Thursday, July 21, 2011

BUCKET LIST: BOUNDARY WATERS CANOE AREA

On July 10 my family and I took a trip to the Boundary Waters in Ely, MN. This was our 2nd time visiting the area. The first time was in February this year for a dog sledding trip and this time around it was for some canoeing. I've always wanted to (#1) canoe in the Boundary Waters and (#2) swim in one of the beautiful BWCA lakes but neither my husband or I could read a topography map very well, much less use a compass so... we got lucky. In February we learned that our guide Jason at Wintergreen Dogsledding just happened to own a guide and outfitting service by the name of ELY OUTFITTING COMPANY (You can read more about the company HERE and HERE). We really like Jason so we decided to give his company a try and we are really happy that we did.

Although Jason wasn't our guide for our time in the Boundary Waters, we did have someone who was equally as amazing, her name is Ellen Root. She was an awesome (Ely Outfitting Company) guide, lots of fun to be around, and was fantastic with our kids. Unfortunately our oldest daughter was away at camp but we had our 11 year old and 4 year old canoeing with us. Kate, the manager at Ely Outfitting Company, packed up everything we needed for our 4 days and 3 nights in the BWCA, which included all the food and equipment we would need. She dropped us off on July 12 and we canoed our way into the wild. The weather was fabulous, the scenery was magnificient, and the overall experience was pure bliss. Ellen cooked up 3 yummy meals for us each day, took us swimming and hiking, and taught us about the various local wildflowers and wildlife. The trip was definitely worth our while and we will certainly be back again. Thank you Jason, Kate & Ellen for making our time in the BWCA a very enjoyable experience!!

Here is a little photo "log" of our time in the BWCA:



































Wednesday, July 20, 2011

ART TO HELP THE GRAY WOLF

My daughter Maya and her friend Kim have started a new blog called GENERATION OF THE WOLF. They plan on using the blog to share their thoughts about wolves and to sell their drawings in order to raise money for the International Wolf Center in Minnesota.

Please check it out when you have time. They are still in the development stage but they will hopefully have art available very soon.

Monday, July 18, 2011

I AM AT A GARDENING CROSSROADS

and I'm not sure what to do. I know herbs. I spent years reading about herbs and perennials, planting and experimenting, but veggies and fruits... not so much. My first attempt at gardening a little over 5 years ago turned horrible. My carrots didn't grow, my tomatos were consumed by some unknown creature, and my gourds were planted incorrectly so they turned to mush. After moving to our current home 3 years ago I planted strawberries and it went well (no pests, no stealing, great production, easy to harvest). Year two I graduated to lettuce, broccoli, onions, raspberries, corn and cucumbers. That is when it hit me. I had no idea when to harvest anything. I asked and read what I could but I still didn't know how to recognize when something was actually "seeding" or "flowering." What one would call a flower, I didn't. Sorta like beekeeping... I don't know what is normal and what isn't. Our corn was destroyed by earwigs, the cucumbers turned yellow because their vines had nothing to attach themselves to, the brocolli ended up flowering, the lettuce was great but I didn't know you could cut it down and keep using it so instead I pulled it all out *sigh. The onions never grew very well and the raspberries were fantastic!

Year three. I decided to plant more raspberries and strawberries (easy to grow, don't have pests (not yet anyway), can recognize harvest time). We now have 4 raspaberry bushes and 16 strawberry plants. We also planted cucumbers (we have a wire for the vines this time), pumpkins, watermelons, dill, basil, gords and luffahs.

As of July 9, 2011The cucumbers are doing great.

The watermelon... not so much. It just isn't growing very well.

The pumpkins flourished.

The raspberries and strawberries are fantastic.

The gords and luffahs are amazing.

Dill and basil look healthy and big.

STOP!

I checked on things today after being gone for a week and what did I find?

The pumpkins have been taken over by something. I think it is a squash bug. The plants are still alive but I imagine not for long.

The rasberries and strawberries... well... the plant looks great but there are no berries to speak of. In fact, the birds are so bold they come down to eat them right in front of me.

The luffahs, gourds, cucumbers... all look fine and hopefully stay that way.

The dill and basil looks ready to be harvested but again... I'm not sure.

Here is where I'm confuzzled. (yes, that is confused + puzzled). I never know when to harvest things, how to preserve them, or how to prevent pests. I'm not giving up on gardening. I think I can get this but I need some help.

1. Is there a way to prevent squash bugs?
2. Is there a way to keep the birds from eating the berries?
3. How about harvesting... I want dill for pickles (yup, that's what those cucumbers are for) but I'm not sure when to harvest the seeds or how to save them for use when I can the pickles.
4. I want the basil a homemade sauce but do I harvest it now and freeze it for when I make the sauce? Can it be frozen?

