The Results Are In…

Oregon Department of Agriculture has released their reports of the bee die-offs that occured this past year in West Linn, Wilsonville, Portland, and Hillsboro Oregon…

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Photo credit – Statesman Journal

http://www.statesmanjournal.com/article/20140123/GREEN/301230022/Report-shows-details-bee-death

The article confirms what many suspected at the get go – for those of you “TL;DR” folks out there… here’s the sum-up.

For the most part, in all of these circumstances, the insecticide in question – imidacloprid – was applied incorrectly. Dosages were wrong, application times not in accordance with packaged instructions, people applying in circumstances that they don’t have a license to apply for that circumstance… so it seems according to ODA’s reports that it was a situation of human error in the process RATHER than the actual pesticide itself causing the die-offs…

The fact is – these neonicotinoid pesticides are harmful to pollinators. There are other options… and other ways to go about it. The State of Oregon recently acted to ban 18 different neonicotinoid pesticides in the wake of this issue – but that ban expired December 24th… the good news is, Oregon is requiring an Oregon specific label that will go on these pesticides so that they can reduce the potential for this happening again – also enacting rules that don’t allow Linden trees (basswood) to be sprayed with these insecticides. Period. That will hopefully reduce the issues of the imidacloprid in the foliage and nectar which was killing the bees left and right in these situations.

What’s tough with putting the responsibility on the applicator is that there will always be some that don’t read the label, don’t dilute, and don’t follow the instructions, so the sad reality is, this will likely happen again. The labels will help, a ban would be better…

… but unfortunately, this is all too little too late for Jim Barlean of Barlean’s Honey – located in Milwaukie, Oregon… Jim lost the majority of his bees and his entire honey crop this year due to this issue – and as a backyard beekeeper, it’s concerning to me since we can’t really control where the girls are going… evidenced by the bright red honey discovered only a few weeks ago in my own hives from the cherry plant a few blocks away.

One of the best components of what I saw in ODA’s plan to combat this in the future was education efforts – showing people exactly what that random-stuff-they-bought-at-whatever-box-store-they-bought-it-at and are spraying all over their gravel paths, walkways, garden beds, fencelines is doing to flowers and the pollinators it’s being transferred to. Our pollinators have a hard enough go of it already and the toxic cocktail of pesticides, fungicides, and all the other ‘cides’ we’re tossing their way isn’t helping.

The documents that ODA has released to the Statesman Journal can be found below for your persual… There are 4 separate documents detailing their findings in each of the incidents that Oregon Department of Agriculture investigated.

West Linn Incident – Oregon Golf Club

Portland Incident – 200 Market Building

Wilsonville Incident – Jim Barlean

Hillsboro Incident – City of Hillsboro

So THAT’S where Robitussin comes from!

Last week I had a chance to get the bees buttoned up for the winter (read… finally got off my lazy duff and did something I should have done 3 months ago…) 

We had such beautiful weather through the months of October and November, the girls were still out flying, and doing their thing and to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t sure what I should do. They seemed pretty happy – so I was content to let them keep doing what they were doing. Then in a space of a couple weeks it got insanely cold, then rained, and I didn’t have a decent day to open it up for quite some time. 

The other problem was – I knew that they didn’t have enough honey put away for the winter, so feeding them was a necessity and I had no idea how I should do that. I didn’t like the syrup option – it would get too cold… I didn’t want to be opening the hive constantly for small amounts of dry sugar, a front of the hive feeder would make the bees come off the cluster to eat – I really needed something at the brood, but was at a loss of what to do.

Until I came across the concept of a candy board with a protein patty sunken inside.

It required a bit of building, but the basics of the principle is this. Think of it like a super shallow ‘shallow’, that is lined at the bottom with 1/2 inch hardware cloth for support. Into this you mix a combination of sugar, water, vinegar, and a little bit of lemongrass essential oil – then pour that mixture into the box – spread it and let it harden. That gives them solid food for the winter.

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The problem I had was my boxes – I have them in a medium, shallow and a deep. The deep is at the top as I was trying to encourage them to move the brood up from the shallow where they swarmed to, into the deep – but they never did. (So I thought). 3 boxes was way too much open space to keep them warm for the winter – not to mention, the main brood cluster was in the middle box of those two and the bees would have to leave the cluster to eat – and that’s no bueno.

So I did the only logical thing a guy should do. Go outside in the cold of January in Oregon, open the hive, rile the bees up and put a candyboard in. Yup. That’s what I did.

Like many things in life, I learn most of my lessons the hard way – apparently beekeeping is no different.

