Saturday, April 28, 2012

More Queen Drama at The Flight of The Turquoise Bee Apiary

We are off to quite a start at The Flight of The Turquoise Bee Apiary. Both Royal Ruckus and The Drone Den have given us major queen scares and for the moment Royal Ruckus is queen-less. I am loosing sleep and making more than one visit to the bee yard on any given day. Our apiary is an hour away so visiting twice a day is a time consuming.

Royal Ruckus’s queen never made it out of her cage. Her attendants got out and somehow the bees lost interest in the caged queen. We think she got sick from not being fed and attended to. When we released her ourselves she was lethargic and sauntering around on the floor of the hive. We should of known better and killed her on the spot but we left her, hoping a little syrup would remedy the situation. The idea of killing a queen is just beyond my scope and I really didn’t want to be faced with it.

I know, I didn’t really want so many hives anyway. So why not just give in to the demise and divide the workers among the other colonies to avoid a total loss.  For starters I have become a honey whore. More importantly I have this nagging over ridding since of responsibility about the bees compelling me to do anything within my power to salvage tricky situations like this one.  I am not opposed to killing bugs in general especially those who take up house in my home. Find me a box elder crawling in my bed, you bet I’ll kill it, no remorse. But the bees are different, they aren’t in my house and if you ask me they should be protected. Not to mention I am raising bees here now.

We got major jitters about her as soon as we left the bee yard. After consulting my trusty mentor we knew we had to return and get her out of the hive. Leaving her in there was simply not an option. A sick queen just leads to a hive of trouble. Even if she made a recovery it was clear the workers had not accepted her and it would be just a matter of time before the girls would revolt trying any number of tactics to deal with her. They might kill her. If she actually started laying They might attempt a supersedure or they might let her march on laying in a sloppy haphazard manner causing a failure to thrive like condition in the hive. She had to go.

So we went back that same day in the early evening. We spent the time in the car driving down giving ourselves a pep talk. Who could kill her?  I said, “I can do this Paula, no problem.” Initially we considered just having Paula go down herself but in the end it was good we were both there.  We started going through the hive frame-by-frame, one, two, three, no queen. I thought I saw her on the bottom of the hive but as it turned out I killed a worker by mistake. I pulled out the forth frame and Paula said, “Whoa look at that big ball of bees, I bet she’s in there and they are balling her.”

Queen Balling is an occurrence in certain circumstances in which worker bees crowd around and enclose the queen in a really tight ball. It can happen if they are trying to protect her, when the hive is stressed for some reason or if the bees think something is not right with her and they are trying to kill her. Paula reached in with her fingers to break up the ball and heard a loud hissing. We got her out and into her smaller cage that we had saved with a single attendant. She was still alive but very distressed. Unsure what to do we sat and watched her for some time. We removed the attendant so we could get a better look at her. Paula wanted to bring her home, so did I. We could study here. You know weird geeky bee stuff. But alas we don’t have microscopes, no point in that academic endeavor. We had more than a fleeting moment of maybe she’s fine; she seemed to be trying to eat her way through the marshmallow we plugged in the cage opening. We went back to the hive to see about putting her back in.  The bees had no interest in her, we got her onto a frame and she didn’t move. Finally we both knew it was time. Paula pulled her off the frame and killed her. We put her back in her cage; maybe we could still take her home and study her. In the end Paula decided it would be best to bury her so we did and Paula being a real legitimate minister and all held a little graveside service.

We have a new queen, we pick her up Monday, long enough for the girls to realize they are queen-less but hopefully not long enough to provoke them to start laying. You see when workers lay they only lay unfertilized eggs which leads to a drone den and eventually without any reproductive capability the hive dies. Been there, done that and passed the test. We don't need to repeat that lesson.

