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Hive Day 6

April 29, 2015
New Top Bar Comb

First let me say that there is more going on on the garden this spring than the new bee experiment and I promise I will get back to posting about these things.  But not today…

In the last post I referenced my concern with the comb alignment of these instantly busy bees and I knew I would really need to get in there and see if my “assistance” accomplished anything. On day 4 I noticed that the bees were pretty worked up late in the afternoon and by opening the trap door and peeking in through the window on the back of the hive I could see that another piece of comb had fallen, presumably one of those I “fixed” after loosening.  Great, ham hand strikes again…

It was in front of the door but not blocking it; I decided I would leave for the time being and “study” sources on the web.  I also noticed that bees were getting under the screen bottom and onto the wrong side of the dividing board in the hive.  Time was short and after letting those bees out I decided to reopen the hive in a couple days (Monday, day 6) and address all these issues….

So day 6 arrived and I came home from work and went out to check on the activity.  All the issues described above remained so I lit the smoker and suited up.  (Note: my issues getting the smoker lit were solved by using a small propane blowtorch I had in my plumbing tools for copper fittings. Thank you Professor Google.)

I used duct tape to seal the seams in the netting at the bottom of the hive; this was easy as the gaps were easy to spot since the wooden board bottom is on hinges.  I just opened it and worked from below.

As I started removing top bars I could see that more comb had been constructed but it was so covered with the living blanket of workers that the direction wasn’t completely obvious.  I discovered bars 3 & 4 were stuck together, undoubtedly by comb reconstructed in the spots were the cage had been and my “handiwork” had allowed their previous work to collapse.


In the following two pictures you can see what appears to be clumps of bees hanging from the bar; this is fresh comb that is still covered by the bee-blanket made up of workers building it out.



The general direction of the comb looked ok but with the dense cover of workers on it I wasn’t certain that it was in line.  Rather than sticking my ten clumsy thumbs into the area, I slowly pushed the bars back together and applied a couple of cool smoke puffs.  This scattered the workers enough to reveal the comb, including the second fallen comb spotted a couple days before.

Top Bar Comb

Satisfied, I filled the gap under the divider board that was allowing a few bees underneath into the unpopulated side of the hive. As I was replacing the top bars I noticed that the spline on the the one next to the divider had been coated as if a comb was about to be drawn there. I added a space between it and the divider board so that (hopefully) these illogical bees wouldn’t start building comb there that was connected to the divider…

No disasters.  Enough for one evening.

Hive Day 3

April 28, 2015

Day 3 of the hive means checking that the queen is free and then evaluating comb progress, notably making sure the comb under construction is in alignment with the top bars.

The queen cage is hanging on the yellow strap under the bar; she was free and doing her queen thing somewhere within the masses of workers so I removed the empty cage…

After this, it was time to slowly pull back bars until I found comb. As you can see the smallest comb wasn’t exactly lining up; this would create a mess down the road if left as is. Straight comb begets straight comb, crooked or crossed comb begets hell because the whole hive with be one connected jumble of comb. Better to realign a couple smallish combs that 80 lbs of honey and brood filled comb sometime later this summer.


From another angle the issue is more obvious:


I fixed this by straightening the comb then pinching it on to the spline of the bar, and started to check the larger combs.

Then, “OOPS”… this ham handed beekeeper must have loosened comb removing the queen cage, because about that time one plopped:


The bees weren’t pleased with me at that point, and truthfully I felt awful, like I had let them down. The good news was the bees had begun putting nectar and pollen in the comb, so at least this part was encouraging, i.e.that the queen was doing her thing and the workers were coordinating.
I removed the comb (it was blocking the door and might have been on the queen for all I knew) and put things back together. I spent some time afterwards on you-tube watching and seeing how others handle comb issues, because I was pretty sure I’d have to deal with this again soon.

How soon?

As much as I hate to keep meddling, I need to go back in and verify that this early adjustment was effective in aligning future comb.

So I’ll report again soon on what I discovered on day 6…


April 21, 2015

Today I picked up my “bee package” and parked it in a cardboard file box in my office until I could get it home.

For those who don’t know, a bee package is a shoebox sized cage with 10,000 worker bees (3 lbs) and a caged queen in it. These will hopefully be the initial core of a healthy hive that thrives in my garden; if you properly “install” the package in the hive following the 6 or 7 step sequence, there is a high probability that they will settle in to the nice new home you have provided. Still, sometimes, well, “nature happens”…. you just don’t know, they may bolt (actually swarm is the proper term) in search of another place to set up shop.

