Monthly Archives: April 2011

Why thanks

I got an email last week from a nice lady telling me this blog was listed as one of the best blogs by West Virginians.  Honestly, I think it is one of the best blogs in the entire world but  that’s just me maybe.

Anyhow, I am happy to say thanks to the folks at Very Best Sites. Check out the post and especially take a look at the other WV sites that are listed there!

First swarm of the season

We had just finished Easter lunupper (brunch sounds so nice…what do you call it between lunch and supper? Lunupper?).  We rolled into the house and had a message.  The caller reported a swarm of bees near a popular chain restaurant attached to the big mall in the city.  The swarm was at the top of a cedar tree and was “the biggest swarm ever seen” by the manager of the restaurant.  I was pretty skeptical about the size as most people have never seen a swarm of bees so big could mean anything.  Still, I decided to roll down with Abigail and my father-in-law to find out.

As soon as we pulled in, a crowd gathered and watched us do our normal routine of surveying the swarm.  It wasn’t the biggest swarm I had ever seen but the manager had picked out the fact that it was a big swarm.  It was in the very top of a cedar tree.  Cedar trees are sort of flimsy at the top.  Unlike an oak or maple, the cedar doesn’t really have big branches against which one can lean a ladder.  It has been my foolish tendency to just go for it when it comes to swarms.  I just threw the ladder up against the green of the tree and climbed my way up.  I always carry loppers (is that a local term or what they are called?  Long handled tree pruners, anyhow) to cut branches.  The funny thing is that when you cut a swarm out of a tree, you need to hold onto the branch with the bees on it.  Of course, it also takes two hands to run the loppers.  I learned the first time I did this that I can hold onto the swarm with one hand and brace one handle of the pruners against my neck.  I use my other hand to close the loppers and cut the branch.  Now let me tell you, doing that leaning into the greenery at the top of this flimsy tree with a swarm of bees was interesting!

marching into the hive...

So the crowd continued to watch as the three of us did our thing.  We transferred the bees from the branch to the hive I brought along.  I gave the branch a good shake and the bees mostly fell into the box, but some fell onto the sheet I had under the box (another lesson I learned…put down a sheet first.  It looks more impressive and help me keep better track of the bees as they walk into the hive).  In a few minutes, it was clear I had the queen as the bees on the sheet and from the tree ended up working their way right into the hive.  We packaged up the hive and hauled it off in the van (much to the dismay/excitement of our audience).  I really like the “performer” part of catching swarms.  Hauling bees in the van is sort of the grand finale!

safe as can be!

Two things sort of struck me about this capture.  First, people were amazed that I let Abigail be so close to the swarm.  She was a great helper and loved every second.  The funny thing is, she had on a full bee suit so was at lower risk than the people around us who were concerned for her safety.  Silly people!  On the way home, she asked me over and over, “Why were those people looking at us?”  I explained that people were surprised at a kid working with bees, and even more so a girl kid working with bees.  I told her they were probably seeing a swarm of bees for the first time ever, and so on.  She talked about it all night long.  I think she was sort of proud more than anything.  I am still smiling about it…


The second striking thing was a man who walked up as we were doing our thing.  It was clear he was drunk.  He walked right up to us and began to talk to us far closer to the bees than I really liked but he was so curious about the whole deal.  He ended up sitting right beside our area and asked all sorts of questions.  He asked about the queen and I said she was bigger than the rest.  He said, “Bees have three parts, right?  The abdomen, thorax and head, right?”  He must have sensed my surprise because, with a smile on his face, he added, “I may be homeless but I’m not stupid.”  “No sir, you are not.”  That brief conversation really turned my prejudice on its head.  I shook his hand (which I think surprised him) and we parted ways.  I think we both ended up with a pretty cool story to tell, though they are undoubtedly quite different.

Anyhow, I had a really great time catching this swarm.  The audience was fun, having my family along was great, and the homeless man was sort of good to remind me to listen to people before deciding that I know their circumstances.  Bees always teach me something…

Here are some more of my bee adventures and here are pictures of many of the swarms I have captured.


