Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Honey and Mite Check Challenge

The University of Minnesota has a Bee Squad, and yes, it is as cool as it sounds. They are building an entire building devoted to pollinators, specifically, bees. As part of their ongoing efforts to keep bees safe and healthy, they put forth a Mite Check Challenge for two weeks in October. The goal is to get as many beekeepers as possible to do mite checks on their hives, and report back so they can compile all the information.

Well, since we are "newbees", and we are going to try and overwinter the hive, I thought it might be a good idea to do a mite count. From what I have learned, there are a few key ingredients to overwintering a hive besides a little insulation an prep work on the hive itself. To increase the chances of success for overwintering, a colony should be relatively strong and healthy, that is, have sufficient numbers to overwinter. They should have as low a mite count as possible. And they should have sufficient honey stored up in the brood boxes to eat over the winter.

We also learned that we were supposed to take off the second honey super as well, lest the winter cluster move up into it and damage or kill the queen. So today was also a day to collect the last honey out of the super.

I started out by taking the top cover off of the hive, and finding the inner cover littered with bees!

Inner cover after about ten minutes sitting beside the hive.

This is always a good sign, as it speaks to healthy population.
I removed the frames from the remaining super, brushed the bees off of them near the lower hive opening, and put them in a Rubbermaid tub to bring inside.

Then I took off the super box to look into the hive itself.

iPhone likes to focus on things other than what I want it to...grr...

I was greeted by a large number of bees on the top of the frames. Again, a good sign! I checked a few frames on the top box. LOTS of honey stored in there, it was nice and heavy.

Then I set that box over on the table I had set up, and dug into the middle box. Lots of honey stored in there as well. Then it was time to do my first mite check.

Now, apparently, Varroa mites don't like to cling to bees when the bees are covered in powdered sugar. So awhile back, the U of Nebraska invented a method of checking for mites that went like this...

Get a half cup of bees.

This is much harder than this short sentence makes it out to be. I pulled a frame out of the middle of the box, checked to see if I could see the queen on there, then shook those bees into a shoebox. (I saw all of this on youtube videos, and they made it look a lot easier than it actually is, too.

Then, you are supposedly able to pour those bees into a half cup measure and then into a jar with a mesh top. I'm not sure how it worked so well in the videos, but when I tried to "simply" pour the bees into the measuring cup, the great majority of them took flight and headed back to the hive, or around my head. That first try netted me about a dozen bees. Not enough to do a mite count, since a half cup of bees is 300-400 bees.

So, I gave it another shot with another frame, this one covered top to bottom with bees. I shook the bees into the box and poured a clump of them into the measuring cup, and quickly from there into the jar. By this time, there were roughly five THOUSAND bees buzzing around, wondering what the heck was going on. My heart was racing. Even though I was in my bee suit, this was more bees flying around than usual.

I dumped the powdered sugar in and gently covered all of the bees.

They didn't sound happy, but I figured the sugar was a pretty good peace offering. I also made a mess of the table. But the bees will clean that up, I suspect.

After a few minutes, I shook the jar like a salt shaker (maybe a bit more gently) and shook the mite infested sugar onto a tray. After it was all out, I added some water, and just like in the videos, the mites appeared.

stupid autofocus

Unlike the videos, there were surprisingly few mites in the water. In the videos, they were counting into the tens and twenties. I got five. (The smallest little dots.) There was a bigger black speck of dirt, and a pollen glob (upper left) but that was it! I sent a message to the Bee Squad letting them know my findings, and they responded that our mite count of 1-2 per 100 bees was pretty good! So, they've got a good population of healthy looking bees, lots of honey stored up in the brood boxes. Fingers crossed that they will overwinter well!

Meanwhile, I took the tub of frames inside and started scraping the full frames into the bucket. We don't have a fancy extractor, so we use the old scrape it off and let gravity do its thing method. There was not as many full frames this time, as the bees have been moving honey down into the brood boxes for the winter. But we'll probably get another gallon or so.

