Sunday, December 19, 2010

Giving the Garden

I'm going to a holiday gathering today that's a teensy bit high-pressure. I'm wearing my go-to boots, checking my eye makeup before leaving, and practicing asking interesting questions so I can talk to people I don't know.

One thing I'm not worrying about is hostess gifts. The nocino really worked out well, and who wouldn't like little teensy pickles? Handspun yarn, repurposed manila folders, and there you have it -- something no one else could give.

For all the ups and downs, gardening lessens my stress overall.

Friday, December 17, 2010

December sprout - now pictured!

She was born yesterday, at 3:30 or so in the afternoon. A beautiful home birth, with her whole family gathered around.

This beats pulling Bermuda grass all hollow, in this aunt's opinion.

Friday, December 10, 2010

No cure, I'm afraid

I've been writing this post in my head for a week, but couldn't find the pictures. Then they were found, while I was doing something for homeschooling records. I've been meaning to cure my own olives for some time, and after my cousins in Sicily told me that it was really easy (at least, that's what I think they said; my Italian is questionable), I was even more determined to do so.

I made my eldest child help me pick "a jarful" of olives across from the most populated shopping center in town. She really appreciated that.

This is how most of my new projects are designed: jump right in but use the wonders of the internet to figure out how to follow through.

There are lots of recipes for olives here, and I chose just a straight brine cure. A quick slit in each olive, to let the brine in, and I figured I was on my way. They weren't very big.

I poured a cup of salt on them and topped it off with I think two cups of water. I weighed them down with a plastic bag full of water, so they'd stay under the brine.

Then all that was left was to wait a bit, check the olives, and proceed.

Alas, I do not have pictures of the next part of the process, but the next day I looked in the jar, and the water had started to discolor, which was great, but there were also small, grub-looking things suspended in the water underneath the floating olives. What could they be? Could I (ick) eat the olives anyhow?

Back to the computer. I discovered what my nemeses were. . . olive flies. And no, I could not just go ahead and eat them, or not with a lot of enjoyment. And control seems like a pain, also, so I was at least glad that I found them before putting a lot more effort into them. I had also planned to plant two trees! Now I have space, rather than difficult trees.

Maybe I can find someone around here in a non-infested area to get me some uncured olives, or maybe there is simply no cure for me.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The sound of stealing

It's a gorgeous day here - sunny and relatively warm. I've been whining about the gray, so this is a nice change. I trotted out back with the dog and heard something. Something wrong. The boxes out to be cleaned by the bees had a lot of bees flying around them, and the sound could have been just the increased activity (nice weather=more bees flying), but I didn't think so. A glance out in the bee yard suggested that I should probably worry.

One of the hives is slightly weaker than the other -- always has been. Different queens, different hives. That's the one that had the ants on it, and today they were better. One grass stalk was leaning onto the hive, and the ants had redirected traffic onto that, but it was easy to fix. It didn't sound much better, though. Angry humming, or irritated humming, not the happy bee sounds one wants.

It turns out that old coffee bags are terrific smoker fuel, and an 8" square is just about enough to last though a quick hive inspection. Since I'm a failure at keeping my smoker lit, this was good news.

Yay, smoke!

It's a little difficult to see in this picture, but underneath the questionable hive, there was a pile of little wax bits.

In addition, the front of the hive was showing a lot of activity, but it didn't look like a plain old active hive, in which lots of bees fly in and out. There was a fair bit of hovering which could be newly hatched bees going on orientation flights, or something more sinister. I assumed sinister.

So I reduced the entrance with a convenient stick. If, as I assumed, the hive was being robbed by interlopers, having a smaller opening to defend would help them.
Once I got the hive open, my assumptions were confirmed. See the little ragged openings? Bee jaws. They cut them open and eat the honey.

That's where the carpet of wax bits underneath had come from. On the frames, there were mobs like this:

What are they after?

Yep, they're eating the tiny bits of honey. Yum.

Some frames were like this:

After I pulled off those honey boxes I'd put on for cleaning, I took a quick peek down in the brood box, and there was evidence that at least recently, there was an active queen. I saw open brood (the little white grubby things in the top middle of that picture) and capped brood (under the bees) but didn't look through the hive enough to either confirm eggs or their lack.

