Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Cutting Back Tomatoes

If you haven't already, it's time to cut back your tomatoes.  By now they're likely
growing out the top of the cages and all the way back down to the ground again, making such a mess that you hardly know where one stops and another begins.  They stopped setting fruit over a month ago, you've picked all the ones set before that, and you're getting tired of looking at them.  Hornworms are more plentiful than fruit, especially the BIG ones that scream at you when you grab them, and you're probably noticing the beginnings of a spider mite infestation.  Wouldn't it be great to just wipe the slate clean and start over?

Well, go ahead then.  Just cut off the tops and there ya' go.  That's all there is to it.  Really.

Some people pull up their plants and replant this time of year, but I think that's such a waste.  You've spent months growing a big healthy rootball, so why pull all that up and replace it with a baby that will have to grow it all back?  Why not leave the rootball, and just get rid of the raggedy part?  That's what I do, and it works wonderfully.

Sometimes, they'll try to regrow from the base themselves, but those sprouts won't get very far if they're shaded by the old growth.  This time of year, the vines are so long and leggy that half of the plant's energy is taken up pushing water and nutrients through yards of stem just to get to the few leaves left on the ends.  It's like the plant knows that, so is trying to deal with it by regrowing from new.  Removing all the old top helps it do that.

If you want details, here they are: all you have to do is cut about a foot up from the ground, right above a node, preferably one with a little sprout already.  Remove all the foliage, throw down some more fertilizer, and top that with a bit of compost.  Watch the watering - without leaves, the plants won't need as much water now, so don't overwater.

That's all there is to it!  Really.  If you get it done now, they'll have plenty of time to regrow their tops in time to set more fruit when it cools off again.  So get out there and do it!  It looks so much better when you're done.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Now we have time to think.

This article in the link below really moved me. It put it's finger right on something that's been rattling around in my heart since this situation we're all in first started, and set the stage for me to sit here for the last hour and let it sink in. It explains what some might not have noticed: when the universe recently pushed the reset button, it gave us a chance to start our lives all over again, to rebuild them into something we always wished for but didn't have time to make.

It's given us time to think.

Caring about something takes time. Time to learn about it, to actively seek out more information. Time to think about how we feel about it. Time to figure out what we can do about it. Then Time to DO THAT.

The universe is offering us the clarity needed to declutter our lives of all the extraneous bullshit and make room for more meaningful things, and all we have to do is choose to grab it and run with it. We have time now to figure out which items on our overstuffed calendar are really worth having to turn a blind eye to so many objectionable things. IF we choose this, we can come out of this with enough time to do something about those objectionable things - not all, but at least one.

Can y'all imagine what that would look like? What our neighborhoods would be like if all seven billion of us figured out one thing to try to make better, then spent that hour a week we found that was previously filled with shopping or Netflix or whatever pablum we used to use to "find peace" when we were really only finding distraction - if we all used that one hour on making that thing we care about better instead?

We can have that. All we have to do is have the courage to see what this virus has laid bare, then CONTINUE to see it after the main threat is over. When the opium sellers come calling, trying to convince us it really wasn't that bad, we really didn't see the man behind the curtain, close our eyes and buy this thing or believe this other thing and it'll be okay just like it used to be... please, please, don't listen to them.

This chance - it won't come again. Please just think, and don't close your eyes.

Friday, April 17, 2020

No more mud in the garden

Hauled five tractor bucket loads of mulch from the pile in the pasture to the new garden today.  Got it spread in the pathways, too.  Now I can work out there without having so much mud stuck to my shoes that I'm two inches taller.  I even moved a little metal pen to one corner so I can enclose it and turn it into a duck house.  Yep, I'm going to get ducks.  DUUUUUCKS!!  Garden ducks!  I can't WAIT.  

Gonna' feel this tomorrow...  But tonight I'm a happy woman.


Thursday, April 2, 2020

Growing Your Own Sweet Potato Slips

As I'm writing this, we are still in the midst of the coronavirus lockdown.  Yesterday our governor issued a statewide stay-at-home order, so all non-essential businesses are closed, and this will likely continue for a month, if not more.  Seeds and some transplants were already being sold for a while before the lockdown, so you may think you have everything you need to plant your vegetable garden.  

But not sweet potatoes!  Most likely not anyway.  Sweet potatoes like really warm weather, so usually aren't sold 'til later in the year.  Mid April or so actually, and on into May.  Sweet potato slips are already hard to find in a normal year, so with all this, they're going to be even HARDER to find now.  So you may think you're out of luck for planting them this year.

Nope!  Just grow your own!

Roots coming off them are normal, and good.
You won't believe how easy it is.  Really.  You can grow them from any sweet potato you have already or can buy from the grocery store.  Grocery stores are still open, and I don't see them closing at all.  So there ya' go!  They may be out of some things when you go, but we're not talking toilet paper here, so just check back and I'm sure you'll find them restocked.

