Sunday, April 23, 2017

Today, Beeeeez!

Baby bee emerging chewing its way out of the cell.
Today was all about the road trip down to B Weaver Apiary and BeeGoods Mercantile in Navasota where Zaga and I took a two-hour class on bee husbandry (a funny term since all the workers and the queen are female as are Zaga and I, and our mates have no intention of coming anywhere near the bees!) and then we shopped. I ended up getting another hive as they had a cool one that is a hybrid between a Langstroth and a Top Bar, and Zaga got a Langstroth because it was pretty--green components and yellow components. I picked up the two nucs I had already paid for and then ended up getting another nuc and a package! We drove home with the hives, suits, tools and bees all int eh car, and only the bees flew around... The nucs were all supposed to be sealed, but there was a leak somewhere as between 50-100 bees escaped and were flying around the car during the 2+ hour drive home. I pretty much let them be till them came to the front of the car, but if they did, then I had to open a window on them and free them to the bee afterlife.

Examining a frame with NO GLOVES!
During our class Zaga and I were in full bee suits, socks, shoes, hats, veils, gloves... and our instructor was in a hat and veil. About 30 minutes into the class I got tired of feeling hampered and fat-fingered because of the gloves and I took them off. It was WONDERFUL, and I never felt threatened by the bees. Our instructor got stung a couple of times, but that was because she accidentally got them between her hands and the hive frames. Squeeze a bee and it will sting--motto of the day. She was very casual about it and just brushed the stinger out. It's important to remove the stinger right away as it is usually still attached to the venom sac which keeps pumping the toxin into you after the bee is already gone. When I do get stung for the first time, I hope to remain calm enough to remember that fact and act accordingly.

Zaga happy with the bee frame
When we got home, I emptied the package into one of my Langstroth hives and went to install the older nuc (the one that was prepared for me a few days ago) in the other one--only to discover I didn't have a deep brood box, I had two shallow boxes so the feeder and the frames of bees in the nuc wouldn't fit into either of them. Luckily, we had Zaga's new hive handy (I haven't unloaded the hybrid from the minivan yet) and it had a deep brood box on it so I went ahead and set it up. Tomorrow morning I'll set up the remaining two nucs in the Flow and hybrid hives. I have one more Top Bar nuc  and hive I ordered from someone locally (John Swann of Wicked Bee Apiary) coming mid-May, and Zaga has a nuc coming soon, so we'll be sitting on (obviously not literally!) six hives by the start of summer. Wheee! Honey and wax galore.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Today Butterflies Tomorrow Bees

Monarch caterpillar on the purple milkweed vine
If you build it they will come! Walking through the new garden with the spouse tonight (it's our path to the mailbox) and saw two (two!) monarch caterpillars decimating my milkweed! It's too bad I just planted it because I think a lot of the plants won't make it through the monarch larval stage as they haven't built up enough leaf reserves. In other garden news, the bee hives are all set up on stands which are on new concrete pads, the concrete footing around the pond was poured and the frames cleaned up today, and it rained all last night so I didn't have to water today (yay!).

I've still got it! Kite for On The Main
While I worked in the studio this afternoon, Dave worked in the apartment. The bookcases have now all been set up and filled with books. I made a list of the last few things we need so that Tuesday evening--barring all the photos, and registering, and setting up on-line with Home Away and/or Air B&B--the apartment will be ready to rent out. Friends and family, you always have first dibs (to stay, not to rent) except for during SXSW. :-)

In the studio I fired three full kiln loads and did a little unpacking/organizing, but I swear it's going to take more effort than I have in me to get it all unpacked and set up. At one box/container a day it would take well over a month. Then there's the textile studio and the wet studio (which also serves as the work area for jewelry, soap, torch-worked glass, and paper. I need fewer hobbies.

