Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Things I learned (the hard way) about capturing a swarm of bees.

I thought I had it all figured out, I didn't have another top bar hive so thought I would just install them into the swarm hive that Sue, Rosanne and I made for Sue. It was half the size of the hives for Rosanne and I to install our package bees in and for them to live happily ever after.

It was pretty plain Jane, just a box with entrance holes on each end, top bars for building comb and a piece of plywood over the top. Since Sue had a swarm at her house once, we hoped another might find this tasteful residence and move it but they never did so Sue sent it home with me to use. Swarm boxes work best if you can anchor them in trees and we made this little puppy so heavy, that wasn't an option! So it sat in my garden shed.

Morris had to get in on the photo session, bless his little heart, we miss him. 

This is the big sister to the little hive above and it seems that the bees are happy in their homes.

When I put the ad out on Craigslist, I didn't have an empty hive but thought I'd deal with that if I ever got a call. Much to my surprise I did get a call but thought I had it covered with the swarm hive. Simply install them in that hive, give them some bars of drawn comb out of the other hive and build a permanent home for them at my leisure.

Sounds simple, doesn't it?

It wasn't.

When I built these hives, I used a plan I printed off the internet, I really never thought I would be building another one so didn't save those plans. Everyone has they own idea on how to build a hive and I wasn't thinking straight. I needed to build this new one exactly (or a reasonable facsimile, you would have to see my building skills) so the top bars with comb that I put in the swarm hive, would fit in the new hive. 

The smart thing to have done would be to go to the pond and take some basic measurements of the old hives to use - but then I've never been accused of being smart. I kind of flew by the seat of my pants, I knew I'd made an error on the top measurements when I tried to fit a top bar from one of the other hives in the new hive and it was too big, only about 1/2" but that counts. I just didn't realize  that was going to come back to bite me.

After slaving away for a week, taking apart, scrapping parts of it, agonizing how to make it all fit together, I finally finished it Sat night. Bruce was busy in the field, dealing with his own problems so I called my neighbor's, Tim and Jalene, they came, helped me move it to the pond and level it. My plan was to move the bees early Sunday morning before they were awake. Late Sat night, I put a blanket in the back of the gator and awkwardly, it was heavy, lifted the hive on to the blanket.

Early Sunday morning I tiptoed out to the bees, wrapped the blanket around the hive, I didn't think to plug the entrance holes, duh! I set a cement block on top of the blanket wrapped hive, had to convince the dogs that they were not going, which isn't easy, and set out. I hit a small bump and the hive fell over on it's side!! 


The top bars fell off and bees came swarming out, I hurriedly prop it upright and wrapped the blanket around it again, then headed for the pond. I figured any bees would follow us, after all, they followed the pickup from Sioux City.

My plan was to move the top bars, now loaded with honey, into the new hive and shake the rest of the bees out. Despite my corrections, the top bars were just a little too long for this hive but no problem. I'd brought the reciprocating saw and planned to knock off the excess.

Bad idea, with the first vibration of the saw, the heavy honey filled comb fell off the top bar!


I did have my rescue kit just for this predicament, women's plastic hair clip to clamp onto the honeycomb and zip ties to fasten them to the correct topbars. I had to do this with each one, luckily I had enough. (The bees will reattach the comb to the topbars and late I will cut out the clips and they will repair that spot. Bees are quite ingenious.)

After shaking the bees into the hive, I left the swarm hive on it's side to encourage the rest of the bees to pack their bags and make the move into their new home and left for the day. That night I went back for the hive and found some bees stubbornly hanging out in the swarm hive so I shook them out and hoped they had the good sense to follow the others into the hive. 

Back home I took the hive outback and found a bunch of bees clustered around the cement blocks it sat on, dang it! So I set the hive back up on the blocks and they immediately started the trek up the blocks and into the hive. I gave them a day to settle back in, last night I plugged the entrance holes with wine corks and this morning loaded it into the gator for the trip to the pond. I had to discourage the dogs, they just don't understand the gator leaving and they aren't in the back.

I laid the hive on it's side on a table across from their permanent home, it's chilly so they aren't moving much but it's supposed to be in the 80's today and sunny.

A few bees flew out of the hive to see what was going on so I left because I didn't have my bee suit on.

