dsc_4346

Any day when I walk into my kitchen and come upon a scene like this, is a good day. In the morning my friend A and her family picked me up for a couple of hours pulling carrots at Siena Farm. Every Fall the farm invites their shareholders to come and help pull the carrots for the root cellars and the winter CSA boxes (which both A and I get). It always draws a crowd, and it was no different today in the sun-drenched field. The carrots came up willingly after being  harrowed up with their tractor. We pulled and snapped off the tops, filled boxes and boxes, and boxes.

img_20161112_120130

It’s the kind of thing you can just happily, mindlessly keep doing as long you don’t get chilled, or have to pee, or are reminded by a teenager that they have a friend coming over. I brought home a bag full of gleaned carrots (broken, nibbled on carrots or carrots that were just too plain funky) and a bag of carrot tops for the chickens. I also put some in a big pot of vegetable broth.

After washing all those carrots I decided to also wash the last apples and make some apple pie – I’ll bake up, sauce and dehydrate the rest tomorrow. My basement is just too warm for apples to keep well, so I’d better get them all in.

dsc_4351

Orphan pumpkins have started arriving at my mailbox. Here’s the first one – in the meantime I’ve brought up twelve, some massive ones among them. With the coffee grounds from the local roaster’s, pumpkins make for the best compost.

img_20161104_173222

 

dsc_4301dsc_3901_500One of the changes we made during the Local Food Challenge that we kept was the locally-grown-grain home-made bread. Four Star Farms  in Northfield, MA, has been my go-to place (either through Volante Farm when they stock it, or straight from the farm) for hard red winter berries, which I grind in my mighty Vitamix. Amie and I did enjoy the 45 minute “spin” when we borrowed my friend’s hand mill, but that Vitamix does a good enough job in under 3 minutes.

I use the Farm Feast easy no-knead hold-over-in-the-fridge method for a dense, moist, dark bread. As a whole grain bread it’s a bit finicky, though. It worked better with the Farm Feast’s Red Lammas and Redeemer berries than with Four Star’s Zorro. The latter possibly has less gluten action and often I had breads that weren’t fully risen/cooked. This time around I got Four Star’s Warthog, 20 lbs of it – it takes 1 lb 6 oz for one smallish bread. Let’s see if that is a better fit.

As for even more local eating, a couple of weeks ago I failed to report on my mushroom haul – possibly because it did not result in eating at all. Right down there, in wood chip heaven (heaven for fungi), I found hundreds of King Stropheria mushrooms bursting from the carbon carpet of wood chips after a big downpour (our Fall, compared to our Summer, has been downright delugional). Some were as large as 10 inches in diameter. The King rules! I plucked quite a few, distributing many of them into parts of that garden without, keeping some for ourselves.

dsc_4250

Unfortunately, the mushrooms were wet when I picked them, and there were quite a few more rainy days ahead of us. In the end, they didn’t dry but rotted to slime. We didn’t get a meal out of these, but we did get some neat spore prints, which became more seeds for the rest of the garden.

dsc_4242

Lastly, a small reporting of a conversation between mother and daughter.

  • What are you doing?
  • I cleaned up my car (aka the Bee Mobile, which is my beek office and storage space, and truck for honey-dripping bee boxes and straw bales, chicken food, etc., and which tonight will be the taxi for Amie and her two friends).
  • Yeay!
  • Well, mmm, not “cleaned up,” really, rather, mmm, made room in, for you guys to sit.
  • I knew I shouldn’t get my hopes up!

I did put newspaper over the honey spill.

dscf1910

robbers trying to get into the top entrance (closed)

The robbing at the Common Yard continued, relentless. As soon as I had removed the robbed-out Borgia hive, the aggressive colony started on the next one down, the Constanza colony. A fellow Common beek alerted me and I ran over and closed literally all entrances to all my hives. Hives 3 and 4, resp. Beatrice and Katharina, were holding their own very well, thank you, but it was cold enough for them not fly out anyway. Only these crazy robber bees were flying vigorously (bellies full of honey).

