Baby swarms are still swarms

And even baby swarms can be a massive pain in the ass. Case in point: yesterday while I was out feeding some of the hives (as they are getting established), I noticed some oddball behavior in front of a couple of the hives. It was getting toward dusk, and at first I thought it was just all the troops returning for the evening. Looking around, though, I saw some flying activity about 25-30 feet east of the hive stands near the Japanese maple in the beeyard. I wandered over to take a look, and at first didn’t see a thing, but closer inspection revealed a baby swarm, no larger than a grapefruit, hanging from a branch just barely over my head. Hooray for easily reachable swarms. Boo for swarms that are very small and thus unlikely to survive if they are too late in the season. It’s still hot as the surface of the sun here, and we have a long season anyway, so I decided to go ahead and drop them into a box. Then the weirdness began.

As I was setting up, I noted that there seemed to be a great deal of fighting going on within the little cluster of bees. I pulled the branch toward the box I’d put on the ground, gave the branch a quick shake, and dropped them. I followed up by gently brushing the bees that didn’t fall off on their own. But, alas, they all flew right back up and I knew then that I had not caught the queen in the drop. I gave them a few minutes to recluster, and then dropped them again. This time, they stayed put in the box and I started to hunt for the queen. Then, more weirdness: the fighting because even more brutal and there were a ton of bees swirling around – far more than could be accounted for by the swarm alone. It seems to have been some kind of war, or possibly attempted robbing (as I’d put some recently extracted, but cleaned, frames into the box), and it was just like a war zone.All this time, I was hunting the queen, and finally found her in a ball of bees trying to kill her – another oddity, and nothing I’d ever seen before in this particular situation. I managed to catch and mark her, and put her into a queen cage so as not to let any of the bees kill her, because who wants to just give up on a queen?

I wound up moving the frames with the comb away from the swarm box itself, but they showed no signs of slacking up, so I covered the swarm bow and kept the top cover braced open just a tiny bit, hoping the attacking bees would go home, and the swarmed bees would join their queen in the box. Just before real darkness got here, I moved the swarm box over to the area in front of the barn, to try to stop the battling that was simply leaving an enormous number of dead bees on the ground. I closed them up for the night, and left them.

Today, first thing (before I had to haul off to the NOC) I checked the queen: she was still alive, with perhaps two dozen bees left, hanging out with her. I couldn’t do anything with them just then, and it was not until this evening that I managed to get back out there, thanks to work. Since it was quite clear the queen would not have enough subjects to hive them by themselves, I pulled two frames of brood and workers from another hive, put them in, got the queen and the remaining attendants over to the top of frames I’d put in a second box above the brood box where the transferred frames were, put some feed on, and buttoned up the hive for the night. I’m hoping the transferred workers will simply continue to do their jobs in taking care of the brood on the frames, and in a couple of days, I’ll release the queen manually as they should be used to her pheromone by then.

Did I mention that it was in the upper 90s(F) both yesterday and today while I was out there, with a heat index of 104-108F?

I hope they stay. And I hope I’ll be able to figure out which hive of mine that little ball of bees came from, if they are indeed from mine. I checked some of the more active hives after I had gotten the queen into a hive with the rest of the hives on the stands, but none of them seemed to be in any dire need of more room, they had plenty of stores, and in general seemed fine. I will need to do a deeper inspection on some of the hives – actually, it’s time to do a full, deep inspection on all of them as we head toward fall – to gauge their relative health, and perhaps find which of the hives had this tiny swarm emanate.

Where have you been??!!??

It was a long July and the first part of August has been as well. We’ve been rearranging servers t the NOC, trying to stay ahead of the weeds (and failing badly), and yesterday I had 15ml of fluid sucked out of my face under my right lower jaw because I have a huge lump there. It doesn’t sound like much, but that isn’t a very large area, and even 5ml would be a huge amount. Not nearly the same as the almost 2L I had aspirated from my right lung a few years ago, but just as painful even with some lidocaine. On the plus side, it was an ultrasound-guided aspiration, and I got to watch it on the screen, so that was pretty cool.  I can tell the fluid was adding some padding to the bulge, because now I’m left with hard lumps instead of kind of squishy ones. It will be back to the doc to see where to go from here. I’m really hoping to not have to have myself sliced up again, but if that’s how it goes, that’s how it goes.