I pulled the deep off – of course splitting the cluster. The bees went ballistic, but I quickly placed the candyboard, then went to shaking off the frames of bees in the deep that represented the top of the cluster. Thankfully that wasn’t brood, just a small amount of capped honey. All in all – I was in the hive less than 5 minutes.

Since they didn’t the honey – I brought it inside for us to taste.

After cutting the caps off to let it drain… well – that’s when things got interesting.

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I don’t know a lot about beekeeping, but I don’t think the honey is supposed to look like Robitussin…

We began to theorize what might have happened, trying to understand where it came from. We went from sugar syrup on a hummingbird feeder, to other possibilities (vampire bees)… then I googled it, and sure enough got a hit – this has happened two other times in the U.S. so far as I can tell that has been documented. Once in Utah – where a beekeeper was feeding his bees crushed up candy canes and the Red 40 got into the honey of his bees, and dozens of other commercial hives costing an insane amount of money… another time – the bees got into the stuff at a Maraschino Cherry plant in New York… the lightbulb went on. We are within bee forage distance from the Oregon Cherry Growers plant… where they manufacture … yup! You guessed it… Maraschino cherries.

So it’s been a bit of an interesting experiment in what the bees bring home. To a certain degree, it kind of defeats the purpose of trying to have organic backyard honey if your bees are getting into vats of High Fructose Corn Syrup and Red 40… the good news is – it appears that this was late season honey. If I pull the honey earlier in the summer – we should be ok. If they want the red stuff later they can have the red stuff.

I’m certainly not eating it…

The Ides of August – The bees are restless…

This might be normal activity for your hives – for mine – they are typically quite a bit more subdued than this.

3 or 4 in and out at a time, quickly followed by 3 or 4 more… just continuously. This… not so much.

Interesting – and I’m taking it as a sign of good health as the population climbs.

My Life As a Country Song

I came home tonight from work to find Thing 2 curled up on the couch, his head nestled what appeared to be VERY uncomfortably on the rim of his puke bucket, the wife yelled from the kitchen which has lately began to look a lot like the Nalley factory that we were out of Mustard Seed – the tone in her voice told me it was serious, and on top of it all – Thing 1 informed me that yet another chicken had gone broody… I’m up to my ears in projects, there’s stuff all over the yard, in the house…

I didn’t realize that my life had become a country song.

Thing 2 is taken care of – the chicken had already been caged, and it’s a good thing the store is 5 minutes away.

That’s the interesting thing about ‘farming’ in the city. The country life follows you – the good and the bad. Living within city limits, we’re finding that we have to find creative solutions to the not-so-awesome-parts of keeping a large garden, chickens, bees, and complete green space overhauls. With these come tools, feed, equipment, and periodic headaches.

We’re having to now deal with the raccoon that is taking out our produce in the garden and investigating our chickens… We’ve had to figure out how to deal with broody chickens effectively (UPDATE: 5 days in the hole took care of Arugala – she’s all good.), finding ways to deal with the flies that come from having free range poultry… finding counter space to put a decent beet harvest, 25 pounds of pickling cucumbers, and all the canning supplies… then there’s weeding the garden, reclaiming the lumber in the driveway, ordering gravel… then there’s the projects…

…you see, country living in the city isn’t all roses like some of the hipster urban homestead blogs would have you believe. It can be gritty, chaos laden, smelly, dill pickle-y… it’s kind of like making things from Pinterest – the pictures look so sweet- but in reality… it doesn’t always work out as it should… (Speaking of this phenomenon.. you have to see this if you already haven’t… http://www.boredpanda.com/funny-pinterest-fails/) and there’s always some slight downsides to every endeavor…

Life itself is two-sided. You can’t have the good — you can’t reap the rewards without the challenges. The proverbial vegetables won’t grow unless it rains… Trials bring growth.

Would I trade it? Nope. Not at all.

Because in addition to all of the above… today I bought my lovely wife a pickle crock, the house smells like pickled beets, sweet pickles, dill pickles, and the beautiful jars full of color are beginning to fill up the counter. I spent part of my afternoon with my bees, I bought a pellet gun… *whistles*… I’m wearing overalls right now… (seriously.. I am – they’re fantastic – how often do you get to wear overalls!?!)

Life brings challenges and frustrations sometimes. It wouldn’t be life without them. You can’t have the good without the bad… to an extent – how could you know the good if it weren’t for the bad?

Yup, my life has become a country song – and I love it.

 

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June Update

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My apologies for the lack of updates lately – it’s kind of a weird concept now that I have people that are following the blog that aren’t people I know personally, it used to be the only person that read this was my mother, and even then, not regularly and she was my sharpest critic… but now that there are others that follow us, and actually pay attention, I guess I need to be a bit more cognizant of updating this thing more frequently.