I try and think about the silver linings. We are learning a great deal. We are able to recognize situations that would eventually become catastrophic early enough to intervene and potentially remedy. I don’t imagine will forget how hard this one was for a long time, if ever. I hope to never be faced with killing a queen again. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Flight of The Turquoise Bee Expansion

The Flight of The Turquoise Bee Apiary is expanding! I never imagined three years ago when I embarked on this hobby that I would be managing more than a hive or two. I remember with perfect clarity our first summer, packaging two hives, one of them went queen-less the day we set up the hives. It was a good lesson and we learned a great deal in the first few weeks watching that hive dwindle away. It was also a major disappointment. All was tempered by the end of that summer when we harvested two and a half gallons of honey in late August.

We attempted to over-winter that single colony our first year but alas they did not survive. I will admit, we had been greedy, taking too much honey for ourselves leaving precious little for the bees to survive over the winter.

That spring we hived two new packages with marked queens. It was a bittersweet season. We honed in on our skills, easily determining our hives were queen-right, moving frames around to make the most of the bee space, moving brood around to bolster a weaker colony and discovering a late summer swarm and a hive that re-queened itself right under our nose without us noticing! Totally excited about the harvesting prospects we purchased an extractor. But the wet spring worked against us and we didn’t even have enough frames of extractable honey to use the extractor. We ended up with a scant gallon of honey.

 Hoping for the best and expecting nothing we put the bees to bed for the winter the end of October. In December we ordered two new packages of bees, assuming they would never make it. We had left plenty of honey in one hive but the other, well it spent all summer building crazy comb all over the darn place and not a lick of honey. January and February brought us several 60-degree days and a chance to check the bees. Much to our dismay both hives were thriving. Suddenly I started to panic. Two surviving hives and two packages on the way could mean as many as six hives.

6 hives? How is that possible? How will we keep them straight? How will we have time to manage them? Will there be enough pollen, nectar and water for all those colonies? It all seems so overwhelming and then there is this little nagging reason I went into beekeeping to begin with that isn’t working out the way I had hopped.

I have written about my visceral desire to keep bees before. My lofty ideas about the bees and me and some kind of spiritual connection I hoped for. I came to beekeeping with a need to be tamed, with the idea that the bees would empower me to be more mindful, more deliberate, contemplative. My work life is intense, managing critically ill children in the hospital. Families turn to me in their most vulnerable moments. It spends me to no end. I hoped beekeeping would temper my hyperactive mind and spirit. Take me away from the drama of my work.

It could not be more to the contrary. I am jazzed beyond measure about the bees. I am easily worked up to a frenzy fretting about getting stung. I am totally preoccupied with getting honey. I come by it honestly. I am easily excitable and willing to concede that little tempers me. Having sustained about 20 stings, all above the shoulders last August while harvesting, rendered me scared silly.  For nearly two weeks I looked like National Geographic’s next photo op. Now I want nothing more than enough honey to host a honey harvesting party. When the post office called Monday morning to say our bees had arrive my heart started to race and flutter. I was giddy with excitement.

I have no idea what the summer will bring. We held a contest to name our hives so we can keep them straight. The parent hive is The Turquoise Bee after the Sixth Dalai Lama Tsangyang Gyatso who was a special Dalai Lama and a legend, leaving scores of poetry behind in which he refers to himself at the Turquoise Bee. That hive is full of a thriving colony of bees, the queen now a year old. We go into the summer with high expectations of this hive which is  full of drawn comb, a sturdy stock and an experienced queen. This hive should be strong enough to divide which means moving half the bees to a new hive and introducing a new queen. Mr. Abbott’s Little Bee will home the offspring of The Turquoise Bee and their new queen.

 Crazy comb made it through the winter although she is a much weaker colony. We will have to watch her closely and decide her fate. Her bees were troublesome last year building that crazy comb in every nook and cranny inside the hive. A colossal waste time and energy and they never gathered enough nectar to come up with a lick of honey. But here they are in all their glory. We may designate that hive to a number of natural and organic beekeeping methods we’d like to try.

Yesterday we packaged two newcomers. Colleen’s Royal Ruckus, a fitting name in honor of my oldest and dearest friend and newbie beekeeper and Katrina’s Drone Den. These two new colonies like their sister’s hale from Kentucky. They are well tempered and hopefully a hard working lot. Hiving these two packages proved to be a challenge and sent us on an emotional roller coaster!

