Monthly Archives: April 2010

I suck at hiving bees – Part 1

Hiving bees is a lot harder than it looks on youtube. I watched this video of the beemaster hiving bees, which he does quickly, easily, and thoroughly. I also read a couple of beekeeping books cover to cover, and various online instructions from bee package companies on hiving. I felt fairly prepared. I really should have gotten my beekeeper friend, Laurie, to come help out.

my Warre hive, out of old cedar fence boards, non-standard bar width and #

But first…I was finishing my two starter Warre hive boxes to accept my two packages right up to the last minute last Saturday, but I did finish. I realized as I finished them that the design I was following found at this website didn’t have bee space between the top bars and the screen/cloth laid on top. I don’t know if this is because the screen/quilt is supposed to give some, so that bees can crawl around, or if they aren’t supposed to crawl around above the bars, or if there is a mistake (I perused Warre’s original “Beekeeping for All” and didn’t find a beespace there either) or if I misread things, or what. I worried that I was going to crush bees. Especially because, not having completed the quilt or roof, I was planning to just lay 2″ foam insulation board over the top of the hive for now(on top of screen – why screen still? I don’t know).

4 lbs of Carniolan bees, a queen, and a can of sugar water.

So I picked up my bees. It was just a hair over 40F and overcast out. I made a quick trip for the store, feeling for the poor bees in their packages in the back of the pickup, but needing to buy some human food and some sugar to make a spray for the bees. When I got home I took the boxes and bases I had made out to the back shed. The south wall of the shed is really just a cedar fence, so I cut off the bottom of the fence boards, set up concrete blocks a few feet apart against the fence, and set my bottom boards and boxes on on the blocks with the hive entrances facing the gaps in the fence. I placed the top bars in place to space them and then took out the middle 2 or 3, leaving them and the top screens (squares of window screen material) handy. Then I went in and mixed up a 1:1 solution of sugar water and put it in a clean spray bottle. I brought the first package out to the shed, sprayed the bees down, probably a bit excessively (they can drown), and went to hive them.

And it was all downhill from there, but you will have to wait 2 weeks for the end of the story, because I have to go into the field for work, and I have to leave now! SO stay tuned, and I’ll be able to tell you how the hives are doing then too (don’t worry, I think I have them set up enough to be ok while I am gone!)

Semi-scientific Seed Starting

I don’t believe in astrology; I’m a Sagittarius and we’re skeptical. ~Arthur C. Clarke.

I’ve been noticing lately that I don’t really fit anywhere, which upset me for a bit, but now I am ok with it. I’m a Gemini, so I am a mess of waring dualities. Plus I don’t believe in astrology. I am, at heart, a natural hippie that distrusts the technology, pharmaceutical medicines, and mindset of modern man. I am, at heart, a scientist, that distrusts the hand-waving and emotional decision-making of new age man. I am a skeptic. I am a skeptic who knows they don’t know everything. I am a Luddite who uses a computer extensively. I am a rational being who has been known to buy homeopathics. I am a hypocrite. Oh well. I certainly don’t mean to offend anyone who has a more open mind, towards science, spirituality, or any combination of the above. I am who I am, but I am a very young and incomplete being.

Sprouting Cardoon

So I am starting seeds, it is what you do this time of year. I’ll just say right now that I am skeptical of moon planting. But mostly I am just too haphazard to plan my planting around the moon. I haven’t even seen the moon lately. I plant when I have time to plant. I have found these juicy tidbits on the web about planting with the phases of the moon:


Dr. Frank Brown of Northwestern University performed research over a ten-year period of time, keeping meticulous records of his results. He found that plants absorbed more water at the time of the full moon. He conducted his experiments in a laboratory without direct contact from the moon, yet he found that they were still influenced by it.

No direct contact from the moon, huh?

