Saturday, 2 March 2013

Masked gentrification.

Since I have been bee-keeping, lot of lovely people I know have responded kindly and enthusiastically. This new hobby has co-evolved with a new me.... an alcohol free mediatation queen lite version that has been trying to embrace the local sustainability culture in West Footscrazy, be more community minded, and since The Rover has gone, a bread baking hippy version of Sir has emerged.

However, the wrath of my internal "HotHead Paizan" will never be quiet it seems. On Friday I dragged myself out to the local Art Gallery/Gorge-little-shop opening of a fairly famous local artist. Her work is amazing. Known locally for her paste ups of flying women and children on the sides of local buildings and pubs, her painting were much more sinister and technically brilliant. The crowd that gathered however.... this is another story.

Sir waits for hir friend.... outside this gallery that is located on a local main drag.

A grey haired older lady walks past with a very stiff queer looking daughter who wouldn't meet my eye. The lady say "Iya can't cope with this! I can't seey wot I'm dooing! Its like a sauna!", glaring at me, as she pulls off a feather red masque and pulls down her integrated sunnies over her eyes. Little beads of sweat have gathered on her top lip, the only part of her that cannot disguise her uncomfortability in being so close to a butch woman who has no interest in her.

Middle aged anglo couples cruise along the street and slow down, in the same manner as when they see a car crash, FOMO written all over their faces as they wonder what is going on. A street party? People like us having fun?

A group of obnoxious boy spawn "play" on the grass of the vacant lot behind Sir, their dads, gourmet beers in hand, "supervise". One boy head-butts another after an altercation about whether a mutual friend is "sexy" (strange) and the butted babe runs to dad with a bruised lip. That strange way that out of control little people seem to be able to run at a 45 degree angle to the ground....

Around the corner "white guy cooks Thai" is lurking, selling another cultures food in bucket loads to hetero-normative guests of the opening. The Brown peeps in cars also slow down... to raise their eyebrows in surprise and wariness at the growing conglomeration spilling over onto the road and footpath.

My friend arrives and we walk in to the gallery. It reeks of alcohol and most people are already toasted. Sir's alcohol receptors begin to fire. Slight tremors and twitches threaten. We look at the art. It is good.

Then, out of nowhere, a lady who look vaguely familiar has launched into a full greeting accompanied by a boozy kiss. Who is this lady? She delights in telling me that she has worked out where she knows me from, yammering about a long gone close friend, her funeral and her partner. Click!! I've got it... but she continues.

>Oi've seen ya around sao many playces!! But Oi knowe where I knowe ya from now!! It's not work!!
>No says I.
>and its not Women's Health West!!
>No again
>and its not Community Housing!!
>No shaking head
>Sao good to see ya!

She is very excited that she has had her moment of clarity, the drunken brain wave that is soo important to the imbiber yet so boring to the onlooker. Deep breath. Sir remembers not to be judgemental. Move away slowly and leave the building. Like Elvis.

My moment of clarity came later, with a conversation with my wife. About alcohol. It steals your brain, robbs you of your creativity and all the bits that make you interesting. At least to the sober person.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

The learning curve

So last blogpost I was showing how I was attempting to connect foundation to frames for my second storey. Utter fail. Here's the story so far....

Over the past few days I have been noticing that my girls have been removing undeveloped pupae from the hive. I was concerned and unsure of what the problem (if any) may be. I contacted a few online bee forums that I have joined and found out that this is normal cleaning behaviour.... OR it could mean disease!! Ark!!

One of the many facebook bee pages responded to my questions about this pupae removal by suggesting that either the bees are removing pupae because of the changes in temperature and conditions (fairly typical of Melbourne weather) OR it might bee a disease called chalkbrood. Chalkbrood is a fungal disease. As a cell Biologist I was immediately suspicious. Fungus? In Melbourne summer? Unlikely.... fungus needs damp humid conditions to survive. Also the removed infected pupae are called "mummies" because they are encased in a white fungal growth that makes them look like a miniature mummy. As you can see, my removed pupae are not mummified.

However I did check my hive today to make sure. A bit of a disaster on one level and a relief on another. The relief being that my colony is disease free... even though I couldn't see my Queen, despite some good advice on how to find her from Mil. The disaster was that the foundation that I had set up last week had completely collapsed within the second story. So I eat my words... the technique that I used was not sound. I think that my second attempt will involve a soldering iron borrowed from Sir's work. However the good news, despite this disaster was that my girls had not yet started to build on the new wobbly foundation, so all is well. In fact, I have some time up my sleeve to make these new frames as the colony are still working on 6 of 8 frames.