I have a studio cat--Kaiju rules supreme
Tomorrow morning Zaga and I are heading down to Navasota to take a two-hour beekeeping lesson and to pick up three hives worth of bees--two nucs and a package. Nucs, short for nuclear hives, have a queen, workers, and frames already started with brood, nectar (proto-honey) and bee bread (pollen for protein). All you do with them is take the wooden frames out of the cardboard box you bring them home in and install the frames in your existing hive. A package is just three pounds of bees scooped into a box with a new (to them) queen in a little matchbox looking contraption hanging it it with them. Eventually the workers will chew through the candy end on the so named queen cage, releasing her into the hive. She is initially put in the queen cage to keep the other bees from killing her. She needs a couple of days with her pheromones pervading the hive before the workers will accept her. To install the package of bees in your hive you take out the queen cage, open your hive, and shake the 10,000 bees  in the box into your hive. Doesn't that just sound fun? I think everyone should pick up a box with 10,000 bees in it and shake them out! Maybe I'll ask Zaga to video the procedure for tomorrow's post.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Living Off the Land

Let's actually do a post before 10:30 at night to see if I can stay awake for it...

Update on the garden: The concrete footing for the pond and for the first three beehives was poured today. Stripping of the bark off all the juniper cedar limbs that will be used for the garden furniture and structures continues apace with the stripped bark being used as a large-format ground cover in the cacti and on the back sides of the beds, and the outlining branches for the paths were all laid today. In general the week felt slow, like very little was accomplished, but in reality what got done was seed work for the next stages that is going to make the next parts go quickly. That's the hope anyway.

Sunday the bees come home to roost (like chickens, but smaller), and beginning Monday--except for the stream in the backyard, work is going to go from top to bottom of the property from now forward. We got a little off course by having live projects all over the yard. In some ways it made sense--work by task rather than by area so that, e.g., all of the weeding that needed to be done was done at once--front and back. But now we are moving into quantities of materials that make having all of them delivered at once for the entire yard impractical so we are going to go from man-to-man defense to playing the zone, as Dave used to say to describe alternative parenting strategies.

In the new garden--the top of the world--the pond walls will be set Monday, poly-vinyl will go down on the path areas, the irrigation pipe will be put down on top of it running to each of the new beds, and then the decomposed granite will be laid on all the paths. Those steps right there are going to make everything feel so much more done! Then it's just getting the rest of the pond and bog pond put together and beginning on the furniture. The furniture for that area is going to take some time as it's going to be made from the reclaimed limbs of juniper cedar and so will be a little more free-form and artistic and a little less quick. There are a couple of benches, a swing stand, trellis arches, obelisks for vines, and other cool wooden art pieces that will be designed as we go.

As they're finishing in the top of the world, the dirt for the front beds will be delivered and all the existing front beds needing it will be topped off, then covered with weed cloth, and mulched. Then we're getting several loads of river rock delivered. The existing river rock areas will be raked clear, weed cloth laid, the rock raked back over the top, and the new rock added to freshen and fill it up. The rain garden in the front is being held for later, and we're not even going around to the garage side of the front yard (where the deck in front of the sunroom is going to be replaced) for now.

A planter inspiration for the herb garden
After the front is done, we'll run decomposed granite down the north side of the house, and another boatload of topsoil will be delivered  for the backyard beds. Wash, rinse, repeat on filling the beds with new dirt, weed cloth, and mulch. Put mulch in the area under the live oaks, add some new yellow jasmine to the white jasmine growing up the deck, and the basic gardening is done back there. I will add a few more shrubs, plants and trees, but most of the hernage is done. Fun, creative touches to the back include tumbling recycled glass in a cement mixer to make into mulch for a couple of bed/walkways,  and building vertical, staggered-height boxes on the stone patio for herb garden.

The electrician is coming Monday to rewire the stream with 220, and to put switches for the pumps in the rain barrels up by where I turn on the hose, and revamping the existing hard-wired lighting. With the new wiring for the rain barrel pumps, I can easily switch from purified well water going through the hoses to water from the rain barrels when I'm watering in the backyard. Replacing the irrigation system is up in the air, and I haven't given up on finding a way to distill and use the waste water from our reverse osmosis system on the well. Jay has been working on designing a distiller cannibalized from a solar hot water heater that looks like it will process about 4-6 gallons of usable water an hour from any water source without breaking the bank...

