Showing posts from May, 2010

Our busy bees, or "what the hell do we do now?"

Today, we inspected the Gloriana hive. We were a little clumsy, and tore open some capped honeycomb. You can see the ripped open comb on the upper right section of the frame. (It seems to me that the comb in the lower right is larger than the comb in the middle. I think that it contains drone larvae. More on that, later.) The bees didn't seem to mind the destruction of their honeycomb. They got right to work, slurping up the spilled honey. I love that you can see bee tongues in this photo. I also love the beautiful clear droplet of honey at the bottom of the picture. Thankfully we didn't do any damage to the larval bees. What you're seeing in this photo are several of the life stages of the European Honeybee. After the queen lays an egg, it hatches as a tiny grub-like larva. The larva lives inside an open wax cell, and is fed special food by the worker bees. When it has grown nice and big and fat, and is ready to pupate, the workers apply a wax seal to its cell.

Manhattanhenge, or the intersection of nature and the city.

... photo by Flickr user jonbell has no h Tonight, at twilight, the city of Manhattan will perfectly align with the sunset . The setting sun will shine its light down the the exact center of east-west streets . Manhattan's grid deviates from the cardinal points by 28.9 degrees. If the city were laid out with the compass in mind (instead of the geography of Manhattan island), this effect would be seen on the solstices, which are the only days that the sun sets precisely in the west. If you miss it tonight, you can see this again in July. The two occurrences are evenly spaced, on either side of the solstice. Sometimes I worry that we humans think of Nature as something that only exists way out in The Country. Thinking that way misses the point. We live in the natural world. (We've just paved over much of it.) So, even if you're not in New York City this evening, do take a moment to notice nature. Listen to a bird. Stare at the sky. Notice the leaves on a tree. Stand

A Hive of Activity

... We've been inspecting each of our hives, every other weekend. This week we looked into the Elizabeth Taylor hive. We'd had a bit of rain this week, and when we took off the hive covers, we revealed a bit of condensed water, which this little bee drank right up. I never fail to be delighted by bees' tongues. We went through all three of the hive boxes, frame by frame. To minimize the disruption for the bees, we keep the boxes covered with tea towels. These provide some darkness, but aren't likely to crush anybody. It also reduces the amount of chaotic flying around, which is less stressful for the humans. We had given the bees strips of embossed wax "starter strips" on which we hoped they would build their combs. For the most part, the comb they built was smooth and even, but there were two or three frames of idiosyncratic structures. As long as we're able to remove the frames without too much damage to the bees' home, I'm not terribly w

It's a bug eat bug world

... Our little East Oakland garden has aphids. Lots and lots of aphids. The plum trees are being particularly hard-hit. The young leaves look really tortured. I was struck by a particularly crazy idea, and harvested some rose leaves from my West Oakland garden , and pinned them on to various leaves in the corner of the garden with the worst aphid infestation. The leaves were the home of lady beetle pupae. If all goes well, these will transform into the familiar ladybug. (The larval stage, which is the real aphid predator, is even more freaky-looking. They're like tiny alligators, or horny toads.) The ladybugs may feast on aphids, and establish themselves in my garden. I know that you can buy ladybugs by the hundreds, but that somehow doesn't suit my temperament. It seems wrong (to my mind) to import bugs from who-knows-where to fight a local garden pest. There are so many stories about an animal being introduced to an ecosystem, and becoming a rampant pest instead of


... Remember yesterday , when I wrote about the Western Scrub Jays eating bees from my back yard? Remember how I said that I had to make my peace with the fact that there's no "good" or "bad" predation? Well, I (the tender-hearted vegetarian) had to own those words later that same day. When I came home, the bird that I've made a special point of inviting into my yard was making a meal of a dead sparrow under our lilac bushes. All this makes me think of a passage from a book I love, I Capture the Castle , by Dodie Smith. After a while I hear an owl hooting and calmed myself by thinking of it flying over the dark fields -- and then I remembered it would be pouncing on mice. I love owls, but wish God had made them vegetarians. (Don't scroll down if you are upset by images of predation. There were way worse photos, if that's any consolation.)

Honey, What's for Breakfast?

... Yesterday and last night were rainy, and when I woke up this morning there were a number of dead bees on the landing board of the Gloriana hive. I'm hoping that these were bees that died of old age, that the " mortician bees " didn't carry away due to the bad weather. I was pondering this when one of our neighborhood scrub jays flew in. He ate some peanuts from my hand, and then went to investigate the hive. The jays have figured out that the hive is a good food source. I'm not entirely thrilled about seeing the birds eat the bees, but I have to be realistic about the fact that there isn't "good" or "bad" predation. I've planted the garden with an emphasis on food sources for birds and butterflies. I'd be pretty hypocritical if I got upset whenever the jays ate a few bees. The sound of toenails clicking in the trees. A flutter of blue wings. And suddenly, there are fewer dead bees littering the hive entrance.

Why did the chicken cross the road?

