September 30, 2011

Bee Robbing

We did not have enough honey to harvest this year, so instead we let the bees consolidate their bounty.
To keep warm in winter the bees get only two boxes, so we took the third box off the top and placed it next to the hive.
Since the box was no longer part of the hive the queen pheromone quickly vanished and all the bees from the hive started ransacking it. It was like a giant abandon warehouse full of gold just appeared! By the end of the day all the honey was removed from the comb and all the bees were in the two-story hive. If you look at comb you can see it was torn into and robbed without the care that the bees usually uses.

September 23, 2011

3 skunks

Over the past two day we have captured three skunks in our traps, baiting them with catfood or sausages.

On the first day we got a young skunk

On the second day we got one young skunk and one old one.I transported them all away to the beach. I hope now our bees can sleep in peace and not be so cranky.

September 21, 2011


Not sure if this critter was eating our bees, but he was in our trap, so it was off to Peacock Beach with him.

September 17, 2011

Autumnal Garden Bounty

We had a frost advisory last night, so Alden helped me pick some of the remaining frost sensitive vegetables in our garden. Here's what we hauled home yesterday. We've tried a few new crops this year which are pictured here - sweet potatoes (woot!), mellons (meh) and Korean sesame leaf, or ggaennip (fun!). I'm most proud of my sweet potatoes, pictured in the upper right, which are not easy to grow in Maine, but thrived in our newest plot. The mellons got a slow start - the worst of our cucurbits - and flowered late in the season. The fruits may not be ripe yet, but I didn't want to risk the frost damage, so I picked them anyway. The sesame leaf has been fun to experiment with. We received these seeds as a gift from our friends in NY who are Korean and American. They love this stuff and grow it in pots on their rooftop garden, so they thought we should give it a try. I had no idea what to expect, but they did well. The plants grew about 33" tall and produced beautiful, serrated cordate leaves with a really assertive and unique flavor. I'm at a bit of a loss to describe it. It's almost a minty, oniony cilantro, but it holds its flavor when cooked, so it's amazing in enchiladas and soups. Sesame leaf also makes a great wrapper for ceviche, sushi, and dolmas, and infuses a brilliant flavor to meats when stuffed in fish and grilled. I've really grown to love it and we're all having fun coming up with new ways to use it.
And of course, the tomatoes. We had reasonably good luck with the tomatoes, but they got septoria relatively early in the season and I didn't keep on top of it, so our plants were reduced to shriveled brown snarls much sooner than they should have been. We grew Orange Banana Paste tomato this year, which makes the sweetest tomato sauce I've ever had. Luscious is the only way I can describe it. We'll definitely grow this one again. The tomatoes pictured above were collected over a week or so and made about 8 cups of tomato sauce, which we froze and squirreled away. We also grew a variety of heirlooms and sun gold cherries, which are so sweet and tempting I don't think they have ever made it out of the garden.

September 11, 2011

Angry Bees

We've been amazed at how docile our bees are, even when we're routing around in their house. I've often wondered if they've had too much aggression bred out of them and if they would actually defend themselves against real attackers. That question was answered yesterday.

Kerstin was moving some cinder blocks in the area around the hive as he does every time he mows and was stung 4 times in rapid succession. Luckily Alden was not in the area and Kerstin had the presence of mind to run away like a big sissy. Not so luckily, one of the workers really jammed her stinger into Kerstin's hand, which swelled up like an inflated latex glove on the ring finger and pinky side.
We suspected that the bees were being robbed. This happens when workers from another colony decide that it's better to take honey from a weaker colony than collect their own nectar. The marauders either kill or sneak past the guard bees at the entrance and run roughshod though the hive, ripping open capped comb and stinging those who get in their way. The way to deal with robbing is to reduce the entrance to the hive and trap the offenders inside where they can get their asses handed to them by the angry colony. Kerstin set out the entrance reducer and crammed some grass in the crevices. We were then to wait until nightfall when all the workers would return to the hive and place a wet blanket around the hive, further sealing it and masking the smell of alarm pheromones which attract robbers. However, when we went out last night to put the blanket on, we were met with this:
There was skunk munching away on our poor bees under the hive. No wonder they're so pissed off! We chased the punk away and baited our havaheart trap with cat food (supposedly most attractive to skunks). I've since learned that skunks will scratch at the entrance of a hive to agitate the bees, and then eat them as they come out of the entrance or as they crawl under the screened bottom of the hive. We didn't catch the skunk in our trap last night, but we're going to shut the bees in their hive completely tonight so that the skunk can't get to them and see if we can get it tonight. We may need to lock up our bees at night for a while until we're sure the skunk (or skunks?!) is gone. Lessons learned for next year - put the hives on stands at least 18 inches off the ground so the skunks can't reach them. They're up on cinder blocks for this reason, but we only did 12 inches and it clearly wasn't high enough to protect them. We've also fenced off the underside of the hive with chicken wire so the skunk can't get underneath it.

The trouble is that early fall (i.e NOW) is the time to treat for varroa mites and our bees are much to angry to let us get anywhere near them. Kerstin and I can only work our bees on the weekends, so we had no choice but to medicate while the bees were riled up. For the first time since we've owned bees, we had to suit up completely to approach them and smoked them liberally. Kerstin removed the top two supers, and our livid bees immediately dive bombed us as I fumbled with the pads (we're using Mite Away Quick Strips this year). It seemed to take an eternity to put them down on the frames and close the hive up, but I think it took less than 30 seconds in actuality. I didn't get stung, but Kerstin got stung on a little strip of flesh above his wrist that was exposed by his cuff as he lifted the hive.

Now we know the fury our bees can summon, it makes me appreciate their normally gentle nature that much more. We just need to take care of this *#&ing skunk to get back to baseline.

September 7, 2011

First Day at a New School

Alden's first day at his new school was Thursday. He was supposed to start on Tuesday but he got sick early in the week and only fever-free for 24 hours by Thursday. He took an instant shine to the frogs in the classroom, naturally, but was otherwise pretty jittery at first. Kerstin stayed with him for about an hour before Alden was comfortable enough to part ways. He had a terrific first day at school, his teachers all reported. He was friendly and polite. He had no meltdowns, freakouts or pants wetting. We were all terribly proud of him.Alden is amazed (and perhaps a bit frightened) by his new cubbie!