At, they calculate the difference between the gravitational effect on a 1 g seed from the moon at apogee and perigee and get 80 N. Here is one calculation:

At Perigee

F= (6.67 x 10-11 N m2 kg-2) x 1gm X 7.4 x 10^22 kg / 360,000^2

F= 380.8 N

Unfortunately, they didn’t pay attention to units (g, km etc), and a quick recalculation gives me 3.8×10-8N. So the difference in pull would be a paltry 8×10-9 N. Granted, this is an order of magnitude more than a 1kg (2 lb) rock sitting within a cm of the seed, so who knows…Just seems that parked cars and houses and trees and boulders and soil densities are generally going to affect things about as much as the moon, but then maybe every bit helps.

So, upshot, I haven’t yet put any effort into planting with the cycles of the moon, but I’m not totally against the concept. I am a lazy seed starter and I can’t get it together to follow either a scientific or a spiritual seed starting regimen. I think the biggest things against me are my cheap refusal, so far, to buy seed starting soil, grow lights, and keep the house warmer. Not paying attention to the moon is probably the least of my worries!

A bunch of permie people (people in the permaculture group) here are reading a book called Anastasia. It is a bit too man-centered and garden of Eden-ish for my taste, but probably not without some tested rural wisdom. There is a prescription for starting seeds by placing them in your mouth. There is more to it, these plants are supposed to connect with your intentions and the universe, and your specific ailments/chemistry/etc and grow to be healing plants specifically for you. You also stand barefoot on the earth you will plant them in and hold them up to the stars and other things. I think the best part of ritual is focusing your own intentions. I once participated in a Wiccan ritual and most everything I requested of the universe happened – quickly and fairly close to the appropriately open yet specific requests. My science brain tells me that it is the narrowing down and focusing on your desires that is the key. Most of the time we bipse along with vague feelings and desires and inclinations and hopes. If I sit down and say ‘I want this seed to grow really well and healthily, and provide nutritious, healing food’, and put time and energy into a ritual around this intention, then I am more likely to take good care of and foster this outcome. If my brain expects the plant to be healing, then it is probably more likely to help my body heal when I eat it too.

However, I am a normal, harried, over-extended American. So I put the seeds in my mouth and wrote in my garden journal or did dishes or hung laundry for a few minutes, then planted them in my egg-carton seed starters. Many seeds are designed by evolution to be swallowed by animals, partially digested, and shat out with a nice pile of instant fertilizer. I have read that many berry seeds grow best after this treatment. The mouth method of seed starting doesn’t send them through the whole digestive system, but it does pre-soak them (many seeds like to be pre-soaked), get them warm, and subject them to digestive enzymes in saliva that may help eat away defensive seed coatings. I notices that some seeds (basil in particular), swelled quite a bit and developed a soft, jelly-like, white coating (a breaking down seed coat?) after being in my mouth for a few minutes. Normal water soaking may have done the same, but it seemed like a positive development. A warning! – Only do this with organic or your own saved seeds. Conventional seeds are probably coated in something toxic that you do not want in your mouth. You can spit in a jar and put the seeds in there with your spit for a few minutes instead.

Just for gratuitous spring pictures – here are a few from yesterday from outside:

Breakup - the ugliest time of the year!

A tulip on the warm side of the house.

Strawberry and red clover coming back around apple tree

One from inside: our newly green bedroom - at least something is green!

Spring Projects

Break-up is well underway at the Spenard Ecoplex – the driveway is clear and mostly puddle-free now. Most of the rest of the yard is still covered with snow, but more brown shows every day. We seem to be in for a bit of snow this week, and temperatures have hovered in the mid-30’s to 40’s F for a month or more, so it’s a lingering season.

I have a number of projects underway. There was a tenant potluck this last weekend, and it was wonderful to eat good food and chat with my nearest neighbors – they are a good group. I should be adding to that group this week as some upstairs tenants are moving out next month, and I am in the process of choosing new tenants for the unit – it was a busy weekend of showing the place to a fairly staggering number of interested people. I hate this part, because it is always so hard to turn people away.

