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Friday, December 30, 2016

Post #62: My First Cut-out Part 1


So now I am a beekeeper!  I have two hives.  I’ve read several books.  I belong to a couple of beekeeping forums.  I even went to a one-day Beekeeper School.  I must be an expert!

At least my friends seem to think so.  In reality, I know there is a whole lot I still don’t know.  I still don’t even know if I can keep a hive alive through the dearth months of the Summer, much less the Winter.

A somewhat hyperactive, maybe even impulsive Friend, called me one evening in July.  His friend had a colony of bees lodged between the roof and ceiling of his porch.  The Homeowner had called a local bee swarm remover.  The professional wanted $300 plus to remove the colony.  Homeowner had felt that the fee was too high.  Friend assured Homeowner that I would be glad to help them get the bees out of the house for free.

As I listened to Friend’s story, a small voice inside me was saying “NO, don’t do it.”  But a louder voice was saying “What an adventure!”  Of course, the louder voice won out!  After all, I was an expert now, wasn’t I (see above)?  I had even watched several YouTube videos of people catching swarms, so I should be able to handle this.

I agreed to get the bees if Friend would help and would keep the bees.  I also advised Friend that I can tear apart, but not put back together.  I have had a lot of experience over the years taking things apart.  I’ve also had a lot of experience attempting to put things back together.  I am definitely better at creating chaos than at creating organization.

Not to worry, Friend reminded me that he has good carpentry skills, and Homeowner is a cabinet maker.  The two of them will make sure everything is rebuilt and in good order once we have removed the bees.

Friend found an online store and bought his own beekeeper's outfit and starter hive.  We waited a week for everything to arrive and for Friend to build and paint the hive.

In the meantime, I built a bee vacuum out of surplus plywood I've got lying around.  I'm not a carpenter, and the bee vacuum looks like it.  There are at least two different thicknesses of plywood.  The suction hose does not fit tightly, and there are a few gaps along the edges. 

The key to a bee vacuum is that you want just enough suction to pull the bees in.  Too much suction and you damage or kill the bees as they bang against the hose or land hard in the box.  Hence, my lousy carpentry was an asset in this instance.  There were lots of air leaks.


I was ready for this new adventure.  Soon, I would add the title of Bee Swarm Remover to my resume!  Tomorrow I would venture out and rescue Homeowner’s house from a colony of bees that had invaded their home.
But for now, it was time to rest and wait for dawn.
 


Saturday, December 17, 2016

Post # 61: Still trying to Buy Bees


It is now January, and I’ve just learned that I have to wait until April to get my package of bees!  I’m practicing patience, and starting my journey into bee knowledge.

Almost immediately after clicking the “order” button at RWeaver, I bought some books, found some online Beekeeper Forums, and started doing the research.  Almost everyone suggests you start with two hives.  That way, if one hive gets weak, you can call on the resources of the second hive to help rescue the weak one.

OK.  I needed to change my order.  So, I waited until the following Monday.  Mondays are the best time to talk to the RWeaver Lady.  When Monday rolled around, I called the RWeaver Lady.  I asked if I could change my order from one package to two packages.  She agreed that two packages would be better.  She advised that I ignore the invoice she was sending, and she would send out a new invoice.

More reading, more opinions about the best way to start a hive.

Another term I had never heard of emerged from the pages: “Nucs.”  Short for Nucleus. 

A Nuc is like half of a hive.  Instead of the standard ten frames of comb filled with 50,000 bees or so, it has five frames, filled with 20,000 bees or so.  The frames already have comb built on them.  The queen is already working and laying eggs, the bees have already stored honey and pollen.  It is a working mini-hive.

Another Monday phone call.  The RWeaver lady knows my name by now.  I’m pretty sure she just rolls her eyes and digs out a new order-form every time she sees my phone number.  I asked about Packages versus Nucs, and what she thought.

The advantage, of course, is that the bees in nucs don’t have to do as much work to get established, and so they have a better chance of “Surviving the Winter.”

It seems that the number one concern for the beekeeper is to help their hive survive the winter.  Winter is hard on the bees and seems to be pretty hard on the beekeeper, too.  I mean, it is January, I don’t even have any bees yet, and I’m already worried about getting my bees through next winter.  I’ll get gray hair worrying about these bees and the next winter.

Oh yeah.  My hair is already gray.

“Please change my order from two packages to two Nucs.”  She again advised me to “ignore the invoice that she just sent …”

“… and you’ll send out a new one” I finished for her.

Well.  The bees have been ordered.  It is still January, and April seems like forever getting here.  I didn’t call the RWeaver lady anymore.  I admit that I sent her an email in March, letting her know that I’d be willing to pick up my nucs if they happened to be available sooner.  She politely let me know she would keep that in mind.  Of course, we both knew that wasn’t really going to happen.

During this long wait, I kept occupied by ordering woodenware and tools and bee-related gadgets right and left. 

Did I mention we’re doing this because Wife wanted bees for her garden?  It’s not about me.  No, really.  It’s not. 

It’s for Wife.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Post # 60: Buying Bees 25 years later


With my first bit of research, I learned that I wanted to buy a “Package” of bees.  I had bought my queens from Weaver Apiary back in the 1980’s, and so I had some trust in the name (see posts 49 & 50).  Well, actually, it was the only place I knew of that sold bees.  I hadn’t really researched other options.

