Ah, the troublesome double nuc: time to get rid of it. The two splits (Hive 6 with queen Tatjana and Hive 7 with queen Anna) were growing out of it. The plan: to move H6 – whose entrance was facing west (“backward”) – to the common apiary (3 miles away), and to move H7 into her own 10 frame deep in the same location (home yard; entrance still facing east). But how to move those bees? You can’t just pick them up: there are two colonies in one box. DSCF8321

I went in yesterday evening around 6 pm, when they were all home, planning to transfer the 8 frames into a deep, then to move them. Simple. However, there were too many bees stuck to the sides and bottom of the lower box, which is of course “attached” to the other hive, so you can’t shake those bees off.  I walked away and returned today when the bees were flying. I set the new deep right next to the box so the entrances aligned. I moved over the top four frames, took the top box off and shook the bees off it into the new deep. Then I had this situation:

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Still a lot of bees in the bottom box, but not too bad. I could at least make out if the queen was there (I hadn’t spotted her as I moved the frames) and, relatively assured she wasn’t, smoked those bees and scraped off the burr comb on the side. It ha brood in it so it would entice some nurse bees to stay with it. The foragers were coming in hard and going straight for the new entrance/box. Soon the bees in the nuc box were pouring out the exit and moving over as well. Satisfied, I closed the new deep with the outer cover and put the old outer cover on top of the other nux box (weighing it down with the top nuc box) – a deja-vu configuration.

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Around 7 pm after I saw the nuc box was empty, so I walked over, picked up the deep off the bottom board and set it down inside an upturned inner cover, using it as a tray. It being a warm, humid evening, quite a few bees were stuck to the front of the box, and quite a few bees were left behind on the bottom board. I shook and brushed as many as I could into the deep, quickly closed it with another outer cover. This, I’ve found,  is the best way to contain the bees: there is no hole or gap for the bees inside to escape through.The bees still stuck on the outside of the box, however, as a different matter. I grabbed a sheet, wetted it thoroughly, and threw it over the box, then carried the darn heavy thing into the back of my car (a station wagon). The sheet worked out nicely: no bees bugged me on the 5 minute drive over.

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< Here I am, all geared up. The elastic  of my bee vest is shot, so I put a belt on – it’s not pleasant to have a bee in ones vest or veil! I wear the heavy boots not so much for the bees but for the ticks.

Unfortunately it was already a little too late and darkening. Bees hate it when you go in at night. On top of that, one of my fellow Common Yard beeks had just done a sugar roll on the hive right next to the open spot where I was to place Tatjana. I hadn’t even opened my bees yet or his were spitting at me. But, no turning back. I set up the cinder block hive stand, the bottom board, then lifted the box out of the car, sheet and all, and set it down on the grass. The moment I pulled the deep out of the outer cover tray, the effect was startling. Bees poured out on all sides, and I’ve never heard such a roar – I’ll hear it all night. I kept on, maneuvered the box onto the bottom board. The tray was full of bees and I arranged it in front of the entrance so those could walk in. I tried to see if the queen was on it, but it was too dark already.

I took a few brisk walks around the field to try to shake the five or so bees chasing me, then got into my car and drove home, suit still zipped up, bees buzzing around  me. Didn’t get stung, though!

Tomorrow I will return to retrieve my smoker bucket and sheet – had to abandon those. I won’t inspect for a couple of days. I’ll leave them bee for a bit…

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{Update} Bees look okay, very busy. Here they are in the new field. They need an entrance reducer. It’s robbing time. I’ll give them a super with honey in a few days, when I’ll also check on the queen and install some hive beetle traps.

The move of Hive 7 with Queen Anna went smoothly this morning: I moved the 8 frames over – looking good! – then set the old boxes in front of it so they can crawl in. Easy peasy, that one.

DSC_3410DSC_3393Today I extracted some massive honey combs. My experiment with foundationless frames went a tad awry, the bees drawing out bulging combs wherever there was space because the next frames was empty.

First it made for some puzzling to get those frames out of the two boxes. After using the bee escape for a night, there were a hundred or so bees left. I had to break open some comb and then had to brush off the bees, who were understandably upset. Extracting required the bread knife to cut away the excess comb. The tactile, visual and aromatic pleasure of cutting through soft, oozing comb is unparalleled. Eleven frames made for 45 lbs of honey.