...And with one thing and another (dinner and Serenity for two) it's now 10:00. If I really want to finish before 10:30, I should stop now. More garden news (and an update on the solar system approval) as it happens.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Clay Is Also Dirt...

So the secret to minimizing the itch and the hard white bump from fire ant bites is a buff puff and isopropyl alcohol. After I got nailed yesterday I dosed the bites in alcohol and scrubbed at them with an abrasive pad (for skin). Using the pad worked better than just dabbing at the stings with the alcohol--which makes sense. Fire ants aren't causing all the damage to your skin and reaction to the venom by biting you. They only bite you to get a good grip on you so they can swing their abdomens up under themselves to start stinging you. You can tell this is what's happening by looking at them--it looks like they're curled up on your body when they are attacking you. Anyway, other people swear by vinegar, but I am sold on alcohol, salt and a buff puff (or a Scotch Brite green scrubby pad from the kitchen in a pinch).

Thursday is my favorite day of the week because it begins with pottery class. Actually today began with me yelling at the solar company (again) about getting an inspector out here from Austin Energy to give us the rubber stamp of approval so we can Go Live. Pottery was definitely better than solar. I glazed my first wonky piece for the kiln, I under glazed a textured vase, and then glazed it, I trimmed a bowl, and I threw another little bowl. I was a ceramics machine! Today was the glaze demo in class, and my first day glazing in a couple of years. I had forgotten all the chemistry and science that goes into it. The glazes I put on my pieces today don't look anything like they will after firing. Part of that's because one piece not only has two glazes which will chemically react with each other, but it will also be fired in a soda firing. Explanation of that technique here. I dipped the other piece in a mint celadon glaze after underglazing it, and sadly forgot to take a picture of it. But the celadon glaze is iron rust brown before firing.

Now I'm off to sleep to ready myself for a piano lesson first thing tomorrow morning, followed by craft morning with Becky. Then the decomposed granite paths are going into the new garden tomorrow, and the concrete footer is being poured for the pond (they placed the forms today). Though that project really feels like it's been hanging forever, all I have to do ton console myself about its duration is to think of the solar project. We haven't sued yet...

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Worst Day Ever?

Today had the potential of being the worst day ever on the new house. Somehow I lucked out, and the badness was limited to about 15 minutes. So we have been working all over the yard, and this is Texas. Texas is famous for, among other things, a high number of nasty, stinging, biting, poisonous things that would as soon kill you as look at you. Today I ran afoul of one of them: The dreaded Fire Ant, Solenopsis invicta. There are currently lots of bare areas in the yard including the native grass/wildflower meadow which has a few things coming up (mostly weeds I think), but has mostly big, empty, dirt patches.

As we were reviewing one of the grasses coming up in great force in the yard (yellow nutsedge), I noticed four flat areas of hive activity. Jay thought they were termites getting ready to swarm. A few minutes later I stepped in one while trying to save our cow skull, Scully, from being overrun with them. I didn't notice right away--not till they were swarming up my ankles! Then I started swatting at them and trying to brush them off (while jumping up and down and squealing and telling Bobby to squirt them with the hose) and they were on my hands and arms. I finally got my shoes off and my feet rinsed clean of them, brushed most of them off my legs (they got up past my knees under my skirt) and brushed/squished the rest from my hands and feet. It still wasn't enough so I went in to the house and immediately pulled all of my clothes off in the hall... and then saw the worker out the side window studiously Not Looking At Me. We were both pretending No one  saw nothing...

After I was naked and the bites were starting to come alive, I went into the bathroom and tried to think what I read to do the last time I got a lot of bites. I remembered vinegar and alcohol, and I found the alcohol first. What luck! I scrubbed at my legs, feet, and arms with a defoliating pad soaked in alcohol, and when some extra alcohol splashed out, I mixed it with salt from a bath bar made of solid salt and rubbed it all over my legs, feet and arms. Now tonight I don't have any itches, and though I bites on top of bites, my skin feels fine. We'll see wait it looks like tomorrow. As of now (several hours later) none of the bites bother me in the slightest.