Once I found that the hive wasn't actively dying, and the empty honey boxes were off and free of bees (much shaking and wrapping in sheets took care of that), I buttoned up the hive again and replaced the temporary entrance reducer with a stick that would actually fit:

With the ants gone, and the robbing either completed or stopped, this hive should cheer up a bit.

The stronger hive just got its honey boxes removed and shaken. True to form, they'd begun filling them with nectar from whatever's blooming out there. I figured I'll just store it and they can deal with it next spring. Now, dry ice and bags are on my shopping list. After the sun goes down tonight I'm going to bring in all of the other boxes. I know that having a source like that can stimulate robbing, as I'd worried about earlier, and it seems as though that's true. No sense prolonging it.

Maybe tomorrow I'll actually garden some, and more easily with fewer bees flying around.

Saturday, December 4, 2010


Hi there. I used to garden and blog about it. I used to do lots of things!

Maybe it's the shorter hours of daylight, maybe it's stress, maybe it's some personal failing, but I'm not the bundle of energy I usually find myself. I'm certainly not blogging as I used to, nor knitting, nor reading and commenting on blogs, nor weighing and recording any garden output. It's all mostly gone to circling the inner wagons and painting trim in the dining room.

This week, however, a few bits and bobs got done. All of the honey has been harvested, bottled, and sold. We're going to go to the snow after Christmas, since my "honey money" is earmarked for family outings. Hooray for the bees.

All of that may be done, but the aftermath isn't quite finished. I had stacks and stacks of boxes to clean, harvest, and clean again. Organized beekeepers get the boxes off the hives, harvest the honey, return the "empty" frames to the bees for 24 hours to get the residue off, then pull the boxes off again and store them carefully against insects and damage, until the spring, when we start the whole delightful round again.

That's organized beeks, as noted. Guess which kind lives here? Yes, the four boxes which were efficiently harvested the first day off the hives were also efficiently returned to the hives for cleaning -- a month ago. I couldn't really put the many other harvested boxes back on for cleaning without taking the first off, and the earlier nice weather has mostly given way to actual cool, rainy weather. Also, I have a mix of sinking feelings and elation because the bees were actively foraging for that month. There's probably another 60 pounds of honey waiting for me out there.

Whether there is or not, those boxes awaiting cleaning had to be attended to, and the parents of the book club kids were going to need the basement to sit in during book club. Out the bee stuff had to go.

Instead of berating myself for my poor planning, I chose to look at it as an opportunity to get the frames cleaned without opening the hives to expose any brood to a chill. The bees could come and get the honey if I set the boxes out to be foraged from, far enough from the hives to not stimulate robbing. At least that's the hope.

The bees were pretty happy about it, at least in between rain showers:

Setting my precious drawn comb out to be foraged and rained on (probably Very Bad for the wooden frames -- I hope they dry out okay after tomorrow, when I pull them back in ) wasn't the only beekeeping activity managed this week.

While out putting scraps in the chicken coop last evening, I dropped by the hives and listened. Even without going in, you can learn a lot by watching a hive from the outside and listening to it. I'd noticed earlier that day that one hive had a bit less activity than the other, and that it had some ants in it. The grass had grown right up against it, and an ant highway coupled with a weak hive adds up to real trouble.

When I listened, the "good" hive (the one I usually call my boomer hive because they do everything more than every other hive) was quiet. Pretty much what you want once it's dark and cold. The other hive? Buzzing angrily. I wouldn't want to open a hive that sounded like that in perfect weather, let alone questionable. Something is wrong in there.

Today I fixed the one thing I could fix completely externally -- manage those ants! A good dollop of Tree Tanglefoot on each bit of hive support, plus some judicious grass pulling, meant no more ants could get in:

I'm going to check it again tomorrow. That hive needs attention inside, too, like Kristin gave her bees recently. It's just time to manage hives. If the weather would cooperate, I'd manage. You do what you can, beewise.

Despite having almost no gardening mojo, I managed to get a bit done out back. Some of it was due to my eldest's nearly enthusiastic help as I pulled out that forest of tomato vines last week.

