This summer I and other university students took a beekeeping internship class with an entomologist and master beekeeper, who has been caring for student farm beehives for the past several years as a demo item. The class was intended for training student farmers in the maintenance and caring of the Student Farm Apiary, and gave us intense hands on training during the busiest season for our buzzing buddies!
Every class day, except field trip days or when the weather was bad, we would put on veils or bee suits and crack open the hives. Through the instruction of our professor we received an excellent hands on experience (plus one mandatory sting), and learned how to check for diseases and parasites, understand comb development and hive structure, interpret bee signaling, and manage an apiary successfully. Part of our grade was our field journal, which was a constant diary of our interactions with the hives; what happened, when, and what we planned to do next. Bees are so dependent upon the seasons for when they forage, swarm, or store excess honey, a journal is a vital track record to remind you what did and didn’t work and when to do it again in following years. The ability to predict conditions based on the most current data is incredibly useful not only for tailoring your hive management to your local microclimate, but as we watch global warming warp our seasons we are unable to use the established seasonal guidelines beekeepers have used for centuries.
The other half of our grade was dependent upon our the work we accomplished in specialized teams. We had a hive construction team that put together and painted new hive boxes and stands that now actually belong to the farm. A mite monitoring team checked the hive bi-weekly using sugar shakes, sticky boards, and drone pulls to estimate the population of varroa mites in the hives. Another team mapped the colony development weekly to see where the observation hive was putting brood, pollen, and honey stores as the seasons wore on. Finally, a behavior team spent many hours watching the hive entrance to monitor hive activity and learning the “bee dance” to interpret the communicative dances the bees use to signal food sources. So cool!
During the first 4 weeks of class we had a swarm catcher (also known as a nuc box) on top of our nearby bee shed and breathlessly hoped to find ourselves with another colony. One day I came to class and there are my classmates all crowded around standing on tiptoe and pointing excitedly-we had caught a swarm! We happily donned our veils and went to check our established hives. One hive had an abnormal amount of queen cells, which isn’t entirely unusual during swarm season, and we pulled them off. As we did this however, we realized that despite the warm forage-encouraging weather, there simply weren’t enough bees. More so, there simply wasn’t a queen. Terrified of having a colony collapse due to being queen-less we incubated one of the cells we had removed. I carried the tiny queen brood cell in my shirt breast pocket carefully as some classmates climbed on top of the bee shed and found we hadn’t caught a wild swarm, but had caught our own hive’s swarm. The marked queen buzzed cheekily at us as we laughed over our inability to keep bees from doing what they do. The queen I carried was replaced in the now queen-less hive and we arranged for the swarm to have their own hive box.
It brought up an interesting question though. We, as beekeepers, often if not always suppress swarming in the hives we manage to keep them large and productive. There has also been talk of how “swarm happy” bought bred queens have become as late- probably a result of breeding for one characteristic and inadvertently ending up with another as well. However, if a bee hive feels like it wants to effectively split in two, should we let it? Will they be healthier if allowed to swarm or are they just perpetuating a self-weakening behavior? There are so many things we do in beekeeping that are tough choices and it’s hard to make clear whether it is better for our goals as a beekeeper or our bee’s goals as a bee. Unfortunately as as we watch our ecosystem become poisoned and our bees die out in horrifyingly large numbers, plus the effects of invasive diseases and parasites nearly wiping out feral colonies altogether, the need to encourage the integrity of our bee populations has never been more important, nor more difficult.
It was an amazing summer and aside from delicious honey, new friends, and a few funny stories I feel like I’ve gained what will be a life long passion. The Student Farm Apiary is my second home and each hive like a good friend- each with their own moods and personalities and flaws. Despite having a suit, I don’t have gloves. It gives me a better feel for the hive and I love feeling the bees on my fingers, despite them often being upset. A few swollen digits is a small price to pay for the appreciation I’ve gained for these wonderfully evolved insects and the insane work they do!
Regardless of how busy I am summers in Seattle always turn into great experiment and adventure times. When the sun goes up at 5am and doesn’t go down until 11pm you simply can’t help but cram your day full of excellence. Last year I did pickles and churned butter and taught myself all about gardening and bummed around drinking booze with friends. This summer has had a few more intriguing variances.
