Friday, November 8, 2019

And now for something completely different

Ever get tired of that black fridge now that the "black" phase has gone out of fashion?  Want to dress it up with some stainless steel?  Or just want to make your garage fridge look better?  It's easy! 

Tools you'll need:

4 cans of Spray paint.  Get more if your fridge is extra large. Get more than you think you'll need - you can always take the extra back.  I love Rust-oleum paint.  It lasts a long time, is easy to spray, and covers really well.

Spray paint can handle. Gah, those things are FAB! I can paint all day using one of those.  Without it, I'm about done halfway through the first can.  Don't get the fancy schmancy most expensive one get the cheapie.  The more expensive one doesn't work as well, doesn't lower itself enough to depress the can button so you have to stick things in there between it and the can button to make it spray.  Pain in the ass.  Just get the cheapie.  It doesn't do that. 

Sandpaper!  Lots of sandpaper.  220 grit for sure, and if you have some rust or scratches to get rid of, get some rougher 150 grit, too.  I think I used half a dozen sheets total on the fridge I did here.  Like the paint, get extra.  It's handy to have around since it comes in handy later for all sorts of things: sanding down that splintered spot on the deck, scuffing up the soles of your new shoes so they grip better, removing gummy ick from some things (don't do it on things that you don't want sanded below the ick), and sanding the tips of your wooden knitting needles.

Rags.  Lots of rags.  They sell these at the store, but if you hang on to old t-shirts, they're PERFECT for this.

Masking paper and tape, to cover all the parts you don't want to paint.  For tape, get the thin "regular" width roll and a wider one as well.  Both come in so handy if you're not used to masking things.  Whatever's left, store inside, not in the garage or other "outside" building.  When tape freezes, it damages it so it doesn't unroll well, tearing off as you pull it.  Trying to unroll a roll of previously frozen tape will definitely drive you to drink.

You can use newspaper if you have it - it works great.  If you don't, then get some masking paper.  In the store, it's usually right there next to the tape.  You can get the small-ish rolls or the large 3' one, whichever will work best for your scenario.  If you get the big roll, you can use the rest for sheet mulching a path in the garden later.  Just don't get plastic - it's too thin, so flies around a lot when you're trying to tape it down.  Maddening.  Besides: plastic. Ick.    

I used to paint for a living, so I have a masking machine.  If you think you might be repainting your house any time soon, GET ONE.  They aren't really expensive, but man do they ever save you time.  

And of course, you need a fridge.  This is the one a friend of mine Terry gave me.  He's a closer friend of Karina, and she's staying in the cabin where this fridge is going.  She happened to be talking to him about the need for a fridge, so he offered it up for free!  It works great and is really clean inside.  Yeah, he's a great neighbor. 

First step: sand it down.  All over.  Every square inch of metal that you want to change the color of.  If you want to paint the gaskets, you might want to hit those a little, too, but just the outsides - there's no need to paint the insides or faces of those since they won't be seen when the fridge is closed, and painting the faces might just impair it's ability to seal.  (One note: sometimes, plastic will peel after you paint it, but sometimes not, so keep that in mind.  It's a crapshoot, but even if you come up snake eyes, you can always repaint it with a brush later.)

If your fridge is still new and not rusted or beat up, you are doing it to roughen up the surface so the paint will stick to it.  In that case, just use the 220 grit and go lightly all over the entire thing.

Since I needed to remove some rust, I used 150 grit sandpaper at first to knock the big chunks off, then finished it all with 220 grit.  If you're starting with a rusty one like me, you don't need to remove all the rust, but you do need to get most of it, and for sure get the pitted parts.

You might think it better to wash it first, but you'd just end up washing it again after sanding since you need to get aaaaaallllllll the dust off.  So unless it's really filthy (and this one certainly wasn't), wait for washing 'til after you sand it.

NOW wash it up.  Terry had stored this one in the barn, so while it wasn't filthy at all, it did have a lot of dust on it and a few dirt dauber nests.  I knocked all those off, then went over the whole thing with dish soap (Dawn, to cut any grease that might have been on it) and a rag.  Then I let it dry.

Once your fridge is good and dry, make sure it's up on some sort of blocks with a drop cloth below it.  The drop cloth will keep paint off your driveway if that's where you're painting, and if you're painting it in the grass, it'll keep bits of grass and dirt from blowing up on your smooth finish.  (Speaking of that, if it's windy, don't do this. It will only end in tears.)