We got Colleen’s Royal Ruckus in without a hitch, one down one to go. I still find hiving to be intimidating, daunting and tricky. You see there is that little queen in cage and she has to find her way into the hive. When we hived our two packages the first year one of our queens took flight. Hoping she might return we waited to long and ended up with a queen-less drone den. To this day I worry about the queen flying away while trying to get her into the hive.  Back to getting Drone Den hived. We got organized, Colleen and Paula opened the package of bees and Colleen pulled out the queen cage. “Hey you got some dead bees here.” I heard her say. I wasn’t alarmed we always have a pile of dead bees in the bottom of the package. I didn’t realize she was talking about the queen cage. Paula and I inspected the cage, sure enough total carnage the queen and all of her attendants. 

Every beekeeper will tell you being without a queen for even a fleeting moment is simply devastating! I quickly called the supplier to secure another queen; she would be there by Thursday, we could go ahead and get the rest of the bees, about 7000 of them into the hive. Paula shook them into the hive box and I peered down into the box. I could hardly believe what I was seeing crawling among the girls. A second beautiful queen, boldly marked and easily spotted. How could this bee? It was as though we had won the lottery. The likelihood of two queens in one package, well its no wonder one was dead. You see bees won’t accept more than one queen so if for any reason there are two they will kill one of the queens, stinging them with their toxic venom.

We are off and running with four hives, fingers crossed and a summer before us. I may not be learning how to settle down and quiet myself but I sure love the bees. I love the smell of the smoker, watching the bees dance to communicate, and seeing the large sacs of pollen the girls are hauling into their hives. I love the queen hunt, the time with my beekeeping partner Paula and watching my oldest friend Colleen mingle with the bees. Occasionally I get overwhelmed about being responsible for all these bees and screwing up but then I remember how rewarding it all is and that in some small way we are giving back to the planet Earth and I settle down.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Chocolate Bundt Cake

Tina is the baker in our house. I cook. There is a difference. Recently Tina has made at least two chocolate bundt cakes with wheat flour and it was getting to bug me. I have a very fond memory of something my Mother made when we were growing up, tunnel of fudge bundt cake. I loved it. I am really more of a savory person and not drawn to sweets or chocolate much but those cakes Tina was making and that childhood memory were causing me to crave chocolate cake. So when my friend Shauna, AKA The Gluten Free Girl posted a recipe for chocolate bundt cake yesterday I said to myself, I am going to make this!

I have been working hard this week. Drilling, nailing, painting (o.k. so that is really what Tina's been doing for me) but I have been working to the bone getting The Flight of The Turquoise Bee Apiary set up for three new hives. Our two existing hives overwintered successfully and we are getting two new packages of bees on Monday so there was much to be done. Today I finished painting and priming, I did about five loads of laundry, several last minute errands, made a pot of soup for the weekend and grilled burgers for dinner. I needed a treat after all that and Tina was game for a cooking project. I ran to the store to get teff flour which we were out of and a few other things and came home to to preform my duties as Tina's sous chef.

It was still slightly warmish when we cut it. I enjoyed two pieces, each with a dollop of ice cream. Tina brave it and had a piece too and rated it a 9 for GF cake. She has a very discerning palette and I think 9 is the highest she has ever rated a GF baked good. As for myself, I loved it. It was the perfect treat at the end of a long week of work. I so wish I had company coming over, I wouldn't hesitate to serve this to anyone. I am giving some thought to bringing the rest of it to work tomorrow since Tina is headed to CA for some sabbatical research work and I don't want to be home alone with an entire chocolate bundt cake. You can find the recipe over at Gluten-Free Girl: . I dusted the cake with powdered sugar and we'd had a jar of Tina's famous hot fudge sauce I would have drizzled that on top as well. This is a winner. Thanks Sauna!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Gluten-Free Gidget's Stuffed Squash

Admittedly, I like the cold. I like snow and I like dark. But I was dismayed this morning when it was windy, 32 degrees and there were snow flurries. Fortunately for me it was a Monday, which is the beginning of my weekend. I almost always spend Monday's tidying up around the house, doing laundry and cooking. It felt like a perfect day to roast a chicken. Besides, I needed one more carcass to set up a pot of broth tomorrow. Then I remembered Katrina's stuffed acorn squash she posted on last week. A perfect combination, roasted chicken, spinach gratin  and stuffed squash for such a cold and dreary day. I quickly invited my brother-in-law, made my grocery list and I was off and running.

