The Right To Keep and Arm Bears (I always love to say that!)

I have some reluctance in approaching this subject because there is a lot of controversy around it, and some folks will take offense just at talking about the subject. However, I am a retired Infantry Soldier I was also a Law Enforcement Officer for a number of years, and I was raised with firearms so I know a bit about them.

I want to take a moment to talk about firearms for the Homesteader. I will not address whether or not you should HAVE a firearm on your homestead. What I could give you is my opinion and we both have one of those. Think about it, do whatever research you need to, and then decide for yourself.

One thing that amazes me is the fact that so many people seem to believe knowledge of a subject is intrinsically evil. Why? When did ignorance become virtue? So you do not like firearms and think they are bad. You find one leaned against a tree. Is it safe? What kind is it? Is it even real? Where is the safety? How do you unload it and make it safe? Even if you have no intention of ever owning a firearm, let me suggest to you that learning about them could be a very good thing.

For the sake of this post, we are going to assume you are looking at purchasing the necessary firearms for your home. We will also assume that what you know about firearms could be written on the back of a matchbook with a big crayon.

First question: what do you see yourself doing with a firearm? Is it for hunting, defense from predators, defense from people, all of the above, or just because you want one?

Some, not me, tend to approach the subject along these lines. For hunting and protection from predators, you need:

A fairly large caliber rifle for deer; a varmint rifle with a small caliber with a lot of power behind it; a twenty-two caliber because who does not need a twenty-two; and a shotgun.

For home protection, you need to break the bank buying various pistols, revolvers, short rifles, fake machine pistols, defense modified shotguns, and specially manufactured high speed low drag, multi-colored do-hickies to hang off your thing-a-ma-bobs.

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If you cannot see it the caption reads “I think I won.” Thank you Mr. Gaham Willson

So here’s me. You want to fill all the needs we spoke of above. You do not want to devote your life and your fortune to the care and feeding of an assortment of what are essentially high-tech rock throwers. As the kids say, “I feel ya man.” (Do they still say that?)

Shotgun.

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The Hallmark Greeting of Firearm, when you care enough to send the very best.

That’s my answer. The venerable, multi-function scatter gun. If you want a firearm that, using assorted ammunition readily available in any sporting goods store and most Wal Marts, and that can efficiently and effectively take anything from a Quail to an Elephant, you want a shotgun.

Let me clarify that. Before I try to take a charging elephant with my 12 bore loaded with slugs, Mr. E is going to have to win the race. The fact is that with some skill, some nerve, and God on your side, a 12 Gauge slug will take an elephant at close range.

If your needs are simple home defense, defense against predators and hunting, there is no better choice than a shotgun. Loaded with the right sized shot it can do the job at short to moderate range.

Therein is the scatter gun’s shortcoming. It is a close in firearm that loses it’s effectiveness and accuracy quickly. So if you need to work much passed fifty meters, you might want to reach for something else.

But what kind of shotgun?

Shotguns come in some basic models:

Single shot or double barrel: This is your basic tube or tubes with a firing pin on one end and a hole in the other. They are loaded by breaking down the barrel(s) and inserting shells. The safety in most cases is located on the top of the stock, just at the back of the barrels.

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single shot

 

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Double Barrel The Old “Two Shoot Gun”

Positives: They are absolutely simple with few moving parts. This simplicity means they are easy to learn to operate. Single shot guns are really cheap, doubles are not so much.

Negatives: You only have one or two shots depending on whether it is a single or a double. I have seem people who are superbly practiced, reload a single or double in the blink of an eye, but not many and not often.

Bolt: I do not believe anyone still makes these, but some are still out there if you are buying used. The fact they still are is some testament to their toughness. Normally, they are three shot pieces fed from an internal or separate magazine.

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Bolt Action

Positives: Unless they are collector’s item age and quality, they are dirt cheap. Most were made for and sold by Sears, Montgomery Wards or even J C Penny’s back in the day. As stated above, they are tough and simple.