School finished up with a bang – and I got my grades done, room clean… had one day off, then boom. Back to work. I’ve been slowly adjusting to the different hours, as well as the different kind of work entirely.

During the summer I continue to work for the school district, but I shift to hourly maintenance work with their structural crew. I’ve done that for a while now, love the guys I work with at the shop, but I hate that it always takes me a week or two to get the glazing muscle memory back. I’m finally starting to get there, and the last couple of days it doesn’t feel like I’m constantly behind and fumbling with things. It’s beginning to become more automatic, and my body is adjusting to the work allowing me to actually have the energy to tackle things on the homefront when I get home.

One of the pluses of the job is the scenery always changes – as we’re mobile, it’s like a field service type position, so it’s not the same thing all the time. It’s always different. For example – this morning, I saw these two as we drove to a school to get a measurement on a window a kid blew out with a big rock. Walking right through Ben Miller Park in Keizer – definitely not a common sight.

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As you might have noticed from the picture, we’ve been a bit soggy here the past couple of days, and not much has gotten done except of course the crops have been watered. Once the heat returns, we’re going to see some things go crazy, which should be fun to see. We’re up to our ears in peas and fava beans right now, in fact – the peas on the on bed we put the trellises on at first are taller than I am. They’re thriving, and Thing 1 cooked up some of the fava beans for dinner tonight with mom’s help. So good.

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I have one set of peas that kicked out the prettiest purple flowers (I need to get a picture). I’m seriously considering cross pollinating them to try to see if I can’t get them producing the purple consistently. Anyone ever have any luck doing that kind of stuff besides Gregor Mendel? I’m pretty sure they’re one of our heirloom variety and would come out true, and the bees would LOVE them.

Speaking of the bees, they’re doing awesome. It’s become clear in the last couple weeks that they are here to stay – there has been lots of activity on the shallow on the top where they originally took roost, I thought they were only one a couple of frames, but in looking at it, it seems more like they have begun going from one side of the shallow to the other cleaning and drawing out comb to repair places it was messed up. They’ve been busy.. as.. well… nope, not going to do it… They’ve been busier than a one toothed man at a corn-on-the-cob eating contest… than a cat in a room full of rocking chairs? Than a one armed man at the opera following the aria??… fine… a bee. Busier than a bee.

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Loads and loads of pollen is coming in, all kinds of different colors… just been a blast to sit and watch as I’ve had the time. One gave me a flyby though when I went out tonight to scope things out – some of the catnip that Shannon planted has come up in their flyway, and I moved it back to see if they have been removing any dead bees and piling them in front of the hive and when I moved it back – one of the soldiers popped out and gave me a “Maverick” style fly-by to say, “Hey Pal… back it up.” Might need to trim those catnip plants to make it a bit easier access.

The front yard is slowly but surely changing – we were in no rush as we planned to have it in in time for fall crops, and as such I’ve got a bit of time left to get it done, but time is running out. I got the two sets of boxes built in the center. They’re 12 feet x 4 feet both directions. With a 4×4 side box. We’re going to bark dust in between the boxes and gravel the pathways as soon as we get the weeds killed with cardboard… but for now, we’re ‘THOSE’ neighbors. Go us. 🙂

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The library has been a HUGE success. People are coming and going with books constantly, new titles coming in, other titles going out – some are even returning home after they get checked out which is awesome! The guestbook has been signed by a lot of folks, who have all had wonderful things to say about it. If you are considering putting one in… do it. I have met more people, and it serves as a great conversation starter (so does our front yard which looks a bit like a disaster right now…) Here’s how that conversation goes.

Me: Hey – good to see you guys. Yeah, go ahead, grab a book.
Them: This is neat – where did you see this?
Me: It’s national thing, we were the third in Salem, and there are others going in all over the place… besides, we were working on fixing up the front yard, and figured it would look cool out there on the sidewalk.
Them: Oh… yeah… fixing it up, well, it looks… um… I see what you’re… well… *AHEM* Look at the time, thanks for the book!! *Flees rapidly*

I know. I know. It looks like Chernyobl… I promise, when it’s done it will look TREMENDOUS! At least, that’s what I keep telling Shannon.

