Monday, May 30, 2011

First Full Hive Inspection

One of the good wife's sisters and family came to our home for Memorial Day weekend.  Her husband had talked to me about the bees, so I told him I would wait until he came before I inspected my bees.  They got here Saturday around noon and off we went to the hives.

I was anxious to see how the bees were doing.  How much comb had they drawn out?  Was there still sugar water for them in the hive top feeder?  WERE THE QUEENS THERE???  When I hived the bees last weekend, neither of the queens could be found.  Now granted, a lot of time wasn't spent looking for the queens as I didn't want to stress them out any more with the move from the nuc to the hive.

Oldest son had been asking me to get another bee suit so he could join me, so late last week another jacket and veil was purchased.  Oldest son can use it, and so can anyone that comes to visit and wants to take a look at the hives.  So let me know and stop by for a look!

A new smoker fuel was tried this time.  The gentleman I bought the extra jacket and veil from told me he used to use old blue jeans.  Natural cotton fiber and it would smoke a lot as it smoldered in the smoker.  So before we went out to the hives, one of my old pair of jeans with some holes in them (no longer good for checking bee hives) got cut into strips for the smoker.

Once at the hive, I was much more prepared.  I had the few tools and items I needed ready, although I forgot my squirt bottle of sugar water.  Next time.

I took off the top and there was still some sugar water in the hive top feeder.  That was good, as it was a week since I first checked and had no idea how much they would take.  The hive tool then came in handy to separate the hive top feeder and the hive body.  There were a lot of bees in there!

I pulled out the frame on the end and there were a few bees, but that was about it.  Nothing surprising.  Then we worked our way towards the middle, taking out frame by frame.

They were really starting to draw out some of my frames pretty well.  I was impressed.  It was working how it was supposed to be.

The bees seemed really active, and it was hot out and a storm was heading our way.  Not sure if that had anything to do with it, but every time I tried to grab a frame, the bees would always seem to move right where I was going to grab.  They would then crawl up on my fingers and hands.  It was a sensation that I still wasn't ready for.  They didn't look like they were going to sting me, but it still made me a bit nervous.

Oldest son was trying to spot the queen as we got into the middle frames that came from the nuc.  I was able to see that some of the brood had hatched and that there were new eggs in some of the cells.  The queen had been there.  That was just as good as seeing the queen, but we kept going.  We wanted to see what she looked like and how she was marked.

Then we saw her.  She had a nice yellow dot on her back.  She was moving around and the area she was in had new eggs and some larva there.  She was busy at work!

Oldest son is pointing to the queen in the photo above.  If you click on the photo and look at the full version, you can see the queen.

Oldest son and my brother-in-law traded the suit and he helped me with the next hive.  This one was also doing really well, and we did the same process in the search for the queen.  Again we saw some eggs and larva before the queen.  We ended up going all the way through the nuc frames to the other new frames and then we finally found the queen.  She was in there working away on a new frame that I had made for the hive.  A sense of pride and accomplishment, although I had very little to do with any of it.

The one really odd thing that has me curious, nervous and perplexed, is that it appears that there are a bunch of bees building comb on the outside of the hive under the screened bottom board.  I noticed that some of the nuc frames had comb underneath the frames, and that it had touched the screened bottom board.  I'm not sure if it was the bees that had been left in the nuc out front of the hive and that when they came back to the hive, they just went under the hive instead of in the hive?  I'm not sure if I should scrape that comb off there, or scrape the comb off the bottom of the frames?   If anyone reading this knows or has an informed opinion, please let me know.

I'll have to e-mail some of the people from the bee club to get their opinion.  They are always so generous and willing to take the time to help us new bee keepers.  Luckily, the next bee club meeting is this coming Thursday evening, so I should be able to get some answers by then.

The frames are filling out really well.  I may be able to put another hive body on next weekend or later that week.  If the population of the hive keeps growing, they are going to need the room and will be able to work quickly.

One tool I do need to remember to take with next time is a small strainer, such as a sugar strainer that you use for sprinkling onto french toast or something like that.  There were quite a few dead bees in my hive top feeder, and I would like to be able to scoop them out of there and clear the way.  Maybe the hive top feeder surface needs to be scratched up a bit to give the bees more traction.

