New Term

Apr. 17th, 2012 10:56 pm
tanarill: (Default)
I have sadly neglected you, the people who follow my journal. This is bad, because wonderful Things have happened.

1. It is no longer That Holiday. It is, in fact, the eleventh day of the Omer, which is one week and four days into the Omer.

2. My schedule has worked out such that I get to go home on all the weekends. Last weekend, it was kind of drizzly Friday like we get only rarely in California, and then it cleared up a little, and I saw a rainbow. :D

3. Today, I was given a plant. The internets told me that the greenhouses (which apparently we have) were doing an open-house. So I went, and got a tour of their rare orchids, and on the way out they gave me a plant. I was going to refuse, being as I kill plants, but the options were cacti, which survive without water, and milkweed, which has weed in the name. I took the milkweed, because butterflies.

4. I went to a seminar. I shall not explain, save to say that it's a new approach to drug design. A wild and crazy wacko approach, but one which seems to get previously-impossible results. So there is that.

5. The one about the AIDS. I'll explain later.

6. Bees! On lupins!

. . . And many other interesting biogeek Things.



Feb. 10th, 2012 10:36 pm
tanarill: (Default)
So today I went to talk to Awesome Stella about a thing. As I was returning, I noticed a bee on the floor.

See, bees are not very good at controlling body temperature. They are tiny and have a lot of surface area in comparison, so they loose heat fast. The thing is, they cannot fly unless their wing muscles are above a certain temperature. In order to overcome the issue of loosing heat and being thus unable to fly, they have evolved a way to decouple said muscles from wing movement, which acts like an internal shiver and heat them up.

But the way the building is laid out, there is this hallway which is open to the ocean breeze and mostly in shadow, which is to say, always cold. The little girl was lying on the (concrete) floor right in the middle, trying to heat herself back up. I saw this and noted she'd die of hypothermia if she stayed where she was, and offered my finger to taxi her over to the sunny table area instead. She was most grateful, standing on my finger and grooming off dust and tickling a little. So cute!
tanarill: (Default)
Bad tan, bad! Dropping off the face of the earth, and everything. Oh well.

Today is the forty-fifth day of the Omer, which is six weeks and three days into the Omer. Four more days until Cheesecake Holiday! \o/ You should all eat cheesecake, and thereby be religious.

What am I up to? A few things.

First is that our grill caught fire. I am aware that grills are supposed to have fire, but not on the outside, a foot tall. This happened several months ago, but it was as winter-ish as SoCal gets, so it did not bother us much. But it was Memorial Day weekend, so on Sunday Panda and JJ and I went shopping, and acquired a grill on sale. Then on Monday, JJ and I put it together, with some shouting, but mostly the instructions were pretty good. And then we made hot dogs and corn on the cob and kebabs. Now, I know what you're thinking: tan, you are thinking, are hamburgers not more traditional? And the answer is yes, but we had no hamburger buns, so we decided to make them hot-dog shaped. And since they were going to approximately the right shape anyway, and we had kebab mix . . .

That was Monday. On Tuesday I did exactly nothing.

Tits Under Here )

Today, I did a hive cutout. This is what one does when the bees are living in an established hive in a wall, or something like that. These are the most aggressive bees, because they have a home and young to protect. It involves first removing a section of wall, and then using a knife to cut the comb so it fits in the frames of a standard hive, and then closing the wall back up.

This one was in a kind of pillar-like column, but the structural pillar was tiny and the feature was bigger, so there was a space between the two that had not been properly filled and sealed. As a result, the bees found a way in and built up inside there. The owner said that they'd been there for six weeks, but from the amount of hive in that hive, it was more like 18 months to a year.

These were amazingly, ridiculously docile bees, for having their home invaded. They were pretty much totally calm while we ripped open the wall of their house, stole their babies (and killed some of them :<), and dropped their honey everywhere. They really only got aggressive when we started to literally scoop them into a cup and dump them in the new hive.

Which is not to say they were not stinging. I was wearing leather-palmed gloves, and doing most of the comb cutting, and they kept stinging the leather. This didn't hurt me, of course, and I was all, "D: Don't do that, you're going to . . . die. Damn." This is because bees have a little venom sac attached to the stinger, which is pulled out of the bee when the stinger sticks in something and continues to pump venom into the sting. Having a bit of their insides pulled outside is . . . not good for them. But after a while, I had bees climbing all over the gloves, not to sting, but to lick up the honey I'd spilled. Such cute little probosci!

Then I went to go scoop some bees, and one stung me on the back of my gloves, which is ventilated elastic cloth. The sting, or course, went right through. I'm proud to say my reaction was not to drop the cup off bees I was holding, which would have pissed them off more, but finish with that, and then announce I'd been stung and excuse myself to remove the stinger/venom sac. It is important, when stung, not to grab the stinger and pull it out, since that just injects everything in one go. Instead, get something (like a credit card) under the venom sac, and then in one smooth motion flick it up and away. The glove was useful with that, since there was already the cloth there that I could just pick up to remove the stinger. Then I went and put baking soda on it, which is supposed to relieve pain, although really it stopped hurting after a few minutes anyway. Next time, I think instead I will go suck on the puncture, to get some of the venom out. Anyway, all told, I'd have to say that it's really not as bad as you may have been led to believe; it hurts about as much as getting a shot, and like getting a shot, after the initial stabby pain it becomes more of a bruised-achy feeling.