 A while back Katrina send me a package of unusual spices, mostly things I did not have in my lavish stash. Lucky for me I needed to dip into several of the spices including nutritional yeast flakes, something I have never had before. I was glad to finally have a need for both the yeast flakes and the chinese five spice powder she had sent. Katrina always puts together great combinations and the maple syrup and curry powder in this filling won't disappoint. I tweaked a few things, not something I usually do with The Gluten-Free Gidgit's recipes but since I am serving spinach gratin with this I didn't want more spinach. So, I added a few more beans and made some with acorn squash and some with butternut. I am a sucker for butternut squash. I had enough filling to to enjoy a bowl full for lunch and honestly, it is a stellar ragu like stew. The squash is a lovely vessel for serving but quite frankly the filling can stand on its own. I also added a splash of white wine to the mushrooms as I was cooking them. Otherwise I stayed close to the original recipe. If I were to do it again, I would stick with the spinach as I think it would add a nice pop of color.

You can find the recipe here: and while your there check out Katrina's other recipes!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Tina's Buffalo Chicken Meatballs

I had a rough weekend at work. I don't want to go into the details but it was one of those weekends where I came home completely spent and unable to muster up any energy for anything. I was very grateful for my wonderful wife who took care of the evening details of our weekend, making sure I got refueled to face the next day. On Saturday she organized a dinner with friends at one of my favorite spots and gave me a little massage before going to bed so my body would quit twitching from 8 hours of X box activity. As I slept soundly she snuck out to the grocery store to get what she needed for a surprise snack the next day. I woke up to a large bottle of Frank's hot sauce in the kitchen which struck me as very weird. Tina is not a hot sauce kind of girl. When I came home Sunday the kitchen was filled with a savory aroma. I couldn't imagine what she was up to but I knew it involved that hot sauce.

Giddy with excitement she presented a plate of Buffalo Chicken Meatballs, a savory treat that literally melted in my mouth adorned with creamy ranch dip. These little nuggets are out of this world. I ate about 20 of them in one sitting, called that dinner (And then woke up this morning and polished off the rest.) I want more!  Tina sat patiently for my review and then took me on a ride on the Silver Bullet, her new scooter. It was the best tonic for my worn down state of existence.

Since I was not involved in the execution of this little treat I can not speak to what is involved but Tina describes them as labor intensive. They do require a meat grinder which not too many people probably have. I would imagine a butcher would grind the meat for you if you asked nicely.

Tina's Buffalo Chicken Meatballs

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 cup Franks Red Hot Sauce
4 tablespoons butter
1 pound boneless skinless chicken thighs, ground
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup minced onion, divided
1/2 stalk celery, minced
1 large egg
1/2 cup breadcrumbs (she used orgran gluten-free rice crumbs and actually used 3/4 a cup and we both agreed, 1/2 a cup might be better)

Ranch dip

Some unknown measurement of sour cream and part of an envelope of ranch dip, mix portions to your taste or use ranch dressing in a bottle or if you want a more traditional blue cheese something.

Garnish with celery sticks

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Grease a 9 X 12 pan with vegetable oil. In a saucepan combine the hot sauce, butter and a tablespoon of minced onion. Whisk over low heat until combined. Cool.

In a bowl mix remaining ingredients by hand. Then add 1/3 cup of the hot sauce mixture, reserve the remaining hot sauce for later. Make about 40 3/4 inch meatballs, slightly smaller than ping pong balls and larger than marbles. Place snugly in greased pan. Meatballs should touch each other. Bake for 20 minutes. The put the meatballs under the broiler for 5-10 minutes, till crispy. Remove from oven and baste with the remaining hot sauce mixture. Serve with the ranch dip and celery. Enjoy!