Monthly Archives: January 2017

I ordered my bees!

If you want bees up here in the Northeast USA, you order by January. I spoke to some guys selling overwintered nucleus hives and they sold out, or allotted, all their hives in the matter of 10 to 15 days.

So, entrepreneur, there is business to be had selling overwintered nuc’s up here. You’ll have to dig in though, that’s not easy money.

Anyway, I ordered a package of bees and am on a couple lists for nuc’s. Let’s take a look at the process I went through as an aspiring beekeeper in ordering my first colony of bees.

Choice 1: Nucleus v. Package

A nucleus is a colony of bees that have been living together in a smaller than normal hive, and in the case of us up here in the northeast, the good ones have been overwintered together.

A package is a box of several thousand worker bees with a separately boxed queen.

Choice 2: Race

Sometime ago the USDA introduced Russian bees to the US and they have apparently proven to do quite well. What we are looking for is resistance to disease and the ability to withstand the pressures of mites. As a northern beekeeper, we are also looking for a race that can withstand our winters.

Carniolans are the next best race followed up by Italians.

Ok, so based on that extreme condensation of information, here’s what I want: an overwintered Nuc of Russians.

I called Troy Hall of Hall Apiaries. Quality dude, he called me back, said he’d put me on his list but recommended that I make some more calls. We got to talk for a little bit and he answered some rookie questions for me. Nice guy.

I emailed Matt Smith, and enterprising local lad who started Northern Honey Bees. He didn’t write me back right away so I stalked him on Facebook. I got him, and he said he’ll put me on his list but suggested that I should call someone else.

I called Kirk Webster in Middlebury VT, a pioneer in chemical-free apiary management. He got back to me and put me on his list and mailed me a flyer. Ultimately, the vibe I got from him was probably not this year, but I’ll stay on the list for next year.

Bear in mind too I’m trying to find a beekeeper who consciously breeds for northern productivity without the use of chemicals in the hive. Apparently, I’m not alone in this pursuit because all these guys are having no problem filling orders.

I thought about ordering from Hillside Apiaries in Merrimack but they don’t advertise the qualities I was looking for.

During this pursuit my Dad made the decision to get back in the game (he used to keep bees several years ago but got frustrated that his Italians never made it through a winter). He met Athena from Wonalancet Bee Company and took a drive to her shop to chat it up. She recommended The Honey Exchange, in Portland ME.

The Honey Exchange advertises, and was taking orders for, Russian bees from Georgia. So that’s what I did. I’m down for one package of those, and so is my old man. My spring setup will include two hives just in case one of these other dudes is able to call me back with an overwintered nuc. But, I can still get my apiary off the ground with a package from down south.

Scheduled delivery day: May 1st.

Apparently, in the old days, you could set your clock by the bee delivery, but everyone is saying that in the last 5 to 10 years the weather patterns have really disrupted this process. I’m not the type of guy to buy that at face value. Yes, the World is changing. But if we spend our lives in sorrow about the way things used to be we may very well miss how wonderful life is RIGHT NOW.

Now. The only time that matters.

My Russian Queen from Georgia ~ Applied Permaculture Project Update for Jan 2017

Join my email list to receive monthly updates first. Posted here, time late, for future reference.


My shopping cart with Johnny’s Selected Seeds is currently sitting at over 300 bones!

That seems like a lot to me, but, it’s comparable to 2 weeks of groceries for our family of three.

Can we shave our grocery bill by $300 this year?

Will we eat better food?

Subscribe to the blog to find out how our harvest goes as well as all the other suppliers we’ll be using for bees (Bobo and I are down for some Russians for Georgia), chicks (hatched baby chickens) (did you know chicks come shipped live in the mail) (it’s cool), blueberry plants, apple trees (holler for that Honey Crisp cross with a Gala) (dang!) and anything else we can get into this year.

I’ll confess I have not grossed $300 in knife sharpening, yet. So, we’ll have to dip into the old annual salary to get this year off the ground, but I’m using that as inspiration to press up my knife sharpening marketing.

Fifty free knives!

Tell your friends. One free knife to set the hook for an eternity of sharpness snobbery.

Eat smart,

Matt

PS. Let me know if you cook with cast iron. I’ve been doing some experimental research with seasoning and I think I might be onto something.

PSS. Lilly wants bees. I’m taking a course that blows my mind every week. Check out the Bees Knees category at my site for my collection of the most fascinating aspects of bees.

How to sharpen a machete

When I started using an Edge Pro, or even before I started using one, while I was shopping, I wondered how to do all the different types of blades, and if they were even possible to sharpen!

My own knowledge on sharpening has come a long way and with this blog I’m trying to record what I learn and share it so that others may learn as well.

I am beginning to show that knife sharpening is a worthy skill to provide a supplemental income to a family or homestead. I’m using it to fund an Applied Permaculture Project at home to provide the initial, and ongoing, capital for investment into an ever increasingly sustainable project.