Next, tape off anything you don't want to paint.  Look over your fridge carefully, running your hands over the entire thing to make you notice each thing.  Decide if you want to paint that thing or not: hinges, gaskets, medallions with the company name on them, handles, metal back.  Mask if off if you don't. 

Masking just means covering it.  If it's small, just use the tape.  If it's large, use the tape and paper.  Make sure you get right to the edge.  If you don't have a masking machine, you can roughly tape the paper up first to cover it, then go back over the edges with wider tape, getting VERY close to the edges of the area you are going to paint, but not up on them of course.  If you unroll a bit, stick it down, then unroll a couple feet of tape, you can use the hand holding the roll to keep it all taught and straight while your fingers of the other hand stick it down perfectly and closely.   

The gasket cleaned up really well, so I didn't need to paint it.  It tapes off really easily.

Ladies, start your painting!  It's going to take multiple coats to get this done, and you have to put them on fairly thinly so they don't run.  Smooth metal surfaces like appliances don't have much to "grip" the paint like a wall of your house does, so you have to go thin and wait just long enough for each to dry enough to be sticky so it'll grip the next coat.  The first light coat is called a "tack coat" for just that reason - it's the first sticky one.

If  you haven't spray painted before, practice on some newspaper taped to the front of your fridge first.  Start spraying before you hit the fridge, then sweep to the side across the face of the fridge, then stop spraying.  Do each sweep like that.  You don't want to start spraying when the can is pointed at the fridge and not moving or you'll spray so much paint in that one spot that it'll run.  Long, sweeping motions across the face are what you want, not stopping or starting the spray of paint until it's not pointed at the fridge. 

Once you get the hang of it, cover the whole thing with a thin coat of paint.  Here's what a tack coat on the freezer door and side look like.  I haven't gotten to the fridge door yet.  That's how light you want to spray. 

Also, to help you not miss any sides later, pick a spot to start every time and go all the way around the fridge from that spot each time, the same route.  Visualize it before you start, then once you do that repeatedly, it'll come as second nature and you'll be a lot less likely to leave a spot out.  I went
- very uppermost top, right to left -
- left side, top to bottom - 
- front, top to bottom - 
- right, side top to bottom - 
- the back edges - 
then looked all over to make sure I didn't miss anything. 

Over and over again, around and around I went, waiting between each coat 'til it had dried enough to be sticky.  Here's after about three coats:

You can still see the spray strokes.  That's what you want - paint layers so thin that after three, you can still see a bit of the original color.  Thin coats also dry faster, so it doesn't take as long as you might think.  It does take a while.  This took me about three hours.  But really, that's not bad for a new fridge.

I think this is after the fourth coat, before it had dried completely. 

I might have put another coat on after that though.  You want to watch it closely as it's drying, looking from multiple angles to check for bleed through of the original color before it dries completely.  Drying too much will make the next coat not want to stick as well.  So make sure you've really gotten it all covered before you decide it's done. 

Let it dry at least overnight.  Even if the paint is dry to the touch, it's still "green", or soft.  If you use your fingernail on it, it'll dent it.  Don't move it until you can't put a dent in it with your fingernail.  Or just wait overnight.  If it's been really humid, wait a couple days before moving it. 

Then move it in!  
(If you're doing this alone, a tractor can come in handy.)

Looks nice, doesn't it?

Next time, I might try a stove.

Monday, July 8, 2019

How to Make an Emergency Robbing Screen for Your Bees

Supplies: staple gun and 1/8" hardware cloth, or window screen if you can't
get the hardware cloth in time.  1/8" is the largest size that bees can't get
through, so max air flow while still keeping robber bees out. I put more
suggestions for things that would work near the end of the article. Cut pieces
as shown (one longer piece can be used instead of the two long ones.)
It's almost robbing season here in Spicewood (Central Texas, just northwest of Austin), and I don't just mean me robbing the bees.  I mean bees robbing bees.  Yes, bees robbing bees.  They really do that, the little assholes.  When the rain quits and the flowers die off, nectar is hard to come by.  In the beekeeping world that's called a dearth, and that's a depressing and dangerous time to be a bee.

