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I was pouring a beer tonight—a random pick from the holiday clearance bottles I picked up last spring—and I noticed a little green icon on the back label. What is this bright little mark? A recycled bottle? A wind-powered brewery? No… “This is a VEGAN beer.” Really? Vegan? Beer? It took me awhile, but with some help from @OldTree on twitter, I remembered a few animal based ingredients that would normally be used in brewing. (The main one being isinglass, which comes from the dried swim bladders of fish and is used to clarify your Guinness. Look it up, it’s even weirder than it sounds. I heard a whole segment on it a few years ago on NPR.)

But more importantly, on further reading, I saw that this vegan beer was “ideal as an accompaniment to POULTRY DISHES.” and would compliment “ANY TURKEY!”

I’m wheat intolerant. If I eat a slice of bread or some pasta, I’ll be on the floor vomiting within twenty minutes. So I see the benefit of marketing to those with special dietary needs, and I really do wish more companies (especially breweries) would include this kind of info about ingredients. But I also think this kind of contradicting marketing on the label is just pandering to both sides. It’s like saying, “This is gluten-free—goes great with bread and pretzels!” I’m not sure what the answer is, but for someone who’s fundamentally against animal products… a little icon next to the turkey talk probably won’t cut it.

(Rosey Nosey Holiday Ale)

Our first honey frame!

Outside of refilling the feeder every weekend, I’ve been leaving the girls alone for the past month or so. We’ve finally been getting some rain, and with a bit of a nectar flow going on, I didn’t want to disrupt them working. I’ve been really worried about them having enough food for the winter, since they hadn’t done much in the upper deep other than build some comb.

So I was absolutely delighted today to pull out several frames almost solid with honey. Made me feel a lot better about the cool weather coming.

On the downside, I saw a bunch of small hive beetles today. Maybe ten or twelve? That seems like too many. Next up is researching how to make sure those stay under control.

I’ve been looking forward to this all summer… the asters. In the yellow center of almost every flower, there is a honeybee. From a few yards away, the bushes almost look like they’re moving. I sat today for an hour and watched them work. It was absolutely amazing.

 

 

So last week I got my first sting. Not my first sting ever, but the first in recent history. And we did it on purpose. My friend Tim was teaching me how to do mite testing with sugar, and after the first few hives, he said, “You haven’t been stung much, have you?” I told him I hadn’t been stung yet at all, and I was a little tense waiting for it, since I didn’t know what to expect. He said he could tell, and we needed to take care of that. I fully agreed. I needed to get this over with. After we were done with all the hives, I let him drag a bee across the back of my hand until she stung me. I watched her pull away from my hand, then I watched the stinger pulse the venom into my skin for a good thirty seconds before I flicked it away. I figured if I was going to get stung on purpose for the sole purpose of “seeing what happens,” I should go for worst case scenario.

The sting itself was a pinch, but not the jolt I had been braced for. It got a little puffy, and a little red. Later, it ached like a bruise. But nothing I couldn’t handle. The next day it was a little puffier, though it didn’t hurt as much. But by noon, I noticed something else… chigger bites. A few on my ankle, then later some behind my knee, and by evening I had welts up my entire left leg… and a few on my right.

By Saturday morning, I had pretty much forgotten about the beesting. It was swollen and warm to the touch, but I didn’t care. ALL I could think about was the chigger bites. They itched and burned and itched. And every times I looked, I had more of them. Soaking in a bathtub of baking soda and water Saturday night, I counted between 40 and 48 blistering bites, most of them up my left leg. But with my state of mind being what it was, under the influence of plenty of antihistamines and a two glasses of Shiraz, I kept losing count. The baking soda did the trick, though, and I felt tons better afterwards.

I’m not comfortable wearing bug repellent in the beeyards, so I’ll have to ask around and see what the other beekeepers do to keep the chiggers off. Because given a choice right now, I’d easily pick another beesting over these bites.

Late afternoon beard

If nothing else, I can be happy to report that my population has absolutely exploded over the past couple of weeks. I’ve seen the afternoon bearding getting bigger and bigger over the course of the summer, but today was the first day I really noticed a big difference inside the hive during inspection. It was a dry sunny day, I figured everyone would be out foraging, and I’d have an easy inspection. I cracked open the hive, and was surprised to see hundreds of bees in the empty supers I’m using for the feeder. I pulled the feeder out, inadvertently dislodging a big group of workers who had been sitting underneath it. I was immediately in a cloud of angry bees, getting buzzed and head-butted from all directions. I walked a few yards from the hive, hoping they’d calm down… but several followed me. One stung my shirt,  and I could hear another buzzing frantically behind me. Did she get into my veil? Did she sting the back of my shirt? Was she on my hat? I couldn’t shake her, or the buzzing… and it completely threw me off.

