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Endings and Beginnings

Endings

My journey with bees ended this winter. I went in to autumn with 3 strong hives. They were disease free, treated for mites, strong, young queens, and enough food to last a barren, cold winter. Then came the wasps. One hive at a time, they attacked – the bees defended themselves against all comers such as other bees, bumblebees, mice, moths, cats, humans and even beetles. But wasps, they just let come in and rampage. Within a week, the first hive was struggling, and then the other bees came for it, a constant stream  of robbers from many of the neighbours 8 hives. by the time I realised what was happening, it was all over.

Then the wasps moved on to the next hive. I closed the entrance down significantly, and there were no robber bees, but the wasps persevered. Two weeks later, despite many squashed wasps, it was terminally weakened, and then dead. It took less than half a day for the hive to be completely cleaned out, yet again, by robbers, even closed down. There was not much for them to gather, as I had removed the honey super. I blocked it up as soon as I got home from work – but it was too late.

Then they moved on to the third hive. It had more fight, but I think the wasps got the queen, as there were no new grubs, and some emergency queen cells. But it was too late. They died. I closed up before it could be robbed out, but the wasps found a way in anyway. Life can be like that. You try your best, but are attacked again, and again, and again. No matter the defences you put up, a weakness is always found by the wasps.

For due diligence, I repeatedly checked the hives for disease – there was no sign of foulbrood (or AFB). The dead bees all had normal wings (so little or no PMS), they had feed, the weather was OK. Just dead bees and dead wasps, then few bees and more wasps. Then no bees.

I was, for the first time in many years, beeless. It produced an emptiness in my heart – the death and loss of up to 100000 of my little friends. I felt like a failure, that it was my fault. It may be my fault – what if I had searched more diligently for the wasp nest, though it was not on my property. What if I had done the Vespex course and bought poison bait, what if I had closed the hives up earlier, what if I had moved them to town. What if, what if, what if.

It is too late for what ifs now, and I mourn. I experienced, in miniature, for my many little friends, the emotions felt by one who loses someone close, and the weight sits heavy on my heart. If you have lost an animal, a pet, a hive, or (God forbid) something or someone more significant, my heart aches for you. I hope you can feel peace. I hope the pain mellows and you can move past the crush. I wish you well in your journey.

An ending or death works through stages. I am not an expert in this, but have been through enough to feel the sharp pain that takes your breath away when it hits. I know that deep ache when you are reminded of the loss, and the emptiness of a future without that which is lost. Wiser people than me know better the process – C. S. Lewis wrote very eloquently about grief, I would recommend his books to anyone. But, even grief lessons and fades by degrees. I can now look at the cat basket in the lounge without hurting for my lovely Holly, the softest, loveliest little cat.

Holly

Beautiful, soft, little Holly. She was playful, loving, but would tear your arm off to get some chicken.

One day I may also feel the same about the momentos left behind when my Mum departed. It is not only with bees that my heart ponders the what ifs. The wasted opportunities, the missed times spent instead pouring life into that and those which will never appreciate it and will only ever demand more. Regret is possibly worse than loss. It is the loss of something which will never be, but may have been.

So what do we do? Whatever we can. We cope, day by day, leaning on our friends, our family. And in leaning on them, we provide a rest for them also, supporting them as they need. Spend life on what matters, because it is over too quick. And then, if we can one day look up to the sky again, we may see beginnings again – even though it looks hopeless in the now. Until then, just stand.

Beginnings

There is good news – I have been given a hive. Just one, a single box, a single queen with her bees. But it may be enough. I have not brought it back to my home – the wasps and competition have compromised that site. It is back to roots I go – back to Dads. His site, in the city, is surrounded by gardens and trees and blossom and flowers. It is safer than the privations of the dry lands here. It can hide and flourish in the very place where (many years ago) Beloved cried when she saw a fool on bended knee ask her a question, where she said yes.

With luck, care, and good management, this can be a return. My chain of queens may be forever broken, but this can be a new journey. New Beeginnings.

If you are lost, go back to where you started. Go back to where you knew where you were. Go back to where you knew who you were.

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So, you want to be a beekeeper…

Well, another winter has come and gone, and the busy time for beekeeping is about to begin. Spring has come a little early (about two weeks according to our apple and pear trees). I am about ready to remove the mite strips from the hives, and super-up. Last week I removed a couple of queen cells from a hive that was ready to swarm, and am nursing a weak colony. I read in the paper about the massive increase of bee hives in this country (New Zealand), and some are warning that many areas are at capacity. There are more and more hobbiest beekeepers every year – those with only a few hives. Other countries are having difficulty with bee numbers being low, losing colonies to more and more troubles.

If you want to be become a beekeeper, there is a bit more to it that just having a bunch of  beehives and never-ending honey flowing straight into the pantry. In this day and age, you must truly become a bee keeper, one who keeps and cares for and manages your little box of princesses. You need to develop an understanding of how bees ‘think’, of your local area, of woodworking, of diseases, and a bunch of other practical skills. You will also need to develop an acceptance that you will get the odd sting now and again, and occasionally get really pounded.

2016-03-29 09.52.19Thankfully there are many wonderful beekeeping mentors out there, who are more than willing to give advice and help. It can also be a hobby that the whole family can take part in, as well as friends and neighbours. You become everybody’s best friend when gifts of golden honey are given.

