Tuesday, April 25, 2017

First Swarm Progress and Second Swarm Installation

What I forgot to mention in the previous post was that I did check my brood chamber on Saturday April 18th and saw really nicely drawn comb full of brood, both capped and uncapped. If you look at the uncapped cells in the picture, you can see larvae curled up. There were no drone cells. All a good sign that there is a mated queen and she is busily building up the population.

I checked the top chamber on Sunday April 23rd when it was closer to 70 degrees. They made great progress drawing comb and were filling it with nectar. I added some frames between the drawn comb. I noticed some cross comb on one of the follower boards and thought maybe I should remove it, but decided to deal with it next time. In the meantime, I added an empty frame between the follower board and the partially drawn frame of comb.

In between these inspections I have been checking the monitoring tray and seeing wax flakes, pollen, a dead earwig, a few live ants, etc. Nothing alarming. I recently found a dead pupa on the doormat in front of the hive, along with a few dead bees. I have been told to expect some of the older bees to die off. According to my bee math calculations, I should start seeing bees emerging from their cells on April 26th or 27th. The weather is warming up, so maybe I will be able to check soon.

Up until this point I have only had one hive populated, but I do have two hives. The first one is on the right hand side of the stand, so I call it Number 2. This is the hive I have described so far, which started with a swarm I was given on April 4th.

Now I have a new hive to talk about, the second one called Number One. On Sunday April 23rd I got another call about a swarm. It was at the home of someone named Rebecca who is another beekeeper who lives nearby. She is actually the person who got the last swarm that I got to help with. Morgan was the swarm catcher who went to box up this other swarm from her yard. They are all saying it looks like her established hive swarmed for the second or third time and this is probably from that hive. What this means is that I likely have a virgin queen, which means I will need to be patient and the bees will have a little more time to build up comb and food stores before the queen starts laying.

On Monday April 24th, I transferred the swarm from the nuc box to Hive Number One. It was cold and rainy so I had to wait for the rain to let up. Then I did it as quickly as I could. I have been wearing a bee suit that covers the top half of my body. I now know I should tuck my pants into my socks. A wayward bee wandered up my pants and when I tried to shake it out, it stung me. I quickly applied some smoke to the sting to mask the sting pheromone. Fortunately, the transfer was already done and the hive was closed so I headed into the house to do some quick first aid. This was my first sting after handling bees or being around open beehives about 8 times. It looks like I am not allergic. The site of the sting got swollen and was somewhat painful for the rest of the day. The next day, it is still swollen but doesn't hurt or itch.

Anyhow, the bees have been doing their orientation dance in front of the hive for two days. You can really see the difference between the older hive and the new one. The older one is busy going in and out and not doing as much frantic looking dancing.

On Monday, the 25th, I got a call from Frank that his swarm trap had finally caught a swarm. This is the third swarm in Frank and Judy's yard this year, but the first one to move into the trap. I came over the next day and another beekeeper named Kelly transferred the bees to a nuc box, putting the nuc box where the swarm trap had been. The bees all moved into the nuc box and they are destined for Penngrove. Kelly also took a look at Frank and Judy's hives, added some empty frames and and demonstrated removing cross comb from the follower board. A very educational day.

I am really grateful that our bee association is so well organized and we have bee sharing and bee buddies. It makes you learn faster and not feel lost when there is so much to know.

I have been taking video of my hive inspections and swarm activities. I would like to edit things down before posting them. Stay tuned (maybe much later).

In the mean time, our front yard is covered in flowers like borage, california poppy, blackberries, boysenberries, raspberries and some other blooms I can't identify. The bees are on everything. They especially love borage. I planted some salvias in a block in the front today for future forage.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Welcome Back. Now with bees!

Well, it has been about 4 and a half years since I posted last. I am busy with the rest of my life. In those years, I have been continuing the garden. Some things have done really well. We have highly productive thornless blackberries, mainly Triple Crown and a little Chester. They say Triple Crown is a big producer and it really is. During the harvest season, I am picking 4-6 quarts every day or two from my yard. Fortunately I have a pie shop, so they get used up. We also have 4 kinds of figs, thornless Boysenberries and Loganberries, Asian pears, European pears, a French prune plum, oranges, lemons, kumquats, yuzu and more! Don't forget the almonds, pomegranate, pawpaws and persimmons. The list goes on and on.

I also have some pretty successful worm bins and other projects, but what is getting me back here on this blog is that after years of thinking about it and putting it off, we finally got bees. This year I decided to do it and took the highly recommended class at the Santa Rosa Junior College, taught by Serge Labesque. Then I bought some hives and frames from a local guy, John McGinnis and some bee suits for me and my wife, along with some other essential tools like hive tools and smoker.