With the one hive building comb underneath, it is straining my engineering common sense.  I am very much an orderly person and like to have lists.  Everything should be in its place and go according to common sense.  Bees seemed like the perfect hobby, hexagon cells, a defined social structure.  Everything should go like clock work.  Of course, ask any experienced bee keeper, and that is about the opposite of how it will go.  I can already tell that these bees are going to push me to expand my comfort zone, and that I am not driving.  I'm just a long for the ride.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Guinea Drama Won't End!

Two weekends ago I went and got my first hands-on experience with bees.  It was a week day and I was planning to get home in time to go and pick up oldest son from school.  I was running a bit late because it was so fun working with the bees and talking with Pat.  On the drive home, the plan was to come to the house, change clothes real quick, grab a few things and head to school.

I pulled into the driveway and opened the car door.  I heard this horrible squawking coming from the guineas.  I dropped everything and ran down toward the coop and run.  As I ran down towards the coop, I could hear the guineas way down in the woods behind the coop.  Up to this point, they hadn't gone into the woods.  They had staying in our yard when they were free-ranging.  I went barreling through the woods, and down at the bottom of the ravine I could see our neighbor's 7-month old yellow lab standing over one of the guineas.  I yelled at her and she ran off.  Looking around I saw guinea feathers everywhere.  It looked like one of the guineas had gone through a Whiz-Bang chicken plucker.  I looked around and there it was.  It didn't look visibly injured.  I ran up to the house to get a pair of gloves to pick it up, in case it got mad and tried to claw at me.  They have some wicked long claws and don't seem afraid to use them.

As I headed back to the house, I saw one of the guineas by the run and stuck it inside.  When I was running back down to the woods, I saw two guineas out of the corner of my eye.  They were hunkering down under a small bush.  They sure blend in well with their surroundings out there.  I got close and they started to squawk.  As they started making noise, another guinea came walking out of the woods towards the other two.  Soon I had three guineas herding back towards the run.  Once inside the run, it wast back down to the woods to get the injured guinea.

Walking towards the guinea I saw that the neighbor's lab had come back to the guinea in question.  After yelling at the dog I chased it out the back of the woods to another neighbor's road.  The dog seemed to figure out that it was done there and headed home.

Usually the guineas are very skittish and won't let us get near them to pet or touch them.  This one just laid there.  As I reached down to pick it up, it looked up at me.  It didn't move.  I scooped it up and carried it back towards the run.  It just laid in my hands and didn't move.  It must have figured at that point, I was the lesser of the two evils.  The squawking from the other guineas already in the run got it's attention and it started to perk up.  I set the guinea on the ground to open the gate and soon as the gate opened, it stood up and walked in.  It didn't seem to limp or have any other problems.

My watch showed there wasn't any more time to spend looking for the last guinea.  There was still one guinea out there.  I couldn't leave it behind!  I had to find it!  Back into the woods.  I walked around, yelling and calling for it.  Not sure that would have done much, but I thought if it heard my voice, it may know it was safe to come out.  After looking for a few more minutes, the search was called off.

As I walked out of the woods past the run, there was the sixth guinea, standing next to the run wanting to get in with it's friends.  I opened the door and in it went.  All six guineas were safe!

The neighbor's now keep their dog leashed if they aren't there and when it does come over and sees me, it usually runs right home.  It knows I'm not giving up my guineas without a fight!

Sunday, May 22, 2011


I know it is probably against blogging etiquette to use so many exclamation points in the title of this post, but I am a bit excited, if you couldn't tell!  Oops, there is another one.  I apologize now that this blog is going to be long, but there are a bunch of pictures to show and information to share about something I have been waiting a long time for.

Friday night at 12:30am I awoke to my cell phone ringing.  I answered it and confirmed the call.  I then went into the bathroom to try to keep from waking up the Good Wife and got my phone tree list.  I then called the next person on the list below my name, letting them know that the bees would be arriving at approximately 1am at the Powhatan, VA fire station.  I quickly got dressed and headed for the car.  I had already put a few tools and things into the car that evening that I might need for this journey.

I got to the fire station and was like one of the bees, arriving in a swarm.  All the other HBA (Huguenot Beekeepers Association) members were arriving, anxious for their bees.  After a few minutes of conversation about what is blooming, what is flowing and other bee talk (I didn't have much of a clue about most of it, but nodded my head as though I was affirming everything they were saying), the truck with the bees arrived.  I wish I had gotten a picture, but forgot.  Remember, I was excited.  It was a small flatbed truck loaded up with 65 nucs full of bees.  It was quite a site.

