots were involved. OOH! And some awesome sounding sauce.

So I did as I normally do with my CI, I flipped it open and began proposing things to Bubba to see how happy the idea of eating these proposed things would make him.

"Hey Bubb, how would you feel about a pub style burger for dinner tomorrow night?"

He made the MMMMMMM face.

Then he made the Wait a Second face.

"Wait - are they made in a pan?"

I made the Yes, Who Gives a Crap face.

He made the Sad No Good face.

I made the Don't Doubt Me face.

"Well, I guess you have changed my mind about other foods. Maybe this won't be gross."

"I'm not making any promises."

"I'm sure it'll be fine."

"Don't you doubt my kitchen prowess."

Then he made the You Need a Cocktail face.

There were a lot of faces.

Anyway, I then made the pub-style burgers complete with the pub sauce recipe and the fried shallots and blue cheese and a chewy big bun plus a monster salad and then there were only Happy Full faces all around (even Jada - she got some that fell on the rug. It happens.)

It's hard to tell from this small photo, but the glistening on the raw beef there is butter. Yep. Butter.

So, if you need a good burger and you don't want to grill but you think that grilling is the only way to make a good burger - you're wrong and hooray! You can make a very good burger in a pan (and then in the oven, which was also weird) and then sit and savor your wrongness because OH it tastes so good.

The other thing that this recipe did was prove that my religious following of every detail of CI recipes is not always necessary in order to produce excellent results.

Because I don't know how many of you are like me in the sense that you think that the reason CI recipes are so good is because they test TEST test everything down to the last detail so you must follow these recipes to the letter otherwise the excellent results will actually be shitty results, but that's what I always thought.

Until now.

Did you follow any of that?

Let me explain.

See, the beginning of this recipe calls for buying a select cut of beef, cutting it into cubes, refrigerating it or freezing it or something crazy, putting it in the oven and then grinding it up yourself in your house, which, No.

It was just too many steps for me. I don't like a lot of steps. I also don't like grinding my own meat when I have a chest freezer full of delicious grassfed sustainably raised without hormones or other cooties ground beef just waiting to be made into a delicious burger.

So, I gave CI the finger for the first time ever and ignored the first very lengthy part of the recipe that had all the steps I sort of described above and just used thawed ground beef from our meat share.

And would you like to know that it was completely awesome. The tastiest burger ever. Even without the cheese and the onions and the pub sauce (which Bubba tried to dip himself in), the burger itself was 100% mmmmmmmm.

Know why?

You're going to go, "OBVIOUSLY" when I tell you this.

There's butter in it.

Yeah! I know! Obviously you put a couple tablespoons of melted butter into the meat mixture before you make it into patties and DER it's going to be a fucking taste sensation! Come on, now.

But still, it was fantastic and made in a pan and not to the letter of the CI recipe and I'm pleased. And Bubba was pleased. And my doctor won't be pleased if my cholesterol test comes back with a big cheeseburger where the numbers should be, but I hardly care right now.

I had this burger two days ago and I'm still basking in the deliciousness of it all.

So yeah, there's a queen in the hive and a very good pan fried burger in my belly. I mean, it's probably not *in* there anymore, but let's not be gross.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Queen's in da house.

Yes, I'm using slang. Sort of.

But it's hard not to when you're describing something as momentous as Successfully Installing a Queen Bee in a Beehive especially after Unsuccessfully Installing a Queen Bee in a Beehive and then telling the story about how you're a total lunatic.

You remember. It was only a few days ago.

Well, now I feel measurably less loony. I mean, I'm still a total noob with the beekeeping stuff, but at least NOW I can say that I'm a beeKEEPER rather than a beeCHASER which is what I felt like for 24 of my weekend's 48 hours.

For the record, I much prefer KEEPING over CHASING any time it involves tiny fast stinging things that fly. Obviously I'm no match for a directionless bee high on sugar syrup. I mean, you've seen my PRs - I'm no Kenyan.

