Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Hives and Queens and Honey -- Oh My!

I've been keeping bees for two years and I am still such a novice.  The perfect example? My Lotus hive.

This summer something wasn't quite right with the Lotus gals; they were crabby whereas previously they had been gentle and easy. A hive inspection revealed several supercedure cells. These cells are meant to replace a queen; either because something has happened to her or because she hasn't been performing up to expectations (i.e. you're fired!).

I put on a honey super thereby giving them more room and otherwise left the bees alone.  My hope was that the hive would produce a new queen and continue on its merry way.  In retrospect that was a bit naive.  Live and learn. 

Three weeks ago the bees swarmed.  This is awful late in the season for a swarm.  I tried to catch them but they absconded.  Shortly thereafter I noticed a significant decrease in activity from the Lotus hive.  Hmmm.  

Today, with a little motivational nudge from Soulemama, I once again inspected the hive.  NOT good.  There were only two frames of bees with no eggs and no brood. They had a small amount of uncapped honey but not much.  It appears they've been queenless for some time and I should have intervened much earlier.  So much for hands off.  I took down the top super bringing the hive down to a single box and decided to inspect the Dragonfly hive.

The Dragonfly gals were thriving.  They'd filled two deep supers and were in need of more room.  I pulled two frames of capped honey from this box and replaced them with two frames of uncapped honey from the Lotus hive. Then I put the cover back on.

Of course the capped frames were still swarming with bees. I shook the bees off the frames in front of the hive and brushed off any remaining bees.  This maneuver was surprisingly successful and the bees didn't seem particularly upset. I placed the beeless frames in an empty cardboard nuc brought them inside for extracting.

I don't have an extractor and it looked like this was all the honey I was going to get. Therefore I decided to go with the crush and strain method of extraction.  All the honey and wax was scraped down into a pan.  Then it was strained through a standard kitchen strainer set over a large pyrex measuring cup (eight cup capacity).  The strained honey was poured into the jars you see above; a mishmash of what I had available.

During the extraction process I saw a varroa mite which did not make me happy.  

After extraction the better part of my afternoon was spent online researching mite infestations and queenlessness. As for the queenlessness my best bet appears to be to combine the two hives for the winter.  Even with a new queen the weak hive likely won't be able to build enough stores to survive.  Thus I'll combine them tomorrow using newspaper.

As for the mites?   I need to control the mites but would like to be as natural as possible.  I'm going with hops and essential oils. I ordered a set of hop guard strips and a Winter Bee Kind Candy Board which is infused with Honey B Healthy.  We shall see how that goes.

Next spring I'll have to decide if I want to split the hives or simply order a new set of bees.  Decisions, decisions.  

Beekeeping has not been a profitable endeavor.  However I enjoy keeping bees and feel like I'm doing something positive for the environment.  The honey I've harvested makes me terribly proud (as if I had anything to do with its production).

Harvesting makes me want to put up several more hives.  Unfortunately only two are allowed per suburban lot.  I briefly thought about putting a couple of hives at my parent's place but they didn't seem to keen on the idea.

For now I'll keep on keeping and keep on learning.  And perhaps in years to come I'll add more hives; maybe even on my own small farm.


Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Red Bench

As most of you know school has begun.  The older kids are taking advanced literature classes and I must confess -- I am envious.  You should hear them complain as they shlump their shoulders and drag their feet, "We haaaave to read and write."  Boo hoo!  Me?  I'd be hooting and hollering I GET TO READ AND WRITE!

But the jealousy doesn't end there. This week I had a client who happens to be a surgeon.  He has been practicing for 20-years and is about to give up his practice.  His plan?  Go into semi-retirement and pursue an MFA in writing.  What?  I wanted to shove him like Elaine from Seinfield.  Get out!  So green with envy.  

Well I can't quit my job and it's unlikely I'll go back to school anytime soon.  However that doesn't prevent me from writing.  