I never did get my whole inspection in. I checked out the top box without too much problem, but the bottom box was just overwhelming. It was PACKED with bees, the smoke wasn’t dispersing the guards, and the first frame I pulled had the one next to it completely stuck to it… So with the bees from my not-to-graceful entrance still circling my head, I just closed everything up and called it a day. But I have some valuable lessons from today:

• The bees aren’t all working during a dearth. A LOT of them are in the hive.
• I smelled like an ashtray from the previous night’s bachlorette party… they likely (and understandably) did not like that.
• I’m still afraid of the bees when they get aggressive.
• If you REALLY piss them off, they will still chase you out of sight three hours later.

Cracking coconuts

Toasted Coconut Porter sounded like a good idea. A little tropical, and I liked the idea of a summery porter. It seemed the consensus among homebrewers online was to use real coconut meat for the best flavor.

Once our basic porter was brewed and in the primary, I went to pick up the coconut. I was hoping for bags of the fluffy shredded kind, but all they had was the sweetened. Random sugars in the brew seemed like a bad idea, so I went to a different grocery store, then another. No luck. So I headed home with a bag of whole, hairy, brown coconuts. Initially, I had been worried that getting them open would be hard, but the stickers on the side said “quick crack,” and listed just a few short steps to get the meat out.

Step one: Puncture the pre-scored eyes with a dull knife and drain the water.
Using a butter knife, I poked at the little divots. Nothing happened. I pushed harder on the knife. They didn’t even dent. I braced the coconut, and jabbed sharply at the eyes… This didn’t seem safe. I turned the coconut over in my hands a few times, looking for different eyes, maybe I was trying to puncture the wrong thing? I switched to a sharper knife, and jabbed some more… Finally, after unsuccessfully trying to punch through the eyes with a hammer and nail, I gave up and got out my drill.

Step two: Drain the water through the eye holes.
I set the coconuts upside-down over a pint glass to drain, but they just dripped a little. I drilled another hole in the top, some air flow should help, right? Nope. So I shook them and shook them until they tinkled out all the liquid. This was taking longer than I had planned.

Step three: Crack along the pre-scored line and remove the meat.
Crack how? Using what? There was a faint line pressed along the equator of the hard shell, but I’d hardly call it scored. YouTube to the rescue! Within a minute, I was watching a video that expertly showed me everything I had done wrong so far. Now all I had to do was whack the coconut along the equator with the dull edge of a knife, and it would pop right open. The first one split easily in half with one whack. Perfect. The second one started a tiny crack, but after beating on it for several minutes, I was making no progress. Maybe I should hit the coconut against something hard? Crap… I think I dented the kitchen counter. I ended up taking them outside, where I banged them on the corner of the concrete porch. Open and done.

The meat would only come out of the shell in small inconvenient shapes, and the chunks were too little to hold and shred. Without a food processor, I slap-chopped the meat in batches, and finally ended up with enough to toast for the beer.

So with three and a half hours gone from my evening, I finally sat down with a glass of coconut water and rum to relax, and reflect on what to do differently next time. First on the list: Don’t drink coconut water and rum. It’s awful.

My bees have already decided to make a habit of freaking me out right before I’m supposed to leave town. I went out on Friday to make sure everything was in place before we left for a big camping trip… and the outside of the hive was just covered in ants. And syrup. My feeder pail was leaking, soaking the board it was sitting on, and making little sugar pools below the hive. Little pools of ant heaven. And I’m scheduled to pack and be out of the house in two hours.

I’d noticed some ants a couple days before, and after a little research online, I decided to try a natural deterrent: cinnamon. Simple, healthy, easy. Why not? I used most of a jar, sprinkling a perimeter around the hive, around the feeder, and everywhere the ants were crossing the base. I was skeptical, but maintained optimism that it would work… probably because I didn’t want to even think about dealing with a complete infestation. But cinnamon is no match for a leaky syrup feeder… so complete infestation is what I had.

