July Ramblings

July 20th, 2010

A few days ago the chickens were hanging out in the shade with temperatures in the coop over 100 degrees.   And then rain, sweet rain.   And then more rain.    Two days ago I began to write, “a passing storm and raging winds, and then a gentle breeze, drizzle and clouds.  Just what the garden needs, and a respite from the heat…”

I saw this early before dawn… it was quiet and a beautiful orange light was all around.   I just had to walk further.

Then I saw this, slowly building to the southwest…

The clouds billowed upward and outward, forming a classic thunderstorm, with the rumble of thunder in the distance.

Soon it became this…

The barn swallows have another nest full of three more fledglings, and a dry perch to watch the rain pour over the gutters.  Methinks there’s a clog somewhere down the line… I cleaned the gutters out not long ago, yet heavy rain pours over.

So yesterday it was another huge storm of wind, rain and hail, and then today more heavy rain!  The clouds are nice in terms of cooling things off, but we’ve had quite enough water for the time being thank you very much.

I remember years ago being surprised to realize that a lot of folks have not experienced heavy thunderstorms before.   Of course that’s what I’ve always remembered about Missouri summers.    Brief storms  with thunder, lightning, showers and blessedly cooling weather.   Then back to the humid and hot.

With a little cooler daytime temperatures we  seized the opportunity to catch up on weeding and pruning.

This was a shrub rose gone wild that I’ve been meaning to cut out for weeks.  It had several more branches just like this one,  spreading out more than twenty feet in all directions!   It’ll come back unless I put something on the stump to kill it.  And the flowers?  Inconspicuous little white things.  I’m not sure where this rose came from, but it doesn’t have a place here anymore.

The young boy is really a great help around the place.   Now I understand why farmers of old had such big families…

Later the boy enjoyed a break with his Shiba.  Although that little dog likes to think he owns everything around here…  he’s a funny little guy, and a good watch dog.  He lets us know when anything out of the ordinary happens or someone comes down the gravel drive.  They are cute together…

Here’s a picture of the shiba when he was a puppy…    A few years ago I described how he adopted us from a little Japanese pet store in 2002.   We call him Kuma, which is short for Kuma no nuigurumi  or Teddy Bear in Japanese.


This week it was also time to check on the bees.  I’ve got just three hives and a small nuc (nucleus hive) going. Earlier in the spring I had a hive with a drone-laying queen, and she eventually disappeared. Before the hive was queenless too long I solved that problem with the help of another local beekeeper.

We combined that hive with a nuc and a new queen, using a screened divider between them for a week. That gave the failing hive time to become acquainted with the new queen and other bees, and then after removing the screened divider, the hive became one, joining forces to work together.   Since that time they’ve steadily increased their population and look great now.

Alas I have another hive with a failing queen. This hive started out strong, but then simply languished. I have found no disease or other external problems, but the queen is simply not laying enough eggs to keep the population strong.   I will probably order a new queen to replace her soon, and allow the bees to strengthen the hive before winter.

With all the beekeeping challenges this is not a year for gathering much honey.  That’s okay because I’m really trying to build them up going into winter.  But that middle hive is very strong and may yield a small super of honey, so we’ll see.   Here’s a picture of bees fanning at the top opening on the inner cover.

One reason they fan their wings is as a signal for other bees, blowing scent pheromones from a hive entrance or other location so their hive mates know where to go.  But they also fan to cool and circulate the air through the hive on hot days .  Most importantly, the bees will fan to increase the evaporative cooling effects within the hive to remove moisture from the nectar/honey stored within.

After the bees gather nectar from flowers, it is carried in their honey stomach back to the hive, then often passed to another worker bee to process and store within the hive.  During this process the nectar is converted to various sugars by enzymatic action and deposited into the waxy cells within the hive.  But it is very runny and full of moisture at this point… not even close to being honey yet.   Beekeepers call honey which is too runny green.   It doesn’t really become honey until the moisture level is lowered to about 17%-18%.   Then the bees put a waxy cap on the cell and the honey is stored until needed as food.

Because the bees have lowered the water content of the honey, it is very hygroscopic, meaning it can absorb water moisture from the air.   Good quality honey has a very low water content which is one of the reasons it can be stored almost indefinitely without spoiling.    If you’ve ever had honey ferment at home, it’s either because the container wasn’t sealed tightly over time and it absorbed a lot of moisture, or it was too green or allowed to sit open before it was purchased and fermented later.  Of course you could always make mead or use it for baking!  Runny honey just needs to be used a little more quickly.

Everything else is coming along too.  I harvested around 15 pounds of tomatoes and cucumbers out of the garden this morning.  I think pickles are in our future… and tomato sauce!     Seems like the tomatoes are ripening all at once, and I need them to keep going.

Last week I found this lucky titmouse enjoying a feast on a ripened sunflower.

I also planted more squash, and some beets in the garden- hoping they mature in time for a good harvest.  It was the perfect time too with all the rain.    I also planted collard greens which supposedly improve in taste after the first frost.   I don’t know about that, but I enjoy them when cooked and mixed with seasoning.  Does anybody have good ideas for how to use collard greens in the kitchen?  Well I love greens, but I never made them very often.  Maybe in soup?