Though, I doubt even the sprightliest of Kenyans could have caught that swift beotch. Though - Mr. Miyagi? Maybe. But isn't he like a million or dead by now? Probably. And, sorry, that was sort of a not nice reference. Whoops. I knew that. I'm insensitive.

So, yeah - I'm no Japanese actor playing a chopstick-handy fly catcher or a supah fast Kenyan runner killing a half marathon in an hour flat.


But at least I am a beeKEEPER, for now. I mean, not to sound pessimistic or anything, but it's obvious that when it comes to bees, crazy shit can happen and I obviously don't know every kind of shit and how to fix it because HELLO no one's telling me.

So, as part of this little trip you're all taking with me as I figure out how to continue being a beeKEEPER, I will tell you everything so that when you maybe decide to bring the rapture down on your family's home, you will at least know how to get it back into the hive before your allergic husband comes home from riding his bicycle halfway around the globe.

And, because I have no shame, video skills or self-respect, I'll try to share the videos I took of this installing endeavor with you, too. Just so you can see what an enormous jackass I am and so that you maybe won't make my same mistakes. And then I'll try to get better with the GoPro so that you don't just get 10 minutes of my (albeit awesomely scrawny) feet shuffling around in the backyard.

Video of the botched and then corrected install coming soon, is what I'm saying.

Oh, and pictures. Because I took pictures of the proper install last night and then forgot to upload them from my Biggie camera with its big ol new lens that I love with all my heart and soul. Oh mama. I will have to write about that soon, too. Boy am I bummed I didn't jump on Dig's camera deal when it was live. Boo on me.

But whatever - my new queen is in da house and I thank you for not judging me for using hackneyed slang.

And, hey, while we're on the subject of hacks, I have to say that I super love that so many of you responded to my, "If you want to read this same shit without my swears and drama, my cleaned up posts are live on Examiner" comment by saying that you basically come here for the swears and drama. Go, you guys. This is why you're my people.

However, maybe you want to share some of this bullhonkery with your, say, grandmama, and she's not as cool with "the way kids talk these days" as my grandma is (Hi, Fluffy! You're the super coolest!")(Yes, I call my grandma, Fluffy. She has the fluffiest hair! It's the cutest. Much like she is. You'll have to meet her some time. Girl can fix her own crashed computer and tell sassy jokes at once. She's a double threat.), but you don't want her to lose out on what the fuck happens when you lose your queen bee.

What to do?

Send her to my Examiner page, y'all. They don't let me say swears there, and they don't really encourage lengthy storytelling of the random variety for which I am so well known, so the posts are concise, clean and to the point. Some particularly valuable characteristics if you're, say, in the throes of dealing with the apocalypse on your property.

OK, enough plugging of my Examiner articles.

I'll be back with photos and maybe video. Won't *that* be a treat.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

I'm back and not Oh Nooooooooing.

I realized today, after a few Facebook messages and tweets from concerned bee-followers asking after my vitals, that I should probably check in with you guys so you know that both Bubba and I are fine.

No one's been stung or carried off by a swarm and neither of us has a beard or other hairpiece constructed from bees. Though, that last one would be cool-ish.

After the mayhem on Saturday, Sunday was relatively mellow. I mean, they sorta did the same bullcrap they did on Saturday with the flying all around the yard and clumping up at the entrance of the hive, but the big concern from Saturday began resolving itself and, of course, the big no-nos from Saturday were righted, allowing some semblance of order to be restored.

Specifically, I installed a makeshift hive top style feeder and the entrance reducer at its teeniest setting.

And then I set about capturing the swarm that had gathered on my fence. Which was the Big Concern from Saturday.

Oh hooray.

Sidenote: The fence to which I refer is the one that we share with the shitty neighbors.