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Of all my harvests over the years, honey has always been the most successful and most popular crop. The seven remaining hens lay pretty well too, about 4-5 eggs a day. Three of them are now four years old, and in Fall we’ll cull those and get four, maybe six chicks.

My home veg garden however is a disappointment. It is getting too shady to produce much except for lettuce. We may want to remove the two trees that are the main culprits, but I may also just pack up the full sun veggies and bring them to the Transition Wayland plot at the Community Gardens. Two big beds may be opening up there, with incredible soil (alluvial soil with worms the size of small snakes) and full sun (no shade at all). I drive to that neighborhood twice a week anyway to check on the bees, housed in an old field next to the Gardens. My only issue with the Community Garden plot is that I’d have to water with tap water, as there are no buildings and thus no rain water collection there. If I could somehow solve that issue, then the home garden could become a lettuce garden and a nectary for the nucs and splits, and all the other pollinators, as well as a mushroom yard, and a soil fertility operation…

Lots to think about in these last days of Summer.

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After over a week of temperatures in the 90s and scorching full sun, it is cooler overcast with some mild rain (still not enough, though). I get to catch my breath. Today I weeded, pruned and trellised tomatoes. Tomorrow I may really get to the wood chip piles: add them to Wood Chip Heaven and (this will require carting them up our hill) as a mulch to the perennials up top and in the paths in the vegetable garden, all the while pulling weeds. If I have any oomph left I may even move some into the chicken yard, or I may start laying out some paths on our slope.

In the meantime one more critter has joined the menagerie of bunnies, chipmunks, squirrels, and lots of birds in the clover:

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We are also seeing some interesting insects, like this one, which Amie called the cotton candy bug, literally on our doorstep:

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I’m finally harvesting tomatoes, peppers (hot and green) and zucchinis. I pulled all the garlic, 125 bulbs for about 6 lbs.

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For seed I am saving the largest heads, as well as the actual garlic seeds from the scapes I allowed to mature. These seeds are also planted in Fall, and make great bulbs. I also finished the disappointing potato harvest: 6.25 lbs of tiny potatoes for about as many of supermarket potatoes that I put in – I blame it on those seed potatoes, next year I may splurge on actual seed potatoes. This means I have two more empty beds for the Fall harvest plantings. This year will I actually have a Fall harvest?

It’s been hard in our neck of the woods. We had 0.69 inches of rain this month. Not even one inch. The Department of Environmental Protection has issued a “Severe Drought Warning” for my county. Thunderstorm after thunderstorm has  evaporated, glanced off or split around our area. The Wundermap shows their tragic course all too well: other places get the rain, here we get a drop or two, some damaging, desiccating wind, but no relief. I’m looking at the map now: a massive system is bringing rain in the west, but it will pass just south of us, again.

Our town has instigated a partial watering ban (irrigate between 7 pm and 7 am, every other day), which I suspect will soon become a full ban.  The farm three miles from us, from which we get our CSA box, is postponing further plantings until their irrigation ponds and brooks have been replenished. That means we may not get fall produce from them.

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My gardens, annual and perennial, are hanging on by their fingernails – it sometimes literally looks like that, with the leaves on trees and bushes standing up, showing their paler undersides, like hands reaching up into the sky, begging for a drop (they’re actually orienting their leaves for minimal evaporation and solar exposure). Even though I water every other day, all are thoroughly stuck in a vegetative state. Haricots verts have been harvested (2 lbs of beans smaller than I usually harvest them, but they failed to grow bigger) and this year there will probably not be a second harvest, which is usually more abundant, because they’re not making new flowers. The tomatoes plants which had grown so many large, plump fruits are not ripening them at all. We’ve been stuck at code green for weeks now and the tomatoes are starting to take on that bloodless, necrotic look. The equally thirsty critters, chipmunks and squirrels mostly, have been eating away at the sour fruits. Few flowers appear and they die off without setting fruit, and it’s not for lack of pollination as I shake them all the time, and the bumblebees have been abundant.