 Honeycomb on the frame
 Scraped frames.
 half scraped
 scraped into the bucket, well... into the mesh bag in the bucket
 Hung over the bucket to drain overnight
After just a few minutes. We'll see how tomorrow goes!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Not Just Honey

Our gravity draining system seemed to work exceedingly well!

We ended up with 2 and a half gallons of honey.
That's 31.6 lbs. of golden sweetness

Then we took the wax/honey mash leftover stuff and put it in an 8x11 glass pan and cooked it at 170F for a LONG time. But what we ended up with was about a pint and a half of now pasteurized honey, and a nice cake of beeswax.

Which I had to break up to get out of the pan

One of my sister in laws is going to take some and make some lip balm and stuff out of it. So I shredded her a pack.

Tastes nothing like mozzarella

Yet another little gem from the hive - we got a little bag of a substance called propolis after we processed the wax/honey mash.
Tastes nothing like beeswax

Propolis is made by bees when they collect sap from conifers and birch trees, mix it with some wax from their wax secreting glands, a little pollen, and- of course- a touch of honey. They use it like glue, to seal holes, connect things in the hive, even create tunnels and pathways. Propolis apparently has anti-EVERYTHING properties. Antibiotic, anti-fungal, anti-viral, anti-inflammatory. It can be made into a mouthwash that can help toothaches and inflamed gums. It can be swallowed in a pill form to help with sore joints, GI problems, allergies, and other stuff. So, we're going to process it by freezing it and grinding it into powder, then mixing with various liquids (water is ok, but there are apparently not many water soluble parts to it) Some people soak it in vodka and use it as a tincture. Whatever we end up doing with it, it should be interesting!

I also whipped up a little honey butter... because...

Who knew that bees produced so many good things just doing what they do!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Honey Harvest

It was a day of new experiences for our little clan today. Our first big honey harvest... well, big for us, anyway.

We had previously pulled a lone frame from one of the supers, just to get a little honey.  But since the stars finally aligned for us, we decided to go up on the hill and harvest what we could. There were so many unknown variables that we had a very general plan. But I think things worked out pretty well.

First off, some history. We haven't opened the hive since late July. Most beekeepers would frown upon this, as when you read up on beekeeping, it seems imperative to get in there every week or so and see how the bees are doing. That's how I did it from when I added the bees until early July, when I realized that I had most likely killed my Queen by my frequent intrusions into their world.

In discussing it with my lovely, wise wife, she reminded me that bees have been doing their thing in the wild for millions of years without being checked on by their human overlords every week. She suggested that after we re-queened with a local queen, that perhaps we should keep our hands out of it and just let them be bees. I, being the control freak that I can be with hobbies, hesitantly agreed, keeping to myself my belief that the colony would fail within days.

Of course, she was right, and our bees just kept on keeping on for the rest of the summer. I did peek in on them in mid-July to see how things were going, and was so amazed by their progress that the only thing I needed to do was to put on another super for them to fill with honey. (supers are the shorter boxes that sit on top of the hive. A queen excluder is placed between the hive boxes and the supers to keep the queen from laying eggs in the supers)

Most of our local beekeepers harvested their honey at the end of August/ beginning of September, but for a multitude of reasons, we just weren't able to get it done then. Colder weather set in, and we had resigned ourselves to just leaving the hive alone for the year.

But - this weekend we had a warm snap, temperatures up to 80 degrees! So we decided to try and get a little honey! Other things we suddenly had to think about were whether or not to try and overwinter the colony. We couldn't make that decision without knowing how the colony was doing though.

So we decided to go with the flow a bit. We have two deep hive boxes and a super-turned-hive box at the bottom of the hive. Then the queen excluder, then two 10 frame supers on top of that. If the hive was healthy, we would expect to see a large number of bees all over the place when we opened the top super. As we removed boxes, we would be able to tell how the colony was based on the number of bees in each level.