The very same neighbors who I haven't talked to in any great length in, oh, about six months. Sure, from time to time we exchange sort of pleasant Hellos, but they really don't indulge in normal human interaction, so the opportunity to chat and, say, advise them on the status of my backyard hobbies has been non-exisistent.

What I'm saying is that they don't know (or, at least they haven't mentioned it yet) that I have a beehive in my backyard, so when all the bees swarmed the fence sniffing longingly after their departed queen (she landed there briefly before taking the fuck off forever), I sort of thought that this was karma's way of being, like, "You see what you've done. You didn't tell them about it like you should have and now you're going to have to go over there and be, like, 'Hi Neighbors Who Hate Me, I have a swarm of bees on the fence and I need to access your yard in order to capture them.'"


Thankfully, by some miracle, the bees settled on swarming on MY side of the fence. Where I could then set about capturing them without the super soul-eating task of asking permission of my hating neighbors to access their yard to recapture a swarm of stinging insects that I'd released upon the world without their knowing.

Um...come to mama?

Anyway, I waited until they'd settled pretty well (bees are all about the sun, so when it starts to set and cool off, they huddle up and sleep until morning) and then went about brushing them into a box and pouring them back into the hive.

It was vaguely satisfying and not at all death defying, so that was good going.

Bubba seemed pleased that the big white box that had been activity-less in the morning was, after a very raucous day, once again activity-less and also full of the bees I'd introduced not more than 24 hours before.

The shit was back in the bag, so to speak. Plus, no neighborly interactions.

Well, that's not true. Another set of neighbors, the super nice ones with whom we share a dutch door in the fence, actually said it was "cool" and they weren't afraid at all because they're "not allergic or anything" and, hey, "the apple tree will love it!"

Gotta love those kind of neighbors. The kind that think swarming bee activity is cool.

Meanwhile, I tried not to let on that this behavior was unexpected or that I hadn't had any idea what to do about it when I'd first come upon it. Can't have them thinking I'm a total idiot.

And now? Well, I called the bee yard on Monday morning first thing, after leaving them two voicemails over the weekend (bee yards apparently do NOT work weekends) and at least one freakish sounding email, to get a new queen overnighted to my house.

How very last Thursday of me!

And that queen should be waiting for me this afternoon to be installed tonight. Hopefully without incident. And then again, hopefully without incident, in a few days the workers will release her from her cage by way of enjoying a nice smushy marshmallow that will never see the inside of a s'mores and then after that I hope to see some pollen laden bees traveling back to that hive from my cherry tree. DAMN IT ALL.

For reals. I want that tree pollinated. Watching them pass by the big billowing blossoms over the weekend was almost more than I could take.

We don't have much time!

And, hey, it wouldn't hurt to hang out on the citrus trees, while they're at it.  And the apple tree that's suddenly gone into pink bud stage.

We have a little bit more time. But still.
 So, I'll plan to update you on the queen's status soon. If you're antsy and don't want to wait until I have a few minutes to scrape together to blog on it, you can follow me on Twitter or Facebook where all my updates outside of Blogger happen.

And, if you're of the sort who wants your bee learning sans drama and swearing, I'm sharing as I go on

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Oh nooooooooooooooobbbbbbbbbzzzzzzzzzzzzzzoooooooooooo

On Friday, my problem was one bee.
On Saturday, my problem was one million bees.

Let me explain.

On Friday night, the weather cleared up and I decided I'd install the bees in the hive. I imagined my worst case scenario which hilariously went something like; if I forget to put a tool in my box and then have to run off and get it mid-install, that will be really embarrassing.

I'm totally laughing at that right now. Because I'm delusional.

So, I went out to install the hive wearing the full bee suit that I bought and realized I didn't necessarily need but should definitely wear while it's cool enough not to be a death bag and oh I'll just wear the jacket and veil set, which I've worn for every other beekeeping scenario, some other time.

So, you know I strutted out there for my #1 install wearing a suit I'd never worn before.