At the moment, some parts of the country are a bit like the wild west, with hives being stolen from distant parts of farmland, and others resorting to using helicopters to put hives into really inaccessible places. This is all about manuka honey, a magical substance worth thousands for the amount even one hive can bring in. It can be a lucrative livelihood for those wanting a change.  I just go for whatever honey they bring in, and stay away from the manuka areas.

How do you start to be a beekeeper? First of all, read. Read. Read. Read. Get to know as much as you can (books and online). Secondly, talk to experienced beekeepers. Try to talk to one who runs to the same scale as you intend to work towards – hobbiest with less than 10 or so hives, or commercial, with hundreds or thousands of hives. Thirdly, get a hive! Or preferably two – it gives you options in case one is struggling.

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To get a hive will mean investing about $1000 or more initially – hive, woodwork, clothing, equipment. Then another $500 or more when the honey comes in – extractor, sieves, buckets, pottles, knife. But a couple of good years can pay that back – If you can get $10 per Kg, which is very manageable, then 50kg per hive gets you a significant amount. My best year was 175 kg from 3 hives. Just think about that – LOTS of honey. In New Zealand you will also need to register yourself as a beekeeper, and your hives/apiaries with AssureQuality, and pay a yearly levy.

Get equipment and gear from Ecrotek.

You can also get gear from Ceracell, though I have not used them.

Just don’t buy used woodwork – live hives a fine, but empty hives are a vector for disease, such as American Foul Brood.

I enjoy having my darling girls around, and enjoy the process of extracting honey, and eating fresh honey. I enjoy having ready gifts for people, as well as a tradable commodity – honey for fish, or cheese, or fruit, or whatever someone else has in abundance. I enjoy being able to donate good quality honey to our home church’s food bank. I enjoy having a skill which helps the community. In the words of the Dilmah tea man, “Do try it!”.

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How to deal with bullies

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Me, chillin’ with my peeps

Introducing the Bully

Well, this last week has been filled with battles, and tears, blood and scratches. My children have faced up to a menacing foe who has tried to gain supremacy over them. The kids did nothing wrong to deserve this, but the enemy has low self-esteem, and fancies himself as the alpha male – but is in reality somewhat down the pecking order. In retaliation, he takes it out on others, the smaller boys and the girls. The bully even tried to intimidate me, once, but I taught him his place.

The bully is black, with a large comb, and wattles so long they brush the earth when he feeds. I am not certain of his heritage, but he is possibly part leghorn, part australorp. Or maybe a minorca. I’m not sure. But I do know he is an opportunist, and has a violent streak to his nature. He is a rooster.

His name is Roast. It will soon be his job description.

The Attack

My helpers have a few jobs to do, as part of their daily payback for living at home. One of the tasks is to feed the poultry. I said poultry, because, as anyone who owns chickens knows, chickens can rapidly get out of hand. We started with 6 hens. Now, I am not quite sure how many we have, but we have at least:

  • More than 5 hens (as that was how many eggs went flying this morning) but probably less than 15. Shavers, and Araucanas, Australorp, Sussex etc.
  • A large, lovely rooster named Moose (well, more precisely Mousse, as his mother’s name was Chocolate. Get it – Chocolate Mousse…).
  • A pair of bantam roosters we found near our house (Fluffy and Scruffy). They had been dumped, and are really very gentle and quiet. They also keep out of the way of anything bigger than a blackbird.
  • A pair of Guinnea fowl. The girl is a lavender colour. She is also so incredibly noisy that I am beginning to wonder what Guinnea fowl taste like. The thought often crosses my mind  at 5am.
  • There is also a matching grey rooster named Leggy, who hangs out with the Guinneas, so we refer to them together as ‘the guinnea chickens’
  • A pair of turkeys. Well, not really a pair. They are both girls. I suppose they could be a pair. I am not going to judge, as long as they make some eggs. They are generally passive-aggressive, and don’t make a big show of being dominant, but I do suspect they quietly pecked a couple of the poor hens to death.
  • We used to have (as mentioned before) a lovely brown hen named Chocolate (mother of Mousse), but her leg was injured. I kept her in a side pen on her own, to see if she would recover, but a gigantic Araucana rooster broke in and raped the poor girl for a full day until she was nearly dead. I had to euthanise her, and felt so utterly sad when I cut her head off, and she blinked at me a couple of times afterwards.  She was, sadly, delicious.
  • We used to have a gigantic Araucana rooster. I don’t stand for that sort of carry on. He is now in the freezer. I didn’t feel as sad about that one.
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Fluffy and Scruffy – They are very funny, sweet birds.

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The turkeys – Trudy and Trixie, having a bit of free range time

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Mighty Mousse, before he got his crow

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Turkeys came a knockin’

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The Guinnea chickens as teens

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This was the rooster that messed with Chocolate. He is now in the freezer.

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Mighty Mousse, when he was just a little peeper

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Roast, before he grew up and turned to the dark side

Anyway, the children have to feed the chooks in the morning, and then feed and collect eggs at night. It is a useful, yet not overly demanding job, and gives them responsibility.