The men that had driven the truck got the list out and started calling out names and how many nucs we had ordered.  Within a few minutes, I had my two nucs in my car and we were ready to go.

Once I got the boxes into the back of the car, I put my hand on the screen on the end, and I could feel the heat coming out of that box.  It was amazing how much heat those bees were producing.

When I picked up the bees, they instructed us that we would need a philips head screw driver to open the  hives.  Did I pack a philips head screwdriver?  Lets see, I packed the camera, a hive top (not sure why I packed that), my hive tool, a towel, a flashlight, my bee jacket, my bee veil, my leather gloves, nitrile gloves, a... nope, no screwdriver.  So I had to go past the house on the way back from picking up the bees to grab a screwdriver.  It was only about a 1/4-mile out of my way, so no major problem.

I got to my apiary and set one box on top of each hive.  They looked so nice.  As I was putting the boxes on top of the hives, I noticed a few bees on the outside of the boxes that were hanging around the screen hole on the one end.  I'm glad I didn't notice those when I put them in my car, or I probably would have been thinking they were flying around my head on the drive back, ready to sting me for taking them away from their homes.

Once I put them on my hives, I got my screwdriver and opened up the entrance to each nuc.  I didn't bother putting on my bee veil or anything as it was cool out and they didn't seem that active.  I'm sure the long drive on the back of the truck bed got them a bit disoriented.

Once I opened the entrance on one of the hives, the bees slowly started climbing out and going around the entrance to the hive.  It looked like a sausage maker full of bees pouring out the front.  I was quite amazed at all the bees coming out, but I didn't want to hang around to watch in case they were upset about their ride.  It was also past 2am by this time.  With that, I went home and went back to bed.  The hiving of the bees would wait until Saturday afternoon.

Saturday afternoon came and it was time to "hive the bees."  I won't lie, I was as nervous as I was excited.  I had read all about what I was to do.  I even read Beekeeping for Dummies from cover to cover.  Other HBA members had assured me it would be no problem.  I had some hands-on experience the week before.  But there was no one else there, except for me and the oldest son.  He was there to document the experience, good or bad.  He stood nearer to the car than the hives, just in case it went bad.  Not sure if he didn't have faith in my abilities or was just the more logical of the two of us at the time.

I got my smoker going and got suited up.  I had all my tools out of the car and the hatch closed, just in case things went really bad and the oldest son needed a place to hide.  Off to "hive the bees."

I took my drill and removed the two screws from the lid.  Then I realized I had to move one of the nucs off the hive to open it up.  I took the drill and put the screws back into the lid.  The bees were all around the front and didn't leave me a good place to grab the nuc.  A little puff of smoke and they moved out of the way.  I moved the nuc over to the other hive next to the other nuc.  I took my drill and removed the two screws from the lid, again.  I had to use my hive tool to pry open the top of the lid.  It was amazing as I looked into the nuc and saw all the bees in there.  They had started to create comb between the top of the frames and the lid, which is why it was so difficult to open.

After a bit more smoke on the top of the frames to get the bees to go down into the frames, I grabbed the first frame and took a look.

I was looking for the queen, which was supposed to be marked with a yellow paint dot.  I didn't see her on this frame, but I also didn't spend a lot of time looking.  The bees were anxious and so was I.  I wanted to get them into their home as quickly as possible.  This was also one of the outside frames, so I figured the queen may be more towards the center.  I grabbed a second frame.

No queen there.  At least not with my 30 second look on each side.  There were so many bees.  During my hands-on experience the week before, I don't think I saw this many bees the whole day.  These frames were LOADED!  (This one required the exclamation point.)  Quickly I got the frame into the hive.  There were a lot of bees flying around by now.

I grabbed the third and fourth frame from the nuc and put them into the hive.  I checked each one for the queen, and I didn't see her.  I will admit that it was a half hearted attempt to find the queen.  It was hot out, I was sweating a lot, although I don't believe these two were related on this day.  Once all four frames were in the hive, I got the frames situated and spaced correctly.  Then I had to get the rest of the bees that were in the nuc box into the hive.