The Weaver Apiary had, like bees often do, swarmed and split into two or three different apiaries.  There was BWeaver and RWeaver in Navasota.  And I think there is a third Weaver in Arizona. 

I went online and researched the new apiaries.  I settled on the one that was the direct descendant of old man Weaver; RWeaver.  When I bought a queen back in the 1980’s, I bought a queen who was supposed to be calm and friendly.  The last thing I wanted was a cranky old bee.  So I bought a bee that was from the “Buckfast” line of bees.

Well, fast forward a few decades, and we now have bees that are so intermixed, it is difficult to know whether the bee is truly from one line of bees or another.  Apparently queens are not picky when it comes to choosing mates.  She may go out on a mating flight only once, but when she does, she mates with a lot of different fellas.

In recognition of the wanton ways of queen bees, RWeaver has named one of their lines of bees the “All-American” bee.  I pictured her wearing Superman tights and a red white and blue cape flowing down her back.

I went to Package Bees, selected the All-Americans and got set to click on the Order button.  There were options.  When would I like to get my bees?

Well, today of course!  I’m ready right now.  It was January when I was looking at the site. 

I clicked on the drop-down box and the earliest date available was …

April. 

Really? 

I had to make my first phone call to RWeaver.  I quickly learned that everybody at RWeaver works with the bees.  The receptionist was out in the field and asked if I could call her back on Monday, when she’d be in the office working on orders.

I waited until Monday and called: “Are you sure I can’t get my bees any sooner?” 

“No, they won’t be ready.” 

“Sigh, ok.” And I hung up.

Being the impulsive guy that I am, I went back onto the computer and ordered the package of bees.

“OK,” I thought to myself, “this gives us some time to dig into research and learn everything there is to know about beekeeping before they arrive.”

If only it were that simple!

 

Friday, November 18, 2016

Life Lessons from Dogs, Bees and Others.: Post # 59: 25 years later and we’re back to bees

Life Lessons from Dogs, Bees and Others.: Post # 59: 25 years later and we’re back to bees: One of the great things about Wife is her incredible Green Thumb!   She started planting vegetables when she was seven.   She started off ...

Post # 59: 25 years later and we’re back to bees


One of the great things about Wife is her incredible Green Thumb!  She started planting vegetables when she was seven.  She started off with radishes, a vegetable she doesn’t really even like to eat.  But they grew, and they grew large, and they grew in a plot of dirt that didn’t seem to want to grow anything but sticker-burrs before Wife came along.

Every apartment and every house we’ve lived in Wife has managed to have a garden.  Even if it was just a couple of tomato plants.  Her only unsuccessful garden was the year she planted one tomato.  That was the year that she realized even tomatoes need love.  Without another plant nearby, there was nothing for her poor plant to pollinate with.

Our little garden in the back yard of our current house has now tripled in size and has become a raised garden.  Last January, while we were discussing the next Spring garden, Wife made the comment that her garden would do a lot better, would produce more tomatoes and more vegetables, if only we had some bees.

Well, I admit I was very interested in getting back into the bee business.  Wife might tell you that I was on the phone ordering bees and hives before the words left her mouth.

But, that’s an exaggeration. 

I’m sure it was at least ten minutes before I was pressing the “Buy” button on the computer.

Buying a box of bees was a new experience for me.  For my first experience, the bees were free and all I had to buy was the queen.  I knew you could buy bees.  I didn’t know that they are called a “Package” of bees.

When you order a Package of bees, they come in a big wooden box with screened sides.  There is also a Queen in a cage and a can of sugar water to keep everyone happy and well fed.  When the package arrives you just pour the bees out of the package and into your hive. 

It’s all very safe.  I know it must be, because you can watch YouTube videos of people pouring their bees into their hive without the benefit of a bee suit or veil.  I guess the guys who get stung doing this don’t put their videos on YouTube.

Oh, and once the bees are in the hive, you add the queen (without feeding her to the ants).  Don’t forget the queen.

I placed my order in January.  The online forms said couldn’t have our bees until the end of April. 

That gave me way too much time to research bees and bee equipment.

And I’m learning that there is way too much that I still don’t know about bees!

Friday, November 4, 2016

Post #58: Death Expectancy


I am now one year away from the U.S. Government’s demarcation for “Old Age.”

These days, however, when someone says they are 65 years old, people still tend to think of them more as “older middle aged” rather than old.  At age 65 we are expected to still be active, engaged with people, sociable, capable of hard work, and maybe having fun with a little bit of spare time.

Telling someone you are 70, however, brings about a different stereotype.  In just five years, we have gone from healthy and active to someone who is old.  And this stereotype is often true.  Seventy year olds tend to move more slowly than 65 year olds.  They tend to have more health problems.  And they tend to have fewer friends.  It’s not that people don’t like 70 year olds.  It’s just that a 70-year old’s friends have started dying off.

That’s another stereotype of the 70-year-old man or woman.  They tend to die during this decade.  They don’t die as often as in the past.  Still, when you hit your 70’s things turn around.  You no longer have a “life expectancy.”  You now have a “death expectancy.”

At 70, your employees begin to wonder how much longer they will have to work for you.  Your supervisees become hopeful that you will die and leave a higher paying vacancy for them to fill. 

