My strong hive, H6, swarmed, possibly for a second time, on 7/14. Here’s one of of my friend Doug’s pictures of the swarm:
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

They hung out on a tree about 60 feet up, still on our property, for days. Then I thought they were gone, and I stopped checking on them. My neighbor, however, has a much better vantage point from his property. Yesterday evening he alerted me that they’re still there, and making a nest.

No way, I said. Out in the open, in the place they swarmed to? Usually they’ll hang out outside while the scouts find a suitable new place, then they’ll come to a unanimous decision about what is the best place – which is what honeybee swarms do, following what bee-guru Thomas Seeley calls a true democratic process. Then they’ll fly off there and start filling what is usually a cavity in a tree or wall with comb, honey, brood, and live and hopefully prosper.

In this case, I guess, the scouts found nothing suitable, or they couldn’t come to that unanimous decision, and settled with the place they had swarmed to: 60 feet high on a tree, exposed to sun, wind, rain and, in a few months, frost. Their changes of surviving the winter are near to zero. But that’s what they did.

Waiting for the wind to whip some of the intervening branches out of my line of sight, I took these images. As you can see, they’ve already built three honeycombs and it is dripping with honey.

DSCF1364cut_300

DSCF1388_500

One of the friends coming to help with the honey extraction yesterday shot some great pictures. Here they are, for your viewing pleasure! Thank you, Doug!!

P7120175

P7120174

P7120160

P7120151

He really captured my kitchen in this one:
P7120169

And lastly, he is the only photographer who managed to penetrate the leaf cover and take a shot of the swarm way up high:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

DSCF5450

It’s been a roller coaster with my two hives. Good thing I expect that now!

They are both first-year packages, installed end of April. One has been so-so, with a queen laying very little in a spotty pattern, then nothing at all. When I couldn’t find her, I put in a frame of eggs from my other hive. Going by the open queen cells, it looked like they may have hatched a queen from those, but I couldn’t fin her or eggs (as yet). It was hot when I went in, and the bees got quite upset, so I had to close up. That hive hasn’t been strong enough to start on a super. A clear sign of that came when I put a super on with just extracted frames dripping with the honey: they cleaned it out and moved the drippings into the brood nest – which is also a nice service, thank you!

The other hive, well! Over a month ago I put a friend’s box with dripping frames on it and they started filling it up. So I pulled that and put on my own super and they filled that up in a week. I should have know and aggressively split them, but by the time we came back from Panama, it was clear they had swarmed. Then, yesterday, they swarmed again! That swarm is hanging out in the notch of a tree about 30 feet up, in the middle of a dense copse too. We’d need a crane to get those. What irony, especially since we’ve been craving swarms for the Haven project. But what excitement watching them swarm, with rooting by Amie and me for them to land on a nice, low branch. No dice. I put a swarm trap on my neighbor’s property, a small chance but the best I can do.

Today I went in to see if there is still a queen or any queen cells left in that hive. Usually, an afterswarm leaves with the new virgin queen or several virgin queens and can leave the origin queenless. I knew which frame had all the queen cells before and pulled just that one. There they were, three of them still intact. There is no more capped brood, so I hope the bees still left will hold out till the new queen ecloses, flies out to mate, returns, lays eggs and those eggs hatch. Hopefully the new queen will have the best of her mom’s genes, and give me more honey come fall.

Yesterday I pulled the full super off that strong hive – easier to rob when there aren’t 70.000 bees protecting it – and honey extracting being a party, friends came over to help me extract over three gallons of bright Spring honey (I didn’t weigh it, but there were eight full frames which I’d estimate made about 38 pounds)

DSCF5446

DSCF5453
Then we extracted the frames from the winter-killed hives. These are frames with half capped honey, crystallized honey, and dead bees, so not honey I would eat, give away or sell. So I will make mead with it.

Lastly, a month or so ago Amie did her first hive inspection with my friend Tom.

