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I WENT TO THE LIBRARY AND CAME HOME WITH A CHICKEN

I went to the library bus and while I was in the parking lot, the manager of the liquor store popped outside and waved me down, asking me to come in the store before I left.  What in the world, I wondered, could I be required in the liquor store for?  Who knows, though, really.  It’s a small town.

Well.  It turned out to be about a chicken.  There was a hen that had appeared some days ago and was living in the snow bank and brambles behind the liquor store.  They were feeding and watering her, and she was spending nights 10′ up in a tree.  (This was 3 weeks ago, when there was lots of snow and -15C nights).

Would I bring this chicken to a good home?  First, we had to catch her.  She was nervous and quick, and with the help of passersby herding, blocking, and diving in the snow after her, I caught her, and immediately stuffed her and her cold feet into my coat and zipped her in. (Chickens always love the coat treatment.  Dark and warm – they calm right down(.

Yay, the chicken was rescued, and I was bringing a new girl home.  I had one more stop to make.

I stopped in at the assisted living home, going inside with the chicken hidden in my coat, and just as I was turning to leave, the amusing novelty of being out in public with a concealed carry chicken got the best of me and I turned back, “Hey, you should see what I’ve got in my coat, haha!”  I unzipped enough for her head to pop out, and they squealed, and gasped, “Oh, would you mind showing some of the residents?!”

Thus began a room to room progress of coat chicken show and tell, most of the sick and elderly residents petting her and grinning with delight.  She was a gracious celebrity, quiet, mild, tolerant, poking her head out and “holding hands”.She’s drifting south in my jacket.  Notice  her little foot out gripping my hand.

After a much bigger day than most chickens have before noon, we got home.  I put her in a chickery for isolation and acclimation.Immediately all the old chickens crowded around to inspect.

I put her in the coop at night, then back in the chickery for the day, then a few part days loose.  She had a hard time at first so I’d put her back in her box for a break and a meal.  It’s hard to find one’s place in a big flock.  She’s small, a bantam something, the same size as a few teens, Very quick, high-stepping, nervy.

She’s integrated now!  She rolls with clique #1, the pufflings and the top rooster – a surprise.  She still hops into the open chickery, often in the morning, nostalgic-like.  I used to stay in here. 

 

 

MY FIRST SWARM!

and boy, they did not make it an easy one.

There’s another awesome advantage to having your hives right outside your front windows (I love having the hives so close to the house; it’s often not recommended, but there’s much to be said for the close connection):

When you glance outside, five minutes after seeing nothing unusual, and see that they’re swarming!

It was sensational.  I knew right away, because I’d never seen anything like it, and I could hear them roaring, too, from inside.  I ran out and took a couple pictures.I always imagined a bee swarm was like, a cloud of bees, grouped together, like a thing you could point to.  No.  They’re zooming around in straight lines in all directions, buzzing loud like they’re angry (they must really be excited), and they just fill all the air.  They filled the visible sky.  You’d have to zoom out quite far before the swarm entity would appear like a cloud.

Then the air full of bees started to move.

All I remembered was that I would have to follow them, so I quickly grabbed a roll of flagging tape.  Because of course they headed out over the densest, awfullest brush around here.  I flagged my way in, thrashing after them, though they were easy to follow by ear – so loud!!

Seriously, ten minutes from “no unusual bee behaviour here”, to gone.  Now if I’m going to be retroactively honest with myself, I think maybe one of my hives has split-swarmed before to vistas unknown.  because there were times it seemed like fewer bees than there should be in the box when I opened.  If they can go that fast, entirely possible.

They didn’t go too far.  I got under the epicentre of their sound, looking up at them.  They seemed to be concentrating.  Their thousands of bodies in flight made a distortion like heat shimmer. And then, sure enough, I saw a crowd of bees starting to form on the trunk of the big maple I was under.  That’s where they were choosing to stay.  Ok.

Time to go home and google!  (yes, first I pulled a couple physical books).  I found out some things .  Things like that they don’t initially go too far, they just make a temporary stop and send out scouts from there to find a new home.  A little like committing to move by selling your home and moving all your stuff out before thinking about where you might go next, or calling any real estate agents.  So the cluster of bees in this current temporary location could stay there a few days while deciding where to live henceforward (settling arguments comparing the great view in option A to the third bathroom in option B), or… maybe just an hour.  Act fast.  Don’t smoke them, do mist them with water (this was so clutch!).  They’re full of honey, and docile.