At 70 relatives begin to calculate your net worth.  They worry about you having a lengthy illness that will eat up all of your investments.  They wonder how much like them, and what share of your legacy they will inherit.

Enemies start planning the celebrations they will have and how it will be to finally be free of their anger with you when you die in your 70’s.

A lot of people will be sitting around, waiting for you to die when you hit 70.

That’s a lot of pressure to put on a 70-year-old!  Thank goodness at 70 we usually have the time to take Yoga lessons, Thai Chi, or Meditation.  We can learn how to counter the pressure others are putting on us to die!

Then, one day we hit 80.  When that happens, we can not only celebrate our birthday, but we can also celebrate having disappointed all of those who were anticipating our death at 70.  This will likely launch a new round of death expectations.  “Surely,” everyone will be thinking without saying aloud, “he will die soon.”  Unfortunately, everyone thinking this has statistics on their side.  There are a lot fewer 80 year olds than 70 year olds. 

So, the waiting game starts again.  This time, however, it’s been 10 years, and a lot of those waiting for you to die when you were in your 70’s have themselves died.

For those of us who are truly competitive, there is the 90’s.  Once again, we will have frustrated those who predicted or anticipated our death during the 80’s.  The good news here is that more of these death expectant people are no longer around.  You beat them at their own game.  While they were waiting for you to die, they succumbed to death themselves.

The bad news is that by the time you hit your 90’s, the odds of surviving another decade have really turned against you.

The best you can do now is to enjoy every moment of your 90’s (and possibly 100’s), and keep everyone waiting for as long as you can.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Post # 57 First Adventures in Voice Technology


I was born in the Midwest, and moved around quite a bit as a child.  Mostly, I lived in states where the regional accent was benign.  There was very little to make fun of, as far as accent goes.  Maybe I picked up a few words that were worthy of a joke, but I’ll discuss that later.

Now I live in South Texas.  And there is a bit of an accent down here, but it isn’t really obvious.  Not unless you’re a machine, that is.

Voice Technology began creeping into our cars sometime back in the late 80’s or early 90’s.  I recall when everyone crowded around a colleague’s car because the car would talk to him.  If he left the door open, the car told him about it.  We’d go stand around his car during lunch and make him open and close the car door until the battery ran down.

Then I bought my first car with OnStar.  The OnStar lady (notice how it’s always a woman’s voice?) could tell me where I was going.  For an extra fee, she’d let me make phone calls from the car.

I don’t know how Wife felt about me inviting this new female into our home, but I do know she was against my paying out good cash just so I could call her from the car to let her know I was on my way home from work. 

I ordered the service, anyway.

And it was pretty cool.  All I had to do was remember the phone number I wanted to call and tell OnStar.  She’d dial the number for me, and soon I’d be chatting away as I drove down the highway.

It took a little encouragement to get Wife to try out OnStar.  She thought it might be dangerous to try to talk on the phone while driving (she always was ahead of the game when it comes to safety).

Finally, she gave in and gave it a try.

Wife was born and raised in South Texas.  She has the South Texas accent.  Unfortunately, OnStar doesn’t understand South Texas very well.

Wife started out fine.  The area code and first three numbers went smoothly.  Then she got to a number that OnStar couldn’t interpret.  OnStar asked wife to repeat the number.

Wife repeated the number.

OnStar repeated the wrong number and asked if that was correct.

Wife told her “No!”

OnStar asked wife to repeat the number.

The two of them carried on this same conversation eight or nine more times.

Each time, Wife’s voice got a little louder.

OnStar remained inscrutable. 

Wife got closer and louder.

OnStar continued to make demands for Wife to repeat herself.

Wife ended up traveling 30 miles an hour down the road with her mouth three inches from the mirror. Oh, and that safety thing?  She was traveling down the center stripe!

It didn’t matter how loud Wife yelled, how much she changed her accent, how slowly she spoke, or how close she got to the mirror.  OnStar refused to understand.

I don’t think Wife ever spoke to OnStar again.  OnStar knew Wife didn’t trust her, didn’t like her.  So OnStar rebelled.  OnStar pretended she wasn’t bothered by Wife’s distrust of her.  She maintained a seemingly calm demeanor throughout the episode.  Still, I think OnStar was a little shaken.  She was never quite the same after that.

I soon learned that I couldn’t trust OnStar when wife was in the car with me.  OnStar tried to make me drive through a building in downtown Dallas once so I could get to the other side.  The road ended in a T intersection, and the building was in front of me.  OnStar insisted I drive straight ahead, through the building!

Of course, Wife was with me.  I think maybe she was just being obstinate.  I may have even heard a little giggle in her voice as she kept insisting that the road was really there, all I had to do was trust her and drive straight ahead.  Across traffic.  Up the stairs.  Through the lobby.  And out onto the other side.

I learned not to ask anything of OnStar when wife was in the car.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Post #56 Time is Relative!


Well I really did understand that Red and I weren’t married.  I knew that Marryn’ Sam was a fraud.

Red and I dated throughout high school.  Then she went off to Texas Tech in Lubbock, while I went to college at Texas A&I in Kingsville.  The next semester, she went to a Junior College near home, and I stayed at A&I.  The following semester, Red went to the University of Houston, and I stayed at A&I.  She remained at the same university for two semesters in a row, so I followed her to U of H.  We continued dating while in college.