Except when I got it and tried it on with flip-flops to be extra authentic.

My years of running failures stemming from trying things on race day that I'd never tried before should have told me this was a bad idea, but no.

Immediately I realized that the hat was ill-fitting. And that it was a hat style veil rather than a hood, like my now much beloved jacket. This hat business popped up and down and got in my face pretty much from the word, Go. The thing was falling over my face even when all I was doing was carring my little crate of tools out to the hive.

Again, I should have realized this was a bad idea, but no. I forged ahead.

Which is when Thing #1 That No One Emphasizes Strongly Enough presented itself: Queen bees are fast bitches.

And not, like, fast in the she's streaking around topless being featured on Bees Gone Wild kind of fast. No, fast, like, if, once you've plucked the cork from her cage you don't immediately slide your thumb to cover the hole while you then carefully smush in a marshmallow to close it up again, girlfriend will just slip out and fly off, giving you the finger all the way.

Seriously, she gave me a very small bee finger as she hovered around my big eyeballed face while I fruitlessly but carefully swiped after her with the queen cage. Yes, a queen cage is small with a small hole in it. It could never *catch* an escaped queen bee. Or any other kind of bee for that matter if they're on the lamb like this gal was.

She flew up into my neighbor's tree, at which time I took to swearing enthusiastically, and then she buzzed me one more time before heading up over the fence into the never never.

I'd lost my queen.

Fuck fuck fuck shit damn it crap.

So - know this new beekeepers - queen bees are fucking fast so don't dilly dally when swapping the cork for candy. Don't wear giant bee gloves and expect to have the dexterity of bare hands. Just wear bare hands. I'd say wear tightly fitting gloves, but I *was* and that didn't help. Usually I work the hives at work barehanded, so I'll just have to do that at home, too. I don't know why this isn't emphasized more strongly - particularly in the classes I've attended, books I've read, instructions in the bee box and beekeepers I've talked to (until today that is), but it should be.

Girls have been in their cages for more than 48 hours by the time you see them - they want out.

So yeah, I went to bed last night with a queenless colony hived in my yard.

The book said to just install the colony as planned and go order a new queen. So I did. And then I kicked myself all night about having lost this one bee. Granted, an important bee - all too important, but one bee.

I got up this morning, went out there to see what was going on and saw nothing.

No activity, no movement, no visible change in levels of sugar syrup in the feeder. So I popped the top real quick to make sure something was in there and they were. A quietly buzzing, crawling mass of bees milled about looking vaguely normal.

OK, I thought, maybe a few will come out later and check the place out. That'd be nice. I'll go for a run and when I get home I'll hope for some life back here.

So I went for a run and when I got home THERE WAS SOME LIFE BACK THERE.

My problem was now not the loss of one bee, but the accumulation of, oh I don't know, *one million* bees.

I was suddenly VERY GLAD that Bubba was on a long bike ride. For the whole day.

They were all over the place and in a big buzzing ball all at once. They were climbing on the front of the hive, shoving their way in and out of the hive, swirling above and around the hive and darting in and out of my yard in the direction of the hive. And they didn't even pause at any of the blossoming trees or plants.

They were not harvesting pollen. They were robbing my hive.

My queenless brand new hasn't been together for more than a few days hive was getting its ass kicked by some nearby, probably feral, hive that took one look at the entrance feeder and called all its buddies.

Which brings me to the #2 and #3 Things That No One Emphasize Strongly Enough. 

No-no feeder.

First - entrance feeders should never be used to feed a brand new colony of bees in a brand new hive or otherwise. Because they are, apparently, a god damned all points bulletin smorgasbord.

Instead, you should use a hive top feeder arrangement, which is nothing more than the jar and lid from the entrance feeder overturned on the inner cover and then covered with an empty super and then hive lid. Which thank god I had someone to tell me this later in the day because I HAD NO IDEA BECAUSE THEY JUST SELL THESE THINGS AS THOUGH IT DOESN'T MATTER.