Days after those beds were clear, compost got dumped and a mix of cleaned-from-the-coop chicken droppings and humusy soil got top-dressed. The ones with the rocket-fuel manure dressing would probably be too hot for most crops, and I'm not quite ready to commit to growing anything. Told you I've been feeling weird.

Cover crops to the rescue. A mix of legumes, clover, and grains like oats and buckwheat were scatter-sown to wait the coming rain:

In the pole-and-bush-bean bed, I tried a different tack. Pulling the poles and beans out, I left the crop residue right on the bed. From the outside, I began digging ditches and laying semi-chopped bean plants in the ditches, covering them with dirt. I wore out as the middle jungle approached. I'm going to get to it, just not right this minute.

Then there's the really minimal work areas. Some beds just got weeded. The back corner now has three perennial herbs, so I work around them. I'll get to that end of the garden before the end of the year, I hope. Maybe by the end of January. I'm thinking another trip to the stable for a load of manure would probably be a really good idea.

Maybe Denise and Kevin can find a lot of free time to help! (Just kidding -- their little sprout is almost due.)

One bed that's been just left alone is the pepper bed. I'm still getting some Padron peppers -- enough for a small side dish each week. Maybe they will overwinter. There's a bale of straw to mulch them with waiting in the dry. Between a good mulching, some feeding and an eventual trim, I'm expecting a good pepper year next year.

One other thing that has been taking up some time is our new baby. He's a handful, and we're all still getting used to each other. Meet Mikey:

He turned one on November 1st, and we've had him since I think the second or third of that month. He's about 100 pounds, and partially trained, since he is essentially a show-ring reject, not reared as a pet. He does love his mum. I'm looking forward to hours of hanging out in the garden together, once he learns to stay on the paths even if he's Very Excited.

I hope everyone is much more on top of things than I am.

Friday, November 26, 2010

I went to Italy and all I got. . .

Was four skeins of yarn, badly photographed. A Rav friend in Lucca directed me to the best yarn shop, Lovilana, and the rest is history. Each skein is approximately 1400 yards of teensy weight yarn. I thought the gray and white would make dynamite colorwork gloves or mittens, and the pumpkin and yellow would be lovely lace work. Or sweaters. Or something -- I couldn't go all that way and not get something, even with a generalized yarn diet.

And what did I do with my five travel weeks? Well, I saw things, I met far-flung family (a real highlight of the trip! I think everyone should have wonderful Sicilian relatives), and I knit for future family.

Lucky me, I am getting a niece!

And she is getting a little dress/tunic, knit from Elsebeth Lavold Cable Cotton. I hope it's the kind of size that will go from too big to just right to slightly short, and therefore move from dress to top and be worn for a long long time. Although I used my standard Incredible Custom Fit Raglan ideas, I was aiming for a Debbie Bliss-ish feeling. Just before I was done, my sister said, in passing to me, "I just love picot edges," and the finishing was determined in that instant.

I just didn't have time to block it before the party:

One part that I enjoyed was figuring out how to make a facing as I knit the top, to make a shoulder opening for big toddler head. I knit to the increase point, increased, then purled a turning stitch, and five knit stitches (on each side), then tacked it down when I was done. Crochet-loops and sewn on buttons made the closure.

I can hardly wait to see it modeled!

Now to get to the projects I did not finish, on the trip or after.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Dispatch from the fallen behinds

I could post a few pictures of what's going on here, but I'd have to take them first. I did shoot a nice little video but can't quite figure out how to post it -- can't let EG have all the fun, right?

Anyhow, over the past three or four days, I've been late to or missed four appointments, still haven't gotten the house clean or my laundry put away, fallen down on both homeschooling and stretching my muscles, and generally feel as though I'm coming down with a cold.

With the help of a fellow beekeeper and the generous loan of a good strainer from another beekeeper, the honey boxes are off the hives. Last night I extracted four boxes, filling a five gallon bucket, and today put those four boxes back on the hives for cleaning. That's a real accomplishment.

