Sunday, May 22, 2011

Nice Flush of Shiitake Mushrooms

Last week I took the opportunity to soak a few of the mushroom logs I innoculated last year. After about 5 days of waiting the first flush has begun to emerge. These little fellows are delicious. Check 'em out.

Saturday, May 21, 2011


Apitherapy is the medical use of honey bee products. This can include the use of honey, pollen, propolis, royal jelly, and bee venom

Well in my case it relates solely to the use of bee venom. A little over a week ago I started having lower back problems again. Not to bore anyone with my medical history but my lower back hurts and makes regular life quite difficult when it begins to act up. I, unlike most people, have ready access to honeybee venom. I limp out to the apiary in the front yard, grab a half dozen worker bees one at a time and hold them to my waistline above the spot where the pain is. Generally it takes only a second or so until the bee stings me. I leave the stinger in for about 5 minutes to deliver the entire venom load and it's warm (albeit temporary) relief. People look at me incredulously when I tell them about my treatments. "You did what?!" is the typical comment. I respond by telling them that pain, if severe enough, is a potent motivator to try new methods of treatment. I have no systemic allergy to bee stings and it's important to mention that until you know if you do, intentionally stinging yourself with bees is a potentially lethal thing to do. The sting from a single bee, if you have an undiagnosed allergy, can lead to anaphlaxis and death without prompt medical attention. For the vast majority of people though, bee stings are a painful, itchy nuisance but that's all. I have found relief from some of my back pain through the use of bee stings. Apparently the pain is relieved by the bodies' reaction to the area of the sting. The effect is similar to acupuncture in that you are stimulating the body's own systems to relieve pain.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Donielle in the Bees

Now here's something you don't see everyday. Donielle in the bees! It's a little known fact that not only does she handle most of the marketing and delivery for Fern Hill Apiary but she's also a very capable beekeeper in her own right. I recently found myself out of commission due to back problems. Since the nectar flow waits for no man (or woman) Donielle threw on her veil and added honey supers. To my great surprise the honey supers I put on just last week were all full and nearly completely capped. It has been a banner year for black locust blooms. One of the best blooms I've ever seen. Often you'll get a decent bloom but then a couple days of rain washes the nectar out of them and it's all for naught. This looks to be a good honey harvest year.

Last week I got a call at work from Donielle saying one of our colonies was swarming and that she was going to split them. A split is nothing more than making one colony into two. By the time I got home she had the new split moved into a different bee yard and the bees were getting oriented to their new home. Kudos D!


Successful Apple Grafts

Last fall I tried my hand at grafting fruit trees for the first time. I purchased (10) M-7 apple root stocks from One Green World ( in Oregon. I have Gravenstein and Esopus Spitzenburg heirloom apples that I'm training to a trellis in the front yard (a technique known as espalier).

I took several branch trimmings from each tree and grafted the leaf buds from them onto the root stocks. The union where the scion (the trimming from the tree you hope to grow) meets the root stock must be sealed to hold the graft in place and hold moisture so the union doesn't dry out. I used Parafilm tape but you could also use beeswax, string, or plastic food wrap. Success or failure is determined by whether the buds begin to leaf out in the spring. Well, I'm happy to report that the majority of the grafts did take and have leafed out very nicely. My goal is to graft at least three and hopefully four varieties of apple onto each root stock and to espalier these as well. Five of the trees are planted in buckets because I hope their eventual home to be the orchard in my son's former school, Mountainside Montessori.

Note: Grafting isn't difficult but it does require a little technique. If you're interested in trying it I'd recommend a grafting workshop hosted by someone who has done it. If that's not an option you could learn it as I did from any of the excellent videos on YouTube.


Monday, May 9, 2011

A Very Large Swarm of Bees

While I was out in the garden on Mother's Day a very large swarm of bees departed one of the hives and began to settle down on a small oak tree in the yard. The swarm was way above my head but I was able to capture it by setting up some scaffolding and then placing a step ladder on top of that. I took two nuc boxes full of wax foundation and placed it on top of the ladder and then shook the swarm down into the box. Well, that was the plan. I ended up shaking about 1/3 of the swarm onto the front of my shirt but I didn't receive a single sting. After a few hours the bees were completely inside the boxes I had set up for them and I moved them over to the main apiary after dark.

This was pretty large as swarms go. It was about 4 feet long and I'd estimate it to weigh around 4lbs. I was very happy to have recaptured them. They should have the new boxes of foundation completely drawn out in a few days. Swarms are comb-drawing machines!


Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Life and Death...We all have to eat.

So the Friday before Easter our last remaining hen hatched out 6 new chicks. One of the chicks died shortly after hatching which is quite common but the remaining 5 are plugging along. I put them in the pasture shelter in the front yard and momma takes them all under her wings at night and keeps them warm. They're very cute and a lot of fun to watch. The little ones learn a lot from watching mom. She'll find bugs for them and crunch the bug so it can't get away and drop it in front of them. They compete totally and run around with food in their beaks trying to keep it away from their siblings until they can eat it.

Well, the only problem with being a cute little chick is that a lot of things would like to eat you too. Donielle came home today to find the turkeys going nuts and momma hen squawking like crazy. She went over to find a medium-sized black rat snake had taken one of the chicks. Black snakes are constrictors who normally eat mice, birds, and bird eggs. A tiny little chick is right on the menu. The snake had already suffocated the chick so Donielle removed the snake with the chick still in its coils and took it into the woods to finish its meal. I've heard of people taking mice and rabbits away from snakes to 'punish' them. That's ridiculous. Snakes consume many, many mice that would otherwise get into everything we hold dear. Mice are cute in someone else's house but not in one's own. I'd much rather have the snake. Anyway...this photo shows the snake just finishing up. The 'bulge' is quite prominent. I'll miss the little chick but we all have to eat. Snake 1 Chick 0