farming FAIL

I don't even want to write this post, but I just have to do it anyway. It's going to start out bad, I'm just warning you. I'll try to end on a happier note, though, so I hope you stick with me.

Saturday I came home from visiting my family in Idaho. It was lovely, but earlier in the week Mr. HeyLucy called and said that something was wrong with Sally, she wasn't eating and was mostly just sitting on the nest she made to lay her eggs earlier this Spring. He was bringing her water and setting her in her little pool regularly, and she would drink, but wouldn't even eat apple slices-her very favorite food. This continued the rest of the time I was away. When Mr. HeyLucy met me at the airport he said she was in her pool when he left, and had even gotten in all on her own, so we were hoping that she was improving. Sadly, by the time we got home she was gone, we found her body still in her pool. I was glad that she was at least in one of her favorite spots, but so sad that I wasn't there for her at the end.


Good-bye little Miss Sally, we're going to miss you!

We're not sure what was wrong, but it could have been one of several things: 1) I was gone, and she was really bonded to me, so she felt abandoned. She followed me all over when I was outside, and she didn't particularly like being held, but would let me pick her up any time I wanted. I really hope this wasn't why she stopped eating. 2) She and Bear had a rather rocky relationship. She would often pull on his tail, and he knew he wasn't supposed to hurt her, but sometimes he just couldn't take it and would pin her down between his front paws and really growl at her. He might have unintentionally hurt her internally. Or 3) She nibbled on something poisonous. I can't think of anything that she might have found, we don't keep any plant food or weed killer around, but who knows what could be out there, she wandered all over the whole yard.

As if this wasn't enough to spoil my homecoming, I went and checked my garden and found two little hens having the time of their lives out there. Apparently a four-foot fence is not enough to keep a couple determined chickens out of the garden. I suspected chickens were the mysterious diggers, but I hadn't ever seen them out there. I guess I should be glad that mystery is solved.

Of course, while I was there I had to check on the bees. I noticed that they had pushed another rubber band out the front door, but not all the way, so I thought I'd help them out, and pulled it out the rest of the way. Unfortunately, there were a few bees hanging on to the other end and they were not happy about being yanked out of the hive. A couple of them were mad enough to sting me, one on my calf, just below my knee, and the other, through my pants on the front of my thigh on the other leg. I got the stingers out right away, and went straight to the house where I took a Benedryl and crushed up some aspirin, making a paste with a little water to put on the sting sites. I read about these treatments on one of my beekeeping lists, and I have to say, they worked brilliantly! Of course the Benedryl put me to sleep, but the aspirin got rid of the pain within minutes, and I didn't have any swelling at all. Now there are just small red blotches and they itch about as much as a mosquito bite, but that's it!

How about some better news? Remember these little creations? I got to see them modeled on this pretty little girl. My brother had a portrait session with the new family, and I got to be the lighting assistant. I have more photos to share from my trip, but it was really nice, and a lot of fun, and I'm still recovering at the moment, so the pictures will have to wait a few more days.

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I've been a little stressed out lately. Not from any one thing, just little things here and there. The grey, grey weather is not helping, and now there's something digging in my garden and I've lost some plants (again!). I feel a little discouraged. So the best thing to do in this situation is focus on the positive, right? So I'm that's what I'm trying to do.

Sometimes when I gather eggs from the coop there will be a soft little feather attached. It's a nice little bonus.

I moved the bees to their new hive last weekend, they seem to have settled in nicely. Here they are coming home in the evening, after a hard day's work. I was surprised to see them still up, I took this photo at about 7:30 p.m. and there was a steady stream of bees returning.


It was a fun little adventure to move them. The new hive is just about a foot over from where they were, so I don't think I messed their orientation up too much. I set it up and then opened the old hive and moved them over one frame at a time, keeping the order and direction all the same. I saw Queen Maria for the first time in a few weeks. She does still have her green dot, so I'm not sure how I've missed her until now. There are definitely more bees in the hive.That smudgy paint is going to bug me for a long time, I should have fixed it.

One more cheery, stress-reducing, good thing: Luna bars come in a new flavor-white chocolate macadamia nut. Holy Cow they are good. Luna bars are my 3:00 p.m., I want something sweet and crunchy, right now snack. They're better for you than cookies, and they do the trick for me.

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beekeeping report

It's time for a beekeeping report. I'm glad there's so much interest. When I first decided I wanted to keep bees a couple years ago, I searched all over for beekeeping bloggers, and didn't find much. Now it seems there is a plethora of beekeepers out there. It's so great!

