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Windy Fun, Bees in the Sun

March 9th, 2009

So much wind this weekend, and the weather was beautiful.   A few heavy rainstorms came through, but the sun came out and the wind blew and blew… too strong for kite-flying, but who knew how much fun an umbrella could be?

Playing with an umbrella

And my goodness the past few days were really warm.  Saw the temps hit 80 degrees on Friday and I decided to really inspect the bee hives.  Hard to imagine how the bees come and go in such strong winds, but they seem to manage.  It’s quite a project to go in and take a bee hive apart, especially when you have two large hive bodies (or boxes) that you need to separate.   In concept it’s not a big deal, but to really get a good look you need pull out and inspect many of the frames and take the boxes apart down to the bottom board.  It’s important to take a good look at how the bees are doing after they’ve been eating through their honey stores during the winter and to look for disease or other problems.  My goal was to find out where they were and how much honey stores they had left to feed themselves over the next few critical weeks before the weather really warms up.

I’ve been fortunate that my bees are fairly gentle, and not easily stirred up.  I was a little hesitant to mess with them while the wind was blowing so strong- they don’t like being meddled with when it’s cold, rainy or windy.  But for a couple of hours the wind seemed to ease up and change directions a little so I seized the opportunity.  When you do this you try to move slowly and deliberately while working the bees and taking the hives apart… only makes sense right?  But it’s a compromise between wanting to get the job done expeditiously and standing around too long with a bunch of frustrated little bees all about.  I’ve heard stories of beekeepers being run out of the apiary because the bees were very aggressive or angry with being disturbed.  Hope I don’t see that with these guys, and so far it has been quite the opposite.  That may change as they build up their honey stores this year, but we’ll see.   They look so calm before you start…

Bee hive

So I took the top hive body off the first hive and set it down on top of a couple bricks to hold it steady.  “Clunk!” I jarred the hive body setting it down and thousands of bees in unison give a loud “Buzzzzz!” and settle down again.  I pulled several frames to inspect them- lots of honey, a little brood pattern here and there.  It turned out that most of the bees were in the upper hive body with the lower one nearly completely empty.  So the bees were clustered in the upper box for warmth during winter, and with the queen and honey stores to keep themselves fed. The weight difference was amazing- the upper hive body easily weighed around 40-50  pounds, but the lower one was very light and almost totally empty of both honey stores and bees.  

One of the challenges for the bees can be overcrowding that leads to swarming in spring (two-thirds of the hive may head out to find a new home), so some beekeepers like to reverse the hive body boxes- putting the honey/brood-filled box on the bottom (with all the bees and the queen), and moving the now empty bottom hive body up to the top.    Bees do not like being too croweded, and the queen likes to move up when laying eggs within the brood nest.  So after reversing the hive bodies, the queen has lots of new room upstairs for brood rearing and additional food stores. Not everyone does this… but beekeeping seems to be as much or more art than science anyway.  So even though it may have been a little early, I went ahead and reversed the hive bodies, and took the time to clean up the bottom boards and such.  

So there I was, all dressed up for a bee party with a hive completely disassembled, sweating in the 80 degree late winter sunshine.  It was pretty exciting until the bees let me know of their displeasure.  Now they didn’t sting or become too aggressive, but pretty soon this great cloud of bees were buzzing all around what should have been the entrance to their winter home… and it wasn’t there.  It was laying around in pieces being inspected by some wahoo in a white suit!   I’m trying to get the hive bodies back together, and there’s something blocking it when I try to lay one on top of the other. Back off again, and I look underneath to see a couple of rocks that got stuck to the bottom of the frames.  Ever heard the term bee glue?  That’s propolis, which the bees make to cement everything together in the hive, sealing up drafts and such.  It’s a very sticky substance.   Ugh, I must have got rocks underneath when I put the hives down… I pull them off, and then finally get the boxes back together.

I don’t know about other beekeepers, but after a while you like to think that you have some kind of ongoing relationship with these little guys… or girls to be more precise, since all the worker bees are female.  Wouldn’t it be neat to think that the bees get to know the beekeeper?   That they know you’ve only got their best interests at heart?   I like that idea… but no one asked the bees.  Everytime I go inpsect the hives it seems like a half dozen or more end up squished between the boxes somewhere.  I try really hard not to squish the little gals, but with many thousands of them crawling quickly all around it’s hard not to.   That probably doesn’t inspire confidence from the bees perspective…  Ah, but in my finest anthropomorphic beekeeping manner, I figured they were just being patient with me as I reassembled their home.  