I was told that perhaps only use the entrance feeder to provide water for the bees.

The other thing was that OH MY WORD was in no way emphasized appropriately, which I think could probably use some bold lettering or maybe some red ink, is that if you install a queenless colony, you will set off a chain of events that will have you contemplating burning your house down to resolve.

Deliver me from this chaos! I said - BRING ME A MATCH!

See, a queenless new hive is about the most vulnerable COME KICK MY ASS scenario in all of BeeLand. And a queenless new hive is also a completely rudderless entity that behaves exactly like you'd expect 10,000 directionless people to behave - everyone goes everywhere, some clump together, some fight each other. Madness ensues. Then introduce another group of directionFULL folks that want to take over the house and you can kind of imagine what happens.

All that stuff I said before but bigger.

Except I never heard of this threat. Maybe the books and bee yards and classes don't want to scare you with the what ifs, but apparently this kind of What If is sort of understood by experienced beekeepers which I came to know later on when, as the bubble of panic was rising slowly from my feet I punted and called a local beekeeper who'd I once talked to about an apprenticeship.

[FYI: A few other creative ideas were tried to recapture the swarm, stop the robbing and get the directionless half hive that'd taken up residence on my neighbor's fence to come back to my hive, but I'll spare you those stories. Just imagine bees everywhere, boxes and other trapping mechanisms everywhere, a wet sheet, sugar syrup NO WHERE and me looking like a deranged and frightened lunatic trying to keep my panic below my bulging eyeballs so that Bubba didn't call the cops.]

Well, thank god this beekeeper is obviously a saint who reads email on Saturday afternoons and will pick up a phone and call a new beekeeper in distress because otherwise I might be striking a match on our garage instead of typing this post.

Steve, let's call him Steve because that's his name, not only helped me come up with some next steps to put my hive back into some semblance of order and in the best position to actually survive, but also made me feel better about having created a hailstorm of stingers in my yard.

He was the one who explained how a queenless hive is a serious situation and can have some equally serious results. He was the one who said UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES should I ever use an entrance feeder to establish a new colony. He was the one that said to put the queen cage back in the hive, capture the half swarm from the fence, shove them all in the hive together, put the improvised hive top feeder in the hive and call it quits for the night. He also told me that I'd done everything right (except the whole queen thing) and that he'd lost flighty queens before, too, so don't be suicidal.

The best beekeepers are the ones who fail and stick with it, he said. Because they learn the most and have the most successful hives in the long run.

We'll see.

Oh, that was Thing #4 That No One Emphasizes Strongly Enough: don't throw out the queen cage if you lose the queen.

It's THE ONLY THING that will keep your miscreants together until their new lady arrives. Put the queen cage in the hive, let them smell it and reminisce about their queen, and wait for reinforcements to arrive.

Don't, say, lose the queen, swear for half an hour, hive the colony, throw the queen cage away and then go in the house for a night of self-indulgent cocktails and whining.

Do you know that Steve offered to bring over some brood frames (frames with babies in them) to fill my hive back up if it turned out I didn't have enough bees for my new queen? He said it. Oh, and he also said give me a call tomorrow night and let me know how things are going. Oh, and next time you need to buy bees, let me know because I buy them in bulk from the same yard and go pick them up myself so you won't have to pay shipping.

Oh and I'm rad! No, he didn't say that. But I was sure thinking it. Also, thank gawd. Thank fucking gawd because whoa.

So, that's where I am people - we had a big OH NOoooooooooooooooo on Friday, an even bigger OH Noooooooooooooooooo about five times today and, with any luck, the OH Noooooooooos are over except I'm not counting my bees until they're hived. They could do the whole swarming thing tomorrow and I'd be back to super fucked square one again, but even Steve says that, at that point, it's a loss and he'll just start me over with one of the swarms he captured over the weekend.  Who knows, maybe that's the one with my escaped queen. Beotch.