On the way home, I searched the ditch where I came upon a pheasant nest while asparagus hunting....

....and there she was! It's a big deal because our pheasant numbers have been down the last few year, we would go all summer and not see any young pheasants.

And you can see why the females are so drab, to blend in with the grasses. The rooster pheasant may be flamboyant and noisy but count on the hen to do all the work of raising a family.

You go girl!

Friday, May 20, 2016

A bump in the road

The bump has a name, Lymphoma, it's back and growing rapidly which was a shock after being pronounced clear just one year ago and undergoing two rounds of maintenance therapy to keep the bad guys at bay, it wasn't enough.

It started so innocently with various leg pains after we got home from Jamaica in Feb, moving around, annoying at first and then disrupting sleep. I had too many scans, xrays, ultrasounds, dr visits and blood draws to count, when Dr. Brenda found a mass on my right kidney and liver lesions. After a liver biopsy one week ago, we were on pins and needles waiting for results and it took Bruce, losing his temper with the pathology dept at Mercy to shake loose the diagnosis yesterday.

Now things are no longer dragging, Dr. Rao is consulting a doctor in Omaha on what steps to take, more, harder, stronger chemo? A candidate for bone marrow/stem cell transplant? It's disheartening but I will do whatever it takes and I have a tremendous support group with our families and friends and especially Bruce, who is my rock. 

I want to be able to function and sleep without pain pills - is one going to be enough? Are two, too many? Am I going to get addicted? I want to enjoy life again.

Once again the cards are coming in, telling me that I'm not alone, I even had a couple of mystery presents to cheer me up and I finally found who sent them, Bruce's sister, Carol! The first was the great chicken socks that I wore to the biopsy.

The second arrived the next day, again no record of the sender, it was a 'grow your own butterfly kit'...

...complete with 5 Painted Lady larvae that frankly looked dead!

But they are growing, I never see them move but they do, I think they wait until my back is turned before venturing to another part of the cup. And they are pooping up a storm.

When they make a chrysalis, I will move them into this little tent to watch them break out and get strong before releasing them.

There are too many things to do for me to sit around and mope although Zoe and I do spend quite a bit of time in the gazebo. Otto comes up each morning on the rocks of the pond to sunbathe and perhaps catch an unsuspecting bug?

I'm building a hive for the bee swarm that Bruce and I captured and I need to get it done so I can move them in. They have made themselves at home in the trap hive, filling the combs with honey so that is exciting.

I have a white erase board on my refrigerator with the heading, "Just for today, I'm grateful for;" and I fill it in, today is "Doctors who care." If not for Brenda, I don't know when they would have figured it out and it would have had more time to do it's dirty work.

I'm also grateful for all of you.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Capturing a wild swarm of bees and living to tell about it!

Several years ago, Sue called me to say they had a big swarm of bees in a tree right by their house and asked what to do. At the time I was no help, the next day the bees were gone. Oh if I knew then what I know now....

There are several reasons bees swarm, mostly it is because of over crowding in a hive. They get restless, take their queen and abscond the residence, searching for a better home to live and usually end up clumped in a tree somewhere.

I did a lot was reading on capturing a swarm, watched a lot of You Tube videos and decided I could do that. Last month I put an ad on Craigslist for Bee Swarm Removal, never expecting to get an answer.

I was wrong! But the guy was not very forthcoming about details and at first I thought he was just jerking my chain, sometimes you get that on Craigslist. Our email conversation:

him - I have a swarm of bees in a lilac bush in my yard.
me - Where do you live?
him - Sioux City
me - I'm going to need a few more details, address? Picture? (By this time I was pretty sure it was a farce.)
But he sent me his address and a picture of a swarm of bees in his lilac bush! Well, now this is more like it, it was too late to go then so I asked him to email me in the morning if they were still there.

They were so Bruce and I left about 7:30 in the pickup armed with the ladder, loppers, hand clippers, bee suits, smoker bucket, a large cardboard box with a screened vent in one side and duct tape. I was so excited to find the house and see the swarm for myself. Bruce was great help, getting the ladder set up and, after suiting up, he kept me in tools.

Sorry, Bruce, not the greatest picture!

Me, in full gear, ready for battle.

The swarm is about 8 ft tall, near the top of the bush, just to the right, at this point I was just hoping the bees had watched the same you tube video that I did and knew what was expected of them.