This hive opening was quite different to the last few. The girls were not as happy with my inspection as they had been before and they were letting me know. Bees have two sets of wings, usually hooked together form normal flight. However when agitated they are able to unhook them and their happy buzzing becomes an annoyed clacking. About five were zigzaging around my head, clacking and releasing a pheromone that fills the airspace with a warning signal. Quite an experience!! I removed the second super quickly and placed the frames in a beeproof box to deal with later. Then I quickly closed up the hive and left the girls to bee for now.

My next project will be to reattach the foundation and add the second story again. Stay tuned!!

Monday, 21 January 2013

Second story... here is one I prepared earlier

The Honey Super

Last week, after my second hive opening, I added a honey super for my girls. This is not as dificult as it long as you have an interest in projects, don't mind some hammer and fire & you have at least two days to spare to get the super ready from scratch.

I began by visiting my now favorite shop, Bee Sustainable, to gather the supplies that I needed.... hive box, frames, foundation and beeswax. I also got some more reading material... but more about that later.

Firstly I put together the super box and painted with undercoat and house paint. These two coats take a day each to dry in Melbourne summer weather.

I also had to construct the frames, taking together with nails.

The trickiest part of constructing honey frames seems to be securing the foundation. I decided, when I chose the second super, to go with "ideal" size frames. These are smaller frames that are designed, when the delectable harvest time arrives, to be used to harvest honeycomb.

As such, I did not add any wire to the frames, so the whole operation is quite delicate as the foundation needs to be secured to the top bar of the frame using beeswax. Once the frames are given to the bees, they will use propolis to secure the foundation in spots that require extra support, as well as joining the first cells to the actual frame. After reading up on the best technique for joining on the foundation... most of them quite labour intensive, fiddly and requiring such man tools as pieces of copper wire, blowtorches or industrial pipettes (*sigh*.... not that hard, really??) I decided that since I do not have access to my Lab-tech at school nor our prep area fully equipped with such goodies, to go with my own method. A lighter and a piece of wax cut to a sliver.


 I may find, on opening my hive again in a week or so that this technique was crap and the foundation has come adrift of the frames. If this is so I will gladly eat my words and revert to a different method.

Until then....           

My choice of hive opening day was a little fraught the third time around. I woke up to perfect weather... sunny, 25 degrees and no wind. Being holiday time, I was ready to go after breakfast ( about 12 noon) so most of my girls were out foraging, leaving me to inspect with house bees in the hive. All was good and ready to go... then I spotted our lovely 94 yr old Ukranian neighbour pottering around the side of his house. No matter.... he's never done this before (ever) since we move in, but I waited.

Ah! The coast is clear... until I hear a shout from my wife "there's a man doing some mowing on the nature-strip!". Dang!! Should I desuit? Undeterred I wait again (sweating a little by this stage) thinking that if a third event occurs then this is not my day to inspect the hive. In true Aussie style he whipper-snippers, he mows, he uses his petrol fired leaf blower (are these not the most insanely outrageous fossil fuel guzzlers EVER? What's wrong with a broom?? Arrgh!!) and then he sprays pesticide on all of the weeds growing on the driveway!!

A little aside on the use of pesticides to control weeds that have the nerve to grow on our nature-strips in suburbia. Despite the fact that the stuff is blue, smells bad and requires photo id to purchase in bulk amounts... I don't understand the obsession with neat and tidy nature-strips, garden edges and weed free lawns!! Disregard the fact that given the first decent rainfall, all of those chemicals will be washed into the fresh water drainage system, flow through creeks and streams to be deposited in Port Phillip Bay... being ingested into many living creatures along the way. Hello food web, here is your free entry ticket! Disregard the cumulative effect that pesticides have on bees and other natural pollinators. Its a Bogan puzzle alright. Probably along the lines of nature control in homes, RAID surface spray, anti ant dust, antibacterial surface swipes and rat-sack traps. Shudder.

Eventually the hired exterminator of plant life leaves... thank goodness! I get the smoker fired up and
add on the second story. Life is sweet again.


Since this super has gone on the bee colony has increased in numbers, hopefully in strength as well. The scent of the hive on a warm summers night is incredible. I also rediscovered Sylvia Plath's beautiful bee poems. Worth a read in your apiary if you get the chance.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Unbeelievable: Creating a Space

Beehind this fence is a beehive....beelieve it or not!
I think it worthwhile to talk a little about how to create spaces for bees in Urban and suburban environments. If you are considering setting up a hive, there are a few things that you need to consider before you position your hive. Beeing sure that you have made the best choice is important beefore you actually pick up your colony, because changing the position of a hive can be hard... especially if it is only a small distance that you wish to move it. The girls will find it difficult to relocate, I have been told.