As I'm writing this, it's raining.
So hopefully that will keep things flowering for a while yet.  The mesquites are still blooming, have been for a while now, and this bit of manna from heaven might kick start the gallardias again.  With forty acres of each here, the bees are plenty busy putting all that up.  But if we don't get more rain, and it's not likely that we will since this one was quite the pleasant surprise, it won't be long before all those wither and die with nothing to replace them.  That's the summer dearth, and that can spell real trouble if you're not ready.

Wintertime is a dearth as well, but that's a different sort of dearth than the summer one.  It's less dangerous because in winter there may be just a few thousand bees in each hive and they're busy keeping the queen warm enough to survive through the cold.  They huddle up inside, clustering together to produce warmth, using the stores of honey gathered last year for food.  The only time they come out is on a warm day, above fifty degrees or so, and that's only to take cleansing flights (that's a nicely delicate way of saying "take a shit". *giggle*).

Staple the small pieces to the sides of the hive, one on each side.
If you look inside the hive during this time, it's a scary sight.  At the winter solstice there is no brood and it looks all the world like your hive is dying out.  If you've ever lost a hive so have seen this before, it'll strike terror in you for sure.  But if you just grit your teeth and wait it out (bourbon helps), it won't be long before the queen begins laying again.  It's just a small patch at first, small enough that the few bees in the hive can care for it, feeding the larvae once the eggs hatch, capping them once they begin to pupate.  After those few hatch, the queen can lay more because now there are more bees to care for more eggs and brood.  When those hatch, she can lay more still.  And those hatch, and she lays more.  And on and on, exponentially making more and more bees as spring approaches, and then summer. This is called the "spring build up" and it's timed so the colony has a large enough population to do all the work of collecting all that nectar and pollen once warm weather arrives.

By now, just past the summer solstice, they are at their peak population.  There are literally tens of thousands of bees out there in my bee yard.  Come to think of it, with six colonies at the moment, there are probably over a hundred thousand.  And there are likely tens of thousands more in the wild.  At the moment they're all busy collecting nectar and pollen, but imagine what's about to happen when all that dries up and ALL THOSE BEES are now out of a job.  They're going to get cranky and desperate, looking everywhere for anything to bring back home.

Bend them back to make room for the front screen pieces.
It's a biological imperative for a worker bee to fly out of the house and collect something.  It's their very reason for being.  They CAN'T NOT do it since they know their colony's survival depends on gathering as much food as possible in the warm weather to withoutadoubt have enough to make it through winter and build up a healthy population again next year.  So now you have a hundred-thousand-plus bees roaming around feeling desperate, but nothing for them to collect since there are painfully few flowers.

It's only a matter of time before they find other colonies in the area.  They can smell those colonies' stores, and with nothing flowering, that's just flat irresistible, so they'll attempt to get inside that hive and take it for themselves.  If your colony is strong, they will likely be able to put up enough of a fight that the robbers will go elsewhere for easier pickings.  But if there are enough robbers to overwhelm the guards, if an extra strong colony is in the neighborhood or even in your own beeyard, the smaller colony is doomed.  The robbers will make their way inside through brute force, fighting and killing as they go, their prize being the stores they know are there.  Once they find them, they rip open the wax cappings and grab all they can, then head back to their own hive, offloading and returning for another round.

Robbing screens stop that.  They are screens attached to the front entrance of the hive, rerouting the actual entrance to another spot higher or to the side of the real hive opening.  They work because the robbers will try to get in where the scent is coming from, so will keep trying to get straight in, but find the way blocked and give up.  Your bees, the ones who live there, will know the secret key.  It'll take them a bit to figure it out when you first put them on, but they will eventually.  They don't give up because that is home, so they'll keep trying to figure out how to get in much longer than robbers will.

Staple the long pieces across the front, bending them as needed to make a
"runway" for the bees. This is shown better in the next photo.  If you have to
use two pieces of screen, like I did, be sure to overlap them well so
that there are no holes robbers can get through.
If you notice a lot of activity at your hive's entrance, especially during a dearth, stop and watch for a while.  Don't be alarmed initially though.  Orientation flights look a lot like robbing at first glance, but if you watch closely and see bees flying in figure eight patterns just a little ways out from the hive and doubling back to it, coming and going relatively peacefully, that's orientation - new foragers flying out just a bit to find landmarks, learning where home is so they can find their way back.  If you listen, you can hear a peaceful hum that just sounds busy, not bad.

