DSCF4258

This has been/still is a hard winter. It’s been one snow storm after another, with long stretches of below freezing temperatures.  Three weeks ago I caught a bug which developed into pneumonia – hence the silence here – and now that I’ finally up and about, Amie caught something as well. That’s how it goes. The winter was hard on the bees as well: all three colonies are dead of starvation in boxes still half full of capped honey.  They just didn’t have the chance to break cluster and move toward the honey.

But things are stirring. Before yesterday’s snow flurries we actually saw dirt. Then it got covered up again, but all that should be washed away by tonight’s rain and tomorrow we may see some outdoor activities. I plan to wash all the seedling trays and pots so I can start the basement garden. If I’m up for it, I’ll also clean out the chicken coop: there’s some good compost in there after months of deep litter.

A couple of days ago I (hot-water-bath) canned the sauerkraut that had been fermenting in big jars on my counter for seven weeks. I usually don’t can kraut as it pasteurizes it (duh!) and kills off all the good bugs. Still, I had too much of it to keep in the fridge, and as I’m the only one who eats it round here, I decided to reserve one jar for the fridge and can the rest.  I hope the canning doesn’t make it too soggy. I like it crunchy.

 

Though recovering from a cold (my first time ill in over a year: a sure sign that I’ve been overdoing it a little this month), the sun and comfortable temperatures (around freezing) lured me out. I’d been looking at that dead hive (Hive 4) and it nagged at me. So I took the sled out there, dismantled it (two deeps, one super) and sledded it to the house. There I went through frame by frame, shaking out as many dead bees as possible. This hive died of starvation, though there was evidence of some hive beetle pressure as well. Nothing is as disheartening to a beekeeper as seeing this:

DSCF4217

A carpet of thousands of starved, cold-killed bees on the bottom board. And this:

DSCF4219

That’s half a frame of capped honey right there. The small dark cluster of dead bees, burrowed deeply down in their cells,   is where they hung on till the cluster was too small to stay warm and survive. The honey was right next door! This super was half full of honey still, but the bees didn’t have a break in the cold to move over to get to it. But fortunately there was no sign of disease or fungus: all the frames were clear and clean.

There was a lot of capped and uncapped honey in there – the mix makes it tricky to extract. The uncapped honey at least has started to crystallize:

DSCF4230

DSCF4230cutout

As this can’t be extracted, I’ll feed it to the surviving hives. I stashed all these boxes and frames on the porch, making sure to put a tight lid on them so no mice can get in. I had a devil of a time cleaning up the mess. They ruined quite a bit of wax but the worst was the droppings all over the place!

I remember singing along with Band Aid, “Do they know its Christmas time .” I must have sung this line, but I can’t remember realizing what it says, or anyone making a comment on it, either fellow-singers or popular media – being only thirteen in in 1984, I wasn’t clued into any other culture. The line:

 Well tonight thank God it’s them instead of you

***

A friend sent me a link to the live webcam of the eagles of Berry College. Thrilled, I watched them on and off for a day, had them on my screen while I read or wrote (longhand). Saw the exchange between mates, the two fragile eggs, the snow come down, the wind ruffle their feathers, the night fall around the sphere of light cast on them by a spotlight. It was that that made me suddenly uncomfortable. It is infrared light, which eagles (birds and most mammals*) can’t see, so it shouldn’t bother them. If we were walking around the Berry College campus, also we can’t see that pool of light (we see it as light on the screen because the camera can see it and has transformed it). So, they can’t, we can’t, we’re good? But even so, doesn’t it affect other animals (nocturnal animals, mostly), plants and minerals, bacteria and fungi and the atmosphere around the eagles? It would seem so. We can’t just carve a piece out of nature like that, thinking it does no harm. They should turn off the light!

It was but a second to the next realization: I should stop watching them. It is wrong for me to use these creatures for my entertainment. Shame flooded me, I think I even blushed. I closed the screen.

***

From my window I could see, a couple of days ago before more fell, that the snow had melted away from the front of one of my hives, but that  the other one was still fully encased. One breathing, one dead. That’s 50.000 pairs of eyes gone from the world. 50.000 compound insect eyes, which are land and sky-eyes so unlike the vertebrate’s single-chambered eyes that developed in the ocean, fish-eyes. Each with  150 flickering ommatidia (and did you know that bee-eyes are hairy too?). 50.000 times 2 times 150. That’s  fifteen million reflections of the world.

BeeEye_888xm(800)

It’s Winter on the homestead and aside from plodding through two feet of snow to feed the chickens there’s not much to do on that level. There are many other levels to work on, however. I’ve written about  some personal inner work in the previous blog posts. Our tribe of friends meets often for cooking and eating together, and walking. Transition Wayland has started up an Inner Work group – after our first meeting we agreed: “What took us so long!”  But most of my efforts have gone wider. Last year I helped 350MA start up a Metrowest regional node, and I’ve become very involved in the work, mostly on statewide divestment and the Governor’s climate legacy. I do a lot of outreach and media work for them and am finding my stride. We also pitched in on the national fight against the Keystone XL Pipeline with a local vigil.  Then a friend also put me on to organizing a local action in the Friends of the Earth campaign to ask Home Depot and Lowe’s to stop selling neonicotinoids and neonicotinoid-laced plants, which are killing the bees.