The gardener too suffers. I’ve never been good in the heat, and these 95F-100F (in the shade!) days are brutal. I hand water every other day, in the early morning or later evening and it’s about all I can do. And so my poor (or should I say, lucky?) bees have had to do without my constant interference. They beard or “hang out on the porch,” as we say, by the thousands, even at night to relieve the temperature inside the hive. The nectar flow seems to have slowed down considerably.

The chickens are doing quite well, finding shade and clean water. But for the broody one, who insists on sitting on a pile of straw in the hot nest box all day. Her comb isn’t full and dark like the other ones. During the hottest time of day I open the nest box and pour spoonfuls of cool water into her panting beak.  I hope she stops being broody soon. Egg production is down somewhat.

Rain dance, anyone?

toensmeierbookcoverI just received Eric Toensmeier’s Carbon Farming Solution, A Global Toolkit of Perennial Crops and Regenerative Agriculture Practices for Climate Change Mitigation and Food Security (Chelsea Green, 2016). Reading this, along with Peter McCoy’s mind-blowing Radical Mycology, as well as the third US Department of Energy Billion Ton Report (just released today), and also listening to presentations such as the one in Concord last week, on carbon sequestration by a group called Biodiversity for a Livable Planet, I realize I feel optimistic again.

Cautiously optimistic, of course. And not hopeful.

I love it that none of the writers of  the blurbs and reviews on the back of Toensmeier’s book use the word “hope”. They use instead “opportunity”. This is so very important to me.

Early on, in all these years of doing to work – educating myself and others and practicing it – I did away with hope. I am one of those people who, in Transition Inner Work and Work That Reconnects gatherings, has an almost visceral reaction to the word. The concept (we call it a feeling – “I feel hopeful” – but I doubt it is one, I think it is instead a cultural construct) is useless to me and, I fear, destructive to what needs to be done. In most cases, hopeful people just don’t allow themselves to be upset enough to get off their asses and start doing the work. Their hope that “it will work out” (notice the expectation in this expression that the speaker doesn’t have to do anything) is based on fear – fear of work, fear of failure, fear of having to give up entitlements, fear of guilt. To combat this fear, they use more hope, the third in the trinity of cope and dope. That’s the thing with hopium: when the buzz wears off, it makes you believe that all you can do to make it better is to take another hit. It is not based on scientific data, on a real community and fellow-feeling or, most importantly, on actual work. And it is only by work, now, that we build the future, but “I hope” keeps putting it off. This made, and makes me, angry, and obviously I stopped going to these workshops which inevitably end on the hopeful note.

Not that I advocate hopelessness. Hopelessness too leads to despair and paralysis.  No, I reject the false choice between hope and hopelessness. What I have instead is work, because it has to be done, because it is the right thing to do, regardless of the outcome. I opt for now, put all my eggs in the basket of now, not some hoped-for (or despaired-of) future. I don’t count on hope, but on joy. Hence the subtitle of this blog, the quote from Wendell Berry: “Be joyful though you have considered all the facts”.

That joy is now growing, because some of those facts have changed. Namely, it is increasingly becoming clear that, if we work with her, the earth can sequester the excess carbon that we already put in the atmosphere. This was the missing piece, the missing fact. Previously we feared that, even if we stopped putting carbon in the atmosphere, we’d still be dangerously overheating because of our past emissions, which are called, powerfully, “legacy carbon.” I am awed and convinced that the earth, the soil, the soil bacteria and fungi and plants can do it. In fact, it doesn’t surprise me at all, but here now we have scientifically convincing proof.

Can this realization, which effectively wipes away the “it’s too late anyway” argument, silence those who are against quitting fossil fuels? Can we now do both, stop putting new carbon in the atmosphere and sequester the legacy carbon? Toensmeier, p. 36:

So can carbon farming alone solve our climate change problem? Not even close. Carbon farming doesn’t work without dramatic emissions reductions (including clean energy an reduced consumption in wealthy countries), as even a small fraction of the remaining 5 to 10 trillion tons of carbon in the fossil pool would far overwhelm the theoretical maximum sequestration capacity of soils and biomass, estimated at 320 billion tons. (note) Emissions reduction also doesn’t work without carbon farming  since even if emissions stop today, we’re already over the tipping point with no way to return without sequestration.

This isn’t hope, this is opportunity. And what Toensmeier gives us in this book is also not hope,  but a toolkit. The opportunity and the toolkit are here: you grab it now and get to work. Or not. I know what I’m going to do. You?