Red is smarter than I am.  And she proved it in college.  Not only did she get better grades, but she had enough sense to not lose any credits despite her multiple moves.  She even shifted majors, and was still on track for graduation after four years.

On the other hand, I managed to lose enough credits that it took me an extra year to graduate.

We dated.  We got serious.  And we talked about marriage.  Red told me she didn’t want to get married until after we had graduated.  I thought that was fine.  It would be better if we had jobs when we got married.

One day during the Fall semester, we were sitting on a bench under one of the trees on campus.  I could tell something was wrong with Red.  We talked, and I waited for her to tell me what was bothering her.  She pointed out that she was graduating after the Spring semester. 

I knew that. 

Then, she asked me when I was going to propose to her.

I was stunned.

Now, I confess that I am a person who is time challenged.  I know things are going to happen in the future.  I know they are happening right now.  And I know that some things happened in the past.  Just don’t ask me to get any more precise than that, or my circuits get overloaded.  I’ll get a blank stare on my face, look at my watch, search for a calendar, and hem and haw until I’m told when something is actually supposed to happen.

So, being stunned wasn’t so much about my needing to propose.  It was about not knowing that I was maybe supposed to have already done it. 

I had thought we would both graduate, and then I’d ask her to marry me. 

I also had no idea that engagements were supposed to be anything more than a couple of weeks long. 

How hard was it to have a wedding?  Go to church, invite your parents and two friends, and get married!

Red, bless her heart, is the queen of time.  She commands watches and calendars like a maestro commands his orchestra.  She knows within a minute how long it takes to get somewhere, what time an event is supposed to happen, and whether we’ll get lost on the way.

To her, I was already late.  Time was ticking down.  Once she explained that only one of us needed to be graduated, I was onboard.

Being a traditional kind of guy, I think I may have muttered some kind of agreement to her, and then remained silent.  She likely thought I was a lost cause.  Inside, I was trying to figure out how to get to her parents’ home four hours away to ask her dad for her hand and not be missed by her or miss classes.

I managed to drive the four hours to her folks that Saturday.  I arrived at her house, only to find it empty.  As I sat in the driveway, contemplating what to do next, Red’s parents pulled up.  It was a bit of a miracle, since they had been out of town on a trip, and I just happened to be there only minutes before they arrived.

Future Dad in Law was an intimidating man.  He was outspoken and blunt.  If he didn’t approve of something, he did not hesitate to let you know. 

After I hemmed and hawed a bit, I was finally able to tell her parents why I was sitting in their driveway.  Future Dad in Law agreed that I could marry Red. 

Another miracle!

Red and I had a favorite restaurant in Houston that was close to the university.  We went there almost every week.  So she wasn’t expecting anything when we went on our next date.

The waitress took our order and left.  Then I was down on one knee with the ring in my hand.  I asked her to marry me.

I think Red said something like “Get up!  What are you doing?”
...

And then she said “Yes!”

Time really is relative.  It seems to fly by more quickly than before. 

After 42 years of marriage and 47 years of dating, neither one of us really remembers life before we met.  Life before there was an US just really doesn't matter.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Post #55 Sadie Hawkins Day


I will be forever grateful to Al Capp and his comic strip “Li’l Abner.”  Al Capp invented what was probably the first women’s rights movement when he started Sadie Hawkins Day in his comic strip in 1937.

Let me offer a brief introduction for those of you too young to know about Li’l Abner, Daisy Mae, and Sadie Hawkins Day.  Daisy Mae was sweet on Li’l Abner, but Li’l Abner didn’t want to get married.  However, Daisy Mae had a chance to make Li’l Abner marry her every year on Sadie Hawkins Day.  This was the day of the great race, named in honor of a woman named Sadie.  Sadie was supposedly so ugly, that her daddy had to create the race just so she could catch someone and marry him.  On Sadie Hawkins Day roles are reversed, and women are put in control.

Every single woman in Dogpatch was given the power to marry the man of her choice on this day.  She just had to catch him and drag him to Marryn’ Sam.

This fictional holiday became popular across the country.  Universities, colleges, and high schools were offering Sadie Hawkins day races, followed by a dance.

I had just moved into this small South Texas town during the summer before my Senior Year in high school.  I was shy, and didn’t know anyone at the school.  I spent most of my time in Study Hall because I had more credits than I needed.  Since I didn’t know anyone, I spent my time reading novels or studying for my classes.

There was one cute red-headed girl in one of my study halls that mistook my time spent with my nose in books for intelligence.  She thought I was studious and probably nice.

To my amazement, she asked me if I would run in the Sadie Hawkins Day race and let her chase me.

This was my first experience with Sadie Hawkins.  I knew about the fictional race because I read the funnies.  But until this time, I didn’t know that schools were actually re-enacting the race.

This was also my first time to be asked out by a girl!  I didn’t think about my answer.  I just said “Yes!”

That Friday, I showed up in old clothes.  I think everyone was supposed to look like they lived in Dogpatch.  I’m sure whatever I wore wasn’t very convincing.

We all met at the football field, the boys lined up a couple of yards ahead of the girls.  The announcer gave us the “ready, set, go!” and fired the starter pistol.