The sun is back out this afternoon… 96 degrees and hot! Hard to motivate anyone to do anything, even myself it seems. One small step…

15 Responses to “July Ramblings”

  1. Great post! Out of curiosity, what kind of mated queen have you been obtaining? Open mated or instrumentally inseminated?

  2. i agree, great post. love the summer thunderstorms especially after a hot spell, although we hardly ever get them in portland.

    that pup is adorable. kid ain’t bad, either. :)

    great bee/honey info. there’s so much i don’t know.

  3. Your photo of the superwhite cloud contrasted in the darker blues and grays reminds me of a snapshot I took with a little 110 camera back in the 70s in Michigan. I hadn’t thought of that for decades. Thanks. Great post. Makes me miss the midwest.

  4. Some years ago we had visitors from out east somewhere who were present during one of our “oh hum” storms. I was amazed the wife of one friend was visibly frightened by the whole thing, while the rest of us(Missourians by birth or long time residency) were nonchalant. She said it was the worst storm she’d ever experienced.


  5. Ed

    I guess since I’ve always lived in the midwest, I never knew that they don’t experience thunderstorms. What a shame!

    Love the bee update. As always, it makes me think of my youth and working 140 colonies of bees.

  6. She must have been protected or stayed indoors. Historically and Meteorologically almost anyplace in the US from the East Coast out to the Great Plains experiences the world’s worst storms due to the unique continuous confluence of arctic air and tropical air. No where else in the world does this happen on the scale the US sees it. When I tell non Americans about this weather aspect of the United States I like to use the tale of the British Invasion of Washington DC in 1812 when a hurricane like storm did to the Brits what our defending troops could not do, which was to kick the Brits in the butt, actually killing some of them and putting out the conflagration of fires they had set throughout the capital.

  7. Katie- Re. the queens, I don’t really know. I have ordered packages from a bee supply company in Kentucky; Their supplier is a Georgia apiary… in years past they were very strong queens/packages. This year, two out of three queens have failed. I don’t think they mated properly or else I was simply unlucky. The bees within the packages came in great shape at least, but without a decent queen to start ’em off strong nothing else matters.
    Chook- I’m learning so much too… and I could use someone like your Dad around here :)
    Phil- I used to have a little 110 camera years ago too… Michigan? So beautiful there, especially this time of year! Maybe I need to take a little trip… :)
    Randall- Goodness she had not experienced much weather I guess. Maybe it’s that view you speak of!
    Ed- It is hard to describe an actual experience of being in a raging thunderstorm to someone who hasn’t… I’m still amazed by how many hives your family managed. I would love to have 10-20, but it seems like such a huge commitment! Maybe I would become more efficient…
    Phil- Great comment- I didn’t realize the U.S. was unique in this regard, or the events of 1812! Thanks :)

  8. These last few evenings I’ve had to light a fire to burn off some of the humidity. We have that sort of cool humidity that leaves everything sorta damp.

  9. Ed

    It was a huge commitment which is how they got into the business and then out many years later. They went from a couple hobby hives to have a dozen or so. Then to make the processing easier of those dozen hives, they bought better equipment which them made having more hives feasible. Before they knew it, they were selling honey to stores in a 100 mile radius and it was a huge time sink right when they didn’t have extra time in the spring and fall. Thus they ended up selling the business to a fellow out east. They kept one hive to get back to their “hobby” but it eventually swarmed and they never did replace it. Still, I never pass by a honey stand at local markets without stopping and talking with the owner. I guess once a beekeeper, or in my case the son of beekeepers, always a beekeeper.

  10. I’ve never seen a bee here. I’m pretty sure thats why I’ve had so much trouble getting vegetables to form. The flowers come strong but then wither away with no fruit formed. I DO have a dozen eggplants that produce like crazy but I’ve watched them and I’m sure its the profusion of ants that carries out most of the pollination; ants and flies, yuck.

  11. What a great post! I loved learning about your bees! The bit about dying queens is distressing.

    We’re graced with lots of wild bees here in the Hill Country, as well as honey bees. The drought of 2008 & 2009 diminished the populations visibly but I’ve been glad to note a resurgence this year with the rain.

  12. Vincent- I would love it to be cool enough for a fire! Ah, the grass is always greener, as they say…
    Ed- What a wonderful experience for you… I could use some of that knowledge that you have laying dormant :) Maybe you should get a hive or two one day…
    Phil- I never thought about that, but it makes sense. Funny… I love eggplant, and have a hard time getting it to grow here!
    Kathleen- We had that drought in 2007-2008, but as you said, things have come back nicely. :)

  13. This crop of eggplants is the only real success I’ve had as of yet in growing “traditional” American veggies here. So far, we’ve probably picked close to 300 from these few plants and they are still going strong. Tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, none of them want to produce in my yard plot so far. No idea what I’m doing wrong.

  14. Phil- It’s a good thing you enjoy eggplant :) That’s amazing really, but so strange about the others. In the absence of pollinators for the tomatoes- you could get a little paintbrush, and go out and brush the pollen from one plant/flower to another… some folks swear by it!

  15. Hey thanks, I hadn’t thought of that… I’ll give it a try. Luckily, there are plenty of Filipino dishes that use eggplant. And even better, I love all of them…

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