Or it would feel more like one if there weren't about five more boxes to be extracted (and rotated through the hives, and covered with plastic and dry ice for storage) waiting down there. And if that basement room wasn't needed tomorrow morning for parents of the book club kids to sit in during book club. And if I were ready to lead book club.

I do have fun news, but I'm going to save it because we have visitors coming. Maybe by the time they get here I'll have painted the dining room trim and moved the cleared vegetation out of the back yard into the green bin for the city.

And maybe not.

Friday, October 22, 2010

While the cat's away

In my case, mice the size of elephants might just be playing.

As Heiko, over at Path to Self Sufficiency has noted, I'm not home. I haven't been home for a long, long time. That's part of why I've been out of touch too. I bored my family by pressing my nose against train windows, saying, "Looook, look at the kale, look at the gardens!" Fortunately I was able to walk through a cousin's garden, and Ellie was able to actually pick up a hoe and work. I satisfied myself with surreptitious weeding.

Even without being home, I have had good help left back at home -- Esperanza's sister has been keeping the lid on at chez Stefani for me, and Denise's partner Kevin actually visited and sent me pictures of what's shaking in the garden. I've been a little surprised at the longings I felt for that small yard, and I'm looking forward to discovering in person the story these pictures are telling. One other nice thing was an article that was interviewed for at the height of the summer -- when Eric found it, I got to remember that there was a time when I was deeply involved in it and would be again.

Same mess waits in the wheelbarrow. I didn't get everything cleaned up before heading out:

It looks to me as though I might get to overwinter some peppers after all.

The tomatoes look actually a little bit frightening. Maybe there will be more left than I expected.

The giant squash has run on unimpeded

And these beans? I don't know what's up with that.

Looks like the squirrels have continued to ignore the sunflowers. Wonder if any of them are fat enough to eat inside?

Heiko and Susan shared their chestnuts with us, and even opened and shared a fresh pine kernel. Eric was good enough to serve as my honey importer, so I had more to share as I visited with various people all over.

Speaking of honey, one of the first things, relatively speaking, that I'll need to do is to harvest honey. A beekeeping friend managed my hives for me while I was gone, and he reported that only two hives had active queens, so he combined them for me. That's terrific; I wanted to go into the winter with only two hives. On the other hand, he also reported nine full boxes of honey. At approximately 30 pounds (a little over 13 kilos) of honey, that's going to be a day and a half of work, easily.

Oh well, one of the things that being a tourist keeps reminding me is of the value of Something To Do. Just one of the lessons learned, I suppose.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Berry Obsessed

It's been a crummy year for blackberries. Not enough heat, maybe, or then too much. On the up side, the huckleberries have been amazing this year. Sorry for the picture quality, but this was taken with my cell phone.

Huckleberries usually range from about 1/8 to 1/4 inch long, but these are the size of small blackberries. I've been picking every time we get out into the areas these berries grow. Last Thursday I even gave up my weekly allotment of talking to grownups to go and pick a couple of quarts.

Then there's the tedious picking of every. single. stem. I like my berries clean, clean and frozen. A good handful on my morning oatmeal is a great way to start the day. I even have enough to contemplate huckleberry jam, but I think not. I'm pretty excited about the whole thing, though. A really bright spot in my season.

At home, the tomatoes are cranking out. There's even a crock pot full of oven-roasted sauce reducing on the counter. Good times in and out of the garden.

Friday, September 3, 2010

End of summer garden

Or for us, weatherwise, it's the beginning of hotter weather. Even though this has been a ridiculously cool summer, the hours were long. It always seems to confuse the plants a little when it's hot but daylight hours are waning. Or maybe it's just me who's confused.

I always think these pictures seem utterly chaotic, but they are clickable to enlarge. In the first one, the more western side of the yard, you can't see the dying Elephant Heart plum tree, but you can see the grape vine (time to harvest!), and the mostly-dug potato bed, and the bursting-with-bells pepper bed, and the foolishly large sunflowers. What you can't see is the kale behind the sunflowers, and the used to be carrot bed. One day when I let the chickens out and forgot about them was enough to undo the painstaking sprouting I'd managed for them. So I'm torn. It's too hot really to try to get them to sprout now. Do I leave it or work to find another substitute? I'm dealing with this all over now.

