Tuesday, December 15, 2009

December harvest

Amazingly, I am still harvesting some good eats from our new vegetable garden, even in mid December. We've had lots of nights below freezing and even a few in the teens, and mostly daytime highs in the 30'sF...yet I'm still getting some very lovely carrots and turnips that seem not to have minded much at all.

After today's harvest, I believe there are only some more carrots left in the ground. If I'm very lucky, I may be able to pull some of those in early January- it will be interesting to discover. I like the short fat varieties of carrot I planted.

Saturday, December 5, 2009


I was able to look in under the top of my beehive yesterday, and the bees were acting calm and busy and in a good mood. This, I am told, might indicate that there is a queen in residence. Even if there is a queen, however, it will remain uncertain until Springtime whether she was able to mate and is fertile, since all males have been dead and gone for almost two months now in the cold autumn weather. I have to hope for the best. These particular bees are pretty amazing and they might just surprise me.

We are having our first snow now. Here is a picture looking out my office window a few minutes ago.
I'm glad I pulled up all the little beets in the garden yesterday, and hoed those patches. Less work for me in the Spring when the ground is wet and heavy. Nice to see the fresh earth all fluffed up, waiting for next year's seeds.

The mailman brought my big order of strings for my dulcimers, banjos, and bowed psaltery. I order strings every few years in one large batch and they last me for several years. I was running low. Now I will have no more excuses not to restring that rusty psaltery which has...32 strings! Hmmm...I had better set aside two or three hours for that little project.

Tonight I am going to a contra dance in town just down the hill.
"We're fools whether we dance or not, so we may as well dance." -Japanese proverb
that about sums up my contra dancing skills. Oh well, good exercise.

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Queen is dead.

Well this is a rather upsetting post to make, and hard to know exactly what it means for the future.
Yesterday morning I found my queen bee lying dead outside the hive on the ground. here is a picture of her in the middle, surrounded by a few dead worker bees for comparison (click the photo and it will enlarge):

After discussing this with experienced beekeepers on two forums, and also with the most excellent 'natural' beekeeper who is my local mentor, it's hard to know what this event actually might mean.
The death of this queen can be distilled down to three possible current hive situations:
1) For some reason the queen died and now there is no queen. I'll have to wait 'til Spring to replace her with a new bought queen from somewhere.
2) The bees made a new queen who replaced this old queen. This is pretty unusual this late in the year and the virgin queen would not have any drones left now to mate with. A virgin queen emerging now would not likely be in vigorous enough condition by Spring to mate and start laying. There have not been any drones (males) left for over a month now. All drones get kicked out of the hive to die once the chilly weather sets in. There are no males left around for mating with.
3) This third is the least likely explanation, but is still slightly possible- Occasionally when a new queen is raised, the hive will allow the old queen to coexist until she finally dies off naturally. Some beekeepers have told me they had a two queen hive of mother and daughter for a couple of months. One showed me a photo she took of her two queens calmly going about their business side by side in her hive. If this happened, then perhaps that new queen hatched six or eight weeks ago when there were still drones around and mated and is fertile. If that's the case then all is well, but I tend to think this is the least likely explanation.

In any case, I won't know for sure what the hive status is until Spring, when I can check for eggs and larvae. Having to wait for four months without knowing is of course very difficult, but I have little choice. Meanwhile, to maintain my sanity through the long winter, I choose to resolutely believe in the optimistic explanation #3 above.

This morning I sat by the hive for a while and watched the girls. It's a sunny day and they are coming in and out, doing normal bee things.... removing dead workers from the hive and discarding them, cleaning 'washboarding' around the upper entrance, some bees were even coming in from the field with little bits of pollen on their leg baskets. They seemed to be acting as though nothing was wrong at all. ??
I take this as a good sign, since people tell me bees get agitated and act upset when there is no queen. Today is warm and sunny enough so that feel I can peek in under the top cover later this sunny afternoon to give them a quick visual check without disturbing them. It'll be interesting to see if they are in an agitated state or if they are as calm and genttle as they usually are.
UPDATE: I did open the hive and examine them a bit this afternoon. The bees were acting happy and normal. Again I was told that this might indicate there is indeed a queen in there. Apparent bees in a hive know within 24 hours that there is no queen and they act agitated and confused and a bit aggressive, making more of a buzz 'roar' than the usual mellow hive buzz. I saw none of those described 'queenless' signs and it must have been at least 48 hours after that queen died, so I will keep hoping through the winter.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Digging out the old bowed psaltery

I felt some holiday spirit this week and dusted off the bowed psaltery that I had bought twelve years ago and never gotten the hang of.This is the first real tune I have played on it, and I decided to try adding a harmony by double bowing it. Not easy! I obviously need a lot more practice, but the bowed psaltery has such a lovely haunting voice, it is very forgiving.
Crummy camera angle and some rough bowing yet, but here it is- my second day's work on the beautiful old carol "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming". One of my favorite winter tunes...