In the meantime, I’m trying to tend my bees – a very small hive I was babying along vamoosed at some point in the past week – and with my sister’s help, trying to get the weeding done everywhere and plastic down to solarize the rows and not have to spend half my time yanking up weeds. For years now I’ve tried to come up with some kind of mulching system that is not hideously expensive, is easy both to maintain and plant through, and that would not cook the roots of the plants when we have three straight months of 100F weather. My thought is to pull back the top layer of soil in each row, maybe six inches or so, throw a layer of hay down, cover that back with the soil, put black plastic on top of that, and then a heavy layer of hay on top of that. The plastic should keep out the humongous numbers of weeds that don’t care what the weather is like, I can punch through plastic easily enough to plant/transplant, the under layer of hay will act as a water wick and retain moisture for the plants,  and the top layer of hay will keep the plastic from becoming an in-frame broiler and help retain the underlayer’s cool/moist combo. This is the theory, anyhow. I hope it works, as it would make life much easier around here.

I have five flats in the barn under the lights: primarily tomatoes and peppers – the peppers took a direct hit from pests while I was down with pneumonia over Memorial Day and they never recovered – some onions, leeks, and brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower). The latter will go under some shade cloth after I get that rigged. I’m also working on rigging shade barriers for the height of the season to go along the frames to help with the insane heat we’ve been having down here. A check of my weather station records, and the notes I’ve kept from before I had a weather station tells me each summer is getting hotter, longer, than the previous one. This year, we hit 100F before the end of May, and that has lasted right to this week, where we are averaging about 93F. The issue with such high heat for things like tomatoes is that we also have high humidity. This causes the pollen to clump, so the plants may grow, and often will also flower, but fruit set is poor, as pollination is more difficult in these conditions. Rigging some shade to take the brunt of the west/south sun may help that (at least I’m hoping it will – only testing will show if it does, so that’s what we’ll do).

My hiatus from social media is still on, and life is much better for it, I must say. I’ve also stopped going to various news-related web sites to avoid getting into time-sucking, useless commentaries with people I don’t know (and in many cases, wouldn’t care to). This has also been a good thing, and I’ve stuck to reviewing headlines at Google news and just zipping in to quickly read an article without getting drawn into commenting on anything.

Life at the ranch continues: the world spins, and we with it, doing the best we can with what we have.

Things that bug me, part whatever

“Nothing more detestable does the earth produce than an ungrateful man.” – Ausonius

Being ungrateful and disloyal – not blindly loyal, mind you, but disloyal to people who have treated you beyond well – are two things that annoy me considerably. Some days (or weeks), I really do question why in the world we go out of our way to do all the extras we do for people when we get those things chewed up and spat back out at us as people give lip service to thanking us for everything we’ve done while they sail out the door without ever bothering to discuss options with us before doing so, even when they have been perfectly happy for a decade or more. It is disheartening and depressing to go through, and very stressful in some ways.

Exploring Planet NoSocialMedia, Day 6

I’m closing in on a week without the usual social media haunts of mine, and I have to say: it feels pretty damned good. I hit up the headlines on a handful of sites just a couple of times a day, and STAY AWAY from the comments.  Today I didn’t actually check the news until mid-afternoon, and that felt pretty fine, too. I’m quite happy to have avoided all the gnashing of teeth and rending of garments over the last few days especially.

What have I been doing instead? Writing! Mostly. I’ve also pulled a bunch of weeds, sorted out some things on my desk, cleaned out my inbox piece by piece, done some reading, worked (of course – something has to pay the bills until the writing does), and in general have been quite productive without the whirlpool of suck that is social media.

If you have it in you, and you want to get more done without the stress various social media outlets create (yes, they do) or just want to relax and do nothing, you could do worse than significantly scaling back the time spent on those. That isn’t to say there should be none in your life – after all, most people are not like me, content to live in their own heads most of the time – but I bet if you timed how long you’re on, you’d be astonished at the reality of the amount of time spent there versus what you think you spend there. I was. Real life is much more delicious with less of that particular seasoning.


I am not a Scorpio

I’m a Pisces, astrologically speaking, if you’re into that sort of thing. But I had a visit from a member of that group. An actual member.

Scorpion, now deceased

The most common one we see at the ranch is the Hentz striped scorpion – that’s the critter above. It’s the most common of the three types found in Florida, as it happens, and none of the three are lethal. Their stings can be painful on the scale with a wasp or hornet sting, though. How do I know this?

