Simply Resourceful

Simple ways to be more conscious about how we use our resources.

High Flying Queens

What an adventure swarm catching is!  You just never know what you're going to get, when it's going to happen, and where it's going to land.  Sometimes a beekeeper will be fortunate enough to have a swarm land on a nearby shrub or on a low-lying tree branch.  Well, I wasn't so lucky...about 25 feet up in a tree (thankfully in our yard)!!  I couldn't just watch this swarm take off because: 

1. There's like $100.00 just hanging in that tree and
2. Who knows what ignorant folks will do to them when they leave the tree (e.g. spray with chemicals, spray with water...)!!
3. I have a queenless hive and this swarm could potentially solve this problem.
4. There are other bee folks in the area who could use a swarm. 

This video is really quite hilarious because everyone involved responded in a different way to thousands of bees falling from the sky.  The neighbor friend didn't quite know what he was signing himself up for, my husband, who rarely cusses, was in a state of shock, and I had to catch this box with about 5 pounds of bees and tape the lid shut without smashing any bees.  I laugh every time I watch this video!!

This swarm catch required more than 2 people so our good neighbor friend helped out!  We only have one bee suit and one bee hat net so that left one person with nothing.  Dave willingly volunteered because he doesn't care if he gets stung.  For those thinking the worst for this brave soul, Dave only received 6 stings.  Jon and I---Zero.

The video is self-explanatory, but here's what we did:  We attached a cardboard box with holes cut in the sides (with screen for ventilation) to the end of our fruit picker.  My husband held the fruit picker with the box directly beneath the swarm.  The neighbor used a tree trimer to shake the branches where the bees clung onto.  I stood below everything holding the ladder, and caught the box with the bees and duct-taped the lid shut.  It's really quite simple...

Click to enlarge this picture.  It's showing all of the bees in swarm mode.  They have just left the hive and are coming together as a new colony. 

This is one giant swarm 25 feet up in an oak tree.  It's split between two branches which makes capturing it very difficult.  At first I thought it was two separate swarms.  For beekeepers reading this, would swarms gather this close to each other?

After the branch was shook, the box was brought down to the ground where I duct-taped the lid shut.  At the bottom of the box, I cut a little flap so the remaining stragglers can still come in.  The bees at the entrance will fan their wings and waft a pheromone in the air letting the stragglers know where to go.  If the queen wasn't in the box, the bees would leave and cluster together again where the queen is.  Thankfully the bees remained in the box.

Later in the evening when the remaining scout bees were in the box, I opened the box and poured them into the queenless hive.  I don't have a video for this, but you can imagine that excitement...


I discovered two weeks ago that one of my hives is without a queen.  I figured something was wrong with this hive when activity outside the hive dwindled.  Having two hives is really the best way for a new beekeeper to learn about such things.  Upon inspection in the hive, I found very few eggs and larvae but a lot of drones.  Seeing the eggs and larvae should be a good sign, but in actuality, it meant doom.  Why?  The sign of drones indicates a "false queen" is present in the hive.  A false queen is a worker bee laying unfertilized eggs which are drones.  Drones are male bees and males don't do much for a colony other than mate with the queen and gorge on honey.  Sorry y'all, but the male bees are loafers who eat honey and have the privilege of going to other hives and stealing their honey.  If a worker bee (i.e. female bee) were to go to another hive, they would be pushed out by the guard bees and possibly killed.  But justice does exist because when a drone mates with a queen, their internal organs are pulled out of their body and they fall from the sky dead.  C'est la vie!
This a close-up of a drone honeybee.  Their bodies are much larger, especially their eyes!!

These are all worker bees nursing the brood (baby bees).  They are significantly smaller than the drones.  If you look closely, you can see the curled-up larvae in the cells. 

The problem with having a false queen, is that the colony carries on with life as usual until eventually the food is gone because there are not enough worker bees to gather nectar and the worker bees eventually die of old age (about 6 weeks).  This process can happen fairly quickly.  The weakened colony is also under threat of robbers from other hives who can easily steal their honey.

I have three options to reviving this hive and getting a queen.  I can either:
1. Buy a queen.
2. The bees can raise a new queen from fertilized eggs and/or larvae (this frame comes from another hive).
3. Introduce a swarm.

After spending almost $100 for this colony, I wasn't willing to invest more money, and I can't just wait around for a swarm, so I decided to take a frame of eggs and larvae from my other thriving hive and put it in the queenless hive.  Ironically the frame I chose also had a partial queen cell on it.  It was a partial queen cell and I was trying to convince myself that it was a drone cell (because drone cells are bigger than worker cells and are located on the edges of the frame---the same location for queen cells) I was in denial because I didn't want this colony to swarm (it's so robust and could potentially make a lot of excess honey!!).   All we can do is wait and see what happens because there's still a two week period before the queen emerges and mates and then another few weeks before the queen's eggs hatch.  Within that time period, the colony could dwindle and not survive because not enough bees would be around to take care of the nursery.  We'll see...