I took off toward the other end of the field.  The whole time debating whether I was supposed to really try to escape, or just kind of act like I didn’t want to get caught.

That was silly!  Of course I wanted to be caught!

The chase was short.  I think I was a bit of a disappointment because I didn’t put up a fight or act very hard to get.  As Red and I walked back to start, I watched the others.  I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why the guys were putting up such a fight!  I think some of them had to be tackled to the ground.  As I watched closer, I could tell the girls were getting really aggressive.  The guys didn’t have a chance.

After the race we all stood in a crowd around a platform that might have been the bed of somebody’s pickup.  Marryn’ Sam stood above the crowd and married all of us.  Just right then and there!  It was a mass wedding.

Red didn’t tell me until years later that it wasn’t for real.

I’m still married to her!

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Post # 54 Compliments Can Become Burdens


Be wary of compliments.  Compliments are fun to receive.  They feel good at the time, but sometimes, they can be life changing.  Sometimes a compliment can be placed on you that changes the way you think about yourself, and the way you behave.  I received such a compliment in the summer of 1998.  It is a burden and an honor that haunts me to this day.

I graduated with my doctorate in 1996 and passed my state board exam in 1997.  I had been working for Boss for ten years, and was at that stage where conflict between the two of us was growing.

My degree empowered me to think about an independent future.  It was a little like going through adolescence all over.  I was full of knowledge, and it seemed like the more I knew, the less Boss knew.  He noticed, and talked to me about this.  Of course, I realized that he was right, and attempted to adjust my attitude.

Still, I wanted to leave, but knew I couldn’t because I needed Boss to supervise me for a year to become fully licensed.

Feeling trapped in a job is the quickest way to grow resentment toward that job.  I now felt trapped, and was becoming unhappy. 

With school debt added to the normal every day bills to pay, I continued to work for Boss while swallowing the desire to be somewhere else.

Then Providence stepped in.  Providence came in the form of an older, respected psychologist from a nearby town.  She invited me to start a new practice in her small non-profit center.

Providence was a strong proponent of a new treatment for mental health, especially for Attention Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder, called Neurofeedback.  She and I had both spent time going to workshops and trainings across the country.  I had studied Neurofeedback and had written my dissertation on its use.  Providence wanted to offer this newly emerging form of treatment to her community and hoped I would come to work for her.  Providence was licensed and she was prepared to do the one-year supervision I needed.

My heart leapt for joy, but I needed to think about it.  Starting a practice is hard.  It takes a while for money to start coming in.  A contract from somewhere might make a difference. 

I contacted the school district where I was about to start my practice.  Practice Town School was interested, and understood that I could start in two weeks.

With support from Wife, I (actually, WE), took a huge leap of faith.  Despite young children, car payments, a house payment, and despite a student loan that probably wouldn’t get paid until I was 75, I agreed to work with Providence.

I was nervous as I walked into Boss’s office the next day and gave him my two weeks’ notice.

Boss gave me two hours to move out of my office.

My anxiety morphed into anger.   

My friends from the office were saying sad goodbyes as I packed my things.  In the middle of all of this commiseration, I was told I had a phone call. 

Practice Town school didn’t want to wait for two weeks.  They wanted me tomorrow!

My anger evaporated.  I was smiling while my friends continued their angry glares toward Boss’s office.

 

***

 

My practice took off.  It grew, and I eventually had a practice that was larger than I had ever thought I wanted.

The summer after I started working at the nonprofit center, I thanked Providence for helping me to get launched in my own practice.  Then I asked her “Why did you ask me to come to Practice Town?  There were others who could have done this for you.”

Her response surprised me.

“Because you have integrity.”

I was stunned.  I’d never thought about myself in this manner before. 

“You have integrity.” 

That is both a compliment that I value, and a goal that I now feel obligated to live up to.

“Integrity.”

This revered old psychologist knighted me with this label one hot summer day in the cramped quarters of my office in an old house that was serving as offices for a nonprofit counseling center.  It was the humblest of settings, yet I will always remember her words. 

Those words guided me as I built my practice.  They were with me as I greeted each new client, and every time I went before a judge to testify.  I will always remember that summer. 

I will always strive to live up to Providence’s expectation.

This compliment could have become a burden.  In truth, it is an honor that I hope I always remember.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Post #53 The Importance of a Balance in Nature


Wife and I were encouraged to move into Wife’s parents’ home after they died.  Initially, we didn’t think we wanted do this.  But the idea grew on us.  The house was built sometime around 1920.  Wife had moved into the home when she was around age seven.  The house had a lot of character, and it had a lot of room.
Once we moved in, we realized the house needed some updating.  The electrical wiring was ancient, it had settled quite a bit, and some of the fixtures needed to be replaced.

One of the first things to go was the old bathtub.  We decided to replace the tub with a marble tub with jets for Wife’s back.  The plumbers came out and removed the old tub for us.  Under the tub we found a lot of plastic grocery bags and a “Jesus Loves You” banner. 
Rats!  “But at least they were Christian rats” I tried to explain to Wife as she threatened to burn down the house.  I stopped up all of the holes with wire and steel wool.  The new tub was put in place the next day, and all was fine.