A machete is one of many blades the Edge Pro sharpener handles well and in this video I show you how I do it. Take particular note to the long shallow primary bevel that is required to bring the 1/8th inch thick steel blade down to an edge. A shallow bevel like that is easy to fold over in an application like that which a machete gets used, so I added a secondary bevel. Not only does the secondary bevel add durability to the edge, as it gets sharpened over time it requires less material removal.  So, if you are an avid user of your machete, this technique can add time to the lifespan of the tool.

These techniques are also used on folding pocket and tactical knives. After several rounds of sharpening a flat ground blade you may notice reduced performance. One option is to ‘thin’ the blade, by removing bulk material at a shallow angle, and then apply that secondary bevel at a 21 degree, or so, half angle.

Lastly, and commonly confused, is the term ‘micro bevel’. There is no micro bevel on the machete. When I do kitchen knives I finish them at 600 grit and then remove any burr that is left using a ceramic hone. This effectively adds a micro bevel to the apex of the blade. Routinely using a hone on kitchen blades can add a lot of time between sharpening. After you’ve passed a kitchen knife over a hone 15-30 times the results will peter out and it’ll be time to put it back on the sharpening bench.

How I got my Marine Radio Operators Permit (MROP) or (MP)

There are a lot of ways to skin a cat, they say. Given the multitude of options with regard to obtaining one’s Marine Radio Operators Permit, here is the path I took, and I found it rather painless. I share my process to try to save you some time in research in the event you are at a point in your life where something like this might be warranted.

  1. I started at the FCC’s page to review the process and to understand how it works.
  2. I then printed out the question bank with the answers, found here, and saved a soft copy to my computer.
  3. I spent one morning reading and reviewing the question bank, circling the right answers on the printed out Word document.
  4. I found this site which offers free flash cards and practice tests, so I ran a few practice tests to see how well I retained my study of the question bank.
  5. Here’s where there are a lot of options. Testing. You can go somewhere to sit for a test, or do a test with an online proctor via webcam. Prices vary. I chose US Captain’s Training for their online version, and I think you should too.
    • At the time of this writing the cost was higher in the spectrum at $75.
    • They offer the same study material and require passing a practice test with a 90% to unlock the final exam.
    • You can take the practice test all you want.
    • Once the final is unlocked, you can take the final all you want, and you need to get a 75% to get the certificate.
    • They do put a 10 minute timer on the 24-question exam, but that’s no problem.
    • You can take it when you want and where you want, so long as you have the internet.
    • If you get stuck on one, or don’t trust your memory, you can lean on the CTRL-F feature in Microsoft Word.
  6. The instructions are straightforward from there, but once you have your certificate you have 90 days to get the paperwork done to obtain your license.

Good to go!

The Bees Knees Ep. 2

Continuing the collection of fascinating things about bees. Read more about the more the motivation for sharing this in The Bees Knees Ep. 1.

Jumping right in:

  • When getting into beekeeping you can buy bees as a package or as a nucleus hive. (You can also collect a swarm, which would be a badass way for a newbie to get on the scene.) The nucleus hives come with some frames of honey and brood, but if you buy a package, it will come with a queen in a little box, and a jar of sugar water.
  • Some beekeepers paint some of their hive bodies to make their hives look different from one another so that the worker bees will recognize what home is their own.
    • Bees see in a different color spectrum than we do, so red is a poor color to paint a hive body, because they don’t see red.
  • If you move the hive a short distance the bees won’t be able to find it. Two feet, you’re probably ok, ten feet and they’ll be totally confused and won’t make it home. Ten miles? No problem. With totally new terrain they know to fly an orientation flight.
  • This was a big one for me. Bees fly straight out of their hive and climb in elevation within about 10 feet. So, by orienting the hive you can control the bees potential interaction with personal space.
    • In the Applied Permaculture Project we are going to function stack with bees in the compost and chicken zone, which is near the house and living area, so we will orient the hives so that the bees fly out into the field, rather than toward the house or barn.
  • Swarming is a good thing, well, from the bees’ perspective. I had this jacked up before, but swarming is a split of the colony because it’s doing well. Sucks for the beekeeper, unless you can catch the swarm, and the new queen in the old hive is successful.
  • There’s a lot to know about the race of bees. Italians are popular but poor overwintering for us up north. Carniolans are a good option, but the Russians seem to be getting quite a lot of praise.
  • The smell of banana is similar to the alarm pheromone. Good to know. Don’t eat banana’s before the hive inspection.

That concludes my quick snapshot of fascinating things from week two of my beekeeping class.

 

The Bees Knees – Ep. 1

The class covers all the details; names, equipment, process, etc. But that’s not what THIS is about.

THIS is about the extraneous, fascinating things I’m learning about bees.