The crossroads I'm at is deciding whether or not I just give up on the veggies. I find the berries much easier and of course, I can tell when they are ready for harvest and I know of numerous ways to use them but the veggies I'm not so sure about. Any suggestions are greatly appreciated because I will tell ya, having an entire family chearing on the pumpkin growth just to find out we failed just doesn't feel very good. The kids were not happy when I said they'd be getting their pumpkins for Halloween from someone elses garden patch again this year :(

Some pictures:

Vine base of pumpkins



Raspberries


Basil


Cucumbers


Dill

Thursday, July 7, 2011

SOAP!

I've been so obsessed with my bees lately I haven't said much about soap. So, here is a picture of one batch. I have many more to come. Trying to use up all the supplies over the summer and then take a soaping break for a while.




After corresponding with a few chemists at the University of Minnesota and based on what I've learned from my professors at ACHS I'm finally more comfortable with the use of Titanium Dioxide in my soaps. I gave TD a try a couple times in the past several years but waited til I had some reliable info on it's safety. Of course, now I'm addicted to it. I love that it is so easy to use and gives such great color variation.

I'll be taking a little blog break now to do other things but will be back with more bee and soap pictures soon. HAPPY SUMMER EVERYONE!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

MORE NEWS ON MY BEE SWARM

They did it! They swarmed a 3rd time and they attached themselves to the same tree as the other two times but moved on quickly about 5 feet further into the neighbors yard. Thankfully, after talking with the neighbors, they have been great sports about it. The bees are in a ball again about 30 feet up on a tree limb, not reachable by anyone. but that isn't my news.

Attention all beekeepers because I have a strange one for you.

We witnessed our bees swarm and then come right back shortly after. When they returned they went into the hive they orginally came out of hive #1 (the 2 yr hive). Next day they swarmed again but when we came home their clump in the tree was gone. We noticed hive #2 had an unusual number of bees. We added a third hive body Sunday and already the three boxes were overflowing with bees to the point that hubby and I started to wonder if the swarm went into the wrong hive. We debated it a while and decided that was crazy and we started brainstorming on what we should do with the new overflowing hive since the queen wasn't laying as fast as the bees were appearing (weird right) and in the 2nd hive body only 4-5 frames are drawn and in the 3rd hive body it looks like 0 are drawn. Hmmm...

What happens next? The swarm of bees emerge from the new hive (the 3 month old hive) and go right back up into the tree they swarmed to the last two times. What the heck? I'm still in shock. Is it even possible for a swarm to go back to the wrong hive?? I figure two things, that both hives have swarmed, which seems odd considering there is sooooooooo much space in the new hive for the queen to lay and she is NOT laying enough to compare with the number of bees that were inside or the bees from the first hive returned to the wrong hive.

We were fortunate to see all of this swarming. Two times from the 2 year old hive and now once from the hive we acquired in May this year.

Here is the video from the 2nd swarming:



Here is a video from when the swarm returned the first time and was scattered all over our yard:

Monday, July 4, 2011

GIVING UP ON BEEKEEPING...

At least I feel that way right at this moment. I love the bees, love watching them, learning from them, having them in the backyard but... there is a reason more men than women are beekeepers. Now I'm not trying to offend all the feminists out there but seriously, beekeeping takes some strength and it takes strength that I don't have.

Initially when I decided to take up this hobby my hubby was adamant he would not be involved. He isn't afraid of bees but he wasn't that intrigued by them the way I am. He respects all things "natural" and he also thinks they should be left alone. I on the other hand like learning about everything and this was one of those moments but sometimes I think I want to learn about things too much and I dive right in.

As of right now I am unable to move hive bodies around without my husbands assistance and it doesn't help matters that he has a bad lower back. While my hubby graciously helps me out even though this was never his "thing" I find that I'm also struggling to get those darn frames out. Me + propolis = disaster. I even purchased a frame gripper thinking that would make it easier and that didn't work. I pull, pry, scrape, dig and those suckers won't come loose.

Aside from the weight of the hive I have two other problems.

#1 I hate killing things. The other day I opened the new hive and went to pull a frame out and it was stuck in place so I wiggled, pulled, wiggled, pulled some more and finally the darn thing came loose. While it came loose it also pulled up a mess of beeswax. I noticed a large chunk was at the bottom on top of the other hive body so I decided to pull the hive bodies apart to clean things up. What I found was a disaster. The bees in the new hive don't want to draw out the 4 outer frames for some reason, they only drew out the 4 inner frames and the queen laid a mass of brood between the hive bodies. This was a new experience for me. The first hive went according to plan (for the most part) but this hive is acting weird. Not only does the queen not want to utilize the frame space for laying there are a massive amount of bees. Makes me wonder where the heck she laid the brood for the new bees to emerge??? So, as you can imagine, when I cleaned things up I had to kill a mess of bees. This is what one chunk looked like. (see below). 24 hours later the bees with their heads poking out were still alive. I felt terrible.