Now it's time to turn into a pumpkin (as the spouse snoring gently beside me on the couch would say) and give in to the tremendous predisposition of my eyelids to close and stay closed. Like my gently snoring spouse on the couch next to me. It was a long day for everyone.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

A Sick Day

This afternoon I gave myself permission to take a sick day. Of course by that time it wasn't a whole day, but I spent much of the afternoon just lying on the bed. With cats. Cats apparently have to pretend you have a lap even when you don't. And they are very persnickety over who gets this prime real estate. Pavlova was first to pounce on the opportunity to snuggle with mom this afternoon, and when Kaiju showed up he was quite disgruntled to find her already in what he considers his spot. But (for once) they settled in amicably and we all sort of dozed. I blame the ham. Or the caffeine in the coffee and tea I drank. Whatever it was, I had a headache, upset stomach, vertigo, and a racing heart. It was good just to chill for a bit. Unfortunately it meant that I didn't get my glass work done, but I just wasn't up to it. Tomorrow.

This week in the garden has been slow. The general contractor who runs the crew didn't come yesterday as he had a family thing, and he didn't come today as he was sick. The concrete guys were in a car accident yesterday and spent today trying to get their truck out of impound so they didn't show up (either day) either. One of the part-time workers quit last week because he was told (not by me) that he couldn't wear shorts--against the GC's policy--on the job. Any kind of long-term contracting is very much a game of hurry up and wait. But I rescheduled my bee pick-up from tomorrow to Sunday (yes sir, yes sir, three hives full!) so I have a bit of breathing room, and I confabbed with the three main workers today and gave them a list of things they can start on in the morning while we wait to see if the GC and the concrete guys show up.

Now it's after 9:00, which is a perfectly reasonable time to go to sleep. Hope I actually CAN sleep tonight--last night was rough as I think my upset stomach started about 1:00 am. At least I got some good Words With Friends time in.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Giving Up For the Night

Another day, another plant in the ground--or, in the case of today, two and a half flower beds worth of plants in the ground.  All I have left to place are the shrubs, trees, and vines--and none of them are going in the new raised beds. The result? I don't have enough plants to fill the beds. In part this is because I haven't worked the seeds into the planting, and at this point I don't know if I'm going to. Maybe I'll plant them all in back or on the side. If I don't plant them this year, I'll need more potted plants.

Right here is where I would normally natter on about all the plants that were put in, or some other aspect of the day. But I am just too pooped. We are newly home from the Dr. Who season premiere which we saw on the big screen (I love Fathom Events!) and I had a VERY long day with the solar install company, the City of Austin electricity workers, my regular landscape installers, and life. So I'm going to save a longer, better post for another night. Now I am going to close my twitching eyelids, and dive deep into them. Goodnight all.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Stinky Easter

It's Easter Sunday, and I managed not to gorge myself on chocolate or jelly beans! It's a new record. Unless it rains tomorrow, the rest of the plants will go in. Really. The landscape cloth went down (note to self: decide to put down weed barrier BEFORE putting down the mulch) at the end of last week, and now there's nothing holding me back from putting the plants in place for the last four raised beds. As my final check for which plants go in which beds (after soil moisture, light requirements and height), I turn to my bloom chart. This is only a snapshot of the spreadsheet, the rest of the info already mentioned is also in it, but the visual aspect of this part as I move the rows around representing where plants are placed in each bed is incredibly helpful in ensuring I don't have the dreaded flower gaps.

On a subject that is not gardening, I learned some very interesting things today about tonic water! I knew that you aren't supposed to drink lots of it because of the concerns about the quinine in it. But what I didn't know is that doctors used to prescribe quinine for leg cramps--which frequently wake me in in the middle of the night--and it can also deter mosquitos. I don't know if it also makes you smell funny to people, I guess I'll find out. Anyway, three eight-ounce glasses a day is okay (without the gin ;-), and I find I really like the flavor with lime.