Anyway, after I came back Danny and the other beekeeper who showed up, Eric, were still trying to get at the bees behind the structural support. Eventually we had to remove the other side, which was completely rotten and explained how the bees had gotten in. After we got maybe 90% of the bees, we closed up the hive and put it nearby. We didn't see a marked change in where the bees were going, but Danny said that when he went back later to get it, they'd all gone to the hive. So we got the queen, and because there are baby bees to care for they are less likely to just randomly leave.

And now I have been stung, and am thus officially a beekeeper XD
tanarill: (Default)
My Omer-counting is crap this year. Oh well. Today (that is, the day that began at sunset) is the nineteenth day of the Omer, which is two weeks and five days into the Omer.

Dan and I did some swarm trap-outs, which is what happens when we arrive after the swarm has moved into its new home (like in your wall where you do not want it!) but before it's gotten settled. You find where the hole through which they are getting in and out is, and put this one-way trap on. The bees can leave but not go back in, so they hang outside the entrance. The hive keeps sending out more bees, since no pollen/nectar is coming back and the hive needs those. Eventually, the hive is so depopulated that the queen comes out. To facilitate this, we also put a swarm box near the hole, with the comb and honey inside. The bees smell it and go, "oh, there is home" and then, hopefully, move in. And we get some bees.

Other thing: I might get a summer job at the company where the Panda works, doing things with IR, fuel sampling, and depending on amount of stuff to do, metallurgy. So I'd have less free time (boo hiss) but more money (yey).

Feeling kind of blah. [shrugs] Oh well.
tanarill: (Default)
But first, the Omer. Today is the tenth day of the Omer, which is one week and three days into the Omer.

Now, bees!

Dan is being quite an awesome bee-mentor, and therefore yesterday he took me along for some bee-related stuff. First we went up to one of his apiaries to do hive inspections. This apiary is located on a ten-acre property owned by a Very Rich Person. Said VRP has two horses and a BIG house. (VRP's neighbor is a train enthusiast, but unlike the rest of us who just get models, he has a full-size train on a circular track on his property. Crazy rich people.) Anyway, the rest of this property is organic avocados and oranges, and it backs up to a mountain, so there is lots of forage for the bees.

We suited up in our bee suits, and went to the hives. There were three of them already, and e brought a swarm in a box to add a fourth. I shall name them from left to right, like this:

1 2 x x 5 6

This is because there is room on the support stand for two more hives than are currently present.

Here I'm going to make a note on hive "boxes." There are six standardized sizes for hives, and they work like this: all 10-frame boxes are 19 7/8" by 16 1/4" in area, but differ in height. A deep box is 9 5/8" tall, a medium is 6 5/8", and a shallow is only 5 11/16". (I'm aware these measurements are kind of odd, but they are all based on "bee space," which is something I will cover in another post.) There are also 8-frame boxes, which have the same length of 19 7/8", and the same three standard heights, but are only 13 3/4" wide. As the name implies, they hold 8 frames, instead of ten. The reason for 8-frame hives is that a honey-filled 10-frame medium box weighs about 55 lbs; an 8-frame, by contrast, only weighs about 44, and is more manageable for the hobbyist.

The different sized boxes are for different purposes. A commercial hive will typically be one or two deep boxes for bees to raise bee larvae, plus medium and small boxes for bees to store honey. That way, we can take the honey off without bothering the baby bees. In hives where the primary purpose is not honey but pollination, they are often just the deep boxes, which makes moving them around much easier. Hobby beekeepers have more flexibility, and can put hives in whatever size boxes they want. I plan to use only medium boxes, which will be lighter for me to pick up and more interchangeable.

Back to our escapades. First, we had to add extra support to the stand. It was sagging in the middle. Cinder blocks are nice cheap replacements for expensive supports. Also, oil-based ant traps to keep the ants out of the honey.

Then we inspected hive 6. She (all hives are females) is an excitable hive, buzzing around even while we were just adding cinder blocks. Her workers were busily coming and going with pollen and, presumably, with nectar. But when we opened her up she immediately went all "alarm buzz!" and "fly at the intruders." We smoked her a little, though, and she quieted right down. She was the result of a cutout and not a swarm catch. This means that she'd already found a place to make a hive, and was building comb. Dan had to cut the comb and put it into frames, held with rubber bands. But bees do not like rubber bands, and so they chew at it to try and get it out. Since she'd attached the comb to the frames, we removed the rubber bands. Maybe she will calm down now!