Another factor of hive health is the nemesis of the beekeeper - the Varroa Mite. Those little buggers will destroy a hive. Signs of infestation include bees with little red mites riding on them, and bees with malformed wings from baby mites growing alongside the larval bees. Hive populations plummet when infested.

I had been a little concerned about Varroa, because we didn't do any treatments on our hive to combat the mites. Our local keepers use various chemicals to fight the mite, and will gladly tell you that they treat their hives without even checking to see what mite levels are because everyone just assumes that a hive will be infested. Since we used nothing, and as the weather cooled down I saw fewer and fewer bees around the hive, I was a little worried.

We decided that if the colony was failing, we'd just take all the honey from both supers. A dying colony doesn't need the stores of honey for overwintering after all. But if the bees seemed to be doing well, we'd take the honey from one super, and leave the rest for the colony for their winter stores.

So the kids and I got the smoker going, geared up in our bee suits, grabbed some tools and headed up on the hill.

I was so very pleasantly surprised to see many, many bees buzzing around the supers as we opened the first one up.
Lotsa bees = Lotsa Honey = Happy Beekeepers!
We had our system all ready to go. I pulled a frame, handed it to the Boyo, who held it while I brushed the bees off. Then he walked it away from the hive a bit where Sweet Pea was waiting by a big Rubbermaid tub. She opened the lid, the frame went in, and she closed it up again. It didn't take long to pull ten frames. We took some from each super, as some of the frames were in the midst of being refilled by the bees. I was able to get a good look, and a good listen, into the hive boxes and realized that the bees both looked and sounded great! the hive frames were covered, and the buzz from inside the hive was really, really loud! We had the numbers, which was a good sign. But how were they with Varroa?

Well, I snapped a few pictures to check them up close later, and guess what I found... or didn't find...
Look at all of that capped honey! Look how pretty these girls look! Look at all of those bees under the excluder! Healthy, Happy Hive!

Look at their little backs. No red dots hanging on there! And look at those wings! Beautiful and well developed! So - I'm not sure if we have a Varroa free hive, but we certainly have healthy and happy bees!

We took our tub of frames into the house and got ready for processing. We don't have a spinning extractor, so we are going to use the scrape and press method. This means simply scraping everything on the frames right into the mesh bag and then suspending it above the five gallon bucket and letting the sweet, sweet liquid gold drizzle down.
Gravity. Much honey. Lotsa wax.

We'll leave that to drain overnight, then give it a good squeeze to get every last drop we can in the morning. So far, it's looking like we've got about two to two and a half gallons in the bucket!

We'll put the wax/honey leftovers in a pot and heat it up. Then dump it into a pan. As it cools, the wax will separate from the honey (hopefully) and we'll be left with some pasteurized honey and a block of beeswax!

That will be for another post though. For today though, we had a fun, educational, and sweet time working with our bees!    

Friday, July 24, 2015

Why Climate Change is a Good Thing

The world is changing.

We've been hearing about global warming and climate change for years. There are, of course, many consequences of this disaster that scientists around the world have been telling us about.

As temperatures change, different ecosystems will be unable to evolve with the change and species of flora and fauna will die out.

Ice caps will melt and sea levels will rise, forever changing the landscape.

Food and water shortages will put the human race in dire straights, and WE COULD BE IN THE SIXTH GREAT EXTINCTION ALREADY!

Yes, yes, Science. We get it. The sky is falling.

But here's a thought... maybe the sky isn't falling fast enough. Maybe we should speed things up a bit. Frack that oil. Deregulate pollution standards. Let the Republicans dismantle all environmental protections so they can get to those valuable mineral deposits and what not that they've had their eyes on for years.

What is this madness? You say. BLASPHEMY!

Now hear me out before you sacrifice me on the Alter of Common Sense.

Let's stop for a minute and really think about what we are saving.