 

(note) Rattan Lal, “Managing Soils and Ecosystems for Mitigating Anthropogenic Carbon Emissions and Advancing Global Food Security,” BioScience, 2010, 60, 9, pp.708-721. (You can read this fascinating paper here).

After a couple of unseasonably cold and gray days that warranted warm socks and a sweater, we’ve returned to hot (+90F) and sunny again. I return to monitoring my one barrel of rain water, which is about 1/5 full (empty). The couple of rain storms we’ve had and the one night of drizzle failed to fill the bin, let alone my array of four 275 gallon bins. One can have all the storage one wants, but one can’t make the rain fall.

DSCF8121The garden was getting on parched yesterday so I watered with the precious rain water, adding a half cup of fish emulsion and a cup and a half of compost and comfrey tea to each watering can. The tea I had started four days ago: dropping comfrey leaves into the bottom half of a five gallon bucket, adding about two gallons of rain water, then putting about ten cups of fresh compost into a cloth bag and submersing it. Put lid on, put in dark shed, let bubble away. It smelled sweat, going on yeasty, with the typical comfrey smell that I’ve not been able to describe – something like molten rubber? Anyway, it was ready. Though even hotter today, the plants, even the usually droopy tomatoes, look great. I hope the calcium rich comfrey will combat the blossom end rot I’ve spotted on some of the squashes.

Looking west of the garden, here’s an update of what’s going on with the front of our property.

DSCF7053_smallIn February we had a landscaper come with a track hoe to excavate the weeds, brambles and vines that we had combated year in year out – pulling, digging up, covering with cardboard and wood chips – losing the battle. In four hours he had dug them up with the big scoop and put them on one big pile. Then he churned up the massive leaf and wood chips piles that my neighbor had been depositing on our property for years. It looked like a lot of fun, like stirring a massive pot of soup with a massive ladle. This mix he deposited on the newly bared earth, at about a foot deep.

DSCF8032On the slope I sowed white clover, which took really well and is now feeding the rabbit population. I am not sure this is a good idea, but on the other hand, I haven’t had rabbit herbivory in my garden at all this season. Also, it is fixing nitrogen, out-competing most weeds and stopping erosion very well.

Down at the bottom, the hardiest weeds returned slowly, but our neighbor keeps dropping off wood chips and every other weekend or so DH and I go down and pull and cover, pull and cover. The excavation wasn’t a silver bullet that took care of it once and for all, and we never expected that, but our work now is much more manageable, and pleasant. It looks like this now:

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Notice the new pile of wood chips in the center.

The idea is that the micro-organisms need all the nitrogen available to burn up the carbon in the wood chips – leaving less or even no nitrogen for the weeds. That’s how woodsy mulch works. An extra weapon in our arsenal is the deployment of fungi. Most of the weeds we’re fighting are invasive greenies. I’m hoping that aggressively running mycelium in the wood chips mulch will suppress them even more. So I started wood chip fermenting. I learned about it from Paul Stametz in this short and informational video:

It’s an intriguing idea: you basically cultivate a herd of anaerobic bacteria, then you harvest them by killing them by exposing them to oxygen, then give them to the (aerobic) fungi as a meal. It’s like growing fodder for your livestock, only your fodder is bacteria and your livestock is fungi!

Here are my barrels, filled to the brim with a mix of soft and hard woods and tap water that sat out in open buckets in the sun for several days to dechlorinate. I’ll drain the barrels in a couple of weeks and we’ll spread the fermented chips and start a new batch. Hopefully, we’ll have great mycelium running soon!

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DSC_1824_cutoutTurns out Dan of Warm Colors Apiaries sent me two Russian queens, so I didn’t have to choose between replacing Laura (Hive 4) and making another split (Hive 7-to-be). I could do both!

I went into 4 and found Laura where she usually hangs out, in the top box. DH stood at a safe distance and played with his new lens. It’s amazing. Here I am pointing to the queen. Zooming in, you can easily spot her.

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I checked all the frames looking for eggs (very few), another queen (it’s not uncommon for there to be two queens in one colony), and queen cells, of which there were many, full of fat larvae. A sure sign that the bees too didn’t like Laura much. I tore out the queen cells because this colony hasn’t had a laying queen for too long already, picked up Laura, said sorry, and pinched off her head.