This one has, believe it or not, even taller sunflowers. They're epically silly, and the only one the squirrels have found is an ornamental one. I'm willing to give up one or two! In this bed, from the back, pole beans and bush beans just coming along now, with a bed of Yukon Gold potatoes from the store behind them, an emptyish bed with clover and younger sunflowers in it, the paste tomatoes, the Early Girls and basil, and the dying summer squash/winter squash in back -- the butternuts look great, but not as productive as I would have wished! -- and there's a bed of teensy direct-seeded lettuce behind the sunflowers, along the fence. I'm giving it lots of TLC with bathtub water and hope they'll make salads soon. Visually behind the tomatoes and to the left of the sunflowers is a new seeding of onions. I checked Golden Gate Gardening and she said August would be okay, so we'll see. I'm not sure they're going to sprout, though.

I think the volunteer is a triamble squash, or maybe a Marina di Chioggia. Something big. I'll let it go because it's a lot of food if they set fruit.

I've never gone without food, and the garden really fills in most of our produce needs, but I have now encountered two people with not enough food to feed their children in my town. Both, unsurprisingly, were/are women going through divorce. I don't know the details of their financial situations, but I'm really glad I have extra food outside and put up to share. So that's why I'm letting any winter squash go right ahead and make more food.

I feel productive, too. But not as productive as these girls. They're loving the sunflowers from early morning to late evening. I'll have to squeeze in another honey harvest within the next two weeks.

But I do have troubling open spots in the garden. Too hot to start seeds, possibly too hot even for buckwheat or other cover crops. I'm torn between trying to get seeds started, even though it's almost a fool's errand to try to keep them wet enough, or just forking some compost over the tops and throwing some sort of mulch on there. I have some finished compost and more bunny poop. What do you think? I don't like bare ground; I have some time I'm not going to be gardening, but when I get back to it in mid-October, I don't want it to be all death out there. Any ideas for odd-season bare ground?

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Beginning and The End

Tea with my newspaper in the morning is a must-do for me, one of those "without which" I feel slightly off-kilter.

Imagine my glee this morning when I read in one of my favorite columnists, a threnody for our woeful summertime. In fact, just because clicking on a link is sometimes more than one can ask of friends, I want to copy the whole darn thing here:

We have known the sadness. We have known the walking up and down the streets and shaking our heads and saying, "No, no, no, no" in a low but semi-hysterical voice. (Try that some time; it's not easy.) Some of us have wept in our closets, so as not to alarm the children.

Oh, we were smug. We were residents of the Bay Area, and we know something about resisting the smug. But we can't always do it. Things are just too good. Not that we wish any ill to our friends and relatives east of the Sierra; quite the contrary. We love these people as though they were our own children, as they often are.

So when they had a heat wave and we had a cold wave, and by any objective measure their heat wave was a lot worse than our cold wave, we did not experience schadenfreude. (OK, maybe a tiny bit. We are only human, and smug. It's not a lovely character trait, but really hard to avoid here in the best place on earth. I mean no disrespect to Fiji.)

But for every up side, there is a down side. Usually, at this time of year, we would be living almost entirely on tomato sandwiches, with maybe a little tomato and mozzarella salad mixed in for variety. Because we are locavores (which is a relatively new coinage meaning "people who eat crazy stuff") and because anyway the best tomatoes are always found at farmers' markets.

Right now, we would be eating 'Early Girls' like anything and rejoicing in the first appearance of the Dirty Girl brand of 'Early Girls.' We're still eating the tomatoes, but we are not happy. Our foggy weather was too foggy. Even a tomato conditioned for cooler climates likes a little sun now and then. Drizzle is not its best friend. And so, so far, the tomatoes are not at their finest.

Not even close.

Oh, and where are the 'Green Zebras' and the 'Brandywines'? We see them, yes we do, but we do not taste the essence of same. They still look really weird, but looking weird is not enough - unless you're in the music business. Maybe that's why there is no music business anymore.

What will September be like? Will we be back to root vegetables already? Oh, look, darling, we could have a rutabaga sandwich with whatever kind of cheese goes well with rutabagas, which is, like, none of them.