People have always been divided. But never more so than these days of social media and connectivity, where any idiot with a keyboard can spew their brand of hate and vitriol. Trolls that live just to stir up trouble. "Victims" of every possible combination of what they consider to be slights against them.

We have the obvious hate groups, of course. KKK, Westboro Baptist, ISIS. People so oblivious to others that they are willing to threaten, abuse and even kill so they can force others into their beliefs.

We have relatively new groups formed to protect their own status quo, regardless of how ridiculous that status quo is. Men's rights groups, upset that women are finally getting equal treatment under the law. "Christian" groups that are fighting for their supposed religious freedoms, though those freedoms have never been in harms way in this country. Groups that see change coming and somehow feel it will have a negative impact on their lives, when in reality it will have zero impact on how they want to live.

But we also have groups that, while once forces for positive change, seem to have devolved into playing the blame game for their every problem. Feminists turning against each other because of skin color. People of Color demanding that ALL white people are to blame for the historical traumas placed on them. They don't propose solutions anymore. They just gripe about how everyone is against them.

Now, to be fair, not all feminists or POC's or other people in these once excellent organizations fall into this extremism. But it seems that the increasingly extremist factions of these groups are getting more and more air time, and the logical, rational people in those groups are having their voices drown out by the outrage and indignation of the more extreme members.

Hate seems to be the easiest route for most people to take, because it is so very easy to let oneself feel slighted and offended about pretty much anything. It is easier to let rage take over and explode about your issue than to sit and have calm, reasonable discussions to find solutions. It is easier to get on your iPhone and post something about how outraged you are, than to actually get out into the community and DO something about it. It is easier to demand that your way is the ONLY way and dig your heels in than to find common ground and compromise.

There are few solutions presented anymore that would actually benefit all of the inhabitants of this planet, flora and fauna alike. When one hears of ideas to "combat" this problem or that issue, it nearly always involves sacrifices to be made by others that the presenting entity deems to be against them, with very little to no sacrifice from that entity.

Some, of course, are legitimate arguments. The police need to be policing themselves, and need to get back to "protect and serve" instead of believing that they are the law, judge, jury and executioner. Systemic racism, poverty, injustice - all need to be addressed. We need to curb our greed and stop destroying the air and water and land for profits.

Unfortunately the only solutions many can come up with begin with the phrase "If only..."

If only black people would stop being angry.
If only white people would admit they are inherently racist.
If only poor people would work harder.
If only all guns were outlawed.
If only people were not so greedy.

People these days expect a single, magic bullet solution to problems. But when things get complicated, which they inevitably do, rational discussion breaks down into a blame game, hurt feelings, hatred and vitriol for the "other side". When our leaders act like petulant children who would rather have a tantrum if they don't get their way, how do we expect their followers to behave any differently?

Which brings me back to climate change.

Think about what it is that seems to bring people together. It isn't anything human made. But when you have a good old natural disaster, it brings out the humanity in most people.

Floods, tornadoes, earthquakes, tsunamis. Suddenly everyone wants to "help out their fellow man" (and woman, of course).

Wallets and purses are suddenly opened to help those facing a crisis. News reports show the devastation and destruction, and most people are ready to do what it takes to alleviate the suffering of others. People travel to the devastated area to help rescue, recover, rebuild.

Of course their are the jerks that will try and profit off of it, the lawless factions that will take advantage of others. Deaths caused by everything and anything in the destruction zone. There are down sides to disaster.

But if we could speed up climate change. Make it an acute threat to the world. Maybe, just maybe, people would start to take it seriously and realize "Oh crap. This really IS a threat to my life, and the lives of my children and grandchildren!"

Maybe people would open wallets and purses to do what it takes to alleviate some of the consequences of climate change.

Maybe people would come together and realize that regardless of gender or skin color or sexual preference or politics, or anything else that divides us, that we are ALL in this together, and what is good for some, is usually good for all. And what is bad for some, is usually bad for all.