The house sat on pier and beam.  It was three to four feet above the ground, depending on which side of the house you were on.  This made for a nice nest for a variety of animals.  With dogs, you can’t really allow possums and raccoons to just live under your house.  Besides the risk of eating the wiring, they infest the yard with fleas, and will fight back if challenged by a dog.
So, I bought a live trap and began catching the possums and the coons.

I caught at least one possum or raccoon every evening.  Sometimes, I’d get a “two-fer” and find a pair of small possums in the trap.  I put the trap in the bed of my pickup, drove a few miles out of town, and released the animals.
Finally, the numbers started to dwindle.

My neighbor began to complain about the cat population.  The cats were monitoring his wife’s bird bath and eating the birds.  He asked if he could borrow the trap.
For the next few months, he trapped cats.

A short time later, we began hearing noises in our attic and between the walls.  Wife’s parents had carpeted the old house, and we knew the house had wood floors.  So we pulled up the carpeting in preparation for getting the wood floors finished.  The molding between the wall and the carpeting was now hanging about a half inch over the floor, while we waited on the workers to come in and sand and finish the bedroom floor.  That night, we could hear noises in the walls in our bedroom. 
Henry and PD could hear and smell something, too.  They began barking at the wall.

I got my flashlight, lay down on the floor and shined the light.  Little eyes were shining back at me.  The rats had returned.  I was able to pitch some rat poison through the gap between the wall and the floor, and then removed and replaced the floor molding.
For the attic, I bought a Rat Zapper.  The Rat Zapper was a cool trap that electrocuted the rats when they went in for food.  We killed several.

I finally “got it.” 
We needed the possums and coons to keep the cat population in check.  We needed the cats to keep the rat population in check.  Once I quit trapping animals, we were able to return to a natural balance.  The rats were gone.  There was an occasional possum killed in the back yard by the dogs, but for the most part, the possums left us alone.

Well, then there were the occasional skunks.  I had no mercy for the skunks, and they had no mercy for us.  You can read about poor Henry and his skunky encounters in a previous post (#27, I believe).
But, for the most part, I developed a “leave ‘em alone” attitude unless they became a nuisance.  It wasn’t as much fun.  But at least we had no rats. 

Not even Christian Rats.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Post #52 Bee Having


A Beekeeper is someone who “keeps” bees.  Today, that means that the beekeeper cares for his or her bees, and provides for the bees those things that help a beehive stay healthy.

When I had bees in the 1980’s, I was what is now considered to be a “bee haver” rather than a beekeeper.  I went out to visit the hives every once in a while.  I was aware of the diseases that bees were prone to back then, but did nothing to watch for the disease or treat it. 

Back then, the major concerns were American Foulbrood (AFB), European Foulbrood (EFB), and Wax Moths.  AFB was the most deadly.  If a hive was found with this dreaded disease, it needed to be destroyed and the woodenware burned.  EFB could be deadly, but burning the boxes and frames wasn’t necessary.  Wax Moths were messy, and difficult to come back from.

I usually harvested honey from the bees whenever we began to run low on honey.  I would pull a couple of frames from the honey super and stick them in my solar wax melter.  I made sure my bees had empty frames with wax foundation to work on.  But mostly, they were a novelty, and very easy to have.

The whole family became involved in the bees.  I was even able to get Wife suited up and sent out to do a hive inspection.
 

The last time I went out to check on the hives I was surprised to find a huge mess inside the hive.  Ants had made their way in.  And so had the wax moths.  There was webbing all over the hive.  Small grubs, baby moths, were crawling in and out of the comb, and the wood had long grooves eaten out of it by the hungry moth larvae. 

My bees had left, and in their place was this mess. 

This was 1991 or 1992.  By now, the Africanized Honey Bee (AHB) had made its way up from Hidalgo, Texas and was present in my county in South Texas!  There was a lot of fear associated with AHB, and counties were being placed in quarantine as the AHBs infiltrated.  I probably could have imported a new hive from Weaver Apiaries, but the novelty of having bees had worn off.  The mess made by the ants and the wax moths seemed really big.  And finally, my life had become really busy. 
By now, I was working in a new job and I was back in school.  So, I walked away from the bees, and left them alone for 25 years.                

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Post #51 Harvesting Honey


I don’t really remember which books or other resources I used to help me with my bee keeping in the 1980’s.  But I do recall giving some thought as to how I was going to harvest the honey the bees made.



Harvesting honey can be a messy job.  You pull a frame of comb out of the hive, and it can be filled with baby bees (brood), or it can be filled with honey.  If it is a brood comb, you leave it in the hive so the brood will develop fully and keep your hive going.  If it is filled with honey, and the honey has been capped, then you can either leave it for the bees, or you can steal it from the bees for yourself.



Once you steal the honeycomb, you have to figure out a way to get the honey out of the comb.  The ideal way to get your honey out of the comb is to use a honey extractor.  This involves using a special knife to cut off the caps, thus opening the comb.  You’ll need some kind of a tub to catch the caps you cut off and to collect the bit of honey that comes out with the wax caps.

You place the opened frame inside the extractor.  The extractor is usually a large bucket with a basket to hold the frame.  The basket is situated such that it has a central axis, around which the frames can be spun.  There may be room for two frames, four, six, and so on.  The idea is that the basket needs to be balanced, so that it doesn’t go crashing into the side of the bucket when spun.  Once you place your open frames in the extractor, you spin the basket, and the honey is pulled out of the comb by centrifugal force.

