Posts

Showing posts from July, 2011

Two Weeks in the Life of the Hive

Image
... The weekend before last, we opened up both of our beehives. It had been far too long, since we had inspected, and the Gloriana hive was terribly overcrowded. The bees had run out of room in the hive proper, and were shoving honey anywhere they could. They had built extra honey comb on the tops of their frames, because there was no other storage space. The developing bees in the capped brood cells were surrounded by uncapped nectar and capped honey. The food stores were encroaching on the nursery. Robb and I had read that a hive will swarm when it runs out of places for the queen to lay her eggs. The bees had been busier than we expected, and things were getting dangerously crowded. We added another box of open frames on to the beehive, and harvested four frames of honey. The honey seemed darker than what we had taken out of the hive, previously. However, when we actually strained the honey, it was light and clear. Perhaps the older, darker wax made the honey

Backyard Research

... Another piece in the honeybee puzzle... Researchers have recently discovered viruses in bees which may be contributing to Colony Collapse Disorder. Coincidentally, a researcher from one of the labs shown in this PBS NewsHour segment, which aired yesterday, will be in our backyard this afternoon to sample our hives as part of an ongoing study. Watch the full episode . See more PBS NewsHour.

Thanks, Feral Cats!

Image
... It was very thoughtful of you to leave the lower half of this gigantic rat (and the accompanying pile of viscera) in the backyard.

Handy

Image
If it can be said that there are any "advantages" to having a disability, handicapped parking is one. I've come to rely on those "handy spaces" whenever they get me closer to a building entrance. My walking is still extremely slow and very tiring. I used to intentionally leave the most convenient spaces open for those who might need it more than me, until I gradually realized that I rarely see anybody who apparently fits that description. I say "apparently" because one thing we have noticed is that you often can't tell by looking who has a physical disability. A person with chronic fatigue, for instance, could go bounding into a post office but end up dragging themselves out ten minutes later. An average walker might be seen entering a shop but might have difficulty carrying their purchase when they leave. Or ... they might be a selfish, able-bodied jerk using someone's handicap placard to park for free. Here in California the DMV admit

Slatternly

Image
... Things have been a bit slow at work, so I took two days off last week. I managed to get some more of the siding-boards for our house scraped, but it didn't feel like I made a dent in the pile. Our neighbors must hate us, because our house is so trashy-looking. Robb and I are determined to get this project finished before the neighborhood block party. Goodness knows, I'm sick of the piles of boards, clogging up our driveway, and the sloppy tar-paper "siding" on our house. I'm almost ashamed to admit it, but this past week, I had my first professional haircut since Robb broke his back. That's over FIVE YEARS, people. I'm not sure what happened to me, but somewhere along the line, a switch was flipped in my brain, and I stopped taking proper care of myself. It was really weird at first. I'd drive Robb to all sorts of doctors' appointments, but I wouldn't take myself to the dentist. I think that this was some kind of crazy survivor

Garlic Harvest

Image
... After the fiasco that was our leek harvest , I wasn't sure what to expect of our garlic. The time had come to dig up our bulbs. The leaves were dying back, and in fact the plants were putting up flowers, which didn't bode well. The garlic bulbs were neither huge nor puny. They were solidly medium-sized, with a few small bulbs scattered throughout. Considering how poor our soil was when I started this garden, I'm pleased by what we got. I hosed everything off, and stuck the garlic into a wire bookshelf that I had picked up along the side of the road. Everything I read about garlic says that it needs to "cure" but I have no idea what that really means. Perhaps they need to dry out a bit, to keep from getting moldy. I dunno. Today, I peeled off loose outer layer of garlic skin, and removed the roots. I was about halfway through this project, when I realized that I could grasp the roots with my scissors and rip them off the bulbs. I hope I remem

Ready to Emerge

Image
... As of yesterday, we've successfully raised and released four Anise Swallowtail Butterflies. I cannot express the pleasure that this gives me. There's something so metaphorical about the life-cycle of these creatures. To be a tiny part of it is just thrilling. I've realized that I can predict which butterflies are going to emerge. The green chrysalises are easy. They become more transparent, and the wing markings can be observed . The other clue that a butterfly is about to hatch has to do with the tail-end of the chrysalis. It expands a bit, in an accordion-like manner. I can admit now that I thought all of the butterflies were dead. I read "butterflies emerge in ten days to three months" and I start to freak out after eleven days. What's strange is that it seems that the butterflies that had been in their chrysalises the shortest amount of time were among the first to emerge. Baffling.

