"I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief.
For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free." ~Wendell Berry

Friday, July 6, 2018

A Full Tilt Boogie

W. C. Fields once said, "Never work with animals or children.  Sometimes, those little monkeys just don't behave the way that you were hoping for."  We were about to discover the wisdom in this quote.
After weeks of trying to schedule the "perfect" day (it seemed like the Universe kept working against us), Calvin and I finally decided Thursday, June 28th was going to be the *perfect* day - no clouds & no rain - to move them from the wood duck box to their new deep brood box.
Mr. Freeze and I had dutifully done our homework. I had purchased the "Beekeeping for Dummies" book and started reading.  I had bought a nice beekeeper's suit, with gloves and veil - always with an eye on the most important requirements - that is, prevention of bee stings.  I was peppering Calvin and others with questions, such as, "can I move them about 200' away from their current location"?  The response to which turned out to be a big, fat, "no", by the way.  Apparently, due to lots of reasons, you can only move them "3 feet or 3 miles".  So, 3 feet it was.
We purchased the minimum needed equipment (well, plus a few things), in order to get my little back-water hive moved.  One deep brood box for my itty-bitty hive of a few bees.  I even way over-paid for a smoker.  I was very nervous the night of June 27th and called Calvin at 8:20 P.M to let him know he could come much earlier than the originally planned time of 10 A.M. to start the move. I NEVER call people that late in the evening, but when Mr. Freeze informed it was going to be 94+ degrees on Thursday, I thought, "I'm going to die in that beekeeping suit", so I decided we needed to get an earlier start.
Calvin, being an 'early bird', arrived around 8:00 A.M. the next day and after loading up all our gear, and discussing our plan to make sure we all knew what we needed to do and when, we were ready to go by 8:30 A.M.  The temps were already climbing into the high 80's, so we waited until we got to the site before we suited up.  Mr. Freeze had mentioned setting up a video camera, but as the temps rose, not one of us remembered to set one up, so I didn't get any pictures of the actual move, but there are some of the aftermath below. 
Even at 8:30 A.M. though, the box still looked like this - bees hanging on the outside and flying in & out of the box.  The original plan was to first get another look inside to see what progress the bees had made since May 17, 2018.  Then, we would remove the flip side door (on the right hand side), the front and lastly the top with the hive attached and "just lay it all" right in the new deep brood box I had purchased.
Picture from May 17th.....you know -  *THE* picture that made us both think this was going to be really easy.

Calvin got his smoker going and started smoking the bees.  As the buzzing got very loud, the hairs on my neck stood straight up and the goosebumps on my arms grew.  I was sure Calvin knew what he was doing, but why do they sound so much angrier with smoke?  After unlocking the hinged door, Calvin got another look inside.....and he quietly said, "ummm, your bees have been very busy".
Not being able to see inside, I wondered, ok, what does THAT mean?  Calvin quickly instructed me to go ahead and remove the screws so we could take the side door off as planned, but I could tell...something made him change his mind about our original plan.  As we removed the side door, I realized - I no longer had a little backwater honeybee hive.  My little hive was ready to run with the big dogs - most of the combs you see in the above picture had grown to almost the full length of the box and they were swarming & seething with honeybees.  Somehow, my little hive had exploded in growth and there were now more than 60,000 honeybees in that wood duck box.
You know that part in Ray Stevens' song "The Streak", where he says, "Don't look, Ethel - but it was too late - she'd already been mooned!"?  Well, that's where we were at that point.  It was too late to turn back now and we were just going to have to make it up as we went along. 
The combs were too big and it was too risky to cut them up and put them in the empty frames that I had prepared the night before....all proud of myself -- even watching all the YouTube videos on how to do it! Too risky as we might accidentally kill the queen.  And by the way, my Queen rocks!  The combs were huge....8" wide and some were the full length of a brood box - 20" long.