The best was when the owner of the robbing hive showed up. What good timing! He said that, after it requeened itself, his hive (his one hive, he’s a first-year beek) had been a nasty pain to work. They were indeed very aggressive to bees and beeks alike. He suggested, himself, that he should have got rid of that queen, but now it is too late in the season to requeen, so the unfortunate tentative outcome was to lock up the and so  kill off the whole colony. (If anyone objects, let them come over and I’ll even give them a suit and a smoking smoker and let hem open those boxes! Gentleness is most often the first, second or third criterion in a good queen, for the beekeeper as well as the public’s sake.) Luckily another Common beek offered to help him move the colony to the owner’s yard, and then the owner can requeen in Spring. It’s a little over 2 miles away, so I hope those bees don’t find the Common Yard and keep on robbing!

Anyway, too late for Constanza. With the culprit gone today, I was able to open her up and found she is also a goner. There was no queen, only a handful of bees left, not even enough to combine with a strong hive. But a lot of honey, at least 13 full medium frames and 3 full deep frames. Uttering a little apology, I shook the bees out into the grass and locked up the hive. I’ll distribute the honey frames to the other hives tomorrow when it’s warmer (65F!).

I also opened Beatrice and Katharina’s houses and especially Beatrice, the last Italian, is strong: big population covering the bottom deep and two supers and lots of honey. Katharina has fewer bees, but then again they’re Russians, which overwinter with a smaller population. The last hive at the Common, the Russian Tatjana, looks good too, but they’re the adolescent split, occupying only a deep and a super, and I may just give them the super full of honey from Constanza’s leftovers.

Of course, Constanza and Borgia were well-populated, vigorous, honey-loaded hives too, until a couple of weeks ago. So now I’m down to four. I started with four. How many will I have after winter? I bow to the meadow that holds and feeds my bees. May she hold and feed them into the next season.

All last week some of the other colonies in the Common Yard were robbing the Borgia hive. All I could do was close the top entrance, and the  bottom entrance was already reduced to the minimum, which slowed down the process. I didn’t open the hive as it would have invited a frenzy, which I know from  experience is to be avoided at all costs – because the cost is often the demise of either the robbing or robbed colony, or both. Now I wish I had opened it.

It was cold enough yesterday (57 F) for the bees not to be flying and not too cold to open the hive and have a look at what would make such a well-populated, well-stocked, strong-queened colony so prone to robbers.Well, there was no one home. There were just a handful of dead bees on the bottom board (screened, so there was no way to see if there was a mass of mites). All the honey… gone, too. Had I gone in earlier, I’d have saved some of that honey for my other hives. Only some, I think, because interestingly, some of the honey frames were shredded and frayed (a sign of quick robbing), but others were neatly emptied. Did Borgia and her bees swarm or abscond, taking most of the honey with them?

I came home saddened, then went into my two home hives and found Anna too had perished. A sugar roll at the end of August had found the mites below threshold, but clearly I must no longer rely on those: the full bottom board showed tons and tons of mites. Among the fifty or so bees left was Anna herself, the Russian queen. She looks very small. I had never felt happy with this colony’s progress but I wanted to give this queen (whom I gave the last split I made, from Borgia) a chance. There was a little bit of honey left. I’m freezing those frames to kill mites, hive beetle, wax moth eggs and diseases, and will give them to the remaining hives.

I’ve never lost a colony before winter before. And now two. It was a disheartening discovery.

So I’m down to five. In light of the mite discovery in Anna’s home, I will treat with an oxalic acid dribble once the temperatures fall to 40F. It could  be too late for some, but it could make all the difference for others, if not all. I do want to go treatment free, but I have to build up a good apiary before I can start experimenting. With winter coming, more studying and thinking is coming up, but in the meantime I need these bees to survive.

Goodbye Anna and Borgia and offspring. I thank you for gracing us with your beautiful presence the shape of a bee.

I loved going to museums, but over the last couple of  years the simple joy of it got entangled with doubt, guilt, and sadness. With every visit now it gets worse (and more interesting). In the “mummy room” at the MFA I felt a misgiving akin to my horror of zoos. I practically fled from the Peabody Archaeological Museum, where I used to spend contented hours grazing the treasures of human culture, for the sheer shame of it. The sight of the slag heap at the Harvard Semitic Museum reduced me to tears. At a contemporary “traveling” exhibit of Australian aboriginal art at the Harvard Arts Museum I read a curator’s explanation and got so upset I had to sit down for a long time.