Also, I am expecting my 2 packages of bees to arrive this coming Saturday, so I worked on my Warre Hives a bit more over the weekend, but not near enough – I will be cramming near the end. I have finished the bottoms boards for both hives, and *blush* only 2 sides to one box. I am working with old cedar fence boards. There are tons of them out in my yard, but I pay for that convenience by having to cut and glue to get the right size. Each board is 5.5″ wide, and I need 8.25″ height to my boxes, so I cut a board in half and then join two layers with glue, offsetting the full and half-length board on each side. Confusing, I know, so I will post pictures soon, but I don’t suggest anyone follow this method – find boards the right size or bigger! I am still at a loss for appropriate thickness wood to make the top bars from, I will need to scrounge around a bit. But hopefully by Saturday I will have at least 2 boxes, preferably 4, with 8 top bars each and at least temporary roofs. Otherwise I will be in trouble with my bees! I have gotten some good advice from the akbeekeepers yahoo group on feeding my new bees. Mostly that they won’t need any pollen and will likely not need much syrup. There are advocates of sugar-syrup and advocates of diluted honey if supplemental feeding is needed, and I tend to go with the food as nature intended (honey) group as a gut reaction, though I suppose sugar syrup approximates flower nectar ok?

My other big spring project is starting seeds. I am behind on most things because of my trip and because I keep my house cold (60F nights, 65F days except when the sun raises that to about 67F). So although pretty much everything has sprouted, the warmer weather things are growing verrrrry slowly. Nothing but seed leaves yet on anything. But it always works out in the end. Maybe I’ll bump the heat for a week, put the cold weather items out in the entry (leeks, etc) and let the tomatoes and peppers and such get some warmth. Incedentally, leeks are supposed to be really bad keepers, for seeds. My seeds are at least 3 years old, and I’ve been keeping the packet in the freezer. I had at least 70% germination, which gives me more leeks than I know what to do with! I’ve re-potted some of the clusters of leeklings, because I hate thinning and I think leeks aren’t too sensitive to root disturbance, but I think soon I will be eating thinned leek sprouts.

More pictures soon, I promise!

Family Planning

It’s spring, and babies seem to be the big topic right now (well, it should be spring, but we are having snow – I guess that is spring in Alaska). I am planning for baby chicks, and soon my bees will show up and hopefully make babies. My little sis just had a lovely baby girl – welcome niece!! I am in love already, and I have only seen pictures and heard some soft baby noises on the phone.

Wanted babies are great. I mean, I’m not convinced that anyone should have 6 kids these days, but I think that if each of those was wanted and chosen, and everyone else had the kids they wanted and chose, life and the population trend wouldn’t be so bad. My own son was not so much planned, but he is very wanted and I am very happy to have him. And just him – one is plenty for me, we all have our own levels, and all are fine. I am glad there are plenty of options out there, from birth control to morning after pills to abortions, they all have their place in helping people have the lives they want, and nothing is served by the birth of a child by default – a not-so-wanted child is not likely to increase any happiness in the world as parents struggle to adapt and kids grow in an unideal atmosphere.

My friend Zane proposed, and I second, that it would be great if the default fertility state were ‘off’ and we all had to consciously choose to turn it on each time we wanted a kid (instead of the opposite, which is pretty much what we have).

This article from Grist lays out the environmental good of providing options to women nicely:
we need birth control not geoengineering

Yes, I know there is a world of political, religious, economic, etc opposition out there, but such is the case with most everything useful to ameliorating our environmental and social predicaments. I, for one, am happy that I have just traded in my shoddy old B.C. method (diaphragm – 6% failure rate a year with perfect use…but at least no hormones) for a copper IUD (.07% failure rate, also no hormones – much better and easier to use). My insurance even covered all but $30! OK spring, bring on the fecundity, I am protected and ready to vicariously enjoy!