Sunday, August 07, 2016

A Thrilling Game of "What the Heck is This?"

At some point in our lives together, Robb and I realized that we shared the decorating sensibilities of ninety-year-old retired college professors. As a way of indulging our eccentric tastes, we go to a lot of estate sales.  It's fascinating to be given access to strangers' homes, and to get a glimpse of the objects they accumulated over their lives. 

Sometimes this is inspiring. Sometimes it's a bit sad. And occasionally, it's rather puzzling. 

This weekend, we brought home this mysterious object.  It seems to be made of an early form of plastic

Inside the body of this object, there's a metal mechanism. If the end of the mechanism is unscrewed, it can function as a plunger, depressing the "needle" within the barrel of the "pen."  The end of the "needle" never protrudes from the end of the "pen," but there is an aperture at the pointy end of the "pen."

The entire object is rather smaller and thicker than a typical early 20th Century fountain pen. 

Can you identify this item?  Do you know what the heck it is?

Saturday, August 06, 2016

There's a New Butterfly in the World

Just moments ago, this butterfly emerged from its chrysalis. 

It will spend the next few hours inflating its wings with fluids. 

When it looks strong enough to fly, Robb and I will release it into our garden.  

This is ALWAYS miraculous.  

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Preserving the Harvest


This year, our adolescent pluot tree hit puberty.  The tree is still gangly and has a long way to grow, but for the first time it produced more than a plate-full of fruit. 

With the bounty, Robb made pies.  I made jam. We sat in the back yard and gorged ourselves on fruit, fresh from the tree.  We invited friends over to pick fruit. 

And eventually it all started to get away from us. Anyone sitting under the tree risked being clobbered with over-ripe fruit.  The lawn furniture was covered in sticky dried fruit pulp. The ground was littered with mushy fruit, which we threw at the hens. 

The bees were drunk on fruit nectar. Clearly, we needed to get serious about not letting the harvest go to to waste. 

A few weeks back, Robb ordered a dehydrator. We've been experimenting, trying to find the best method.  We've already realized that simply cutting the fruit in half isn't ideal. Our pluots are so juicy that large chunks of fruit take an eternity to dry. 

I fired up the history podcasts, and set to work chopping up fruit.  Cut fruit piled up in a bowl, along with the juice of one lemon and two sparse teaspoons of sugar. 

It seemed like I was chopping for hours.  

We set the dehydrator to run overnight. 

And in the morning, we had a pound of dried fruit. 

Once you've made your own, it's easy to understand why dried fruit was once such a luxury.  It takes a massive amount of fruit and time to produce the end product. 

And just in case anyone thinks that Robb and I live in a twee Instagram paradise, I will add the following detail to the story:  while I was picking fruit, trying to avoid accidentally grabbing honeybees, something skittered inside my ear canal. After the briefest moment of Raw Panic and Cellular-Level Revulsion, I enlisted Robb's help in extricating whatever was squirming inside my head. After a few false starts, we managed to flush the ear with medicated drops and Robb removed a live spider from my ear canal. 




Friday, July 15, 2016

The Season's First Butterfly Hatches


The entire life cycle of a butterfly is miraculous, but it's the final emergence that makes me want to cry happy tears.  Every. Single. Time. 

Robb and I had been out cycling, and came back to discover that the first of our brood of butterflies had hatched. Her wings were fully unfurled by the time we found her. 

I coaxed her onto my hand, and carried her over to flowers we knew Anise Swallowtail Butterflies fed on. 

She was entirely uninterested in the verbena. 

When I moved her over to the fennel (her host plant), she hopped right off my hand.  

After a few minutes, she flew away.  Watching butterflies that we've nurtured fly off into the world is always a beautiful, magical experience.  

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go rinse my eyes, and find a handkerchief. 

Sunday, July 10, 2016

How Not To Keep Bees


One thing I've learned about keeping bees, is that a good beekeeper has to be prepared for any situation.

And that's one of those things that's Easier Said Than Done.

When I decided that I wanted to keep bees again (after a year-long break, where my schedule was just too hectic for bees), I put the word out among my friend, and almost instantly found myself in possession of a swarm of bees.  I thought I was ready for them, but I really wasn't.

One of the tricky things about bringing home swarms, is that you're transporting the bees after sundown, and so you're installing them in your hive in the dark.  It's a bit late, perhaps you're tired or hungry, and under those circumstances it's easy to make mistakes.