I don't know if I mentioned that my new hive finally arrived, and I've assembled everything that wasn't already assembled, and painted all the exterior surfaces to protect the wood from the weather. The inside doesn't get any paint, because those fastidious little bees would likely chew it all off. They are a very tidy bunch. My hive has some frames with comb tied in with rubberbands. Since they're a new hive, the beekeeper gave them some pieces of comb to get started with, and they break off those bands just as fast as they can, and shove them out the front door. Sometimes they remove the bands faster than they can get the comb firmly attached to the frame as I learned on my second hive inspection, when all that fresh new wax just fell out of a couple frames as I lifted them up. I had to re-band them in place. One fell straight down into the hive, and it was quite nerve-wracking to stick my hand down in there to retrieve it. I did it, though, and they've since started building it out even more.

I'm still cracking myself up every time I think about my hive name, so I blatantly stole this idea from Leigh of Burbs and the Bees, and stenciled my queen's name on the front of the new hive. I'm too lazy to fit the entire "Von Trapp Family Stingers" on the hive, so that will remain my own little joke. I'm quite pleased with the results. I just got the alphabet stencils at Michael's, and made my own crown stencil. I also added the little medallion up top. I think I'll move everyone over this coming weekend. Better to do it now, before the hive gets too big. Excuse my messy shed.


I've been inspecting my hive most weekends, and it's growing slowly. I just hope they'll be strong enough by the end of the Summer to be able to make it through the Winter. Because we're in the mountains, flowers bloom later, so until there's a good nectar flow, I won't see a lot of growth. I'm also watching what is blooming, and noticing what the bees seem to like. I thought they would be all over the lavender, but so far they've just ignored it. Maybe it needs to open more? They loved the rosemary, but with only two bushes, there wasn't much there for them. I took a bunch of rosemary cuttings this past weekend, and am going to try rooting them and planting them around the yard so there will be more for them next year. They weren't interesting in the lilacs, and I haven't seen them in the honeysuckle, which surprises me. We have mustard all over the place, and I've seen a few bees there, but not many. There are wild flowers blooming around the valley, so maybe they're just foraging elsewhere.


There is nectar and pollen in most of the frames, with brood cells in the middle. I've been seeing lots of eggs and larvae, although I haven't actually seen my queen the last couple inspections. It's likely that her attendants have cleaned the green dot off her back, but as long as I see eggs in various stages of development, I know she's there.



If you look at the last picture full-sized, you might be able to see the tiny rice-like eggs.

Twice now I've witnessed them doing an orientation flight. The first time it happened I freaked out a little bit, and thought my little colony was going to swarm, but it turns out that it was just a bunch of new bees getting ready to start going out to gather nectar, pollen and water. On a nice afternoon they will go out and hover in front of the hive to get their bearings. It looked like a traffic jam to get in the hive. I went back to check on them a little later, and everything was back to normal. Here's a good video of bees on an orientation flight.

Oh, and I didn't want to forget to share this helpful tip. Be sure to toss your cat in your purse before leaving for work. You never know when you might need to have a cat handy. I personally prefer a calico-tabby mix, but you have to decide what works best for you.


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flip-flop day

Every now and then I like to have a pajama day, a nice lazy day during which I never bother getting dressed. A nap is also a requirement. Sometimes, however, I want to have a slightly more productive yet still relaxed sort of day. These days are best observed when the weather is warm and the sky is blue, and everyone else is at work, and you can just do whatever you want. Attire must be comfortable, just a notch above pajamas-because you might just go out in public (but only if you feel like it), and must include flip-flops. That’s the kind of day I had on Friday. I’ve been needing a couple days off, so I told Mr. HeyLucy I wasn’t going to work Friday or Monday, but he shouldn’t expect much out of me, I was only going to do whatever I felt like doing at the moment.

Here’s how my flip-flop day commenced. I slept in until eight, which is not too late, but enough to feel like I got a little bonus sleep. I took care of the basic morning chores in a leisurely manner (unlike my usual rush to get everybody fed and watered on my way out the door), and finished assembling and painting another box for my beehive. I glued and nailed the ten frames that fit inside. I have a little more to do with the frames, but I’ll tell you about that later.