I went back to the tree.  The silence was striking, like the bees had turned off.  They had all landed, and were quiet.  I’d have never found them, visually, if I hadn’t followed them when they were noisy.  They were way up on the maple, wrapped all around the trunk in a two foot band, like you might collar a tree to keep squirrels out of it.  A band of bees instead of metal would be very effective against squirrels.

I got my long ladder, and climbed it, and learned that I needed another ten feet (twelve actually- I measured later, and the bees were 27+ feet up).  Then I made at least six phone calls, to everyone I knew who might have an extension ladder, and a marginal interest in bees.  No one answered.

Ok, time to work with what I got.  I took apart my 3-way ladder and dragged a section of it up the first  ladder, and lashed it to the tree for a second flight.

Not Worksafe approved.
Where the bees were

Just as I started rigging that, I heard a distant clap of thunder.  Are you joking?  Are you f#$%ing joking!!?  (I was answered by another thunderclap, just in case I hadn’t heard correctly).   And Really, bees?  You picked a rain day?  We’ve had a series of thunderstorm squalls the last week, and they move in fast, and dump sudden torrential amounts of rain.  Because my heart wasn’t already pounding.

Then I gathered my stuff.  Bee brush, string, squirt bottle.  A bucket?  I went with a nuc box.  (spoiler- should have used the bucket- it would have been easier to tie to the tree and to carry down on my arm, or lower down).

Last, I made one more call, to leave “the message”: Umm,  if I don’t call again by 4:30, the place to look is at the bottom of a tree, follow the flag line from the beehives.  But this time someone answered the phone, and ground support was mobilized:)

Up in the tree, at the top of my ladders, I was quite comfortable.  Nice view.  I dragged up all my stuff in a couple of trips and stationed it in the branches.  I tied the cardboard nuc box securely to the trunk of the tree below the cluster, and started scooping bees and dropping them into the box.

So, this is the good part, and there are no pictures, because trust me, none of this situation screams “Selfie time!”  I had lots of things on my mind and God I wish I could take pictures of this! only passed through fleetingly.  I really wish – but it was out of the question.

Standing on the top rung I could just reach the bees with my bee brush.  Although they were thickly wrapped all the way around, the heaviest mass of them was on the far side of the trunk from me, so I was reaching around and trying to shake chunks of them loose and quickly scoop them into the box.

Bees hate the bee brush (but I couldn’t reach without it – later when they were lower I could just use my hands).  They hate it with a fiery passionate fury that supersedes their much touted docility when swarming.  I don’t know why they hate the bee brush so much;  maybe it tickles.  Or pokes.  But it incites them to wild rage. It’s actually funny to watch them attack the brush so viciously, seething with hate, uselessly stinging the brush hairs with all their might.  But I was attached to the brush – guilt by association, and I took a few stings. The squirt bottle was amazing.  I’d feverishly mist around my head when I got a cloud of buzzers mad at the brush, and they’d go placid like they forgot all about it, and settle back down.

After I got a few stings, I went down and got out of tree-climbing-appropriate wear, into my bee suit.  Because limited visibility and loose snaggable fabric will be just the ticket!  Back up in the cloud scooping bees, my friend arrived at the foot of the tree. I could hardly hear him for the bees humming at my head, like standing next to a big diesel.  The ground support was really helpful, though, because he could see the other side of the trunk that I couldn’t, and report if I was making headway (“What?”) , and “Up!  Down”, (“What!?”)  to get remaining clumps.

It seemed to go pretty well.  I was getting bees into the box.  Only thing, they seemed to want to come out of the box.  It was like a really slow boil over.  I’d dump bees in, they’d flow back over the top of the box.  I’d scoop them back in with my hands.  The upper trunk was mostly cleared – blessedly, they did not move away upwards.  They were teeming out of the box and wrapping the tree again lower down.

I went down tree for a break, and because I needed snips.  I was shaking, dripping with sweat, suit soaked, feet sore from the ladder rungs, but exhilarated.  Seems I was exerting myself to balance and cling to the tree and work.