Maybe those who seek to divide us and turn those "like" us against those "unlike" us will finally wake up and see just how destructive their attitudes and behaviors are.

Maybe we would finally understand that we should live our lives as if this is the ONLY planet we get. The ONLY chance we have to continue life on this world. That our actions DO have consequences that will come back around and not just bite us in the butt, but wipe us from existence.

Of course, this comes with a price. People would need to be willing to make sacrifices for others. We would ALL have to do this, not just some. Humanity would have to live up to its BEST potential. And as we can see pretty clearly, humanity has a long, long way to go for a majority of the human population to behave like that.

So bring on climate change. Faster and faster. With the change being slow, humans will continue to focus on themselves as individuals. As small groups of like minded people that MUST fight against other groups that look different or think different from them. More money, more power, more infighting like dogs over table scraps. With more rapid change, maybe more people will come together and start doing what is right for EVERYONE and EVERYTHING.

 It is a race right now to see what will happen first. Can we evolve into a higher thinking species before we destroy life as we know it? Or are we better off going extinct and letting the planet heal itself over time?

Humans aren't an endangered species. We wipe out more species than all other group of animals and plants combined. Humans are the greatest single threat to life on this planet that has EVER existed. But humans also have the potential to do wonderful, amazing things that could make life on this planet - and even other planets - great.

It will be easy to let the world go to pot. We are on that easy road now. Fast food, cheap gas, using up our unsustainable resources at an amazingly fast pace. Doing things the inefficient way to save money for some. Doing things the old ways because "that's how it has always been done."

We avoid doing things the hard way, because that REQUIRES sacrifice.

Look at the Honey Bee. Honey bee populations are being decimated by Varroa mites and neonicotinoids. But we continue to breed bees that are susceptible to Varroa and treat them as best we can with chemicals, and we continue to use neonicotinoids on crops because to do otherwise would require sacrifice. The bee population would shrink significantly if we only let the Varroa resistant bees live. That would impact the honey producers profits, the food producers profits, and could cause a food shortage for a time that would increase prices for consumers. Financial sacrifice that society is unwilling to make. Same with the neonicotoids. Smaller crops due to disease would impact the farmers profits and raise prices for consumers. Just the threat of the griping and whining from their constituents, and the threat of not being re-elected because of it, keeps leaders from making the hard decisions to do what is right.

China doesn't have any honey bees, because they have literally destroyed the food chain that the bees live in. They do all of their pollination by hand. That works over there because they live in a dictatorship and have billions of people. Do you think that would even be feasible in the U.S.? No. not at all.

Yet we continue to do what is easy instead of what is right. Because we, as humans - not just Americans, but worldwide - believe that sacrifice is better forced upon something or someone else so that WE can live easier, rather than taking on that sacrifice as a whole for the betterment of all.

It's a race alright. Between the easy path to global chaos and destruction - which humanity may not survive, but the planet will, and the hard path to make sacrifices for each other, the plants and animals, the air and the water, for the betterment of all.

I want to root for the hard path, because in the long run it would benefit my children's children and beyond. But I think that too many are firmly committed to the easy path because, well... It's easier. Maybe that is what would be best for the planet in the long run.


Thursday, July 23, 2015

Flap...The Update

Remember this guy from a couple of posts ago?


 When last we left off, we were feeding it every twenty minutes like clockwork. The days were a blur. I was so...so...so very tired. The wife did some of the feedings. I even taught the kids to feed it and caught short naps during the day.

Every night when we sent the kids to sleep, we had them say goodbyes to the little thing figuring it would not survive until morning. Yet every morning, little flap would greet us with little chirps and gaping mouth, just waiting for breakfast.

So I took pictures as Flap changed each day. And with each passing day I got more and more attached to the little guy (or girl). So here, in pictures, is a little log of our miracle bird...