I was in Las Vegas all week last week for a conference related to work.  It’s funny – I work in technology and the conference was related to technology.  The only thing was, there was no technology available at the conference so I was stuck with email and internet via phone.  So, anyhow, I am back and am somewhat comforted by the sweet hum of my computers.

I won’t bore you folks with conference details.  Instead I will share my favorite part of the conference…Carlos Santana was in concert at the Hard Rock in Las Vegas.  We got to see him opening night which was pretty cool.  Even cooler was the fact that we were something like 15 rows back and at center stage.  We could actually see the band and stuff.

I like Santana’s music and I especially like some of his most recent stuff.  Of course, he has been releasing great music for 40 years and it’s hard to say anything bad about most of his music.  We got to enjoy a tour through his years as a performer and it was a blast.

(click the image above for a video.  If that link doesn’t work on your machine, try the one here)

He’s a free spirit and kind of fun to listen to when he talks.  I can’t really explain it but he feels very “spiritual” in his own way.  He also has marijuana leaves as one of his backgrounds on stage.  Surprisingly, I didn’t smell a single bit of smoke.

for B.H.


The view from my room

So, I am glad to be back from Las Vegas and if you ever get a chance, definitely go and see Santana in concert!

Honeybees – splitting a colony

The number of bees in a honeybee colony ranges depending on the season.  Sometime in the middle of the honey flow (April-July or so here in WV) a good colony will have somewhere around 60,000-80,000 bees in it.  In the middle of winter, the colony will only have 20,000 or so bees.  Typically, the more bees there are in a colony, the more honey they can make.  So, sometime around the end of January or the beginning of February, the queen starts to ramp up her egg production and the colony starts to grow in number to get ready for Spring.

My helper

Most queens are egg-laying machines, capable of laying up to 2000 eggs per day.  When a hive gets too full of bees, spring fever hits and the colony makes preparation to swarm.  Swarming is a natural reaction to over-crowding and is the typical way the species propagates.  The old queen and a bunch of workers (half give or take) will leave the hive and find a new location.  Prior to leaving, the workers make several queen cells (they feed fertilized eggs/larvae the proper amount of royal jelly and the larvae will turn into a queen) so the remaining colony will still have a queen after the swarm leaves.

Lots of worker brood in the pupal stage...changing from larvae into bee. The flat cardboard-colored covering gives it away
Note the white larvae. Once the eggs hatch, the resulting larvae eat and eat and grow into pretty large "worms". They eventually are capped over (see above picture) and pupate. This stage is the conversion from "worm" into bee.

An observant beekeeper will watch for the Spring build-up and may consider splitting a colony that grows too big.  Swarms are a lot of fun to watch and to catch, but a beekeeper runs the risk of irritating his neighbors or losing the colony to the wilds.  I prefer to split a colony before it gets the urge to swarm so I can retain all of my bees.  So, last night I split a few of my “booming” colonies.  I simply take 3-5 frames with a mixture of bees, brood, eggs, pollen and honey and move them to a different hive box.  I make sure to leave the queen in the original location.  The original colony will remain strong as the queen finds she has lots of room to lay more eggs (in the empty frames I put in place of the ones I removed) and the colony will make lots of honey.

Notice the different bands...the outer bad has a somewhat wet looking yellow cap over the honeycomb. That is capped honey. Inside of that is a yellow paste down inside the cells. That is stored pollen. Inside of that band is more capped brood. The "nest" always has these bands of honey, pollen and brood.

The new colony will feed royal jelly to a number of eggs (in essence, making their own little swarm condition without actually flying off) and end up with a queen in 3 weeks (if all goes well).  The split probably won’t make honey this season as they have to hatch a queen and wait for her to get to full egg-laying capacity, but they should be strong going into the Fall.

