Monday, May 31, 2010

Bee Check - 17 Days In Hive

The bees have certainly been interesting to watch.  I am really trying to learn what they have to teach ... perhaps a bit more intently than they would like.  This MooseBoots journey demands that I take the time to watch and learn, so I do what I must.

Yesterday was Day 17 for the bees in the hive.  I have checked that the queen was released and even removed the queen cage.  Last time, I did not see eggs or larva.  So, I decided to check in again and see if I could see any eggs or larva.  Wendy even wanted to get into the act.  Here is what we found:  6 bars with comb in process, some eggs and larva, and some capped cells.  Now, I need to learn the difference between the capped cells - honey, worker brood, drone brood, etc.

This MooseBoots journey is simply fascinating.  Oh yeah, one sting on my finger ... not sure why ... the others were very calm.  I guess it also goes to show that while I may know the path I am on, I certainly don't understand all of the mystery it entails.

Sunday, May 30, 2010


May has been a very busy month for us - birthdays, anniversary, dance competitions and fundraising, getting the animal enclosures and gardens set for the summer, etc.  As such, my MooseBoots journey seems to have been put on hiatus.  And just when you give up and try to go with the flow, BAM ... an opportunity smacks you between the eyes.

Last weekend, during a very delicious fundraising event, one of the moms burned herself with a hot glue gun.  I happened to be there and she asked if I had any aloe or burn cream.  I thought I might and went off to the first aid kit ... nope.  Then, my gears started spinning ... cattail!  And, I just happened to know where I could get some ... I had been into the woods behind this place once.  So, I grabbing the knife out of my survival bag and headed out, carefully hiding the knife so as not to freak out anybody - people can be weird about knives and guns.  I quickly found the swampy area, chose and thanked the plant, and cut it near the base.

As I returned, I sliced off the bottom 8" or so for the gel.  My intent was to scoop the gel out for her and eat the tender "bamboo shoot" like parts inside.  I got back to her and explained that the gel inside was similar to aloe and was also good for burns.  Then, I started showing her the gel.  At which point she grabbed the this and started tearing it apart ... obviously this was a little more painful than I knew.  Of course, there went my snack ... but, she was appreciative and walked around with the thing on her finger for the balance of the afternoon.

The wake-up call shortly after she shove the little stalk onto her finger.  We looked at Wendy and me and asked, "How much time do you guys spend in the woods?"  Stunned, I blinked.  "Not enough", I blurted out.  For me, time in the woods is precious because I can't seem to free up enough time.  We then explained about our monthly outdoor skills class and all of the various skills we have been trying to build over the years.

It was really the recognition that this woman believed that we had some level of expertise.  It is refreshing because I easily fall into the frustration at the seemingly slow pace of progression.  But, I was faced with an example of just how far we have gone, if only in relation to the "average" person.  And, I guess that is what I have been doing ... gathering lost wisdom.  Wendy was also a bit surprised ... she thought it was "cool" that I knew that catail could be used for burn treatment.  Apparently, it was something I picked up along the way when I was surfing the web (youtube) and found a piece about the uses for cattail.

This was a pleasant reminder that while, I may not be ready to make my moose boots, I am not at the very beginning either.  I am firmly on this path, my MooseBoots journey, and have moved forward toward my goal.  I may not be Living Primitively but I have gained some knowledge and skill.  And, it is worth remembering that the appropriate application of knowledge is true wisdom.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Foraging - Milkweed

Sometimes on this MooseBoots journey, things just seems to click.  I pays to have an open heart and be aware of the things around you.  Also, be respectful and grateful. 

Wendy and I were out in the yard this past weekend looking at the gardens and the animals.  We notices that the milkweed was growing very well and spreading to many places we did not wish it to grow.  We have encouraged milkweed to grow in our yard for several reasons - it is native to our area, it smells really nice when it flowers, it is a beautiful plant to see, the monarch buttefly larva only eat milkweed, it has many uses like wart treatment and being a decent fiber plant for cordage, and it is edible.  Any of you who know me in real life have probably heard me say that if it is not edible we can't plant it.  We have about a quarter of an acre that we work - not much space.