On that bench in the full presence of an amazing work of art, the sadness, horror, shame, and anger ran like quicksand. I have not had the energy or clarity to untangle it all. I’m not, it turns out, after all, one of those admirable thinkers – Timothy Morton comes to mind – who can passionately set their analytical skills to the task. I’m in too deep. But I have some insights. They might interest someone.

~

Let’s start with place (always a safe place to start). All art works, artifacts and bodies in art and archeological museums have or used to have a home (a place there they belong and can do the work they are meant to do). For some that home is, for the moment, not safe or welcoming, and so one could say the museum is “hosting” them, intending to return them when it is safe again. Under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) for instance, museums need to repatriate Native American artifacts and human remains when a tribe proves their ownership and claims the work. But that is the exception.

The place, time, culture of most works in museums has passed. Take a portrait by Rembrandt of a wealthy burgher: the seventeenth century parlor that it was painted for, that is even depicted in the background, no longer exists. The neolithic vessel: the culture that utilized it is remembered by no living person. Or a first-century Roman frieze: that temple has long been replaced by an office building, that god by other gods, or none. Homeless works of art, then, and the museum not a host but… an orphanage?

You might say, well, they might now and here be out of place, but in these cabinets of wealthy collectors, art galleries, and museums, they still do very well. Anything is better, anyhow, than oblivion. To which I would say, that may be so, but only under certain conditions – and how could it be otherwise?

~

I sit in front of these now, having paid my ticket, and I am grateful for the privilege of a glimpse of those past, dead, destroyed cultures. As someone who firmly believes that the past (whether it is remembered or not) very much informs the present, I also believe that it is helpful to know one’s past if one is to understand what the hell is going on.

dscf8003smallGilgamesh, you see here on this seal,

with the help of his domesticated wild brother Enkidu,

cuts down Humbaba, the spirit of the great forests,

so that next he can cut down the mighty trees to build his great city and feed its fires

and  when the gods protest, he will cut down the Bull of Heaven as well.

Because if you have an axe, you have to use it, right?

That old image and all the millennia that surround it, what a feast for the eyes and the mind! And in the glass case, the real thing, not a reproduction. It comes from that time, when it meant what it was meant to mean: the proud seal and story of the civilizing power of the man, Gilgamesh, through the domestication of spirits, wild animals, trees, gods and metals. As one who believes that the past informs the present, the original work of art and the absolutely perfect, indistinguishable (and therefore machine-made) copy of it are like the stone and the image of the stone: the one, with the gravitas of a long past of being worked on, in sweat and spittle, and carried through time, and sometimes lost and then found again, against huge odds; the other, a pastless image, three seconds deep. Oh, I appreciate the gift very much.

I can appreciate them on the condition of listening to them speak of what they are and where they come from, of all that being gone, stolen, forgotten, mislaid by carelessness, erased on purpose. This too they give. They are a good thing that is also terribly wrong, a corpse, stolen goods, a crime scene, a gravity well of loss and grief. There is much listening to be done, even more so as our own forgetting time draws near.

~

It’s a hard thing to do, that listening, but that’s not nearly the end of it. Part of the sadness and mayhem is that these dead are not also heard by the curators, funders, patrons and visitors on their rainy Sunday outing. When you hear it you want them to hear it as well. But it takes guts to weep in public places!

Ah, public spaces… Susan Sontag touches on this in Regarding the Pain of Others (2003):

Space reserved for being serious [“standing back and thinking,” and bowing and weeping]  is hard to come by in a modern society, whose chief model of a public space is the mega-store (which may also be an airport or museum). (p.119)

So there is another condition, another task here.

Perhaps that is what we are looking for on social media, Facebook, and in blogs. But those “places” not being places, and those “people” not being people, and those “friends” not being our friends, and those faces not being faces, those are not the public, common space at all. When you weep at the museum, you undeniably are somewhere, being seen and seeing those who see you. And they will see you, in fact, they will stare.

I cry in museums. I bow down deeply before works of art in an offering of humility,

regret and apology.

You may stare, but

I think as time winds down, you will see more people doing it.

Imagine a picture of you and your family on the wall,

People passing by, unmoved –

you’re a beggar with your hand out –

They don’t even say, goodbye, goodbye.