There was capped brood everywhere and honey.  As I waited for Calvin to tell me the new plan, the bees - *MY* girls - were raging at the intrusion.  Two of them landed right on my veil at eye level and were wiggling, squirming and buzzing, trying to murder me. Your mind can play tricks on you when you're stressed - WAIT....is that a HACKSAW in her little hand??  Such a character-building event, as the old me would have run away screaming and swatting at them.  I somehow managed to refocus on Calvin and ignore the guard bees as they worked their way around my veil, intent on killing me, I'm sure.
Finally, Calvin pulled out his putty knife, and we began a full-tilt boogie. He began to cut out the combs and I found a position next to him on the tailgate of the truck where I could help him smoke the bees and hand him the tools he needed.  On his first trip down the ladder he stumbled, and I wasn't sure if it was because of the sweat dripping down into his eyes due to the heat or, in my lame effort to help, I was smoking Calvin more than I was smoking the bees.  Actually, I'm pretty sure I was smoking Calvin more than the bees.  When he took the smoker and added more smoke in the box, I confirmed - I had probably smoked him off the ladder, but he was too sweet to say so.  Every time HE smoked the bees, they buzzed louder - every time I smoked the bees, they laughed...and laughed.  *Sigh* ....need some adjustments here.
The bees were swarming, the heat was rising, my brain was overheating and I was trying to deal with the angry bees swarming around my veil....but Calvin kept his cool and cut comb after comb from the nest box and gently & calmly delivered them into the waiting brood box.  We even had to finally get a chain saw & cut down the post upon which the wood duck box was mounted, as the bees kept swarming back to it.
Things didn't go as we had planned, but in the end, it all worked out just fine, thanks to my bee keeping mentor and friend.  Thanks so much, Calvin - I couldn't have done it without you!
After overcoming the shock and heat, that evening I was able to get back to the hive with my camera and get some pictures.
This is a picture of the aftermath...
Day One:

The next day, I suited up and took another trip to visit my girls - they were using the feeder (above) and were calm again.  This is a closeup of the top after we removed the combs:

The box top 24 hours later - the bees were cleaning it off and reusing the wax.  Such clever girls!

The literature says, "when your first brood box is 85% full, it's time to add a second brood box".  After our experiences on 6/28, Calvin and I agreed - with all the comb he had cut out and placed into the box, we had easily reached the 80-85% full mark.  So, on Saturday, 7/1, we added a second brood box.  It was the first time I had had a chance to see the inside of the first brood box where Calvin had laid combs.  The bees had already started 'gluing' stuff up and putting their house back in order - now, how cool is that?
The first video from the Freeze Hive:
Tomorrow, Saturday July 7th, I'll do my first hive check - without my mentor.  At least I know how to use a smoker now.
For the back story on my honeybee hive, you can see more here: http://kathyfreeze.blogspot.com/2018/06/when-you-discover-you-have-wild-hive-of.html

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

The Bees, the Weed and Gardens

It is so extraordinarily hot here in southern Missouri, which makes it even more surprising that the native plants are blooming.  But yet, this has been the best year ever for my purple coneflowers and as the summer progresses, I'm seeing more & more of them.
The 7-year old Compass plant in this video is reported to have 16' roots - it's going to need them if this heat continues.  The black-eyed Susans, rattlesnake master, Queen Anne's lace, and so much more in this video are busting out in tons of blooms this year - in spite of the heat.

The sensitive briar is so pretty up close:

The native bees are really digging the butterfly milkweed.  Are those Mason bees?
At first, I was disappointed that 2/3 of the milkweed grant was comprised of butterfly milkweed, but after seeing all the native bees and the honeybees on it, I've changed my mind about it.  Thanks to Doris & Lin Altom in Houston, MO who gave me a truck-load of pots, I had enough to transplant the plugs and bury them in mulch for the rest of the summer. I'm still trying to figure out whether to transplant these to the fields in the fall or wait until next Spring.  Over 140 plants have been moved into pots - my sister, Karen Perkins came to visit from Louisiana, so I put her to work helping me transplant them into pots.  It's so much easier with a helper - and you can plant a lot of milkweed when you're planning your next trip to Yellowstone!
Butterfly and common milkweed
After creating a boxed-in screen for my basil to protect it from the Japanese beetles, it is also producing some really healthy leaves this summer. I love basil pesto, so I grow at least 3 plants a year. I've already made one harvest of the leaves.
My first time growing purple hull peas in Missouri, so I'm not sure what to expect. They haven't bloomed yet...maybe it's due to the different growing zone and they'll be late bloomers?  My stepfather, John, used to grow these and give me a few bags when I came home to Louisiana.  These peas are my favorite garden pea and I really need to learn how to grow them here. 
My new friends Doris and Lin - Master Gardeners from Houston, MO, gave me some Red-climbing spinach and I can't wait to try this!
We are bordering on melting here and really need some relief from the heat...and we haven't even reached mid-July yet.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