Friday, November 27, 2009

Mother/daughter bee time...

We were very lucky to have beautiful 55F degree sunny weather on Thanksgiving Day, right when my older daughter was visiting us! Unusually warm nice weather for late November here! She has a degree in entomology and has done honeybee research at Cornell U., so I felt very fortunate to have her take a peek inside my hive. I also felt she would bring 'good bee karma' to my hive. This day I planned to remove the last syrup feeding and put in some dry sugar as a little extra insurance against my bees running out of their stored honey supplies during the coming winter. Soon it will be too cold to open the hive at all until Spring.

My daughter is the younger one in the red skirt, working the smoker.... ;)

I was so happy to have this pleasant little time to be a mother and daughter 'beekeeping team' together. I was so proud to show her my bees! She said they appeared to be healthy bees and they looked to have some good honey stored up for the cold winter ahead.
Here I've already removed the old syrup baggie feeder from inside the hive, and we have gotten the bees to retreat a bit so we could lay a sheet of newspaper on top of the frames and pour some dry sugar on. I chose to give them this extra sugar food supply for this winter because the hive has recently been consolidated and moved to my house, which must have caused some amount of stress for them. In future winters I anticipate that they will have full larders of honey stored and will hopefully not really need such sugar feedings. But I wanted to give them every chance to survive their first winter here in their new location.

After pouring in ten pounds of sugar, I trimmed the newspaper that was sticking up at the edges. Notice I left gaps in the front and back of hive so the bees could maneuver in and around the frames, sugar, and top entrance.
Then I sprayed the sugar surface down with some water to which I had added a small amount of lemongrass and spearmint oil, so they would view it as food rather than as debris to be carted away grain by grain. Bees are very fond of lemongrass oil.

Here we have successfully finished our little hive chore and the bees are basically set for the winter.
The only thing left for me to do is to wrap some tarpaper around the hive to protect from cold wind drafts. I'll do that when it gets a little colder and we no longer have any 50 degree days.

Saturday, November 21, 2009


Suki wants to make sure all work is carefully monitored and checked for Quality Control.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Inside the hive...

Today the weather was unusually warm for mid November- 62F and sunny. I went into the hive to do a couple of things. First, I moved the boxes off so I could face the bottom board vent opening towrds the sunny front side of the hive, thus avoiding cold winds passing through the hive diagonally through the bees' winter cluster. Now the bottom open vent and the top vent/entrance are both in the front, on the warm side. Air will now hopefully vent straight up that front side and out without chilling the central cluster.
While I was in there I checked on their consumption of the sugar syrup feeder I had inside the hive...about halfway consumed, which is good.
I took some closeup photos of my lovely bees, who were extremely good natured about all my annoying in-your-face interference. If you click on each photo, it will get much larger and you can see the bees up real close. It's so nice and honey-cozy in there, and I just love the smell of beeswax.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

bizzy bizzy.....

Today was 58F and sunny- the warmest nicest day since we moved the hive to my place.
My bees were a'hummin' bigtime, and out in full force all day. :clap: I think today's weather really got them energized and busy. Me too!...

I cleaned out the small side garden and hoed the weeds out of it in preparation for a Spring planting of raspberry bushes there. It was previously my veggie garden but we outgrew that and installed the big vegetable garden this summer, and plan to make the old garden into a raspberry patch instead. It's about 6' x 15'.
After every 20 minutes or so of pulling out old tomato stakes, weeds, and hoeing, I need to stretch and rest... so I'd sit in my little burlap alcove and watch my bees....how relaxing and pleasant! You could smell the beeswax in the air and hear the nice humm...