Negatives: First, these are old guns and in the best of shape they are still subjected to aging. Something I am made aware of myself whenever I try to get out of bed in the morning. Also, bolt guns are normally slower actions than some of the others.

Pump: A pump shotgun operates by pulling the fore stock (just under the barrel) back to open the breach expel the spent round, and forward to put a new round out of the magazine and into the chamber, cocking the weapon and bringing it back into battery. Most of them are actually five shot piece, but have been plugged to three so as to comply with state hunting laws.

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Pump Shotgun

Positives: They are a sturdy piece of simple design that can be fired as quickly as you can learn to operate the pump. Depending on the manufacturer, you are going to pay somewhere between two and five hundred dollars new. In today’s modern gun market that is dirt cheap.

Negatives: Seriously, hard to say. Properly cared for, and barring serious accident, one of these weapons will outlast you. They are simple, they are tough, they bark right here, bite HARD over yonder. Can’t asked much more of a firearm.

Okay, lets play a little word game. When you are talking about rifles and carbines, automatic means you pull the trigger and hold it down and the piece will fire itself empty. When you are talking about Shotguns and Pistols, automatic means that it automatically chambers the next round, re-cocks the hammer and returns to battery so you have to pull the trigger every time you fire it.

Why? Originally all weapons which automatically cocked were called automatics, then Mr. Thompson, Mr. Browning and a few others introduced rifles and carbines that automatically fired. Those became known as Automatic Rifles while Shotguns and Pistols stayed as they were.

Automatic: Automatic shotguns will fire a shell every time you pull the trigger until it is empty. Normally they will hold 5 shells but are plugged to three.

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Automatic, Browning to be exact

Positives: They are really quick and, in the right hands, accurate. A well made one is fairly sturdy and will last, if maintained well.

Negatives: That “right hands” part above. Most time the man is not up to the weapon. An old adage, “When you try to do it too fast you only get to be half-fast.” (Say that real quick) Also I find them to be harder to keep functioning under rough conditions. Finally they are higher than a Bernie Rally in Denver.

You might get a sense that I am biased towards the pump gun. That would be true. Maybe it’s because the Trench Shotguns we trained on in the Army were pump, and the Shotguns we used in Law Enforcement were pump, but yes. I do prefer the pump shotgun and that is what I own.

But that also leads to a second and final bit of advice that can be applied to everything. When its REALLY important you are probably best served to stay with what “brung you to the dance”. Learn new things when the farm ain’t on the line.

Next time I write to you I will continue this talk on firearms. As I said, if all you want is a simple and cheap way to fit all those needs, a shotgun is your baby. But some of us might have other needs like more range or simple carry.

Next time I think we should discuss rifles and carbines. Oh, I have a short set of definitions for some of the words you found in this article. If you have other questions on words and meanings I will be happy to try to help.

SHORT SIMPLE GLOSSARY:

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Caliber or Calibre: Approximately 1/100th of an inch making a .50 caliber bullet about a half inch in diameter. This is somewhat deceiving because of tradition and the naming of bullet sizes from years ago. For instance a .38 caliber pistol actually shots a bullet which is .357 inches. The tradition dates back to the black powder cap and ball pistols.

Gauge: The exact definition of wire gauge is a little hard to put down in a few words. You are welcome to look it up but suffice it to say that a 12 gauge barrel is about .729 inches in diameter and the slug for that barrel would be slightly smaller.  As the gauge number increase the size decreases. A 16 gauge is smaller than a 12 and a 20 smaller than a 16 and so on.

Rifle: A shoulder fired, long barreled firearm which has groves around the inside of the barrel which force the bullet to spin as it leaves the barrel which increases accuracy and range.

Shotgun: A shoulder fired long barreled firearm designed to fire multiple projectiles from a shell at the same time.

Shotgun shell: Now metal and plastic but at one time metal and paper, a shot gun shell is designed to hold the primer and the powder charge and a number of small BB or ball bearing type balls which are fired from the barrel.

Shotgun Slug: A shell with a one piece slug inside the size of the barrel designed for shooting soft skin, larger game like dear and black bear.

