Thursday, August 30, 2012

Robbing the Bees

If I ever had the illusion that taking honey from my bees was anything but thievery, they have changed my mind.  Early yesterday evening, R and I gathered our tools, suited up, lit the smoker and cracked open the established hive in search of honey.

It has been a couple of years since there has been any honey to harvest.  My original colony, the one we robbed yesterday, produced nearly three gallons of honey its first year.  Then the winter of 2010-2011 came with months of cold, harsh weather.  The colony was quite weak entering the spring and it took all summer for the bees to build up.  By fall, they were looking great, but there was no time for them to make surplus honey for me.

Fortunately for the bees, last winter was mild and they came into this spring as strong as they had been the previous fall.  Maybe too strong for their own liking.  In May, the colony sent off a swarm into a dead tree on the property line.  Luckily, R spotted it and with his help, a 6 foot ladder, and a large plastic tote, we capured the swarm. About a week later, the hive sent off another, smaller swarm called an after-swarm.  We captured this swarm as well, but must not have got the queen because the bees disapperared from their new hive without any signs of swarming.  My assumption is that some went back to their old home and some joined the first swarm that was getting established in a single, Langstroth hive body nearby.

All that to say that the original colony has been very active and the queen has been laying new baby bees like a champ!

This spring I placed two shallow honey supers on the hive in anticipation of the May/June nectar flow.   By mid-June the bees had filled up the lower super with honey, but nothing in the top.  Last night, we smoked the bees in an attempt to drive them down into the lower hive bodies so we could take the top boxes with a minimum amount bees.  It did not go according to plan.  The bees would not leave.   We then removed the supers and carried them across the yard to blow out the bees using an air compressor hose.  This resulted in a lot of bees, now angry and disoriented, wildly flying around us.  It rapidly became apparent that we were not going to be able to remove enough bees to place the supers, complete with frames, in garbage bags as planned.  R then suggested that we clean off the bees a frame or two at a time and then place the frames in the deep freeze to kill off any remaining bees.  The frames could then be removed in a couple of days, placed back in the boxes and then into garbage bags where they could thaw before extraction on Saturday.

This worked better than anything thus far.  As R removed frames, I gave them a quick shot of air from the hose and hustled them into the garage freezer.  R observed that all the insanity with thousands of flying insects was almost as good an adrenaline rush as go-kart racing. That may have been the beestings talking.

To my surprise, after we finished cleaning up the mess, R wanted to move on to the top bar hive to see what the newer colony had been doing.  It was a good thing that we did.  The bees had been very busy making, what I consider to be, quite a mess.  In the 100 degree heat of July, I had propped open the lid of the hive to allow for better circulation.  The bees had designs for what to do with the newfound "attic space." They filled it wth burr comb and honey!  Though I hated to do it, the comb had to be removed, otherwise the lid could not be closed for the winter.  We layed out a plastic garbage bag in front of the hive and then placed all the cut comb on it.   As temping as it was to take this honey for ourselves, the colony is just getting started and will need all the honey it can store to get through its first winter.

The bees are busy today at both hives cleaning out comb and frames and should have all the excess honey back in their hives in a few days.  The empty honeycomb will be added to my "wax bucket" for future lip balm and candles.  Honey extraction will take place at my mentor's garage on Saturday.  I should be able to get better pictures without angry bees attacking me.  I will never fool myself into believing that I am just "harvesting" honey again.  I am definitely stealing it.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Desperate Times, Desperate Measures

We saw this desperate time coming.  When the winter was mild and dry and there was never enough snow for E to use the sled he received for Christmas.  We saw it coming when spring arrived with 90+ degree days and no showers or thunderstorms.  It seemed as if we were panicky about the weather long before the Weather Channel started sounding alarms about drought.  We are not particulary prescient, the reason for the anxiety was this: we use a well as our primary source of water.

Last summer became hot and dry in late July and continued to be through August.  Not technically a drought for central IL, just "unusually dry."  However, unusually dry was enough to make us hit bottom on our well two or three times.  After a day or two of taking it easy on the water usage, the depression in the water table would level out and we would be back in business.

This summer has been different and worse.  We hit bottom on our well in early June.  We conserved, washed laundry at the laundromat, and, finally, stopped watering our garden.  For awhile, a month or so, this was enough and our water would return.  Then it got desperate.  As the temperatures stayed high and the rain stayed away, the water in the Mahomet Aquifer that we rely on dropped beneath the pickup for our well.

No amount of conservancy could help us now.  We simply could not reach the water.

We were blessed in early August by R's parents who presented us with an anniversary gift of a pickup truck water tank.  Romantic, I know.

Now we take water trips once or twice a week to a small town to the northwest of our home.  Quarters go into a metal slot in the brick wall of a small brick building and out comes life-sustaining water.

We then bring the water home and dispense it into our well.  It has been enough so far to keep our bodies clean, our dishes washed and our toilet flushed.  And for that we are grateful.  Not enough for laundry, but thus far, the City of Decatur has not yet restricted laundromats.

I am hopeful, so hopeful for significant rain from Hurricaine Isaac.   The latest storm track shows it covering the great state of Illinois by late Saturday or Sunday.  It won't be enough to end the drought, for that we would need close to 15 inches of rain, but maybe it will be enough for our well to once again reach the groundwater.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Poinsettia Postulate: Part 1

The first poinsettia plant that I ever owned was a huge, bushy beauty full of creamy, white flowers contrasted by dark foliage.  As a custodian at the college I attended, I was allowed to take the plant back to our apartment at the end of the fall term.  Any poinsettias that remained unspoken for would be tossed in the dumpster.  The students had left for winter break and the chapel was being cleaned and prepped for the winter term in January.

The plant was already losing leaves by the time I got it settled in the apartment.  I watered it and enjoyed the holiday spirit that it brought to our tiny living room.  In late December, my husband and I moved to Michigan to begin our post-college life.  The poinsettia was packed up in the back of our Ford Probe with the rest of the houseplants.  The move was difficult for all the plants, but the poinsettia seemed to suffer the most.  By the beginning of January it was nearly bare of all its leaves and flowers.  I eventually put it in the trash not knowing or understanding the way of the poinsettia.

Years later, I learned that poinsettias normally lose their foliage during the winter and then grow more to replace it.  The next poinsettia I received was a gift from a neighbor at Christmas '10.  It was a cute little number with pink flowers that had been glittered for extra pizzaz.  After the holidays, I moved it to my desk which sits beneath a southeast facing window.  I continued to water and care for the plant throughout the winter and spring, proud of the new growth that was appearing.  Our houseplants traditionally spend the summer out of doors in a shady spot along the front walk.  So, naturally, the poinsettia joined the rest of the houseplants.  I am still uncertain whether it was the heat and dryness of the summer or fact that it was outdoors at all, but the plant was dead by the end of summer.  Definately dead this time, not just changing foliage.

This past holiday season I picked up a deep red poinsettia on clearance at Walmart a couple of weeks before Christmas.  I also adopted an ailing pink poinsettia from my mother-in-law post-holiday. The plants have spent the past seven and a half months enjoying the light from the window above my desk.  After losing their colorful bracts and most of their leaves they have filled out again nicely.  I pruned them once in the spring and will do so again this weekend to help their shape.  I also hope to propagate some of the clippings to have more plants play with or gift to others.  The poinsettias with begin their "dark therapy" on October 1st where they will receive at least 14 hours of complete, uninterrupted darkness every night until their color returns.  I will give another update once their night therapy has commenced.