Helper A came in one morning, rather distraught. He had been attacked by the big, black rooster, who is now known as Roast. A had large scratches on his leg, and was crying something fierce. After some cold water on the scratches, and a bit of a hug, he managed (between sobs) to tell me the story of the unprovoked attack. It had waited until he was talking with the girls, and was distracted, and then it struck – flapping up and kicking him, and scratching with its spurs. Poor A bolted and ran, with chooks escaping and quickly dispersing in all directions. I don’t know why they all did that, as they have a larger section to roam in than most households in this country.

I managed to not laugh at poor A‘s misfortune, and instructed him on what he must do. To me, it was just a chicken, but to him it was a serious and capable adversary, which had already drawn first blood. I told him, it cannot be allowed to win, or it will always be against him. He needed to go straight into that chicken yard, and slap down that rooster. He needed to slap it down, again and again, until it was in submission. He needed to do it now, lest he become afraid. He took courage, as I patiently explained weapons and tactics, and battle psychology. He girded himself like a man, rose up, took a deep breath, and strode towards the door. Picking up a piece of plastic rod, like a switch, he advanced to his prey.

The Battle

As he approached the gate, rod in hand, the girls all came running to him (even the turkeys and the Guinnea chickens), and so he was wading through a mess of poultry which were all excitedly looking for (another) feed. Then Roast saw him, surrounded by the girls, AND WAS NOT AMUSED. It dropped one wing down, and did this funny little dance, telling A to back the hell off before things got personal. He kept coming, and Roast flew at him, and the hens scattered.

Like a medieval knight, or perhaps a samurai, or a 1950’s headmaster, A came out swinging. I was cheering him on and instructing from the sidelines (for this was his battle, A must win his own spurs this day!). Roast saw the swing, and backed off quickly just out of range.

The warrior paused, allowing the adversary a false sense of victory, and the rooster came at him again. Again he swung and paused. This went on, combatants circling each other slowly, each having a parry or quick dart at their enemy, before retreating.

I called advice from the sidelines, “attack, attack, attack, don’t pause until he gives up!” The pain in my sides was serious – from stifling the laughter. Oh the funnies!

The man-cub took my advice, and went at it, laying at the rooster non-stop, chasing it around the yard, swinging wildly. He had its measure now, and every time Roast dropped his wing to do a little dance all it gained was a smacked bottom. Again and again the man-cub swung, yelling like a savage, taunting his foe with carefully crafted scripts, like “YAH!”, and “YAH!”. In the 10 minute battle, he must have struck Roast at least, oh, maybe 3 times. Once if you discount tail-feather hits.

Eventually, the tired miscreant gave up. Roast retreated to a corner and huddled in submission, and the triumphant warrior held him down to the ground, in ultimate humiliation. Roast would not bother that boy again.

The Aftermath

Roast has since attacked helper E, who had to go through the same process to fight back – don’t take that kind of rubbish from a chicken! As E is somewhat more timid in nature, her first fight has not been the last, and she was surprised from behind in one battle, being knocked down. She got back up again, and fought, and has been victorious, though a couple of eggs suffered breakage. Roast even tried to take on Beloved, but at the first sign of a drop-wing dance, Beloved went for him instead.

Roast is now greatly lowered on the pecking order, still full of aggression, but now only Fluffy and Scruffy feel the need to keep away from him. He is now on death row – Cock-au-vin is a distinct possibility.

The Lesson

This has been one of the most useful life lessons for my helpers. They have learned about bullies, how they work, and how to beat them. This lesson has been applicable to the schoolyard as well as the barnyard. E was often picked on by some unscrupulous girls, and was too gentle to do anything about it. Seeing one girl approaching, about to push in line, E recognised it for what it was – a wing-drop dance for domination. E pushed first, and the other girl was not expecting resistance, and so was unbalanced, nearly falling over. She backed off. A humiliating public defeat for the bully. Victory for E. That bully has not touched her since.

E has had several other run-ins with another playground bully, but she has learned to stand her ground, to strike when necessary, and she has learned that the teachers stand up for anyone who is picked on. The children have learned to work together to round up and slap down chickens – especially if that chicken has spitefully taken their basketball during recess and has it tucked under their wing. The children also know that their Dad will stand by them. And if a chicken is given a blood nose, or cries to a mummy or a teacher after receiving just desserts for meanness, they know Dad will support them through any consequence. This lesson has made school a joy instead of a tummy-cramp inducing, stress filled anxious nightmare for my 3 helpers. I am proud of them.

Thank you Roast.

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Let’s go hunting – Growing the man-cub

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Doubtful Valley, from the car park

***Note – this one is not about bees.***

I have a man-cub. He has been striving to be a man from the moment he could walk. He could perform a flawless 3-point turn on his ride on scooter buggy bike trike thing when he was one year old. He took his trainer wheels off his bicycle when he was barely 4 (his brother was 3!). He wants so hard to be a big strong man, like his dad and his uncle (a 6’4″ Firefighter, with a muscle car and a commendation for bravery – about as manly as manly gets). After constant inquiry about when he could go hunting with me (not begging, as that would not be a manly thing to do), I finally allowed him to come along. After all, he is 10.

The plan was to spend 3 days in the mountains – one day in, with hunting the following morning and evening, and then a day going home. I have been exploring an area lately in the midst of the Southern Alps, in the Doubtful Valley. April is the time of the roar, when Red Deer stags go a little mental over the hinds, and at each other. So the date and venue were set. One night I found the little guy asleep (as he should be) but with his pack and gear all ready, and the map clenched in his fist from studying it until he fell asleep. I could hardly say no, could I.