But if you see a frenzy, fighting at the entrance, bees walking back and forth along the cracks between your boxes looking for a hole, bees dipping a bit immediately after takeoff (because they are heavy from being so full of honey), and hear an angry roar like you heard when you dropped that brood box that time, you better do something FAST.  It can take just a few short hours for robbers to completely decimate a hive, leaving nothing but a bunch of wax dust from ripping open the cells, a few dejected live bees, and lots of dead ones.  It's really sad.

If you ever see this going on and panic because you still aren't ready even after reading this post, just remember this: grab a sheet off the bed and a sprinkler, throw the sheet over the hive being robbed, and turn that sprinkler on so it hits the sheet and the hive.  That will buy you some time to calm down enough to think and round up your shit to make that screen.  As soon as you uncover that hive though, the robbers will be back, so use that time wisely.  And don't dilly dally - leaving them too long like this can make them overheat this time of year from all their ventilation being blocked.  The longest I've ever left them like this was a little more than half a day (mad dash to the hardware store takes a while when you live in BFE), and I left the sprinkler on to help keep them cool, so do that.  But hurry every chance you get.

Bend the small piece you put on first so that
it forms a tunnel for the bees to go through.
Robbers will try to come straight in the front,
but your bees will know the secret key
to get in.
Last year I learned the hard way you've got to get those robbing screens on before the dearth starts.  Watch what's blooming carefully, noting when the flowers start to fade, and remember how long it's been since a good rain.  At the first instant your gut says it's drying up, get those screens on.  Don't wait, or forget to pay attention like I did last year.  I lost seven little colonies I had made from splits earlier that spring.  They were building up nicely, then WHAM, the dearth hit extra early and dumbass me didn't pay attention.

This year I swore I'd be ready!  Last year, my bee buddy Karina and I made a bunch of robbing screens, and I had them staged out there right next to the bee bench so I wouldn't even have to go get them from the bee house when I needed them.  Today was the day.  I was going to install those screens so I didn't have a repeat of last year.  BUT!  But of course there's a but!  As I was trying to put them on all the hives, I realized that the new bottom boards I got from a beekeeping friend aren't standard, so the screens don't fit on a couple of them.  Yeah.

Shit.  Gotta' get creative then.  At least I found out about this now, instead of later as I stand in the midst of a robbing frenzy in the beeyard.  Another round of that and I might just be so disheartened I give up beekeeping.  (Yeah, it's that bad when you experience it.)

If you find yourself in the same boat as me and can't wait for your Mann Lake order to come in, or just can't afford enough screens for all your hives, read through the photos on this page to learn how to make one quickly and easily on the cheap, no saws needed.

Buy 1/8" hardware cloth now because it's usually a special order thing, and most times that Mann Lake order will beat it to the post office.  If you just can't afford that either, then use some window screen - cut one off your house if you have to.  New window screens are about twenty bucks, and you know how much a colony of bees is$$$$$$.  Or are you a crafter?  I've used plastic canvas as a robbing screen before.  Looked funny. Worked great.

About that staple gun - if you have one, look it up and make sure it works now.  If not, get another one.  And make sure it's loaded and you have plenty more staples in reserve.  In an emergency, trim nails, duct tape, or even thumb tacks driven in WELL with a rock would work, but I'd secure it better later, as soon as you can.

Go ahead and cut pieces of whatever you're using so it'll be a cinch to put them on when you need them.  Most window screens can be cut with regular scissors, though they won't be good for cutting anything else after that.  Hardware cloth is a bit tougher, so takes wire cutters plus a lot of time, or sheet metal snips.  Keep those pieces along with a staple gun and staples in a box near the bee yard, threatening anyone else with "NO HONEY FOR YOU!" if they use it and don't put it back.  That's why I have a nuc box on my bee bench right next to The Asshole Hive just for storing things like this - even though I live alone, I have people over occasionally who help me do projects, but my tools will always be right where I left them, in that box, because no one's going near that.  (Speaking of that, you know inside beehive tops is a great place to store important things you don't want stolen, or don't want prying eyes to see, right?  Works great.  Just ask Sherlock.)

Better yet, just go ahead and put those screens on your hives now.  You won't regret it.  But The Voice Of Experience here says you just might regret it, OH how you'll regret it, if you don't.

One of my sweet Italian colonies, all zipped up tight!  No chance of them being robbed out, heart wrenching crisis averted, no extra bourbon needed.  