Lots of pollen stored by the hive. This is protein for the bees and essential for raising new bees

I was able to find a few queen cells in the original hives so I took them and put them in the splits so I know there is a queen already pretty far along in the development process.  These splits have an even better chance of having a good queen and growing rapidly since they won’t suffer the 3 week delay to make a new queen from scratch.

Too bad it is blurry but this is one of the queen cells I found...a new queen in the making!

I make splits every year and have great luck at it.  I will probably re-queen these splits later this season or maybe next spring as I want to maintain genetic diversity, but in the short term, I now have more colonies than I did 2 days ago and I will almost assuredly make more honey than I otherwise would have made.  Honeybees are so cool!

Water and poop and flowers

We were at the farm last weekend after Emily’s return from FL.  She was exhausted so we sent up an awning for her to sit under (and sleep).  That was the idea anyhow.  It turns out the wind was so bad that she ended up holding on to the thing so it wouldn’t blow away.  Meanwhile, the kids and I scurried off to do other things.

Isaac and Abigail found the neighbor kids.  Isaac borrowed a bike and the kids pedaled about 3-4 miles down the old dirt road.  Someone had a phone to call a pickup truck to haul them back (the up-hill part).  Abigail played in the mud mostly and made some serious mud-pies.

I have not yet seen the entirety of the property so I took off exploring.  I was hoping to find some morel mushrooms on my hunt for the property lines.  I know it’s prime mushroom season right now but I found not a single one.  I did find one edge of the property line though so that was cool.

In my hunt for stuff, I found a few interesting things…sort of an impromptu scavenger hunt.  I love a good scavenger hunt.  I also love peanut butter and waffles and pina coladas and getting caught in the rain…and the feel of the ocean and the taste of champagne…wait…sorry…channeling Jimmy Buffett (EDIT:  apparently this song was actually done by Rupert Holmes though there are tons of references to JB too…) there for a second.

My Dad calls these "Smart pills" I don't think they helped me at all...

Anyhow, it turns out there are at least three small streams on the property.  I am not sure whether they run all year but as I was walking, all I could hear was the sound of running water.  No cars, no horns, no planes.  It was magnificent.  I walked several deer trails (which wandered past the water of course) and stepped in deer poop.  It was magnificent.  I saw the tiniest white and blue and purple flowers everywhere.  The trees had pink and green tinges to them as spring appears to finally be taking hole.  It was magnificent!

Our house is haunted

Emily was in Florida all week for a training so I was on kid duty.  Call me Mr Mom.  Fortunately, I had some logistical help from family so getting everyone to practice on time was ok.  We really had a great time and I even got all of the laundry and ironing done.  Normally I am not allowed to touch either.  My jobs are dishes, sweeping and toilets…stuff I can’t screw up.  Anyhow, Emily wasn’t there to tell me I couldn’t do laundry so I did it out of spite.

The Ghostbusters shirt was pure coincidence!

Since Emily wasn’t there to do the right thing regarding watching tv with the kids, we decided to watch a ghost hunter show.  They were visiting the Trans-Allegheny Insane Asylum in Weston, WV.  The Asylum is a huge old building where the mentally impared (in all sorts of forms) were sent from pre-Civil War days until the early 1990s.  Emily and I were in an abnormal psychology class together in college and visited the place when there were still patients in residence.  It was much better managed and humane when we were there as compared to when it was “in full bloom” but it was still a horrendous and scary place when we were there.

So, these goof-balls went in and started creeping around listening for spooks and specters of the dead within.  They took pictures of all sorts of stuff and discovered “ghosts” everywhere.  I can’t figure out if those folks actually believed in ghosts or if they were just getting rich making the show.  In either case, the kids and I had a blast debunking their ghosts and spirits.  In so doing, we discovered that our house was full of ghosts too!

Take note of the spirits as indicated by the arrows.  We had discussion with the ghosts and we agreed that we would not exorcise them if they would keep termites away.  We’ll see whether they live up to their end of the bargain…

Eight is Great!