Thankfully, we got to have dinner tonight and BBQ just a few feet from this hive because they'd calmed down and gone to bed. So, you know, for now all's quiet on the western front.

Isn't this FUN? Isn't it exciting to go through the entire "Common problems and their easy answers" section of your beekeeping book on the first day? Doesn't this sound like a good way to test your Losing Your Shit threshold?


I'm pretty sure I'm a real crazy person now. Perhaps I need a beard of bees to match my newly discovered persona.

Please cross your fingers that tomorrow goes somewhat to plan. I'll be back. And don't you judge me.

Friday, April 08, 2011

But I don't have service for 10,000

As I was having my hair done last night I got a text from Bubba.

Bubba: We have dinner guests.

Said the man who is allergic to bees and apparently also in charge of bringing them in out of the weather and setting them down gingerly on the dining room table.

The bees are here!

In fact, they're there right now, on my kitchen counter with other supplies I'll need when installing them, and they should go into the hive tonight, as soon as I get home from work and if it's not raining/too cold/extra windy.

You laugh at my Beekeeping for Dummies book, but it is rad.

Right now it looks like it might rain/feels coldish/looks not too windy, so I'm halfway hopeful. If not tonight, tomorrow. Though I really don't want to leave them in that cage for too long.

Imagine if you landed on the runway after a long flight and they made you sit on the tarmac for 2 days before letting you out? Bad news right? Sounds like traveling to Dallas, right? Right. Makes people mad.

Now imagine you're on that flight with 9,999 other people and you've been sucking on sugar syrup for the last 48 hours? MADNESS.

Also, can you imagine the bathroom situation? Ew.

Anyway, I'd like to install them tonight. That way, in a few days they can be mobbed all over my blossoming cherry, lemon, lime and apple trees doing their pollinating best. So that I can have fruit for Bubba's pies and for my precious cocktails. And also so I don't have to think about that bathroom scenario again - blech.

Plus, the hive is out there just waiting and not getting any fuller with honey, so I'd like to have that process underway.

Right now, I'm just a white box in a yard. Boo.
If all goes to plan, I'll have a much more interesting video than this one to share with you guys. One when I actually feel more like a beekeeper since right now I'm more of a beehaver.


(Hint: That's not static you're hearing.)

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

So like I was saying: vegetable garden & chile peppers

My whole goal with Saturday was to do, you know, everything yard-wise.

Procure plants, test and amend the soil, fix the irrigation, set up the stakes and cages, plant everything and gather Bubba for our yearly commandment for everything to GROW.

So, clearly, I procured. I was nearly flattened in the process, but I procured. Four tomato plants and one pepper, to be exact. And, hey, no gaping wounds! Hooray! No small victory there!

But then, still glowing with my Master Gardener's market + nursery finds victory, I arrived home to stare my Real Work in the face.

Ah, soil testing. It is OH so tedious.
And still as high tech as ever.

But I still did it, because obviously. I can't be yarding on you guys about testing your soil if *I'm* not going to do it.

And thank god I've been yarding on you guys about it most aggressively because there were moments where I was all, "You know, it looked so good when I shoveled out the beds and there were so many worms, I bet I don't *REALLY* need to test the soil, what if I just skipped it this year..." but then the fear of a pisspoor year of garden harvest smacked me in the face and I came sadly back to reality.

I must test the soil. No slacking off. And then - TOMATOES WILL HAPPEN.

That's really all I need to motivate me: hundreds of pounds of tomatoes.

Also, the avoidance of public shaming. You know I hate that.

So, I sat out with the test kit and the beds and the soil and the newly not-full-of-bermudagrass yard and tested away, expecting to find that my soil was so nutritious and full of organisms waiting to give life to my vegetable plants that LO I could have skipped soil testing altogether and maybe I won't have to amend at all.