Tuesday, June 4, 2019

When to pick bluebonnet seeds

I get asked this often and I tell them, "When the pods are green, they're not done yet. When they just start turning brown, keep a close eye on them every day. When they're very brown, it's time."

But what kind of brown?  Pecan brown? Chestnut brown? Chocolate brown? If so, what kind? Milk chocolate? Dark? Or maybe it's just sorta'-kinda'-dry-looking brown?

Mud brown.  Light dirt mud brown.  That's about right.

Even when I try to put it clearly like that, some people think they know, but later, when they show me what they picked, they didn't quite get it.  Others, I can see by the look on their faces that they're not quite sure right then and there.  It's important to get it right when harvesting seeds to make sure the maximum number of seeds are mature enough to sprout later.  So...

Thank all the gods for pictures!  In both of the photos, you can see the progression and pretty much the right shade of brown.  Left to right: green (don't pick), sort of green and beginning to turn brown and kind of yellow sort of (watch closely 'cause it's any day now), and brown (It's TIME!).

Too green.
Once they reach this point, they're close to splitting open and throwing the seeds.  It's really cool how
they do that - the pods "pop", curling open quickly, spitting the seeds away from the mother plant.  Mama Nature, you're so cool.

An interesting aside: I've read that if you're near when they do that, you can really hear the pop. I haven't ever. Maybe I need to spend more time in the bluebonnet patch.

Almost done.
At that point, you can:
1. ... pick them, plant and all, and put the whole thing in a brown paper bag to dry and catch the seeds when the pods pop.  Some people say you can pick the whole plant earlier than this, but I like to wait to make sure the most seeds possible have reached as close as they can to maturity.
2. ... or you can put netting around them, tied at the bottom like lollipop wrappers, to catch the seeds when they pop, though this can be a pain in the ass if you have a lot.
3. ... OR, by now, they're mature enough to just pick outright, just the pods.  If you do pick just the pods, put them in a paper bag or pillowcase and shake them every day to make sure none are sticking together so much that they mold. Once they're this dry that's unlikely, but just to be on the safe side, shake ... your booty. Ahem.


Friday, May 24, 2019

Introduction to Beekeeping Class Notes

Introduction to Beekeeping

This class is NOT enough instruction to allow you to be ready to keep bees. This is just to point you in the right direction of where to learn more. I recommend learning as much as you can during the rest of this year including finding an opportunity to open a hive to experience it, and maybe even get stung, before deciding if beekeeping is for you. If so, order your bees this fall. I highly recommend Italians for their gentleness. Though many a new beekeeper got started by catching a swarm, I don’t recommend it since you never know what you’re going to get and very well could end up with extremely mean bees.

A note about stings: Many people say they are allergic to bee stings when they’re really not. Normal reactions to a sting are severe pain, swelling, redness, fever, and itching in the sting area lasting for a few days. A true bee allergy involves signs and symptoms that show up away from the sting site and is a true emergency. These occur in only 5% or less of the general population - fatal allergies in only 1% of children and 3% of adults.
Beekeeper’s Wife Allergy: Long-term exposure to the dried venom while not being stung can bring about an allergy. Usually, being stung keeps this from developing, but sometimes can actually bring about the allergy.
You never know when or if a true allergy will develop, so be aware of the signs and symptoms in case this happens to you. When in doubt, call 911, then head for the hospital.

Colony’s Social Structure: Workers, Drones, usually one Queen.
Life cycle: Egg, Hatch, Larvae, Capped brood, Emergence, Nurse Bee, House Bee, Guard Bee, Field Bee  (See more below)

Colony: The group of bees themselves. Consists of mostly workers, drones, and usually one queen.
Hive: What the bees live in.
Apiary: Beeyard.
Hot” hive: MAD and agressive bees. Any bees can be aggressive, even docile European types.
Foundation: Pre-formed sheets made of wax or plastic with honeycomb pattern stamped on. Thought to give the bees a head start in building comb.
Foundationless beekeeping: Letting the bees build all comb.
Natural Cell Size: What the bees build naturally. Usually smaller than standard foundation size.
Bee space: 3/8” - The space between combs, which must be that specific width or bees will build burr comb.
Burr comb: Sideways or otherwise “out of place” comb.
Nuc: “Nucleus”- a small but complete colony with four or five frames of brood and honey, bees of all stages, and a queen.
Package of bees: A “box o’ bees” containing one queen in a queen cage and a few thousand bees. They are usually sold by the pound, with about 3,ooo bees per pound. The more bees a package has, the more workers, therefore the faster it will build up large enough to make a surplus of honey.
Queen: The only bee that lays fertile eggs. She can sometimes be identified as the one with the longer abdomen, though in winter when egg-laying slows severely, her abdomen can shrink, making her harder to spot.
Flow: When flowers are blooming and bees are making a lot of honey.
Dearth: When flowers aren’t blooming and bees aren’t making a lot of honey.