I also joined my local beekeepers' association, the Sonoma County Beekeepers' Association which is just so well organized and full of helpful people. So I am using this blog as my record keeping tool. If you happen to see it, maybe it is useful to you. I am a very beginning beekeeper so we shall see how it goes.

The Sonoma County Beekepers' Association has a bee sharing program in order to make it easier for people to source local bees. They recommend against ordering packaged bees from afar in order to preserve our genetic adaptations to this area and to prevent pathogens from spreading to our local bees. I put myself on the list as someone who "needs bees". As recommended, I set up my two hives so I would be ready for bees at a moment's notice. This time of year there are swarms and other beekeepers are also splitting their hives to prevent them from swarming. Some people don't need extra bees, so they are donors of swarms or splits.

On Tuesday April 4th in the evening, I got a call from Brian, one of our "Cluster Leaders" (the Association is divided into different parts of Sonoma County. We are the South Cluster) who told me to call John right away because he had caught a swarm. I called John and he said I needed to come right over to where he was, which was a few blocks from my house. I went over and the bees were in a carboard "swarm box" or "nuc box" with 5 frames. It was a very large swarm and John recommended I put the bees into two supers (I have medium Langstroth hives). I took the swarm box home, placed it next to my hives and took the cork out, that John had put in for transporting the bees. The next morning I handled bees for the first time in my life and transferred the frames into my hive, then shook as many bees out of the box and into the hive as I could. Then I promptly returned the swarm box along with replacement frames to John, as instructed. 

The weather has been cool and rainy a lot for this time of year in Northern California. I seem to be getting one day per week that is maybe almost warm enough to open the hive and see how things are going. I also check the white plastic monitoring trays to see what is on them every few days.  That is a good non-invasive way to see how they are doing. You don't even need a bee suit!

So, on my first inspection, I saw that the bees had built new comb, but it was about 6 days after "installation day" so it was too early to see any brood and my eyes are not so great yet at spotting eggs, especially without my reading glasses. It was borderline warm enough so I didn't want to spend too much time searching and risk chilling the brood. The bees need to maintain a 93 or 94 degree temperature around the brood, so if it is colder than 65 degrees, you should not open the hive.

I was kicking myself later because there was no activity in the top super. I remembered from the class that you can "bait" the bees up into the top by moving the follower boards and some frames with comb to the top. Well, when I got a chance to look again on Saturday April 15th, the bees were already working on the upper chamber. I moved the follower boards and a frame of drawn comb upstairs anyway and replaced the frame from below with a new empty frame. We are using foundationless frames with wire strung across for stability. 

In the upper chamber, as I separated the frames the bees were linked together by their feet. I wish I could have taken a picture, but it was sort of chilly and I was working by myself with gloves, etc. I remembered from the class that bees build comb linked foot to foot in a chain, passing wax to other bees that assemble it into comb. That was pretty neat to see.

Anyhow, on Saturday, before I went into my hive, there was a "bee cafe" of the South Cluster of our Association and I got to meet other people who live right nearby who could be "bee buddies". I got their phone numbers and today was planning to go into my hive to see if there was any capped brood. I called Frank, who lives 5 minutes away, but he said he had a swarm that had just landed in his yard. This was the second swarm to visit this yard this year after never having seen a swarm before! Frank and Judy are about as experienced as me, so they called someone else to catch the swarm. I came over with my bee suit to help.
Morgan came over with a swarm box, some frames and a feather and I held the box steady while he brushed the bees in with a feather. Once they were mostly in and several workers began fanning, indicating the queen was in the box, he shut the lid. A circle of bees stood around the hole in the box, fanning to tell everyone to come in. The box was left to collect the bees until sunset. Presumably, the next person on the "needs bees" list picked them up.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Sonya saves Lili's life: A heartwarming tale of courage and love for the holidays.

Sonya stands guard on a mountain top.
There’s a lot to celebrate this Holiday at our Homestead as we enter our 3rd year of operation of Petaluma Pie Company. We are (knock on wood) healthy and our cholesterol count in check despite our daily dose of pie we subject ourselves to for the purposes of quality control.

Lili (Left: Liliuokalani) and Sonya (Right: Sonya Sotomayor) sport the latest fashion sweater.

Above all, we are happy because Lili, our Chihuahua pictured above is still alive, thanks to Sonya, the other Chihuahua pictured above, who saved Lili’s life.