So with all that said, see you next time and God Bless,

Ed

 

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Swarm Trapping

If you were raised “up in ‘dem hills” as I was, you are familiar with traps; leg traps, snares, box traps (rabbit gums or boxes). Later on, I learned about Quick Kill traps when trying to catch beavers. Someday I might do a post on the subject, though I am not involved in it at present.

I want to talk about Swarm Trapping.

In my last post I talked about the life cycle of a hive. If the hive thrives, there will come a point where there is a swarm. This is how bee hives multiply. So what we are looking at is not like trapping say, Muskrats, because your aim is not to end up with a pelt, but with a hive producing honey and bees for you. So we are going to set out to lure the swarming bees into our new home for them. If there is any relationship to pelt or meat trapping, it would be to the rabbit box or gum if you will.

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Basic picture of a Rabbit Trap or Rabbit Gum

A little disclaimer here, I have never actually done this. I plan to set my first traps next spring, so I am kind of using you guys for a sounding board to see how my research has gone, and if my plans hold water.

So here goes. What is a Swarm Trap? A Swarm Trap is a box. For the sake of reference, it has about the internal dimensions of a deep hive box, which is a little over 43 liters or 1.5 to 2 square feet. My original plan was to use my two old school Nuc Boxes for my initial traps, but they are only 1.2 square feet internal dimension. I need to do so some more research to see if that will work. If not, I will use a spare deep box or build my own.

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This is a Swarm Trap as sold by Crooked Hill Beekeeping

If you intend to build a swarm trap, you need to know more than I can put in this short blog post. I would suggest that you do some online research. I found an interesting article on the subject here. I may decide just to buy a couple, My friend Bill George, at Crooked Hill Beekeeping, will sell one he made for about thirty-five bucks last time I checked.

One thing I have heard from everyone is the more your Swarm Trap smells like bees, the more likely you are to have success with it. If you start with a newly built trap you will need to add some propolis and wax to the inside along with some Lemon Grass Oil which mimics the smell of a queen.

Once you have your traps ready then you need to put them up in a tree or trees. There is a reason that most plans for swarm traps are taller and thinner than the normal shape of a large hive box. This type of box is easier to carry under one arm and easier to secure in the crotch of a limb, with some tie down straps or ropes. The traps and the tie downs must be able to stand up to severe weather. Expect them to be there awhile, and have to endure thunderstorms and other bad weather, and still be in the tree when you get back.

At some point, we hope the scouts for a swarm prepared hive will find our swarm trap, go inside through about a two square inch opening, and find everything warm and dry with the smell of bee’s wax and propolis. We expect them to find around 2 square feet of space and maybe some frames to give them something to work with. Then we want them to go back and tell the potential swarm what they have found, and lead the Queen and all her little flying subjects to our Swarm Trap.

Checking our traps at least every third week, we hope to find bees inhabiting our swarm trap and happily building up their new hive. Then we would need to get our ladder, go back up the tree, close the entrance to our trap, get it down from the tree. I think we might be needing a length of rope and maybe even a small pulley set up at this point. I do not relish attempting to climb down a ladder carrying a box of rather perturbed bees under one arm. Once we get them back home I would suggest we let them settle in for a couple of days before making the final transfer into a regular 10 or 8 frame hive box.

As I have said many times before, and now remind you, I am learning on the go and trying to share what I learned.  I suggest that you read the article I referenced earlier in this blog post not only for how to make swarm traps and trap wild bees but also about natural beekeeping and its overall positive effects on the environment. Next year I am going to move to some more natural methods of beekeeping that are mentioned in this article and try to help reestablish a more healthy honey bee population in this area.

This is the end of the series of posts about how to increase your number of hives. On that subject, I have a lead on an old house that is “slap full” of bees. The man who told me about them said that they could not get near them during the summer. If everything works out and I can get permission from the owner I will try to go get them in the spring.

