Sunday, April 28, 2013

Where's Waldo

For the first hive inspection you're supposed to make sure the queen has been released, and hopefully find her happily being attended by the bees. Oh, and you only want to have the hive open for a very short time. Figuring that it would be easy to check and remove the queen cage, but harder to spot the queen I was assigned the duty of hive photographer. S.D. pulled the frames, I clicked the pictures.

The opening went well. S.D. quickly found the empty queen cage, and pulled the frames so I could shot them.The bees were very calm. They really didn't pay us much attention at all, and continued drawing out comb while we were looking. At least 5 of the frames had some wax on them. All five had lots of very busy bees. Everything looked good and we had the hive closed back up in less than five minutes.

Then it was time to review the footage and find the queen. According to the books and the pros, she'll stand out because she is slightly longer than the worker bees with her abdomen extending beyond her wing tips, and she'll be surrounded by a group of attendant bees. And that's it. She doesn't even the have decency to wear a red and white hat. We've spent a good while pouring over the photos. We've seen lots of comb being drawn. Some of the cells look really deep. I think I've seen a few eggs. S.D. thinks I'm crazy. Neither of us, however, thinks we've found the queen. She could be anywhere, she could even be  underneath that mass of insect bodies.

This is the queen cage still attached.

The white stuff, in the hexagon pattern - that's wax they've added.

If you can find her - let us know!

Now we'll wait another two week before going back in to see if there are brood cells. (Baby bees).

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Bee Whisperer

 Hive body and package
Finally, after eight weeks of Bee School, and much anticipation, the Bees are here! We picked them up at 4:00, drove them home and 'installed the package' into the hive body. Yup - not only do we have bees, but we can now talk the talk.

A 'bee package' is a small box of plywood and screening that contains 3 pounds, approx. 3000, bees and an even  smaller box containing the queen. The queen box has a candy plug in one end.  The idea being that she and the worker bees will take 2 or 3 days to eat through the candy and release the queen.  During that time they'll all get to know each other better, or at least well enough that the worker bees don't kill the queen.

Prior to the package arrival we'd spent a few nights and a day or two building and painting the hive, which consists of two hive bodies', a honey super (these are the boxes that contain 'frames' with 'foundation'), a screened base board, a slated spacer above that, a inner and outer cover. That was fun, a lot like I'd imagine shop class would have been in high school.

Once you have the hive box finished, painted and filled with foundation frames, it's ready for the package. First you place the queen-in-a-box in the hive body, and then dump the rest of the package in with her. The bees were buzzing. Literally, the sound was a loud, awesome buzz and while I was apprehensive about opening the package, S.D. just popped the top, turned the box over,  dumped, and then banged them out of the box. Most went into the hive but that still left a hundred or so buzzing around, crawling and  pooping on S.D. Bee poop is  one thing you never really think about, but they do poop, a lot, especially after being on a box for a day or two. They even pooped on the camera while I was filming the event. And they pooped all over S.D. But, angry and disoriented as they were, they didn't sting him. After a little while, they all actually went into the hive just as he told them to. Then S.D. closed it up and that was that.

The package is installed. Now we wait to see if they like their queen, and their new home.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

A Tale of Two Towns

Beatty, NV
After three nights in Beatty, Nevada we moved to Lone Pine, California. Both towns are one stoplight towns literally, each town had one stoplight. And there the similarities end.

Beatty is an experience. Yup that about sums it up. Beatty boasts two brothels. Bikinis is in a red -painted concrete block building before the stoplight. Angels, "right at the stop light, it's on the left ", is in a double-wide. Beatty is a town where a drunk outlaw cowboy re -enactor openly panhandles "private ambushes” at the local restaurant and the wait to be seated at Denny’s is 45 minutes. It's a town where the knife fight at the saloon isn't considered bad since it was between a father and a son and, "no blood was drawn." Oh and among the litter scattered about the town streets are hundreds of shot gun shells. It's an experience that I’ve had once and figure that is enough.
Lone Pine, CA

On the other hand, a mere 90 miles to the west just across the state line into California is Lone Pine, a town I very much enjoyed. Aside from hosting the trailhead to Mt Whitney, Lone Pine is a great little desert town. Just past the stoplight on the right is a backcountry outfitter. Just before the stoplight are two great restaurants where you can eat good local food without getting hit up by the locals. Not a Denny’s nor a single fast food restaurant in sight.The Park Service, aside from having great information on the local hikes also runs one of the best outdoor adventure bookstores I've ever browsed. We spent two great nights there, and I’m hoping to get back sometime soon.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Day 3, pt 2: We came to the desert and hiked in the snow

The Charcoal Kilns
If you ever go to Death Valley there is one area, an area off the beaten path, that you really need to visit, and a trail you need to hike.