And on the subject of smelling... Not-so-funny moment of the day: Jessie was hunting for Easter eggs this morning and there were three hidden in our bathroom. While she was looking there, she had her sweatshirt pulled up, covering her nose. I asked her why and she said because of the cat box. She went on to say it even smelled into our bedroom. OMG! I have become the old cat woman!! I couldn't smell a thing! I have noticed a strong odor in other people's houses if they had a lot of cats or around their cat boxes, and though it was unpleasant, I always figured they knew about it. Maybe not. Now I'm really bugged: How do I find out if my house (or parts of it) smell unpleasant if Jessie is not here? And what the heck happened to my sense of smell?!?

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Streaming Easter

Good heavens it's already almost 11:30 pm! Time flies when you're dying eggs. Good thing the Easter bunny no longer has to hide the eggs before the crack of dawn anymore. There's no way our teenager will get up before 10:00 so the bunny can sleep in a bit. Tonight we had Dan and Zaga over for dinner--lobster ceviche with mango and avocado, rotisserie duck with the Charlie Trotter Moroccan BBQ sauce, and orzo with mint and mango. Zaga brought a fantastic lemon tart to finish up and we all waddled away from the table. Zaga is my partner in bees, and tonight she proposed getting some chickens together so it looks like we're going to have girls again! As with the bees, she will take care of them in the summer while we are in Montana, and the coop and run will cross over a bit of both of our backyards. Who knows, goats next?

Today Jay also came over and got the stream going, and after watching it for awhile we determined that the original owners of the house probably had a system that ran at least 100 gallons of water a minute down the stream. We were pushing 30-35 today, and the stream never really filled up and flowed. It trickled. So next week, a new catch basin to hold the extra water that will be in the system when it's fully powered so we can turn it off and it won't overflow at the bottom, a bigger pump, bigger pipe through which to push the water up the hill, and a bigger gravity drain from the bottom pool into the pump housing basin. We've also got some mortar leaks to seal--might even pressure wash and seal the entire thing and then it will run as good as new. Jig walked out and inspected the next to the bottom pool, and I got this picture of him just as he turned around which makes it look like he's only half a dog. But the stream looks nice!

Final big news for the day is that I not only got another couple of glass orders, but I also had a really cool idea for some cast sculpture that will require several different techniques to get all the pieces the way I want them. I don't think I will ever do this work commercially because I can't see being able to get the price I would need for the pieces, but it will be fun work, and I have a garden where I can put it. Pics when it's all done--don't want to tip my hand till I've worked out all the details.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Sensory Experiences

Lyre-leaf sage in one of the new beds
It was my very great pleasure today to meet a friend of a friend, Chris Maher, who is in town teaching a couple of cooking classes. He stopped by today and we must have talked for almost four hours. It is so rare to meet someone you can talk to and listen to for hours and still have so much you want to share. Chris is a chef and an actor and is both very successful and very fulfilled by each career. I love interacting with people who are able to follow their passions! We hope to have him teach a dinner here at our house next Saturday. It's very short notice, but I think we can pull a few people together. And I hope this will be the first of many dinner party classes he teaches here.

While Chris and I were talking, the guys were working outside and by tomorrow morning (yes, Jay is coming back on Saturday just to finish this) we are going to have a working stream! It turns out that the pipe carrying the water from the pump at the bottom to the waterfall at the top was broken in two places and filled with acorns and other debris--it's a wonder Don was able to get any water out of it at all to show it to us running when we were originally looking at the house. Jay's crew dug up the entire pipe and replaced it, then Jay replaced the pump and rewired it, and tomorrow he will put the last touches on the electrical and we'll have a stream!! The stream, as completely unnecessary to the running of the house as it is, is one of the most important features of this place for me. When I updated Dave on the status of the work out there I was very surprised at how happy he was that the stream will be functional for the first time since we've owned the house (over a year and a half now!). I knew it was important to me, but I thought he didn't really care about it.

Now I sit and listen to the frogs--I think that's what's making that weird noise--and the water in the little ponds on the back deck, and I am ready to dip into my eyelids again. At  least tonight I didn't fall asleep three times in the midst of writing this post like I did last night. And tomorrow is Saturday! No alarm going off!!!