Back up, now the air smells like rain, the wind is coming up (still thundering), there’re more bees out of the box than in, and I’m getting reports from the ground that masses of them are clumping on the back/trunk side of the box (that I can’t see).  I figure the queen must be in the vicinity now, no longer up on the original spot (good!), and I decide I have to untie the box from the trunk and move it down, so that I can sweep bees into the box again.

I have to interject for a moment how awesome this all was (while also being risky and sketchy).  All these bees!  Individuals, but together, a fluid mass.  You never get to experience the hive as an undiluted entity.  Unlike when you handle a frame covered with bees, now, the “thing” is the bees. You can hold a handful, a baseball sized chunk, of bees! They’re hot!   And vibrating.  There is a penumbra of potential energy around them, a considerable power, humming, vibrating my arm.  Amazing!

I had to get a grip on the box now, and untie the strings I’d lashed it to the tree with, using knots that I’d tied without the untying in mind.  It was all neater than this in my imagination of how it would go.  But the box is covered, inches deep in bees, as are the strings, and there are multiple random little maple branches dipped into the box that are now one with the bees-  I had to snip those off.  I had to reach into the bees to hold the box, and again to expose my knots, and untie with one hand, while supporting the box.  The bees are heavy!

I lowered the box a couple feet, and then I had to tie it on again, because I had to hold myself on the tree with one hand and use the other to scoop bees.  I never had two hands free.  My second tying, one handed, tree swaying now, was much less secure than the first, and I worried the string would give suddenly, and the box drop.  I swept the bees in.  I was seriously tired now.  Almost two hours in, and the soles of my feet were asleep, I was shaking like hard shivers, it was imminently going to rain, and it had just occurred to me that I had NO IDEA how I was going to bring this box down a ladder that I absolutely needed two hands to climb, as it was straight vertical.  Not a clue.  And I’m watching my string around the box slip further with every movement of the tree.

I was definitely making an effort to keep my priorities straight:

  1.  Don’t fall out of the tree
  2. Don’t drop the box of bees
  3. Don’t hurt any bees.  In that order!  (it’s easy to flinch from a sting or to avoid crushing a bee, and flinches can become slips).

I was hugging the tree and box together, it started to rain, and wanting to cover the box, I realized the lid was out of my reach!  I’d moved down, and it was still lodged in the branches above us.  I could just touch it  using my bee brush.  As I was frantically whacking at that, trying to dislodge it, the rain started to pound down in big thumping thunderstorm drops.  I realized I had a very limited window left, and I had to get down, with the bees, now.   With the combination of desperation, fatigue, and the bee magic vibrating through my upper body as I hugged the box, I kinda blacked out a bit and don’t remember any thoughts or “hows” until it was over, but the lid came loose, I set it on the boiling-over bees, balanced the box on my shoulder and upper arm using my head (cheek and ear to this magical radiating box), and got down.  At some point  the lid was knocked off and went down on its own.

The rain didn’t last long.  The remaining clumps of bees in the tree  came into the air, confirming that the queen must be in the box, as the bees appeared to have changed their minds and direction, and were now headed into the box.  Yes!  When  I came back after the squall, they were almost all in.

Doesn’t look like it’s all that dramatic, does it?  The bucket is for the rain- there’s a big screen window in the top of these boxes.

WOW! So exciting!

On the bright side, swarm catching will probably be easier from here on out.  I’m sure swarm catching events can be much harder than that, but really, I think they are often much easier.  Location, location, location!  So this was one heck of a beekeeper threshold experience.  Next thresholds:  being called to collect a swarm from somewhere else, and having a swarm voluntarily arrive.  Heard this is a nice place with vacancies.

The story’s not over yet.  They still have to get into a hive at dusk, but, that will be part two.  I manage that just about as elegantly.

The bee swarm managed to eclipse not only Cotton and chicks first going out on the grass today (old hat for Daisy) and Foxy’s fourth chick (it’s a mom-sitter), but also the arrival of NEW BABIES- GUINEA KEETS!  Galahad will be so excited;  he hasn’t seen them yet as it was almost dark and they stayed in their box.

It was a huge day!  To think it started out with me thinking “I think I’ll call this a day off.  Just do what I feel like, maybe get in a nap.  ”  Ha ha.  Ha.

