Green in the Ghetto

We need more bees

June 3rd, 2013

I haven’t posted in a super long time.
There’s always so many things that take priority over sharing our lives and progress with the world. Whaa.

Hopefully I can find more time to ignore my other obligations and log our journey in the coming days/weeks/months. For now, I’ll share the current status of our apiariness.

In the fall, we were going into winter with one super strong Russian colony, and one super weak Italian colony (seriously, these ladies only had maybe 4 bars drawn. and those weren’t even full of the good stuff.). I suspected the Italians wouldn’t last long given their size and stores (of course I could always supplement, but their size was likely going to kill them first). I considered combining them with the Russians but it called for running a bit more interference than I like to with the bees. No doubt there are plenty of bee keepers out there that would argue with this, but I like to let nature/the bees do it’s thing. If the Russian colony were also struggling, I may have come to a different conclusion.

Winter comes, and winter goes. Then it comes again. and goes again. and comes again. and so on.
I’m pretty sure we had a frost after derby (locals know that derby is generally regarded as the “safe from frost” land mark on the calendar).
These ups and downs are not good for the bees. I know this. Russians are supposed to be hardier than the Italians, and capable of flying at slightly lower temps, but I still worried a little. but when it comes to cold/funky weather and bees, there’s not a whole lot I, or any bee keeper can do.
Ok. There are a few things, that I’m slowly learning (such as insulating the roof of the hive) but the actual temp is seldom the primary issue.

So.. B went out to check on the bees one day. It was probably about 57*F. He reported back that they were all dead. I was disappointed but not incredibly surprised at the news, and impressed at how much honey they left us. Then I went out to see if I could figure out what happened (the life of a beek). The bees looked frozen. They were clearly dead, but they weren’t all laying on the floor of the hive. They were hanging out in tiny cluster like figures on the comb as if time had just stopped.

hen, I started to think “B must have frozen them when he opened the hive.”
I mean. There was SO much honey on the other end. No way they could have starved, right? In my mind, it would have been warm enough in the hive at that temp outside, for them to get to the honey.
He insisted they were already dead. That there was no sign of life/activity/movement and that’s why he did what he did. To get the honey before something else did.
But I carried on thinking it could have been him. A little bit resentful. But life goes on, right?

Then, after answering multiple “what happened to them” questions. and still feeling like I just wasn’t completely sure either way (I mean. I hate to blame my husband if it really wasn’t his fault) I figured surely this has happened to someone else.
The internet is a wonderful resource. The community. The ability to share. seek. find. Whatever your question, someone else has already asked it.
So I searched. and here’s what I found, a forum , where someone had in fact, had almost the same exact issue. They opened their hive at a MUCH lower temp though.
Upon reading the responses, and considering my assessment of the hive when I went out there, I determined that it was that they “staved in place” as one member says. As you can see from the above photo, the bars where the cluster was lacked food. There were numerous bees with their heads inside of cells.

As if they were searching for one last drop of food, I suppose.

So the best conclusion I can come to, is that when it got cold, the bees clustered, as they do, in an attempt to keep warm. They were probably successful in this attempt as it never really got ridiculously cold this winter. The only problem was, the area of the hive that they clustered in for this particular cold spell (or whichever one it was that took them out) was the area where they had already feasted on all the honey, meaning there was none left there.
Even though there was enough honey for five armies of bees on the other end of the hive,  it was too cold for them to separate from their cluster and feast on it. Causing them to starve.

It’s quite unfortunate. Bees are like canaries in a coal mine. Climate change has a huge impact on them. I’m willing to bet any beekeeper would say the same, and I’ve only been doing this for three years.

I hope to spend some time this week cleaning up my hives and making them attractive to potentially swarming bees (I saw a honey bee in the front yard today on some clover. This is the first one I’ve seen this year, so it has me hopeful.) .. Maybe we’ll even invest in a nuc (will we hack it and put it in the top bar or invest in some 8 frame medium supers? I have yet to decide) as back up (unless we can get a swarm in the very near future)

I’ve never heard of a beekeeper that fully understands the bees, or how to avoid all perils. The bees sort of keep us. We just give them a home and make lots of wishes for their safety. Kind of like parenting a teenager.

Please. If you see or hear of a swarm (they’re exactly what they sound like.. image below) call me up! (5o2)432.sixtyfour twentyfour. I will happily come and remove it, promptly, and give it a good home (assuming it’s honey bees and within my capabilities. If not, I’ll hook you up with someone with the proper equipment)

Wall of Disaster

September 17th, 2012

I really stink in the “before” picture department, so I’m working on improving in that area. The last post was a start. It’s hard to recognize how far we’ve come when I can’t see what we started with. I have the mls pictures, but they show a completely different house. One that was half heartedly “fixed up” just enough to be a rental home. This involved carpet and thin wood paneling on the walls. This was an excellent way to hide all the years of terrible wallpaper, neglected plaster, hardwood floors in desperate need of refinishing and covered in paint splatters. Several rooms have drop ceilings, and who knows what they’re covering. We’ve only removed one to date and the damage that had been done on the other side was a total nightmare. I figure this is something we can always come back to at a later date when the necessities are done and we’ve been able to take a breath, so they remain in all the rooms except the bathroom, for now.