Many of you have heard that milkweed is only edible it you boil it in three changes of water.  This is a common misconception.  In the Forager's Harvest, Thayer discusses this myth and it's likely source.  It seems as though many people write about things they have not tried and pass on bad information without verifying it.  Thayer's book writes this book from direct first hand experience - he forages a good deal of his own diet.  It is based on, and describes in detail, his lifelong passion for wild foods.  Regardless, we resptectfully picked, with gratitude, several of the small plants that wandered too far.  One I cleaned immediately - removed the leaves, snapped the stem off at the base and top, and enjoyed the fresh, delicious flavor.  The rest have been cleaned and are ready to be steamed.

Now, I do not want you all to run out and pick your milkweed unless you are completely certain that it is milkweed.  The Forager's Harvest spends a page or so describing the differences between common milkweed and common dogbane, the source of the aforementioned misconception.  Milkweed is edible raw and it not bitter, but sweet.  Dogbane is very bitter.  I would encourage you to learn to identify plants and research the edible parts.  Thayer's book is a great starting point and is filled with plants common to the northern parts of the US.  Do not expect it to be encyclopedic, however.  He discusses, in great detail, only a few dozen plants.

It is nice when this MooseBoots journey, my metaphorical journey to a pair of hand crafted moose boots, takes such a sweet turn.  Of course, I do like to eat.      

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Bee Check - 9 Days In Hive

This MooseBoots journey, my path toward building the required skill set to live in concert with the Earth Mother, symbolically culminating in the making of a pair of moose boots with leather that I tanning, consistantly illustrates just how much I have to learn.  Each year, we strive to learn new skills and develop more environmentally appropriate habits.  Today, I checked the beehive and was reminded again of the difference between reading a book and learning a skill and the actual application of the knowledge.

The tasks for today were:

  • Remove the queen cage that I should have removed a week ago.
  • Check to see that they are building comb.
  • Check for eggs or larva in comb.

So my agenda set, I enlisted the aid of Big Little Sister.  We went out and removed the roof without incident.  Then, we move the follower board away from the build area which opened up one bar of space.  No stings ... OK.  Next, each bar was slid toward the open area.  We reached the last bar, where the queen cage was attached, and removed it.  The bees had started building comb on the cage itself.  Sorry, guys, but it has got to go.  I sent Big Little sister in for some pliers to pull the cage.  Now, let me note that I am still currently and planning on working with the hive without the standard protective gear.  That said, I am still a bit nervous around the bees (this is a budding relationship) and did not want to move them by hand.  While I waited, I used a stick to push the bees out of the way.  Pliers in hand, I removed the cage and a mass of bees with it.  This I placed off to the side and put the bar back into the hive.  Remove the queen cage - CHECK.  No Stings.

Then, as I slid the bars back into place one by one, I inspected them.  They have a fairly impressive comb started on one bar and another slightly less impressive comb on another.  I use the word impressive only as a relative term - it is all very impressive as I do not have the skills, physically or intellectually, to make wax and build comb.  Of course, with each bar, there were many bees.  Check for comb - CHECK.  No Stings.

While viewing each comb, I did a scan for eggs and larva.  It is early in the comb building stage and the combs were covered in bees.  Again, I did not care to rile up the bees and let them hang out where they were.  That said, I did not see either eggs or larva.  Check for eggs and larva - CHECK.  No Stings.

Unfortunately, I did not have the camera with me and do not have picture of the operation.  Here are some pictures I took afterwards.  You can see that they are starting to spread out as compared with the last pictures.  If you look closely at the second picture, you can see the queen cage that was removed and placed in the hive for the bees to retain anything they want and to put the attached bees back in the hive.  The third is a picture of the comb built on the queen cage - one of the cells even has pollen stored in it.

I count this visit as a success.  This week I did read a bit and found it recommended to check the state of the hive by watching the entrance - what a great idea.  This morning, I recognized a bees arriving back at the hive with her pollen sacks full.  Amazing.  I have also been keenly aware of the activity level of the hive with relation to the weather.  I guess it pays to open your eyes and really see the world around you.  Of course, that is what this MooseBoots journey is all about.

Friday, May 14, 2010

All Is Right In Bee World?