... While many San Franciscans were racing (almost) naked through the streets we set out for an afternoon of chicken-gawking at the Alameda Chicken Coop Bicycling Tour . We saw lovely hens and lovely gardens. I think this Speckled Sussex was my favorite. Her brown-and-white feathers were splashed with a dark iridescent blue-green. What a beauty! It was interesting to hear how these urban farmers started keeping chickens. Many read ads on Craig's List, and got hens on a whim. I'm a fairly regular reader of the Farm and Garden section of Craig's List, and I can attest to the fact that people are always getting rid of chickens and roosters. There's a lot of trade in medical marijuana plants and growing gear, as well as horses and tack. Gotta love Craig's List for its sociological insights. Alameda has wonderful architecture, and bike-riding gave us a great view of the lovely and often funky homes on the island. All the homes that we visited had large back yards,

Checks and Balances

... We have been trying to check each of our beehives, every other weekend. Yesterday we took a look at the Gloriana hive. Robb did most of the work, this time. What you see in this photo is Robb looking ever-so-chic in his bee gear. In the foreground, there's a hive box that we've already inspected. We've got it covered with a tea towel, because the hive is usually dark inside, and we're trying not to stress the bees. Also, you'll notice that Robb is standing with all his weight on his heels. Due to the damage to his motor and sensory neurons, he's not able to support weight on the balls of his feet, so he tends to default to this toes-up stance. In front of Robb, you can see the "frame rest" we use when we're moving things around in the hive. When Robb was first starting to walk again, he had all sorts of balance issues (because he can't feel or fully use his feet). Yesterday, we were both extremely aware of Robb's balance. The last

When the Chickens Come Home to Roost

... photo by Josh Phillipson Who wants to join us on Sunday for the annual Backyard Chicken Coop Bicycling Tour ? The tour starts at 1pm, at 448 Lincoln Avenue. The tour is 4 1/2 miles. It covers 35 gardens, which are said to house 165 hens. This should be a fun, easy ride. Alameda is flat as flat can be. There's a 25 mile-per-hour speed limit on the entire island. If you haven't been on your bike in ages, this might be a fun excuse to pull it out of storage. * * * * * * And while we're on the subject of Backyard Chickens, I strongly urge my blog readers to click over to my sister's blog, Brooklyn Feed . Martha keeps a small flock of hens in Brooklyn, and is passionate about animal welfare and educating people about where their food comes from. She and her chickens have been been on national television , and are frequent classroom visitors in New York City. She loves her hens. Earlier this week, she was invited to be part of a panel

Another Look Inside a Hive

... The other day, we did an inspection of the Elizabeth Taylor hive. I spotted larval bees, and finally saw eggs. Bees' eggs are so insanely tiny that you really have to have good eyes, and an ability to see minute variations in pattern. What we didn't notice at the time, but spotted later on my photographs was the colony's queen. I've labeled this photograph, so you can examine the queen, a drone (or male bee), and some other features. To read about hive inspections, click here . If you have questions, I'll try to answer them. I've been going on and on about bees on the blog lately, and I'm not sure if I've been clear or confusing.

All Abuzz

This is the most activity that we've seen at our hives. Usually, the bees are busy, but it isn't Rush Hour. Nevertheless, they let me stick my phone right into the middle of the fray. I continue to be amazed at how unbothered the bees are by our proximity. And I think it is safe to say that I'm not afraid of bees.

Rolling, Once Again.

... Not surprisingly, buying a eighty-something-year-old house has kept me and Robb so busy that we haven't been doing a lot of cycling. Spring is here, and our friend Julie is visiting, so we dug out the bikes and hit the trail. The day looked ominous, with scattered showers. But hey, Julie spent the last three years living in Oregon and Hawaii, and she hasn't melted yet. Julie is a former intern and co-worker of mine from the Glimmerglass Opera. She just finished a Masters' Degree in teaching, and before that was teaching windsurfing and kayaking in Hawaii. She's on her way back to Maryland (where we're both from) to teach at boating camp in Baltimore. People who grew up on the East Coast are usually amused by our cheeky beach-dwelling Ground Squirrels. Squirrels that live in burrows? That's madness!

Butterfly Breeding

... I've been planting my garden with the needs of native animals in mind. I'm particularly interested in helping out the animals that depend on a single food source. So, I'm attempting to grow a variety of milkweeds, for the Monarch butterflies. (I'm fighting the slugs, who seem to love these plants.) I'm also growing Dutchman's Pipe , which is the only plant that the larval Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly eats. Conveniently, the female butterfly also lays her eggs on this plant. The weekend before last, Robb and I went on the Bringing Back the Natives garden tour, where we visited the garden of Idell Weydemeyer . I addition to incredible orchards , Idell grows a huge variety of California native plants. She had a friendly, informative volunteer stationed at the site of her impressive Dutchman's Pipe Vine, talking about the life cycle of these beautiful butterflies. The butterflies were in attendance as well. The volunteer pointed out some eggs that