When you Discover you have a Wild Hive of Honeybees

This past January, I decided to check my wood duck box and take off the entrance reducer (used to prevent starlings from moving in), so that any investigating wood ducks could move in.  Imagine my surprise when I opened the duck house and was confronted with honeybee comb.  Luckily for me, it was cold outside and in my ignorance, I had opened a hive that could have immediately attacked me when I opened the door on any other day, but since it was cold, they didn't have the energy.  Sometimes, it's a benefit to be totally clueless.  Other times, not so much...but on this day it was.  I quickly pulled my hooded jacket tightly around my eyes and drew my hands back into my jacket like a turtle as I observed the comb and the 1" of dead honeybees on the floor.
I called my friend and fellow purple martin landlord, Calvin Cobb, in Hartshorn, Missouri who advised me to 'leave them alone until it warms up in Spring - and we'll see what's going on".  Leave them alone? Do you NOT know me?  So, on Feb. 15, I went to check on my bees.  I thought my pictures were kind of cool - hey, I have comb in a wood duck box!
I kinda felt like Sloth from "The Goonies", "Hey, you guys...I got bees..IN a WOOD DUCK box.... and I wasn't even trying!"
But this is 'everyday' stuff to the pros and my 3 or 4 little bees were kinda boring.  And, to be frank, I wasn't even sure I WANTED to keep bees - that is, as the beeks call it, "be a beekeeper". I'm ...well, I AM terrified of being stung. I don't NEED one more insect bite on my skin or something else to scratch and I have enough troubles with my dairy allergies.
So, I waited patiently for May to arrive, fully anticipating that this bee adventure was going to be a flop. But the honeybees had their own business to attend to and they kept trucking along....doing what honeybees do.

Finally, on May 17, 2018, we had the 'perfect' weather to open my wood duck box and see what my little backwater, redneck hive was up to.  I'm not sure what Calvin was thinking, but I was most certainly impressed!  So, this is what bees do with all that stuff they're gathering?
 I don't think Calvin had much hope for my little hive and I really didn't know what to expect. Sooooo, a trip to Hirsch Feed store in West Plains, MO and SOMEHOW, I am HOOKED and slowly transitioning to becoming a "beek".  My loving husband - my driver for, "you must educate yourself on this", ordered me a book from Amazon - "Beekeeping for Dummies" and dang...the more I read, the more I became hooked.  Who knew that bees had such an organized social structure.  Wow, this is fascinating stuff!
Then, my sister and I took a 4-wheeler ride to see what the bees were doing on June 16th. They were hot.  So was I.
As Calvin and I exchanged emails and phone calls, waiting for the perfect weather to move these bees, I continued to monitor them. "They're hot", Calvin said, "and they're trying to cool off", when I sent him the picture below.  We still had no idea what was waiting for us.
Finally, we were able to schedule THE day - today.  There would be NO cloudy weather or rain (which apparently makes honeybees VERY cranky) on June 28th.  Yes, Thursday, June 28th was going to be the REAL moving day for my girls. Never mind that it was going to be 92 degrees today.  Stay tuned for the rest of the story.  OMG, @ the expected heat!

Monday, June 25, 2018

PMCA Nest Cam is Up & Running!

The PMCA Nest Cam is up and running - what a thrill to be able to see LIVE what is happening INSIDE a nest.  The purple martin nest is located in Erie, PA. A house wren has been destroying their eggs, but the PMCA has now put up a separate nest box to attract the house wrens away (and hopefully, distract them from the purple martins' nest).  The mated pair now have 3 eggs that are due to hatch on July 1st!