The drive in was a couple of hours, and instead of complaining, the man-cub soaked it up. He loved the scenery, the stories, the sights, his dad using some only slightly inappropriate language at the insane muppets who were invariably driving either camper vans, hire cars, or low slung tinted Japanese import turbocharged missiles which make a deep ‘uuntz uuntz uuntz’ noise from an overworked subwoofer. We also stop along the way to visit the boys room and buy copious amounts of junk food – he likes this also.

It was a challenge to get ready for the first hurdle – a fairly decent river crossing. The challenge was to expose as little skin for as little time as possible due to copious clouds of carnivorous critters – sandflies, biting and sucking blood. The more you smash, the more seem to appear. After even a minute exposed and stationary, your efforts become manic in desperation to escape them.

The legend of where sandflies came from make for interesting reading:

the god Tu-te-raki-whanoa had just finished creating the landscape of Fiordland, it was absolutely stunning… so stunning that it stopped people from working. They just stood around gazing at the beauty instead. The goddess Hine-nui-te-pō became angry at these unproductive people, so she created the sandfly to bite them and get them moving.

The river crossing was far from gentle, with thigh deep, fast flowing, very cold water with a slippery boulder and rock base. Poor man-cub was significantly shorter than me, so had some delicate parts immersed in the ice-bath, so to speak. Not that he could speak, with the soprano-inducing cold. We crossed the river locked together, with an arm behind the other’s back, gripping the opposite pack strap.

Another fun gift of the gods is a plant known as matagouri. Two inch thorns try to pierce you as you push through, often drawing blood. My son is not a fan of matagouri.

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Matagouri, note the evil, nasty, horrid prickles.

As we walked, I was able to instruct my young padawan in bush lore, and he soaked it all in. He knows where to find water, how often to drink and eat, where my emergency locator beacon is AND how to activate it. He could list off where his headlamp and batteries, the first aid kit, map and compass, and cooker could be found. Impressive. We also talked about those topics which are restricted to when there are no ladies around, as well as a few raw jokes which were pertinent to the topic. The one which tickled his funny button the most is loosely (minus explanations and definitions) as follows:

**********Caution: Rude Joke, viewer discretion advised. ***********

A man who recently converted to Judaism learned that he needed to be circumcised. He approached a mohel for the operation, and was told it would be $600. “That is a rip-off!” he exclaimed, and went away. A second mohel told him $480. “That is a rip-off!” he exclaimed, and went away. A third mohel told him “I can do it for $20”. He agreed, and lay down on the operating table. Less than a minute later, he ran, screaming and bleeding, from the room. It turned out it was a rip-off.

**********Rude part over**********

The young fella paused a moment, then understood. He physically yelled out and crossed his legs in sympathy, and then laughed and laughed and laughed, saying “A rip-off” over and over again between cackles.

There are many huts in the New Zealand bush and mountains, used by trampers and hunters, and maintained by DOC, tramping clubs, and organisations like the DeerStalkers Association. The hut by the Doubtful river (known as Doubtful Hut), was a nasty, run down little hovel. Or at least it was, but the deerstalkers had got in, ripped out the broken beds and window and fire, and replaced it with new timber. We ran into a couple of them on the way out, painting and repairing. It is now quite a pleasant little 2 bunk sanctuary from the murderous sandflies.

Doubtful Hut

This is the old version of the hut. What a disaster of a hut. It was broken and dirty and full of bugs. Now, it is bright orange, bug proof, and the grass has all been removed.

Along the way, we met a young fella, named Blake, heading out as we walked in. My lad learned that in the mountains, you may not see a person for a very long time, and so you stop and chat with any who you cross paths with. Blake had been up in the same place we were headed, and gave us track information, as well as the low-down on the deer. He didn’t find the trophy he was after, so just used the camera instead – showing us some stags who were holding a number of hinds each. His count was around 32 different animals. He had not heard any roars, so possibly we had missed it already.

A helicopter spent a few hours buzzing around the valleys and tops – this was very frustrating. We were in a recreational hunting area, and so helicopter hunting was not permitted. Having to explain to my son, after many hours of hard tramping with heavy packs, that some pillock can just fly around until they see something good, scare the hell out of everything else for miles, and then buzz back home for dinner, despite the rules saying otherwise – heartbreaking. As evening approached rapidly, I saw the offending helo (black, beyond that, I am not sure) with a deer on a sling underneath, and a person riding the sling too. This was well after evening civil twilight – a CAA rule breach this time. Cowboys.

As evening hit, we were climbing. Up, up, up. My little man is tough, and gracious, as he often waited for his old man, puffing and panting like something from Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends. My heart rate was high, but the little guy was amazing on the uphill. As it got darker and darker, we switched on headlamps – there was no moon, and it was DARK under the canopy. The little guy coped well, and asked for me to lead, as he found it too tiring to use the lamp to walk and search for track markers at the same time – I was impressed with his mature decision making. When we were both just about ready for tears, I stopped us and made a hot cup of sweetened tea. “But Dad, I don’t like tea”, “That’s OK son, drink it anyway, it isn’t about the flavour.” He understood, and even seemed to enjoy it. That drink kept us going long enough to reach the hut – a very, very welcome sight. It also saved us from having to pitch tent in the dark, in an area somewhat devoid of flat spaces.