Truthfully, I was terrified of handling this mass of bees for fear of doing something wrong and blowing the installation. I’d studied the step by step instructions and watched countless you-tube videos and was comfortable I understood what to do.

Still, until you open the top of a 10000 bee box you just don’t know….

I think I didn’t screw it up (how’s that for a confident statement?). If when I check in a couple days the bees have not vanished and have started drawing honey comb out, I’ll call it a success. More to follow.

Who wants bees up their britches? Not me:






Done (the laggards will find their way up into the hive as dusk approaches.)


Still Here

April 18, 2015

Spring is upon us,  and I’m behind (as usual.)

But contrary to all appearances, I’m actually still here, still trying new things and still full of intentions to make a better effort in posting updates this season.  

The order of business today (a break in the rain for most of the day was a welcome ls development not to be wasted) included finishing and situating a Kenyan style top bar beehive and a little tomato cage sorting and repairing. 

I pick my bees next week.  


Window and “shutter” complete 

Moved and leveled in a sunny spot 



Eggplant Paradise Discovered

September 16, 2014

I thought eggplants were supposed to slack off after peaking mid season.

Apparently I was wrong….

The good harvest my three traditional plants were providing has turned into a ridiculous harvest. Raised beds, drip irrigation and a lot of sun had left me suddenly awash in eggplants. A few days ago a branch sheared off of one of the plants while I was outside; the three large fruits were undamaged but it motivated me to stake the branches later that evening.

After turning the plants into works of suspended engineering art somewhat resembling Maypoles, I counted 37 fruit between the three plants:

Two staked eggplants dwarfing an artichoke transplant

Two staked eggplants dwarfing an artichoke transplant

"Laden"? Is that the word?

“Laden”? Is that the word?

We really like them but can’t eat 37 eggplants over the next week or ten days, so if you are local and interested in taking some off our hands then please get in touch.

Snatched Snake Snack

September 8, 2014

While listening to a football game on the sun porch, something unusual caught my eye on the back of the garden. A peek through some cheap binoculars I had handy confirmed what I thought I was watching, so I grabbed my camera and a 200mm zoom lens and stalked out onto the patio to see if I could get a picture.

Not the best of quality but under the circumstances, these are passable…


One of our local Red Tailed Hawks had snatched up a small snake and was consuming it while perched on the blackberry netting frame. He (or she?) tolerated me observing from 100 feet away and made quick work of the little “snack”.


And with that it took one more glance around then moved on.

I saw it again this evening moving about; I’m hoping it has discovered that my wildlife-friendly garden offers some very healthy tomato-fed squirrels and will become a regular visitor.

Parsnip Greens?

August 24, 2014

I decided to try to grow some parsnips this summer and in hindsight, I have no idea why.

I can’t say that I can remember ever even tasting a parsnip or a dish that included parsnip as an ingredient. Hopefully I like them; I guess that in a worst case I will adapt and find some tolerable dish or soup that includes them.

Anyway…. I learned that these need a long growing season and managed to get some seedlings out of the ground by early May. I also learned that it is best to wait until the first freeze to harvest, so by my calculation these would have something in the range of a 26 week growing season, a modest 10 weeks more that the recommended minimum of 16 weeks. (Hopefully there isn’t an issue with having too long a season; I suppose I’ll learn towards the end of October.)

OK on to the greens…

My expectation was that these would put up greens similar to what I have become accustomed to with the handful of carrot varieties I’ve grown over the years. The carrots all had fairly delicate leaves on stems that reached at most 12 or 16 inches above the soil line. By comparison the parsnip greens are colossal; the top of them come just beyond my belt line:

Parsnip Greens

Parsnip Greens

A friend asked me a while back if the greens were poisonous; she indicated that she’d heard they could raise blisters on some people similar to those caused by poison ivy. I had never heard this and didn’t think about it again until this afternoon… So I asked professor Google and yes, it seems some people are extremely sensitive to some types of parsnip greens.
As best I could gather from the scattered articles on the subject (most with graphic pictures), wild parsnips tended to be the culprit more so than most garden varieties.
I was up to my elbows in the greens this afternoon checking a few of the root tops for girth and thus far I haven’t blistered or raised any sort of rash on my forearms, so perhaps my tiny square of parsnip greens are not toxic.

If you are curious about the sort of blistering some people have suffered click here or in a more detailed description of wild parsnip issues click here.


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