So.. enter the entryway between the living and stove room. Here is the mls photo I have…

This view is from what we lovingly refer to as the stove room. Pretty good cover up job, huh? After you pull up that carpet (and refinish the beautiful oak floors below), rip down the paneling and trim (that was covered in some 5 layers of paint) you get this…

So this is what we’re working with. I love plaster. I really do. When we first moved in I had this crazy idea that we were going to rip down all the plaster, install insulation and put up drywall. Upon further research I hated that that thought had ever crossed my mind. I hated that I had ever told B to pull down all the plaster and lath from one tiny wall in the bathroom (this was the first room to get major reno work, since a functioning bathroom is somewhat impartive.). As much as I now admire plaster artists, I am not one. I look at this wall and know that our best bet is to do another coverup job. The livingroom side has drywall over the plaster and is finished. The stove room is our warm, cozy, happy place. My computer, my crafting stuff, and of course the stove, are in here. So.. on the stove room side of this crazy wall/entry way we’re going to build a built in bookshelf. The size of the whole wall. This is no giant room dedicated to books type library, but I feel like it’s going to be pretty boss for a tiny house in the west end. And maybe when we fill it up, we’ll be in a position to dedicate some time and materials to something like this.

The Shower

September 15th, 2012

Blogs are hard work. Well, maybe not hard. But time consuming.

We’ve actually been making some progress here in the home. Finally got trim up around the front door!

Pulled out the nasty vinyl shower surround.

and are getting ready to tile it.

Renovating, in and of itself, is not “green”. I know this. Ideally homes would be built from the earth and stand for hundreds and hundreds of years. This is possible. It’s done and has been done for a long long time. It’s not the “norm” here in America, though. Currently there are more homes than people that can afford to occupy them. This results in decay and eventually complete demolition. Where do the demolished materials go? More often than not, the dump.
When I decided to redo the shower, I knew this meant throwing out the vinyl sheets that were currently in there. As much as I’d love to pass them on to someone else, it was old and cracking. Water was seeping in behind it in spots leaving the potential for mold to grow, which is no good.

I like tile. I LOVE tile. If I could afford it (and didn’t think it’d look ridiculous) I’d probably tile my whole house. Tile, regardless of its sources, is relatively “green”. Of course there are good options and better options. As a whole, though, it’s mostly “natural”.. of the earth, if you will. Our kitchen floors are slate. Counters marble. These are both natural stone harvested directly from the earth. As a strong opponent of mountain top removal coal mining, I understand that this remains a debatable source of building materials, but it’s gotta be better than those, such as vinyl, that are derived from petrol. Our bathroom floors are broken ceramic tile. For those we salvaged broken tiles from a big box home improvement store that would have otherwise probably been discarded. The shower wall will be ceramic tile as well, though I’m not feeling as ambitious (mosaic is hard work) so we’re just going with an 18×18 field tile with some glass accent.

Along with pulling out the vinyl surround, I had to pull down some lath and plaster. In retrospect, I probably could have gotten away with not doing the whole area in question and simply chiseling it down to clean lines that would be filled with drywall, but.. it’s done now. In the houses former life, someone decided to put in a bunch of drop ceilings. The bathroom was one of the victims. This was one of the first things to go when we first moved in. In framing said drop ceiling (or maybe in removing it) the plaster in said areas was destroyed. While I’ve become quite handy with “hot mud” and a putty knife, I remain NOT a plaster artist, so I can’t construct a plaster wall from scratch. It’s unfortunate, as I find them quite fascinating. What with being constructed with horse hair and all.

First Honey Harvest

May 5th, 2012

The title makes this post out to be much more exciting than it is. So here’s the skinny.