Maybe I will just slam my little ragged book closed on the fabulous results and go off and have myself a midday cocktail while I prepare to plant my seeds!


Good, but not Don't Amend The Soil good.
So, at that point I shelved the midday cocktail idea, went with Bubba for a post-ride taco lunch and then returned to add dried blood and crushed bones to my vegetable beds.

Because I'm an evil mad scientist! Or at least it sounds like I am. Which I like. I like to sound like I could be smart enough to be a scientist even though, obviously no. Thankfully, I can always be described honestly as evil and mad. There's always that.

Once that mess was all over, oh my friends - I planted.

Which is a soul-inflating experience that I look forward to every year. It feels like someone has added water to my shriveled Magic Towel of a soul and POOF it's all big again and ready to absorb whatever that crap was that you spilled on the kitchen floor...wait. Anyway, you see what I'm saying. Planting the spring garden makes me happy deep down.

I also become happy deep down when I update my garden tracker for a new year and share it with you freaks so you can see how the Melons vs Watermelons show down is going. Though that will be later. Right now, everything is a seed, so I'd wager the weights are about the same. You can still gouge some eyeballs if you feel like, though.



My final MAKE ME SO HAPPY garden moment was when Bubba and I, in our yearly ritual, stood at the head of the garden (usually holding our drinks) and commanded the garden to grow in our own special ways.

Me? I'm a Moses type - I throw my arms in the air and yell, "GROW!" in my boomingest, most part-the-seas-before-me voice, while Bubba is more of an evil monkey in the closet type - he stares menacingly at each bed and shakily points while commanding them to "GROW DAMN YOU!"

It's all very silly and effective.

And, after all that, as though I could actually BE happier, my jalapeno popper chili seeds all germinated.

I'm not going to say they "popped" because that would be too far.
So yay! Maybe they'll grow to some sort of sturdiness level that will allow me to transplant them into the garden without totally mangling them!

Though, we shouldn't get our hopes up.

Thankfully, Downhour Gunter will be getting her seeds and book soon and so maybe she'll have better luck with that whole transplanting process than I.  We'll see.

I can say, however, that this book is actually pretty helpful. In the sense that I've already gleaned two bits of very helpful knowledge for the purposes of growing peppers:

1. Pepper seeds (and any seeds really) don't need sunlight to germinate. So, like, put your seeds in a pot and set them somewhere in whatever kind of light. It totally doesn't matter.
2. Pepper seeds germinate faster if watered infrequently (the entire surface of the soil should be dry) and with WARM water. Freaks!

I did both of these things and had 100% germination rate, so YAY for the book.

OK, I think that takes care of Secondly and Thirdly, so I'll go now. Though you should know that I got a new camera lens that I'm resisting the urge to call The Bomb Diggity SMOOCH SMOOCH I love you! so I may be retaking photos of everything because now I can finally do so from the angles I previously was unable to capture.

Also, please forget I said Bomb Diggity. The rest is OK.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Plants, tamales, psychotic old women.

Um, I do not even know where to start.

Firstly, I went to the Master Gardener's Garden Market business and WHOA.

Secondly, I tested, amended, irrigated, staked and planted the entire vegetable garden.

Thirdly, the chili peppers have germinated.

Fourthly, I saw a woman riding a bike while wearing a huge sun hat WITH A HELMET ON TOP.

OK, I guess I know where to start...


For those of you non-Bay Area folks, let me enlighten you briefly on the phenomenon known as Sun Fearful Asian Women. And this isn't me making up ways to offend a new slice of society - oh no - this is fact: Asian woman, particularly those of a certain generation, live in constant fear of the sun coming into contact with their skin.

Regardless of the opacity of their sunscreen (see: Zinc Oxide), UV ratings of their windshields or thickness of their clothing's weave, they are never satisfied - never have enough buffer between their fair skin and the sun's rays.

