Sunday, March 25, 2012

Hive Clean Up 2012

As I travel along this MooseBoots trail, I think it equally important to share my foibles, as well as my successes.  Indeed, most of my learning is a direct result of one misstep or another.  Mistakes, errors, and blunders provide very fertile ground for true understanding and profound wisdom.  In this spirit, and with sadness in my heart, I share this.

This year, like last, the bees did not make it through the winter.  The failure was for a completely different reason this year.  Last year, the bees were queen-less, probably from the beginning.  This year, the hive was healthy and strong.  I watched as the bees built bar after bar of comb.  I watched as the bees gathered pollen and nectar, filling the combs with honey.  I kept an eye on the comb as it was filled and capped with honey.  In summary, this is the way a healthy hive behaves and grows.

I knew that the bees were dead before I opened the hive.  I hoped to find a cause ... where had I failed them?  So, I removed the cover and the comb-less bars and the feeder, which I had left in the hive.  Very quickly I got my first clue into the reason for their demise.  There was plenty of honey, in fact it was dripping onto the floor of the hive.  So, they did not starve, which was my guess.  In a mild winter like we had this year, the bees can stay active and deplete their stores of honey before the spring.  This was not the case. 

The pile of bees in front of the entrance provided all of the explanation that I needed.  The bees, trying to keep the hive warm to protect the colony, had piled themselves up in front of the opening to keep the wind out.  They had frozen to death.  Clearly, I did not protect them from the elements enough ... wind is deadly to bees because it sucks the warm out of the hive.

We want to honor the bees to the best or our humble ability.  We cleaned the dead bees out of the hive.  Then, in the interest of helping out the next set of bees, who arrive in May, by giving them a head start, we left the brood comb and some of the honey comb.  Of course, if you read the  previous post, you know that we had neighboring bees raid the empty hive and take the honey back to their hive.  We gathered some of the remaining honeycomb and put it into a bucket, still undecided as to how to use it.

In order to better protect the bees this coming winter, we have moved the hive closer to the house.  This will reduce the exposure to the cold winter north winds.  Further, the hive will be exposed to more sun, keeping it a bit warmer.  Wendy and I plan to build a straw bale "house" around the hive(s).  The bales will be used in the spring as raised garden beds.  In spite of the fact that the past two years have been a phenomenal learning experience for us, we hope to be able to keep the colony alive this year.  Better would be to have them alive and strong enough to produce a swarm next spring.

Today, to honor the bees, I made 6 gallons of mead, with an added 1/2 cup lavender flowers.  The mead should finish out at about 10% alcohol with a lovely lavender flavor and smell.  I was reading, in Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers: The Secrets of Ancient Fermentation, that traditional mead, brewed with all of the hive parts (honey, comb, propolis, pollen, and even bits of bees) is very healing and, so, I used crushed up comb for the wort.  I have never made mead, but it seemed appropriate to remember them this way.  We also jarred up 2 quarts (1.9 liters), or 6 pounds (2.7 kilograms), of raw honey for us to eat.

So, with a hopeful heart, and a profound sense of gratitude, I eagerly anticipate re-populating the hive in May.  My neighbors remarked, last year, that the had never seen their plants so healthy, which they attributed to the healthy hive in my backyard.  I look forward to a successful, mutually beneficial relationship, with these fascinating, incredible beings as I continue plodding my way along this MooseBoots journey. 

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Life Can't Get Any Sweeter

My MooseBoots journey continues even though I haven't put anything up here.  As you know, if you've been here a while, it does slow, even crawl, from time to time.  Spring has come, breathing a bit of new life and energy into this path.

Today, I spent the whole day outside.  I had a few goals in mind, and succeeded in achieving them.   They were simple ... boil down the last of the maple sap, pull all of the taps and buckets, and harvest the rabbits that should have been in the freezer last fall.  Of course, there was a little extra excitement.

I hurried out the door at about 08:30 and headed straight for the woods.  I use only foraged wood for boiling sap and I was almost out.  I grabbed a few pieces of barn rope on the way out.  I am always amazed at how much dry wood I can gather in a short time, without tools.  Using only my hands and some closely spaced trees, I put together my first bundle and headed back.  I dropped it and grabbed two more pieces of barn rope.  True to my nature, the second bundle was too large to carry the whole 0.25 miles (0.4 km) back to the house.  While gathering, I did take the time to notice the Wintergreen peeking up through the forest litter and to sample one of the delicious berries.