We’ll start with hive1, our original hive that we installed the package, that we drove 5 hours one way to get, last year.
When spring decided to come at the end of February, the bees, not having a calendar, farmers almanac, or the weather channel, began to proliferate. They appeared to have no trouble finding pollen and were busy as… well. bees.
I gave them a little sugar syrup just in case it got cold again and/or they ran out of honey since I didn’t really suspect a nectar flow quite yet.
In any case, it didn’t really get cold again for a while, the queen began to lay like it was spring and I got super excited knowing that I had made it through my first winter and the bees were doing amazingly.
Then they swarmed.
I suspected it was in the cards. All signs pointed to yes but having the hands off approach that I’ve had, I didn’t do anything to keep it from happening.
It happened. We were able to catch the swarm and hive them. (they’re in hive2)
Then it got super cold. Colder than it was the majority of winter. We had to fire the wood stove back up and bust out the winter coats. The problem with this for the bees is that.. When there is brood (the queen does not lay in the winter) the workers make it their job to keep the brood warm, like an incubator, so it survives. There are typically few honey stores in the brood nest, and the workers won’t leave the brood to feed themselves. They will continue to feed the queen and brood and allow themselves to starve. I fear this is what happened as I began to see piles of bodies outside of the hive. I also noticed quite a few drones wondering around the yard as if they had no place to go (remember, they get kicked out in winter because they’ll eat all the honey and are mostly useless) so I’m thinking they must have gotten the boot. I still noticed a fair amount of activity at the hive though for some time. I’m not sure when I noticed that it had pretty much ceased. I could stand and stare for 3 minutes or so and wouldn’t see a single bee come or go. This was REALLY odd for nice weather.
School was finishing, life was busy, I knew there was likely little I could do so continued to carry on hoping they were just in a funk and would be buzzing crazily in no time.
Days passed, still nothing. I saw the suggestion of listening with a stethoscope on a forum, so did that. I heard buzzing. Faint. But buzzing no less. This was somewhat reassuring.
We finally made it into the hive yesterday. Went through and did a full inspection. I noticed right off that there weren’t many bees at all. but there were bees. Lots of honey, a good portion of which was capped. Found the queen on a comb with some brood, but that was the only bar with brood in the whole hive. Not a single drone to be found.

I’m not sure exactly why they’re not flying. I’m not sure why there are so few. I have no idea why there isn’t more brood.
My hypothesis is that she is/was the virgin queen (the preceding queen almost always leaves with the swarm)… When it got cold they booted the drones. In addition to the booted drones, some of the workers were unable to survive as well (from the cold itself, or starving, or who knows).. The queen could not go out on her mating flight until it got warm, if she’s even done that yet. It takes a few weeks before she begins to lay AFTER that flight. So I’m guessing she has yet to reach that stage.
If all of this is the case and it’s not some crazy disease that I don’t know about, then they may have a chance. Once she gets to laying, their numbers will go right back up. I suppose there’s a small chance she’s infertile but I believe it’s too early to call. I’m rooting for this hive. Naturally.

So.. now for the honey. Being that the colony is substantially smaller than it was just a few weeks ago, the hive is setup for a much larger colony. The problem with this is it’s much more space for them to protect as well as control the temperature, etc. With so few bees, they could easily get overrun with a pest. I know that in order to avoid this, they need a more condensed space, so I wanted to take a few bars out. I hate to take all their honey, or even a decent portion, because I definitely don’t want them to starve, but what are they going to do with 15 bars of honey for maybe a pound of bees? There was one bar that hadn’t even been built yet. That one went. A bar that had barely been built out and was empty. Gone. Then there were a couple bars with a decent amount of capped honey, but were at the ends of the hive and not very popular with the bees (they tend to stay as close to the queen as possible) so I took those.

Came in, and tried my hand at the “crush and strain” method of honey extraction. (I’m sure I’ll post more on that some time) and this is what I got…

You can rest assured that it tastes as good as it looks.

Simple Lip Balm

February 17th, 2012

About a week ago we “stole” a bar of wax from our hive. I double checked to see if the bees would benefit more if we left it. Apparently they prefer to draw new comb anyways, so I felt like it was a win win.

With the wax I made a candle and some lip balm. I only made a small batch of lip balm with wax I had left after re waterproofing their feeder but it turned out quite well and I started thinking about all the wax I was about to have and decided I’d make more.

I stole more bars, ordered some tins, and waited. They arrived yesterday morning. When the UPS man came I jumped out of bed to eye my new tins and instantly got to work melting wax.

Who needs breakfast when there’s lip balm to be made?

Once the wax melted I added organic coconut oil and a touch of local honey (since our bees are still working to feed themselves) and voila!

Then I made a stamp and stamped a bunch of labels then shrink wrapped using the heat of the wood stove (because shrink wrap isn’t remotely green but people tend to like it).

Now I’d like to offer these up for sale. $3 each for approximately a quarter ounce of goodness. Shipping will run $2, then $1 for each additional tin. (I’ll probably make a paypal link for this shortly and put it on the sidebar or something, just keep your eyes peeled. or email

In addition to that, I’d like to give a tin away.

Comment here with your favorite lip balm flavor (for a future batch) as well as your email.

For an extra entry, share this on Facebook, Twitter, your blog, etc. and provide a link in a separate comment (in addition to your email).

I’ll pick a winner using Some time around Wednesday afternoon.

Good luck!

Update: The “buy now” bit has been added on the right —>

Comb Candle

February 6th, 2012

I stole a bar of wax from the bees

I stared at it for a couple days, because it’s so awesome. And pretty. And it smells amazing!