Day 3
Day 4

Day 5.
.. seriously...lots of growth overnight!

Day 6.
Growing like a weed.

Day 7.
What a difference a week makes!

Day 9.

Day 11.
Fluffy and snuggly

Day 13
Still sitting still for feedings

Only two weeks old!

Day 18
Last day Flap would sit on my hand for feeding

Day 21
Feeling all grown up, so Flap prefers to be fed standing on something other than me.

Flap turned five weeks old today. I have a great many more pictures, but I won't post them here.  We still don't know if it is male or female, and won't until it gets it's adult plumage. I'm not sure when that will be, but our family is split on what we think it is. I call it a he, kids think it might be a she. I guess we will see!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Flags of our Fathers

There has been a lot of talk of flags since the shooting in Charleston. Specifically what some call the "confederate  flag" from the US Civil War.
Stars & Bars?

It has a storied history to be sure, but not a very good one. Some claim it is the confederate flag of the Confederate States of America, or CSA. But here's the thing... it isn't. Let's do a quick history...
The flag for the CSA looked like this for most of the war...

It was actually known as the "Stars & Bars"

What everyone seems to refer to as the "Confederate Flag" was actually used for the confederate navy. Which didn't even use that design initially. the first CSA navy flag looked like this...

There was a battle flag of the Army of Virginia that looked like this...
A little square thing. But the closest the battle flag got to being the CSA representative was as a little corner piece of the next CSA flag, known as "The Stainless Banner".

Just the little battle flag on a field of white. Remember that, we'll get back to it.

So when you hear people say that the Confederate Flag is "a part of our heritage" and they are waving this...
In the Navy

Then you know for a fact that they have no clue about Southern heritage in the civil war era. Especially in South Carolina, as the flag that flew over the rebel forces during the siege of Fort Sumter, which as you might recall started the whole thing, was called the "Bonnie Blue Flag" and looked like this...

Last part of the flag lesson is this... What is now known as the confederate flag...

was used by the KKK in the sixties as a symbol of white supremacy. That's right kids, a white supremacist hate group chose this flag to rally their troops because they believed themselves to be superior to all others who are not of their race.

sound familiar?

Long ago, when I was a gung ho Marine, I got into an argument with my dad about the US flag. I told him I was willing to die to protect the flag. To grab it away from those who would burn it or trample it. NO ONE WOULD DESECRATE MY FLAG!
And Dad told me something that not only changed my perspective, but still rings true today.

The flag? Any flag? Is only a piece of cloth.

It is only a piece of cloth.

It is the ideas and ideals that the flag stands for that are important.

Is our country perfect?
Most decidedly not.

But the ideals of the US? The things we could be? Those are amazing. Elections not marred by violent coups. The idea that all people are created equal. That we should have liberty and justice for all. Yeah, those are worth fighting for.

You want to stomp on the US flag or burn it? OK. It's just a piece of cloth. But if you take up arms against it, like the CSA did, then yes, we will have a problem.

So let's take another look at the Confederate flags... not in pictures, but in ideas and ideals.
What do they stand for?

Well, the arguments you'll hear from supporters are that they are a part of southern heritage. They stand for standing up for your rights, for state rights. They are a symbol of rebellion against all that would take away their freedoms!

But peel back that layer of cloth and look underneath.

What rights were they wanting to defend?
-The right to own slaves. To use other human beings as work animals to bring in their crops.

What "heritage" are they wanting to glorify and remember"
-The heritage of the Antebellum South, where the rich white folk lived in luxury...due to the fact that they had slaves doing all of the work for them. So again, slavery.

What freedoms did the Federal Government want to take from those oppressed southern states?
-The freedom to own and use human beings as farm animals.  Slavery.

John Adams said that "Facts are stubborn things." Whether you want to admit it or not, whether you want to believe it or not, facts are.

Re-imagining history does not nullify the true history. The so called "confederate states" committed treason against the United States, using armed uprising. Those who fought on the side of the confederacy were traitors to the United States. 