I also made a split with five frames of brood, honey, pollen and bees from hives 2 and 3. The weather was chilly (only 65F) and threatening rain, and the bees were all home and not liking it. Still I forged on, since these new queens were being held over with a couple of attendants, a small sponge of water and a dab of honey in a paper bag in my basement.

The splits come to my home bee yard, where I can keep a closer eye on them and baby them a bit more than the big colonies. The lid of the nuc box in which I move bees has warped pretty badly, and despite extra strapping and screws, it turned out that there was plenty of bee space between box and lid. As I was driving (bee jacket and gloves on, but hood down) I looked behind me and saw that twenty bees had escaped and more were following. This is no reason for alarm as long as you keep moving so the bees stick to the rear window. When we pick up packages, there are always stray bees, though perhaps not… thirty of them. Unfortunately I found myself situated behind the oldest lady in the oldest car in the state of Massachusetts, and she paid homage to every red light on the way. Yikes! The woman who was driving behind me certainly was alarmed. She even honked to alert me and I gave her a white gloved thumbs-up. Luckily it’s not too far, and I got home without incident. I went in and squished the ants in the other half of the double nuc, then hived the split.

The next day I queened them: Katharina in Hive 4 and Anna in Hive 7. I taped over the sugar plug of their cages to give them extra time to get accepted, but the bees’ initial reactions looked good. Today I went in again to take the tapes off. The bees will eat through the sugar in a day or two and release their new queens. I will check for eggs in a week or so.

Not to count my chickens before they’ve hatched, but here’s the queen count anyway: three Italians, three Russians, one Sam Comfort Mutt.

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A whole crowd of us went picking at a local horse farm, where the farmers a decade or so ago had the foresight of converting a paddock into blueberries. This year will yield a bumper crop and the picking, in the drizzle, was wonderful.

This was the same field where two years ago we picked with our friend Rebecca, who died in February. I spoke about her to a friend and, when I found myself alone, to her as well.

Then, of course, one comes home to the follow-up work. Two hours of picking, seven people = 14 quarts of berries and heaps of fun. One hour of sorting, four people and also fun, lots of tasting. Then six hours of crushing, cooking, measuring, ladling and canning, by one person (me) = not so much fun, but 36 8 oz. jars of blueberry jam.

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some of the pickers, drenched

 

Doing an inspection of “Hive 6” I spotted Tatjana, the Russian Queen I got from Dan Conlon. She was laying eggs. Can you spot her?

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The frayed, light-colored bee below her, off to the left, is a callow bee: just eclosed. The two dark marks on the queen’s back aren’t mites, but pigment markings. Believe me, I checked!

I encountered the problem with the double nucs I mentioned before: bees crawling up the wall of the other top box and having to be brushed or smoked down before I can replace their second box:

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More problems: the other top box still being in place gets in the way of the wedge tool’s function of lifting tightly wedged/glued frames out. Lastly, the other box being unoccupied by bees, it had become home to ants! I am not liking this design one bit. I may move Tatjana and her people into the 5-frame nuc I have available, depending on what I do this weekend. On Saturday another Russian queen is coming my way, also from Dan. I may use her to replace the very slow-to-start or defective superseding queen in Hive 4 (Laura, who is Bianca’s daughter). Or I may split Hive 3 (Beatrice) and put them in the other side of the box and make Hive 7! In that case, how to get the ants out first…

DSCF7979My two kombucha Continuous Brews (one with a spiced Indian chai, the other a more subtle Earl Grey) are growing vigorously, the mothers in them giving birth to more SCOBYs (scobies?). They are starting to fill up the jars. Time for a special hold-over vessel: the SCOBY Hotel. I learned about this from the Big Book of Kombucha by Hannah Crum and Alex LaGory of Kombucha Kamp, both of which (the book, the site) I am liking very much.

First photo: Earl Grey kombucha with sour cherry concentrate flavoring for second fermentation. Nicely fizzy! We like the flavors of fresh fruits better though, and those also create an explosive buzz. The sweet cherry and the watermelon flesh flavorings were more of a hit, but not as colorful.

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Separating the older (bottom one) from the newer mother.

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SCOBY motel with four mothers, so far.