I watched as they'd run off a yellow jacket every few minutes. Sometimes they'd get into a rolling ball fight, and bee & yellowjacket would tumble off the ledge together in their struggle, and continue grappling on the ground. Each time they'd eventually break up and both would fly away.
Bees were coming in and going out like crazy, checking each other out thoroughly too, touching and communicating to each other in mysterious ways.
Several seemed to be working on the seam where the two deeps meet, trying to seal it back up from when we moved the hive, I imagine. There must be a lot more of that going on inside the hive.
I noticed there was a small chunk of old propolis lying on the landing ledge near the entrance holes. It was almost the size of a grain of rice. I thought to myself "hmm....I'm surprised they don't get rid of that piece of debris..." and just as I was thinking that thought, a bee walked up to it and just sort of punted it right over the edge...ka-POWIE! It was so cute!

Monday, November 2, 2009

First warm sunny day at the hive....

I went into the hive all by myself yesterday, after the bees had settled for a couple of days here in their new home. It was a nice warm day and I had to reverse the bottom board, so all boxes got moved around briefly! I had my smoker going and my veil and gloves, etc. I was nervous but the bees didn't seem to be attacking me, they were just flying about confused while I was moving the stack of boxes and doing stuff. I also nailed on the metal entrance reducer/mouse guard, and put a gallon baggie of 2:1 sugar syrup inside the top of the hive, with an added 2" shim to allow clearance for the bag. That was yesterday.

Today, it was 55F and calm and sunny, and as you can see the 'girls' were all out and about today, busier than ever since their arrival. They seem to have no problem getting in and out of the smaller entrance holes now. That metal entrance guard will keep mice from trying to nest in the hive over the winter- they would make a big mess inside, and we do have lots of field mice here in the yard. Plus, there are yellow jackets nearby nesting, and the reduced entrance will make it much easier for the honeybees to defend their hive if the wasps try to raid it for food.

See how cute that you can see some sweet little bee faces peeking out the holes just before they come out? ;D (The pix will enlarge if you click on them.)

Friday, October 30, 2009

My bees are here! :D

The young beekeeper met me at the hive that I was to get yesterday afternoon and we took the whole 3 deeps box older hive apart to inspect it/consolidate it. It was a beautiful 55F sunny day.

Nothing but GOOD news to report-

No evidence of disease, few mites, found the queen and she looks lovely and active, and found some new eggs too. Managed to remove enough empty comb frames to consolidate to two deep chambers instead of the three, put on a new top cover and new bottom board/screen combo. We decided not to change the 2 boxes since they were in ok condition. I could always change them for new in the Spring.
More good news is that he told me they have stored up enough honey to get through the winter (unlike a lot of other hives in our area which have done very poorly this rainy summer and may not have enough honey to make it through the winter).

Plus, the beekeeper said they were about the gentlest bees he's ever worked with (he has about 300 hives!)- he didn't wear gloves or even a head veil, wore just a flannel shirt and used only a few light puffs from the smoker... yet he took the whole 27 frame hive apart frame by frame, prying and scraping propolis- and all the bees did was gently fly around us, no stinging at all! "Such wonderful bees, I'm envious!" he said. :D He handed me a chunk of honeycomb to eat.
He showed me a lot and I learned from watching him go through the hive.

In the end, the hive was consolidated down to a good snug winter-ready 2 deep box size without any wasteful empty frames, queen was safe, got it strapped securely, and the hive was ready for us to go back at dusk and load it into his truck and bring it to my house.

We returned at 5:45 just as one or two last stragglers came back to the hive and then all was quiet and it was just getting dark. He and I had no trouble now lifting the double box strapped hive into his truck and securing it for the 30 minute drive to my house.
We set up the hive on its waiting cement blocks in the cozy 'bee nook' in back of my garden.
Poor bees woke up in a whole new universe! =8-o

I put some grass temporarily to reduce the entrance since we have lots of yellow jackets around- but in the next couple of days I will tack on the metal mouse guard and reducer into place instead. Didn't want to do too many drastic changes at once.

Today is chilly, windy and cloudy so I will wait till a calm day to put in the sugar syrup baggie to give them a little boost. Hopefully tomorrow...

And to compare- here's a picture of the hive in its previous location, before we consolidated it and put new cover and bottom:

Thursday, October 22, 2009

new empty beehives

I plan to get some honeybees soon. Here are the new empty hives. I painted the sections in different colors. A friend has offered me her older hive of active bees, but the trick will be to transport it over here to our yard. We'll see. If that project proves impossible, then I will just have to wait until Spring to get the honeybees and queens.
At least I have their new homes ready!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Pearl sleeping...