Access the nest cam here at this link:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=any61aLAtc0

Be aware - if you click on this link, you not be may be able to complete any of the following tasks for the next 30-40 days:
- vacuuming;
- dish washing;
- sleeping;
- cooking;
- any other cleaning chores;
- shopping.

Good luck - you have been warned!  Wow, this is addicting and I'm LOVING it (yes, I'm a crazy woman)!

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Missouri Purple Martins - A Mid-Season Update

All the native wildflowers are in bloom, creating a fantastic palette of colors and fragrances and drawing in a variety of bugs - aka, "bird food".
Sensitive Briar
While some areas have suffered from drought and a lack of food for their purple martins, the deeper roots of our native wildflowers and grasses have resulted in blooms everywhere, attracting many varieties of bees, butterflies and other insects that I can't even identify.  Our birds are having a field day.  Literally....
Purple Coneflower

Indian Pink

Ohio Horsemint, Bee Balm and Butterfly milkweed
The variety of bugs the purple martins are bringing in are fascinating.  The best ID of the insect in the picture below that I could come up with is "Great Purple Hairstreak".  If anyone has a better ID, please let me know.
We have reached the part of the season where not only are the temperatures starting to soar, but the number of housekeeping chores for my birds as well.  One of the things I've learned about being a purple martin landlord is that if I do the required nest changes at the right times (ie, nestlings 12-16 days old), to rid the martin nests of their bedbugs, then I'll have less "jumpers".  Jumpers as in dehydrated, underfed and mite-stressed nestlings. This is the part of the season that I both love & hate - I HATE the heat, but I LOVE the experience and knowing I'm really doing something that contributes to the future health of mine and my neighbor's colonies.
From the PMCA website:
Tests conducted by the PMCA in the late 1980’s showed that only 44% of martin  nestlings in parasite-infested nests survived to fledging age, compared to 84% in parasite-free nests. The man who conducted those tests, James  R.  Hill,  III, stated, “The  difference might actually have been greater than what was measured, because the young raised in the absence of parasites seemed fat and healthy, and probably had a higher-than-average first-year survival rate, whereas the young subjected to parasites seemed thin and often sickly, making them less likely to survive after fledging.”

Read more here at the PMCA site about Nest Changes: https://www.purplemartin.org/uploads/media/how-why-to-do-nest-r-332.pdf

As of June 19th, I had 57 nests that needed a nest change. Yes, 57 nests.  I currently have 76 pairs (3 new since June 15th!), so a whopping 75% of all my nests need changing.  At first, I was shocked.  Then I was kind of thrilled. Then I was kind of overwhelmed.  In 95+ degree weather.  All due on the same day. This is the first season I've had where the majority of my nestlings are all around the same age at this point in the season.  The nightly return of fledges is going to be thrilling...and will also require some monitoring to deter hawk predation.

Taking an Evening Break - Purple Martins bathing at the pond.

With the heat index around 102 degrees (real temps around 92-93), I started on my first rack on 6/20 (12 nests out of 18 on that rack). When I lowered them, my eyes immediately zeroed in on 3 gourds that were almost grey-colored due to the overwhelming number of mites. I had to wonder how many of those rained down on me when I was lowering my racks.
Here is what a gourd looks like when it's overloaded with mites. You have to wonder, how can they even sleep at night with all those mites??
Troyer Horizontal gourd covered with an explosion of mites.
Special thanks to Betty Farthing Grigg on the PMCA Forum for the use of the photo above.

Special thanks to Courtney Rousseau of the North Carolina Purple Martin Group for providing the video below of a gourd infested with mites!

Nevertheless, I pushed through and with alcohol wipes and a cold-water hose, I managed to survive, even though it took almost 2 hours for my head and my body to cool back down.