The anthill was directly below my hive, so my cinnamon perimeter was pretty much a joke. And there were piles of ants swarming where the syrup was dripping onto the ground. I couldn’t tell if they were inside on the frames or not, but they were definitely in the box with the feeder pail, and all over the outside of the hive. I really didn’t have time to post on the forum and wait for help, so I just kind of winged it… I bought a few of those ant poison boxes, and put duct tape over the entrances, leaving only a tiny opening for the ants to squeeze through. I nestled them down into the mulch right where the syrup had been dripping. Then after some hesitation, I took the feeder out of the hive, brushed the ants away, and closed everything up.

After the feeder was gone, the bees immediately took notice of the mess. In less than a minute, a few dozen workers were outside circling the hive, picking off the ants and cleaning up the syrup from the outside walls.

When I got back home Sunday the ants were gone, completely, which was a huge relief. But I definitely have some defensive planning to do before I put the feeder back in.

These ventilation gaps are the perfect size for honeybees.

My aunt Sharon recently got her own bees, too… hers are in her roof. It seems a swarm has settled into the side of her brick house and set up shop there. The little ventilation openings at the top of her house make for an absolutely perfect hive entrance, and now she’s got a healthy colony of honeybees working out of the side of her home.

While it’s really unfortunate for Sharon, I honestly think it’s pretty neat. She looks to have more activity there than I do at the hive I’m keeping on purpose. But knowing they can’t stay there, I called a friend at the beekeepers association that does cut-outs and removals, and we made a trip over there this afternoon to try to locate the colony.

The tentative plan is to go in through her kitchen ceiling, since she has a weird double-roof situation that won’t allow us access from above. Luckily, the kitchen has a drop-tile ceiling, so the repairs to the original plaster ceiling (above the drop tile) will only have to be functional repairs, and not cosmetic.

No one noticed the bee activity until just a few days ago, but judging from what looked to be lots of orientation flights going on outside their entrance, we think she’s got brood hatching, and more than a little bit of comb.

We’re looking at doing the removal over the holiday weekend, so I need to figure out if I can have a hive ready for them at my place by next week. I’d love to be able to keep them, they’re family!

 

Newly emerged worker bee

Newly emerged honeybee (left of center)

Yesterday’s hive inspection was really exciting for me. The colony is really starting to grow. The frames that were just partially filled last week were solid with capped brood, and the girls were starting to draw out new comb on some of the previously untouched foundation. I was thrilled to see an emerging worker bee working on chewing her cell open, and then I noticed several other brand-new bees clinging to the frames. The baby bees aren’t cute and fuzzy like the others — they look like little winged versions of Skeletor, with a bony pale white face and big black eyes. I hate to admit it, but I haven’t done as much reading as I should have by now, so the little white bugs startled me at first. Until I got a closer look, I thought for a few seconds that I had some intruders in my hive. Then I realized that the scrawny little creatures were shaped like bees, and moved like bees… and I really need to finish that beekeeping book I had been working on.

I’m already seeing the benefits of keeping a good written log of hive inspections. I didn’t have a good grasp on how much the colony had already expanded until I got out my papers and photos from last week and compared them.  Absolutely amazing.

Taking honey supers out of the beeyard.

My boyfriend and I were sitting on the porch last night talking and having a beer when he interrupted me, “Do you smell that? Something smells like vomit.”

A big lightbulb lit up in my head. “THAT’S what it is!” I said, “It smells like vomit! Here… smell my shirt.” I offered him the edge of my t-shirt  sleeve that had somehow gotten bee-go on it during the workshop earlier that afternoon. I had been trying to figure out all day what the bee-go reminded me of. I don’t know that it technically smells like puke, but it has that same rancid after-smell of vomit that they tried to clean up at Six Flags on a hot day. While I was really excited to finally pinpoint it, Greg  just looked at me, probably wondering why I hadn’t changed into a clean shirt yet.

Most of the day I had been at the honey extraction workshop held by the local beekeepers association. I had a really good time, and I learned a ton. After a brief rain delay in the morning, we took about 13 supers off of 8 hives. Everyone took turns putting the fume pads on the hives then using a leafblower to get the last of the workers off of the honey. Then we all moved to where the honey room was set up, and learned how to extract honey from the frames. It was a lot easier than I was expecting, and a lot less damaging to the comb than I thought it would be. And as I had suspected, the cleanup seemed to be the worst part of it, especially with a bunch of clumsy newbees dripping honey and wax everywhere. I’m really excited to have my own honey to harvest in another year or two.

Someone yesterday had said that some long-time beekeepers actually like the smell of bee-go since it’s related so closely to honey extraction day. When I got out my gear today to get ready for my own hive inspection, I caught the faint scent of vomit in the air. It made me smile.

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