A quick thump of the box on the ground and then I poured the remaining bees into the hive.  Just so you don't think I made a goofy decision to do it this way, I was told by everyone that this is how it is done.  The bees didn't seem to mind, but it sure put a lot more bees into the air.  I quickly got the top feeder placed and then the top lid placed.  I was done...with the first hive.

I will admit that the second hive went slightly easier.  I knew what to expect to some extent, and the hive I had already placed was the hive that seemed more active and looked like the sausage press of bees the night before.

On the second hive, I moved the nuc box to the other hive top before removing the screws on the lid.  I did learn something.  I did a quick inspection of each frame, trying to find the queen on this hive.  Again, I was unsuccessful at locating the queen on any of the four frames from the second nuc.  My goal was more speed and getting the frames put into the hive, than taking the time to look around for the queen.  There were so many bees, it wasn't going to be easy.  And by now, there were a LOT of bees in the air.

As with the first nuc, once the frames were installed, a quick thump of the nuc on the ground and a quick pour into the hive.

After I got the hive top feeders filled, I placed the nucs and lids at the front of each hive, hoping that any bees that were still in the nucs would find their way back into the hive that they were near.  There weren't many left, but I wanted to give all the bees a chance to be a part of the hives.

Overall, it was a good experience.  Everything went as I was told it should go, for the most part.  I never expected the nucs to be that full, of bees or brood.  These hives look like they are going to explode in population in the next couple weeks.  The queen was much harder to find than I thought she would be.  And I didn't get stung once!  In my book, that was a successful "hiving of the bees."

I did have one interesting thing happen.  While I was doing the second hive, there seemed to be one persistent bee that kept banging into my veil.  She just kept flying around my head and banging into my veil.  Once I was done and walked back to the car, she was still there, banging into me.  I even took the smoker, closed my eyes and gave my head a couple puffs of smoke, figuring that she would leave.  Nope.  She was my new friend.  The oldest son thought it was funny and took a picture.

You can see it right in front of my face, buzzing around and banging into my veil.  But I was done, and it was time to get out of the bee suit.  I walked over to the hives and gave her a gentle swat to the side with my hand and I quickly walked back to the car.  Apparently that was enough to discourage her from using her stinger on me and ending her life.  Besides, she had a brand new hive that needed her help.

I went back and checked on the hives today (Sunday).  I wanted to make sure a skunk or raccoon or something didn't get into the nucs in front of the hives.  I was pleased to see everything where I had left it.  There were still a few bees in the nucs, but they may have been cleaning out the left over honey from the burr comb they built on the sides and on the lid.  I walked around to the front, giving them a large distance since I didn't have my veil on.  I took my binoculars with me and looked at the entrances.  The bees were coming and going.  That was a good sign.  In about 5 days or so, I will go back to the hives and open them up to see if I can find the queen.  If I can't find the queen, at least I can look for eggs as a sign that she is there.

My bee adventure has officially begun.  Remember, I am as new as it gets to this hobby, so I am sure I am going to do things wrong.  But at the same time, whenever you ask more than one beekeeper a question, you will be guaranteed to get more than one answer.  Please leave me your comments so I can learn if you have a different suggestion for how I should do something.  I just hope that I am able to take good care of the bees and next year, they will take care of me with some honey for the Good Wife.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Bee Hive Setup

This week I got my bee hives setup and ready.  I'm glad I took the advice of everyone in the club and got things ready before the bees come, since it took a little longer than I anticipated.

Sydney, a friend from my church, volunteered to house the bees on his property where he keeps his horses since the Good Wife did not want them at our house.  I am hoping that I can change her mind as I grow my apiary in the future, but since she is allergic to bees, I can understand her hesitation.  Although, after my hands-on experience, I don't think she has much to worry about.  Most people get stung by the nasty wasps and hornets out there, not honey bees.  Sydney has 10 acres and uses about four for his horses, and grows hay on the other six.  My hives are near the road on the opposite end of the property from the horses, so that shouldn't be any conflict.

I setup my hives using a couple cinder blocks and some 4"x4" boards.  I dug down into the ground a bit to give them a slight lean forward, so when it rains, the rain will stay out of the hive, instead of going in.  I also put another 4"x4" under the hives in the middle and added an eye bolt on either side of the hives, so I can strap them down with bungee cords or tie-downs, to keep the lids on when we get some good winds.

Sydney checking out the hive positioning.