DSCF5434

This is one of my favorite times of the year: the first harvests are coming in. For greens, we are eating kale, lettuce, chard and good king Henry, New Zealand spinach, mache, minutina, and celery. All the herbs – parsley, rosemary, sage, etc. are ready. The malabar spinach is almost ready and it’s a lovely climber that is colonizing the trelises that the unfortunate peas never climbed (we had only a pound or so, the bunnies ate the rest). The potatoes – from organic potatoes I bought at the supermarket – are growing like weeds. So are the tomato vines. No ripe tomatoes yet, though.

I’ve also started putting up. Yesterday I made a pile of basil from my garden, our CSA and the Farmers Market and made 8 jars of pesto (to freeze). I assembled rhubarb from the garden with some from the Farmers Market and red currants from a friend’s garden and canned 8 jars of rhubarb-red currant preserves. I’m tasting the white currants in my garden every day to get them when they’re just ripe. There are also grapes growing, lots of them, but those will take longer. If all the little nubbin figs on our one remaining tree make it, we’ll have twenty or so figs.

The chickens are laying four eggs a day. And there are four of them. Toothless, who got injured and started limping, then getting pecked on even more ruthlessly, went for a spa at my friend Katharina’s place while we were away. I didn’t want my intrepid chicken sitters to have to deal with a bloody, or worse, chicken. Toothless has her own little coop there to relax and recover.

Tomorrow I plan to go into my hives and take a full super off the strongest one (which swarmed during the week we were away!). I almost fell over when I lifted it off: full of honey! I’ll add a new super to that one and also one to the less strong hive. Both hives are making new queens.

Speaking of honey. I am enjoying the raspberry melomel I made a little over a year ago. It is mellow and tasty and not too alcoholic.

DSCF5439

But where were we all last week? Hanging out with this crazy bunch…

DSCF0462

… in the rain forest of Panama!

DSCF0692

More about that in some other post. I need to go water the garden, because it’s dry here.

Three posts in a day! I couldn’t resist posting also these pictures. Chickens are so good to have! They provide no end of entertainment. Unfortunately we have one mature hen who is injured somehow. She will not stand on one leg. I ruled out bumble foot and (thank goodness) Marek’s. None of the bones are broken, as far as I can tell. She may just have strained a muscle. In any case, she was already at the bottom of the pecking order and the moment she started hopping around on one foot, the other hens went after her. Luckily Amie and I were in the chicken yard. We saw two hens hold her down, grinding her head into the dust with a claw, scratching and pecking out her feathers. I think they would have killed her. I ran in and rescued her and we’ve been keeping her separate so she may hopefully recuperate.

But here are some happier chicken times. Amie hypnotizing Lucy, the 9 week old chick (pullet now?):

DSCF5256

Here’s a little video, with commentary:


Sweet, rubbery feet:

DSCF5272

DSCF5310

When we let the chicks leave their mini coop to scratch and play in the chicken yard, we lock the adult hens in their run. They’re quite outraged about it:

"Can you believe it! They're letting those chicks eat our mint!"
“Can you believe it! They’re letting those chicks eat our mint!”

DSCF5315

But hey, the hens get enough time free ranging in the yard. When we’re home, we let them out every day, all day, since we don’t need to stay with them – the chicks would get scooped up by the hawk in no time. They love to dust bathe, reducing themselves to discombobulated piles of feathers in the dust:

DSCF5387

Can you even recognize them as chickens?

DSCF5377

So, for those more chicken inclined, here’s a video:

On the Summer Solstice we didn’t just demolish our Earth Oven, we did a lot more work.

I plugged the last holes (I hope) in the rabbit proof fence around the veg garden. We swept and tidied the backyard and patio.

DSCF5371

Amie and I planted the flowers we got from the garden center. A couple of pots of flowers is my only concession, each year, to annuals that are (gasp) not edible.