Bees with pollen

Finally, with most of the hive put back together, they started plopping down on the landing again, packed with big globs of pollen, and marching right inside as if nothing had changed.  It must be a disorienting episode, and I was worn out, but the bees didn’t seem to mind too much.  In fact they looked pretty good- I saw brood in a few places which meant the queens were doing okay, the bees health looked strong with no apparent disease and lots of honey remained to carry them through early spring.   Couldn’t ask for more than that.

Journeys Through Life

March 2nd, 2009

Time to catch up after a busy weekend- and it has been a cold few days!  The signs of spring continue to surprise me… this morning a red-winged blackbird had joined the gathering of birds at the feeder, returning to its summer breeding site near the pond after a winter somewhere else.  Technically they are listed as year-round residents in our region, but all I know is that by October-November they are gone, and don’t return until March.  I wonder where the blackbird has been and how far the journey was.  It could be just down the street for all I know, but I suspect the southern wetlands of Missouri and Arkansas provide more comfortable winter accomodations. 

The chores are piling up and now it seems spring is coming almost too fast.  Ornamental grasses sure are beautiful to look at but not much fun to cut back!  I need to come up with a better approach- I straddled this big clump between my legs and used a little chainsaw to cut through the heavy stalks.  

Cutting ornamental grasses

We’re almost out of wood completely after such a cold winter.  But that’s a good thing- I don’t like to keep old wood around because it attracts too many critters that live in or around woodpiles.   The next few months will be time to remove several dead trees on the property and to begin the wood-cutting cycle once again.  Of course we’re still thinking about what to put in the garden, and that’s kind of exciting.  If we were really on the ball we’d be planting starts from seeds… haven’t done that very successfully before.  Do you buy starts or seeds each year?  Somehow I like wandering around the garden center looking at little plants, but maybe we’ll try to plant some seeds this week indoors too.

*****

Over the weekend we had our annual cub scout birthday banquet and ceremony for the kids- they received their advancement badges and other awards, and performed some really cute skits.  Makes for a long day, but seeing the excitement and pride in their eyes is so worth it.  We did have one young scout drop out last week and I was disappointed.  He was new and only made a few meetings.  He didn’t really spend enough time participating to have a rounded view of the activities we do, most of which involve character development and learning practical things.   We also play games and have craft projects, and the kids usually love it. 

His mom wrote me an email and said he just wasn’t comfortable and she was disappointed too.   As the den leader, that gave me a little pause for reflection on how to work with the kids in a more constructive or well-rounded fashion.  We started off with about 6 kids last year and now have 10 scouts participating.  I understand people are different, but I wish I knew what I could have done to help him enjoy the experience more.

I also find myself thinking about how we close off opportunities in our lives for one reason or another.  Looking back I’m sure I did that at times when younger, and probably still do it without realizing it.  We put so much “in the moment” especially where emotions are concerned, and if not careful our perceptions are colored in ways that really may not be accurate. 

What if you never knew that green or fall-colored leaves existed? 

Reflections on Fox Haven pond

When we make decisions based on those short-term perceptions or emotions, we may be doing so without seeing what’s really going on.  Sure that could be a good thing at times, keeping us out of trouble or on the right path as we trust ourselves and our intuition.   But are we semi-rational creatures subject to changes in our emotions that affect our experience each day?  Or are we emotional beings that use intelligence and rational thought to help navigate through life?  Depends upon the person perhaps, but certainly a little of both. 

More often I think we miss embracing the fullness of life, especially when we are personally or physically challenged, and we have that little voice inside that knows we’d like to do something, yet we keep making excuses… but, except, I can’t, if only, I wish, I don’t know how, maybe…  and we hold ourselves back.  

I was fortunate as a youngster to have a wonderful family that supported many opportunties to explore and grow.  I also had many incredible experiences and met other people who challenged me in ways that proved very helpful.  At some point in my life I realized there were few absolutes or real answers, and that Emerson had it right when he said that, “Nothing at all will ever be attempted if all possible objections must first be removed…”     

So between the fear, the misgivings and the uncertainty, I began to question and seek what it really was that I wanted in life.  All I knew was that some things make you come alive in thought, vision and experience and we are not on this earth forever.  All I know is we can be active creators of our experience- we can be whatever we want to be in our lives!  And that questioning and exploration has been the seed to every aspect of growth… coupled with a willingness to learn of course.   It’s not a journey that ever really has a destination.  Just when you think, “I’m here! I finally made it…” life will surprise you and present some new challenge or opportunity.