Swarm catching, part 2

CHICKEN LOVE STORY

Cream Puff is back!  To catch up, I sold some chicks, and thought it would be in everybody’s best interest for Mom to go with the chicks.  So Cream Puff (The Fierce) went along with all her chicks to a new home, and the plan was that once her chicks didn’t need her any more, she would come back to me.

Updates filtered back: the same day her sister Perchick, still at home, turned up her beak at her chicks and went on an extended date with Philippe, Cream Puff dropped her chicks, and embarked on a romantic holiday with their rooster, Chris. ” Cream Puff ‘the Fierce’ is now Cream Puff in love– she’s madly in love with our rooster!”

We thought it might pass.  It didn’t.  They were madly in love, not growing out of it, and I was informed that Cream Puff wasn’t coming back here without Chris.  “They can’t be separated. I’ve never seen anything like it!”.  I was willing to let Cream Puff go;  I don’t want to stand in the way of chicken love either.

But today, they came back together.  Chris is HUGE!  He’s a massive Barred Rock rooster; gorgeous fellow.  Cream Puff looks positively petite next to him.  We accidentally released them in the greenhouse with an hour of daylight left, so they are sure to have pecked holes in any of the ripe tomatoes that were left in there, but I wanted them to transition smoothly, not just drop him into a fight, so the greenhouse was better than nothing.He and Philippe had a through-the-door fight; they’re aware of each other.  Philippe will readily abdicate tomorrow, I’m sure- he’s not a very authoritative rooster, and I think he’ll still retain his loyal little harem.  Chris’s previous keeper said he was hardly paying attention to any of their other hens.  We’ll see.

After it was good and dark, I moved CP and Chris out of the GH and  into the vacant former skycoop – the small coop, and it’s at the opposite end of the GH from Philippe’s coop.  Maybe they will continue to honeymoon in there; maybe they will choose another coop.  CP will remember using the other coops.

When I moved them, I caught him first, and then came back for CP.  Oh, the squawking!  He was flipping out at her screaming until I brought her close to the door (relieved clucking), and then slid her in, and their reunited, and going-to-sleep-now sounds… wow!  I’ve never heard anything like that either.  Purring, almost like cats.

Tomorrow will be interesting.

PIGS FIRST MOVE

(David Attenborough voice)

After the new enclosure has been prepared for these lucky piglets, the fence is parted, allowing access to the abundant unspoiled greenery this species thrives upon.But how long will it take them to discover their new freedom?

Their attendant retrieves the food bowls they are familiar with and places them in plain view just beyond the fence opening, filling them with fresh food.The young pigs observe these proceedings with interest, but from a distance.  They are agitated by the presence of the human, and grunt with suspicion. 

As the human withdraws, curiosity and hunger overcome their trepidation, and one pig tentatively leads the way over the threshold!  Its sibling, still  visibly anxious, follows soon after.  To the boldest pig goes the spoils!

 

 

BIRDHOUSE FACTORY

I allowed myself to have a part of a day where I just did something that I just wanted to do, instead of needed to be done (like solar re-wiring, or boundary maintenance).  And it was even more glorious than imagined.  I made three flower boxes, and seven birdhouses, although I didn’t get to any decorative ones, just the robust functional ones the birds actually use.

With the participation of Apples the house chicken

They’re headed for the garden fence posts, etc.  Probably too late for this year’s nesters, but who knows. Spring birdhouse maintenance is going to become a day project.

All done

I saw a tree swallow!  The first I’ve seen here!  Exciting.  She was swooping over the hens, eating on the wing.  Spent the day.  I hope she’s nesting!  Possibly in a snag, in an old woodpecker hole maybe.  Perhaps in one of the first run of birdhouses that’s still up, all over.

I want to make another birdhouse tree like this.

Guineas passing through!

I have the tree in mind:)

I want to let my art out, and I’m looking forward to having some of the basic life support systems finished and dialed enough to do some purely decorative things.  There’s a paucity of room for artistic expression around here, when there’s an old shed to take apart, an invasive species that needs constant battling, and irrigating the greenhouse means carrying water when it rains.  Priorities, you know.  But a good day of fun stuff is surprisingly “filling”.For instance, the windows are past due for some attention (caulking, painting), while I’m accessorizing them with flower boxes.  One of these days, we’ll paint, and finish the siding.

