Endangered Skill #7 Making Your Own Entertainment, part 2: Homemade Toys

She was a little tiny woman who was my Great Aunt Hazel’s daughter. Her husband was an old school mountain man who worked his own backhoe for money when he wasn’t too busy hunting and fishing.

They were Toot and Peanut. Heaven help me, I do not know their real names and I bet most of my motley crew of cousins don’t either. But we do know why they called him Toot. Because Toot made whistles.

Oh they were great, and half the fun was watching him. He would casually cut off a green twig, shape it down, push the pith out of it with whatever came to hand, cut a hole in the top and hand you a whistle. Total elapsed time from twig to whistle; just minutes, and the rest of the afternoon’s worth of entertainment.

At every family gathering Toot was easily found by following the trail of wood shavings and kids who were fast ruining their good clothes and blowing whistles.

In this day of Cell Phones, Xboxes, computers, tablets (Not paper, some other form of computer. Don’t ask me to tell you much about them), and heaven only knows what else it, seems odd to talk about homemade toys, but I will make a bet with you.

Have a picnic and get somebody like Toot out there making whistles and watch the young ones gather ’round. There is just something magical about someone who can turn a stick into a toy.

Of course, in Appalachia where I was raised, a stick was already a toy. A bat, a gun, a sword, Little John’s cudgel, a magic wand and the list is only limited by our imagination.

Some of the things my buddies and I made for entertainment and sport were:

A bow and arrow. Again, sticks, preferably hickory if you wanted to make something really lethal that would last but any green stick would do for a toy.

Then you need a string, check Mr. Rabb’s bailing machine and now we have string. Carve your notches in both ends using your Barlow and then stretch it to bend the bow. If it breaks you got the wrong kinda stick start over.

Now we need arrows which is to say smaller green sticks. The very creative would find and attach heads to their arrows, some used rocks but a pair of tin snips and an old tin can would yield six or eight nice ones. It’s amazing we lived and a heavenly miracle we all have both eyes.

Rainy days in the mountains can stretch for a week or so. Now you got two boys stuck inside with you and, here it comes, “We ain’t got nothin’ to do!” Grandma found an old larger piece of cardboard and her yard stick. In a few minutes she had a checker board and the button jar supplied the checkers. That kept us busy until the rain stopped.

Another favorite was the Button on a String toy which some called Dancing Buttons.
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Home made sleds were a big hit. Most of ours were made with left over scrap lumber taken off of finished jobs by my Great Uncle Andy who was a house painter. They were heavy, bulky and subject to dump you out and roll over you but we had a great time.

For a child with an imagination almost anything becomes a toy. Just watched a Tarzan movie? Great! The mountains are covered with grape vines as big around as your arm. Lets go play Tarzan. That one cost me a half dozen fractures from one fall. Two and a half months later, I was at it again.

I am going to turn this to Connie now who has some information about toys her Grandmother used to make and maybe she can talk about homemade dolls and such. I don’t know nothin’ ’bout no girl toys. At least nothin’ I am going to admit.

Ed

When I was a little girl in the late 1960’s/early 1970’s, I stayed with my great grandma a lot. She was in her seventies and lived in a tiny trailer on a fixed income. To me it was the most wonderful place on earth. She had an incredible imagination, and could make a game out of just about anything. I think she probably had a lot of practice growing up. We pretended a lot. She told me stories, recited poems, and sang songs. She taught me to play rummy and we pretended we were the Maverick brothers (from the TV show) playing poker. One thing I remember her doing was taking a Kleenex, folding it in half, rolling two opposite corners toward each other, and making what looked like a baby in a blanket. I cannot for the life of me remember how she did it. It seems there was Kleenex involved with clothes pin dolls too, but I don’t remember how. She may have wrapped the clothes pin with a Kleenex, and held it with a rubber band for a belt, but I’m not sure. We cut out paper dolls too. They weren’t the prettiest, but we had a good time, and we laughed a lot.

On the subject of dolls. Once upon a time, they were made from rags, handkerchiefs, corn husks, socks, scraps of yarn and just whatever else was available. There is a good tutorial for corn husk dolls here. Another site sells kits for old fashioned dolls. Each kit description carries a link to the history of that type of doll. I thought it was cool. Most interesting was the history of clothes pin dolls as well as the history of clothes pins.

Here is my attempt at a yarn doll. She took about 20 minutes. I’m keeping her simple for now, but I feel like she needs a face and an apron. I found the basic instructions here  IMG_0643

I made this little clothes pin doll in about 10 minutes. I just wrapped him in yarn and drew his face on with fine tip markers. The hair came from the scraps left over from the yarn doll. This has links to all kinds of clothes pin doll instructions.IMG_0644

Ed mentioned his grandma using buttons for checkers. When I was little, probably three or four years old, my mom would go visit a friend whose mother was bedridden. She would always tell her daughter to give me her can of buttons and some string. I would spend the whole time stringing those buttons. Then when it was time to go, I would just dump them back into the can. It kept me occupied the whole visit. Yes, I know. It’s doubtful that would keep a three year old occupied today, but it might.