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The Lake Man Bivi was in good, clean condition, with a couple of pots, two canvas bunks, and a few candle stubs for lighting. Shame on me – normally I would add candles to my pack, and leave some extras for others, but I was neglectful this time. For those not in the know, a bivy, short for bivouac is a little dwelling even smaller than a hut. The lad adapted well to hut life, learning the rules, keeping it clean, and even cooking lunch the following day. He enjoyed hot chocolate, with plenty of sugar and marshmallows. He especially enjoyed being able to fart long and proud, without apology, or any other repercussion other than his old man cranking out a louder, longer, or smellier version.

The morning and evening were used for hunting – getting above the bush line before dawn, and coming back after it was too dark to shoot. The middle of the day was for sleeping. We needed it.

Very little in the way of game was visible – I blame the helicopter – however, the man-cub (and I) was pretty excited to see a chamois deer, high up on the face near Lake Man. There were also a pair of red deer – a hind with her fawn from last season. Unfortunately, all were too far away to stalk in the time available. The man-cub asked if he could carry the rifle. Sure. After 5 minutes he didn’t want to carry it any more.

For that day we were the only people on the entire mountain range. It suited me just fine.

About Lake Man – what a place. Normally you would think of a lake as being something you find in a valley, or similar sensible place. Not Lake Man. It sits on the top of a mountain range, up above the bush, even above the tussock and snow-grass. Honestly, who thought of putting a lake on top of a mountain. Silly lake.

Our walk out was pretty swift compared to the walk in, already the man-cub’s muscles had hardened and grown. I let him lead, which was good for both of us. He set the pace, and I was able to see the track clearly above his head, and enjoy the scenery. In fact, his pace was the same as my normal pace, so we really moved. I have taken many school parties tramping, and he was better than most of the students I have led, though they had about 4 years or more seniority. Actually, I have noticed more and more over the years, that many young lads and lasses who ought to be exploring the mountains have never been further from home than an x-box console. Many of them these days do not even know how to walk – that is, if the ground is any rougher than a mall foodcourt, they do not know how to place their feet and maintain momentum. Quite tragic really.

At Doubtful hut we met a couple of very experienced hunters who were busy repairing and painting the hut. As we were approaching the hut, me and the man-cub were singing (the colour song, by SongDrops), and as we saw the orange of the hut, my son sings the line ‘I open the door hinge’, and I follow by VERY loudly singing the line ‘When I see ORANGE!’. Just as I see the men at the hut. Not very suave, and goodness knows what they thought. They were very good guys, and were quite interested in the chopper sighting. Deerstalkers association are also not very keen on chopper cowboys where they are not allowed to be.

Overall, this was a great trip, with 29Km logged. I had trouble walking the following day, and I imagine the man-cub felt the same. Not a shot fired, but lots of snacks eaten, and a very happy boy. He is growing, faster than I would like, to be a mighty, strong, wise, but gentle man.

 

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Rogue One

Well, what a busy time, yet little to show for it. My hives were doing just peachy, and I had them inspected for AFB (American Foul Brood), and they were clean, completely disease free. To inspect, every single frame with brood has to be examined. My smaller ones were checked quickly, and each queen was spotted (always a great thing). Then I moved on to the new, large hive. I kept checking for the frames with brood, further and further down the hive. There was no brood. Not a single grub or capped brood at all. Nothing.

That means:

  • That the queen is dead or gone.
  • That the youngest bees were already a few weeks old.
  • That it would take several more weeks before I could get fresh brood to hatch.
  • No chance of quickly recovering it, without a spare queen and frames of brood.
  • Goodbye hive.

I decided to merge the two boxes onto the other two hives which only had one brood box each, so added them to the other boxes with a couple of sheets of newspaper between to stop them fighting. By the time the bees on each side had chewed their way through to meet, their scents had mingled, so no fighting. Merge successful.

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The orange hive is no more. You win some, you lose some. At least I didn’t let it get so weak that it was robbed out.

Because I did the merge in the daytime (late, though) there were still a few foragers left behind. One of the bees must have got a little confused, as it took up residence near the washing line. It was not a happy little chappy. Unfortunately, this little Rogue One decided to get in the face of any large creature hanging around the washing line. Which included Beloved. It was with great mirth that I witnessed Beloved careening around the house waving a tea-towel in one hand, underwear in the other, and yelling blue murder. She did not see the funny side for some time.

Being the magnificent husband I am, I volunteer to peg up the washing, which was strewn around the line in a substantial radius. This was going swimmingly, until Rogue One returned. I can happily work a beehive, with forty thousand grumpy lady zooming around, but this one bee had me running after getting in my face and head butting me three or four times.

Thankfully, poor Rogue One only lasted for a few days, before going to that happy little hive in the sky. That little honey grabber had my respect. Rogue One, you will have a hive in the hereafter, you will find that hive, you will belong. We will get to hang up washing in peace.

This post is for you, Rogue One.

