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Showing posts from June, 2010

The Delights of the Hive

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... The bees in the Gloriana hive have been busy, busy, busy! They're building comb like champions, and filling the cells in the comb with nectar. Occasionally, the bees build comb in places that get torn apart when we open up the hive. The girls get right to work, slurping up the spilled nectar. Last Sunday, we gave the bees another box, in which to build more honeycomb. Robb built frames, to which he attached two-inch wide starter strips of embossed wax foundation. In three days, the bees have built a boxful of honeycomb, and filled most of that comb with nectar. Three days! That's INSANE! I love seeing the structures that the bees build. You can see the remnant of the starter strip of wax, running as a sort of spine, through the middle of the comb. Also visible is brightly-colored pollen inside of some of these cells. It's fascinating to think of all the flowers that produced this pollen. As I said, the bees occasionally build comb in places th

Deformed Wing Virus

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... Robb and I were doing a hive inspection today. Mostly, we saw healthy, productive bees, but I did notice a few worrisome things. This bee almost surely has Deformed Wing Virus . She will clearly never be able to fly, and has probably been evicted from the hive by her sisters. This virus can be an indication of an unhealthy colony of bees. It is often seen in bees with a high load of varroa mites . It is believed that varroa mites put such a burden on the colony's health, that it opens the door to viruses like this one. Varroa mites are about the size and color of the reddish drips of paint in this photograph. They look like pincher-less crabs, and are a serious parasite of the European Honey Bee. I think that Robb and I have each seen one single mite since we've had the bees, so we're pretty sure that the bees aren't mite-ridden. Nevertheless, we've placed a mite observation panel under the hive, to monitor "mite fall" for the next forty

You Never Sausage a Thing...

... I have a few questions. Are there any actual lyrics to "Turkey in the Straw?" The ice cream trucks that drive around our neighborhood play this song incessantly, and I'm pretty sure that the lyrics that run through my head are from some weird song I learned at summer camp. I have a hard time imagining anyone actually writing a song about pouring hot water up and down a little chickie's leg. But what do I know? (And what the hell were my completely not religious parents thinking when they sent me to a summer Hungarian religion camp, housed in an orphanage? The very first day of camp, the people running the place told us how much our parents had spent to send us there, and that all that money was non-refundable. So, we all lied, and told our families that we were having a great time. It was a truly horrible experience.) How will we know when our Green Sausage Tomatoes are ripe? Since they're green when mature, how will we know when to pick them? Why,

Reclaiming Bees' Wax

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... Over the past winter and spring, when Robb and I were trying to educate ourselves about beekeeping, I spent a lot of time reading beekeepers' blogs. One of the ones I enjoy the most is written by Linda, a Master Beekeeper in Atlanta Georgia . She has a wonderful common-sense approach to beekeeping, and I found reading her blog -- which spans five years of working with bees -- fascinating and empowering. Linda wrote recently about using a very low tech set up for melting down bees' wax , and since today was very hot and sunny, I thought we'd give it a try. We'd seen several plans for "solar wax melters" but they all seemed really over-built and over-complicated. This set up had the advantage of being made of out things we already owned. Simple. Cheap. Energy-efficient. Sounded good to us! We dragged our ugly styrofoam beer cooler out of the garage, and stuck a piece of old window glass on top of it. Then we partially filled a plastic fo

The Queen of Cups

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... The earliest European playing cards were remarkably similar to the ones we use today. There were the cards that represented the royal courts, as well as the numerical cards. The "suits" of these early cards were swords, staffs, cups and coins, and in fact these same suits are still used in Italy, Portugal and Spain. Why do I mention this? Because we've got two colonies of bees that are apparently ruled by the Queen of Cups. Our bees, while industrious and healthy, are very keen on building queen cups all over the hives. I'm trying not to fret about this. I think our queen bees are in good health, and are laying plenty of eggs. I don't think that the colonies are over-crowded and in peril of swarming. I have to believe that the bees are just building the queen cups in case something goes wrong and they have to quickly raise a new queen. They're planning for the future, which is hard to imagine as being part of the insect mind. But -- dang --

Gardening Butterflies

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... Recently, I was reading a garden blog, where commenters were remarking how they loved butterflies, but hated (and would kill) caterpillars. To my mind, this summed up America's total disconnect from nature. When I was planning our garden, I planted several plants that were reputed to be "larval hosts" for butterflies. That's a fancy way of saying that these plants are the ones on which adult butterflies lay their eggs, and on which the larvae (that's "caterpillars" to us non-scientists) develop. These are the plants on which the caterpillars pupate inside of chrysalises, from which new butterflies emerge. Provide caterpillars with habitat, and you may enjoy a garden (and world) full of butterflies. To be more blunt: Kill the caterpillars, and you're destroying butterflies. Yesterday, Robb spotted a tiny, colorful caterpillar on the fennel in our vegetable garden. He described it to me over the phone, and I took a quick look at the int

Concerning Various Animal Pests

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... Last night, after work, I bought a half wine barrel, with the idea of turning it into a mini-pond from which our bees could drink. Urban and suburban beekeepers are advised to provide a consistent source of water for the bees. Neglecting to do this will send the bees out foraging, and they're likely to end up drinking out of your neighbor's dogs' dishes, or their swimming pools. This is not a good way to endear one's self to one's neighbors, or to inspire kind thoughts about one's backyard hives. So, I was pretty excited to find a barrel with a pond-liner for sale -- cheap! -- on Craigslist. The owners were selling it because they were moving to India, and also because they were tired of having their local raccoons eat all the fish they had in the barrel. We haven't seen any raccoons in our yard, and I hadn't given much thought to fish. However, the seller did mention that Alameda County will deliver free mosquito-eating fish to your door