I caught Pearl sleeping by the window curled up on top of the big round scratching post. See her soft soft swan's down. Click on a photo to get even closer to the Puff Fest...

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

first carrots

I pulled my first young carrots from the new garden today, along with some turnips, parsley, and scallions. They all went into a big crockpot of vegetable soup for tonight. Added to the chicken broth were some local friends' broccoli, kale, tomatoes, celery, and red cabbage. Some store bought onions , red pepper, and garlic too. I ground some black pepper to top it off and started it simmering....

Monday, September 28, 2009

an apple sauce day

Yesterday Brian and I put up some apple sauce.
Around noon, we bought a bushel of nice Paula Red apples from a local orchard, 'Love Apple Farm' (gotta love the name). Brian used our old fashioned hand-crank countertop apple peeling-coring machine to peel and core the apples, and he made the apple sauce in a big spaghetti pot, one pot at a time. Brian makes great apple sauce.
Meanwhile, I sterilized the canning jars, packed them with apple sauce and processed them in boiling water in another spaghetti pot, four pints at a time for 20 minutes.
We had a regular little assembly line going.
By evening we had 35 lovely pints of fresh chunky apple sauce. The Paula Reds were so perfect we didn't even need to add any sugar at all...just a touch of cinnamon.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

a pickling day

A generous friend let me pick a whole slew of pickling cucumbers from her garden. I gave her some of my lettuce and scallions. I also had a bag of beautiful striped pink Chioggia beets we had gotten from the local organic farmer's market as a thank-you for us playing music there. So I decided to pickle them all today.

I made 16 pints of sweet bread and butter pickle slices. I had enough beets for four pints of pickled beets. The Chioggia beets are pink and white striped on the inside, not the usual dark inky red. They look so pretty in the jars, with a soft golden pink glow.
After canning and processing the 20 pints of pickles and pickled beets, I had about 3 cups of pickling brine leftover. I hard boiled 12 small fresh eggs and packed them six to a jar into two clean pint jars, then filled with pickling brine. Those I won't bother to process, I'll just put them in the fridge to mellow and eat pickled eggs over the next few weeks. :) A good way to use up the leftover brine!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Lots of lettuce...

Well it's been such a rainy cloudy summer mostly this year here in the Northeast- a poor year for tomatoes, but a great year for lettuce!
Here is the new garden (about two months old now, formerly just backyard lawn) and you can see all the wonderful lettuces we are now harvesting. I had planted most of the lettuces in the back bed that runs along near the trees, since lettuce dislikes intense mid-summer sun. I love the various shades of green and maroon, and the interesting ruffly leaf and head shapes. Getting some great scallions, and I am almost ready to harvest some nice big turnips- my first turnips ever. You can also see some fluffy carrot tops, and the small scallion and leek patches.
The key is to keep planting seeds in succession, in short rows, so that nothing matures all at once.

Yesterday we were given a big bowlful of organic tomatoes (in exchange for our playing music at our local farmer's market), and from our own garden I picked cilantro, scallions, and parsley. To all this I added chopped onion and spices and made a nice big batch of fresh salsa. One valuable thing I learned this summer is that for my needs I should wait to plant my cilantro seed in July, because then it matures at just the right time for me to use during tomato season to make salsa, and in the early Fall to put in my black bean soup. Those are my favorite uses for cilantro, so it doesn't make sense for me to plant it in the Spring. Best to raise a crop of Spring lettuce on that spot and then when I pull the lettuce, hoe some compost in and plant with cilantro seed. That way I can use the same spot to get two crops, one after the other.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Still planting seeds....

This morning I planted a few more rows of seed in my vegetable garden....ever hopeful to harvest more before the frosts! Lettuce and spinach is good for that since they don't have to be totally mature to get good leaves from them for salads.
I planted a little three foot row each of about 5 different kinds of lettuces, the last of my spinach seeds, and several kinds of radish. I was also able to hoe a couple gallons of my kitchen earthworm casting harvest into the ground as I prepared the seed rows. Later today I will turn the 'regular' compost bin for the first time with a large garden fork.
By October 1st the first frost should be threatening, and I plan to set up a clear plastic tarp over the long bed in the garden where most of the lettuce is planted, to try to keep them going as long as I can into the cold weather. My goal is to keep harvesting greens until Christmas day.
Right now in my new garden (which was put in and planted during mid-summer) I am getting lots of lettuce of various kinds, scallions, a few string beans, and odds and ends radishes. I see little turnip and beet bulbs forming here and there, and I'm hoping the carrots will hurry up and form soon. Of course at this same time next year I will have more to harvest because I will have been able to start things earlier, in the Spring.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Young banjo player