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My Apiary, Spring 2016

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My Apiary. From Left: Hebe, Daphne, Olive, Harakeke. A lovely North-facing aspect, nicely sheltered from the strongest of the prevailing winds

Lots of hives, lots of bees. They are all thriving. My little orchard is simply abuzz these days. Spring is a lovely time of year. However, to adapt from the words of Tom Cruise, “I feel the need, the need to weed”.

I expect to get a December harvest from Daphne and Olive hives, and there may be a February or March harvest from the other two, but I would not expect any more than one super from such a new hive.

 

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Welcome Harakeke, Welcome Hebe

Wow. I now have 4 hives – I will flesh this out later, but just mentioning a new swarm, and a new nuc, both from my friend.

He had HEAPS of queen cells in his hive, and there were so many bees, which is why they swarmed. After I caught Daphne, and relocated her, he gave me a couple of frames of brood and honey, with some bees, and a couple of queen cells – I installed this in a nuc box (has 5 frames only), and all is happy. I have since transferred them to a full size box, and have seen both queen, and fresh eggs – so she has mated and begun laying. There is also a fair amount of fresh honey, so all is well with that hive. I shall call her Hebe – after the hebe bushes nearby.

After this, my friend’s hive swarmed again – still too many bees and queen cells. He caught this one, and popped it in a 3/4 honey super, as he had run out of woodwork. Then, a few days later, whilst he was away on business, his hive swarmed AGAIN. I raced around again, to grab the swarm, and play with the puppies. Gorgeous puppies. Well bred, pure black, squirmily wriggley lovely spaniel puppies. The new swarm was pretty little, but is now happily installed in my Apiary, next to a flax bush – so this is Harakeke – after the Maori word for flax.

So now I have four hives.

Today I looked at the hives, and Olive and Daphne are going (to use the appropriate scientific term) gangbusters. They are rapidly filling the top boxes with honey, and I am worried that they will fill them before I pull the mite strips out, and can add supers.

The other two hives, Hebe and Harakeke, are establishing themselves – I saw both queens today, as well as eggs and fresh honey. No need for my help. I may give them a week, and then put in mite strips, to really help them stay strong and healthy. They won’t be needing  harvesting this season – perhaps in the autumn. It is all very exiting.

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Welcome, Daphne

Short story:

New hive, all good.

Longer Version:

Well, this is a relief. I was rather sad after the demise of Apple hive, so was determined to gain another hive this spring, whether by swarm or by split. My stored boxes got ratted before we shifted, and the wax was munched, with rat poop everywhere. The wooden frames did not smell nice, what with all the rat pee everywhere  – I do not like rats. Mind you, I have had my revenge, through dissection. So I have cut out, scraped clean, washed, and had a number of rains and sunny days on the frames and boxes. Re-wiring and re-waxing takes longer than when working on new wood, as the holes are filled with wax, there is wax in the bars, there is wax everywhere, and everything is tacky.

I had just completed a number of boxes, and so was ready to go. I did not intend to gain a hive so soon, but the phone rang, and my friend was in a bit of a quandary – his hive had swarmed, a vigorous queen who had filled up her hive with daughters. He had no more boxes, and so asked if I would help him and take it. Of course I would help him – I needed a hive, he would be helping me more than anything else.

So, in a flurry of gathering, I had my suit, a hive box and base and lid, brush, and an emlock hive strap. (Autocorrect managed to call that one ‘hemlock’, I had no hemlock however). I also had helper D – who has grown significantly over the last season, and when he tried on his suit, he discovered it had not grown. Poor D, with a serious wedgie, he found he could relate to the ram-lambs we helped to de-boy a couple of weeks ago with rubber rings.

Out the door we went in a flash. In next to no time, we were suited up, and investigating the swarm. It was one of the easiest of all swarms I have seen, less than a metre off the ground. Just pop in a box, have a cup of tea, pour some more bees in the box, Bob’s your Uncle.

Post-Script: I added strips to the new hives within a few days. They need to come out at the end of October – remind me please. Again, I should have got in there sooner, but the weather was rather inclement. The queen in Daphne hive is a one year old girl, so plenty of life left.

Helper D is giving me some advice. His suit is getting a bit small, giving him one serious wedgie.

Helper D is giving me some advice. His suit is getting a bit small, giving him one serious wedgie.

Helper D in Puppy Heaven, at my friends place. We were waiting for the bees to accept their new home.

Helper D in Puppy Heaven, at my friends place. We were waiting for the bees to accept their new home.

Put the box under the swarm...

Put the box under the swarm…

And shake them in.

And shake them in.

Unloading my new hive, Daphne. No bees escaped, all were safe and sound.

Unloading my new hive, Daphne. No bees escaped, all were safe and sound.

Daphne hive is home, safe and sound.

Daphne hive is home, safe and sound.

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Car Repair

Ok, so, I do a bit more than beekeeping.  We have an arrangement at our house that seems to work – Beloved ensures that the offspring are generally fed and cleanish and stuff, and I  fix stuff – pretty much everything that gets busted. The amount of stuff that gets broken increases exponentially with each child. Possibly factorially – which is why many of my sentences to them end with a !. I have not yet repaired the dent in the plaster (drywall), or the broom which is in two pieces outside.