Ah, but what of our heat wave, those two days of hell we had last week? Because we are really secure, smug people, we can laugh at how much complaining we did for 48 hours. People were pulling out their white lightweight garments and walking around like bedouins. People were remarking on the ambient temperature in various buildings.

We were silly people. We enjoy being silly people because it hides our steely determination to rule the rest of California. I bragged about my eaves, as I always do. Eaves help a house stay cooler. I felt sad for the eaveless people, and not in a smug way.

And anyway, perhaps it meant new hope for the 2010 tomato crop. Did this two-day blast of heat help the tomatoes? Did it plump up those 'Early Girls' and inject them with that last soupcon of flavor that's the difference between a transcendent experience and a nice red salad ingredient?

I tried looking up tomatoes in California Crop Weather Report. It did mention warmer-than-usual temperatures, but what is "usual" these days? It also said: "Tomatoes are being treated for stinkbugs." Great - all we need; some bioengineered super stinkbug. Not that it mentioned that; I am being alarmist. Will I never taste a truly fine tomato for less than $12 a pound?

Well, I had to look. Stinkbugs, members of the family Pentatomidae (from the Greek meaning "five sections," which refers to their antennae), emit a foul-smelling substance when disturbed. Smells like cyanide, say experts.

Just what I needed to hear. I shake my fist at the unhearing heavens and cry out, "When will I ever taste a tomato of quality, and not one of those supermarket gassed-up cardboard things? Is it too much to ask for someone who has, well, pretty much everything, but that's not the point?" The heavens, being unhearing (see above), do not answer.

Oh, well. There are some good Frog Hollow peaches out there. In which we cry out to the uncaring heavens, asking only for flavor and a little salt.

Made me guffaw right into my Earl Grey. Especially the line about living in the Bay Area requiring constant practice at resisting the smug, as though it's some special yoga brand. Ah well, I indulge myself.

Really, though, for those of you having counters groaning under pounds and pounds of tomatoes to be made into sauce, and salsa, and paste, and other good things, look. Here is the near sum total of my backyard planting of as near as I can tell, about two dozen tomato plants:

Notice that many have bug bites, or sun scald, and some of them are bright green? That one, at least, was an accident. Cherokee Purple, the occasional sulky Early Girl, and the Romas and San Marzanos that are sort of vying between ripening/rotting/being eaten by sowbugs as they lie on the ground. They don't even taste that great this year. Sure, feta and olive oil and red wine vinegar don't hurt, but I like tomatoes a lot. . . and these aren't worth it.

This was Not The Plan for this summer. To be fair, neither was a terrible flea infestation or family upheaval, but hey, I can't control the weather. My father in law suggested that I could buy tomatoes by the bushel and can them. I could. . . but last year when I did that they were $2 a pound, and I'm not up for that. I could perhaps drive 40 minutes away and get them for .60c a pound -- if they're available from the farm that's advertising on Craigslist.

We shall see. If I have a free day next week, maybe I can arrange a drive down there. Wonder if they'd let me glean for free? Or if not, I'll just look for a sale on canned organic tomatoes and stock up for the year.

And why, you might ask, why not wait for the warmer weather that you call "fall" in your expensive-but-lovely-weather-area? Well, because I don't think we have time:

That vine is collapsing like the old-fashioned paper straws that only lasted for about a third of your milkshake. Some blight -- not the vaunted late blight, I don't think - but some blight is crawling up the vines all across the garden. I won't be composting these babies this year. Short of broadcasting kale or cover crop seeds (or kale AS a cover crop) I'm not sure that I'm not going to be facing an awful lot of empty real estate in the garden soon.

The End, then, probably the End of the tomatoes. Except for the Sungold, rot their bright little hearts. The Sungolds will produce no matter what, for months. That isn't as cheering as I might think, alas.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

A Day Late. . .

And a few queens short.

Yes, it's another bee post!!

My oldest hive has a queen I call "The Bomber Queen." I think she's about three, if the hive hasn't replaced her without my noticing, and the hive is everything you'd want in a beehive. Calm, productive both of brood and honey, just lovely.

