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There are so many other posts which we can not find time to finish but we must make time to to exult that for today, at least, all three hives are yet alive. O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! Let us chortle in our joy.

This winter has been unusually bitter, both windier and colder than average. We therefore fretted over our bees much more than average, awaiting a warm spell, hoping to see cleansing flights or signs thereof. Today we were so blessed by fortune. The temperature hit 50°F(10°C) in the mid-morning, sending us rushing to check the hives. All three had traffic, Dorcas the most by quite a factor, and while we saw no mustard stains on the snow, they were in evidence on the black rooves.

Tomorrow we shall glumly fret again that they may not last until springtime but today we are as happy as a young otter with a teddy bear

 

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Gowry's painting of Icarus fallingOne imagines that after his initial, frantic flapping developed into deliberate, controlled flight Icarus was surely feeling rather confident at the moment just before the beeswax started to soften and the feathers to drop away. We too had our brief period of confidence when, after years of frozen deadouts, all three hives survived last winter, which we credit largely to finally managing varroa, especially applying an autumnal oxalic acid drizzle. With our freshly acquired knowledge and skill this season was going to be a change from our usual winter moaning over whether or not we would have any bees at all come springtime. Perhaps not.

We had tried to be timely this year with the oxalic treatment, beginning with Dorcas of the alarming mite counts, who took her medicine as calmly as last year. But when we continued to Clarissa she let us know that she was not receiving visitors, however well-intentioned, so we retreated to deal with stings, intending to try again another day. Whereupon the weather turned far too cold to be wetting bees and remained so as we applied the insulation to the hives, still hoping for a few warm days when we could treat the remaining two hives.

The hoped-for few warm days finally arrived last week and we returned with a fresh batch of oxalic syrup, this time planning to start with reliably even-tempered Beatrix and leave the stinging Clarissans last. But misfortune struck soon after we moved the follower board. The first top bar had two, large, partial combs that had not been merged into one and each was attached to a side of the hive. We had barely begun to cut away one attachment with the sharp end of the hive tool as we routinely do when a crack shot across the top of the comb and it suddenly dropped. Switching to a serrated knife we sometimes use, we tried to cut the other attachment but at once the second comb cracked free as well. At a loss for proceeding, we propped up the fallen combs to be next year’s problem, closed the hive, and abandoned our oxalic plans for the season.

So two hives did not get their oxalic treatment and the one that did had high mite counts before the expected autumnal rise. Once again we shall be fretting through winter. And muttering quiet blasphemies against Apollo.

 

Oh, had we but seen this video a few days earlier, in time for Halloween!

A three-minute thesis competition is a contest for PhD students in which they condense their thesis into a three minute presentation comprehensible to an intelligent audience lacking any background in the research area. Doctoral candidate Samuel Ramsey was the winner in such a competition at the University of Maryland and will go on to the worldwide competition. Congratulations, soon-to-be-Doctor Ramsey!

To present his findings even more briefly than the video, we have been assuming that varroa mites chiefly live on bee hemolyph but actually feed mainly upon the tissues in the bee’s abdomen known as fat body, a name that does not do justice to its nine important functions. Denied this food source and fed on only hemolyph the varroa do not live as long nor reproduce as well. So with a slightly strained metaphor we have been trying to stake vampires when we need a silver bullet for werewolves.

So it’s werewolves not vampires. And it’s Istanbul not Constantinople.

We have written before of our attempts to successfully grow and harvest quince, thwarted first by uninterested pollinators and then by keenly interested pests.

Last year we overcame the first obstacle of pollinator apathy by spraying the blossoms with some forgotten lemony-smelling bee attractant purchased thirty years before. For the first time when the petals dropped, half a dozen flowers left behind swellings that grew into fruit.

Sadly we ran into the second obstacle as the fruit showed much insect damage from the plum curculioPlum curculio, scourge of not only plums but also apples, pears, cherries, peaches, and more including, sadly, quince. We intended to cut away the damaged parts and use what fruit we could but rot set in too quickly.

Looking for a solution for the next season we found that organic controls did not seem promising but we could not in good conscience spray pesticides, especially after luring our bees across the mere twenty or so feet. Then we read about Surround WP, an extremely fine kaolin powder. Mixed with water and sprayed onto fruit it forms a film that is repugnant to insect pests and thwarts penetration by them. The twenty-five pound bag seemed very much more than needed for the expected handfuls of fruits on a dwarf tree but we found no smaller sizes available. Ah, well. It should last us many seasons and someday we may have apples and pears to protect as well.