DSCF5369

DH also gave the kiwi a haircut. I like it wild, but he likes it more manicured. It doesn’t matter: in a week it will look all wild again. Oh, and those kiwi fruits I hoped were developing? They all fell off, possibly jettisoned by the vine because they were not pollinated.

Before:

DSCF5392

After:

DSCF5395

Yesterday was a good work day. Not oppressively hot and humid like earlier in the week, but just right for some demolition work.

As we used our earth oven, it became more and more clear that the earth we used was not clayish enough. As a result, chunks of earth and earth dust kept falling off, into the food. We applied a thin layer of waterglass, like Kiko suggests, but it almost instantly peeled off, bringing more chunks down with it. I don’t think we did it correctly, so we may try it again on the new oven.

Anyway, tearing down an earth oven is as much family fun as is building one. Amie was all for it and brought two hammers to bear on the project:

DSCF5327

First blow:

DSCF5330

First we caved in the top. It was pretty easy and dusty:

DSCF5333

Then it became clear we could start taking off the outer, insulating layer first. This was great because we do plan to reuse this earth, and keeping the two very different materials separate will help.

DSCF5337

DSCF5345

It came off in big chunks, demonstrating the adhesion and strength of this material.

DSCF5352

Then it was time to take down the inner, thermal mass layer, the one that gave us trouble:

DSCF5357

DSCF5358

I am reading Anita Diamond’s novel The Red Tent and this reminded me of ancient ruins in a desert oasis:

DSCF5362

How long does it take to build an earth oven? Two days. How long does it take to demolish it? An hour. It was a good thing, though, to take down something that didn’t work quite right. We’ll redesign it, build it better. For instance, we have plans for adding a rocket stove to it to keep heating it as we bake and cook. A coal and ash chute would be nice too…

So, once dusted off, we set to testing the materials we saved in combination with the potter’s clay we bought. We did the snake test and made test bricks (still drying). I think we hit upon a good compound. So, stay tuned!

My friend and fellow blogger Kath did a garden survey and inspired me to do the same. It was getting a bit darker on an already gloomy day and everything is still covered in yellow pollen dust, but I managed to snap some pictures.

We begin with Amie and the little chickens. They are now 8-9 weeks old and are spending the warmer days in the mini-coop, which sits in the chicken yard, but I still bring them in each evening. Amie loves “training” them. In this picture she is teaching Jenny to walk straight. (Jenny, by the way, may turn out to be a Kenny – thanks, Kath!).

DSCF5140

This while the other three looked on:

DSCF5135

More chicken fun:

DSCF5129small

More serious:

DSCF5122small

Out of the chicken yard, into the veg garden. The first thing you meet is the bunny gate. Bunnies ate two whole beds of dry beans. Because our CSA box has so many greens and tomatoes, etc., but never any beans, I planted lots of beans. (The bunnies liked only the dry beans, not the haricots, so they’re still going strong.) They also stripped the new blueberry bushes. Those too I fenced in – pictures of that later:

DSCF5094

The giant lovage, the lovely poppy a friend gave me behind it.

DSCF5108

Sage in bloom:

DSCF5107

Elderflowers:

DSCF5099

Lettuce, radichetta, onions and kale finally taking off:

DSCF5095

Raspberries in the making:

DSCF5102

We took the plastic off the hoop house for cleaning and will only remount it in Fall to extend the season. It will be good to have it off for the Summer, so the rain can thoroughly drench the beds and I don’t need to fight the overheating in there:

DSCF5103

We leave the veg garden and go into the back, where only a few unripe currants are still on the bush. This year, though, I’m very happy with how the currants have grown, finally:

DSCF5088

The kiwi vines are already humongous and it isn’t even Summer yet. The females have flowers again, many more of them than last year:

DSCF5082

I hope Anna’s hunch is correct (at Walden Effect) that these Ananasnayas are self-fertile, because I’d love some fruit from these two monsters:

DSCF5081

Our grape vines are making tiny grapes:

DSCF5086