The bucket should have a spigot at the bottom so you can pour the honey out easily.  There will be a lot of debris mixed in with the honey, so you can’t just pour the honey directly into a bottle.  Instead, you pour the honey through one or two filters into another bucket.  Allow the air bubbles to rise to the top, and then pour your honey into bottles.

After all of this, you can put your “wet” comb back into the hive for reuse by your bees.  But you still have some wax that needs to be taken care of.  You have the cappings as well as any other comb that may have broken off during the extraction process. 

More equipment is needed for the wax.  A double boiler should help melt the wax without burning it, and more filters to get the debris out of the melted wax when you pour it into whatever containers you have at hand.

Whew!  That was a lot of equipment to buy.  I didn’t have the kind of free cash to make those purchases, nor did I have a place to store all of that equipment.  And, it all sounded like a lot of work to me. 

Aren’t bees supposed to be fun?

I came across something called a Solar Wax Melter in my readings.  Somewhere in there, my head re-imagined this term as Solar Wax Extractor.  I found a simple, inexpensive solution to honey harvesting.

A solar wax extractor was something I could build.  It was basically a box with a plexiglass lid!  I followed somebody’s plans and used plywood that was probably left over from some other project.  The box had legs on one end, to give it a slant.  I painted the box white on the inside, black on the outside to maximize the sun’s ability to heat my wax.

What I lacked was a tray to put the frames on, and another tray to catch the melted wax and honey.

I used my connection through my father-in-law to get the sheet metal trays built.  I just had to hope the friend who constructed these understood that a lead solder shouldn’t be used.  I never asked.




Now, I just needed a good filter to keep all of the debris from spoiling my honey.

Speaking of my honey, she was teaching at the local high school at the time.  This was back in the 80’s and 90’s, and teachers were expected to wear dresses and … pantyhose!

I found my filters!

I’d wait for Wife to get a run in a pair of hose (I didn’t cause any to happen, honest), and then claim the hose as mine. 

Yes, the hose were always laundered before use.

I could stick one frame of honeycomb in each leg, then set both frames in my Solar Wax Melter (“Extractor” in my mind).  Within a couple of hours, the wax had melted and drained into the receiving tray.  I’d lift out the tray of honey with fresh yellow wax on top. 

The empty frames would be returned to the bees so they could produce more comb and honey.

The hose made their way to the trash.

The honey made its way into bottles.

The wax made its way into some other container.  I never really did figure out what to do with the wax.

It was 25 years before I learned that this wasn’t the proper way to harvest honey.  We had turned raw honey into cooked honey.

I can say that the honey was still sweet and good.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Post #50 Installation of Royalty

The new queen had arrived, and I was anxious to get her installed before the bees flew away.  I put on my coveralls and boots, grabbed my bee gloves, veil, hive tool and smoker.  I drove the new queen out to meet her subjects.

From what I’d read, I had to kill the old queen first, or the new queen would be killed by the old queen.  I had seen black and white photos and drawings of queen bees, but the queen in the cage was the first live queen I had ever seen.  I didn’t really know the difference between the queen and worker bees, other than that the queen was larger than workers.  I also knew that drones were larger than workers, but not as large as a queen.

I lit my smoker, put on the veil and gloves, gathered all of my bee equipment, and carried the new queen out to middle of the field where the hive was.  I gently set the queen on a rock near the hive under the shade of a tree.  I took a good look at her.  She was cool, she was comfortable, her attendant was there to watch over her.

Then I turned my attention to the hive and the bees.  I smoked the bees, removed the cover and began the hunt for the old queen.  I still did not know much about bees or bee behavior.  I wasn’t sure if I had the old queen or not.  So, I pretty much went through the hive indiscriminately killing big bees.  I looked at each frame carefully.  If the bee was unfortunate enough to be overweight, it got squished.  If it was bigger than its neighbors, it was a dead bee.  I killed bee after bee.  Finally, I was satisfied that I had done all I could do to ensure a peaceable transfer of power from the old queen to the new. 

Peaceable?  After that slaughter of bees?  Well at least I had given the new queen every chance to take control of the hive.  The old queen must surely be dead.  I replaced all of the frames and got the hive back in order.

Then, I turned to the rock to pick up the new queen.  The new monarch and mother of the hive who would rule over the hive with a kind and gentle hand.  The queen who would labor day after day laying eggs and producing generation after generation of bees for the next two to three years.

New Queens have to be installed slowly.  They have to be introduced to the hive properly, or the bees will just see her as an intruder and kill her.

In order to help with the transition, the queen cage has a screen on the side, with the exit on the end.  The exit is blocked by a piece of candy.  It usually takes a day or two for the bees to eat through the candy and release the queen.  By that time, they are familiar with her smell.  They will bring her water and try to groom her through the cage.  They get to know her and accept her.  Maybe they take this time to swap stories and compare relatives (“You’re from Navasota?  I have relatives from there.  Do you know the Buckfast Family?  You are?  We’ll we’re practically cousins!”).
Everyone becomes comfortable with everyone else during the time of the great candy eating.  And what better way to break the ice than over a meal of sugar?  The queen can be released once the candy is gone, and she can get to work immediately. 

So, I’ve put the hive back together, and I turn to the rock, reaching down to pick up the queen. 