If you think that we have lost the skill and habit of making public our thoughts and feelings in a mannerful, effective, healthy was speak only for yourself, or better yet, give it a try. The expressing of it is actually easy in that it just happens, pretty raw and naked, yet controlled too. You may want to shriek, but you’re in company here, of those who are calling you, and of others who are not hearing it yet. All this has a gentling effect on your expression, and on your mood too. That’s what used to be called “a civilizing effect” – now much maligned. Better to say: you’re paying your respects.

So, not so impossible after all. The difficulty still lies in the reactions of those who witness. You, who weep, know immediately that in one sense you have joined the vanished in the paintings, the mutilated victims in the war photographs, the eyeless mummies in their wooden boxes: your goodbye, goodbye is not understood. But unlike theirs, your grief is heard loud and clear. Where they were but images, objects for consumption, they now sound out through you. You’re drawing them all in, the long dead with their beauties and histories and grievances and joys, and all the living who are staring and hearing it, changing that silent museum/megastore into a common, public space.

So, a call for nevertheless, notwithstanding, going to the sorrowful museums and taking them to task by listening and weeping. And a call for approaching those who cry there and asking them: why do you cry? What is here that makes you cry? And why can’t I hear it? Yet.

dsc_4158

I approached the second-last Farmers Market of the season with winter in mind. More tomato seconds (soup/sauce), more cauliflower (freeze), leek (freeze), corn (freeze if it doesn’t all get eaten before I get round to it), lots of onions, red and white (storage), 4 pecks of Cortland apples (rings and sauce), potatoes (storage), and spinach (freeze). We also got fish (eat immediately: it’s so fresh).  Luckily Russells Garden Center, where the Market is held, provides study carts for lugging bags of mulch and palms in pots, and produce.

It’s not just a joy buying the produce straight from the farmers. Ever since the almost daily routine of food photo shoots for the Omnivore’s Delight challenge I enjoy unpacking it, displaying it, taking pictures. Food is so photogenic.

dsc_4160

dsc_4162

Especially tomatoes.

Then chopping and cutting and sauteing or blanching, serving and freezing, and offering the scraps to the chickens, in return for… more food. Serving it to people and getting to eat it together is icing on the cake.

{From Two Field Farm: 8 lbs seconds tomatoes = $16 / 2 lbs red onions = $4 / 5 lbs yellow onions = $10 lbs / 2.25 lb leeks = $6.75 / 2 bag of spinach = $8 / 5.5 lbs potatoes = $16.50 = $60.25 total —– From Brigham Farm: 10 ears of corn = $7.50 / 2 honey cauliflower – $6 / 8 heads of garlic (for seed) = $16 = $29.50}

dsc_4120This is the last post in my Omnivore’s Delight Challenge week of blogging What a marathon that was. You can read all the older posts here.

All the folks in my household enjoyed the Omnivore’s Delight Challenge. Turns out we didn’t have to change our eating habits much – only our shopping habits. Still it was an interesting and inspiring exercise that can take the dread out of changing one’s food culture, and a good “test run” for more permanent changes.

The following is a wrap up of what was most valuable, challenging, surprising, and eye-opening. No doubt more thoughts will offer themselves as the experience reasserts itself, in no small part because we’re keeping several aspects of the diet.

Eye on the prize. This “diet” lasting only a week, and it being the end of summer, the season of optimal food abundance, made it rather easy. Imagine eating locavoraciously (locally sourcing at least 50% of our calories) in the middle of winter! The trick then would be to keep our eye on the prize: a healthy, sustainable and fair food system for all. Time and time again, as our small pilot group sat around the dinner table examining yet another thwarted eating habit, touching on the sacrifices we would have to make were this a permanent deal, this is what we asked: would we give up bananas, coffee, rice at any time of the year, fresh peaches and tomatoes out of season, if the result was a healthy, sustainable and fair food system for all?dsc_3961

It would take more work, more time, more ingenuity, more community involvement, and quite a bit of preparation to make it possible at all. New England Food Vision, of which the Omnivore’s Delight is a component, is for 2060 after all. Both in terms of availability and variety, much of the food that New England could be growing in 2060 isn’t here yet. Some of it is as yet only available to those who have the extra income to pay a premium price, the time and means to drive the extra mile. I for one felt privileged to be able to do so for a week, and I plan to keep paying that forward as much as I can so that local markets – the farmers and the local shops who take a chance by giving their products shelf space – can continue on in lean time and grow into prevalence.

dsc_4136
Dinner of haddock, creamed spinach and scalloped potatoes, all local ingredients except for the pepper, salt, nutmeg and paprika.