Another aside: If you raise bees, two of your greatest enemies are hive beetles and wax moths. The good news is they are controllable and they are fairly easy to trap. With the hive beetle,s you set the traps in the hive to catch them using a hive beetle trap, which will also catch the larvae of the wax moths.

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This is the Hive Beetle Traps we use. They are inexpensive and, if you ask those dead beetles in there, they are effective.

However, for the adult moths you set your traps outside the hive in the surrounding trees. You can look this up on line, but these traps can be built as simply as using a plastic coke bottle. When I finish one, I will post a picture.

Here is the recipe for bait for both kinds of traps. I made it and accidentally left an open container sitting on the work bench in my garage overnight. The next afternoon I found it and it was full of moths. Yeah, it seems to work pretty well.

½ cup apple cider vinegar.

¼ cup of sugar.

1 cup of water

1 ripe banana peel diced fine.

Mix the ingredients in a closed container (I used a pint fruit jar) and let ferment for 3 week. Strain out the banana peels and set up your traps.

Ed

Fifty/Fifty Making the Split

A short, very simplistic, primer on the life of a bee hive:

Step One: Bees come from somewhere: swarm, bought or split and begin making a hive.

Step Two: Queen does a mating flight and begins making baby bees (called brood) and we hope a whole bunch of them.

Step Three: All the bees work together to fill the hive space with brood and food and lots of bees.

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Not yet ready for splitting but a pretty good example of a healthy hive headed in that direction.

Step Four: Oops we got too many bees.

Step Five: If they have not already bees begin making Queen Cells.

Step Six: New Queen is born, old Queen take about half the hive and moves out, this is called a swarm.

Step Seven: See step one.

And that is how bees increase, ask somebody else about birds.

So today I am going to talk for a little while about how bee keepers control this natural cycle to make certain they keep their bees. It is called Swarm Management and Hive Splitting. The point is to catch the hive somewhere around Step Four and intervene before the Swarm Instinct has taken hold. Then you artificially split the hive so as to make two hives out of it.

We have a hive and man ain’t we proud of it. This hive is strong, well populated, clean and busy as…. well….. bees. You may be weeks or even days from a swarm. Bee hives reproduce themselves by swarming. It is a natural occurrence in a strong hive that is growing. Sooner or later part of the hive will break off, move and reestablish itself as a separate hive. What we want to do is control that instinct by moving them ourselves before the Swarm Instinct kicks in because once the girls start the process they will get it done.

If you want to be technical there are several viable ways to split hives. So far I have tried and succeeded at one way and that is what I am going to talk about. A disclaimer. Succeeded is defined as, they were alive and doing well day before yesterday when I looked. If all my writing on the subject has taught you or me nothing else it is that things can happen very fast in bee world.

If you want more information on Swarm Management and Splitting Hives I suggest you read starting on page 69 in your copy of First Lessons In Beekeeping or check out this.

We had one hive out of two make it through the winter. That was my goal for year one and this was year two. No plan survives initial contact. But I was happy about it and, further, the hive was strong and well populated. In May, after some discussion and research we split the hive. There are other ways and I will probably try a few of them if given an opportunity next spring but here is what we did.

First, we isolated the laying Queen for a little over a week. We did this by putting a Queen Excluder between the two deep hive boxes. It does not really matter whether Her Majesty is working in the top or the bottom box because now we have her where she can only lay in one box. By finding the box with uncapped brood in it we find where the Lady is laying.

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This is a Queen Excluder. Her Highness is bigger than the other bees and this keeps her on one side of the excluder.

When we checked we found two good things, there was uncapped brood in the bottom box which meant she was there, and there were Queen Cells in the top box. Russian bees have a habit of keeping “just in case” queen cells ready. If the queen is still viable she will not let them hatch. If not, or if it is time to swarm, she will. So we took the top box, placed it on a bottom, put a top piece on it, closed the front and we had the start of a new hive.