Bees are a fascinating new part of my MooseBoots journey. This morning, I went and checked on them in their new home. Here is what I found.

Amazing!  This MooseBoots journey is certainly full of things to learn.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Watch Out For That - Bee!

This MooseBoots journey can be very exciting ... almost like Christmas with some additional bells and whistles (or buzzes and hums).  I have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of the bees.  We ordered them a couple of months ago.  We ordered the hive a month or so before that.  I called again yesterday to find out when they were coming.

Today, they arrived.  Wendy and the girls took a trip to Brown's Bee Farm to pick them up.  Please note that we have no experience with bees, beekeeping, and beehives other than a few previous stings.  Also note, that we desire a conscious connection with nature and all of its creatures.  Said another way, we are a bit masochistic in that we do not plan to use, nor did we use any protective garb in today's endeavor.

Boy, ten thousand bees sure do look intimidating.  But, ...

So, according to the video, to install the bees:

Step 1 - lightly spray the bees with sugar water syrup.  Piece of cake.  Note, this picture is out of order ... I sprayed a few extra times.

Step 2 - remove the queen cage.  OK this is a little spookier ... bees actually start coming out of the box.  But look, isn't that nice a few bees flying around ... that is, after all, why we got bees.  Oh yeah, remove the plug on the bottom ... damn, I pushed it into the cage.  Wow, look they are moving it around and hey one of the bees came out ... OK.  Now, hang it on one of the bars and put it into the hive.  Sheesh, this seems really easy and nice.

Step 3 - remove the feeding can from the box.  OK, who designed this to fit so tight?!$#@.  Let's pry it with a screw driver.

 Holy cow!  There are 10,000 bees in there and now there is a big gaping hole for them to SWARM through.  Quick, put the cover back on ... ouch!  Don't swat!, Run!

"Little Fire Faerie, are you OK?  I don't know why she stung you.  I know you didn't deserve it.  Wendy?  No stings?  Do I still have the stinger in my lip?  Ouch, another got the on the arm.  OK, but we still have to finish the job."

Step 4 - hose them down one more time and then drop ... bonk ... the cage on the ground and wad them up in a ball.  "No, forget the damned camera and help put these boards back in place when I shake the bees up and dump them into the hive."  Now, pour them lovingly, spelled Q-U-I-C-K-L-Y, into the hive.  "Let's go before they figure out they are free.  Wow, look at that cloud of bees!  Are we done?  OK.  Put the roof on, but don't squash any of them."

Who knew that along this MooseBoots journey, my metaphorical journey to a hand-made pair of moose boots, that I would be initiated, welcomed even, into the world of bees.  The bees have had their say and christened me properly.  May we, the bees and I, develop a mutual beneficial relationship of love and trust.  In spite of the fleeting moments of SHEER TERROR mild panic, it was a good day and I am glad to have made their acquaintance.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Mother's Day

This MooseBoots journey took a nice turn on Sunday, Mother's day.  We needed to clean up the yard in preparation for some of the changes we have planned - espaliered apple trees, new duck house and run, and outdoor kitchen.  For me, it was also a chance to re-connect with both of my mothers, my Mom and the Earth mother.

It began as any normal day - the dogs waking me up to eat, coffee, etc.  Then, Momma Daughter and Mr. Field and Stream made breakfast.  Granted, it was for Wendy, but I took advantage of the opportunity ... bacon, yeah!  After breakfast, I cleaned the kitchen and changed into my dirty old working clothes.

Wendy and I dug up rhododendron bushes to make room for the apple trees.  One large one was replanted for my mom.  Another was planted for the neighbor.  Both were very excited and pleased.  While planting the neighbor's, we were introduced to another neighbor.  It was a nice chance to build community and expand our circle.  The woman was interested, but reluctant, in homeschooling her young daughter.  She also wants to start gardening.  Of course, Moosette (thanks, Precious) was very verbose in praising our skill as parents, neighbors, and gardeners.  We humbly accepted the praise and offered what little assistance we could provide.  We also offered her some of the remaining smaller bushes.