Food group changes. The Omnivore’s Delight first of all recommends a caloric intake for those food groups that can be grown in New England due to its climate, soil, etc. We were already eating well within those parameters (I wrote about our Baseline here). We eat less meat, refined grains, and warm climate fruits, and more whole grains and vegetables, than the average New Englander. In fact, our diet was already closer to the Food Vision’s “Regional Reliance” diet, which adjusts to local growing circumstances even more. But in the spirit of the challenge, we cut out almost all the processed snacks, and all the bananas. I suspect we ate more fish and meat than usual (though still within Omnivore’s Delight parameters) simply because we were excited to have found them locally and wanted to feature them on the table and in the blog.

dsc_3901_500Local sources. So our main challenge was the 50% local/regional provenance of the food. Though I don’t have exact numbers, I would estimate that about 75% of our food was locally sourced. This was a major adjustment and we made big changes in all the food groups, except for vegetables, which we usually get from our own garden, our CSA, the Farmers Market and local farm stands – rarely did I buy California strawberries or a Florida tomato. But I had not been conscious about grains, dairy, meat and fish, simply assuming that they were too difficult, or too expensive, to get locally. They weren’t easy to get, required research, some extra driving, and they sometimes cost more, but in many cases I found them worth those costs.

dsc_3884_500In that respect, what does “local” mean? Beef and chicken from Codman Farm in Lincoln at 7 miles is fairly incontestably local. Anything grown outside of New England is not. But what about wheat berries from Four Star Farms in Northfield, MA, at 75 miles (I wrote on grains here and on beans here)? Or if you consider 100 miles to be the magical radius, milk from High Lawn Farm in Lee, MA, 113 miles away (I wrote on dairy here)? Those are still in New England, but though I would conceivably drive to Northfield to pick up a year’s supply of grains for myself and preferably some other families, I would not do the weekly drive to Lee, or even to Shaw Farm in Dracut, only 30 miles away, for a couple of gallons of milk. Fortunately, both Four Star and High Lawn are already stocked at local-enough shops, and hence I count them as local.

dsc_1984_500Distribution lines. The Food Vision is an economic, political vision, a plan for the community of New Englanders working together. It doesn’t advocate individual or household self-reliance: everyone growing all they need for themselves. Hence the importance of supply lines. For instance, I can buy those Four Star Farms wheat berries from Volante Farms in Needham, MA, 8 miles away, or I can buy them from the Four Star Farms online store and have them shipped straight to my house. The latter would even be $2 cheaper. Nevertheless I have learned enough to choose the former. I wrote them an email to explain:

I just love it that you stock Four Stars, and I want to encourage that. My research into local food has taught me that a major part of promoting locally grown is supporting the supply lines too, and farmstands and shops like yours are to be commended on being the first to give shelf space to these emerging markets.

dscf9204The same thinking goes for the drive there, and back: I want to show support and keep this market growing so that more local stores will also take up the baton of local food. It’s not ideal, of course, but that shouldn’t stop us from working toward the ideal, and that comes at several costs (money, time, convenience, car emissions). Still, we should work to minimize that cost, so I hope I can drum up more friends and neighbors to carpool shopping trips with.

$Cost$. Speaking of costs, I found that most locally grown vegetables, bought straight from the farmers at the Farmers Market or a farm stand, or through a CSA, are cheaper than in the grocery store (some of this has to do with foregoing organic, about which later. Having discovered how easy it is to bake our own bread, the premium I pay for local grains and flour is very little compared to what I used to pay for baked loaves at the grocery store. Local milk and cheese do cost more, as do fish and especially meat (which is also costly to grow, economically as well as environmentally). Again, and as I also wrote here:

The first step has been taken by passionate, incredibly hard-working people whose love of good food, happy animals and the land overrides the need for a job security and a stable income. Now it’s up to the customers to grow the demand for the food they grow, so these small businesses can become more stable and so that other farmers can get started as well. These first customers pay a premium, just as the early adopters of solar paid much higher prices. They got that market going, then prices went down and others with less disposable income could get in. The question is: can our household be that customer? If we eat less of it, we could.