Basic equipment: A smoker, a veil or suit, a hive tool, and a hive – cost ranges from $200 to over $2000. Cheaper: building a top bar hive and wearing thick, light-colored clothing that covers every inch of your body, along with a purchased veil. Not as cheap: purchasing a Langstroth hive that consists of two or three hive bodes (“boxes”) filled with frames, along with one bottom and one top (top can be a simple piece of plywood, so long as it seals along the top edge).
Notice no extractor. Small beekeepers can crush and strain, use gravity extraction, or borrow their club’s.

Types of Hives:
Langstroth – the white boxes.
Pros: Most common, so very easy to find parts to borrow/buy, including resources to strengthen a weak colony. Much easier to find a solution to any problem (feeding, excluding, robbing, etc.). Also easier to get advice.
Cons: Expense, weight (10-frame deeps can weigh 80+ pounds when full of honey, though you can use all mediums or even 8-frame mediums.
Top Bar –
Pros: Cheap and easy to build (Les Crowder’s plans are online for free). Easy to work if you have problems bending or lifting. Not being able to exchange equipment with other hives can stop pest or disease infestations.
Cons: If you have only one and need a frame of brood, you can’t just “borrow” one from a fellow beekeeper who has Langstroth. Some problems are hard to find a solution for, such as queen excluding should you need to.
Long Hive – a long (3-4’) box that Langstroth frames fit in. Sort of a top bar and Lang hybrid.
Pros: Much better for beekeepers with a bad back.
Cons: Can’t find available retail easily, so will likely have to be home built.
Flow hives – A recent innovation that allows the honey to be harvested without opening the hive. Still unknown if it’s practical over the long haul. All other beekeeping practices are the same – doesn’t lessen any beekeeping work except harvest.
Pros: Lessens work during harvest.
Cons: Expensive and untested.
Observation hives – A hive with a “window” in the wall to see inside. (Also, a glass/lexan “box” that you put frames of bees in temporarily.)
Pros: Incredibly interesting teaching tool. Interesting for those wanting to see the inner workings of their hive. Inspections are very easy since there’s no need to suit up completely and use a smoker – you can just look in.
Cons: Expensive to buy. Heats up too hot if you forget to close the cover.

What I use and why: Both 8-frame and 10-frame Langs (mediums and deeps) and a couple top bar hives. I prefer Langstroth 8-frame mediums because they are easier to lift, and having all the same frames means I can move any frame to any other box/hive in the beeyard. 8-frame boxes also make great nuc boxes for starting small colonies.

Timeline of work (Beekeeper’s Calendar)
I constantly watch them come and go from their entrances and notice what flowers are blooming when.
Spring: Inspect for stores (honey and pollen both), brood buildup, queen cells (indicator of swarming), make splits if needed, and test for mites, then treat. Monitor flow and add super (extra box on top) if needed.
Summer: Watch for dearth and install robbing screen. Inspect stores of honey and harvest if there’s a surplus. If low, feed through summer. Test for mites and treat before September.
Fall: Most times we have a fall flow when flowers bloom again. This is usually left on the hive for the bees to eat during winter, though at times there’s a surplus that can be harvested. Test for mites and treat.
Winter: Feed if they run out of stores. Test for mites and treat.  Fix equipment, order/build more.

Site selection for the hives: Preferably facing east or south, morning sun, and sheltered from the north winds.
Inspections (things to look for): stores (amount of honey and pollen), brood (capped, larvae, eggs if you can see them), queen cells (to know if they will swarm soon or if they’re replacing a queen), and signs of disease or pests (varroa mites, viruses, small hive beetles, wax moths, EFB, AHB). Each of these things would mean you would intervene to help solve the problem noted.
Feeding bees – Use only refined pure cane sugar, not organic sugar since it contains impurities. May need to feed pollen substitute as well at times. And water. With salt can be good.