As for making games, my step father used to draw out the game board for Battleship on a pieces of yellow legal pad paper. He would draw columns for the numbers and rows for the letters When we would play, we would just draw an x in the boxes made from the intersecting columns and rows in order to place our ships and record hits and misses.

Give a child an expensive toy and he will play with box. (At our house, when the child is finished playing with it, the cats take over.) The point is the most important toy a child can have is a good imagination. I fear that may be more endangered than anything else we have mentioned here.

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Connie

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So Hey, Where You Been?

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Let me start with an honest apology for leaving anyone who is interested in this blog hanging for a year. That was wrong and I would love to give you some really dramatic life changing reason why we did not post, but there isn’t one.

For those of us old enough to remember letter writing, did you ever start writing to a distant loved one and then you skipped a day? That was cool, you can make it up tomorrow. OK, maybe not but you will write an extra letter next week. WHAT! Its been a month??

Now you are just embarrassed, humiliated and have no idea what to say to make it right. Then, well then, its a year, and they are wondering what they did to make you hate them.

So that is kind of what we were going through. Oh yes, there was drama and business and emergency peppered with rank foolishness, but those are excuses and I learned early and the hard way not to make excuses.

So, instead of excuses… I make jokes.

TOP 10 REASONS WE DID NOT WRITE IN THE BLOG

TEN: We were kidnapped by aliens:

Seeing as how my “other job” is working the overnight shift in an all night diner, this is not as far-fetched as it might appear. Some of the people who stagger, slither, swagger and sway into my place of business around 2 AM are probably aliens.

However, I do not believe they are the kidnapping type alien, nor are they the SWALLOW YOU WHOLE while slobbering acidic slime type aliens. My alien customers are probably no more dangerous than your average Unitarian.

NINE: Meeko ate our blog posts:

Again, there is an element of believably in this for anyone who knows our Meeko. Saying that Meeko has a voracious appetite is something of an understatement. The only thing we know he won’t eat is Libby and, if you notice, she has a tendency to keep moving.

Meeko sets no store by all that chewing and tasting foolishness. He goes directly to the swallowing part. So, had our blog post landed somewhere near his food bowl, which is to say anywhere he could reach, he might very well have eaten them had there been anything to eat.

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Meeko who loves to lick faces and eat things that would make a buzzard wretch. But he’s my dog.

EIGHT: Donald Trump did it:

I have no idea where I am going with that, and it makes no sense, but it seems to be working for the media.

SEVEN: I won the World Series of Poker:

Again, no idea where that came from. I used to be a fair to middlin’ poker player, but I haven’t played in years. If I, in fact, paid the entry fee to get into the World Series of Poker, that would explain why we had not written. I would be dead and Connie would be doing time.

SIX: Our Internet Connection Went Out:

I know who’s internet goes out for a year? Considering our home phone lines will have been down for over a month, when and if we get it fixed that is not as far-fetched as it first appears. No, it isn’t true, but it is quite possible out here in the hinterlands. God bless country living.

FIVE: (INSERT CONSPIRACY THEORY ORGANIZATION HERE) Forced us to quit writing our blog:

I know its silly, but I just added upwards of a hundred Wing Nuts to our followers.

FOUR: Connie was called back to Active Duty to assist Military Intelligence in finding out what happened to the World’s Supply of Common Sense:

I don’t know anything about it. Connie couldn’t tell me and, at my age, I would have forgotten by now anyway.

THREE: I was arrested and convicted of Reckless Walking and Attempting to Crawl:

No, don’t worry, I am still sober (nine years now), but many years ago I did get held for a few hours in a small Texas town and when I asked about the charge, the big Police Officer used that phrase. As a Word Mechanic, I have loved it ever since.

TWO: I spent the year on a mountain in Tibet learning to meditate:

Yeah right, if I spent a year on a mountain in Tibet I would have been meditating on how to GET OFF THE MOUNTAIN!!!

ONE: We were working on a series about homemade musical instruments. I was asked by Connie to make a kind of bass out of a pole, a washtub and some string. Its been a year and at least I know where the washtub is.

The law is called Entropy, and it states that any closed system has a tendency to run down over a period of time unless you add energy to it. We just quit adding energy.

Anyway, we are back and we are sorry for the delay.

Right now I have to go make a bass, if I can find a decent pole.

Endangered Skills Number 5: Orienteering Part 2

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This is the map of our local area. The big city of Braymer, Missouri is the pinkish spot in the upper right (north east) quadrant.

When I was promoted into the ranks of a Non-commissioned Officer in our United States Army these many years ago, this newly formed Buck Sergeant was taken aside and taught the first absolute of being a good Sergeant. A crusty Platoon Sergeant with a marked Spanish accent said, “Sergeant, you will NEVER let a 2d Lieutenant hold the map and the compass at the same time.”