And … she’s covered with ants!

The ants were attracted to the candy and decided the queen and her worker would also make for a nutritious meal.

What I knew about hives at this time (which wasn’t enough) was that bees will leave a hive when there isn’t a queen in the hive.  I was desperate.  I had just murdered everyone in the hive that looked slightly queenish, and the queen I had intended to take over the hive had just been devoured by a tribe of wild ants!  Without a queen, I would surely lose all of my bees.

I quickly pulled out my cell phone to call Weaver …

Oh, wait.  We didn’t have a cell phone back then.

O.K.  I put the hive back together, gathered my beekeeping tools and walked back to my truck.  I drove home, cranked up the computer, went online …

Oh yea, no internet, either.

I drove home, picked up the phone and dialed (yes, a rotary dial) Weaver Apiaries.

After they stopped laughing, the Weavers promised to mail me another queen.

The second time, I was able to keep the queen safe.  And I didn’t slaughter as many innocent drones.
I still don’t know if the queen in that hive was my Weaver Buckfast queen or not.  I just know that we had bees.


Maybe now I was really a beekeeper.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Post # 49 Requeening

I carried the bees out to their new home well behind Sister-In-Law’s house.  Now, I needed to worry about the queen.  First, I wasn’t sure if I had captured her.  Second, I was pretty sure the bees would just fly away if they didn’t have a queen.

I had gone to the library (remember them?) and started reading about bees while waiting for my kit to arrive.

I learned that I should get a new queen after capturing a feral hive to make sure I had bees that behaved well.  I should decide if I wanted gentle bees (Yes!), bees that produced a lot of honey (Yes!), or bees that did both (Yes and yes!).

My Sears and Roebuck Beginning Beekeeper’s kit had come with a book on beekeeping and it had also come with a list of places where you could buy bees.  Buy bees?  How amazing that you could buy a bee!  It turns out that one of the places that sold bees and also sold queens was in Texas.

Weaver Apiaries was in Navasota and would be willing to sell me a new queen.  I called Weaver and visited with them.  According to Weaver’s the queen I wanted was the Buckfast Queen.  She was gentle, she produced gentle bees that don’t get riled up easily, and her offspring would produce lots of honey.

I was sold.  I gave them my credit card number over the phone and they said they would mail my queen to me right away.

She arrived in about two days.  The Post Office called the house early that morning and told me I had a bee waiting, would I please come and pick it up?

Wife went to the Post Office, and was let in the back door before they were open for regular business.  They handed her a large burlap sack.  The kind of sack that people use to run races in at parties.  The 50-pound potato sack variety.

And in the sack was a little wooden box.  The box was maybe 2” X 1”.  The queen and a worker bee were caged inside the box.

Wife brought the queen home.  I was excited.  I took part of the day off from work so I could install the new queen.


Sunday, June 19, 2016

Post #48 Why Bees?

I’ve decided it is time to revisit my blog.  I know, the blog says “30 Years of Dog” but it has now been more than thirty years since my first dog.  And I have to admit, there is more to life than dogs.  So, with that in mind, I think I’ll broaden the scope of my blog.

For now, I’d like to talk a bit about Bees.

Sometime in the mid to late 1980’s my sister-in-law’s house was invaded by bees.  They didn’t realize they had a colony of bees until the bees started visiting with them while they were in the bathroom.  Sister-In-Law told Wife and I about the bees.  “Bees!” I thought, as she continued to tell wife about the pests.  “My grandfather used to keep bees on his farm.  Maybe beekeeping runs in the blood.”

I rejoined the conversation and proposed that we catch and keep the bees for the honey.  Sister-In-Law agreed.  The bees would live on their five acres of property and I would take care of the bees and harvest the honey.

A new beekeeper was born! 

If you remember the 1980’s, then you remember that the internet was not yet available to the general public and that cell phones were rare and expensive.  You may also remember that Sears and Roebuck was king of the department stores.  They sold everything.  All you needed was access to the proper catalog.  I went over to our little Sears Catalog store and picked up a copy of the Farm and Ranch Catalog. 

Inside these wonderful pages I found what I needed: A beginning beekeepers kit!  The kit came with a veil, gloves, smoker, hive tool, brood box, 10 frames that fit in the brood box 10 sheets of wax foundation that fit in the frames, a bottom board, an inner cover, and a telescoping outer cover.

The hive arrived a couple of days later.  I put the hive together, painted it white and made a date to get the bees out of the house.  Brother-in-law, sister-in-law and I gathered at the colony’s old home.  All this took place before the Africanized Honey Bee had crossed the Rio Grande River.  So we knew the bees would be relatively tame, but that didn’t mean they wouldn’t sting us if they got the chance.  So we were very careful. I lit my smoker and sent smoke into the colony.  The smoke is supposed to make the little girls scared and start filling up on honey, in case there is a fire and they have to leave in a hurry.  Of course, drinking all that honey gives them a full tummy, and makes them happy and gentle.

We opened the soffit of the house and pulled the bee comb and all the bees out of the house.  Well, maybe we pulled most of the bees out.  It seems I had to just hope that the Queen was in the box with the rest of her bees.

In any event, I was now a Beekkeeper!

Why bees?  Because it is in the blood!  Thanks grandpa Hamilton.