Lately, I have had to fix other stuff, busted through no evil device or scheme of my own offspring, but rather caused by some other muppet who has no business being near a tool. My Isuzu Bighorn (1996, 3.1 Turbo Diesel, for those who need to repair the same sort of thing) developed an exhaust leak, and failed its WOF (same as an MOT in England). I have replaced manifold gaskets on Holden engines before, and provided the studs are less than 25 years old (I mean the manifold studs – google will probably redirect some unusual traffic my way based on that sentence!), it generally takes about 1/2 hour. So, 2 and a half nightmarish days later, I finally have my WOF.

As it is so traumatic recalling, I will now put in a picture taken by my lad of a shooting trip we took a couple of days ago. He had some issues with aiming the camera, so missed the lineup of guns. The scenery was pretty epic though. It calms me to get out into the mountains.

Lyndon

View from Rabbit gulley, out the back of Lake Lyndon. On any fine weekend, there are shooters in every little valley sighting in their latest loads, or just getting their eye in.

The following details how to replace the exhaust manifold of a 1996 3.1 L Isuzu. If you don’t care about the details, just skim or skip, or read War and Peace instead (it is shorter).

  • Remove the pipes on the intercooler – I used adjustable pliers for this, to squeeze the joiners together.
  • Remove the intercooler – four 12 mm bolts. Don’t let the little rubber shock absorber pads drop down, they vanish in the blink of an eye. I found an extension bar with a snakey end piece was just the thing.
2016-07-19 11.59.32

Turbo unit on top.

  • Remove the battery – mainly for access and so you don’t incinerate your car by dropping a tool on the positive.
  • Remove the exhaust to intake pipe (I don’t know what that thing does, possibly warms the fuel on cold days?), 2 bolts, 2 nuts.  12 or 13 mm. Will need a spanner rather than socket on one nut as the dipstick pipe gets in the way.

Up to here, I was going fine. This is where it started to get frustrating.

  • Remove exhaust section – I went for two pieces – the connections are 4 nuts on the turbo, and two nuts on the exhaust flange. Plenty of WD40 or CRC may help. I didn’t need to, AS HALF OF THE NUTS WERE MISSING! The rest of the exhaust nuts were mix and match, some 14mm flange, 12mm flange, 5/8″. This was where I began to mentally curse the muppet who worked on it previous to my ownership. Thankfully, because the manifold gasket was so destroyed, there was no scouring of the flange metal.
  • Remove turbo – to do this first remove two oil pipes and two water hoses. I used vice grips to gently squeeze the lower pipe, or you will lose your coolant.
  • The top oil pipe, held on with a banjo, was easy – the lower one is a real pain – it is the long pipe thing going from under the turbo to the base of the engine. It is held in place by two 10mm bolts. I recommend a 3″ extension bar on a short socket driver. There is not much room, and unless you are 6’5″ or taller, you will need some sort of step. I used my chopping block, Pinus Radiata. Having 3 elbows on each arm also helps. There is a rubbery gasket on it, try not to lose. This procedure had me yelling the purple uglies something chronic. My helper, D, who was really good at giving me a 13 mm socket or 1/2″ driver or stuff, left at this point. This was probably wise, as a grown man with no skin on his arms or knuckles, leaning in an engine for a significant length of time while grunting and cursing on ribs bruised from leaning on the stuff in the engine bay, is not a pleasant picture.
  • Mine had 3 13mm nuts, and one bolt, holding the turbo on.
  • Gently remove the turbo.
  • Remove heat shields from manifold – the right hand one has one nut into the manifold, and one at right angles to it, under the turbo attaching mount.
  • Remove iron bracket from under the right hand of the manifold. Two nuts under the manifold outlet, and probably 2 (mine had one) bolts into the engine block.
  • Remove 8 nuts from the manifold – this is where mine was interesting – the studs in mine had been replaced with cut down mild steel bolts.

Here is where the previous owner cursing really began – the top left bolt had broken, as it was probably over tightened. The reason it was over tightened would have been the bottom left bolt – which was only gently holding on by 2 threads, a special, cutdown bolt – as there was a snapped stud – STILL IN THE FRIGGIN ENGINE BLOCK. The muppet had just filled the hole, and over tightened the top bolt to compensate, RRRAAAGHHH!

2016-07-19 11.42.53

View of the manifold. The soot on the left shows where the exhaust was leaking, and also reducing turbo pressure. Just visible beside the left hand nut, is the top hole where there was a snapped bolt.

A moment on the word compensate, I have somehow convinced my lads, who are always asking what different parts of cars are called, that the really excessively large big bore exhausts on average looking cars with fluffy dice and OOONTZ OONTZ bass speakers are called compensators. We all know what they are compensating for, don’t we (wink wink). It will be a dark day when my boys figure out what I mean.

compensating-for-something

With the manifold off I was more able to see what had been going on. It was time to remove the offending stud. I searched for about an hour for my center punch, which I haven’t used since we moved house – could be any where. By this time I needed counselling. Instead of a center punch, I used an old drill bit, as the metal is hard enough. I punched a hold fairly centrally in the broken stud and then began to drill it out. I used 3mm, 3.2, 3.5, 4.0, 4.5 mm drills. I could not use any bigger that that, as the 5mm drill bit was a half inch longer, and no longer could the drill fit in the engine bay. I had the option of cutting down drill bits, or attempting to use an easy-out (EZ-Out). An easy-out has a grippy left hand thread, which you wind in, then, as you keep winding it tightens and removes the offending broken bolt. UNLESS THE FRIGGIN THING SNAPS OFF IN THE HOLE!