This all started with Lili’s favorite pastime of chewing on walnuts she finds in the garden.  Almost every home in our neighborhood has one walnut tree, a reminder of the fact that the area was once a walnut orchard. As you can imagine, walnuts are scattered everywhere in this neighborhood.

One day, while we were toiling away at the pie shop, trouble was brewing at home.

We got a phone call from our neighbor/dog walker, Chris saying Sonya had managed dig her way out of our heavily fortified fenced back yard and then break into Chris’s heavily fortified fenced backyard; A mind-boggling act for a little 8 pound Chihuahua.

Thanks to Chris’s dogs barking at the unexpected intrusion, Chris found Sonya sitting patiently in her backyard, waiting to be discovered. Like any good neighbor, Chris immediately brought our dog back to our house. (Chris, being our dog-walker, has our keys.)

It was then that Chris noticed that Lili, who normally barks joyfully anytime Chris approaches our house (usually with promise of outdoor fun and treats), was silent. Thanks to Chris’s hunch that something was wrong. Chris went looking and found Lili  laying on the ground in our backyard, shaking violently as though the dog was having an epileptic seizure. At that point, Chris called us at the store again, this time in panic, and asked that one of us come home immediately. Meanwhile, after getting off the phone, Chris rushed Lili to the nearby veterinarian. After a series of emergency treatments, the veterinarian informed us that Lili was likely poisoned from eating a moldy walnut hull which is very toxic and even deadly to dogs. She was hospitalized that night and closely monitored because her life was in danger.

Lili back to her usual self.
Two days and $1000 in vet bills later, Lili is back to being her vacuum cleaning self, sucking up everything that looks remotely like food (even walnuts!?)... But at least, we the humans learned to be vigilant now. We now take away walnuts as soon as we see one and we even cut down the tree for the safety of our dogs. (The tree was in the way of our gardening project anyway.) Sadly, it appears that Lili has not learned a thing from this harrowing episode... but still, we are grateful that she is back to her normal health.

Well, that is our heartwarming holiday story for you. We now have a renewed respect for Sonya. She is much wiser and resourceful than she puts on.

Keep walnuts (and moldy grapes!) away from dogs.  Happy Holidays everybody!

Lina and Angelo

Thursday, January 27, 2011

What Ever Happened to the Another (Sub)Urban Homestead Blog?

The homestead is still in progress, but we have since opened the Petaluma Pie Company across town. We use some of our homestead produce as well as organic and local whenever possible. Check out our website and blog to see what is going on.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Figs Finally

We have three fig trees. One was bought last year and is a Conadria Fig, which is green with pink flesh and very sweet and delicious. We have been getting one at a time until the other day when we got a whole handful! Last year we also planted one of many cuttings I made. This was the only one that lived and I thought it came from a tree we found in our house hunting, but now that it has fruit, I think it might be from a dwarf black mission fig we grew in a pot at our old place. The figs were always dry and pithy with no flavor, but this is in the ground with plenty of water and is a vigorous grower. The figs are sweet and juicy, but still have a hint of green. Still not sure the exact type, but maybe we will find out one day. Meanwhile, Desert King, which we bought and planted this year has figs, but they are far from ripe. Hopefully the nice weather will continue long enough to ripen them.

In a couple of years, we should get more figs than we can eat, but right now, I can't get quite enough.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Autumn is here?

Another month or more has lapsed since I last posted anything. I have been busy. I have taken a bunch of pictures of garden activities, though and will quickly update the progress here. After a very cold summer, it got very warm a couple of weeks ago. All of the tomatoes (early or not) ripened at the same time. They were covered with Agribon, as was the okra and kiwano melon. We also got eggplant, peppers, corn, strawberries, summer squash and winter squash. This picture shows just a small portion of our harvest.

I removed a lot of the tomato plants last week to make room for more garden boxes and now I am kicking myself because the temperature is in the 90s again and will be for most of the week. I still have some other tomatoes in the ground so they can take advantage of the heat. And the okra and kiwano melon are still growing under Agribon. I harvested some okra and it was really good, but did not get very much. The kiwano made a couple of fruits and I couldn't resist picking one before it was ripe, so the flavor was disappointing. I am hoping  the heat will turn some fruits the proper orange color soon.

Here is an okra flower. The okra is related to hibiscus.

Here is the harvest. Okra, kiwano and asian pear.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Fourth and Sea Produce Swap

I finally made it to the 4th and C produce swap, which happens outside the very good fish and chips place called "Fourth and Sea". I brought some of my volunteer spaghetti squash and armenian cucumbers which grew to enormous sizes overnight.

Here is Ann Heatly, who started the swap. Find them on the facebook or at swapproduce.com