Land Navigation, as the Military calls it, is a vital skill and it starts with understanding what you are dealing with. I am not going to have the time or the space to teach you how to navigate using a map and a compass, the best I can do is list the skills necessary to navigate with a map and a compass. Perhaps I can also highlight some common errors people make.

For more in-depth information I am going to refer you to Field Manual (FM) 3-25.26 Map Reading and Land Navigation.

Also, for good cheap or even free Topographical Maps I suggest you look up the United States Dept of the Interior Geological Survey. These are the kind of maps that, when I say “map” I am talking about.

1. A compass is a device that points to magnetic north. For the purpose of using a map there are THREE different norths:

a. Magnetic north is governed by the magnetic pull of the earth that draws your compass needle towards it. It is located generally around Hudson Bay but it moves.

b. True north is the actual point of north. The Top of the World if you will.

c. Grid north is where your map’s grid lines point to as north.

At the bottom of any good map there should be some kind of declination diagram or at least a pointer that points to true north. On short trips the difference between true north and magnetic north should not cause you much error. In Missouri the declination is 1degree 6 minutes east which I determined by visiting this site.  This means that, to adjust to true north I am going to have to subtract 1.6 from my compass heading.

Are we confused yet?

Let’s talk about compasses. I prefer the Lensatic Compass that is issued by the military, because it is accurate and designed for use in the worst kind of conditions. However, any decent magnetic compass will do as long as you know how to use it.

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U S Army Illustration

The compass on your watch band, in your fancy survival watch, the handle of your knife or the one you got out of a cereal box is probably OK for determining general direction, and it is better than nothing in a pinch, but I would not like to walk twenty-five miles using that type of compass to choose my direction.

2. Lets talk about maps for a minute. For my purposes, I am talking about a to scale two dimensional representation of a three dimensional surface of the earth. (I can remember that definition from twenty years ago but I cannot remember where I left my hat. Sigh)

That kind of map is a topographic map which shows elevations, vegetation, bodies of water, and man made objects. Anything less is going to give you problems choosing a good route.

So we have our map in our hands and our compass hanging by a lanyard around our neck. Lets talk about one of the major errors we all tend to make when trying to read a map. I named this error “The North Seeking Jeep”.

People have a tendency to believe that once they lay the map out, the top of the map (representing north) is oriented to the north. So people sitting in their jeeps (yes, I mean officers), have a tendency to believe whatever direction their jeep is facing is north. It probably isn’t.

To orient your map you can use your compass or you can use major linear terrain features you can see (roads, creeks, mountain ranges, power lines etc). The best way is with your compass. Factoring in your declination laying your compass along a north-south grid line and turn the map with the compass until the compass point to north. Until you know how your map relates to the cardinal directions, you better get used to long useless walks. By the way, Connie pointed out some people might not know what I mean by “cardinal directions”. Due North, South, East and West are your cardinal directions. Red birds have nothing to do with it.

There will be symbols and colors on your map. If you are using a Topographic Map from the Geological Survey folks, the symbols and colors are largely standard, but on any map they should be listed at the bottom of the map. Also you will find your contour intervals (the distance in elevation between contour lines) and your scale.

So we have our map. We have read it so we know what the different symbols and colors mean. We know the scale of the map and we have oriented it using our compass, after accounting for the declination, and we are ready to go.

Hold on a second. How far are you going to go, and how will you know how far you have gone? You can use the features on your map to estimate how far you have gone, but sometimes there is not that much difference in terrain features over an extended distance; deserts and plains for example. Now you need a method of measuring how far you have gone, and to do that you need to know your pace count.

In a military patrol two men are assigned to keep up with their pace. Generally they use a piece of para chord tied to their web gear in which they tie a knot every 100 meters. You may not need to use this technique where you are orienteering, but when you do need to use it, you need it badly.

So mark off a hundred meters over terrain, not down a flat highway, and find out your pace count. A true pace is a full two steps. If you step off with your left foot the second time your left foot hits the ground is one pace. My step is generally around 30 inches, and my pace count always came out to about 65 paces per 100 meters.

Oh, one last thing you will need to know. How to find places on your map using the grid system on the map and, in a pinch, the longitude and latitude system. I could try to explain it to you here, but I doubt either one of us have the patience for that. Get the FM I suggested or any other good orienteering\book. Get a map, get a good compass, and prepare to get lost.

Of course you are going to get lost. We all get lost. Orienteering is being lost, interspersed with occasional clarity as to where you are. Kind of like life.

Endangered Skills Number 5: Orienteering Part 1

The story goes that a young reporter found the great surveyor of virgin territory, Daniel Boone, in his retirement in Missouri and asked to interview him. Mr. Boone was never shy about talking about his past, so he agreed. One of the first questions the reporter asked was whether Mr. Boone had ever been lost.

Daniel was said to have considered the question and answered. “No, I ain’t never been lost, I have been confused for a month or two sometimes, but I ain’t never been lost.”

I guess it is all in how you look at it. In the military, where I learned Orienteering, the catch phrase was “miss-oriented”. We never got lost, we were only miss-oriented. Yeah, right.