The class is a beginners beekeeing course taught by a local permaculturist. Though there is no “Permaculture Beekeeping”, the class is taught through the lens of the guiding principles of permaculture.

You know bees pollinate plants, and make honey and wax, and have become threatened by mites within my lifetime to the extent that mainstream media has picked up on it airing articles about Colony Collapse Disorder. So, they’re important, and very cool.

Surprisingly, my three-year-old daughter has expressed to us several times that she wants bees. In designing the Applied Permaculture Project on my homestead, bees are included in my list of function stacking ideas. But, since Lilly has asked for bees, we’re going to expedite their inclusion on our homestead.

For all the Internet geniuses out there, it’s worth emphasizing that I know approximately nothing about beekeeping. Hence, I’m taking a class to learn. Reading books serves a purpose, but pales in comparison to meeting with a dozen people for 6 weeks to discuss both the basics and intricacies of beekeeping, of which there are many! Like so many things, the more you learn, the more you realize you don’t know.

The ‘Bees Knees’ series will serve to highlight for you, the reader, the above-and-beyond awesomeness that is associated with bees. They are truly FASCINATING little creatures. By hitting the things I find particularly awesome I hope to inspire you to pursue your own study of the basics, and even consider keeping some of your own!

In no particular order, let’s dive into the FASCINATING things I extracted from the first of six, two-hour bee classes:

  • The individual bee is insignificant. It’s the colony that makes bees so spectacular. Like cells in the human body. I love systems, and bee culture is an amazing system.
  • Bees make glue. Propolis, it’s called. They coat their entire hive with it. It’s why beekeepers need a hive tool. Boring. A nuisance even. Until we discover that the propolis is the bees first layer of immunity. Apparently, people have been known to harvest it and chew it to combat colds and other minor illnesses. Don’t swallow it! I don’t know why, just don’t.
  • This isn’t the venue to discuss hive terminology, but the way you get a colony to build out comb is to give them a little (or a lot) of pattern to go off. They’ll build comb in every which way if you don’t guide them.
  • Organic honey? Nope. Bees are wild. They can travel in a 5-mile radius from the hive. Very few beekeepers have the resources to guarantee that their bees haven’t been dining on something non-organic. There’s some dude with an island off the East Coast of the US that can lay claim to the organic title, but that’s a rarity.
  • The Queen is really the mamma bee. She can lay up to 2000 eggs a day! She’s the only bee who doesn’t leave the hive to poop, the workers shuttle it out for her. She can live for years, which is eons compared to the worker bees who live for 6 weeks.
  • Drones are the dudes. They mate and die. Then the workers toss them out of the hive.
  • Communication: this stuff is far out. The ‘wiggle dance’. Sounds familiar, right dad? Anyway, the workers dance to tell their buddies where they got their latest dose of pollen. The dance is oriented relative to the sun, with the length of the wiggle dance being relative to how far away the food is, AND, the little chicks (worker bees are girls) have a little internal clock that can compensate for the sun’s position. WOW. I know. So hard to believe. Watch this.
  • More Communication: Pheromones. Smoke calms bees, right? Nope. It masks the smell of the pheromones. In the case of beekeepers, when you are perceived as a threat your little honey bee points its ass at you and flaps its wings while emitting a danger pheromone. Then all the workers join in to protect the hive. If you get stung you get pheromone too, which will attract more bees to sting you. Good to know.
  • Alas, mites. Varroa Destructor. Aptly named. Small red little guys that camp out on the bees. Their presence is not totally the problem, but rather that they serve as a vector for disease. We’re not totally sure that they are to blame for Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), it’s just that they were the trait that CCD hives had/have in common. Lots of smart people are thinking hard about this and to date, the solution has been to spray some stuff in your hive to treat for mites. The instructor of my class is one of the few who raises bees without chemicals and avoids plastic in the hive to the greatest extent possible. So here’s her argument, in my words. What if, the bees and the mites are going through an evolutionary dance as we speak? Maybe, by spraying our hives we are killing all the weakest of the mites, and allowing only the strongest to survive, in essence, expediting the evolutionary process that we think we want to stop. If evolution ran its course it is possible that the bees and mites would reach a point where they live symbiotically with one another. What if instead of spraying for mites, we encourage mites, and even introduce ones that have a track record of being capable to live with bees, and in turn, allow there to be no room for the nasty mites? Who knows, man. At least there is another side to that coin.
  • Lastly, on the note of plastic in the hive, to get bees to start to grow out comb beekeepers insert a little sheet call foundation. Currently those are all made out of plastic. The engineer/entrepreneur in me see this as an opportunity. You want it? Three-D printed foundations using beeswax in the additive printer. If we can print with titanium we sure as heck should be able to learn how to print with wax. Run with that, let me know how it goes.

Ok. It’s been real, folks. Stay tuned for next week’s update. For all you bee nerds out there please do chime in to correct me or add to the discussion.