#2 I have no sense of what is normal and not normal with my hives. My bees swarmed again today but I left shortly after so I don't know if they returned a 2nd time. I was curious to see how many bees were left behind or if they had returned so when I got home I opened the hive. The top box seemed pretty empty so I slid it off and what do I do??? Kill the new queen. She wasn't even born yet. Her cell was attached between two frames and I know for certain it was a queen cell and her body was exposed. Of course my little bees rushed to protect her but I don't think they will repair her queen cell in time. I suck at this, I seriously do! On top of that I still can't tell if the swarm returned or not. It looks like the same amount of bees I had last time I checked. To add insult to injury I discovered that hive #2 has a horrendous mite problem. How do I know? The mites were in the mass of brood + wax I scraped off (pictures later). We were told in class if we could "see" mites then we had a serious problem. I see them.

So, maybe I'm overreacting to this beekeeping thing. Maybe everyone feels all this anxiety when they have their first hives. I'm not sure. All I know is right now I think I could write the "how to be a crappy beekeeper" book because I have all the steps down perfectly. If I could only keep bees without managing them, just let them do their thing, but... I have to worry about Nosema, Tracheal Mites, AFB, Hive Beetle, Mites, etc... I don't even want to think about the swarming issue right now.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

UPDATE ON SWARM: THEY CAME BACK!!

I thought I was losing my mind when it happened but a more experienced beekeeper has confirmed it... MY BEES CAME BACK!!

I've never read about it or heard it before but it was exactly what we believed happened after we saw it. About 30-45 minutes after our hive swarmed and were hanging in a clump up in the tree, the swarm broke ranks and were flying all over our backyard. I kept thinking it wasn't possible, that it must be a 2nd swarm. I looked everywhere for the original swarm as I was sure they couldn't have gone far. We were present in the backyard and didn't notice anything prior to this massive cloud of bees returning. The cloud covered nearly .5 acre of our property, they were flying everywhere. I went outside and stood in the cloud, the bees barely acknowledging my presence. I thought maybe the swarm was on the move to another location so I ran outside and put a new hive body on the ground, sprinkling it with lemongrass essential oil as a lure (heard that one works well), and waited. The bees started to pile into the hive body but after about 15 minutes they changed their minds and started to go into the established hive. It took about 20 minutes for them to get settled back into the original hive. I asked a few beekeepers if this was a returning swarm or 2nd swarm and I was assured the swarm didn't return but today I read a facebook update by an experienced beekeeper that their swarm returned home. I inquired about my experience and was told swarms do come back sometimes.

I am curious now. What does it all mean? Were they out scouting for a new location? Will they stay for the season or attempt to swarm again? Our summer season is very short so wouldn't my bees have to stay put since they start prepping for winter in less than 2 months? We were told in beek class that if our bees (in MInnesota) don't swarm by July 6 then we are safe but this hasn't been a normal summer so far so I'm thinking that rule of thought no longer applies. All I know for sure is this experience has been interesting.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

MY BEES SWARMED!



I can't say that I am disappointed. We were fortunate to see it happen and it was very cool to see.

My hubby looked out the back window this morning around 11 a.m. and asked "is that normal" as he watched a massive cloud of bees flying above the hive. At first glance I thought it was normal. Last year on a hot summer day the bees would come out in what looked like a swarm but they were all just rushing out in the morning sun to get to work. This, of course, was different. The bees weren't directly above the hive, they were off to the side headed upward towards a large tree branch. When I took note of the number of bees and how closely they were flying to the trees I knew it was a swarm. I had to get outside with my video camera and document it.

I am so grateful that my swarm is about 30 feet in the air and not attached to the neighbors house (still crossing my fingers that they don't move that way). The neighbors dog was barking like crazy but it appears no one besides us noticed what all the hoopla was about.

I've called a local "experienced" beekeeper to come and take a look at the swarm. Maybe he can reach it and take it home. He, the expert, said something to me that rings very true. He said "a swarm is a blessing and a curse. On one hand you have helped a species continue on and on the other hand you lose the opportunity to extract honey." I'm ok with the no extracting honey part. I think it is more important that the bees survive. If what is left behind creates enough honey to be extracted, that will be a pleasant surprise, if they don't, well that is ok too. I just hope wherever the swarm settles that they flourish.