Most importantly, I’ve become a bit of a beekeeper this summer! I’ve had a lot of fun working with bees and learning all about their fascinating social structure. After awhile I had to avoid them a bit because stings on my hands caused them to puff up so much I couldn’t write. Which isn’t so much “awh, I can’t draw” as “I”M A FULL TIME STUDENT BIO MIDTERM TOMORROW FUUUU!!!”. Eventually I’ll let myself be stung enough so the venom has little affect on me and I won’t get skittish when I hear that tell tale angry buzzing.
Considering the issues that are happening because of CCD, and how dependent the US economy is on argicultural exports, beekeeping has become an highly valued but arcane science. You can do everything right and still find a dead hive at the end of winter. My money is on chemical compounds in the environment getting into their honey and wax is screwing up bees’ hormonal signaling, but I’m inexperienced and not exceedingly well read. However, as a result of the rarity of healthy bee hives if you do keep bees you can rent out your hives to a local farm and get 3 times as much as you used to per field for hiring out your pollinators ($150-200/per hive/per month?). So if you’re thinking of keeping bees part time, and if you do it efficiently, you can easily pay yourself back for your equipment, if not your time. Something to consider especially if you’re in Washington and want to live in an exurban area as there are plenty of fruit tree farms who will happily hire out your bees. Even more so if you organic beekeep for organic farms.
Chemicals: It’s really important to encourage natural beekeeping in my opinion. Not only because of the aesthetics of organic practices, but because any chemicals bees interact with will not only end up in their digestive system, but end up in every last byproduct. For example, if a chemical miticide is used on the bees to keep down the parasitic varroa mite population, the bees’ fur will probably be covered in it. The bees lick themselves clean constantly, and scrape pollen off their bodies to pack into the comb, which they feed on. So either way it’s going to end up in their stomachs. Honey is produces by bees drinking nectar and regurgitating it into combs (which is awesome since it then has lots of enzymes the bee stomach produces and becomes ten times more nutritious), and now it has chemical miticide in it. Wax is produced from “wax plates” on the underside of bees’ abdomens and is a glandular secretion. Here’s the really scary part. You CANNOT get chemical miticide out of beeswax. It is impossible. This also means that the entire beeswax market is filled with contaminated wax. Yes, your fancy beeswax candle? That beeswax soap bar you really like? Has a distinct, though admittedly small, dosage of chemical miticide in it. Unless you’re buying from a very very closed organic source you need to come to terms with the fact your beeswax will be a bit contaminated, and there is no law saying the companies have to tell you that.
If you’d like to see pictures from me and other beekeeping interns from this summer with descriptions go here: www.flikr.com/photos/beeinterns. Books I use as my beekeeping bibles are: The Beekeeper’s Handbook and The Biology of the Honey Bee. Both I would consider absolutely necessary to anyone considering beekeeping, even as a side hobby. I’d love to do tons of comics on bees but the topic is so vast and complicated sometimes I think it would be impossible to do in comic form, without it just degenerating into me quoting my text books with funny pictures of bees next to it.
Personally I’d assume that digging through dumpsters is much more appealing in the winter when tons of biodegradables aren’t roasting in a big steel bin in some supermarket’s parking lot. However, there are a couple cool places to hit in Seattle and I finally went on my first escapade. My friend and I dug through a produce stand’s compost bin and found about 6 pounds of apples just sitting on top of the heap, all in good condition minus the bruising that got them tossed in the first place. We also got some tomatoes but I couldn’t be bothered to deal with cooking them into pasta sauce right now and don’t really favor eating them raw (I’m not that intense). So I just went ahead and froze them. When I get enough tomatoes I’ll defrost them and make a massive batch of marinara or something. I do the same with peppers and onions and such. Since they’re usually so close to expiring I just clean them, cut off bad bits, dice them up, and freeze them for stir frys later on.
With the apples though I made a fucking massive batch of apple butter. Seriously, we had over half a god damn gallon of the stuff after it was done reducing. We split it into two quart jars and I’ve not even tapped mine yet. I’m considering using half of it for fruit leather and the other half giving it away to people who have given me food this past week (not to perpetuate the horrible dumpster eater stereotype but.. yeah I’ve been living off beans and charity). If you want to make apple butter, just take your favorite applesauce recipe and add apple cider vinegar, ginger, a dash of paprika, then cut the sugar in half and let simmer on the stove for 3 hours at 220 degrees(also kills dumpster bacteria).