Afterwards, Precious and I then took a walk in the woods.  I gathered firewood and fire starting materials; Precious gathered flowers for Wendy.  The girls had a plan to make a bouquet - violets, marsh marigolds, and dandelions.  My plan was simply to build a fire to clean up some of the debris which seems to grow in the yard.  Upon our return, I built the fire structure.  Precious and Little Fire Faerie each got to light a match to start it.  While the real intent was to clear some of the scrap wood from the yard, it provided a convenient gathering spot.  There is something soothing about a fire. 

I had phoned Gar to find out where she wanted her bush, but got no answer.  Of course, we had already delivered and planted it in her yard by this time.  It was a good thing Wendy knew where it was going.  While the burn was happening, Gar called.  She was in between stops - lunch with my aunt and dinner with my sister.  We invited her over for tea by the fire.  It was nice to just sit and chat.  It is unfortunate that these things do not occur more often.

Aftewards, we ran to Home Depot to pick up the stuff for the new duck run.  By the time we got home, the sun was getting low in the sky.  There was just enough time to poound the posts into the ground and string the fence(but not enough time to really check things like making sure the fenced area was completely closed).  I cobbled together a new house for them with some pallets and closed the animals up for the night.

Sunday, Mother's Day, was an excellent reminder of how life can, and should be.  Not about rushing about to earn another dollar or gathering more possessions.  It was about honoring our mothers - human or otherwise.  It was about connecting with community and helping other out.  This seems like a common theme in many things on the MooseBoots journey.  The trick for me is to figure out how to make this the norm rather than the special occasion.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Beehive Assembled - Check

This, my MooseBoots journey, has been taking a rather splintered path like that of current through a parallel circuit - the paths of least resistance get the most focus.  Of course, it helps when you wait until the last minute and have to get stuff done.  I can not say that I am a full-blown member of the procrastinators club, however.

I have read the books - The Backyard Beekeeper - Revised and Updated: An Absolute Beginner's Guide to Keeping Bees in Your Yard and Garden and The Barefoot BeekeeperSaturday, I assembled our new top bar hive.  The bees should be arriving sometime within the next week.  This is an exciting time, although I wish the bees had been here a week or two ago - the peach trees have already bloomed and the neighbors apple tree is passing its peak.

I still need to gather a few accessories - a spray bottle for sugar water, etc.  The sugar water will be used in lieu of the traditional smoker, per The Barefoot Beekeper.  I still intend to do this without a bonnet, jacket, et al - the other traditional beekeeping tools.  Of course, I reserve the right to change my decision upon the first or any subsequent stinging rebukes from my new friends.

So, my MooseBoots journey could get very exciting very quickly.  I eagerly await the phone call - "Hello, your bees are here.  Come get them."  I'll keep you posted.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Outdoor Skills Class - May 2010

While my postings have been scant over the last few weeks, my MooseBoots journey seems to accelerated a bit.  May is filled with birthdays, anniversaries, bees arriving, more broiler chick arriving, duck enclosures to build, firewood work, and such.  It doesn't look like it will slow down anytime soon either.

Tuesday, we attended our monthly outdoor skills class.  It was the first in a set designed around making a birch bark container.  Specifically, we dug up roots for sewing the bark.  We needed to find small, straight, and fairly uninterrupted (no forks or branches) roots.  There was something very soothing about the process.  I found myself enjoying digging in the soil with my bare hands, feeling the earth, smelling the damp cover.  Of course, any time in the woods is good time to me.

We also cut down a small pine tree that was doomed to a slow demise in the crowded forest.  The intent was to sample some of the delectible inner bark.  Alas, the crazy weather has put us a bit behind on the pine bark.  Instead, we peeled the leathery bark off of the trunk and we shown how to fold it into containers.  Each kid was given a piece of bark to work at home.  My kids, as of today, have forgotten about their pieces, so I got to play.  Although I have kept them wet, the cuts have gotten less pliable.

Like every new skill I learn, this has provided a real connection back to nature.  I find such comfort and pleasure in simply participating in Nature.  Most of us spend the bulk of our time outside of Nature.  And, even when we are out, we have goals that get in the way - hike 5 miles, get to the top of the mountain, clear the brush on our property ....  My MooseBoots journey has been showing me, very clearly lately, that this moment in time is unique and divine.  My challenge, and yours, is to enjoy it, this precious instant in time.