Keep Smiling

Image
... Sure, life is hard and unfair. Bad things happen to really good people. But look at Smog. He was was injured so badly in his early life that he'll never walk (or poop) without difficulty. This is just his daily norm. It's not like he's "overcoming" his problems. He's stuck with them forever. What Smog does is, and what we can all learn a lesson from, is have as much fun as possible. He may not walk normally, but that doesn't stop him from racing around the back yard with a crazed grin on his face. And when he's not tearing up and down our fruit trees, he's basking on his back, with all paws in the air. Linguine, however, is unconvinced that anything about this little urchin has merit.

Tag-Along Beekeeping

Image
... On Saturday, Robb and I visited Stefani's impressive and inspiring garden . I wanted to assist her in doing a bit of beekeeping, and I dragged Robb along so that he could see Stefani's chicken coop. We're pretty certain that we want to get chickens next spring, and the coop that Stefani's husband built is very similar to what Robb has been designing. I thought it would be helpful to see this set-up in action. Stefani had been given some bee equipment by a friend who wanted to get out of beekeeping. And at some point, a colony of bees had moved into the empty hive boxes. Because there were no frames on which to build honeycomb, t he bees started constructing comb on the inside cover of the hive . Stefani had placed this (lavender) hive box on top of another (unpainted) box, in the hopes that the bees might be convinced to move down onto the existing comb inside of the (unpainted) box. The plan was to carefully detach this comb from the cover of the lavend

Another Butterfly in the World

Image
... I was having one of those bad days at work. Nothing really horrible was going on, but for some reason I was failing to rise above the day's petty annoyances. However, all of my grumpiness faded away when I received a photograph on my phone from Robb. Another butterfly had hatched out. (These are not the photographs in question.) Today is cold and overcast, and the butterfly seems disinclined to fly. We tried setting her loose, but she just hunkered down on our fennel. We read that butterflies become quiescent at night and on cloudy days. Because she was so big and showy and not moving at all, I was worried that she'd end up as a Scrub Jay's dinner. So for tonight, we've moved her back into the safety of the enclosed tank. We'll set her free in the morning. Nothing like a newly emerged butterfly to put everything into perspective.

Outside the Kitchen Window

Image
This morning ... Poor Sleeves.

Scalping Rastafarians in the Back Yard

Image
... A few weeks ago, I bought the fleece of a sheep named Ziggy. I thought it would be interesting to process the wool myself, and then spin it into a sweater. I was prepared to wash out a lot of lanolin, but I had no idea how sweaty sheep are. There's even a special word for funky hardened sheep's sweat: suint (pronounced swint). Washing took quite a while, and I still haven't managed to brush out even half of this fleece. I've got the fleece hanging on a drying rack in the back yard, and it really looks bizarre and ghoulish. Cleaning and brushing out this fleece has given me so much respect for our ancestors, and what they had to do in order to clothe themselves. The prep takes a lot of time, but it's quite enjoyable. The wool is incredibly lovely, and I'm enjoying the tonal variation of this sheep's coat. I've been sorting the wool into three piles, greyer grey, browner grey, and palest silver. (I suspect that nobody is going to be

The Tour de Fleece

Image
... For the past few years, the online community of handspinners have participated in something called the Tour de Fleece. It's a fun event, where spinners challenge themselves to spin every day of the the Tour de France bicycle race. There are wheels, spinning round and round all over the planet. I'm not usually not big on joining these sorts of online shenanigans, but I decided that this would be a good opportunity for me to do a lot of spinning, and work toward improving my skills. I had my share of technical difficulties, right from the start. I'm spinning on a rather rickety antique spinning wheel, which presents quite a few challenges. First, the driveband that spins the wheel kept falling off. Like, every four seconds. Then, my bobbin split into pieces. Robb learned quite a bit about tuning up my spinning wheels, while I practiced my swearing. I got this lovely undyed wool through my handspinning group. It was astonishingly cheap, which was very

A Butterfly Emerges

Image
... I'm not a morning person, but if Robb tells me that there's an Interesting Nature Event in progress, I'll catapult out of bed. This morning, I was rubbing my eyes, when he shouted that we had at butterfly. We had been collecting the Anise Swallowtail caterpillars that we found on our garden fennel, and one by one they transformed into mysteriously dead-looking chrysalises. We've had quite a few people over lately, and we've all peered into the tank, and wondered when or if anything might emerge. In truth, I had pretty much given up hoping. I might tell myself that the markings on the chrysalises were changing, but I was secretly convinced that nothing was going to happen. Reading that it takes from ten days to three months for a butterfly to emerge results in a lot of staring and worrying, two things I'm very good at doing. Robb and I cleared a space on an outside table, and carried the butterfly tank outside. The butterfly was busily bashing int