I hit a few non-food dumpsters too! A used bookstore now has left me with stacks of Heinlein, Robbins, and McCarthy plus some National Geographics, and a museum tossed out a perfectly working, though ancient and heavy, jigsaw! Fuuuuuuuck Yes. I’m considering painting big coral reef scenes on plywood, cutting them out with the jigsaw, and affixing them to the hallways walls in the apartment. I’ve heard rumors of camping equipment dumpsters with slashed, but fixable, tents and sleeping bags. Hmmm.
You probably know this already but lactobacillus is a gut (and vagina) dwelling bacterium that helps us break down dairy products and other things to reap the awesome awesome benefits. It’s one of those probiotic critters that are easily made and found in food and can help you keep out of gut rot (and yeast infections BTW). Thanks to a horrendous bout of bronchitis I’ve had all damn summer, I’m on antibiotics the size of horse tranquilizers.
~~They’re in you and they’re in meeee!~~
Honestly, I was kind of hoping my body would fight off the infection but after almost 2 months I caved in and went to the doctor. To be fair, my body probably would have won the fight had I not gotten wasted and smoked a big old cigar with a buddy a month back.
Antibiotics are indescriminate when it comes to killing bacterium, so it’s a good idea to add lots of probiotic foods to your diet when you do have to go on them. Things like yogurts with live cultures (especially greek!), raw cheeses, and unpasteurized lacto-fermented veggies! I get to have an excuse to stuff my face full of kimchi and sauerkraut and pickled radish! Woot!
I tried making sauerkraut and I do recommend using recipes in Sandor Ellix Katz’s Wild Fermentation (but don’t suggest his beer recipe, btw). Unfortunately I messed with it and set it up wrong and let it sit out for too long and spilled brine everywhere. Did I mention I’m a klutz? Also a sussacotti? This is some North Dakota Norwegian slang for someone who cannot leave something alone, who fusses and frets and fiddles with a thing, who will probably eventually destroy something because they can’t stop trying to perfect it. *points at self enthusiastically, shaking head pathetically* Anyways, I may try and make some kimchi later this week, but I leave in 10 days for a month so it may be impractical to do so.
Oh yeah, hey that thing I initially devoted this site too! Mainly this section is devoted to St. Vulcan. I won’t go on about it, go here if you want the details, but I did learn quite a bit from this project so I think it is appropriate to put it as part of the summer update.
This summer I have..
1. Learned shit-ton about how important the right ink and pen and paper can be. St. Vulcan caused me so much grief since I initially used a brush tip pen that inked wonderfully but didn’t stand up to erasing and bled. The latter being an issue since I ended up scanning everything and the lack of good thick inky lines made it impossible to use fill tools without it being horrifically noticable. The pen I used second was so much thicker that all the art looks insanely different and on a different scale as a result, though was much much easier to color. Since then I’ve invested in an array of pens and have been conducting tests on their relative success.
2. Got over my fears of a) thinking I couldn’t create something that had any real value and b) taking myself seriously. I may not be creating the art I want to be, and I may not even have time to devote to improve myself, but I did make one awesome project to the very best of my ability and it was something I’m legitimately proud of! That is more than worth the value of art itself, and more worth it to me. It made me feel less like I could dismiss myself and more like I had something to offer, however small. Now I can only get better!
3. Two projects on the drawing board. A a) porn comic that breaks the horrific stereotypes that proliferate the comic industry and b) a steampunk theme time traveler comic. I’m excited to try and work not only on drawing lots of body types and positions, but to really experiment with paneling and styles. The woman I’ve conceived for the porn comic has so possessed me with her character that I have 3 pages of her sketched out and I can tell she won’t be done with me until I find her a mate. For now she is nameless and uniquely beautiful.
Now I’ll start making my lists for the fall and for next summer to see what else I want to try and add to my skill set! I’m thinking… learn to play a banjo and/or washboard, whittle, and.. well, you tell me!
We had a slow ass start to the summer here up in the Pacific Northwest. The temperature had been above 75 degrees a full recorded hour by mid-July (while the rest of the USA was swathed in hellfire), and even as I sit here writing this in my kitchen it is overcast and promising a warm muggy shower. However, summer did finally showed up in a rushed blaze of enthusiasm, like myself when I’m late for work and trying to amend this fact by sheer smiles.