One caveat though: Since diseases that affect plants don't transfer to people (not that I've heard of anyway), supermarket produce meant to be eaten isn't tested for them, so if you do this it's possible that you can infect your soil with a disease that will live in your soil for years.  But it's really unlikely.  I don't know of any offhand.  Still, if it does happen, most of them you can kill by solarizing the soil, so at most you'll only lose a season or two of growing time.  Or just don't plant anything in the sweet potato family for a few years and starve it out.  (In case you didn't know, that's their cousins the morning glories.  I know, right?!)  

Seven sprouts!  Each is counted as one slip.
So, back to growing your own...  

All you have to do is plant that sweet potato and keep it in a sunny spot.  Really.  It's that simple.  Plant it in some potting soil, pointed end down, water it well, and sit it in a sunny window or on the porch.  

You can even suspend it in a glass of water with toothpicks if you want, sitting it in that same sunny window or out on that same porch.  Do you remember your mom or grandma doing that in the kitchen window, ending up with the longest and most gorgeous green vines growing up and over and around the window?  Yep, same thing.  

I put this one in water about a week ago.
Once you have your potato suspended in water or planted, it won't take that long for sprouts to appear.  Depending on how long the potato has been in cold storage, it could be a couple weeks, but some of mine take only a week.  But once they get going, they're going.  They usually sprout from multiple places on one end, as many as eight or more.  

When those sprouts get some size on them, say more than six inches or so, break them off and put them in a jar of water in that same sunny spot.  Don't worry if they don't have roots.  They'll form them over the next week or so.  

Keep breaking them off and putting them in your jar of water until you have enough.  Then simply plant them out in the garden a couple feet or so apart, keep well watered 'til the start to actively grow, and you're off to the races.  

I like to plant them under my okra to maximize the use of space.  Okra plants are upright while sweet potato vines sprawl over the ground, so there is room for both in the same spot.  Just remember you'll have to water and fertilize a bit more, but I think it's worth it.  And you will, too, come Thanksgiving when you're the only one with homemade pie from home grown 'taters. 

More sprouts will grow soon. You can see one at the top of that
beige-ish stem/growth point already.  See the tiny little green leaf?
Cute little thing.


Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Happy Birthday To Me

What a wonderful day I had today. I've been feeling guilty for being fine with and actually enjoying this forced quarantine when so many are hurting, so for one day, my birthday, I let myself jettison the guilt. I still know I am SO LUCKY in my situation, so much better off than so many, but today I reveled in the alone time and let myself be happy about it.

I started the new garden plot last year and lost steam when the feral hogs tore it up. Assholes. So this year, the first spring I've had off in ten years, I found the gumption to work on it again. I started Saturday, did a little more Sunday, took yesterday off, and got back on it today. Got over a thousand square feet of bed space now. Hips hurt like a hell (Climbing on and off the tractor is hard on an old fat broad.), hands and arms cut up a good bit, shoulders sore from shoveling, and even have poison ivy on one boob, but WORTH. IT.

This is funny: I misplaced my phone during all this, so as I was walking around trying to find it, I'd just finished saying, "Okay, Mom, help me find my phone, please." and the ringtone started up. I'd left it on the trunk of the Miata where I wouldn't have looked for an hour, and it was a dear DEAR friend calling to wish me happy birthday. I so enjoyed that conversation. She laughed when I thanked her for helping me find my phone.

The bath I had afterwards took care of most of the aches, and the NOMMY brownies my friend Rhonda baked and sent over with her hubby Phil will take care of the rest. If not, the bottle of wine she also sent will. 

Ahhhhhh.... What good friends I have. I'm going to finish that wine while reading the two dozen birthday wishes I got today again and making some birthday tamales. Or maybe I'll just have brownies for dinner.

Next project: hog trap. You eat my broccoflower, you assholes, I'm gonna' eat *you*. I need some bacon to go with all those beans I'm gonna' plant tomorrow, and a couple heads and butt roasts for more tamales this Christmas.  

Mmmmm... tamales.  Tamales in the crock pot.  Can't wait 'til they're done.

I love my tub on the porch.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Gardening in The Flupocalypse

Anyone want to do some Flupocalypse Gardening while we've all got so much time on our hands? I got skillz and would be glad to share, so if you have questions, lay 'em on me.  As I get more questions that help me think of more tips, I'll update this, so check back every now and again.  (And yes, I know this isn't the flu, but "Coronapocalypse" just didn't seem to have the same ring.)

Here are a few tips to get things started:

~ To find a spot that gets enough sun, take pictures throughout one day, every hour on the hour, then flip through them that night to count how many show sun on the spot - that's how many hours of sun that spot gets. Choose a spot that gets *at least* 6 hours of sun a day, preferably not all afternoon or evening sun. If you can, avoid the west side of your house or other building - things tend to fry there.