dscf2837Time. This “diet” did take more time but, except for the driving, all of it was well spent. I count the research and sourcing of local food stuff as a one-time investment. Getting to know the farmers, shopkeepers and other customers makes for constant edification and great community building and food activism. The cooking was more careful and the eating was slower because we felt committed to the ingredients, their flavors, and the experiment made us more experimental. That is all good.

dsc_3788_annotated_1000Thankfulness. This brings me to what was probably our most intense and most lasting learning. We were so much more mindful of the food that sustains our every action. Much less went to waste (in my household that means, into the compost), not just because some of it was more expensive, or not just because we knew it was more scarce, more difficult to come by. This food has become personal. We had studied where it came from, who grew it, what the cows ate who made the milk and who grew that food, who conserved the land these cows were grazing on, and so on. In many cases we had met the people who grew it. This food was no longer anonymous. It came with strings attached and it had made us responsible for it. We also felt more thankful and awed at the achievements that were, each and every one, necessary conditions for it to make it onto our plate. Land and soil, animals, farmers, truckers, distributors, salespeople, buyers and cooks all got recognition. Eating like this, food is no longer fuel, but a gift. Dinner is no longer a meal, but a feast!

dscf2633Food culture. Food for the belly nourished us twice as it was also food for thought. The gathering being made up of several food cultures (European, Indian, American), the food on the table inspired much story telling about memorable meals, favorite recipes, old ways of cooking and praising food. As I wrote, it gave us the courage to question our food habits and entitlements. We thought out loud about what we could give up for our food system to be sustainable and equitable.

Organic, how animals and soil are treated. We spoke often about how food is grown, how animals are treated. Wayland Farmers Market Manager Peg Mallett and I discussed this and we both concluded that for many customers at Farmers Markets, local trumps organic. Before the Challenge, that was the case for us as well with respect to veggies, but this time I applied the same thinking to milk and grains. At the store, the “organic” label is my only guarantee that the food is grown with certain methods and under certain circumstances that I prefer. But at the Farmers Market I do my own certifying simply by getting to know and trust the farmers.

dscf8072smallI had a very interesting conversation with The Kid (11 years old) about eating meat or fish, and how having known the animal – which ranges from it having been a pet chicken, all the way to having caught the fish – bears on whether one should, or even can, be eaten. The Kid stated that once she had looked into the animals living eye, she would not eat it.

The Food Vision considers a vegetarian diet as well, but it recommends meat and fish because those are sources of nutrients that grow well and can be grown quite sustainably in New England. So they’re on the menu. “Sustainably” is of course the key word. What does it all mean? In this respect I had a conversation with a vegetarian friend who gets a good percentage of her proteins from eggs. When I mentioned that some of the local hens from whom I get eggs are getting old and be culled before winter, she was aghast. I asked her what she thinks happens to the hens who lay all those eggs he eats? Does she think they all have a happy, well-fed retirement of about five years after their one, two, three (at most four – depending on the operation) years of laying?

dsc_3894“The fifteen.” Of course, some things just can’t be got locally, not yet, or will never be: coffee or tea (though I did manage to grow some Sochi Tea trees a couple of years ago), or peppercorn (though we could grow substitutes), or rice (though New England farmers are working with native wild rice), or bananas (forget about that one!). I think personally I could give up all of those (some easier than others) or enjoy the substitutes. What about salt? The ocean is nearby and local salt is available – I just didn’t get it on time for the Challenge. New England should also be able to make sugar, but then there is honey, which “grows” not fifty feet from my front door. Anyway, we did eat all of these, counting them into the fifteen percent “discretionary calories”.

dsc_4069What will we keep? Definitely, the homemade bread with local whole grains, the local milk and homemade yogurt with local milk, the local eggs and local fish. We’ll do our best with cheese and meat (possibly by joining a meat CSA). We’ll continue to eat less purchased snacks, cookies, etc., and make more ourselves. I decided to stock up at the farmers market and freeze, dehydrate and can, a lot more than I usually do, for more local winter eating. We’ll also continue our research, grow our relations with the farmers, and have “food conversation” at the table.

dsc_4049The biggest obstacle? Keeping score! I started with a data sheet (calories, ounces, $$), but it was impossible to keep track of five people, three meals a day. When I tried a couple of free online caloric calculators, the results were hilarious. As these programs are calibrated to one person per day, my plugging in pounds of potatoes and gallons of milk for five and, one day, even seven people over several days, resulted in several alarms!