A lot of this work goes on indoors, but I wanted to show you some images of the outdoor events: there is lots of snow in all of them! Like good New Englanders, we don’t let that deter us.

Showing Bees Some Love with Friends of the Earth on February 15:

DSCF4093_lowes_500

DSCF4081_HD_500

20140215 131504 bee demo with transition wayland at home depot in waltham 8623 NEF r1_500

Protesting the Salem Gas Plant on February 8:

DSCF3939_500

Almost 400 came to this rally:

1622144_1464335170447774_2034670377_n

1653404_1464335183781106_379319682_n

Vigil against the Keystone Pipeline on February 4:

NoKXL Vigil Group Photo_500

Climate Change Act Now (s)

That vigil elicited two letters to the editor in our local newspaper. In the print edition the first one, a pro-letter by my friend on the left  in the picture, was immediately followed by the counter-letter. The contrast between the two can’t be starker! I will add links here as the paper releases them online. They’re definitely worth your reading.

Coming round full circle, in all of this I do not forget:

Our planet is not fragile at its own time scale, and we,

pitiful latecomers in the last microsecond of our planetary year,

are stewards of nothing in the long run.
— Stephen Jay Gould

chickorder

 

Kidding! We’re not getting 20 of them. Only four of these little ones will become ours: 2 Buff Orpingtons, 1 Black Australorp, and 1 Barred Rock – these were Amie’s choices. We pooled our order with a friend and a friend-of-that-friend. I can’t wait till April 14, when we go pick them up: a box with 20 puff balls, all chirping away!

As for our five hens (4 of them soon two years old, 1 one-year-old), we’re getting two, sometimes three eggs a day now. I decided to start keeping a record.

It started snowing again, an end to the warmer weather of the weekend. I missed the opportunity to go into my hives, but I did find out that mice got into my stored honey supers and chewed through quite a lot of wax and fouled it up.

Today I robbed seven frames from the two hives in my beeyard. Many  more frames were only half or three fourths capped, but with some luck in weather and nectar flow, the bees will cap those fully and I’ll have more to rob.  There’s also the third hive at our friend’s place: I’m curious to see how that one did. Both populations looked very strong, and I saw no sign of mites (will do a proper test, though) but I did see some of those nasty hive beetles scurrying around. Robbing the frames was no problem. I never cease to be amazed at how docile these creatures are.

After that K, a new member of the BEElieve beekeepers club, came over and we extracted the honey together. Her first-year hives had no extra honey as yet, but she wanted to see how it’s done. We used the new Maxant extractor, which the club bought with the money from our honey fundraiser. What a joy to use it: so simple, so easy. The machine is simply and well designed, very robust. Here it is, with K uncapping one of the frames.

DSCF2820

Three of the frames held a dark yellow honey, darker than Spring honey. But the other three held an even darker and, we saw as it started oozing out, dark red, almost wine red honey. This honey was heavier and more viscous and therefore took more spinning to extract. It tastes, not so much sweeter, but more  specific, rather. Almost cinnamony. I guess it’s the purple loosestrife. I’ll ask around.

DSCF2816

This picture gives a good idea: a “red” frame being un-capped, the dark yellow frames already uncapped behind it.

DSCF2821

The harvest totaled 20 lbs, from 7 frames. What a bounty!

The mead is ready. The bubbles stopped rising, the liquid is clear, and at the bottom of each 1 gallon jug is this:

DSCF1757

Graveyard of a gazillion dead yeasts

DH likes the taste of it and had a whole glass while racking. I like it sweeter, so I racked one jar into a new jar with about a quart of freshly picked (local) raspberries and four tablespoons of honey. This officially makes it a melomel.

DSCF1775

That should send it through one more round of fermentation and then I’ll bottle it.

The other jar I’ll bottle as is, to let it finish fermenting in the bottle, which will give it some extra fizz.

DSCF1747

I often end up with “bad wax”: the dark brood nest wax, full of pupa skins and bee parts. What to do with it? It’s useless for candles and cosmetics. In these small quantities, it’s too little gain for the hassle to melt it down and filter it. And I can’t throw it on my compost because it will met and smother it.

At the Farmers Market on Wednesday a woman and her daughter approached me to ask about the wax. They are glass blowers and were wondering if we had any wax they could have. They use bees wax to lubricate their tools. I immediately thought of the bad wax. We speculated that the impurities and what honey is still in it should just burn off.  I put some together for them today and they came to pick it up and will try it out this evening in their studio in Cambridge.

I love the idea that this “bad wax” will get yet another, last use!

{UPDATE} 7/28: Ribin let me know it works well after melting and one simple straining. So we’ll be gathering it as a group for the glassblowers!

DSCF1751

DSCF1741small

I would never want to sell all of my honey. Honey is my “currency”! I’ve rewarded lots of friends, helpers and volunteers with it, for taking care of my chickens, helping us rototill the Community Garden plots, offering their house for a meeting, the use of a truck, etc. The day before yesterday I traded it for two quarts of local strawberries and yesterday again for another bulging quart of Wayland raspberries. We’re having it with our yogurt this morning.

Now I wish I could find some local milk to trade my honey for…