Whatever name you want to call it, being lost is never any fun, and our ancestors had to deal with the possibility of it because, as Daniel Boone would testify, getting miss-oriented could lead to several months of confusion.

I was raised in the mountains, within walking distance of the Cherokee reservation and the Great Smokey Mountain National Park. It is still a part of the country where a boy could walk off in the woods and not be able to find his way back. My Grandfather taught my brother and I a simple truism that works very well in the eastern Appalachians, and has some application to all mountains.

If you find yourself lost, go down hill until you find water, and downstream until you find people.

With that simple formula, at the age of ten, I was not the least bit afraid to walk Little Mountain, Eagle’s Nest, all around the Balsam Gap, Plott Creek, the Little Pigeon river, and points all around there. I probably took a year or two off my poor grandmother’s life but it was fun for me.

I am going to divide this post into two parts:

Orienteering using maps and compasses.

Orienteering using nature. How our ancestors found their way around before cartography and compasses became common, or in places where maps were simply not yet made.

Lets first look at some not so true truisms:

The sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Unless you are on the equator, NO. For us folks in the northern hemisphere, the sun rises in the SOUTH EAST and sets in the SOUTH WEST. If you are trying to arrive at a point Due East or West of you, then the problem with navigating by the sun should be obvious. There are ways to adjust for that and we will look at a couple shortly.

Moss grows on the south side of the tree. NO. Moss grows on the most protected side of the tree. Remember, I am a mountain boy. Most time moss grows on the up hill side of the tree in the mountains, and that is normally east or west. While moss growth can be a good indicator of direction, it is not completely accurate.

Water flows south. NO Water flows down hill. Whether that is north, south, east or west is another question.

For basic survival skills in the woods, I recommend to you FM 21-76 U.S. Army Survival Manual. Chapter 11 or 18 (depending on your version,) discusses Field Expedient methods of direction finding. I intend to talk about three of these methods, two using shadows and one using the stars.

For simplicity sake, I am going to stick to how this works in the NORTHERN temperate zone. (between 23.4 degrees and 66.6 degrees north). That would be where most of us live. If you are in the southern hemisphere either seek information elsewhere or contact me and I will get it for you.

The situation: You are lost and you have no idea where the cardinal directions are.

The first method I will discuss, is refereed to as the Shadow Tip Method. It is relatively quick and extremely accurate.

1. Find a spot clear of brush where the sun is shinning and a stick approximately a meter (a yard) long.

2. Drive the stick into the ground and mark the end of the first shadow with a stone. This point is ALWAYS the west end of the line you are going to create.

3. Wait fifteen or twenty minutes. If you are really lost, relax for awhile. Running your body dry on adrenaline is not helpful. When the time has passed, the shadow should have moved a short distance. Mark this movement and then draw a line from the first mark through the second mark, extending the line for some distance.

4. Stand with your left foot on your first mark and your right foot on your second. If you are above the equator you are facing in a northerly direction you left is west, your right is east and south is behind you.

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FM 21-76

The second method I will discuss is the watch method. This method requires an analog watch. A very good reason to carry my pocket watch to the woods with me. It also uses shadow so we are going to start in a clear place where the sun is shinning and we, again, are going to place or stick in the ground.

1. Place a small stick in the ground that cast a definitive shadow.

2. Place your watch on the ground with the hour hand along the shadow.

3. Find the midway point between 12 O’clock and the hour hand and draw a line through this point. This line is the north-south line with north being in the direction the line is going through the watch. The other directions will be just as we said before. I have used this method while on the move, just to determine if I am going in the right general direction. Just point your hour hand at the sun and look at a point half way between that and 12 going clockwise. That will be generally north.

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FM 22-76

Lets talk about the stars now. Again I am staying with the Northern Hemisphere. South of the equator you would be looking for the southern cross but where most of us live navigating by the stars is done by the north star. The rest of the stars in the northern heavens revolve around the North Star.

The North Star (Polaris) is the tail end star in the Little Dipper (Ursa Minor) but that is often hard to find. Look for the Big Dipper (Ursa Major) and on the dipper end you will find two stars that act as pointers. Draw an imaginary line out from these stars and you will find another constellation called Cassiopeia or the Lazy W. Between the two the most prominent stars, you will see is the North Star.

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FM 21-76

 

In this day and age of GPS, and even the simpler compass and map, it is hard to believe that our ancestors crossed this country with no better guide than the North Star isn’t it? In the old wagon trains, the lead wagon was always set with its wagon tongue facing the North Star so that the next morning there would be no doubt which way they were to go.

Most times, in those cases where we are lost, it is better to conserve your energy, seek some shelter if necessary and wait for help. But while you are waiting you might want to orient yourself, because sometimes it is going to be necessary to walk out.

When that happens, you are going to need to know something about getting yourself oriented to your environment, so you can make reasonable decisions about where and how to go. What I have shown you here is introductory. It is a sampling of ways to find your direction that have been used for years.

BEEginning Again Part 2

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This is a packet of bees.

So, as a complete update, I have my two hives installed. One is doing better than the other but they are both coming along with capped brood and honey present in both hives.

This time I decided, since I had all the equipment, to buy packages of bees rather than nucs. Nucs are basically a mini hive with five frames of honey and brood, bees and an active queen. Packages are simply the bees and the queen. Unlike the nuc, the package’s queen and her new subjects are not formally introduced yet, and this can cause you some problems.  The queen and her retinue come in a separate container.

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A queen container with queen and her attendants.

So we rode over to Chillicothe, Missouri to see Bill and Tammie and pick up our bees. We decided to go in the car and we loaded two packages of bees in the back seat. Would you like to know what will make you a defensive driver? Knowing that, if you break those boxes, you are going to get REALLY busy.

Arriving home we pulled the bees out and looked at them. Here is a look at one of the boxes as seen from above where you take the bees out of.

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Top view of the bee packet.

So here is the trick, I need to get all those bees, the queen and her attendants in a hive without causing major disruption, losing bees (especially the queen) or getting stung.

Step one, the queen: The queen in her little container, is supposed to hang down between the middle frames. There is “queen candy” in one end, which she and her attendants are supposed to eat out, and then the queen should emerge to a grand meeting by her new subjects. Hopefully.

An alternative method is to tape up this hole and hand release the queen about five days after you set up the new hive. I decided, on good advice, to try that. I will tell you the outcome later.

Next, I set up the lower hive bodies and got the hanging feeders ready. We used 4 lbs of sugar to 1 gallon of water. This is the mixture that best stimulates comb making.

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The black thing with two holes in it to the right of the picture is a feeder.

So I set up the two lower hive bodies as shown in the picture above. Please note, almost dead center between the third and fourth frame counting from the left the plastic queen container. They either love her or hate her, hard to say. To that I added another empty hive body. Shaking bees into a hive body is not as easy as it may at first seem and it never sounded that easy to me in the first place. I try to treat the girls like ladies you know.

So I took some advice from Bill George and set them up like this:

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Bee packet upside down over frames.

This allows the bees, who now have food and water available, to crawl out on their on. Thee days later I opened the hive, took out the box and the vast majority of the bees were enjoying their new home.

The queen? I went back a couple days later to free the lady and to put one more set of beetle traps into each hive. When I checked on the queen containers in both cases the bees had already freed the queens. I found the tape lying on the screened hive bottoms when I moved the hive bodies to clean out and put in these traps. Apparently duct tape is not all its cracked up to be, or bees are smarter than we give them credit for.

A tip based on my lessons learned here. When you are only using a small number of frames in a hive box make CERTAIN they are close together. If not you end up with a situation like this:

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Frames too far apart.

The bees have built comb out attaching the two frames together. I lost some brood because of this and I am jealous of my baby bees.

So I checked them again yesterday and the bees are still great. As I said, one hive is behind some but is still doing well. I enjoy fooling with bees and taking care of them, but that isn’t all I have been doing.

New dog runs and new chicken coops have been happening. I will talk about them later.

BEEginning Again Part 2

The last time I wrote about re-starting my bee venture, I told you I had lost two hives late last year to Small Hive Beetles. This year I bought two packets, and they have been delivered, but first I want to talk about my clean-up for Hive Beetles.

Overall it is pretty simple. You want to kill the beetles and the larva, and you want to clean out any slime or residue from the infestation. As my friend Tammie George at Crooked Hill Bee Keeping says it, “Bees are better housekeepers than we are.” Mainly you just need to get the ugly stuff left by the beetles out, and let the bees do the rest.

Killing the beetles and making certain they are gone is another matter. Small Hive Beetles can live as long as six months. So I did some exploring and asked some questions of bee friends and got the same idea. Freeze the hive boxes, the frames and the foundations. I left each hive box in the freezer for a month.

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This is what we were working with, I had frozen the hive boxes and set them aside until this day.

Then comes the cleaning. I used a wire brush and two different scrapers to get the majority of all the old comb, and beetle residue, off the hive boxes and the frames. After that, I washed them in hot vinegar water. There are some who use bleach water, but I am leery of non-organic solutions.

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As I said, it is a mess.

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This view is of a brood frame where the Queen laid eggs. This is what the beetles attack. Honey frames are easily cleaned out and they are clean and yellow. Brood is darker comb and it does not want to come off. Add in the smell of the beetles and it is not pretty.

After I finished I let them dry outside in the sun. I was very happy to see some of the girls (not my bees; they were not here yet), hanging around the old frames, pulling off comb and digging out pollen I had missed.

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It is a sticky job, but someone has to do it.

A word about prevention before I close. My mistake was not thinking the beetles would get to me because I interrupted their life cycle. There was no dirt under my hives for the larva to get into because the hives were sat on concrete. I did not take elementary precautions such as simple cheap beetle traps. Now both of my hives have beetle traps in them, and the ground and concrete around the table where my hives sit is salted with diatomaceous earth.  The tuition at the College of Hard Knocks is expensive to our pocket books, our egos and several thousand bees who I let down. I will make more mistakes but not that one ever again.

The following chart came from my first link at the top of this post which links to an article from the University of Arkansas extension service. I would suggest you look at he whole article, it is very informative.

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Being me, I let some of it wait longer than I should. However, I got it done in time to move the girls and the Big Girl into their new homes. In the next post I will introduce you.

Good Fences Make Good Doggies

The bees will be here on 21 April, so there will be another post concerning cleaning and setting up my hives shortly. However, another matter has taken precedent and I had to attend to it before I ended up pulling what little hair I still have out. (See the post Don’t Fence Me In).

One of the things I try to do in this blog, is save you the time, money, aggravation and extra work I put in to my ventures, before I succeed. As long as I fall on my face in the direction of the finish line, I do not consider it a failure; just another payment on the tuition at the University of Hard Knocks.

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This is what playing catch up with a digging dog looks like.

Let’s talk about dog pens for a second. Two years, ago I built one. It seemed simple enough. Just fence in a piece of land, put the big ugly dog house in it, and insert the big ugly dogs. No problem right? Yeah…. sure you’re right.

The first question is, how much is enough land for a dog? I really cannot say. I have sicced Google on the problem, but have not found a satisfactory answer. First time out of the gate, I enclosed about 100 by 80 feet. Yes, that is 8000 square feet. Yes, I am a fool, thank you for noticing.

Shortly I realized that the north fence; the oldest line of fence I incorporated into my new lot, was totally inadequate. For a number of months, I tried to patch it with little success. I used electricity but that too, was inadequate.

Finally, I decided to back off approximately 60 feet, and put a whole new fence on the north side. Now we are down to about 4000 square feet. A little more reasonable. BUT, and there is always a but, Libby, the non-climber, took a special interest in that new 100 linear feet of fence. After the recent winter, the ground was particularly soft. Libby had a field day and once Meeko figured out what she was doing, the gimpy former climber became a pretty fair tunneler.

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Sixty feet less and a brand new fence.

 

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The first shots in the war for the North Fence

We were off to the races, but when you are patching as they go, you are always behind the power curve. My next attempt was to place pallets around the bottom of the fence; wired in, and nailed together where appropriate. Understand, I am still playing catch-up. While the tunneling duo have a preference for one linear 100 feet of fence along the north side, they have branched out, and it is impossible to predict where they will strike next.
What is wrong with my pallet answer? To start with, the dogs quickly out paced the local Co Op’s ability to supply me with pallets. Second, we are looking at 280 or so linear feet of fence. The average pallet is 44 inches long. That means I will need in the neighborhood of 70 more pallets. That would be a cost of $245.00. Shotgun shells are much cheaper.

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The first attempt at the pallet answer, for what it cost to do this all the way around I could have bought a better dog.

Then Meeko got out, killed a chicken, and wounded another. Enough. But what to do? I was really considering Turkey Shot. In desperation, we tied the dogs out by the barn and let them sleep in a concrete floored feed room. It was a really bad answer, but only lasted about two weeks.

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Tied out dogs them and I both hate it.

Then my lovely wife intervened. She took me out to the dog lot one day, and pointed out one obvious change. Change made: the dog lot is now 40 X 50 feet for two dogs. That would be 2000 square feet. Three or four people have been living in less square footage in our house.

What did this do for my fencing project? First, it reduced the linear footage of the fence by another hundred feet; now it was 180 linear feet. A hard and fast rule is that every foot you can reduce that fence, is one foot they cannot dig out of. Second, it gave me a vast amount of fencing and posts to work with when I reset the fence.

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The infamous north fence. Note the fencing on the ground. Yes, it does appear to be working. No I do not need to lose weight, that is where I carry my lunch. Several of them.

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Kat helping me line up a pole.

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Me driving a pole with a 6 lb pole hammer. Possibly the greatest invention since fire.

Next, I ran fence wire on the ground ,along the line of the fence, sank steel post every five or so (got a bunch of those too),and strung the fence with the able assistance of Kat, the Chicken Girl. Once I had the fence up, Kat wired the fence on the ground and the standing fence together. I added two short poles on the outside which Kat also wired in. These were to make it difficult for the dogs to push out on the fence. Anyway, as I have mentioned, I have a bunch of poles, short and long.

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The inside of the gate. Note the wire, even Libby cannot dig through that.

Then I pulled out the much abused and busted northern line completely. I laid wire down in the same way I had on the eastern side, added some poles, and put a sixteen foot cattle panel at the north-west corner which Libby seemed to take particular joy in attacking. Let her try to chew through that. After that, we fenced the rest. Everyone was helping there, and the dogs, chained in front of the barn, were watching; wishing we would hurry up and finish.

The western and the southern lines were the most stable. Along the western line, I placed all the pallets I still had. On the southern line, I stretched wire on the inside and the ladies wired it in while I was putting together the gate, and mumbling under my breath. It was getting late, but I wanted them in the new yard.

We hung the gate, and brought over the dogs, who were overjoyed about being able to run in their new home. Libby, of course, was checking the fence line carefully.

What can I tell you that you that will save you trouble?

1. Make a reasonable dog run. One lady, who had multiple dogs, said her 60′ X 40′ foot backyard was fine for three very large dogs.

2. If they are dogs, they can dig. Sometimes they dig just for fun. So find some way to build a no dig zone around the inside of your fence at least two feet wide. Wire fence works well; chicken wire not so well. Also, and this is my next project with the dogs, build them some stuff to play on and with.

3. Give your dog plenty of credit for creativity. When you think you have it sealed, think again.

All during the re-fencing project, there was a place where the fence had been bent and broken about 10 inches wide along the bottom. A number of times I said to Connie, “We need to patch that and slap a pole in there. In the hurry to get the Dweeble Twins off the chain (I hate chaining a dog), we neglected this less than a linear foot of fence. I went out the next morning, and they were gone out of that one little hole.

It is sealed now, and my ego is healing.

Thank You

Ed

BEEginning Again

Those who follow my writing know that I started an experiment with bees last year. I invested in two nuclei (nucs), or two mini-hives with a queen, the bees, some honey and some brood (eggs for worker bees). Along with that I bought all the necessary bee keeping equipment.

I considered success getting through the first winter with one active hive. I did not do that. Luckily for this project, I consider failure quitting. I have not quit. With what honey I sold already, I can cover a lot of the cost of replacing the bees, so this was not quite the failure it could have been and I still have a few quarts of honey left.

So let’s redefine success. I have all the equipment I need and I have considerable more knowledge of bee keeping. I have two packages of bees on order, and I have my copy of First Lessons in Beekeeping. Along with that, I have made contact with other local bee keepers. I am well ahead of where I was last year.

  1. A hive beetle.
  2. A healthy hive.
  3. After a hive beetle attack
  4. Dead bees on bottom board.

So what do I have to do now? First, I need to clean up all my equipment. I would have had to do that anyway. Then I need to look at my set up. The table I had my hives on is too high. This year I will buy some concrete blocks and set the hives up on them.

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When you realize that I am going to have to put at least one more Super on this set up then you can see that it is too high to begin with.

The hives were on a table which sat on a concrete slab that once was the floor of a kennel I tore out. I need to clean that off and perhaps patch it a bit. I need to buy a couple more things like some more beetle traps, a queen excluder, a bee suit for my wife and/or visitors, a couple more deep supers and a couple of shallow supers.

Yeah, I know. Its like a whole new language isn’t it? When I first started attending beekeeping meetings, reading books, and watching videos, jargon that I did not understand kept washing over me, leaving me as confused as a dog at a whistling contest. If you are interested, you will read books, check web sites and just stop people who are talking about supers and bottom boards and what all, and ask them, “What does that mean?” Most will answer willingly.

As I continue with each post, I will publish a list of bee related terms and what they mean. You are welcome to steal it. I probably did.

Ed

Apiary: A site of one or more managed bee hives.

Bee Brush: A soft brush used for swiping bees off a surface.

Bottom Board: Floor of a bee hive

Brood: Describes all immature phases of the bee: egg, larvae, prepupae, or pupae

Super: General term for boxes (9-1/2-, 6-5/8- or 5-3/8- inches tall) comprising a beehive. Term is more appropriately reserved for honey production boxes placed above the brood nest.

Fits Like a Glove

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This is the damage that can be caused by an adjustable wrench and a hard head.

The picture above explains why you wear work gloves. I wrote a blog post about the incident, but here is a condensed version. On the day in question, I was pulling on a very large nut with an adjustable wrench. It was holding a pulley on my riding lawn mower. One of the last thoughts I recall, before I skinned a knuckle to the bone and hurt another was, “Hey Buck, don’t you think you need to put on those high dollar work gloves you paid for?” Of course my answer to myself was, “I’ll go get ’em in a minute.”

Work gloves. We all need a pair. I work in food service, when not stumbling around my five acres cutting myself in various ways. When working in food service, it is not a good idea to have hands covered with cuts, scrapes and stains; so when working with wood, paint or other things like that, gloves are a good idea bordering on a necessity.

Me? I like leather gloves. So now I should give you a practical reason for that, right? There is none. I like leather gloves because they look, smell and feel like leather. That is a tactile sensation that dates back to my days on Grandpa’s farm.

My last two pair of work gloves were made by Kinco, and were made from buffalo leather. I have the second of those two pair sitting here beside me. This pair lasted me about three years, the first pair, almost two. This pair lasted longer because I was really reluctant to give them up.

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That spot on the back of the left one? Its my blood from putting up fencing. The gloves protected my hands and fingers, but not my forearms. The right glove’s finger seams are wearing out and have split on the middle and third finger. There is a hole worn in the middle finger of the right hand. All over the palms and fingers of both gloves ,you can feel the leather worn thin and supple. The right thumb has a small hole from some incident now forgotten. The list of scrapes, broken laces, and worn thin spots would take up pages. So why want to keep them? Why put off buying a new pair?

Because they fit me like a glove. Anything leather; a coat, a hat, a boot, a glove, that begins near the correct fit seems to adapt to the body with time. I wear a medium glove, but my hands are different sizes, and my already unique hands have been modified by time and damage. With time, sweat, use and blood, leather gloves become a part of your hands. They no longer just fit; they fit like a glove.

Before I bought my “dress boots” some six years ago, I had worn a pair of boots for untold years. The soles and heels were all but gone, and the uppers were wearing through in places. When I checked on a re-sole and heel job, it was going to cost nearly as much as buying a new pair of boots. So I bought these boots. After six years they are beginning to break in.

These gloves? They have not only protected my hands, they have become part of my memories. A lot of the story of my last couple years are sweated into them. So no, I will not throw them away right now. I will put them in my stuff drawer where I can find them, accidentally, every once in a while.

Maybe, after a couple of years I can write a follow-up to this post about this pair.

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Ed

How Not To’s

When Connie suggested this blog to me, and we talked about a theme and such, I pictured a series of articles about how to do the wonderful things we were going to do on our homestead. There has been some of that, I admit. I have written a handful of articles on how to do this or that and sometimes, the other.

But it seems to me, that a larger number of my contributions have been “How Not To’s”, not how to’s. Why? To be honest, this is my first attempt at homesteading. My time as the live-in grandson of a farmer ended early, and there was little, if any, input from the grown men in my life about how to build and make things.

I told a local friend last week, that I envied people raised here because they took for granted things I had never been allowed to learn. I told him, “My basic skill sets are writing, cooking and thanks to the U. S. Army, breaking things and hurting people.” I have spent the last almost two decades trying to unlearn that last one.

Today’s entry will not be any different. The basic thrust is going to be: This is what I did wrong. Don’t do that.

Anyone who follows our blog knows that early last spring, I set up two bee hives and started keeping bees. Things went well, perhaps too well at first. We harvested honey from June until August, and sold more than I ever hoped to the first year, while keeping more than enough for our uses. Honey will keep indefinitely, as long as it is harvested from capped combs, so keeping extra is not a problem.

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This is a picture of me opening the nucs last spring to put the bees in their new homes.

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Same bees, a month later. Like I said, they just took off.

Late in August I began to notice my bees acting strangely. One hive was robbing the other. I knew from study, that his meant the hive being robbed was weakening. I blocked most of the entrance to that hive, to reduce the open space the weak hive had to defend, to try to save it, but the hive was too far gone.

What I did not know until too late, was that this hive was infested with small hive beetles, and the second hive was well on its way to being killed too. At that point, I bought Beetle Traps, but that was closing the barn door after the horse has got out. Both hives were lost that quickly.

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This is a small hive beetle.

I should have had beetle traps in place from the beginning. I should have taken more care to look in the bottoms and the upper corners of the hives for beetles. I should have been more aggressive in making certain the beetles did not get a foot hold in the first place.

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This is a beetle trap with not nearly enough beetles in it. Too little way too late.

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This is a ghost town, but it won’t be around May, Lord willing.

The bad news is, this course in practical bee keeping cost me about three hundred bucks in bees. The good news, finding the positives in the negatives, is that I sold enough honey to defray most of that cost. I have beetle traps for both hives and I will know better next time.

I tell young people I mentor and train the following: “Experience simply means any mistake you are going to make, I have already made, and learned how to overcome.”

So the beetles got me this time, but I will be ready next time. I have already frozen the hives to make certain I kill all the larva. So before spring I must:

1. Scrape the hives, clean them and prepare them for the new bees. This time I bought packages. Packages consist of a queen and her bees. They take a little longer to become established, but I already have everything else I need, so I want to start that way.

2. Set up bee traps in and around our property. I will use the boxes I have left from last year’s nucs for traps, and use lemon grass oil and bee’s wax for bait. Hopefully, if we have some swarming in the area, I can pick up some more bees.

3. Buy a couple more deep and a couple more medium hive boxes. One of my problems last year was that I was not prepared for the population explosion of bees I experienced.

Except for the traps, all must be completed and ready to go, along with cleaning out the bee yard and preparing it to receive the hives, by late March. The traps can wait another month, maybe six weeks because they depend on bees seeking new homes. That should be plenty of time, if the dogs stay home and the Creek don’t rise. This year, because we upgraded our blog, I can post you some videos of our progress. Maybe that will help you, and maybe you can help me by giving me some advice based on what you see me doing.

I said earlier, the Army only taught me how to break things and hurt people. That is simplistic. The Army taught me a lot more than that, and a lot of it has to do with dealing with set backs and failings. The best one is simply this, “The winner is the one who gets up one more time than his opponent.”

It’s gonna take a lot more than some beetles to beat Connie and I.

Ed