You will hear some say that they were all Americans just fighting for what they believed in. That it was really just about states rights. That after the war they were all friends again and even met on the battlefields to commemorate their fallen.

Yes, they were all Americans. But some of them were traitors. Yes, it is commonly sold in the south as a battle for states rights. But it was the right to slavery that they were fighting for. And yes, they did meet after the war to commemorate the fallen. That happens after many wars. WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam. US and "enemy" combatants meet on old battlefields and talk of the war.

But none of that eliminates the things that started those wars. Pearl Harbor. The 38th parallel. Our own hubris at wanting to "stop communism". All led us to war.  And the CSA fighting for the right to own slaves started our Civil War.
Symbolically - fighting for the right of slavery for all whites

I have travelled all over this country. I have seen "confederate" flags flown and adorning vehicles and t-shirts. I believe that those who fly or defend the use of those flags are either too deluded or too stupid to realize the truth that lies behind that piece of cloth.  Sure, it is a cool looking flag. If I didn't have any concept of history, I would think it was a cool flag.

But the simple and inevitable truth is that it is flag that represents hate. I don't think it should be outlawed though. Flying a flag is a great way to show exactly what you stand for. I fly the US flag because I believe in what we can be. Not because I blindly follow a piece of cloth. But I am against flying any confederate flag over state or federal buildings. Not because I am against state pride. I love being a native Iowan. But because the confederates were traitors, and they lost the war. Their flags are symbols of all that is wrong with that era, not anything that was right.

Fly them if you believe in what they stand for
We can do better in this country. We should not be flying the flags of hatred.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Birds and the Bees

Well. For Father's Day this year I had to have that all important talk about the birds and the bees with my kiddos.

Of course, in our house, nothing is normal - so we have been talking about birds and bees quite literally in the past few days.

Our latest bee hive checkup showed that our beloved Queen Beatrice had abdicated the throne. The Boyo now suits up with me to check on the Girls on the Hill, and as we looked through our hive, we noticed plenty of capped brood, but no babies in larval stage. Which means the Queen isn't laying eggs, which means she's either dead or out of the hive.

We did see some bees emerging from their comb, which was really cool to see for the first time ever in real life!

But no Queen and no babies. I went ahead and scraped off the burr comb - that is, comb that the bees have made off of the frames that are there for them to build on. As I scraped off one particularly thick patch that was connecting the upper brood box to the lower brood box, I scraped straight through a bunch of capped larvae, and noticed a thick, Elmer's glue looking goo. In reflecting on that later, I came to the realization that I had scraped right through the next queen. The glue goo was royal jelly surrounding her, and she was probably less than a week from emerging.We thought for sure that this spelled the end of beekeeping this year, as a queen-less hive is pretty much dead.

Fortunately, one of our local beekeeper contacts had a spare "nuc", which is basically a mini-colony that includes a laying queen, and bees from eggs to adults. We added this on Friday and I am already anxious for next weeks hive check to see how things are going! Fingers and toes are crossed.

Now, for the birds...

On Thursday we were picking up paint to paint one of our rooms. Little Sweet Pea is growing fast and we are moving her into the larger "office" room, and converting her smaller bedroom into our family command center.

I went for a quick walk through the garden to check the plants and make sure all was well. (It was) The Boyo was following me when he suddenly stopped and pointed at the ground. "Toad! I mean.. Chick! Chick!"
I turned around, a bit confused, and saw what he was pointing at. It was a baby bird. It looked as if it had been out of the shell for maybe a day. Two at the most. It had split skin on it's head and was looking quite dead.
"Yeah, buddy. I think that is dead." I told him.

Of course the bird chose that moment to weakly lift it's head and flop back into the dirt.

"Dad! We have to save him!"