Firstly, the government regulations are quite specific about where a hive can bee, how far from boundary fences and what type of fences or barriers they should bee. I have seen a lot of picture of hives in very odd locations during internet search for more information on the topic. One hive, 4 supers high, was perched precariously on 4 paint tins, on a tiny back porch, facing out from a sliding door leading in to a living area. I had nightmares imagining this hive collapsing and a stream of angry bees rushing in to the apiarist's home.... Christ on rollerblades!!

Secondly, you want your hive to bee protected from winds, shaded during hot periods of the day and out of view of the general public. I erected this fence across my driveway to create a wind barrier and sight barrier for the beehive.

Another post I read about was a lady describing her concern about her goat interfering with her hive... "Maybe it whas ma goat who knowked ma hive?...." (you can imagine the sqwarks of laughter at 2am when I read this one... poor lady goat owner) so this fence will protect my hive from the goat man and his goat who occasionally mooch around West Footscray.

The Hoya and front veggie garden are visited by bees often.

After the fence was erected I created this space in the old driveway. Added two garden beds, planted them out with more veggies, repotted the old lemon tree and a few other old favorites... geranium, bay tree. And added a water feature for the bees right next to the hive. They love it.

It gets pretty windy in Melbourne, windy and hot in Melbourne summers and windy and cold in Melbourne winters. The fence really helps the forager bees land and take off from the hive when they are being blown about.

My last images for the day are personal favorites... watching bees drink sounds kinda boring and a bit nerdy, but they are beautiful creatures. Here are a couple drinking happily from the water feature I installed. All you need is a bird bath and some stones to act as landing platforms. As the water level decreases the bees still have water... and more exposed rocks makes landing easy.

So, until the next hive opening, the girls will be drawing out the comb, tending to the Queen as she lays her eggs, making Royal jelly and working bloody hard in general! Busy bees.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

First Hive Opening

The first hive opening was rather exciting today.... lots of capped brood, I could see eggs, pollen and honey storage, but no Queen just yet. Lots of "mounds of bees" so she could have been hiding in there. However, getting past my initial adrenaline rush over beeing so close to all of these amazing creatures, perhaps I should bring you up to date on the bee story so far.

 Living in West Footscray for the past two years has seen a lot of settling in, working on establishing the vegie garden, getting to know the general run of the property and the plants that were here. This past few months my trusty Rover has been slowly notching down... along with my mechanic saying "wow... this car! I will find you another one" led me to thinking more about beeing sustainable. In the past I have been an avid cyclist, however that really died when I got a car and has been hard to maintain ever since. So we will let Rover go. So along with the idea of beeing more sustainable came the idea of creating a little veggie patch and Zen garden in the driveway (won't bee needing that, right?). This took a lot less time and money than I though, happily, so I was able to order some bees from the gentleman that I did my bee keeping course with. And hey presto! we now have bees!!

So Sir, along with being as happy as a bee in honey when it comes to creating spaces, having a new hobby (and all the gear that goes with it!) also looks to a future where there may not bee as much ecological variation in our crop populations, a changing landscape that is pushing toward urban planning that really should consider the population growth of cities and the use of space for food growth that is layered into our use of space for living as well.

This time, right now, seems to me to be so exciting. I remember my childlike fantasies of the future... flying cars, hovering skateboards (it was all very Back to the Future) has now started to morph into urban spaces with beehives and vegie gardens on rooftops, snaking bike paths around factories that produce sustainable materials for housing and living, people using the communication technology to create communities within communities that discuss the use of the earth, creation of living spaces that are both beautiful and functional, and how to manage wild creatures that give us what we need. Maybe one household has bees, another chickens, another a goat, another an orchard of fruit, another a large veggie garden instead of a lawn....another an organic crop of cereal... hey presto! A whole neighbourhood is sustainable in a lot of basic ways.

It doesn't mean reinventing the wheel. No one is going to rip out our sewage system (we all still shit and it still bloody stinks!!) and transport us back to ma-n-pa kettle, the slow combustion stove and no air-conditioning. But there must be a way that we can work together to keep our comforts and also use our space more effectively, wisely and with consideration for the massive yet fragile ecosystems that support us in so many ways. This is what beekeeping is all about for me. A chance to make and bee the change that i would love to see in the world... starting from my very own driveway.