My favorite sites:
Natural Beekeeping:
Les Crowder – top bar hives
Local resources:
Tanya Phillips:
Tara Chapman:
Austin Area Beekeepers Association: – Florence, TX, just north of Georgetown – bees and some supplies – free shipping if you spend $100 – also free shipping if you spend $100

Colony’s Social Structure
Queen: Only fertile female member of the colony. The “Mother of All”. Lives for a few years or more.
Workers: Infertile females who do all the work in the colony except laying eggs. Live six weeks or so in warm season, longer during winter. They hatch, then become
Drones: Haploid “males” who develop from an unfertilized egg. Their only purpose is fertilizing queens from other colonies.

Life cycle of a worker bee 

Days 1-4: Egg
Days 4-8: Hatch, Larvae
Days 9-15: Capped brood
Day 16: Emergence
Days 1-11: Nurse Bee
Days 12-17: House Bee
Days 18-21: Guard Bee
Days 21-death: Field Bee

Colony Reproduction
In spring, new queen cells are made and new queens reared. As soon as the first queen cell is capped, the old queen leaves with a group of workers to find another home. Sometimes the first queen to emerge from a queen cell leaves the hive with more workers – this is a secondary swarm led by a virgin queen. Once this type of swarm find a suitable home, the queen goes on her mating flight.

A queen mates only once in her life, within a couple weeks of hatching, and hopefully with many drones.  A few days after hatching she flies to a drone congregation area and breeds, usually many times over a few days, then comes back and never leaves the hive again unless she leaves with a swarm.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Baker Creek Seeds Supports Racism

As many of you know, I teach seed saving and seed starting classes at The Natural Gardener and elsewhere.  One of the sources of heirloom seeds I used to recommend is Baker Creek Seeds.  I won't be doing that any more because they have decided to host Cliven Bundy as a speaker at their spring planting festival this year. [UPDATE: They have since uninvited him and taken down their entire speaker list. At right is a screenshot of what it did look like earlier today.)

If you don't know who Cliven Bundy is, Google him.  He is a racist thug who has said black people were "better off" when they were slaves.  He and his family and friends destroyed Native American sacred spaces and artifacts when they decided they didn't want to pay the grazing lease fees they owed "because they had ancestral rights" to the land, so they took over a wildlife sanctuary and bulldozed Pauite burial grounds that were there.

Saying Cliven Bundy is a "land rights activist" is like saying there were "good people on both sides" in Charlottesville.

So unless Baker Creek Seeds de-invites him and puts out a sincere apology to people of color and Native Americans, I will never again recommend them.  Quite the opposite, I will tell people NOT to buy from them, and will also tell them why.

Other good sources of heirloom seeds:
Try to buy from these two sellers. I've purposely linked to pages other than their homepages so you can see why: 
True Love Seeds
(Thanks to Bird from the comments for this source!)

If you can't find what you want from them,
here are some other decent sources:


I sent an email to Baker Creek about this issue.  Below is the email I just got in reply.  Note no apology to any kind of people of color.  No apology at all actually.  Just words about how they were "naively unaware of the controversy surrounding him".  I find that hard to believe since they posted this story on their website about an ancient Native American watermelon that Mr. Bundy also grew, including how they visited him in prison to interview him, and even writing about why he was in prison.  And look - here's a video of the story even, with some of it shot right outside the prison.

So yeah, I ain't buyin' their story.

Hello Linda,

So sorry for the slow reply. I have just been given this information by our management team.
Cliven Bundy will not be appearing at our Spring Planting Festival next week. After a long discussion, both Bundy and Baker Creek staff agree that his presence could cause a safety issue and other concerns for all participants.

We thank everyone for sharing concerns and thoughts about our speaker lineup. We recognize that many of you have passionate concerns on many sides of issues that have come forth. We appreciate the information and many points of view that people have shared about the situation. A few Baker Creek staff members became acquainted with Bundy while researching an heirloom seed variety, and we were unaware of many of the controversies surrounding him. We are committed to thoroughly researching the issues raised by our friends and customers during this discussion.