Now, I've rescued a LOT of birds in my years. I know for a fact that birds this young will die pretty quick without their families. So I suggested we just return it to the nest it came from. We do have several birdhouses in the yard after all, and it was likely that it was from one of those.

So I checked the locals. One was empty. One had eggs. The last one had babies decidedly older than this little fleshy thing. I looked around for wild bird nests. I looked for circling predators wondering if it had been carried here by a crow or a jay or something. I found no certain signs for a place to return it to.

I took it into the shop and sat with it for a bit.

It was so small. So new. I know from experience that it is a long shot that it will survive even if we take it in. The wound on it's head is threatening it's left eye, and if that doesn't heal, the bird would not be releasable into the wild anyway. I considered quickly snapping it's neck to spare it from suffering.

"Dad! We have to save him!"

Oh crap. The guilt I would have... The guilt I would be subjected to from my children if I didn't try...

"OK little bird." I told it. "I'll give it a shot. But you'd better do your thing one way or another pretty fast. If you are going to die, do it tonight. Otherwise you better fight to live."

So I built a makeshift incubator to keep it warm and decided that if it survived the night, we'd look into feeding it.

The children were at once fascinated, and appalled by the featherless, bulging mass of skin and limbs. They both wanted to sleep in the room with it, but we convinced them that it needed quiet and rest. I explained to them flat out that the chances of this bird surviving the night were slim to none, and that they should be ready for it to be dead when we awoke. They tearily said they understood and headed to bed.  After they went to sleep, I pulled out all my old wildlife rehab books and read up on rearing hatchlings. I got a quick picture of it, said a prayer, and went to bed.

To my happy surprise, the little thing was still breathing when I checked on it early Friday morning. It was hungry, so the kids and I headed out to collect feeding supplies. We got some mealworms from a pet shop, and started soaking some dog food.

Now, my kids are about as big on bugs as I am (really - only like dragonflies, don't wanna touch any others) but they pitched right in chopping up mealworms to feed their new ward.

After trying a syringe to feed it, we settled on tweezers. It is too small for a little syringe, as the food would have to be very liquid to fit through the hole in it.  Tweezers allowed us to feed it the moistened dog food, which was all the fluid it needs, and lots of good proteins and nutrients as well.

After spending Friday feeding every 20 minutes until sundown, we once again said a little prayer that it would survive the night, and went to bed.

Saturday morning came early, and once again the little bird had survived the night.
Another day of feeding every 20-30 minutes commenced. I was able to teach both of the kiddos proper feeding techniques for newly hatched birds. The Boyo can do it on his own now, and my little Sweet Pea is rapidly improving! We got into a good routine where the Boyo would chop mealworms, I would feed it the worm bits and mushy dog food, and the Sweet Pea changed the Kleenex in the "nest" to keep things tidy.

During the day, I changed my prognosis of the bird from poor to guarded. I could see how much the kids had already fallen in love with the little thing, and I didn't want to get my hopes up too much. The Wife and the kiddos decided a name would probably be in order, and after tossing around many, many ideas, we finally decided to call it Flap.

We went to bed exhausted again from the care of little Flap, and I said another prayer that it would live.

This morning, Flap was still going strong. It has developed quite a bit in the past few days. Itty bitty feathers are starting to erupt from it's wings, and a little bump on it's butt is starting to develop into a tail, complete with little pin feathers of it's own.

I was initially thinking that we would have to take it up to the Wildlife Rehab center, as it is illegal under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act to have wild birds. But I'm pretty sure this is a baby House Sparrow, which - although extremely common - is actually a non-native bird in our country, and like the Starling, is not protected under that law. If I had had no training in wildlife rehab, I would have already delivered it.  But since I was trained, and I know what I'm doing, I think we are going to try and raise little Flap. If it's eye doesn't heal, it may not be releasable. But we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

For now, we'll keep feeding it every 20 minutes or so, and see how things progress in the next few days and weeks.

Ah, the birds and the bees...Shaffer style.