Overall it looks like a good setup.  I am using a regular screened bottom board on the hive to the left in the picture above, and an "Ultimate Bottom Board" on the right hive.  I am trying both out to see which I like.  For setup, I like the regular bottom board, because I don't have to worry about the feet being right on the boards, which reminds me, I need to put a strip of wood on the front 4"x4" so it keeps the hive from sliding forward and the feet falling off.

The bees will be right next to about 26 acres of hay fields with a stream on the other side of the property.  They should be able to find that water and be good to go.

I'm anxious, but not too nervous any more.  I hope the bees like their new homes and enjoy the view.  I know I do.


One of our raised beds in the garden has several strawberry plants that the good wife planted.  They have been growing really nice and we have had a few strawberries start to ripen.

There are a lot of berries growing on these plants, and we have had plenty of rain to keep them nourished and full of moisture.  I did get one of the first strawberries to ripen on my birthday last week.  It wasn't the sweetest strawberry I have ever tasted, but it did taste good.  It may not have been fully ripe, but it came from our garden.  The kids really enjoy going out there and picking some of the strawberries.  I have to keep them from picking too many that aren't ripe.

We were planning to go to a baseball game the other night with some friends, so the boys picked some strawberries to take with and give to them.  We were able to sneak them into the stadium, and the seventh inning stretch never tasted so good!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Bee Practice

It is just a couple days until my commitment to the bees will be tested.  They will arrive in the wee hours of the morning, and they will be my responsibility.  Starting as several hundred bees, and growing to thousands and thousands.  All relying on me to provide them with a good home and the food that they will need to make it through the winter.  But I am getting ahead of myself.

I figured that if I was going to have bees, I should at least get one hands-on experience with someone's bees before I got my own.  A gentleman from my church named Pat heard that I was going to have bees, and many months ago gave us some honey from his hives and invited me to come see them.  It was time I took him up on his offer.  So last weekend I took a day off work and headed to his apiary, which is a fancy word for bee yard.

Pat had talked to me briefly last fall, and told me to save some money and not get a full bee suit.  I wouldn't need it.  I kind of believed him, but was nervous when I did buy just a jacket and veil.  I also bought leather bee gloves with the long sleeves at that time, but later learned that they can help spread disease between hives, so I then bought the rubber coated gloves with the long sleeves.  Then I go up to Pat's apiary and he just uses nitrile gloves.  I wanted to look like an expert as quickly as possible, so I asked to use a pair of his nitrile gloves and kept my assorted long sleeved pairs of gloves in the truck.

When I got to his house, we talked for quite a while, hearing about how he got into bee keeping, some of the various things that have happened to him during his years of keeping bees, and learning about the current state of his 17 hives he had near his house.  But it would soon be time to head to the hives.

I brought my brand new smoker, not even used yet and my shiny new hive tool, untarnished by bees wax or propilis.   I wanted to initiate my equipment on my first use, although really I just wanted to learn how to properly use a smoker and hive tool!

We first checked out a nuc he had near his garage that he had used some frames for a display hive.  A very simple setup with five frames.  I looked over his shoulder and watched.  We had one little incident, where we set the smoker on top of his plastic garbage can.  It didn't take long before we had a hole in his garbage can and the melted plastic on the bottom of my smoker.  It was now initiated!

I had brought my camera along to take a few photos.  We went out to the front of his garage near the woods and opened up a full hive.  I took some photos as we worked our way through the frames.

The above picture is looking down into the hive after we had separated a few of the frames.  The bees were too busy building comb, filling comb and taking care of the brood to worry about us.

We were looking for the queen to make sure she was there and laying eggs.  Can you see the queen in the picture above?  I actually spotted her first, which made me smile and gave me a big confidence boost that I knew what I was looking for.  Of course, before I pointed out the queen, I pointed out three or four drone bees and asked if they were the queen.  So much for getting too confident! (The queen is right in the center of the picture with the longer abdomen and dark brown tip of her tail.  She also has a dark brown spot on the top of her body.)

We continued looking through the frames, checking for brood, eggs, larvae and anything that would let us know the queen was doing her job.  The picture above is a frame of brood.  Right in the center of the picture you can see a brand new bee coming out of the comb.  Luckily they aren't like chickens in the cartoons that the first thing they see they believe is their momma, or I would have had a bee hanging around me the rest of the day!