Question for you bee folks reading this:
If a "false queen" is present in the hive and a frame of eggs and larvae are introduced, will the workers even think to make a queen?  Meaning, will they even think they need a queen since there's a "false queen" laying??

Spinach Makes You Strong!

This is my second spinach harvest this summer from the garden.  We're lucky enough to have mild winters here in the northwest, so spinach can be planted year 'round.  This spinach was planted last fall and it's been trying to bolt for 2 weeks now.  Despite our pinching of flower buds and numerous spinach salads and pasta dishes, the spinach needs to be pulled and re-planted.  The only way I know how to preserve spinach is by blanching and freezing it.  It's a very simple process.

Here is the spinach I harvested from the garden.  This is from 6 plants. 

Wash the spinach and remove all stems and unhealthy leaves.  I leave my leaves in their original shape (no cutting).  This is the pile of spinach leaves with stems removed.

This is the overflowing compost bucket full of yellow/brown leaves and stems.  

Once the leaves have been washed and removed from their stems, add them to boiling water and boil them for 2 minutes.  After 2 minutes, transfer the spinach to cold water (I put a bowl of water in the fridge for a few hours).  This process is called blanching.  It helps preserve the nutrients, flavor, and color of your vegetable. 

Strain as much water off the spinach as possible and lay the spinach on a towel to dry.  Some people use a salad spinner (I don't have one).   
Once the spinach is somewhat dry, add them to your containers for freezing.  I use plastic freezer bags.  And to think that big pile only gave us 2 bags...

UPDATE July 15,2011

I completely forgot that I had this soup pot with a colander insert.  I used it today while blanching peas.  It works flawlessly because all I have to do is lift the strainer pot up when the timer is finished and all of the water drains into the pot below it.  After the water drains out, I pour the vegetables into the bowl full of cold water.  Simple----more efficient this way. 

Bee Hydration

With warmer weather sneaking in, it is important to have a close and secure water source.  Honeybees get warm just like us and they use water to cool themselves down.  A honeybee will bring water back to the hive and the colony will cool the space by evaporating the water through a fanning motion.  They are essentially creating air currents within the hive.  In the evening, bees will often be outside the hive sitting on the landing board, beating their wings----they are bringing cool air into the hive. The brood (baby bees) must stay between 92-98 degrees Fahrenheit and too much heat can cause wax to soften.  Water is essential for the colony so a close water source makes sense so they are not expelling extra energy just to retrieve water.

A neighbor recently knocked on my door asking if I had a water source because apparently my bees are scaring birds away from one of his bird baths (he has 3).  I wanted to retort back, "Well, get your birds out of my yard because they're eating my bees!"  (See Birds and the Bees blog entry)   Some people just don't understand bees and they think a beekeeper can "control" where they go.  I think the title beekeeper gives people that assumption.  This is just another challenge I have to overcome with the neighbors and my hives.  I really can't wait to live in the country with more space between me and the neighbors!  To answer his question, yes, I have a very large water source for the bees----my son's swimming pool!  My son actually enjoys watching them crawl around on his toys despite the fact that he's not as willing to go swimming now with the bees around.  Last year the bees didn't use the pool much because Paul was using it on a daily basis; but this year the weather has been too cool so the bees have moved in because Paul is away...

I included a few pictures of honeybees drinking nectar from the fire sticks in our yard.  The bees absolutely love this plant and so do I!  It's fun to watch them crawl around and stick their heads into the individual flowers with their butts hanging out.  Click on the picture for a closer look. 

Solar Food Dehydrator

There are many designs for solar food dehydrators and we decided to use the design by Eben Fodor in his book: The Solar Food Dryer.  Here is a website about this book.