And you don't need a formal garden plot - just find any old patch of dirt with enough sun. If you have a flower garden out front, use that! Don't have any ground, but do have a balcony? Use old pots or empty coffee cans or used milk jugs or even straight in that bag of potting soil - just lay it flat and cut it open. Boom, done.
~ Need compost, but garden centers are closed? Look under bushes in your yard for all those leaves that have accumulated over the years and dig under them. See that black rotted stuff that doesn't look like leaves anymore? Rake it up, pick out bits of sticks and wood, and use that. It's called "leaf mold" and is fab stuff. Be sure not to use it if it's mostly un-rotted wood since if you mix that in, that will tie up nitrogen in your soil and starve your plants. Mulch on top of the ground = good. Mulch IN the ground = bad.

Also look in your garage for that half bag of potting soil, and round up those pots containing nothing but dirt and Ghosts of Springs Past. Most potting soils are made of things that will definitely lighten up the dirt in your new garden plot. Other things you can use: peat moss, vermiculite, perlite, and coco coir fiber if you have any of those.

Nice side effect of this exercise: your garage's garden corner will get cleaned out.

~ Don't think you have seeds to plant, and again garden centers are closed? Look in your pantry. The best and quickest thing you likely have are those pinto beans from HEB. Yep, they'll sprout. Yep, the ones for cooking. Yep, they really will. So will the black eyed peas, navy beans, limas, and garbanzos. The only ones that won't are anything "split" or "cracked", like lentils and green peas. If you have any whole grains that haven't been steamed or rolled or whathaveyou, those might, too. It'll take 'til fall to get anything from them, but what the heck! They're fun to grow.

~ Look in your fridge, too. All these things will sprout:
white potatoes, sweet potatoes, sprigs of basil and mint, ginger root, turmeric root, seeds from pumpkins and watermelons and spaghetti squash, carrot tops (though it's a bit late for them), and basal root plates from onions (especially scallions).

~ Once things get going, it helps to fertilize.  If you have any fertilizer in your garage, use it.  Even if it's not the "right" numbers on the bag, it'll help.  Even if it's a conventional "chemical" type, it'll be better than nothing - just DON'T use any kind of "weed and feed" since the "weed" part will kill all broad leaf plants, and your veggies are broad leaved plants.  And DON'T think, "A little is good, so more must be better!"  Nope, it's not.  Really.  If anything, give them less.

If you don't have any fertilizer, try to find alfalfa-anything at the feed store.  A bag of alfalfa pellets or range cubes will work.  Put 2 or so inches in the bottom of a five-gallon bucket, cover with water, let sit overnight, and water your plants with it.  Do this once or twice a week.  You can do this a couple-or-three times before you've gotten most of the goodies out of the pellets, then just spread the sludge out over the top of your veggie bed soil and do it again.

Also, put any kitchen scraps in a blender with some water, then spread that on the beds as well or dig a little shallow trench a foot from the base of your plants to pour it in, spreading it out fairly well, then cover it back up.  Blending it up will help it decompose faster so the plants can get those nutrients quicker.  Don't put it too thickly anywhere - spread it out to about 1/2" thick - so it breaks down quickly and doesn't get nasty-smelly-slimey as it breaks down.  If it does, it won't hurt anything, but isn't nice to work around while it rots.

So come on everybody! Send me your questions! Just post them right down there in the comments, and I'll answer them as soon as I see them.  Or if you'd rather, comment on my post on Facebook.  See you there!

Even the dogs are bored.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Toilet Paper Substitute

No, not leaves.  (Just in case you were thinking of doing that, this is poison ivy.)

No, I'm talking about cotton knit fabric.  If you're running out of toilet paper and can't find any anywhere, use a twelve-dollar bag of cotton painter's rags from Lowe's. If you can't make it out to the stores or are short on cash, cut up a couple old t-shirts. Those are about the exact same fabric and work just fine, too. 

I'd heard of this as an environmental thing, but never tried it because it sounded like so much trouble. Now that Flupocalypse is upon us and I can't find toilet paper ANYWHERE, I figured I'd better try it to at least conserve the last few rolls I have. 

Turns out it's a lot more comfortable than TP! Easy peasey to wash, too. And my rolls of tp are lasting me well over a week now.  Almost two.

I don't do the cotton fabric for Number Two. Even I, with my iron stomach and lack of squickedoutness about "nature", don't much like the idea of washing that. But for pee? Sure. Why not.

Contrary to popular belief, urine ISN'T sterile, but it's also not full of pathogens like feces. And so long as I keep them washed on the regular, there's no smell at all.  

All sorted.


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.


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