And, hey, with all the nonsense about skin cancer afoot, who can blame them? Until you come to the Bay Area, that is. Here...Sun Fearfulness is taken to a whole new extreme. Particularly a suburb of my fair San Jose, where tiny Asian women are most often found beneath a giant green visor, gardening gloves and an umbrella WHILE DRIVING.

If you think I'm kidding right now, please understand that the photo above is not a rarity - it's simply the first time I've been able to get a photo of it in action. The only thing bizarre about it, really, is the fact that she's not holding an umbrella over her head while pedaling. Though please note that she is wearing long sleeves and gloves while pedaling about doubly hatted. The fact that she's outside with her face to the wind is practically shocking in and of itself.

Anyway, I've gotten carried away. You get it. All kinds of crazy people live here.

Hey! There's some!

Dudes. The Master Gardener's Spring Market a word...a fucking scene. Which, yes, two words, but you get my meaning.

My friend and I showed up around 8:50 for a 9am opening. There were approximately one billion people in line already. None of them would make eye contact, most of them were cutting in line and some of the women were sharpening their elbows. It was a bit tense.

Because we were on line for Rolling Stones tickets? Because there were only 10 flu shots left? Because there were only 5 gallons of gas left for all of the South Bay?

No, because some people had grown some plants from seed and had them for sale for $3. Oh, and you could buy tomato cages for, like, I don't even know because I didn't buy any or you could wander around the vendor booths where no one takes a credit card and old ladies are knifing each other for the last 1/2 gallon gladiola.

I'm telling you - it was retarded.

Now, that's not to say that I didn't buy anything or that I didn't enjoy myself - hell! I got to hang out with a good friend of mine outside the confines of work, had an awesome homemade tamale, found my Golden Greek pepper plant AND had a blogger blind date (Hi IMQTPI! Your final haul was impressive!) in less than 45 minutes, but y'all - what the hell.

Are we, as gardeners of the world, a bunch of god damned animals? Must you run about like a mad person shoving others out of the way for a Brandywine tomato plant while trampling children, dogs and the flip-flop footed with your rollie cart full of Starbucks cups?

Come now. Be reasonable. We live in the 10th largest city in the country. We have approximately one fantastic family run nursery for every fifth person. If all else fails THE INTERNET IS LIKE RIGHT THERE. What kind of sense does it make to shove someone to the ground in order to get at a flat of parsley plants when you can grow that shit from seed in, like, a minute and a half for $.59?

That's all I'll say about the lunacy of this event. I'll sum up now.

This was right before my foot was crushed by a Radio Flyer wagon. Not cool, folks. Not cool.

I went. I bought three plants, only two of which I actually needed.

Cherry tomato? Since when?

I met a lovely fellow blogger.
My friend got the perfect amount of plants for her garden.

She had to get *just one more* in order to properly fill the box. Otherwise - not right.

I ate a very good homemade tamale. I stole condiments (PUT TAMALE CONDIMENTS BY THE TAMALES AND HOT DOG ONES BY THE HOT DOGS IS ALL I'M SAYING SNARKY WOMAN.). I realized that Hey, if all these psychos are here, I bet *my* nursery is empty so let's blow this joint and I'll go get my tomatoes over there since THEY COST THE SAME ANYWAY and I left.

It was an hour and a half and it probably took a year off my life. Next year, I will note the date of this event and I will spend it at my nursery, where it's blissfully peaceful and quiet and fully stocked with all kinds of great vegetable seedlings and no murderous old gardener women.

Plus, what if the Sun-Hat-and-Helmet lady bikes by again? SCORE! You're not getting that at the MG SGM. Oh noooooooo.

So yeah. That takes care of Firstly and Fourthly, so I'll get into Secondly and maybe Thirdly tomorrow.

For now, I'll rest and dress my trowel wounds (REALLY PEOPLE - stabbing? That's so B-movie slasher. You're better than this).