There are a lot of steps to making this so I decided to not include the detailed instructions and pictures with each step.  If you are interested in the details and specific dimensions, borrow the book from your library (like we did) or purchase it.  We used an old window from when we had our windows replaced, so we modified the dimensions.  Our dryer is: 35.5" by 27.5"

Here's a breakdown of pricing:
4x8 sheet of birch plywood: $32.17  (we only used about half of it)
3 Food grade safe screens: $29.90 including shipping (purchased from the book's website)
Screws: $1.25
Hinges: $5.04
Sheet Metal: 11.78
Weatherstripping: $3.49
Wood for legs, shelves, etc: Free
Thermometer: Free
Window: Free

We wish all of the materials could have been reused from other projects, but we don't have large sheets of wood lying around.  Purchasing and transporting the wood was an adventure.  The plywood we purchased was FSC Certified and therefore cost $7.00 more than other non-FSC plywood which looked a lot nicer.  It was one of those moral dilemmas in the hardware store.  FSC means the wood came from responsibly managed forests.  Transporting this large sheet of plywood was quite the experience.  With the help of our cargo bicycle trailer, we propped the 4x8 sheet of plywood on it.  I walked behind the trailer holding the board steady, while Jon steered the bicycle.  We only had one mile to walk this thing---a brisk 15 minute walk with a lot of questionable stares from onlookers.  I planned to take a picture of our caravan, but it started to sprinkle the remaining .25 mile (of course!) so the wood went in the garage asap.  With only a '98 Honda Accord, we are creative in our transportation options.  We have yet to find a really good reason to have a truck or SUV.  A small car meets our needs; and when it doesn't, we use our bicycles and legs or borrow a truck.  (The benefits to living in the city.)

(Jon putting together the shelf supports.)

(The dehydrator almost finished...)

(Dehydrator finished!)

(Back door and heat vent open.)

(Close-up view of the inside.)

(If you click on the picture, it will enlarge.  The thermometer has a reading of 130 degrees which is quite warm considering there were some clouds in the sky and the outside temperature was only 75 degrees.  It only took 2 hours to reach this temperature.  In the picture, you can see the back vent completely open to help regulate the temperature inside the dehydrator.) 

(Attaching the screen to the frame.  The screen is food-grade safe.  I would recommend spending the extra money for these because you don't want plastic chemicals like BPA in your food.)

(Our first test was drying herbs.  In these two pictures, Oregano is drying.)

(This is a close-up of the metal clasps we used to secure the window and weatherstripping to the dehydrator frame.  These clasps were found in our "junk drawer" in the garage.  I think they were used to hang curtains?)

Birds and the Bees

Beekeeping sure has its surprises and challenges.  For about a month now my girls have been under constant attack from the Western Tanager bird.  No other bird species has posed a threat to my bees until the Western Tanager.  I'm certainly not an ornithologist but I have been watchful of birds in my yard and recognize some bird calls.  In particular, I enjoy hearing the woodpeckers drum on our fireplace vent followed by their chirps to a hopeful mate!

When I first saw the Western Tanager, I thought, "How pretty!  I've never seen these birds before!"  I continued to admire the yellow breasts and red heads until suddenly I saw these birds dive bombing the hives and pecking at the entrances.  They are very confident birds because they hover in front of the hive entrance to lure the guard bees out, and then BAM the bees are gone!!  These birds work in pairs, sitting outside the hive entrances literally picking the bees as they meander out onto the landing board.  In particular, these birds are active in the cold early morning when only a few bees are out doing their cleansing flights.  By midday when the colonies have woken up and are swarming around the hive entrances, the birds are gone.

I am so tempted to get a slingshot or pellet gun and injure a few birds to scare them off, but I see that as a little bit too cruel.  I have even seen the neighborhood cat crouching in the bushes feet from the hive with no success!  These birds are fast and ruthless.  I gave a shout out to a bee listserve I subscribe to, and other beekeepers in the Portland area are having the same problem.  They have never seen this bird at their hives in years past.  Maybe the birds' regular food supply has depleted, or maybe they find it easier to sit outside a hive where they don't have to do any work?  Either way, I'm upset because my colonies are still trying to get themselves established, and dang-it, I want honey!

I'm quite certain that the 4 birds that continue to come back have had a serious impact on my two colonies.  It is rather frustrating, so I've tried a few alternatives to the slingshot.  I've tried hanging CDs in the trees----didn't work.  I've tried putting my son's alligator on top of one of the hives (to mimic a predator)-----didn't work.  I've tried netting over the hives----didn't work because it confuses the bees and the birds still dive bomb the bees after they leave the hive.  I'm thinking of getting one of those owls but I don't want my yard to have all that tacky lawn ornament stuff.  I'm still trying to locate an ornithology group in Portland for recommendations.  The only sure way to keep the birds away, is for a person to be in the yard which is impossible every day.  I tried to get a picture of the birds by the hives, but they are quick flyers, so here's a picture of my hives with a few CDs and my son's alligator on the roof.

picture taken: 6-3-2011

About this blog

A weekly update on our adventures of trying to be more self-sufficient by using resources wisely. We explore a variety of topics that most broadly fit in the "Homesteading" category, i.e. beekeeping, organic gardening, edible landscaping/fruit forest, food preservation/canning, woodworking, soap-making, and environmental stewardship.

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