Hives 1 and 2, by contrast, were only mildly nonplussed by our intrusion. Hive 1 is inside a deep and doing well, and is about ready for a new box. (The rule of thumb for bees is that when they have built out comb in 80% of the box they are in, it is time to give them a new box.) She had built out 8 frames of her box. Dan had put some wax on another two frames, and she had not touched those. Maybe she is a purist and doesn't like foreign wax. Whatever the reason, we took the wax out and shuffled the frames around, so that the empty ones were closer to the middle. Hopefully, she will build them out now. Unfortunately, we did not have another box with us, and she still needs it. Dan will have to give her a new one soon, though, or she will feel crowded and try to swarm.

Hive 2 was in two deep boxes, but Dan had done a silly thing and only put three frames in the top box. The bees had filled that up, and then gone: "there are no more frames, but there is still room in here" and attached their comb to the hive cover instead! We didn't want to disturb them too much - they had built gorgeous comb - but we do want them to build in the frames. So we did a cutout and shoved some of their comb into a frame; they should attach it in a few days, and then we can take the rubber bands off and leave them in peace. That was only one of their three combs, so we will have to go back again with more frames and do more cutouts. However, we must wait at least four days. Hive inspections disturb the bees, and if we do too many they will get fed up and leave.

Hive 5 was the one we'd brought, so we didn't inspect it. Rather, we just opened it so bees could go in and out and get used to their new home. Then we left to go swarm catching.

The first place we went had called on Wednesday about a swarm, but denied there being one when we arrived. We looked all around, and while there were bees foraging around in the shrubbery, we found no swarm at all. So much for that!

The second place had a beautiful swarm, hanging off a pine branch maybe sixteen feet up. It turns out a swarm catch is really easy. You put the swarm-catching box right under the swarm, and then using a bee brush, brush them off the branch and into the box. A whole bunch of them flew, but we got the queen; once we put the box down, they all started to come down and march into like a tiny and well-organized Exodus. Bees in a swarm, since they have no hive or honey or brood to defend, are very docile and unlikely to attack at all. I was in jeans and a T-shirt, and standing less than a foot away they completely ignored me. After about 20 minutes, we had probably 90% of the swarm, so we closed up the box and headed back. They should like their new home, anyway. We put some comb and not-yet-honey in to make them feel welcome.

Then I came home, took a short nap, and made tuna casserole for dinner. All in all, a nice successful day.
tanarill: (Default)
It is after sunset, which in Judaism is counted as tomorrow. My last post was also after sunset, so ought to have been the sixth day of the Omer. Today is the seventh day of the Omer, which is one week into the Omer. (Six more weeks to Cheesecake holiday).

Now, bees!

I have found a beekeeper mentor! His blog is online at He has lots of hives, and keeps getting called out to remove swarms, which are like extra free hives to beekeepers. Californian bees get an earlier start, so the wild colonies are swarming. They do not have the pedigrees that a "bred" queen does, but the bees make good honey :) They are more likely to leave just because, though. Most of the wild colonies around here are apparently Africanized or descended from Africanized bees, and that's one of the things they are known to do. So we shall have to be extra careful to make sure the bees do not feel crowded or threatened.

I went to Dan's house. He has a beautiful house with a massive (for California) yard, and a beautiful wife, and a big bouncy full-size poodle dog without the ridiculous poodle hair-cut. He has a big garden and some fruit trees (oranges, peaches, and tangellos), which he says the bees are causing to thrive, and also he keeps free-range chickens from which they collect eggs. He showed them to me, and while some were white or brown like you'd expect, some are blue and even pale green.

But bees. First we did some crush-and-strain honey harvesting, which is where you mash the comb up and let the honey drain through a sieve and cloth filter. The mashed-up wax stays behind. Later, you can put the wax out near the hives and the bees will clean it out much better than mere gravity, and then you have wax to melt and do . . . whatever you want with, really. This method is obviously more destructive, because you broke up all their hard working building the wax comb. There is a much less destructive method that uses centrifuges to fling the honey out of the frames, and then you can then put them back in the hive, but it requires a pretty big setup; crush-and-strain just needs two buckets and some cheesecloth and something with which to mash up the comb.

Then, while the honey was percolating, we built a hive box. They come in kits, so really it is just assembling. The sides have box jigs on them, so we glued and nailed them together. I learned how to use a compressed air nail gun. Then we made some frames to go in the hives, so the bees will build out some wax. These are also glued and nailed together, but it doesn't have to be very exact. Bees don't care. Finally, we went and did a (small) hive check, with me using a spare suit. Dan is from the Netherlands, and all his bee suits are sized for him, while I am tiny; I was swimming in suit! Clearly I shall have to get a bee jacket. Anyway, the swarm hive we were going to put in the box had flown off just because, as Africanized bees do. We added the leftover workers to another hive, where they might not be accepted but then again just might. Oh well, now at least he has a box to put a different hive in.

By this time, a bunch of honey had gone through, so we got some. Yum-yum, unprocessed be barf.

That was my first bee experience. No stings, even without a smoker. Dan did a cutout collection of a wild hive living in someone's birdhouse on Caturday, but of course it was Shabbat so I could not go. But I will be able to go elsewhen, and he seemed to like my "I've never done it before but there is a first time for everything" attitude, so I think this will be good.

Now if only I can get permission to keep bees at the university, or in this housing subdivision . . .


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