I have been a bit behind in posting this…Abigail turned 8 this weekend!  Holy cow it is hard to believe how time has passed!  Abigail is a delight (except first thing in the morning) and she brings a smile to my face just thinking about her!

Abigail - age 4

Since this post is about her, I am going to brag a little.  I have said before that we are a bunch of reading fiends.  Both kids tend to get in trouble in school a lot for reading too much.  Normally one wouldn’t think of squelching a child’s desire to read, but my kids read non-stop, even when they are not supposed to be reading.  So, here’s the bragging part – Abigail has more Accelerated Reader points than anyone else in her whole school (not grade) and she is only in 2nd grade.  And I mean she has a lot more points!

Just this morning I had to fuss at Abigail to brush her teeth rather than read.  You see, she got a new book on the Greek and Roman gods.  She is entranced by their stories.  Her fascination with this one though, is that it has the gods’ names written in Greek letters.  She took it upon herself to learn the letters and sounds and copy every god’s name in Greek.  Isn’t that cool?

So, this weekend we had a big party for her at the local rec center.  We rented “the party deck” at the pool and invited family and a bunch of her friends.  Usually the place is not crowded but this weekend another group was there that illustrated every single bad stereotype of West Virginia.  Oh. My. WORD!  In spite of their antics, we had a great time and just stuck to our end of the pool.  It was so fun to see Abigail and a gaggle of little girls running around having an absolute ball!  We ate pizza and drank fizzy drinks and had rainbow colored cupcakes!

My folks and Emily’s people were all in attendance so I suspect we had 30-40 people all together.  Abigail, being a socialite, was delighted to make her rounds and it was really great to see her shine.  Instead of presents, she asked people to donate money to the Red Cross for Japan.  Isn’t she cool!?  Honest to goodness, it was totally her idea.  She started the trend with asking people to donate pet supplies for the shelter last year.  Isn’t she cool?!

Well, we are back to the daily drudge of being an 8 year old.  It’s a grind you know?  Still, I see her and I could not be more proud of that beautiful little girl.  Eight is indeed great!

Pregnant by Postcard

I think my favorite April Fool’s prank involved a postcard.  You may wonder what fun could possibly come from a simple postcard…let me tell you a story

Emily and I met our first day of college.  We knew each other but didn’t hang out much the first semester.  By the end of the second semester though, we decided we ought to start dating.  We hung around all the time and were great friends even before we started dating.  We wrote letters steady through the first summer and talked on the phone quite a bit.  I bet we wrote a letter 4-5 days each week.  We were a bit of a high point for profitability in the post office.  Most times our writing was silly stuff but it kept us going very well through the long summers.  I think it was probably cooler writing letters and courting long-distance than it would be nowadays.  Phone calls were still expensive and no one had computers so we communicated because it was worth it.

During spring break of our sophomore year, we decided to play a prank on my mom.  She worked downtown (Tionesta, my hometown with a population of around 600) so got the mail every day at the post office.  My parents got a PO box after the 900th time the mail box at the house was destroyed by the snow plows.  It was a prefect part of my plan!

Since human nature requires that anyone who touches a postcard reads the message, we decided to exploit the fact that my mom would in fact touch the post card when she picked it up.  As a bonus, since the town was so small, we were certain that the postal workers would also read the post card which would add to the fun.

So, Emily and I worked it out and on the fateful day, my mom called the house where I was waiting.  “We need to talk.  Come down town right now.”  The trap was playing out perfectly.  You see, Emily wrote a postcard informing me she was pregnant.  “What are we going to do?”, she lamented.  Of course, she was not even partially pregnant.

Mom confronted me, I confronted her (afterall, it was addressed to me, not her) and we eventually had a great laugh over the whole thing.  So, while I do not ever condone pulling the “I’m pregnant” trick on your significant other, it is pretty funny if you pull the trick on folks once removed.  Although, such a trick may be harmful to your health!