Because that critter there got me, twice, the other night when I went to bed. Somehow, it got into the house. Then, somehow, it made it to my room. After that, somehow, it managed to crawl up into my bedsheets. When I laid down, it went under the sleeve of my shirt, near my armpit, and, feeling threatened at that point by the motions of my arm and the tightness of that space, proceeded to sting me. Twice. I couldn’t figure out what the hell was going on at first – I thought perhaps I’d carried a bee with me all day long and she’d finally had enough, but when I hit the flashlight app on my phone and looked, there it was. I flung it on the floor, and let me tell you this: those things can move fast.

It was just shy of three inches long. Was is the operative word, as that scorpion, like the parrot, is no more. But it did give me the creeps and now when I finally get to bed, at whatever oddball time that is, I have to scout around to make sure no other visitors from that particular clan are looking to abuse my hospitality by invading my house.


Exploring Planet NoSocialMedia, Day 1

Some months ago, I told myself to pare back on the timesink known as facebook. I’d been doing really well, too, although I’d not gotten around to doing some of the things I planned to do, which was the reason I dropped facebook in the first place.  I don’t count this as a total fail, because I did get some rather deep introspectional type stuff done to clear up some things in my head that will help me forge ahead with these other things I want to do.

However, I wound up back on facebook as a place to vent after a few events (one of which was the horrifying massacre of 49 people and the wounding of scores of others at a gay nightclub in Orlando) and got sucked in again, resulting in more and more time there, wasted.

But! During the last few days of June, I made it known that I was going to live on Planet NoSocialMedia for the month of July, and perhaps even longer.  It’s slightly easier for me, as the only ones I actually participate on are twitter (not much), instagram (not much except pics from the ranch), and facebook, the ultimate alien-like, face-humping, time-wasting monster.

Today is (still, as I type this) July 1. I have not ventured off Planet NoSocialMedia today. I also have not written anything today. I think this will be all right, though, as I had to get some other things cleared out of the way after having a couple of days of forced rest thanks to some physical issues that cropped up.

Now, we head into Day 2. The goal: continue to work at things that need to be done at the ranch, but also meet a very basic step in the workout to rebuild those writing muscles. A mere 250 words, or about one page of a typeset book, is the target. We all learn to crawl before we can walk, and walk before we run, after all. I firmly believe that trying to start off with some huge goal, right off the bat, after years (ok, decades) of not pursing my art would be like the people who make resolutions to go to the gym, show up on January 2, vastly overwork themselves even though they are not used to working out, then find the next day they can barely move, so they wind up not going to the gym as they resolved to do, slipping back into old habits, only to do the same thing again the next year. I don’t want that, so that is not the way I’ll pursue it.

More to come, my dear readers who swing by every so often. Take care of yourselves.


As many of you know, I moved out to the very edge of the biggest city in the area – technically, just across the county line into a town that is both unincorporated and unknown to most people even if they live around here. Now, while I love life at the ranch, with all the ups and downs that go with it, there is one thing, above all else at this moment, that I miss dearly about living closer to civilization.

High speed internet access.

Now again, as most of you know, I run a business that is internet-based (well, one of the businesses is). While satellite is ok, it is definitely not high speed. It is also terribly unreliable, and in a place where we receive reasonable amounts of rain, generally speaking, it leads to signal loss. There is also the problem of the satellite just deciding to cut out for no apparent reason at all. We have endured outages when there isn’t a cloud in the sky, and when there is a stronger than usual breeze, as if the signals are blown out of alignment by the wind.

Over the years, we occasionally check to see if any of the usual providers have made it out here. We know that Comcast has a loop on a pole about 700′ from the house. So we went on their site to determine if service was available, and while the first guy said there was “nothing remotely” in our area, the second guy who called a day later said what we knew: there’s a loop 700′ away from us. Happy day!

He was quite interested when we said we wanted the largest business package (that runs about $300/month, give or take), and that other people in the small development here had also expressed interest in high speed access. We went back and forth for a week, only to be told, in the end that no, they would not be able to do it, because the loop at the road “already had too many people on it” and it would cost Comcast $200K to roll it out to us. Mind you, this is already after we had polled the people here – some of whom, like me, run their businesses from their properties – and almost to a person they wanted some form of service, whether it was internet only (us) or internet plus tv (several), and all were agreeable to having a multiyear contract. It seemed, when we reported those results, like a win-win, but someone on the chain knocked it down.