After checking a few more frames and realizing that the queen was doing really well and the hive was really strong, we added a new hive body on top to make sure they had room as there were five frames of brood, and within 21 days or so, there were going to be a LOT more bees in that hive.

We ended up going through five hives that day.  After the first one, Pat let me do all of the work and handling of the frames, using the hive tool, the smoker and opening and closing the hives.  I got plenty of gentle instruction along the way and got the confidence that I can do it!  Above is another picture of a queen from another hive.  Again, she is right in the center, but this one has an abdomen that is much lighter in color.

I have shown pictures of frames with bees and brood, but above is a frame of honey, with a good portion of it capped.  It was amazing how heavy that frame was with all the honey in it.  The honey that isn't capped yet is still being worked by the bees, waiting until it gets the right moisture content before capping it up.  This is my ultimate goal, but it won't come until next year, after the bees build up their home and get it ready for the honey next year.  This year, everything they make will be theirs to be used for the winter.

I'm sure the hive inspections we did that day could have been done in a very short amount of time, maybe a half hour, but we spent a total of four hours there.  I was fascinated by every frame, wanting to look at everything and soak it in.  Pat never showed any sign of rushing and was a most generous instructor.  I offered to help him out when he harvests the honey from his hives, hoping to get some more experience for next year.

I know I can do it now.  My hives are built, frames are built and foundation is mounted.  Now I need to get them setup and ready for the bees.  One important thing I did learn that day that I forgot to mention.  Once you start handling the frames, it's best not to use your camera with your gloves on again.  It tends to get a bit sticky, but it does taste good!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Bee Anticipation

At my bee club meeting I found out that my bee nucs will be arriving on Friday night, May 20th!  I am excited and nervous, all at the same time.  I really need to get some hands on time before then, just so I can have a little confidence.

Here is the plan.  A couple guys from our bee club will drive down to Wytheville, VA the afternoon of the 20th.  They can't close and pack up the nucs until the evening, when the foragers come back to the nucs.  Then they will load up the 65 or so nucs our club has ordered, and start driving back to Powhatan, VA.  Once they get to about Buckingham, VA they will make their first calls on the phone tree we have setup.  In theory, everyone will be called and notified to head down to the fire station in Powhatan, VA.  The nucs should arrive around 1am.

The nucs will then be distributed and off we go.  Apparently last year, they bought about 35 nucs, and it only took about 10-15 minutes to hand them out and be on their way.  I'm hoping it won't take much more than that, since it is a 30 minute drive there from my home.

Once I have my nucs, I am supposed to go to my hives and place the nucs on top of the hives and then open up the front door, to allow the bees to take their cleansing flights the next morning from being cooped up in the nucs for so long.  I'm not supposed to actually hive the bees until that next evening.  By then they should be calmed down and not as agitated from being bounced around in the back of a truck.  Lets hope so.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Up, Up and…Down

Unless you have been sequestered to a hole in the ground for the last year or so, you are aware of the group coupon sensation Groupon.  I get a daily e-mail showing me the “Deal of the Day.”  A lot of it is for local restaurants or service industries, such as house cleaning, massages and car detailing.  Occasionally things come along that allow you to add a new experience in your life.  That day came along last fall.  My daily e-mail came to me enticing me with a beginner hang gliding lesson.  I couldn’t resist.  I clicked on the “Buy Now” and forgot about it.

About mid-February I got an update e-mail from Groupon reminding me to use the coupons I had bought.  On the list, along with a car detailing service coupon, which I am waiting for the pollen invasion to end before using, I saw the hang gliding coupon.  It had an expiration date towards the end of April.  I also had my China trip at the beginning of April, so I called and scheduled my hang gliding experience right after getting back from China.  That always sounds like a good idea before my trip, but after the trip I am usually so tired and worn out that I wonder what I was thinking.

The day came and I headed out past Mechanicsville to Blue Sky Hang gliding.  It was a cool, clear morning with a lot of dew on the ground.  I wondered how we were going to learn to hang glide when I couldn’t see a hill higher than 10 feet around.  All I saw was a wheat field growing and a long stretch of grass that was the runway. 

After watching Steve setup the hang gliders, I got fit into a harness and signed the waiver.  Then I signed some more, initialed here and there, signed a couple more places that mentioned that it was a hazardous sport, death was possible, blah, blah, blah.  Initial here, here, here and here, then sign at the bottom.  Out to the runway for ground school.  Another couple showed up partway through ground school and the explanation of how to control the glider in flight. 