Next step, we separated the split from the original hive by about four miles. Two would have done nicely but four was the best we could do over two miles. Why two miles? A bee can travel up to a mile an a half from her hive, find something she wants like pollen, water or maybe her old hive, go back to where she came from and communicate these directions to her hive mates. Yeah, me too. That’s amazing. I worked with U. S. Army trained Reconnaissance Scouts who could not tell you the way to the latrine.

So we got the ladies more than two miles away and set them up in a pasture with already blooming clover, plenty of nearby water and other blooming plants all about. Then we waited. The split hive needed to stay away from the original hive at least two weeks. During that time I visited every couple of days and checked the feeders and the general condition of the bees. Both them and the original hive seemed to be doing well.

Lets talk Queens. You can buy a Queen and place her in your split hive. That will cut your delay on getting fresh brood by one to two weeks. What we did was just split them and let nature take its course. Depending on whether you have Queen Cells in your split and what condition they are in the delay to get a new Queen is going to be one to a little over two weeks. Then you have a one week delay while she is bred. Then you have a two week delay until your brood begins to hatch.

That is why it is important to have capped brood in your split and that is why your split will be behind your original hive no matter what you do. We got less than half the honey out of our split as we did the original but they had made and do have plenty for winter.

Oh, an oddity. Russian bees are normally pretty calm and not the least aggressive compared to most bees. For whatever reason these ladies are kind of “‘ttudenal” and will sting you right now. Hopefully they will get over it but I swear they are still mad at me about the split.

Ed

Wild About Wild Bees Part 3

So we are at the last of a three part series on our taking a bee hive out of an abandon house adventure. Let me give you the big spoiler. Before the end of summer we lost the hive to wax moths. What are wax moths you ask? This tells you better than I can.

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This is what brood comb looks like after a visit from wax moth larvae.

Essentially they are a moth whose larvae burrows through the wax and eats the pollen and brood destroying the hive. A strong hive can control and defeat wax moths and there in lay our problem. When we brought the bees home, we likely brought the wax moths with us. We also reduced the bee population, caused a break in the birth cycle of the bees, and led to a situation where the moths could overcome the weakened hive.

Another time in my life where I learned from my mistakes, but another suffered for them. I always regret that, but at least it is even more motivation to not make the same mistake again. So let me do an after action review and tell you what we will do differently next time the opportunity presents itself.

I will do a reconnaissance of the site before we go out to it. This is another one of those things where I did not transfer general experience from my past into a new thing I am doing in the present. I KNOW that, given an opportunity, you do not go into an unknown situation without first seeing the objective. Had I done that, I would have had a much better idea of what I had to bring.

I will obtain and take a vacuum cleaner with adjustable suction with me and, if available, with battery power. This would have been essential to gather up even half of the bees present.

I will take more hive boxes than I believe I need. I thought I did that this time, but I was way over matched on equipment to transport the bees.

I will start earlier in the day. First because I have learned that bees are more docile early in the morning or late in the evening, and second for the sake of coolness.

Since this is short I will end with a little photo essay of our last couple visits to the girls. We came away with about thirty pounds of honey from one hive but the other two, who got a later start, have not capped everything else so I will check them again next week.

The reasons the other two hives, though strong, are behind is that they started with less, being a new hive and a split, and this awful drought we have suffered.

We are getting to the point where we are going to have to prep for winter so next week will be the dead line.

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I have always loved honey in the comb. To do that you have to set the frame up without any foundation in it. You insert a couple of Popsicle sticks in the groves where the foundation goes and stick them with wax. The bees do the rest. I did one frame a hive.

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One of the reasons my no foundation frame did not work last year was Her Highness got up in the Super and laid brood in it. What you are looking at is a Queen Excluder.  Because Milady is bigger than the other bees she cannot fit through.

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This is interesting. In one of the deeps I guess I forgot to put in a frame. Think that stopped the girls? No way, they just made comb and honey anyway.

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BEES!!! I do not believe the ladies are very happy with me.

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That look of pain on my face has nothing to do with the bees except their added weight. A deep hive box full of brood and honey is HEAVY.  Did I mention how old I am?

Ed

 

 

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.

 

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.