Driving east and up the road toward the trail head we began to suspect we were entering a new area when we started seeing largish green things on the hillsides. We weren't sure; it had been a while since we'd seen things like this but as best we could recollect those things looked like trees. As the road continued climbing the green hints became bigger and soon enough we were driving through a pine forest. An especially lovely pine forest with the dark green needles accented with a thick frosting of snow. It was beautiful and totally unexpected especially considering the dry desolation we'd driven through all morning.

The trailhead for Wild Rose Peak, was also the parking lot for the Charcoal Kilns. Precisely built stone kilns that had, thankfully, only been used for only three years, but that look sculptural especially today. The stone work standing out, dark, black rock accented by snow.

The trail itself left the road to the left of the kilns, rose steeply, and then curved to the left and west rounding along the slope of Wild Rose Peak for about half a mile before cutting more determinedly upward through the center of the valley. After another mile and a half the trail topped out at the saddle. From a sheltered nook at 7000 ft. we brushed the snow off a log and sat down for a little snack, looking east over Badwater Basin the lowest point in the continental U.S., the place we'd been the day before yesterday in our shorts and tee shirts.

View looking West from the Saddle before Wind Rose Peak
But there were other unexpected, maybe even inexplicable aspects of the hike that made it so wonderful. I'm not sure if it was the sight of snow covered cactus, the sound of the wind in the themselves pines themselves, lower to the ground and broader than New England pines but I loved that hike and that place.

Writing this now I realize why I loved that desert forest, is the same reason I love and crave the desert. It's the openness. The wideness of the place. The way everything is not jumbled together like it is in more verdant climates but each item stands apart, distinct, and I can take it in one sense at a time and I am not bombarded with impressions. Don't get me wrong, I also love the immersion of being deep in a New England Forest, and walking among the Redwoods altered my perspective on just how tiny people really are, but being on the desert and the desert forest opens one out. The 'body ' expands and dissolves more into the air around it, for some reason no longer needing to hold so tight to its boundaries?
The Beauty of the Dunes

Earlier today, on our way to the mines we had walked out on the sand dunes. It had been a short visit but standing there in the sand, feeling nothing but space around me as the sun warmed my frozen New England soul the melting process had begun. Walking among the snowy but open desert forest of Wind Rose Peak all the remaining frozen bits disappeared.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Day 3, pt 1: We came to the desert and hiked in the snow

The plan for the third day was to explore the west side of the mountain range, driving through Emigrant canyon and then heading further west to Lone Pine, California. More mining, more vertigo, and another awesome hike.

Road to Skidoo
The folks who named this area Death Valley were the same folks for whom Emigrant Canyon Road was named. The same uninformed, feckless group of forty-niners who having arrived in Salt Lake City in early spring decided against Donner Pass and for the southern route. Half way along they then decided to take a right through an unexplored area. Ending up with their wagon wheels bogged down in sand without water in the middle of a desert, in July.

The road we drove down was pretty desolate in March, I can only imagine what it would be like in July. Still I strongly object to the fact that their bad judgment resulted in this beautiful area ending up with a bad name, both literally and figuratively.

One of many mine shaft openings
There is also some additional irony in the forty-niner story. They were trying to get to California for the gold. Fifty years after they passed through the canyon, gold was discovered less than 15 miles east of where they camped. We decided that the gold-mining ghost town of Skidoo would be our first exploration of the day. It being my turn to drive, we were slowly but happily bouncing down the dirt road and looking at all the mine holes when we turned a corner and the side of the road disappeared. I was driving along a cliff. Not only that, but the narrow winding, shoulderless road also now had a number of sharp blind curves. This was not to be my favorite drive and as soon as possible S.D. took over.
From in the inside out. It's cool in here.
Skidoo may have been a mining town at one point, it may once also have been a ghost town but now it was just a flat place on a mountainside littered with old mining holes, rusty tin cans and bed springs. On the crawl back down the road we stopped at a more recent mining shaft. A ladder descended too far down to see and the NPS had installed a locked metal net so visitors couldn't climb down. Still it was interesting. In an area so bleak and blistering hot for most of the year, spending the day down a dark hole might actually not have been the worst idea.

But now it was almost noon and we'd had enough of mining. We needed to get hiking and we needed it to be somewhere other than the desolate high desert plain that surrounded us. S.D. consulted the map and suggested Wild Rose Peak. I checked the trail description and agreed. By now that had become our pattern for most exploration decisions. He'd see it on the map I'd look it up in the book we'd discuss it and decide. This decision turned out to be the best of the day, one of the many high points of the trip.