It’s rather unfortunate because it is so close to us since we run up against the main access road. The upper level business account dude suggested we contact one of the local offices and have them call their corporate overlords to talk about it. I’m not entirely sure what difference that will make, but it is on the list of things to do. The tiny candle of hope still flickers in the darkness of slow internet service here.

Tuesday’s child is NOT full of grace

In the tech world, for some reason Tuesdays are generally the shittiest days. Problems are extra large, people are extra dense, ticket volume is extra high, and everything just seems to be a bigger pain in the ass than it usually is. Generally speaking, all my days are pretty much the same – to the point that sometimes I don’t even know what day it is – because I work every day, anywhere from 12 to 18 hours, doing something. So I take Tuesdays in stride, because often some other whack-a-mole will pop its head out on a day other than Tuesday, and to me,it seems like Tuesday even if Tuesday is just lending an outfit to another day.


Today was my personal Tuesday. It started off very calmly. As Stacy astutely points out, that’s sometimes a warning indicator, i things are far too calm. Turns out, this was one of those times. Got my breakfast, got a shower, headed off to pick up a paper scrip from one of my docs because the med contains a scheduled drugs so cannot be called in – thanks a bunch, Feds, for making it annoying for those of us who actually need the stuff. It’s a 35 to 40 minute drive to that particular office, as it’s on the other side of the world from the ranch. Picked it up, got back in the car, and started my way toward Publix, to get the thing filled, plus pick up another that was ready, along with a few assorted other items.

On my way there, I get a call from the ranch: the electric company dude who reads the meter (they just drive up the driveway to the house and use their reader without getting out of the pickup, yay technology!) managed to back into and snap a stub that is a water line. To the house. Since Gabby was there with some worker bees, they shut off the main valve that leads to the house. Therefore, no water in the house or to any of the irrigation piping until it’s repaired.

Change of plans: we have no spare 1″ PVC lying around. Everything is the wrong size. We do have couplings, and they assure me we have pipe dope. Off to the big orange store. I pop in, pop out, hustle back to the car. In the parking lot, some guy gives me a shout, starts walking toward me with his hand out, like he wants to shake my hand and says, “Hey, how you doing?” and who obviously either wants to sell something, or get something. I say, “Sorry dude, in a hurry.” and I head back to the ranch, where…

…we do some test fitting, cutting down – with a mini coping saw, because the PVC cutter I had once upon a time I cannot find – test fit things, judge it good, and get ready to finalize it. No cement. Primer, yes. Cement, no. I dig around in various places, and in a drawer I come up with cement that a) I do not prefer and b) is old, so questionable. We try it anyway, allowing it to set, then turn on the water. Sealant: fail. Off I go once again to the big orange store, and since I’m already out again, to Publix to get the other stuff for the ranch.

The big orange store has all the things I need – including a ratcheted PV cutter – and I also spy some couplings that have rubber seals and teeth to grip the pipes when they’re inserted. No cleaning, priming, or cement required. I also find a combo cleaner, primer, cement in a handy spray bottle just like spray paint. Why did it take this long to come up with this? I pick up both, along with traditional blue dope, and head to Publix, where…

…as I’m giving the scrip to the tech along with my ID, and she’s reviewing it, she says, “Oh, no. They didn’t date the scrip. We can’t fill it.” Argh. I take the scrip back, pick up the other stuff, race back to the ranch, where….

…I redo the bottom fitting in the traditional way, but cannot get the top fitting off to redo the cement on that. Fine. I do the bottom, allow it to set, wipe off the excess, and then the valve to get the water flowing again to test it, only to find….

….the top seal is definitely not going to work. Fuck. I turn off the water, cut the pipe off at the ends of the couplings, which requires digging out the bottom part of the stub a bit, get the other part of the replacement PVC I didn’t use, and cut it down. Instead of dealing with the traditional prim/dope method, I slip the newer coupling on to one end and use my body weight to push the piece snug and it clicks into place. The other coupling goes on the top connecting pipe, and I cut down the replacement pipe a couple of times until I can get it to slide under the top coupling (after pushing that part slightly to an angle in order to do so. I push down with all my weight, but can’t get it to snap into place. I grab a rubber mallet and pound the damn thing until it gives a satisfying snap. Finally.