A backpack sprayer that agitates its contents when pumped is recommended for applying wettable powders and we may buy one someday but not for so few fruits. Instead when this year’s lemony lure again produced fruity swellings we mixed the kaolin powder and water in a clean handheld spray bottle by vigorously shaking it. With the aid of a step ladder we sprayed each nascent quince until it was coated white, shaking the bottle frequently to keep the kaolin in even suspension. We should have repeated the application twice more weekly but our readership will not be surprised to hear that we somehow failed to do so. The fruits grew and the whiteness became less opaque until it is nearly gone now. In spite of our negligence we seem to have undamaged fruits, two of which are shown at the start of this post.

And so to our favorite method of preparing them, a long, low-temperature bake in sugar syrup with no additional spices.

  • Prepare enough simple syrup, equal parts sugar and water, to cover your quince.

  • Preheat the oven to 200°F(93°C).

  • Peel the quince and save the peels. Most of the lovely color will come from them.

  • Carefully quarter and core each quince with a sharp knife. The ripe fruit is still quite tough.

  • Put the quince quarters in a shallow baking pan with lid.

  • Add the peels in between the pieces of fruit.

  • Cover with sugar syrup and lid. The pieces will float a bit.

  • Bake for six to nine hours. Flip the pieces of fruit halfway.

  • When done remove the now soft and rosy fruit and serve with a dollop of creme fraiche or vanilla ice cream or such.

  • Discard the peels but save the ruby syrup for making cocktails.

Our first quince from our very own quince tree pollinated by our very own bees. A very happy milestone.

We have lived in the countryside long enough to become quite accustomed to backyard visits from birds that we rarely saw when living in a city. Last Monday afternoon something of the reverse happened as we spotted a rock dove. Common in huge flocks in metropolitan areas, this was now a rare sighting for us, seeming a bit out of place among greenery instead of concrete. When it turned up again by the barn an hour later we marked that it seemed much better looking and fitter than the birds of our memory. As we continued watching from the house, it steadily marched to the door and up the stoop. We half expecting it to knock when we noticed the bands on its legs and realized it must be a racing bird.

Per instructions found online we were able to entice it to drink some water from a bowl and eat a little bird seed but it eluded our attempts to catch it and read the bands, flying just beyond our grasping hands. We left it in peace whereupon it finished dining and at dusk parked itself against the house near the patio door where we could keep an eye on it and fret over its becoming a meal for nocturnal predators.

Fortunately we were able to contact a friend who had kept pigeons in his youth and he assured us that they were easy to catch once asleep in the dark. Turning off all the lights inside and out this proved to be true. The bird, with wings held against its body, was quite inert as we turned lights back on and copied information from the green leg band, the red seeming empty. It had just begun to stir as we put it into a covered wicker basket which we had ready and shut it in a small bathroom where any mess was easily contained.

The band information pointed us to a club and we were able to contact an official who happened to be the owner of the bird. We learned that the bird had already flown four hundred miles before stopping at our house about sixty miles short of its home. It had only flown up to two-hundred mile races previously. He asked us to feed it again next morning and release it in the afternoon. Should it not fly off then put it up for one more night and he would drive out to claim it.

Feeling ourselves more alert the next morning, we assembled an old dog crate, covered roof and sides with a blanket for shade, and moved our guest from the basket to the roomier accommodations. A quick trip to the pet store provided a few handfuls of canary seed blend suitable for pigeons. When afternoon warmth came we moved the cage outside onto the deck and opened the door. Our guest, disinclined to leave, seemed content to merely loaf around. Hours later we found the bird sitting in a corner of the deck and a chipmunk helping itself to some of the seed. Chasing off the chipmunk we tried to herd the bird back but only succeeded in chasing it onto a pergola out of convenient reach. More hours later we found the pigeon had retired back into the dog crate, which we thereupon closed and took back indoors rather than risk having the bird depart only to not reach home before dark.

The next morning found our guest agitated, stalking and fluttering about the cage. Shifting the cage to face the patio door, we opened both and the bird straightaway took to the skies, rapidly disappearing in what seemed to us the right direction. We called to update its grateful owner and excitedly awaited news of our guest’s arrival.

Sadly we learned that evening that the bird seemed to have not yet returned but the owner would inventory all his birds the next day. The flight home for a racing pigeon is not without dangers, mostly birds of prey, but we had cheerfully ignored the possibility of any such befalling our guest until now when we felt it a certainty. The rest of the night passed gloomily.

Our gloom was lifted next morning by happy news from the owner that he found the wayward pigeon home in the loft and in good shape! A happy ending for our little adventure after all.

 

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