That’s what’s going on in our world right now, I will try to do better about updating semi-regularly. I’m still trying to talk Shannon into writing some posts, particularly as of the two of us, she’s the writer… but she keeps complaining about this ‘motherhood’ thing, and something gets mumbled incoherently now and again about ‘kids’… then she intermittently gets this facial tick. I don’t know, I think she might want to get it checked out…

In Ben news, I will be starting the Couch to 5K program here in a couple weeks after I get back into the swing of things. I will be using that as a springboard to begin running more regularly and depudgifying. I will be blogging about the journey in a different place. I’ll give you the address if you all want to listen to a fat guy whine about fat people problems once we get a bit closer. Maybe this time, the change will stick…

Until next time,
Ben

A Bees Perspective

A Bees Perspective

Life has been insane of late with school ending and summer job starting – haven’t had much time to even breathe, let alone get outside and get updates done. I managed to get out and take a couple of pictures the other night though…

Taken from the back corner of our property where the girls head out on their daily jaunts.

Rain, Rain, Go Away…

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Just took this picture from our bedroom window… Ok. That’s not true.

But today sure felt a lot like the picture above here on our modest little piece of Oregon. As often occurs this time of year, the winter rains begins to fall in earnest (Yes… there’s a difference), the wind picks up to near gale force gusts, and the air has a special kind of bite that only comes with late December in Oregon. It was simply not the kind of day to be outside doing anything, so we tackled some Zone 1 projects. Our house.

With the chicken project in full swing, my garage, den, and laundry room area – where we’re staging materials, tools, etc.. looked like someone rolled in a hand grenade and quickly closed the door in a misguided attempt at organizing it… So we spent the morning today taking care of the mess and getting it all cleaned up and organized. The project is nearing its end, and we’re looking forward to having things back in order – I can only take so much clutter before I start going insane, my wife can take far less. It finally got to the point I couldn’t stand it anymore, which means Shannon hasn’t been able to deal for the past 3 weeks… Thankfully the doctor says the patches of hair will grow back.

I spent the rest of the afternoon researching backyard beekeeping. Bees are our next live animal project after the chickens get put in. We’ve got the spot figured out, have the flight path diverter already in place, and will be researching further how to go about it, but step one – I need to build a bee box. I’m going to stick with the Langstrom style box, as I’ve got a couple of friends that have both – and greatly prefer the old tried and true Langstrom over the Top Bar… though I have much more reading and study to do into the topic we’re going to start taking the first few cursory steps. Anyone who has experience in this, I’d love to hear from you. (Comment or email me.)

Once that was finished, I figured it was time to update as I took a few days off following the events of Friday morning. I decided that ultimately writing down what I did that day wasn’t terribly important following the news that we were receiving, and as a parent I had much more important things to do. I’m going to refrain from commenting on the events, and I have refused to be drug into the arguments that have been flooding my Facebook feed. I have many liberal friends whom I work with in the school system, and I have many conservative friends from other walks of life, and the past 2 days my Facebook feed has been one giant argument over gun control, and why the other user group are idiots. (Between this and the inevitable annoyance of December 21st’s Mayan Fiasco, I’m thinking a Facebook break may be in order until sometime in mid-February) Regarding the events in Connecticut, I’m choosing to stay out of it, and I will continue to do that on here. I don’t want to turn this into a place where I rant about politics and issues of the day – there are plenty of other folks who do that in the blogosphere, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, the street corner… frankly, one more voice joining the cacophony is a waste of breath.

This blog is not about the evil in the world. It’s meant to be about the beautiful things in life. It’s about getting dirt under your fingernails — building, creating and producing. Being content with what you have, working hard, living, loving, and learning… being able to look back when the race has been run and knowing you have made a difference, that things are better than they were when you started. That’s the goal on our little parcel of land. 

Monday – we roof the coop!! The roof is framed, we’re just waiting on metal at this point, and since it’s salvage metal, there are holes in it already – so we want to wait until we get it to put the stripping down so we can avoid caulking holes. I’m stoked for getting the roof on it, and letting the framing dry out while we head down to Texas for my brother-in-law’s wedding. Once we get back we’ll be able to do some of the finishing work and get the siding on it. It’ll be tricky fitting everything in over break this year, as we’ll be spending a few days in sunny South Padre Island, Texas… then visiting my family in not-so-warm-and-sunny Spokane, Washington. We’ll have to fit finishing the coop around that and my winter Steelheading schedule… you have to have priorities you know…

As I finish typing this, I can smell the delicious smells coming from the kitchen. The sounds and smell of chicken sausage frying, the scent of onion wafting gently through the air — today’s menu choice is Kale/Potato/White Bean soup, and it’s a perfect pairing for the day, as you can see from the picture above – it’s definitely a soup kind of day. 

I’ll post a picture of the finished soup as well as the recipe later this evening in case you want to try it – we stole it from Mother Earth News, and it is delicious, you should definitely try it.