They were clustered around a main branch and extended out into small branches. So I first used the small hand clippers to sever the little branches and then used the loppers to cut the main branch. All the while I was trying to be gentle and not disturb them but they were disturbed and started buzzing and vibrating, a few flying away from the clump.

I finally had the branch separated and carried it carefully down the ladder and 'thunked' it into the box, knocking most of the bees off but hundreds started circling, dive bombing and landing on Bruce and I. Lots of bees were perched on the edge of the box, their little hineys stuck in air, vibrating, that is the signal to the bees that their queen was in the box and the rest should come, pronto.

In the video, now is the time to be patient, chill out and let the pheromones put out from the queen to all her subjects that they were to come to the box. So Bruce and I swept the bees from each other, undressed from our suits and went to have a donut. 

When we got back we found that a small clump had congregated back in the top of the bush so I went back up and cut it off, this time trimming back the small branches and placing the branch into the box. It seemed to be their security blanket.

We hung around for awhile and decided to what we had and head for home.

I used the smoker and a whisk broom, brushing the bees into the box, folding in the flaps and duct taping the openings.

Done and done! The box was loaded into the back of the pickup, braced with a bag of beef feed and the ladder, the last thing I wanted was to have the box go flying out of the back as we were tooling down the highway.

We had lots of hitchhiker bees on the box and in the back of the pickup, we made two stops on the way home and lost some bees. We saw people waving their arms around, trying to ward off the bees. One guy was standing outside the A & W watching us get in the pickup with all the bees swarming around the box, we can only imagine what he was thinking.

Back home I set of the little trap hive I made for Sue a few years ago, as a temporary home. I put a couple of bars of drawn comb and a jar of sugar water for sustenance, then untaped the box, gave it a good shake and dumped them in the open end of the hive.

I swept the bees away as I replaced the top bars, then put a board on the top bars and weighted it down with a cement block. I saw that my board was too small so later I found a bigger board and put it over the other one.

I left the box and the pickup where they were and went in the house to take a well deserved nap. When I went out later, only 3 bees were in the box and none in the pickup box and very few flying around. Most seem to have accepted their new home.

I peeked in the observation window near dusk and saw the bees clumped on the comb so took that as a very good sign. If all goes well, in a week or so I should find capped brood and then I will know it was a success.

Then I better get my butt in gear and build another hive for my growing family because Friday I pick up a package of bees to install in the other hive at the pond.

Friday morning we peeked in the hive window and everyone was nestled in and hoping they stay. When we got home yesterday, I found a package in the mail and pulled out these chicken socks.

I have no idea who sent them but thank you, I love them! I'm all dressed up, ready to hit the road for a very important test but I'm having a hard time walking without scratching the ground.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Old Horses go to heaven.....

....as do old cats.

It's a gloomy, rainy day in Iowa and fitting for the job ahead of us this morning. With the help of our wonderful, young, vet, Lisa, we ended the suffering of our two old horses, Lacey and Spider, and one old cat, Ghost who was blind and incontinent, not a good combination for a house cat.

Ghost was a feral kitten, born to a wild mother in the corn field, she was so pretty, I just had to catch her. Her name came naturally because most people never saw her, she lived upstairs and only ventured to the first floor to eat, drink and use the litter box. 

We all lived in somewhat harmony until the years took their toll, high blood pressure caused her to go blind and soon she began to have accidents in the house. Bruce was not happy when he found wet jeans that he left laying on the floor by his chair or the little 'tootsie rolls' on the kitchen rugs.

Ghost would be okay for awhile but then would start up again, I never looked into cat diapers and put off the inevitable. Because she was such a strange cat, I didn't want to take her out of her safe zone and haul her to the vet's office, upsetting her more. Instead I kept cleaning up after her and didn't tell on her.

I raised both Lacey and Spider from birth, she was 30 and he was 29 in April. This is Heather riding their mother, Missy, leading baby Lacey, in the Whiting 4th of July parade.

Lacey was the horse anyone could ride, Christine and little Sophia, are riding in the round pen in our front pasture.

Spider taught little Kaiza to ride....

....Bruce found us on a ride through the pond and took this picture. Both horses were so strong and beautiful then.