OPENING THE HIVE

May 13

I got my first chance to get into the hive.  We´ve had a warm, early spring, so I’ve been feeding them, and anxious for the right warm day to come, so I can give them the third super.  They´ve been unwrapped since the end of April, but this is the first time I´m going to the bottom of the hive, and the inner lid is coming off.

 

 

Phew, a chance to dump/brush all that scrap straw off the inner cover.

 

Since I´m going right to the bottom of the hive today, I´m wearing my bee suit.  They might get testy before I get done (They didn´t.  My bees are so laid-back).

The hive´s doing very well.  Saw the queen – she´s so huge.  Two queen cells, so they´re up to something, but I don´t think division.  They might be replacing her, as there was caped brood but no brood less than a week old.  I´m leaving that alone.  Still, or already, a few solid frames of honey.

It get´s a bit out of hand with all the frames, and spare supers, etc, planning how I´m going to shuffle and redistribute frames.

I´m also happy to get these original plastic frames that the nuc came with up to the top super, so I can take them out this year.

Mostly my bees have been well behaved, only a little bit of bulging honey frames.  A couple of burr combs full of honey that I had to break, and honey dripped all over- that keeps them occupied. 

Putting it back together now.  

The bee lounge cleaned off, with their ongoing art installation, now with new burr comb t play with.

Three stories tall now.  No stings, no crushed bees.  A good hive opening.  I didn´t even get thumped on the head.

RECYCLING CALENDARS

It’s almost time to turn over the calendar again.

One of my favorite things is re-using an old calendar, because great calendars are works of art worth saving, and the years do come around again (although you have to wait a while longer to pull Garfield 1992 out of storage -2020).  Leap years are tough.

Those 2016 calendars you just about finished with come back around in 2044.

But 2017 is a repeat of 2006, which was only ten years ago.  Cats and Kittens ’06 is probably just under a stack of papers downstairs.

This is my master list of calendar reuse.  Of course, it’s online.img_4643

And if you want a shiny new one, then my photographer brother has a selection of calendars of his work (Iceland, New England, Utah, PNW, horses, etc) available at zazzle.com/derekkind.  They’re amazing; I’m not just saying that.

Since he started making calendars in 2010, I’m saving them all and looking forward to the years returning so I can use them again:)

 

CHRISTMAS GIFT SACKS

Consider a reusable alternative to gift wrap.

Gift wrap is lovely, and fun to be creative with, but it does take time to fold all those corners.  Personally I’d love to be a mall-wrapper, at least once, but not everybody enjoys wrestling with gift wrap.

Paper is single-use, and generates waste (bigtime).  img_4660

There’s enough time left before the holidays to make some fabric bags to “wrap” with.

These use up scrap fabric, can be gifted back and forth, utilize waste, and frequently are part of the gift, as they might get used year-round to put things other than gifts in (like my Kindle, socks, and headphones).

img_4657

It’s just a square or rectangle of fabric folded in half, sewed up bottom and side, and turned inside out.  The pinked edge is a nice touch, and a ribbon can be tacked on, as shown, or…

img_4656

You can get fancier and sew a pocket with one or two drawstrings.

My mom made all of these, and many more.  They arrived in last year’s Xmas box, and some of them will go back this year (sneak preview!).

She also used new dishtowels and  facecloths (the small bags that just fit a hand, or a bar of soap, were promptly used in the shower).  Some had shoelaces for drawstrings (getting masculine – bootlaces in corduroy bags).

The smallest are the washcloths, and they range up in size and dimensions to … very large.  The size of a big pillowcase (speaking of which, a pillowcase would work great with a ribbon).  The sky’s the limit really.

VEGETABLE CHAINSAW BAR OIL

I’m so excited to be done with the last jug of petroleum based chainsaw bar oil.  It’s disgusting, spraying that red thick oil all over every living thing, including oneself, every time you run the saw.

Every other kind of motor oil has specific protocols for disposal, but bar oil is designed to be lost during saw use.  Just vaporized, sprayed out, and dripped on the ground. Lovely.

Time to start using vegetable oil instead.

A friend told me it was possible, and I was startled.  You mean, no adaptation, just, substitute veg oil?  Yes.  Corn or canola oil, right off the supermarket shelf.  Not to mention, it’s about 1/4 of the price.  Only difference is viscosity, so the oil flow screw may need adjusting.

Wow. That’s a gamechanger.  One small change=major difference.  Better experience operating, and better for the earth.