The older I get I find myself both more and less certain about many convictions once held.  I feel humbled by so many things, and thankful for so many more.   I walk outside and breath the cool, fresh air of the morning, and hear the birds sing.  It’s a new day,  and regardless of the challenges that exist I feel such an enormous sense of appreciation.  

Cub Scouts

I watched our son fixing his bowl of cereal this morning, and running around feeding the animals.  Is there a pride greater than that of a parent for a child?  I don’t really know.  He carried the flag through the audience before the cub scout ceremony started this weekend.  It was his first time to do that- and afterwards I asked if he enjoyed it.  He said, “Uhuh…”  and I asked if he was proud of himself, “Uhuh….” and I told him we were proud of him.  I asked what he was thinking about while carrying the flag, and he said, “Umm… like 250 people were watching me!”   I laughed, understanding the feeling.  “But you did it, didn’t you?”  And he smiled.

Elderberries, Juncos and Schoolwork

February 25th, 2009

It’s a beautiful day today and I have grand ambitions for taking care of many outdoor chores.  By the way, that little shrub that I mentioned the other day in the picture is an Elderberry.  How it grew there I don’t know, but it blooms in May and June with pretty white flower clusters- and I love the berries for jam and jelly that mature in late August or September.  Here’s last summer’s efforts at making jam– the elderberry jam never set up, but the sauce is wonderful on pancakes or biscuits.  We’re almost out of the elderberry sauce now, and I’ll have to pull some more berries out of the freezer.  Maybe I should trim around the elderberry bush so it has a little more space to grow?  Last year I was stuck in a patch of briars trying to reach the elderberry clusters.  The good thing is they were blackberry bushes… but ouch!

We’re still feeding the birds- they go through almost four feeders full of seed every week or so.  I think we’re finishing the second 40 pound bag of mixed seed, and the second 15 pound bag of thistle for winter and that should be it.  I love having them here, but you’ve got to keep the feeders full.  The young boy helps me with that and loves seeing the birds.   I’d like to think it helps some of the birds make it through winter that would otherwise have a difficult time.    And yet with days like today in the 60’s the birds are off exploring for insects and other natural fare.   Soon it will be time for them to disperse to nesting sites, and for birds like the Junco to head back north.  We don’t have them here in summer- they leave in March and come back in November.   Here’s a Junco on the Mugo!

Junco on Mugo

By the way, have you seen the math the second grade kids do these days?  I’m amazed by the expectations that schools have and how much work they are assigned.  Overall it’s a very good thing, but it seems like so much more than we ever did as youngsters, and I have to wonder if the strategies are really effective at times.

Between the reading, weekly book summaries and reports, spelling tests, composition and math, it’s a wonder they have time to be kids. At least his school still has recess, music, art and PE. But our little guy is having a tough time being fast enough with his “math facts.” That’s where the kids are timed- and he has to do 25 addition or subtraction problems in 2 minutes! He knows it really well, but it takes him 4-5 minutes to finish them. We even practice them every day on paper and with a little electronic gizmo to help memorize them, but he’s at a plateau… I’m sure he’ll improve with time.

Personally I don’t believe in forcing speed drills on kids so young- and to grade them poorly even though they know the math. In fact he’s very good in math, but because he sees himself finishing slowly and he thinks he’s “not good at math.” I try to help him understand that he is good at math, and with time and practice he’ll get faster. I just want him to continue learning- remaining receptive to it, and to understand that it’s not all about speed. Skills he learns now are important as building blocks for the skills he will need in later grades, but some children develop more slowly in certain areas. Obviously the standardized testing is a big part of it- and those tests begin in 3rd grade where he will start taking the timed tests that will be part of academics for the rest of his school days.

What’s very strange is that he can naturally remember the words to poems, jokes and songs without even trying- he’s far better at that than I am. And yet he doesn’t remember numbers the same way, or doesn’t think he does. Contrast his math with his reading… he’s already at an advanced reading level, and simply devours books. I’m so proud of him, and feel like lots of effort really paid dividends. I used to sit with him for hours as a 3, 4 and 5 year old, going over sounds and sentences every day to develop phonemic awareness, and practice his reading skills. And he always had mom or dad or grandma to read to him as well at bedtime. But the reading practice wasn’t easy, and he didn’t always enjoy it. At one point he really didn’t like the book/program I had, so I gave it a few week break and switched to a more fun phonics reading approach. He loved it.