The sudden warmth also brought home my many excellent friends who then filled my flat with laughter, food, and dancing. Adventures were had and birthdays were celebrated. All in all, it’s been busy and I finally am getting a (kind-of) chance to catch up and transcribe some of the goodies I’ve reaped from this summer.
Which as long as it is below 10% ABV is considered a foodstuff (in Russia)! Finally I got another batch bubbling away happily in my pantry. Soon the despair of not having homebrews was going to make me doubt my own awesomeness or any claims I had to being a brew witch in general. The recipe I used is actually from The Cellar Homebrew where I get all my supplies and advice. IMO, they are more than worth the drive.
For my batch I used: “Round the Horn” IPA (click for download) which I altered a bit and may have fucked up (completely forgot the dry malt until I’d capped the fermentor), but eh, I’ve learned that regardless of how much you fuck up your brew process it’ll still taste better than most of that you can buy at the supermarket. The air coming out of the airlock smells sinfully good and makes me really pleased I used so many citrus bomb hops.
Burly Sushi: aka “Rustic Sushi”
I hinted in a previous comic post that my cooking beast had concocted a sushi utilizing quinoa and hardy greens and we ended up with an excellent result. Something that probably is more of a quinoa wrap than proper sushi, but if you do it right, you can roll it, tempura it, and even slice it! Plus, despite us doing it without any fancy fish, you could easily use raw fish in these and have the same pleasing effect. I’m debating making a food comic about this, but for now I will at least give the most basic recipe and will happily give more instruction if there is interest.
(Super Basic) Burly Sushi:
1.5 cups uncooked quinoa (any color)
1/3 cup Rice Vinegar (unsweetened)
1 tbsp salt
3 tbsp sugar
1 sweet potato
1 bunch collard greens (you will need at least 8 leaves)
1 red or yellow or orange bell pepper
Sriracha (hot sauce), soy sauce, and pickled ginger ~ to taste
Bring 3 cups of water to boil, add quinoa, boil, then reduce to very low and let simmer, covered. Open the lid as little as possible and stir by moving the pot in circles while holding the lid down. Once the quinoa is cooked through fluff it with a fork. Mix vinegar, salt, and sugar over heat until dissolved and add to quinoa. Mix and continue to mix at intervals as it cools to room temperature ( I set mine out on the windowsill). While it cools, slide your sweet potato into 1/2″ * 1/2″ slices (like fries) and tempura in the batter of your choice. Being a root vegetable, it is better to cook it at lower oil temperatures to give it a chance to cook through without burning the batter. Cut your bell pepper into similar slices, coat with a bit of olive oil, salt, and pepper, and roast in the oven. Finally slice your avocado into thin slices and place in boil with juice from lime.
Lay out your collard green, coat with cooled quinoa, pile tempura potato, bell pepper, and avocado down the center. Touch up with some Sriracha, soy sauce, or whatever you like, and roll it up. Enjoy.
Note: without something to hold it, the roll will come undone. You can use toothpicks or carrot slices. There is also the possibility of a “kale mat” that will hold, but it is much more labor intensive. There is also a thousand other awesome Burly options to imitate sushi (eggplant seeds for roe, tempura rolls, asparagus ingredients, red apple cider vinegar instead of rice vinegar, etc.). Finally, this recipe is easily vegan, gluten free (roast instead of tempura sweet potato, or use different flour), and raw (sprouted quinoa, uncooked veggies).
1 Beet (julienne or through a cheese grater)
2 Carrots (same)
1 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 tsp. sugar
1 tbsp dijon or spicy mustard.
Put it in a bowl and EAT IT. Also tastes good with greens added (double wet ingredients) or other root veggies.
Silly Ladies Mac n’ Cheese
1 box mac n’ cheese (milk and butter according to instructions)
1 cup kimchi
1 can salmon
2 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp white pepper
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp cumin
1 pinch paprika
Make mac n’ cheese according to box instructions. Finely dice garlic and saute in a bit of olive oil until brown and crispy. Add all ingredients to mac n’ cheese and mix. Eat it!