Cat Scratch Fever

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... I've not written about it, because it would seem too much like complaining (and anyway, that's what Facebook is for), but I've had a horrible, miserable itch-tastic rash for the last three weeks. I finally reached the end of my patience, and went to see the doctor, who loaded me up with medications that actually work. She had some interesting notions about the cause of the rash. We now think that I've got poison oak, from snuggling the local feral cats. Well, actually, I lay all the blame at Cardigan's feet, because Sleeves still won't let me touch him. I think that Cardigan rolls around in poison oak in someone's yard, and then rolls around in my arms. This is what I get for trying to make friends with these little fur-balls. Nothing but pain and itch. I love these kitties, but I'm going to go all Lady Macbeth on them. I see compulsive washing in my future. Robb may have actually had cat scratch disease, back when we lived in Baltim

As the beekeepers say, "The Nectar Flow Is On!"

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... Last weekend, Robb and I added another box to each of our beehives. Robb assembled the individual frames, on which he installed a slim vertical ribbon of embossed beeswax. This "starter strip" gives the bees a bit of guidance, but allows them to build comb to suit their own needs. By not using much commercially produced wax in our hives, we're avoiding introducing wax from hives that may have been contaminated with agricultural chemicals. The girls were certainly industrious over the past week! They built beautiful comb on all the frames in our box, and filled most of that comb with nectar. You can see the nectar in the middle of that lovely white wax. The bees will evaporate the flowers' nectar until it is has the perfect water content for long-term storage. Somehow the bees know when the honey is "ripened" and at that exact moment, they cover it over with a layer of fresh clean wax. Right now, the flowers are producing huge amounts of necta

Around and Around

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... Today I bought something that I really don't need, but that I love. It's something that lived in my grandmother's house for my entire life -- a magical object. My grandparents were amazing people, whose home was filled with books, and all sorts of fascinating natural objects, and antiques. Due to family ugliness, I have have no idea what became of any of the lovely things that my grandparents owned. Some days I'm sad about this. But in truth, I'm glad to be free from the toxicity and dysfunction of that part of my family. Both my sister and I knew that my grandparents were the glue that kept our family from completely shattering. When they were gone, everything finally fell to pieces. On this day, when we honor family, I'm struck that I had the opportunity to own a version of something that symbolizes my grandmother. It needs a little work, but Robb assures me that the repairs are not beyond our ability. We'll make it work again.

Out of Proportion

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... We have been working on a particularly delightful project in my studio. We're partnering with Phantom Limb , a puppet company out of New York City, and Lemony Snicket , who resides in the Bay Area. And next week, the scenery we've been creating will be part of a film shoot. Here, I'm adjusting the level of wear-and-tear on a diminutive maple floor. Isn't it splendid? The carpenters did a wonderful job building it, and Sheri 's paint job is beautiful. I keep a couple of pairs of fuzzy animal ears, for when things get particularly tense or hectic at work. It's really hard to be stressed out, when one's co-workers are wearing fluffy ears. I made the other painters watch a clip from Jan Svankmejer's amazing film Alice , so it seemed a perfect day to don bunny ears. All I can say is " Allie in Wonderland. " Oddly, working on one-third human scale takes as much or more time as working actual size. Usually, we're painting

Buried in the Garden

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... If you were to stop by our house around dinnertime, you might find me standing in the middle of the vegetable garden. I'd be wielding a pair of scissors, and scrutinizing the undersides of the newly picked kale leaves. We are gardening organically, which means that we're not applying poisons to the plants we're growing in order to kill off pests. This does mean that I've got to look sharp in order to spot the eggs and caterpillars on our vegetables. I'm far too tender-hearted to kill the eggs or larvae, so I just cut them off the leaves with my scissors. I believe this may be a Cabbage White caterpillar. We see fast-moving white butterflies in our garden all the time. Cabbage Whites, I understand, came to the United States from Europe in the 1880's. I'm terrible at butterfly identification, because I can't ever see enough details before the creatures fly off. My usual approach is to look in the field guides for the most common animals (or plan

Tony Award!

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... I want to offer my most sincere congratulations to Christine Jones who won the Tony Award for Best Scenic Design of a Musical. The musical in question was American Idiot , which started its life at Berkeley Rep. Christine's design was complex, massive, and a huge challenge for our scenic studios. The New York Times called it " both spectacular and scummy " which makes me laugh, because it is such an apt description. I was in charge of the painted scenery and surface treatments for this show , and, if you see the show on Broadway, you'll be seeing the work done at Berkeley Rep (plus some ingenious additions to make the scenery fit into the current space). I've been working in theater for a long time, and I've rarely had the pleasure to work with anyone as sharp, delightful, and on-her-game as Christine. Working on her design was a true joy.

A Little Garden Update

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I'm apparently incapable of taking a decent photo of our garden. What I lack in aesthetics, I'll make up for in labels. Starting this garden has certainly been a learning experience, which is a positive way of saying I've had a lot of failures. Mostly, I blame my own lack of understanding of the California growing season. I know how and when to plant on the East Coast, but I'm an imbecile when it comes to California vegetable gardening, despite all the books I've bought. While I'm slinging blame around, I'd also like to blame the slugs. Those slimy bastards have destroyed all but one one my cornichon cucumbers, almost all of the sunflowers, and most of the basil. They demolished all the lettuce and arugula that I planted. They've been brutal to the columbine and the baby blue eyes. I keep assuring myself that Slug-Go is an approved chemical for organic gardening, but it sort of sickens me how much I apply. Beer, coffee and eggshells are met with snor