My daughter has an assignment; write a essay about a place or vacation that has personal meaning for you. She's at a loss and doesn't know where to begin.  I thought, to provide inspiration and show solidarity that I, too, would tackle this project.  

As I have no professor to report to I am turning my completed assignment in to you.  Enjoy!

***   ***   ***

The Red Bench

On my piano, along with music, rests a photograph.  Actually two photographs back-to-back.  The first is of an old man asleep on a bench.  On the day this photograph was taken this sweet man, whom I didn’t know in the least, was wearing khaki pants, a turquoise shirt that fit snugly over his rotund belly and navy sport coat. On his feet were sensible shoes for touring about town.  A cane rested on his thigh and his chin rested on his chest.  The heel of his right foot touched the ground and his toes pointed to the sky; I imagined him as a marionette, if his head lifted his toes would go down and vice versa, the connecting string a tendon along his back.  

The bench was a perfect pop of red.  And he, so sound asleep, was simply precious.  I couldn’t help but snap a photo. 

“Wouldn’t it be funny”  I said after taking my first shot, “wouldn’t it be cute, if the kids sat next to him on the bench?”    

“Could we?  Should we?” the kids wondered out loud.  It seemed somehow criminal; an invasion of privacy.  And yet.  What fun! 

We stood there a few moments, giggling nervously, debating the pros and cons of our voyeurism. What if he woke up?  Finally the older kids took the bait. They posed on the far side of the bench in joyful mischievousness.  And my second photograph captured what I can only call their "shit eating grins".  

The kids were so young; braces on the boy, a sun hat on the girl, flowers on her shirt and a fleece jacket tied around his waist.  Oh how they’ve grown and changed! Today, looking at that photograph, I feel as old as the nameless man. Before long I’ll be a geriatric woman, nonchalantly snoring and probably drooling, taking my afternoon siesta in a public square.  

Holding this photo I'm filled with a syrupy sweet nostalgia; that life, the one before now, has a gaussian blur. Times were simpler. Beauty was lizards crossing your path, dandelions ripe for the picking and posing on a bench next to a sleeping old man.

The kids got such a thrill sitting next to him; an action hardly worth noting. And yet that moment became the pinnacle of our trip. Not the Golden Gate Bridge nor the Japanese Tea Gardens or Pier 39.  Not clam chowder in a bread bowl, guffawing sea lions or Alcatraz.  No. 

The moment we still talk about from our trip to San Francisco was the simple act of sitting.  And because of this moment, the place that means the most to me, the thing I most adore, is a magnificent red bench smack dab in the middle of Ghirardelli Square.   

This bench reminds me to take time to love the little things in life.  For these little things are what make life worth living.    


Thursday, September 6, 2012

In Fact It's Rather Good

Things I'm loving today:

  • Purging which started yesterday with my daughter's room and continued today with my closet.  I daresay it feels better to expunge than to buy.  This, me thinks, is a very good thing. 
  • Coffee with coworkers.  I may not always like my job but I most definitely like the people I work with.  For this I am immensely grateful. 
  • Knitting and frogging and knitting some more.  
  • Crock pot Beef Stroganoff
  • Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies
  • Cackling, clucking and chattering chickens
  • A box of beautiful eggs; luscious greens and browns.  Oh my!
  • Loads and loads of laundry done and put away
  • Good reads (The Map of Time, In Praise of Slowness, The Piano Teacher).  
  • The library, as always, without which I do not know what I would do.  Yes indeed some government programs are well worthwhile (and that's all I'm going to say about politics).  
  • Walking Little to school whilst discussing Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food
  • An empty house where things stayed put (for a few hours at least).  

Things I'm hoping for today:
  • A productive yet minimally stressful night at work
  • A respite to read and/or knit
  • A mama who stays solid and upright and has no vertigo

As you can see I have sufficiently recovered from yesterday.  I read this post and was reminded to look on the bright side.  Three years have passed since that post.  I am still standing.  My husband is no longer working nights (amen!).  We have somehow managed to get from there to here.  And here might be frustrating but, through the right lens, it isn't all bad.  In fact it's rather good.  