A bittersweet day today...
My wonderful little banjo student of the past two and a half years came for his last lesson today. I sent him off with his last lesson under his belt, my two favorite banjo books, and my favorite banjo CDs under his arm. His family is moving across the country to the west coast, following a golden opportunity that will be wonderful for their whole family. His mother takes mountain dulcimer lessons with me, so she will be gone as well.

It has been a true privilege and to know and teach this absolutely delightful young man. I will miss him deeply, but I'm happy for him too- their destination is a place with many wonderful things to offer and many fine musicians and artists.Goodbye and God speed, my dear little friend!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Little visitor

This morning as I started to work in my upstairs home office, something caught the corner of my eye. A little brown bat was peacefully hanging from my office window curtain. I'm not sure how he got into the house, but I was happy to get the chance to photograph him briefly.

I loved his soft looking shaggy lion's mane, and his little dog snout. After the last photo closeup, he took off flying about the upstairs rooms. At one point he landed on my banjo hanging on the wall, clinging to the strings. That would have made a great photo, but he took off again quickly and landed on the floor. That's when I dropped a towel over him, gathered it up gently, and escorted him outside. He was making those wonderful bat sounds in the towel- squeaking and clicking. I opened the towel out on the kitchen porch and away he flew, happy to be free again.

Monday, August 10, 2009

morning garden

Here are some pix I took of the new vegetable garden this morning, before the sun was all the way up.

Here you can see our little kitchen back porch on the left, down the little hill from the garden:

A view from the far end of the garden. The bed in the forground will have blueberry bushes next Spring:

It makes me happy to see the little bright green rows of baby seedlings:

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Vegetable seedlings in the new garden

New 'baby pictures'...

Butterhead lettuce:





Multi-colored Romain lettuce:

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Of compost bins and bee baths...

Bees are good. Bees and countless other creatures tend to have a hard time these days what with everyone mowing down wild grasses, wildflowers, and meadows into stunted useless wildlife-unfriendly lawns. The rampant use of herbacides and pesticides compounds the problem.
One day I would love to have our own bee hive or two, but we currently have our hands full with all our other projects right now.
In the meantime, I read about ways to make one's back yard a little more 'bee friendly'. One big way to attract bees is to provide them with drinking water. So today i bought this simple ceramic bird bath, which I laid upon flat slate in my garden and filled with fresh water. There is a stone in it to provide footing for any bees or other insects that accidentally fall in and need to crawl out. Not only will birds and bees and other insects enjoy it, but I find it pleasingly meditative to look at. Look how prettily the crabapple tree branches are reflecting in the water's surface!

Today I also bought two compost bins and set them up in back of our shed. I've already put about 8 inches' worth of pulled weeds in the first one. It'll be great when the autmn leaves fall, and also when I do the Fall garden vegetable cleanup. I'll still put my prime fruit and vegetable parings in my worm compost bin, but these traditional compost bins will handle the bigger yard loads of green stuff. I'll need to get a little manure now and then to add into the mix, I think.
They are very well designed and made from recycled plastic, and I think they will last us many more years than the usual home-made circle of mesh or wooden pallet arrangements. I like that they can be unstacked and restacked as you fork the contents over to the new spot to turn it. There is no bottom, it just gets stacked right on open ground. I like that too.
In the photo, the bins are behind our shed, and you can see our house and kitchen porch in the background on the left, and the new garden's fence just showing on the right.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Two kinds of sprouts this week

Here are some dark green broccoli sprouts on the right, and some 'sandwich mix' sprouts I tried out. This is simply a produce storage container for the fridge- not what the sprouts grew in. I grew the mixed sprouts in a sprout mason jar, and the broccoli sprouts in a tray, on a little piece of clean towel. I have to learn to start with less seed- my jars get a little too jam packed with sprouts towards the end! It's hard to believe how little seed you really need to get a whole jar full of sprouts.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

kitty flypaper

All you have to do is put a piece of wrapping paper down for a second on the bed, and within 30 seconds there will be cats on it.