See the abundance of stores? See the worker showing up with little suitcase legs of bright orange pollen? I love this hive.

I have a beekeeping friend who is very interested in breeding feral queen stock; reasoning, I believe rightly, that it's better to have a mixed gene pool and feral bees are probably more adapted to life here than queens imported from somewhere like Hawaii or Ohio.

In the past couple of weeks, we've been doing things to the Bomber Hive -- splitting it into smaller sub-hives, in hopes that by using one of his fancy "make a queen" kit thingies, we could raise up a whole generations of daughters that would at least have one rocking parent. Oddly enough, even though we put two sets of eyes, adding up to over 85 years of seeing experience, to work, we managed to miss the queen as we went through the hive.

So she went to Berkeley.

No problem, we decided -- we can raise queens there too. Here, the leftover bees will just raise up some queens all on their own. Bees manage to make a new queen when they're in need. For bees "in need" can easily mean "the people took the queen to Berkeley," so they just needed some early larvae to lavish royal jelly on and hey, presto, new queens.


Yes, because it's always not a good idea to put all of your hope on any one larvae making a strong, healthy queen, the bees will just sort of make a few spare ones, too. I don't know -- maybe there are competing committees or something.

At any rate, we decided, hey, we can also try the method of putting queen cells off of frames into smaller breeding nucleus hives made from Stefani's other hive that specializes in bees and not honey!

Seemed easy, and yet. . . there are some things for which timing is fairly important. Comedy, for one, and probably juggling, and it turns out, queen rearing.

The little heat wave we experienced might have sped up the hatching for these new queens, or it could be that the two days, Wednesday and Thursday, that might have been good days for me to get in there and move some frames with capped queen cells were so busy I didn't get in until yesterday, but:

That cell, the one in the middle pointing down, the one with the nice large chewed opening in the end? Yeah, that's where the young queen was. She had gotten out. I didn't see her, but I wasn't surprised.

I did see evidence that she'd been around the hive, though:

See the nice, round-ended queen cell hanging down? See how it doesn't have an opening at the bottom, but a ragged hole on the side? Can you say "regicide"? Or in this case, I suppose it's state-sanctioned assassination, as the first or strongest queen to emerge will fight to the death other young queens emerging, and if she can get to some that aren't yet hatched, she'll take care of that little problem right away.


At least five total queen cells or former queen cells. It would have been nice to have gotten more, but now all I can do is wait until this queen manages to fly, mate, and begin laying eggs. In about 20 days I should know. It's been exciting, anyhow.

Since the beehives are right by the chickens, I managed to finally identify the tomatoes that volunteered in the chicken coop area:

Principe Borghese, the kind I wasn't going to grow this year, because I have so many awaiting foccaccia or sun dried tomato bread in the freezer.

It's probably appropriate that they're growing there, because they look like little monochrome elf eggs. Eggs and hatching, pretty much, all the time here.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Collateral Damage

It's been a rough year here for tomatoes. Record cool temperatures, a bizarre two-day heat wave, rampant cherry tomatoes I can't get through to pick thoroughly. . . just not the abundant, lots-of-canning year I'd hoped for. One bright spot was the volunteer tomato out front. Sheltered in a warm corner, it bloomed early, set fruit early, and was the first to ripen anything. Even it's not doing all that well, really.

The other day I came home from a camping trip and found some weird problem with the fruit:

I thought it was maybe birds, or squirrels. . . turns out, my second guess was closer. When I looked carefully at the pumpkin I'd been babying along for Halloween, I found my culprits:

See the yellow spots? There are a couple of boys living across and down the street who are at that awkward adolescent age -- young enough so it's difficult to find them real work of any kind to do, old enough to start getting into bigger kinds of trouble. This summer, they've been exploring beebee gun wars, with plastic beebees. Everyone wears eye protection; they're pretty good about following the rules, but that didn't help these innocent bystanders.

Sigh. They need big farm animals or a flood to dig ditches for or something to explore -- anything but this coddled city life with very few big men in their lives.

I asked them not to shoot toward our house and showed them why. We'll see how it goes. Now if I can keep my kids from making bows and arrows out of sticks and string and shooting the sunflowers, we'll be on our way.