But I remember at one point wondering if he would ever get it, and finally around age 6 he just took off.  To this day I still remember the first little phonics book he read on his own-  afterwards I said “Guess what?… You just read that all by yourself!”  He didn’t believe me at first, and then he was surprised at himself.   Now he knows he’s good at reading, and he really enjoys it and is proud of himself.   I hope he can develop his skills and appreciation for math and such to feel the same way.   Yet who knows, maybe he’s just more of a word person than a number person… everybody is different.

Winter Safety Tip

January 27th, 2009

I’m sure glad the 2nd graders were thinking of important safety tips for school and home in winter… especially for how cold it is out there!

Kids Winter Safety Tip

Lots of snow tonight, so it looks like a little time for sledding tomorrow!  And shoveling the driveway… ‘ole me and the tractor are going to get a little exercise.

Cabin Fever Daze in Winter

January 22nd, 2009

Beautifully warm days this week after such cold ones before, and it really makes me think that spring is just around the corner.  I know it’s too soon, and we have many cold nights ahead, but as far as I’m concerned- we’re on the downside of winter.

Male Eastern Bluebird

I think the Bluebirds agree because I’ve seen them around the house a lot more.   I wonder if they know how beautiful they are?!  I need to fix and put up a couple more nesting boxes so we keep them around. And this morning I heard a cardinal singing away, and saw a flock of robins.  The robins stay in flocks through winter, but then begin to break up and look for their own nesting places.

Tower of dominoes

As cold as it was last week we’ve had a little cabin fever and spent the time playing games.  We tried playing the game of dominoes, but ended up doing what everyone does… building domino trails to knock down.  Then we built a giant tower- it was pretty cool.  When it started to tip to one side, we built it a little heavier on the other.  It would have stayed up all day but for an overzealous yellow lab’s tail…. crash!  Oh well…

Ah, but we’re not totally out of the technological mainstream… we got a Wii last year, and use it now and then to play some fun games.  If you haven’t used a Wii before, it’s really engaging.  The wireless remote buzzes and rumbles, and directs almost any activity you can imagine on the tv screen.  There’s one game in which the remote acts like a paintbrush to reveal landscape colors, leaves, flowers, etc.  Another game we play involves so much physical activity that I have to sit down to catch my breath.  There’s even a brainquest game to show you how you think and react.  Other games are just fun, like racing cars against each other.

Video games weren’t around when I was a kid, but I think they can be used effectively with parental supervision.   Getting outside is much more important in my view, but for those cold or rainy days, I think it’s fine now and then.  I would like to see the software engineers design a lot more academically oriented games too, but those are mostly on the computer it seems.

Of course if you’re really bored, you can always find a kitty cat to wrestle with!  This is Princess and she’s being a good sport about being hugged like crazy.  Then she gets up and shakes herself off to regain her dignity.

Hugging the Cat

And by the way, I didn’t get a deer this year, but a deer got me!  We were driving back from the boy’s grandma’s house sunday night and a deer ran right into us- honest!  There we are, driving along at about 55 mph and I catch a glimpse of this big doe running full speed at the left shoulder in front of us with a crazed look in her eye…  I have about a half-second to decide where it’s going to hit us, so I gun it, jog the wheel quickly right then back left and- WHUMP!!!  the deer hits the left passenger door of the crew cab.   Man that thing hit hard, and I swear it was running so fast and low it looked like it was trying to hit us.

It’s was late,  it’s freezing cold and we’re on a major rural highway so I don’t stop. I catch a glimpse of brown near the shoulder as we drive away.   And it’s against the law to keep a deer you’ve hit anyway.  Maybe if it was a back road I would try to recover it, or call someone, but not that night.   The next day we drove by and there wasn’t a deer there… maybe someone else kept it or the deer got up and kept going.

I was thankful we were in the truck and that the deer didn’t hit the front or come through the windshield.  If we’d been in our little car it would not have been pretty.   Ah but my pride was also bruised… the truck is only 3 years old and didn’t have  scratch on it. Go figure… so I was prepared for the worst, but when we got home there was only minor damage.  I’m still amazed based on how hard that deer hit us.

Dent from deer hitting truck

Funny- I’ve got an old F-250 by the barn that’s going on 17 years old with no dents in it!   We carry really high deductibles on the vehicles to keep insurance costs low, so I’ll live with the dent for now.   Never know when one of them critters is going to come charging across the road, huh?

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