Thankfully, the last 3 days have been a lot cooler as I worked through the remaining racks. After the first 2 racks, I was thrilled to find that only 2 nests out of 36 had lost a total of 2 nestlings.  The rest were very fat and healthy.  Even my 2 nests with 7 nestlings in the first two gourd racks were doing exceptionally well. Yesterday, when I finished up the nest changes on my last rack, I concluded that I have "fat baby syndrome" and it's consistent across all my racks. It also indicated to me that while I had initially lost a few martins at the beginning of the season - probably some to the owl and some to the hawks - the majority of my nests have 2 parents that are keeping up with the grocery shopping.  I did find one nest with 4 dead young, so I suspect the owl / hawks got both parents of those. Fortunately, it was only one. I also had mixed feelings over discovering 2 new nests with 4 & 5 eggs respectively. They will be hatching around July 5th or so and probably not fledging until end of July / beginning of August, meaning another extended season for me.
So, total pairs - 76 with currently 360 nestlings!  Hoping to maintain something close to that over the next few weeks.

Nest Change Tips:
1. Dabbing a small amount of vanilla extract around your eyes, nose and mouth will help keep the gnats away from those areas of your face.
2.  Check your tool box before you start your nest changes to ensure you will have the needed equipment within easy reach. The last thing you want to do is go digging around to find something while you're simultaneously swatting at mites & bugs and the sun is overheating your brain!
3. Soak 6-8 paper towels with 91% rubbing alcohol, store in a Ziploc bag and add them to your tool box. These will be handy for wiping down your hands, arms and the gourds when there are just more mites than you can bear.
4. Your son's old white, light-weight, big & baggy karate pants make excellent nest-check pants! They are cool, loose and you can kneel on the ground without all the itchy grass tickling your leg.
5. Always assume that whatever you touch after nest changes are completed will also become contaminated with mites until you thoroughly wash your hands and arms.  Filling a large bucket with water and a having a bar of soap nearby will provide you with some much-needed relief after a round of nest changes.
Check out this post from 2016 for a more detailed list of the tools in my tool kit:  http://kathyfreeze.blogspot.com/2016/05/nest-check-season-begins-and-sub-adults.html

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Milkweed, milkweed and More Milkweed

The common milkweed I planted on this bank is spreading!  Check out the video to see how much.

I was awarded this grant by Monarch Watch and now have all these milkweeds plants that need to be planted.  Check out the video below.
Don't know why I'm giggling at the end of the video.  

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Nest Checks, New Hatchlings and Nets

My last nest check revealed I have 73 pair so far, with a total of 84 gourds offered.  I continue to be amazed at the resiliency of the purple martin, especially since the Great Horned Owl persists with her attacks.  As an added challenge this year, I've also had a problem now with the Barred Owl attacking my tree swallow and bluebird housing.
But for now, back to my GHO update.  On the morning of April 30th, I became quite alarmed to see the GHO has, after 3 years with these cages, now figured out how to get up and inside to perch on the inside arms of the rack.
After 2 days or mourning and feeling sorry for myself, I decided to cowgirl-up and my husband and I designed a "cargo net" style bottom which would balance the need of the purple martins to both exit quickly when a hawk attacked as well as serve to keep the GHO out. With the mandatory requirement of it being "quick release" so that I could continue with nest checks, we purchased some polypropylene rope, zip ties, quick release clips and some garden stakes.  The first 'net' picture you see below has 14x12" holes in it - I can always adjust the size of these holes if the owl gets through, but since the owl's wingspan ranges from 36"-60", I'm hoping I don't have to change these.  The 4 long ropes are crossed by 6 shorter ropes, tied together using zip ties at each crossing.
I've put together the video below to show other landlords how the netting is connected to the cages and how it quick releases for nest checks.  I made a mistake in the video - the rope is called, "polypropylene".  :)

For the round racks, a different approach was used to the the netting.

While the owl has definitely made my nest checks a little more time-consuming, my husband has always helped me come up with ideas to enable me to keep doing them. Given the heat & humidity we experience here in Missouri during the summer, it's imperative that I know the ages of the kids, because inevitably, I will have a few nestlings that will either get knocked off porches or they will jump and I need to know in which nest to put them back.
New "pinkies"!
Photo taken by my friend, Lu Ann Coons at her colony site here in Missouri.
It was very apparent the nest in the video below had just started hatching.  While it's tempting to help remove the shells from the little, adorable nestlings, because their skin is still so delicate and could be still attached to the shell, I never 'help'. I let Nature take its course - the baby will be stronger for it and I avoid damaging him/her.