Time for a test! I open the valve, and the pump kicks on. The couplings hold and are not blown off by the pressure. There are also no leaks at the joints. Yay. I head inside, turn on some taps and the tub in the master bath to force the pump to cycle on and off to make sure any pressure changes don’t damage the joints. it doesn’t. Problem solved!

By now, I’m drenched in sweat and my pants are sliding further and further down my hips. I have a massive spasm going on my left side, from my hip all to the way to my face. I decide – it’s now 4PM, and I left the house about 11AM originally – it’s time for lunch. Except…

…it pops into my mind that the bees need to be fed. Luckily, I had already made their syrup this morning, so I poured the jars, climbed into my suit, went out, and changed their bottles. It’s very still, with no wind, and very humid, and I’m sweating even more in the suit than normal. I head back inside, peel out of the suit, and get lunch started, only to be hit….

….with a massive new spasm that takes my breath away. I lean against the counter to let the worst of it pass, then grind up my antispasm and other meds and finally get lunch made.

Then I find out Comcast is not willing to run access to our one road development: there are too many people on the loop they have at the road now, and they estimate it would cost them $250K to do our road. Fuck. The corporate guy suggests we call our local Comcast office and have them call in to corporate. Yeah.

So, thanks, Tuesday, for fulfilling every expectation I generally have of you. But you can go now, really. Seriously.

The evolution of frames

Eight years.

That’s how long it’s been since I moved out to the ranch.

The first couple of years were mainly spent working to rehab the property: filling dumpsters with what was likely decades of trash that people just dumped wherever they liked because the property had been not a part of the state forest it abuts, but a similarly wooded parcel to which they had access. Getting good soil going at least to get grass to grow in what had been a sandy, beach-like property because the developer had scraped off the topsoil and sold it off. Working to get plants and trees in place so the wildlife – lizards, squirrels, birds, snakes, you name it – would come back. Those were hard-working, back-breaking years. They were worth it.

Ultimately, we decided that if we waited to plant gardens until the soil rehab was at least almost to completely done, it would be another five years before we grew any of our food. Instead, we built framed beds, filling them with a mix of topsoil, manure, and perlite, the latter to help provide some aeration in the mix instead of having every frame be composed of soil that would settle, become difficult to work, and have no give or good draining at all.

So we did. The first frames were 4′ by 4′, built of wood, each separated by a couple of feet as walkways. This led to some inefficiencies, as each individual frame then had to be watered, and drip irrigation was impractical, as there would be loads of connections that would have to be run from one frame to another.

The next iteration was 4′ by 8′ frames, also built of wood, butted up against one another in long rows. The longest row was 4′ by 42′. This made watering much simpler, as long lines of drip tubing could be laid all the way down the line.

The problem with those, of course, was the wood. It warps after enough time in the harsh environment here, and eventually starts rotting. We went with those for a couple of years, until finally hitting on a better solution: frames made from 22 gauge roofing metal sheeting. Cut in half lengthwise, they were screwed together at the seams of each 8′ length, and plain squared balusters (cut down to size) used to provide some structural support for each “wall”. All of our beds are now built out this way, although we do have an issue with some of the balusters rotting from being in contact with the moist soil all the time. On some of them, the screws have popped out because of the way the wood expands and contracts in the weather. Some of the frame sides have bowed out, as the pressure of the soil exerts an outward horizontal force. For those, the solution is to shovel the dirt away from the sides of the frames, reset and reseat the supports for the side, then pull all the soil back into the trench along the side of the frame. As you might imagine, this is more back-breaking hard work, and something I leave for the fall/winter to get done instead of trying to do this during the main growing season in temperatures that hover in the mid-90s to the 100s throughout.

The good thing about the metal frames is that they will last for a significant length of time before anything needs to be done with them – if anything ever needs to be done with them at all. A bonus of this use is that unlike the wooden frames, which break down, rot, and become something that isn’t good for much, the metal frames are steel, so they can go to the recycling center.

Although it took some years of experimentation and use to get to this point, it has served us well since the final frame type was put in place, and now we have spent much, much less time on frame maintenance than we did with the wooden equivalents. That time, recouped, is now spent on other, more productive tasks.