Because a new hobby requires as many cute new accessories as possible, I whipped up a little headscarf from Weekend Sewing. The first time I wore my hat and veil to work the bees, my hair got twisted up and fell in my face, and you can’t exactly reach in and move it once you’ve got 10,000 buzzing bees in front of you. It worked perfectly when I wore it for yesterday’s hive inspection. Although it’s quite adorable, and I’ve worn it for most of the weekend while working in the yard, it’s not particularly flattering with my short hair poking out the back, so I’m afraid I will not be able to model it for you.


This pattern was just as easy as can be, and took all of 30 minutes. I highly recommend it!

Before leaving to go for a nice swim, I enjoyed a quick breakfast of Greek yogurt and strawberries. One of the best things about living in Southern California is our ridiculously long strawberry season, and I had the most perfect strawberries.

I headed to the pool, swam for a half hour or so, and then I got to just lay in the sun for another half hour. It was perfectly warm, with a tiny breeze and the bluest sky. It was such a treat since I usually swim on my lunch hour, which means 30 minutes in the pool and then rush to shower and dry my hair and get back to my desk.

I went out to lunch with a good book and had some spicy Thai food. I ordered some extra to take home for our dinner, and then headed over to Lowe’s to pick up everything I needed to build a raised bed for a vegetable garden this Summer.

Back home for the evening, I watched a little Buffy the Vampire Slayer, while knitting, of course. And then, worn out from my perfectly relaxing day, I went to bed and slept like a baby. I feel like such a braggert telling you all about my day, but it was just the nicest ever. I hope everyone takes a flip-flop day soon!

Speaking of knitting, I could use an opinion. I’m nearly done with my pumpkin sweater (Alpaca! Just in time for Summer!) and I have this lovely coral heather laceweight, enough for either the Whisper Cardigan or Featherweight Cardigan (Ravelry link). I just can’t decide. I love the back of Whisper, but being somewhat busty, i don’t know if the front is very flattering. I like the Featherweight Cardi, but it’s still a new enough pattern that there aren’t many finished versions on Ravelry yet. I love Ravelry just because you can see what the finished products look like on a variety of figures. Which do you prefer? Explain please. Oh, and the yarn? Knit Picks Merino Laceweight, $2.99 a hank, either sweater requires two to three hanks, and even including shipping that’s less than $12 total. Bargain sweater!


And one last thing, because this is rather long, but I did one other project recently that I’m quite pleased about. I made a little pin board for above my work table, and it’s so handy and it was very easy. I had a 12″ cork tile laying around, so I cut four one inch strips. I cut one of the strips in half, and then butted two strips together and glued a third, centered between the two. on top. That left the two halves, which I glued on either side of the centered strip, so I ended up with a double layer, 24″ strip of cork. I cut fabric into a 3 1/2 by 28 inch rectangle, and sewed it around the cork I just hung it up with strong double-sided foam tape, and that was that.


So handy! Now of course I’m going to have to make some cute push pins to coordinate. Maybe tomorrow.

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the zen of beekeeping

See the big bee with the green dot to the left, in the center? That's my queen! I did my first solo hive inspection this morning. I was a little nervous about doing it, and kept procrastinating, but once I got out there, lifting up the frames and talking to the bees, all the apprehension just left, and I felt amazingly calm.

A couple years ago, I read quite a bit about beekeeping, and thought I had a pretty good idea what to do, what to expect. With the arrival of the bees, however, I realized that I had forgotten nearly everything, and so have been feverishly re-reading everything about the subject I can find, combing (bee pun, sorry!) bee forums, actually reading all the e-mails from beekeeping lists (which, oh my goodness, the organic beekeepers list I subscribe to? Those are some seriously opinionated people. I didn't think there would be so much drama on a beekeeping list), and referring regularly to my stack of books. They say, ask five beekeepers what to do in any given situation, and you'll get six different answers, and I can confirm that this is true.

Back to the inspection. I could probably go on for paragraph after paragraph about bees, but I'll try to just stick to what I did while inspecting my hive. I was all decked out in my veil, jacket (an old Nautica scuba windbreaker of Mr. HeyLucy's-bright blue and green) and orange wellies. It's quite an outfit. My gloves have not yet arrived, so I used a pair of yellow rubber gloves-the kind you probably have under your sink, for doing dishes. I just thought you might enjoy the visual of my ridiculous outfit. The neighbors can all see me too, and I would love to know what they thought about my get-up. I filled my smoker with pine needles, lit it up, and gave it a few puffs from the bellows to get it going. I took my newly assembled hive body (more on that later), just in case they had filled the frames in their current box. I also had a bee brush and a pry bar, since my fancy Italian hive tool has also not yet arrived.