Out on the runway, sitting next to the glider was a simple setup, consisting of a moped bolted to a small trailer with wheel chocks under the trailer.   The rear wheel was replaced with a spoon of cord that went all the way down the runway to a pulley and then all the way back to the hang glider.  This cable would then be hooked to my harness and the hang glider. 

After a little more instruction I was hooked up to the cable, lifted the glider then called “All clear” and started to run.  I only took about a step before the cable was pulling me and the glider down the runway as I was running to keep up.  Two steps and the glider was lifting itself.  A few more steps and my feet were treading air.  I was flying!  Or gliding as it may be.  Either way, I was off the ground and sailing through the air.  Now I’m going right, pull my weight to the left.  Now I’m going left, pull my weight to the right.  Now left, now right, now left.  I’m off the runway, here comes the ground!

Luckily there are wheels on these gliders, so if you don’t get your feet underneath you, the glider will land and roll without flipping.  And I was only about 5-10 feet off the ground.  Of course, the harness and my chest was a pretty effective mop to soak up the dew where I landed.

The other couple each took a turn and then I was up again.  There was an orange cone placed down at the end of the runway.  That was our target, our goal to reach.  I the next few hours I had several more glides down the runway.  One ended up in the wheat field, which held a lot more dew than the grass.  My last run I made it.  All the way down the runway to the cone.  I landed to the left of the runway, but I was at the end. 

After this experience, I have to say that people that learn to hang glide off cliffs are nuts, or suicidal!  The glider was much more difficult to control than I anticipated, and was glad they didn’t tow me way up into the sky and let me go.  If there is a sane way to learn to hang glide, this was it.  Was it fun?  You bet it was.  Would I do it again?  I’m not sure.  It would take a lot of lessons before I would be comfortable to be towed 500 feet up into the air and then released to search for the thermals that would take me up to thousands of feet.  I would have to be pretty committed to the sport and serious about learning it.  Was it worth it?  With a Groupon that took the price from $99 to $49, ABSOLUTELY!

Free-ranging Guineas

I figured it was time to start letting the guineas earn their keep.  As I had read on Backyard Chickens, I only let 3-4 of the six guineas out at once.  That was supposed to keep the free-ranging guineas close to the coop.  It actually worked really well.  A little too well.  I don't think the guineas went more than a foot from the outside of the fence.

Over the next few days, I let a few of the guineas out each day.  I have a couple guineas that have started to be mean to my chickens, so I tried to get those out of the run each day and have them free-range.  The thinking was two fold: 1) Having the mean guineas out of the run would protect the chickens and allow them to enjoy their day without being harassed by the bully guineas, and 2) If the dog, a hawk, owl, raccoon, skunk or possum decided to go after the free-ranging guineas, at least I would only lose the mean ones.  I know, it is kind of rude, but if I was going to lose a guinea in this learning process, at least it should be a mean one.

At my last bee club meeting, I mentioned to a couple people about my mean guineas.  The solution I received took me by surprise.  "You know, guineas are all dark meat!"  I guess that would be one way to address the problem, but it would reduce my tick patrol force, so I was hoping to avoid that solution.

They stay pretty close together as a pack, or flock since they are birds, and don't like to get separated.  They have started to move further from the coop and run, but not much more than about 10-20 feet.  The flock does like to go over to my burn pile which is about 20 feet away from the coop and stare into it.  Then they usually start squawking and all at once turn and fly back towards the run, and proceed with their marching around the run, while the two or three left inside the run follow right along.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Bird Sandbox

Reading on the internet you tend to find out way more information than you are looking for.  As I was reading up on my chickens and guineas and what else I needed to take care of them, I came across some posts in Backyard Chickens that talked about the birds needing a dust bath and that it would help them keep away flies and mites and other little insect parasites.  This seemed amusing at first since I got the guineas for the sole purpose of eating the ticks around the yard.  They were supposed to be eating the parasites, not carrying them around!

After looking in their run, I noticed a small depression along the edge of the chain link fence that they had created and would take turns fluffing around in that hole, apparently to take a dust bath.  So I figured I would help them out.