The fire was lit by 10:00 and the games began in earnest.  While tending to the whole affair, I was serenaded by the cardinals, pileated woodpeckers, the northern flickers, the black-capped chickadees, and the crows.  As soon as the barrel was empty, Precious started gathering the taps and buckets from the trees.  I took the time to wash the barrel, the buckets, and the taps before storing everything in the barrel for next year.  As the levels in the pans dropped, I consolidated into fewer pans and washed the empty ones.  By 14:00, the boiling was complete and the syrup was in jars, bringing our total for the year to just shy of 3 gallons (12.4 liters).

About the same time, Little Fire Faery ran up to me shrieking that I needed to go look at the beehive.  We had cleaned the hive out a few days ago ... the bees did not survive this winter, in spite of the fact that there was plenty of honey.  But, I will put up a post about the clean up some time in the next week or so.  I went to look and saw hundreds of honey bees flying in and out of the hive.  I can only assume one of two things ... they are swarming and looking for a place to live or they are stealing the little honey that I left in the hive.  I hope for the former.  If the later is the case, I already have a new package of bees on order for delivery in May.  Regardless, they were fascinating to watch.

Wendy and I then harvested rabbits, thanking each for its gift.  We did try some new things ... keeping the faces on the hides during the skinning process and cleaning one of skulls.  We will have to wait and see how these things turn out when they are finished.  After all was said and done, we have put five rabbits and the hides in the freezer, for processing another day.

This has been, by far, one of the busiest days I have had on this MooseBoots trail.  It was also very fulfilling to know that I have provided for myself and my family.  It am so grateful that the Universe provide and abundance of both opportunity and beauty.  I think I should celebrate with a nap!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

It Was A Good Day!

The last week, or so, has been busy.  The girls' dance competition season has started adding to the list of things to do.  For instance, knowing that the competition next weekend will basically eliminate sap boiling.  Ordinarily, my MooseBoots journey tends to slow a bit during these crazy busy times, but today, we found ourselves in an uncommon lull in the frantic pace of life.

With an abundance of free time, a relatively small amount of sap to boil, and a very satisfying boil rate, I took my time getting the fire started.  First, I wandered into the woods to gather wood for the fire.  I greeted the woodpecker who was chirping at me, while I looked for fresh tracks in the snow.  I only walked a short way in because the fresh layer of snow is deep enough to wear me out when carrying my normal loads of wood.  I have finally figured out how to gather the wood in a reasonable sized bundle that I can actually carry back.  So, I made two trips.  I was amazed by the amount of wood that I could gather in this one spot that was not more than 10' (3 meters) across.  I didn't even gather all that was there, just enough for the short burn.

When I returned, I decided to try my hand at the bow drill to start the fire.  I haven't really practiced much with it, and not at all in the last 6 months.  I built the fire under the pans ... the wood was slightly damp from the recent rain after the snow.  Everything went fairly well until I broke the notch in the hearth ... no coal.  At that point, I gave up and used a match.  Note To Self:  play with the bow drill more often!

The burn only lasted about 3 hours to boil the 20 gallons of sap down to about 1 gallon (3.8 liters).  While I was tending the whole thing, an old friend stopped by with some barrels.  Wendy wants to plant more containers this year, in addition to all of the existing garden beds and buckets.  It was very kind, and unexpected, of him to deliver them.  It was nice to get to spend a few minutes chatting with him. 

When the pans got low enough, we brought the sap into the house to finish.  Less than an hour later, we had another beautiful 1.75 quarts (2 liters) of dark amber syrup to add to our stores.

After cleaning up, I went back to check on the Blue Oyster Mushrooms.  Earlier this week, I noticed that they are fruiting.  Today, they were much bigger.  By this time next week, I think I will have harvested the first harvest from the bag.

You may have noticed the cardboard box under the bag in the picture.  I put it there to catch any spore that may fall.  First, I don't want to "seed" the carpet.  Second, I am hoping to catch the spore to start a new batch.  Wendy and I have discussed the idea of innoculating some of the hardwood stumps around the neighborhood.  I don't know if it will work, but like everything we do, we are playing with ideas and techniques, experimenting to see if we can learn what works and what doesn't.  Worse case, we don't succeed and we lose a bit of time.  Best case, we sprout more Blue Oyster Mushrooms than we can possibly eat and we share with all of the neighbors.  Oh, by the way, the two pictures were taken a mere 3 days apart.

I am grateful for days like this ... for the beauty around me, for the abundance the Earth offers, and for the opportunity to share this, my MooseBoots path, with my amazing family and wonderful friends.  May your day be filled with beauty, happiness, joy, and the wisdom to recognize it even in their smallest forms.