Just three years ago, when we hosted the French family from CA, Spider and Lacey proved to be trusty mounts for Ian and Annie.

But age began to take a toll on both horses, they had bad teeth that made it hard to process grain and I was fortunate to find a distributor for senior horse feed at a reasonable price. It did wonders for them both and it seemed like they would live forever. But, of course, that was not to be, they both slowly began to go downhill, ribs and hipbones jutting starkly from their now dull coats. 

Two days ago Lacey started walking in circles in her stall, banging into the walls and it was obvious something was seriously wrong. I knew that Spider wouldn't get any better either and didn't want to go through this again in another few months or so.

Nephew Brian came with his backhoe and dug a grave on the top of the hill pasture where they spent a lot of time, Lisa came and did her job with compassion and efficiency, they truly do go to sleep. 

Anytime you give your heart away, whether it is to a human or animal, you can be assured at some point it will be broken. This was a hard decision to make but I know they are at peace and out of pain and I can live with that.

I picture Lacey and Spider once again young and strong, galloping across a green pasture, as for Ghost, I hope she is back in that corn field with her other wild siblings, living the good life.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Up close and personal with the calves and racing the rain....

Most of our cows have had their calf, we have a few late ones that look like they are a long way off. Bruce came home from the farm chuckling and said I should go take some pictures of the calves and that is what I love to do.

This is one of the twins.

We have such a calm and gentle cow herd and that is passed on to their calves, so instead of running from me, they are quite curious about that black thing that sticks out of my head. All last year #35 wanted to be a mother, she stood by the gate, gazing into the cow pen.....

......and this year her dream came true with a baby of her own.

This is another future cow, next year, if all goes well, she will have a calf by her side. She is out of our coveted #1 who was the best cow we ever raised. Remember #37, she will come up later.

Don't you just love those black speckled noses?

#8 was our newest calf and we thought at first that he was blind in one eye but he seems fine now.

Wouldn't you just kill for those eyelashes??

Bruce used the wrong pen on his ear tag so we might never know for sure who is his mother.

The best seat in the house is up against the barn, out of the way, on a pile of corn stalks.

He likes to wear his ear tag funky, kind of like the kids you see wearing their baseball caps backwards.

I found the other twin in another yard...



"Just what is that thing?"

And finally mother had to come over just to see what I was up to, she backed off when she discovered I was not doing any harm.

"Hey, what about me?"

"Yes, you are a cutie also."

Bruce has been racing the rain showers, both when planting corn, that is now up and growing and planting beans. Sunday he was going full speed ahead of the rain that was predicted that night. I ran back and forth to the field to help fill planter boxes, he was on the big field behind the home place and determined to get it done.

He's off!

On one of my trips through the yard I was brought to a stop when I saw the future cow #37, letting this calf suck her minuscule udder!! I have never seen this before, the calf thought he was being sneaky but I can't imagine he was getting anything. She was in 7th heaven, stood with her eyes closed.

She so wants to be a mother!!

The clouds built and Bruce planted....

....little did we know that it would be 11:30 before he finished and could come home to bed. And the rains came, we've had about 1 3/4" since then, there is still one small field to plant but that will wait for some sun and wind to dry. 

"On the 8th day, God made a farmer."

Thursday, May 5, 2016

"Surprise, Surprise, Surprise!"

(You have to say that in the deep southern twang of Gomer Pyle on the Andy Griffith show to get the real effect.)

I grew up down on the river bottom where the favorite spring hobby was hunting the elusive morel mushroom along the river banks in the sand. Then I was transplanted up here, in the hills, where they still grow but I have no idea where to find them and you can be darned sure no one will tell you their favorite spots.

So imagine my great surprise today, while out mowing by the trees along our driveway and there was a morel! Standing proudly! I couldn't believe my eyes, I ran to get the camera to document this momentous occasion.

And then decided to document the entire process, I gently washed and split the morel. Then retrieved a fresh Serama egg and beat it into submission.

I carefully basted all four sides in the egg mixture....

.......and tossed them in Panko bread crumbs.

A pat of butter in the cast iron skillet...

....and fried them to a golden brown.

I didn't have to worry about sharing with Bruce, he was not brought up on morels and is suspicious of them. I thoroughly enjoyed my treat.

And that is what is important in life, enjoying the little things.