I grabbed a pressure treated 2x4 that I had laying around and cut four pieces each about 16 inches long.  I then screwed them together to make a box.  After that I pounded a few large staples into one side that I would be able to use to secure the box to the fence, so it didn't move around.

I attached the box to the fence with zip ties through the staples, and then filled up the box over the hole they had started using play sand.  At first they were a bit curious.  The guineas started squawking, wondering what this new thing was in their run.

The chickens were the first to get near it, with the guineas holding back a foot or two, stretching out their necks to see what was going to happen to the first bird that stepped into that odd contraption.

It took a little while, but one chicken finally ran across the sand.  Most of the birds that day just walked up and started eating the sand.  I guess that is also good for them, but I would rather them lay down and take a dust bath.  Don't they know I spent time to make a nice sandbox for them to play in?

Over the next few days, they all started climbing in and laying down, fluffing their feathers.  They also still ate the sand.  I had to add some more sand a few days later since during their scratching and fluffing, quite a bit got thrown about.  I don't mind so much, as long as they are having fun and enjoying their sandbox!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Update: Chickens, Guineas and Bees

It has been some time since I have given and update on the chickens and guineas.  They are doing well and growing fast.  They seem to be eating more and more, which seems appropriate for growing animals.  We have taken a few of the friendly chickens out in the yard while the dog has either been on the leash or in the house.  We would really like to get the guineas “free ranging” so they can eat the ticks, which is the main reason we are raising them.  However, we need some more time for the dog to get used to them so he doesn’t run them away from the yard or worse yet, make lunch out of them. 

One of the guineas is getting aggressive, and starting to go after some of the chickens and peck at them.  It only seems to go after the Black Australorps, so I’m not sure why this is happening.  I really don’t want to make a separate run for the guineas.  Maybe the guineas are still mad about their ghetto coop while the chickens get the chicken condo.  Either way, if it doesn’t stop harassing the chickens, it may get to fend for itself outside of the run permanently!

The bees have turned into a hurry up and wait proposition.  I started going to the bee meetings last September,  ordered my nucs in November, ordered my hive equipment in December, assembled my hives in January and February…and March…and April, but I still don’t have my bees.  As I have been looking on the internet, apparently everyone is delayed in their packages or nucs.  I’m not sure if it was the cold spring we had in this area or what, but I know they want to make sure the bees are strong and in full swing when they send them to us, so I can’t be upset about that. 

I am hoping to work some bees with a gentleman from my church before I get my bees.  I would like at least one hands on experience with bees before being trusted with thousands of bee lives.  I have read from cover to cover the “Beekeeping for Dummies” book, so I have all the head knowledge.  But everyone tells me that I have to learn to roll with the punches with bees, in that they will do everything and anything that they want, so don’t count on normal. 

I’ll keep you posted as my bee adventure gets buzzing!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A Father’s Pride

I have three sons, referred to as oldest son, middle son and youngest son.  They are 11, 8 and 6, although by the end of May they will be 12, 9 and 6.  Not only that, by the end of the month I’ll be another year into “middle age”. 

As I write this, I am sitting at a local baseball game watching oldest son and his team play.  He is playing 3rd base, which he doesn’t get to do too often.  His coach usually puts him into center field since he has a really good arm and accuracy to get the ball back into the infield in one toss.  However, as most boys his age, he would rather play in the infield where all the action is.  

First inning, oldest son is covering 3rd base.  No outs and runner on first and second.  Fast ground ball to third.  He scoops it up, touches 3rd base then throw a line drive to first for a double play.  I beam with pride.  Next batter hits a pop foul over to the third base side.  Oldest son runs over and makes the catch, almost.  It went into his mitt but he over ran the ball and he fell down and the ball fell out of his mitt.  It didn’t matter.  I got on the phone and called the good wife who is working tonight and explain the play.

The game is at the bottom of the third inning and tied at 1-1.  This moment made me reflect on the pride of a father.  There are a lot of things that make a father proud of his sons, from something as simple as showing respect to others to doing their best in whatever endeavor they take on.  

I’ll admit that I’m not a “baby” father.  I don’t get into babies that lay there and don’t interact with you. I also am not particularly fond of the stink and mess that babies tend to create, most of the time at the most inopportune moment.  I am much more enjoying my boys as they are now older and we can do boy activities, from exploring the woods behind our house to swimming down at the river.  No matter what, I will always love my boys, like only a father can.