It’s amusing to me, in a sad sort of way, that when the first bits of Spring come calling in the forms of nubbins on tree branches and spears of bulbing sorts of flowers, that I find myself at home more often. Well, to be fair, I’m at home all the time in the Winter. Perhaps I notice it more because I desire to be outside, doing outside things, but realize to do all my projects my home base must be in order. The name for this is usually called “Spring Cleaning”, but I think of it more as “Spring Productivity”. Aside from the fact I’ve detangled the mass of clothes and assorted shoes that used to make up my closet floor, or that I finally took out several bins worth of trash, or EVEN that I finally took the mass of cardboard out of my hallways to be used for mulch somewhere else, it’s not because I want things clean. It’s because I need all those things I lost in the mire, and I need more space to make a mess as the productivity fiend possesses me.
Painted a present for my father (first attempt at watercolors, don’t laugh), sewed myself a craft toolbelt (also no laughing), there’s the pattern for the felt dahlia in that stack, as well as Sandor Elitz Katz “Wild Fermentation” I’ve been reading, my box of fertilizer since I set down seeds today, and in the back a leaflet on classes at a weaving center. Also George Carling in the 70’s, which is just ❤ ❤ ❤
HOWEVER, The real news is: I FOUND MY POWER DRILL CHARGER!
Oh yes, the shame of moving into my apartment 7 months ago and losing one itsy bitsy power cord in the mass of crap I didn’t unpack so much as dumped in corners. But it’s back! It feels like my lover has just returned from a long field work trip dirty and dusty and full of new research and life, but first my darling, it’s been far too long since I’ve seen that magnificent ass of yours and you simply must give me your pants…
Woop. Drifted off. This is what happens when you don’t have a boyfriend for long enough you form emotional attachments to the contents of your toolbox. Which I must admit is an improvement from high school, where I was attached to a romance novel or a sparkly pair of earrings.
What this post is actually about, dear unknown and probably non-existing reader, is a chronicle of my new spring projects. Aka, so I can remember what the hell I was up to in years to come, and so that you can share in the knowledge of my productivity harvests. Blogs can really be like scientific journals if you go about it the right way.
First off, I made soup. Oh, I know you’re thinking this is so rather exciting and so rather important that it completely explains why I felt the need to make a blog and pay the hosting fees and even pretend there is someone reading. However. It was. In fact. Rather tasty.
Creamy Hungarian Mushroom Soup
The fact that it kept me from being afraid of dill is enough of a reason to post it here. Dill is such a strong and distinct flavor and after a rather bad attempt at Gravlax that destroyed 3 pounds of good salmon, I’ve been wary. However this contains many strong flavors and things I usually don’t like (sour cream), but it all works. Trust me, just try it.
(Click Picture to go to the Je Mange La Ville food blog, where I got the recipe)
Note on my changes: I sauteed the onions and mushrooms for a few minutes on very high with some olive oil and added a bit of cumin to the roux.
I’ve set down a batch of seedlings. Doubtless most of them if not all of them will die like last year and I’ll tearfully drag myself to the Edible Garden Sale in May, but the hope is still alive! Unfortunately I believed the apartment got enough sunlight for seedlings, but the sprouting broccoli was getting leggy after a week in a sunny window so I put them outside today. Which brings me to one of my big advice tips. If you’re planting seeds in a big flat (which is rather handy) make sure to match like with like. Tomatoes, peppers, and even nasturiums all need a good 70 or so degrees to germinate as well as a good amount of humidity. So plant them together. I’ve got my sprouting broccoli, sugar snaps, and peas all in one flat because they’re all fairly hardy and good to about 40 degrees, etc.
Another first this week is the batch of beer I finally made. A wheat beer recipe that came with the mini brewery kit my folks got me from the Cellar Homebrew store in Shoreline for Christmas. Yesterday the little airlock was popping away happily. A sign that the yeast was kicking out Co2 and, my personal favorite, ethanol, but today it is a little less productive. Hopefully my fidgeting with the airlock and last minute decision to add kumquats to the wort didn’t cause some nasty beastie to take up residence in the fermentor. Or the fact that I completely botched the siphon about ten times and had to take that many shots of vodka to get my mouth clean enough to get the siphon going again. The resulting wort and hop dregs in my mouth causing me to spit and cough a bit and well… a lot of *love* went into this batch of beer is all I’m saying.