Then I was all “I should do something a little more awesome to do with it before it falls and breaks or gets covered in who knows what.”.. I started just slowly cutting it into a container, then I thought I’d try squishing some. It made awesome little sheets. It’s not the same as the beeswax candle sheets you get at the store. Those are made with a machine. It is equally awesome though. Wait. Probably more awesome.

Anyways. I decided to roll it around some thin cotton rope and make it a candle.

It was quick, easy, and awesome!

On the Bright Side

February 2nd, 2012

Even though our neighborhood is riddled with vacant properties things are looking up.

Even though we live in a food desert there is hope.

You see, there has been this vacant convenience store across the street since we moved in. I imagine it went down with the other business’ that relied on liqueur sales, because there are definitely no gas pumps out front to bring people in.
I would look at it and think how wonderful it’d be if it was a thrift store. B dreamt of it being a health food store. I’d take about anything over a neglected property.

Just last month some fellows decided to take it on.

It’s none of the things we imagined. It’s just a simple convenience store, but that’s ok. It’s something!
B says they’re going to have a deli. This is great news! If it’s a community gathering place. A place for kids to grab a snack. I’m fine with it all.

B told them about Healthy in a Hurry and we will be even more excited if they can be added to the list of places to pick up fresh produce. Maybe that snack can be an apple instead of doritos.

Meanwhile, I’m just happy to see the space occupied.

14/365 – The Heat

February 1st, 2012

Here in Louisville, KY it is 63 degrees today. February 1st and 63 degrees.
I wish (ok, not entirely. I am a sucker for un-cold) I could say today is an odd day but truth be told, this entire winter has been odd and it’s my understanding this situation is not unique to Louisville.

I went out to toss the chickens some scraps and a bee flew on my forehead. One of OUR bees. I look over at the hive and see this…

The bees are going WILD!

The package we got nearly a year ago was from Louisiana, so maybe this isn’t that strange to them. I don’t know how bee brains operate. The only bee left from that package is the queen though, not that I have any idea what that matters. As if the bees are all like “We’re in Kentucky now. It’s going to get cold here.”

Still! I totally expected my bees to be hudled up in a ball buzzing away trying to keep the queen warm for months. Snacking away on their honey reserves just trying to make it to spring. Instead I look at them and think “What the heck are you ladies going after? Surely there’s no nectar flowing? No flowers in bloom. Doesn’t flying around like this just use up your precious energy?”

Alas, I have no idea. I don’t know what they’re out doing. I keep meaning to go on a beekeeping forum and ask but all that free time, ya know.

I just wonder if I should start planting? I heard the USDA changed planting zones. I guess I should check it out.

New (free) Shoes!

February 1st, 2012

Sunday B went to the Really Really Free Market and got me a gift.

These really nice hiking shoes…

I’ve never owned a pair of hiking boots before and it’s highly unlikely I’d ever spend the $100+ TO own a pair, but I got these for free. Really really free.

I like the market because it’s a chance for us to get rid of a bunch of stuff. I mostly like barter but I can get down with a gift economy. I mean, in a perfect world, a gift economy is all we would need. For now, that perfect world can exist approximately once a month in a tiny pocket of Louisville (as well as other parts of the nation, as we’re not the only ones doing this)

What’s better than these shoes being free, is that they’re previously loved. I don’t know how many hands it took to make these, how long they worked, what the conditions were like, or how much they got paid but they didn’t do it for me. I like used stuff. These shoes were made. They were purchased. By someone, some where. The damage is done. The crude extracted for the soles, the cow butchered for the uppers, the fields pillaged for the cotton. It’s all done. By taking these shoes, I did not encourage that process to continue, I only kept them from ending up in a landfill somewhere. Much like my fur coat.

The Sunset

January 31st, 2012

I ran out to get my camera tonight, so I could make my post, since I failed yesterday. (If I miss a day, I certainly have no excuse to use my phones camera the following day. Right?)

I figured I’d take pictures of dinner or something. Then I saw this…

A beautiful sunset. The irony is the first two buildings in this image (by the way, this is my first attempt at a real HDR (combining multiple images)) are about as vacant as they come. The orangish one (up front) apparently was a daycare at some point. Then the next one, with the funky mast like thing, was a liqueur store.
We are fortunate to live in one of two dry precincts in the west end, hence the vacant liqueur store. That doesn’t justify why some other business or person hasn’t come and made use of it but it may be that the owner is sitting on it, waiting for the ban to be lifted. Who knows?
In any case, they’re eye sores. More than being eye sores, they’re vacant properties. These are buildings where homeless folks could get out of the cold. Families could get a hot meal. Or maybe someone could start up their own business. The possibilities are many.

But alas, they sit unoccupied. Decaying.

As our nation fights for money, for material objects, for property and possessions. There is this, all around.

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