When I got to the hive I took the cinder block off the top (placed there to keep the lid on in case it gets windy), and set it next to the hive. I sat on it for the duration of my visit, since the hive is only one box so far, and quite low to the ground. I puffed a little smoke in the entrance, which sent everyone hanging out there inside the hive. Then I lifted the lid slightly, and gave them another good puff, lowered the lid and waited a few moments. It's important to work from  the side of the hive, rather than looming over it. I noticed a change in the hum of the hive as I moved around and over the top of it-it's truly a hive mind, and they are all constantly communicating. There were a few bees clinging to the underside of the lid, so I gently brushed them back into the hive, where they went without a fuss.

The whole time I was working there was only one bee who was really bothersome. One of the roles played by the workers is that of guard bee. There are usually a couple guard bees at the entrance. Their job is to ward off any danger, let everyone know if there is a threat, and check the bees returning from their nectar/pollen/water gathering flights, to make sure they are a part of the hive and not robber bees come to rob them of their honey. I think I had a somewhat over-zealous guard bee, trying to chase me away. She buzzed and buzzed and charged my veil. I just kept talking to her, to let her know I wasn't a bear, and I wasn't there to hurt anyone. She wasn't buying it, however, and kept right on buzzing at me until I left.

One by one I lifted out the frames to see what progress the bees had made this week. This is a 10-frame hive, but I only have 9 in it at the moment. The beekeeper who brought me this hive included some empty frames and added some comb to others with rubber bands to get the bees started. Here's an example of tied comb. Mine have rubber bands wrapped around the frames vertically, holding the comb, rather than horizontal string like that one, but the principal is the same. Typically, you can add plastic or wax foundation to your frame, but I'm keeping everything as natural as possible, and letting the bees build their own. Some say using the foundation is faster, some say foundation-less is faster, and there's all sorts of controversy about the size of the cells on the foundation being larger than what the bees make on their own, which has led to larger bees, which in turn is a contributing factor to colony collapse disorder. I told you, there is all sorts of drama in the beekeeping world. Still, I'm going with the natural comb. I'm going to try giving them some strips to start building off of, but I'll talk more about that another time.

During my inspection I pulled out one frame at a time, and examined it front and back. I returned each frame to its same location, in the same position as I finished examining it. I was looking for a few different things:

  • Were they building new comb? Yes, there was some new comb, although I had hoped for more, and most of it was empty-they haven't been filled with eggs, pollen or nectar.
  • Was the queen alive and active? She's there, and was moving around busily
  • Are there eggs/larvae/capped brood? Yes, but I didn't see a ton of new eggs and larvae like I saw last week. Some of the brood cells seem scattered, but I don't know if that's just because bees have hatched and left the empty cells, or if the queen skipped them, or if they just didn't develop. You can see the caps below, and the new, light comb they've built, to the right.
  • Are they building up pollen and nectar (to become honey)? One of the frames had lots of pollen in the cells, but I didn't see nectar, which has me concerned. I think I may need to feed them some honey as they develop. I'd guess there are somewhere between 10,000-20,000 bees in there now, but to get strong they should build up to 60,000-80,000 bees. Plus, more bees=more honey :o) 

So, I'm not too worried, but a little concerned about a couple things. I think I'll feed them some honey this week, and see if their productivity increases. Up here in the mountains, blooming is really just getting started, so they should have more resources over the next few weeks. Right now the poppies are just starting to bloom, and I saw some mustard blossoms this morning for the first time this Spring. They've been in the rosemary, but there's only two bushes in our yard, not nearly enough for a whole hive.


When I was finished with my inspection I carefully and slowly slid the lid back in place, making sure I didn't crush any bees in the process. And that was it! It didn't take too long, and it was so fascinating to watch them all hard at work. I will have to get my camera all set up before I go out next time, it's not too easy taking picture through my veil, and I couldn't change the settings. I wish I didn't have the aperture set so low, all the pictures I took are have lots of bokeh around the edges, which is cool most of the time, but not for this. I am also going to need to do some beekeeper accessorizing, I think. An apron or box for my tools would be very handy. I sense some sewing coming on this weekend.

I hope that was interesting, feel free to ask questions, I am loving talking about bees. Also, if you want to learn more, but not necessarily take up beekeeping yourself, I highly recommend Robbing the Bees, by Holley Bishop. It's a fascinating history of bees, honey, and beekeeping, definitely worth reading.

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