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Wondering and Worrying.

Today was the first day of school (for two of the three).  High school, for some reason, starts tomorrow.  At any rate this morning the girls were shepherded off to their respective schools.  I was left with a teen aged boy and my emotions. Believe you me the emotions ran the gamut; wistfulness and nostalgia coupled with anger and jealously.  I do believe the Boy will happily answer the school bell tomorrow; running as fast as he can from my perimenopausal self.

September, for me, is a season of renewal.  Time to take stock. Time to reassess, reevaluate and reorganize.  The ideal start to a school year would be one with tidy rooms, desks at the ready, laundry clean and put away.  The perfect place for the spark of knowledge to catch fire.  Alas my kids' rooms are fodder for a fire but not one of knowledge.

The perfect example?  My son. This morning I was informed, in no uncertain terms, he needed a new backpack.  NEEDED.  And I nearly complied -- answering his demand unfettered.  Fortunately my brain clicked in.  Hey? Didn't I just buy him a BRAND NEW backpack six-months ago?  Why yes.  Yes I did.

He did not remember said backpack.  He did not remember me buying it for him.  He did not remember using it. Low and behold, after an archeological expedition upstairs, the backpack was located and remembered.

And that was the proverbial straw.  I have been ignoring the kids' rooms for the entire summer.  I begged and pleaded to no avail.  I launched thinly veiled threats.  Finally, exasperated, I went with benign neglect.  Silly me.  I had the assumption that when said rooms got too bad the kids would give in and clean (at least a little).  Well that "too bad" threshold has not yet been met.  But Mama's has.

Plus there are things up there, up in the deep dark upstairs, that we need.  Backpacks and graphing calculators to name a few. And silverware and plates. And charging cords.  And my bras and sweaters and tee shirts (oh the joys of being the same size as Middle).

It's one thing to let the rooms be messy.  It's another thing to buy an entirely new dining set and/or wardrobe.  Thus the better part of my day was spent cleaning Middle's room.  It's still not done.  After that I will tackle the Boy's room and Little's nook.  The calculator is still MIA though I found three charging cords, quite a bit of silverware and most of my clothing.

There are bags and bags of items destined for the Goodwill and bags and bags of items in the garbage.

It makes me sad to see so many things, things purchased with hard earned money and/or lovingly handcrafted, dumped on the floor.  Stomped on.  Treated with so little respect. It makes me question my role as a parent.

Have I really done such a poor job raising these people?  The big bad "real world" is lurking out there and I've done nothing to prepare them for the battle.  For God's sake they don't even know how to pick a towel up off the floor let alone wash it and put it away.  What are they going to do when they have to earn an income and clean and house and feed?

My parents tell me not to worry.  They say I've got good kids even if they don't clean.  But it's not only about cleanliness and sanitation.  It's about life skills.  It's about respect and appreciation.

Appreciation for the sacrifice.  Appreciation for the hard work to a) buy all these things on the floor and b) clean up these things.  It's about being able to postpone gratification and toil at something that might not be ideal (i.e. cleaning a room or working at a job).

Ask these children to do the simplest of chores and they melt to the floor as if I've told them to strangle a puppy.

In short we are raising a bunch of slackers with little or no preparation for real life.  And yet they are fed and clothed and coddled.  And they have the gall to continuously ask for, no, demand things.  And are absolutely and completely flabbergasted when we don't comply.

Where did we go wrong?  Clearly this household would benefit from a full-time and strong-willed manager rather than the two exhausted ones at the helm.  In retrospect I wish I would have stayed home rather than work.  Perhaps then I'd be able to follow through.  To impose real and meaningful consequences for inappropriate actions (or inactions).

I am so jealous of those who are able to stay home.  And yet, ironically, they are also jealous of me.  Oh the joys of the feminist movement. That puts us at an impasse.  And so here I sit; wondering and worrying, questioning and second guessing.  That, folks, is a day in the life.