At this point I admit, I did yell like a tortured Wookie, and threw the broken remains of the EZ-out somewhere. I may have kicked a few things too, things got a bit fuzzy. On doing some more googling, there are two main ways of removing a broken ezout. (I won’t even give the thing the dignity of capitals anymore.) It turns out that EZ-Outs are made from some of the hardest tool steels known to mankind. The first method involves mounting the housing in a mill and using a carbide end mill, or 2, or 3, to remove it – that required removing the engine block and carrying it to an engineering workshop – not gonna happen. The other involves using a center punch and hammer to break it up in -situ – again, not gonna happen as there is not enough room to swing a hammer in there, hammering an engine block is seldom a good idea, and I STILL DON’T KNOW WHERE MY PUNCH IS. One fellow stated that engineers he rang would suddenly disconnect when he mentioned broken ezouts. Others would laugh first, and then hang up. Other methods include burning it out with a gas torch, welding a nut to it, drilling tiny holes around the silly thing, all impractical for my situation.

I ended up purchasing a Dremel (Should have owned one years ago) and a carbide mill for it. I milled it out really slowly, on high speed, with light pressure. I recommend bunging up all visible holes, as there is a lot of very fine, extremely hard dust floating around. Just what engines love. Eventually, after perhaps an hour or two of intermittent drilling, there was a little bang, and chips of ezout came flying out of the hole, driven at 30000rpm by the Dremel. Eye protection is recommended as really, really important in the Dremel manual. I can see why.

After the ezout was out, I used the Dremel to widen the hole, until I thought it was pretty close to the hole. I did not want to stuff up the threads, or else it means precision drilling, retapping, and inserting a thread coil.

Then, I just needed to retap the thread, to clean up all the rusted in bolt. It is an M8x1.25 I think. Thankfully, our neighbour, Dazza, has a fully equipped workshop, and I was able to borrow a tap from him. From here on in, it all went smoothly enough.

  • Clean up the area, place new gasket over the studs (oh, that’s right, it had bolts, not studs, which are apparently rare as hens teeth and cost an arm and a leg each. I chose high tensile M8 bolts instead, so had to insert a couple of bolts through the manifold and gasket, position on the engine, and get a few threads going. You only need three hands for this step.
  • torque down the bolts to the correct amount. I don’t have a torque wrench, so went with the amount that seems to work on Holden manifolds.
  • Insert everything else in reverse order.

The only other problem I had was replacing one nut on the turbo-manifold flange (top right). There was just not enough room and the SOB kept falling. In the end I used a 12mm ring spanner, circlip pliers to hold it, and my index finger. I lost one nut, lost forever between the manifold and gasket, probably to rattle for eternity. Thankfully, due to discovering the missing nuts in various places, I had purchased spares.

When started, all ran quietly, smoothly, and there was no way I could hold a rag over the exhaust – too much pressure, no leaks.

I now have a fresh WOF, and a quiet truck. Yay.

Oh, and my hive is fine.

 

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Lost

I delayed writing this post, as I had need of time to compose myself. Poor Apple hive is no more – I feel very sad about it.

The cause: Basically it had too much of a mite load during late summer, and there were too few nurses to look after the brood. Gradually the hive got weaker and weaker, and even though I had the miticide strips in, the new crop of undiseased bees had nobody to look after them and keep them warm. I should have quit the harvest sooner, and put the strips in weeks earlier. I suppose that the age of the queen was also important in this, as she was starting to lose her effectiveness, and the brood pattern was beginning to have gaps.

I discovered the problem when feeding the chickens – there was a strange ‘thrum’ in the air, and when I looked around to find the source, there was a constant stream of bees back and forth to the neighbours. The hive was being robbed out by the neighbours 7 hives – they had 8, but lost one to mites as well.

I have since inspected the remains of the hive, very thoroughly. Nobody wants AFB (American Foul Brood), so inspecting a failed hive is not just important – it is vital. My brood showed no signs of ropiness (when a stick is put in to dead brood, AFB deaths will kind of stick to the stick, and the sticky stick will have a rope of brood mush which stays stuck). My brood were just squishy, not sticky or ropey, and didn’t have two of the other signs – bad smell and a sticking up proboscis. There was PLENTY of evidence of mite damage, but it was sad seeing the frozen or starved bees of the next generation, healthy but dead – the mite treatment had worked, just a little too late. I have also now blocked up the hive, so it cannot be robbed further. I will cut out any frames with dead brood, put in new foundation, and get it ready for spring time swarms/splits.

My other hive is still doing well, and the mite strips have done their job. I did need to feed it – and have made a little box which goes on the top of the hive to put sugar feed into. This will be the first year I have had to feed them, but sugar is fairly inexpensive.

I feel bad – this was a potentially avoidable loss, but I am consoled by the knowledge I have gained, to be able to prevent it in the future.

On the other hand – my neighbours have 7 hives, 6 of them from swarms from just 1 hive this last spring – they have not requeened, and so have lots of hives, with lots of honey, with swarm prone genetics. In the spring I will definitely be leaving clean, empty, hive boxes around the place in the hope of collecting some free hives. If this approach is successful, however, I intend to requeen to provide better genetic traits.

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