Friday, April 22, 2011

Package Bees II

    We just finished our third day of the package bees (Friday night) and still have about 80 packages which are waiting to be picked up.  Fortunately, the weather has been cool so they are still in very good shape.  The package bees are very easily damaged by too much heat so they keep much better in cool weather.  75 percent were picked up on the first day (Wednesday) and since then it has been slower.  I'm not as beat as I was last year largely because Quentin did the heavy lifting and unloaded most of the packages from the trailer.   Grandma Cozette was again pressed into service vacuuming up the hitchhikers, while I worked down at the store.  It was very different to see the event more from that perspective.  In previous years I've always started the day working at the house, unloading the trailer and preparing the packages to be transported to the store.  I usually didn't get down to the store until mid afternoon.
   It was like old times having Rachel back at the store for a few days. She did a wonderful job manning the store while Quentin and I transported the bees up from California. She did a great job handling the register and equipment sales while I focused on handing out packages.  We had a higher percentage of cutomers who paid in advance this year such that the line to pick up bees was usually longer than the register line. The customers were generally very patient about the wait and very happy to take their girls home. All in all the day went relatively smoothly although it was a very long day. I'm very glad Rachel has finally gone back to school but I do miss having her at the store. The bee store was sure a great daddy daughter project.

   I would never be able to survive the package bees without significant help from friends.  Terry Johnson is a good friend, serious gardener and canner as well as a brother beekeeper. He has helped us hand out package bees every year since we bought the bee store. He is also somewhat of an incognito celebrity.  We have a large poster in the store of Terry, dressed in his bee gear and wearing a swarm on his head.  The swarm literally covers his entire head such that many people don't realize that he is wearing a hat and veil under the swarm.  The picture was on the cover of the American Bee Journal in February, 1981.
    This line of beehives belong to Steve Park and were located adjacent to the loading area. Some of  Steve's employees were grafting queens from these hives while our packages were being loaded. Quentin managed to watch them graft queens and took some pictures. I was busy elsewhere and missed it. Note that the hives are painted with a silver reflective paint to help the bees stay cooler in the hot weather. We don't have to worry about that as much in cool western Washington so we can paint our beehives pretty much any color we like.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Package Bees I

   We arrived back in snohomish yesterday morning at about 3:00 a.m.  We had no significant adventure this year. The lack of adventure in the context of package bees is a very good thing.  I did get a new camera for the occasion and I'm posting a smattering of photos from the trip.  We had a wonderful view of Mt Shasta as we drove down to Redding, CA to pick up the bees.

  This picture is included just to prove that I did actually drive some on the way down.

    Here we are unloading the empty shipping cages that were returned to the store from last year's package bees.  We carried down almost 700 empty cages.

   The packages are carefully stapled into place so the load can't shift. 2 million bees generate a lot of heat so ventilation is critical to the bees survival.  There will definitely be no shifting of this load.

  There are a lot of bees flying around that are lonely souls looking for a home. Bees want to be with other bees so they accumulate of the windows of the trailer and on the packages themselves.

    This is Steve Park, the owner of Steve Park Apiaries.  He is a very pleasant men to deal with and takes very good care of us.  The particular strain of Italian honeybees that he sells have got to be about the most gentle bees around.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A Clump off the Old Dirt Clod

   It was so fun to wake up this morning to the sound of Lance and Luna playing upstairs.  Luna was laying on the couch watching the home and garden channel.  She told me that she liked shows like that because they gave her ideas for their garden.  Her favorite plants so far in their garden in Oregon are the blueberries and the mint.  She is looking forward to having fresh mint tea from their own garden, "Just like in the old days."  She has really inherited Rachel's love of gardening, a regular "Clump off the old dirt clod". The last time they visited our house Rachel collected a large amount of perennial starts for their new home in Hillsboro, Oregon.  She accumulated such a large collection of plants that when they left to drive home, plants were stuffed in every nook and cranny of her car and everyone in the car had plants on their lap. Small wonder that Luna loves to garden. However, Lance's birthday presents were a lesser priority and had to stay at grandma and grandpa's house until their next visit.

    Lance was trying to play Frontierville on the computer this morning, but was experiencing technical difficulties that couldn't be solved by the mere addition of new batteries. Its so nice to have them here, but a shame that I will be gone or very very busy for most of their visit.  Rachel came up to help us with the package bees.  I leave tomorrow morning to drive to Redding, California to pick up 500 three and four pound packages of honeybees.  Rachel is going to man the bee store in my absense and make sure things are ready here when we get back. She is going to handle the cash register while I'm involved with handling the bees.