Rest assured that if we decide to invite more people to this challenge, we will also offer a fun and friendly recording tool.

The last couple of days have been “bee days,” as they’re called in our household. Mama smells of smoke, and a honeybee inevitable gets into the house or a car or a bee suit (yikes). But it’s all good. The aim is to get all seven hives ready for winter. I have some strong queens there.

Three Italians. Three out of the four Italian queens have been amazing. Even though first-year packages, they’ve given enough worker bees for three splits as well as 45+ lbs of excess “people honey”. If Borgia, Constanza and Beatrice make it through winter they’ll make for good production hives (honey makers) as well as for good genetic material for splits.

dscf1905_small
The four on the right are mine (right to left: Borgia, Constanza, Beatrice and Katharina). The blue one all the way at the left end is a split (Tatjana). The other hives belong to two other “Common” beeks.

Three Russians. Bianca was a bust early on, and after giving that colony a chance to requeen, Bianca’s daughter, Laura, lasted less than a month: she came back unmated and I had to cut off her head. I replaced her with a Russian, called Katharina, from Dan Conlon’s amazing outfit. Katharina is one of three queens Russians. Tatjana was given a split from a combination of frames and bees from the strong Italian hives on 6/25 (moved to the Home Yard for that purpose, then moved back to the Common in August). Anna was given a split from a combination of frames and bees from the same strong Italian hives on 7/9 and has remained in the Home Yard.

One Mutt. The first split I did, from the same origin colonies, was made on 6/8 and to them I gave Queen Sam – a Sam Comfort “mutt.” They too remain in the Home Yard.

~

Food Stores

After inspecting each hive, inventorizing their food stores, and checking for disease (sugar rolls on the three Italians, all under threshold which is a huge relief), and a couple of nifty bee escape moves, I had plenty of capped honey frames to distribute to those in need of it.

The Italian populations are plenty large. They also have great honey stores, much of which they’ll need, being so large (typical of Italians), but much of which I felt fine robbing out to give to the weaker hives. Katharina’s colony is large enough too, but they didn’t have as much honey, so they got an extra super with robbed honey. These four “big hives” each have one deep and two mediums for nest boxes. The idea is to switch to three mediums for nest boxes next year. The deeps are just too heavy for me to lift, and mixing deeps and mediums is a hassle as the frames aren’t interchangeable. Come spring, these colonies should have moved up into the two mediums. I plan to use the drawn out deep frames for nucs to sell.

The splits, Sam and particularly Tatjana and Anna, are understandably smaller, and hence they are housed in one deep and just one medium. But I’m not worried. Sam’s population is large enough, and the latter two are Russians and they’re supposed to be more “conservative”: they have smaller populations going into winter and need less honey to make it through. Still, they got some from the Italian honey hives.

With all this honey, I won’t have to feed sugar, of which I’m  glad. I’ll be ready, though, to give it them if they need it.

dscf8531
Tatjana, a split from the Italians with a Russian Queen, split on 6/25 and moved to the Home Yard, then moved back into the Common on 8/29.
dsc_4118
Home Yard: Anna (split on 7/9) on the right, Sam (split on 6/8) on the left. A super being robbed out of uncapped honey and protected from the recent rain by an outer cover, leaning against Sam’s hive).

~

Other Measures

I need to close the screened bottom boards and/or replace them with solid bottom boards. I also plan to give each a candy/quilt winter box, like the ones I made last year (see here). That way they’ll have ventilation and moisture control, and should any of them be in need of candy, I’ll have a place to put it. I also plan to wrap each of them, like I did last year as well (see here). I have some time for that, still, but I’ll try not to underestimate the time it takes to cut all those insulation boards, and to actually do the wrapping.

~

Looking Ahead

I plan to split each surviving hive at least once as soon as they are ready for it – which will also prevent swarming. The early ones will have to make their own queens, as no local queens will be available yet that early in spring and the whole point is not to get queens from elsewhere. I also plan to start rearing queen (I’ve got all the toys-I-mean-tools ready). I aim to rear lots of bees so I can offer my local beeks local nucs and local queens. But it will also be good to have a couple of production hives to make some honey money to offset at least some of the costs of the whole operation.

Fingers crossed for a mild winter, and especially one that doesn’t have a deep arctic blast at the end of it!