When I was installing the bees in their new home, I somehow failed to put the correct number of frames inside my beehive.  I left open spaces.  I don't really remember why I did this. Perhaps the swarm was sitting on a branch, and I thought I shouldn't overcrowd the bees.  Perhaps I was just being stupid.  Perhaps I was tired and distracted.  Who knows?

What I do know is that bees don't like gaps in their homes.  They build their combs with remarkable order.

With great speed, my bees filled the empty space with beautiful comb.  And then the queen filled every cell in that comb with eggs.  When I inspected the colony, I realized my error.  And I was unwilling to risk damaging the developing bees. So I wrote a warning on the top of the frame, and left things the way they were.

Can you see what I'm talking about?  In the photo of the comb, you see that the upper comb is surrounded by a wooden frame, while the lower part of the comb is not. The bees have built comb that slots between two of the hive boxes.  In some ways, it's really neat. In other ways, it's a bit of a mess.

Can you also see the small cylindrical structure hanging down on the bottom of the comb, about a third of the way in from the left edge?  That seems to be a cell made for the purpose of breeding a new queen.  This was odd, because clearly the colony's existing queen was healthy, and laying eggs like crazy.

I decided to wait, to see if my next inspection might happen at a time when this particular comb wasn't full of larval bees.  That upper photo was taken on June 17th.

It's now July 10th, and the bees that were pupating in the cells have hatched out.  However, the queen has refilled the cells with new eggs, and the workers have closed those cells up again.  Another generation of bees are developing.

I had an idea about cutting the comb away from the wooden frame. I had made a sort of cradle to hold this comb, so that it could be re-inserted into the hive.

But the developing bees are just too precious to mess with.  So, I'm going to leave things alone again.

Oddly, the queen cup that was present a month ago seems to be gone now.  Did I crush it when I moved the comb last month?  Did the bees decide they didn't need it, and tear it apart?  Did I queen hatch out of it?  Who knows?

I am not going to win any awards for beekeeping, but at least I don't feel like I've done anything terribly harmful to the bees.

A Year Ago
Does This Cat Make My Knitting Look Big?

Two Years Ago
The Caterpillar Plantation

Three Years Ago
Backyard Plums

Four Years Ago
P is For...

Five Years Ago
A Very Similar Beekeeping Situation, Though Not In My Hives

Six Years Ago
Visiting an Experimental and Historic Farm

Seven Years Ago
Holy Crap!  We're Buying A House!  (AND WORRYING)

Eight Years Ago
Nice Tail (Click this one for the photo)

Nice Years Ago
I Need Someone To Talk To

Saturday, July 09, 2016



This was the year that the pluot tree we planted burst with fruit. Previously, we had been thrilled to get a dozen or so fruits. 

Now, we've got more fruit than we quite know how to manage. 

I suspect I'll be making more jam this weekend. 

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Caterpillars in the Pantry

Once again, Robb and I are raising Anise Swallowtail caterpillars in our pantry. The butterflies lay tiny, tiny eggs on our fennel, and once these eggs hatch, I bring the caterpillars inside, to protect them from predation. 

The caterpillars go through a series of life-stages, transforming over and over before their final metamorphosis.  Its a fascinating process to observe, up close.  

This year's group seems hell-bent on attaching themselves to the Worst Possible Places.  The green chrysalis is attached to a piece of screen that used to be part of their tank's lid.  The lid is seated in a track, which means that anything attached to the lid gets squished when the lids opens.  Or, since we're tender-hearted, it means that we cut apart the lids to save the butterflies.  Robb assures me that we can replace the screen without too much trouble.  Yesterday, another caterpillar did the exact same thing, despite all the tempting sticks I've provide.  (You may be able to see a brown chrysalis attached to a lovely safe stick, on the right side of the photo.)

At the moment, we have seven chrysalises pupating.  It will be interesting to see if this batch hatches out right away, or if some of them delay hatching until next spring. We've seen both, and I'm unaware of any pattern for predicting which way it will go.

A Year Ago
I was drowning in work, and didn't write anything on the blog

Two Years Ago

Three Years Ago

Four Years Ago

Five Years Ago

Six Years Ago

Seven Years Ago

Eight Years Ago

Nine Years Ago


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