Baker Creek is a supporter of diversity. The company was founded on the idea of saving the diversity of seeds. We believe just as strongly in the diversity and equality of all people. We would never consciously do anything that could be construed negatively toward any culture, color, religion, etc. The Gettle family itself is a multicultural American family, with Hispanic, Chinese, German, and Jewish heritage. We celebrate diversity in both our family and our business. We strive to include many cultures in our speaker lineup, our catalogs, and other publications, because we believe a diversity of cultures and ideas is what makes this nation great. In recent years, we have substantially supported humanitarian work in many nations with out regard to people's religion, culture, or color.

A staff writer met Bundy while visiting farmers in Nevada. Several told her that she needed to talk with him because he was the longest-running organic farmer in the area. He had been commercially growing heirloom melons for over 40 years. That was our only connection to this farmer, who told our writer many stories of his past seed saving and plant breeding practices, and about his work in the valley to preserve the local seeds of the area. He volunteered to speak about his seeds and dry farming practices at one of our events.

Our staff thought these sounded like great topics, and we invited him to participate in our Spring Planting Festival. As is the case with all of our speakers, he volunteered participation without receiving a stipend or honorarium. Although we had seen a few news clippings over the years, we were naively unaware of the controversy surrounding him. We do believe in rights of free speech and letting people be heard, even if we disagree with their ideals. But at this time, due to security and other issues raised by many of you, all parties think it would be better to research the situation, read the information that has been sent to us by customers. We apologize for any ill feelings this has caused, this certainly was not our intention.

As the festival date approaches, we will be updating our speaker schedule with other changes.

The Baker Creek Staff

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
2278 Baker Creek Rd
Mansfield, MO 65704


So Baker Creek said they uninvited Bundy because a group of protesters were "threatening their vendors"?!  I saw that post on Facebook - a woman said she and some friends were planning on bringing some signs to protest outside their planting festival if Bundy was allowed to speak.  How in the WORLD is that "threatening their vendors"?!  I'm so done with Baker Creek.  SO. DONE.

THIRD UPDATE - July 28, 2020:
Apparently they haven't changed.  Got a comment below about how some of their customers asked them to make a statement about black lives matter and they dodged it.  I'm looking for source material on that right now and not finding it (if you have a link, please let me know), but I'm also not finding them saying anything in support of black lives either.  How hard is it to just say black lives matter?  Really - how hard is it?

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Pruning: WHACK IT!

I recently taught a couple classes on pruning with the wonderful Stacie and the fabulous David, both from the grounds crew at work.  They were a hit!  We got some wonderful feedback on both of them, especially the Saturday one.  It was a blast!  I love teaching, especially when everyone is really engaged and learning, including me!  (Yep, I often learn things during the classes.  LOVE that part!)

During both classes, two things came up repeatedly: the question on just how much to cut back, and then surprise at the answer of most things get cut to the ground!  At least once I even heard audible gasps.

I know it's scary.  Terrifying even to some.  So I cracked jokes to put people at ease: "Know how to fix your fear of cutting it that hard? Shot of bourbon." ... "Get in touch with your inner Red Queen and off with it's head!" ... "It's okay, y'all. It's not going to die, but even if it did, it's not a puppy." 

Even so, I still sensed some reticence.  We explained that half the plant was underground, so cutting off the top really wasn't that big of a deal.  We explained about the energy transfer that goes on when a plant goes dormant - as each cold snap hits it, a plant slowly transfers it's growing energy into it's roots for winter, where it stays stored until it sprouts back out in spring, so you're really not cutting off anything of great importance.  And we explained that most of the stuff above was dead anyway, and even what wasn't would be hard pressed to sprout leaves anywhere but the top, and that would lead to the plant having to push all that energy aaaaaaaallll the way up those spindly branches, wasting a lot of it in the process.  But still, many found it hard to digest that you really do cut most things all the way to the ground. 

In an attempt to show everyone that it really will be okay, here are some before and after photos of our butterfly garden at work.  The before ones were taken last fall when it was rockin' in there.  The after ones were just last week and they show exactly what the garden looked like this time last year.  I'll try to remember to get a few of what it looks like this fall and post them as well, just to show that everything really is okay.

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And one last one, the most dramatic of the bunch.  See that 5+ foot tall 
firebush just behind the clump of grass?  It's gone!  Mama Nature's 
Winter took the other one further down the path with it.

This is all that's left...

So don't be afraid!  Grab some gloves, some pruners, and some bourbon, 
and head on out to WHACK SOME STUFF!  Later this year you'll be 
really glad you did.

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