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Monday, March 30, 2015

Back in Bees

I dabbled in beekeeping about 13 or 14 years ago I guess. My last honey from the final harvest lasted until this past year, and according to the lid it was the summer of 2002. But besides getting a plethora of honey, at that time I'd decided the bees were more trouble than they were worth, especially after all the colonies at Pat & Elaines (I think I had three and they had three or four, I can't remember for sure) failed to overwinter.

I had to get in my pickup (I had one back then) and drive over to their place to work the bees, which were in conventional Langstroth hives. I recall having to give courses of antibiotic laced sugar to ward off foulbrood diseases, as well as the mentholated cake that protects against veroa and trachial mites. Which had to be applied at a different time from the antibiotics, which had to be applied I think two or three times at a specific interval. I don't know, like I say, it's been a day or two but the spring of 2003 came around, I had couple hundred pounds of honey in my basement, enough to make many batches of mead, and buying more packages of bees and starting the chore over again just didn't make sense.

But these days, what with our 36 raised garden beds, fruit trees (a peach, an apricot, two dessert apples, two cider apples, three hardy figs), assorted berries, well, we need pollinators in Lobsterland.

We get some, the peach tree was being visited by a couple dozen bees today, so someone probably has a colony within a mile of my house, that's about the range limit. