Wild about Wild Bees: Part Two of Three Parts

So the last we spoke, Connie and I were beginning to, for the first time, try to pull wild bees out of the walls of a dilapidated old house that was soon to be torn down. You can find all that here.

The house was lathe and plaster walled and there was no electricity in it. Good luck as much as good planning, my sawzal was battery powered, and yes I had brought extra batteries. But where, exactly are the bees? I had proven that they were as far down the wall as two foot or so from the floor and as far up the wall as at least six feet. What about side to side.

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This is the wall I will be working with. In the video you will see a two foot wide swath cut out from floor to ceiling and all of it full of hive.

As we faced the wall, to the left was limited by the window sill and the necessary framing that would go with it. From prior experience, I knew most houses were framed at two feet on center. Experimentally I went looking for some framing at two feet from the window and found a two by four there.

Now I had a box that went from at least the ceiling to the floor and was two feet wide. That seemed like a natural place to find the hive so, between the two foot up and six feet up, I made a cut just inside and searching for the framing two by four. Once I found it I cut open a small area.

That was when I began to get a hint of how amazed I was about to be. I took my small pry bar and a hammer and began to pull back the lathe and plaster wall. There was no need to be overly neat because they were going to tear the house down anyway. First I went up from the two foot mark to the six foot.

Between the two by fours spaced two feet on center packed as deep as it could go and all of the four feet length there was hive. That would be about twenty inches wide and four inches deep by four feet long or about two and a quarter cubic feet of hive and brood just covered with bees.

That would be the ones that were not on me.

And that as not all of it. Over a period of time we uncovered up closer to the ceiling and  from the two foot point to about a foot under the floor. All of it was filled with hive starting with the oldest near the entrance hole and the newest nearer the ceiling. Here, let me see if I can show you:

I have a reaction when I come into close contact with God’s magnificent engineering and actions in nature or in man. First I am awed of course. Next I am strangely happy, almost childishly so. Some kind of “I just knew you were there God.” moment. Then I am simply humbled by the works of God. Add to that the fact that we were hopelessly over matched today.

So when you cannot do it all you do the best you can. Finding the Queen by any normal means would have be pretty near impossible, most of the comb was empty because it was early spring and there was very little honey.

Connie and I decided to get all the brood comb we could find and put that in the hive box which we had brought. Suddenly the bees began to quit attacking us and settled back into the comb with some coming and voluntarily landing in the box. We gathered as much as we could, sealed the box and put it in the truck.

Nine countable stings and one box of bees with way too many left behind, we were on the way home. Already we, both of us being veterans, were A. A. R’ing the whole thing. (After Action Reviewing). As we rode home and drank water. We both agreed we would do better next time.

In part three I will talk about our AAR and the ultimate outcome of our first attempt. If any apiarist who have something add reads this, please feel free to critique me in comments. I have had my faults explained to me by Drill Sergeants, you will not hurt my feelings and you may help me and the bees next time.

 

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Wild about Wild Bees Part One of Three Parts

A friend contacted me about a friend of his who was tearing down a house that was full of wild honey bees. Did I want to try to get them out?

Time and money are limited commodities. Let me promise you that I have much more time than money. So when I am offered the opportunity to put together a bee hive for a little bit of work, I am right there to do it.

I said, “Absolutely”. Then set out to learn how to do it. The first rule of learning anything new is that it is never as simple as you might believe. The second rule is that it is never as complicated as those who are trying to tell you how to do it make it out to be.

When I learn about electricity I really do not know it until I get shocked. Probably more than once. Most of my life has been fly by the seat of my pants experience and, beside the seat getting a little threadbare, I see no reason to stop now.

So what did I do?

1. I contacted people who knew something about what I was going to do to ask for their advice. Never turn down free advice, it is at least worth what you paid for it. What I learned from this is that you are essentially pulling the hive, comb, brood, honey (if any) and bees out and taking it with you. Easier said than done. One piece of advice I ignored was to use a vacuum with a variable or low setting to gather up the bees. I will do that next time.

One thing I learned which made me delay the whole procedure was not to try moving a hive too early in the spring because they were still weak from winter so I talked to the owner and he agreed to wait about a month.

Also, I learned that pulling a hive of bees out of a dwelling or tree has a pretty low success rate even for experienced beekeepers.

2. I read about it. The two reference books I reach for most are First Lessons in Beekeeping by Keith S. Delaplane (in the tradition of C. D. Dadant’s 1917 original) and Homegrown Honey Bees by Alethea Morrison. There are others, that might be better, but these work for me.

3. Yes, I went on YouTube. Who doesn’t? If you find yourself needing to do kitchen table brain surgery I suggest you check YouTube. They probably have a video about that. So I watched the videos I could find and learned what I could.

There is an old military saying, “Amateurs study tactics and strategy while professionals study logistics.” That is because no matter how well you plan you must have what you need when you get there or you cannot complete the mission. So we checked and double checked what we took with us.

First, of course, something to put the bees in, I took one deep hive box and, just to be certain, a Nuc Box. Also, safety equipment for two people. Second, this was an old house so I would need to get into the wall that would require a saw (I took two; one battery operated sawzall and one  hand saw), two different styles of pry bar, and basic carpentry tools.

I did not know if I was going to go in from the outside or the inside. My “plan” was to work from the inside but the situation would dictate which way I went.

So Connie and I went over our list, tried to assure we had everything and I loaded the truck the night before because, military again, nobody ever gave me extra duty for getting there early.

The next morning we got in the truck and, thanks to Google, got there without any trouble. Here comes another old military adage referred to as Murphy’s First Law of Combat which says, “No plan survives initial contact with the enemy.”

The house was a very dilapidated old structure. My guess would be late 19th or early 20th century frame house with one and a half stories. Approaching the house, even in my two wheeled drive truck, was no issue because the owner had cut a rough track in with some form of tractor.

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Looks pretty rough right? That window back there is our only viable entrance. 

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Here is another view. Bet this was a really nice house back when I was a kid. 

After we got parked and before we prepared to approach the bees, we did a little reconnaissance around the house where we found an old hand pump well and, just up and right of it about two and a half feet up the outside of the house, the bee’s entrance. So, from the window above the well, the entrance was two feet left and two and a half feet up from the floor. Easy enough to find from the inside.

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That brown spot on the wall there, that is the bee’s entrance. Beside it is an old well pump and well which I am surprised Connie did not make me take with us. 

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The entrance when we got there. 

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Now it is cleared enough to get in and out and I am getting equipment inside. 

Next, we reconned the way in and out. We were looking at a floor strewn with junk, broken glass, old furniture, etc. Our entry was through a broken out window. More glass, more junk. So my next job was to make certain we had a clear path in and out as best I could because we were going to have to step over that window sill no matter what.

I did all this with Connie’s help and we still were not suited up for the bees because they seemed not very concerned about our human foolishness. Having cleared everything that we could out of our way and having moved our necessary gear into the room we got ready and entered “suited, booted and ready for war”.

We went into the room and found the walls were lathe and plaster: a process of finishing walls and ceilings used up until the late 1950s. This might make things a tad harder, but I had a sawsall with two batteries. I was good on that. There were no bees flying around inside the house but there were a lot of dead bees in the window sill to the left of where we were working.

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There are bees in that wall. We had no idea how many. 

The first thing I did was experimentally drive a nail puller into the wall above my head to see how sturdy it all was. The nail puller drove into the wall but the wall seemed fairly sturdy. So I found and marked the spot inside the was about where the bees were coming in and out outside then I started preparing the sawzall to do a little work when I noticed that I now had bees flying around my head.


So where did they come from? I looked around the room then Connie pointed up. My knock with the nail puller had been a bit more productive than I thought. Bees were pouring out of the hole I made and were not the least bit amused.

So it begins.

Minding Your Own Beesness

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Me in my bee suit with some of my tools. Nothing major happening, just visiting the girls and checking conditions.

Start with this simple fact. If you buy a nucleus of bees and the necessary hive equipment, you are going to be out around three hundred and fifty bucks. Ouch right? This being my third year working with bees I have put out, just for start up equipment, about nine hundred bucks.

You can purchase boxes of bees, I discussed what all that means in another post, and that will save you plus or minus seventy-five bucks a hive. The down side to boxes is that they do not provide an active “mini-hive” like the nucleus does, so it takes longer for your hive to get grounded, start producing brood and honey, and get stronger.

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This is a box of bees.

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This is a nucleus of bees. Called a nuc.

Buying your way to an apiary is expensive, so what can you do about that? Basically there are three strategies to grow your apiary without have to sell the children to the circus. They are as follows:

Split Hives: Take a strong over populated hive, catch it before it begins to swarm and split it in half.

Trap Bees: Set out your basic bee traps and capture bees who are swarming.

Remove bees for others: People often have trouble with bees, but these days are more aware of the declining bee population. So, rather than kill them, they want people to come take them away.

This year so far, I have been involved in two out of three of these methods with mixed success. Over my next three posts, I will talk about all three, starting with taking out a hive at someone’s request.  Then I’ll talk about splitting, and finally, the one I haven’t done yet but want to very much: trapping swarms.

First allow me to update you about the general condition of the bees. We started the spring with one hive that had made it through the winter. No one was more surprised or happy than me. After losing both hives to beetles the year before,, and one hive to unknown causes during the winter, one success was just wonderful.

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This is a look at the bottom deep (there are two) in my newest hive. The deeps are where the Queen lays the brood and where the bees put their honey. The supers, smaller boxes, are for our honey.  Note the little plastic thingy upper right as you look at it. That is a beetle trap. So far no problems but you are going to see lots of beetle traps in my hives.

I ordered one more nucleus of Russian Bees during the spring. During the summer, the surviving hive was split. We also gained a hive though taking bees out of a house. I will talk about splitting and pulling out bees in the next two posts.

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About 2:00 PM: even the busy bees are lazy on days this hot.

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Not a great picture but an improntu waterer. Experience has taught me you have to have some place for the bees to land because bees are not great swimmers. I have learned since this, that you really need to move it a little further from the hives, because bees do not forage right outside their door.

This summer has been very hot and dry. I am at the point where I am going to be putting out water for the bees. Today we are over 90 degrees and, as you can see by these pictures, nobody wants to go outside. Not the bees and not me. Maybe as it cools off.

 

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Hard working ladies and pretty honey. But this is all theirs.

But I looked late last week and everybody was fat and sassy, with some of the prettiest honey I have ever seen. I will check them tomorrow morning, and see how that is going. When I post another in this series, it will be about pulling bees out of places for other people, and trying to start a hive or hives from them.
This was my first try at that so I will be able to tell you about all kinds of things I did wrong, and hopefully you can avoid my mistakes.

Ed

 

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

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