Monday, April 11, 2011

A Rutabaga Named Joan

  We are in the midst of a wet, cool, and somewhat late spring.  Here we are almost to the middle of April but it still feels like March. So much for global warming.  I learned something interesting from my bee store utility bill the other day.  Our average high so far for 2011 is 4 degrees cooler than last year and our average low is 6 degrees cooler than last year.  Small wonder that my fruit trees are running so late.  My asian pear tree is just now getting ready to bloom. I still need to prune my grapes and blueberries and I need to weed and replant the strawberry beds. The vegetable garden is way behind schedule as well.  However, it is truly an ill wind that doesn't blow some good so there has to be some up side to this late spring.

   First of all, none of the fruit blossoms have been damaged by frost because most of them haven't bloomed yet.  I only have a few branches of my one plum tree that are in bloom so far. Since its been too wet and cool even for mason bees I actually hand pollinated one branch with a Q-tip.  I only did the one branch because I want to be able to see how effective my efforts were.   A second up side is that the Big Leaf Maple trees are not yet in bloom so they should be just in time for the package bees. Maybe it will dry out by then and we'll have a great maple nectar flow.  A third upside is that the blackberries will probably bloom late this year. They don't produce nectar well unless the temperature is at least 70 so a late bloom is usually better for the bees.  That was the best I could do for upsides and even that was a bit of a strain.

   Today I had Conner and Natalie by myself.  I took advantage of the fact that the weather was supposed to be somewhat decent and took the kids to our house for the day.  Conner hung out with me for two hours while I worked in the garden. He was very happy just to be outside. We also made a trip to the feed store to get chicken feed and checked out the baby chicks and ducklings.  Natalie spent some time helping me in the garden too. She helped me dig up the raised bed for the rutabagas and we discovered a little yellow and black salamander hiding under some debris. I went to borrow mom's camera but he was gone by the time I  got back.  I planted Cylindra beets, Joan rutabagas, weeded the rhubarb, and fed my bees.  It felt great to do a little yard work and at least make a little progress in the garden.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

2011 Flower and Garden Show

   So we survived another garden show.  I always enjoy doing it but it really is a grind.  We have a half day of set up, five 14 hours days, followed by a half day of take down.  Its taken a whole month for me to recover sufficiently to blog about the garden show.  Linda has firmly decreed that the Beez Neez will not participate in the garden show in 2012.  Yet Sarah has been telling her what a wonderful experience it has been for Rachel and what a shame it is that the other grand children will not have that experience.  I've also had several of the volunteers who worked at our booth offer to run it for me next year. At this point I'm still not holding my breath.  By the way, grand daughter Rachel did a marvelous job as cashier. Not only was she pleasant and knowledgeable in helping customers, but she was also very accurate in handling the cash and filling out the credit card receipts.

  The garden show theme this year was "Once Upon A Time".  The pictures above are the three houses from the three little pigs.  Somehow I missed getting a picture of the wolf's house which featured his granny flannel nightgown hanging from the clothesline. One of my favorite display gardens had a "Wind In the Willows" theme, compete with the caravan, Toad Hall, and the river. It was very kid friendly as they had a boat for little kids along with little life jackets and a dvd player with the Disney "Wind in the Willows" playing. They had a sign on the boat with a quote from the book, "There is absolutely nothing so worthwhile as simply messing about in boats."  I have to admit that messing about in boats is up there with messing about with bees or messing about in a garden as a "good for the soul" activity. I also really liked a dispay garden with a recycle theme that was done by a 17 year old high school senior.  She did the display garden as her senior project.

   There were several significant changes to the garden show this year.  They expanded the plant market such that we were moved off the main aisle leading from the dispay gardens to the food court.  I was concerned about that initially but another change more than compensated for it.  They have a new much larger larger area for all of their seminars and the path to the seminars lead right past our booth. It was like watching the tide rise and fall as we had waves of customers flow past as seminars let out.

   I always get a few things at the garden show as a way to treat myself for putting myself through that much work.  This year I splurged on purchases from a new seed company, Irish Eyes Seeds, based in Ellensburg, Washington.  They feature 60 different potato varieties.   I bought 5 different kinds of seed potatoes, other garden seeds, shallots, a cook book entirely devoted to potato recipes, and a very cool T-shirt with the slogan "If you carrot all, lettuce give whirled peas a chance."  The two varieties of potatoes shown above are "Purple Majesty" and "Red Pontiac"I also bought two fig trees for Rachel's new home in Hillsboro and a couple of new grape varieties for myself.  The highlight of the garden show for me was having  Sarah, Lia, Beth, and grand daughter Rachel all helping out at the show on Saturday.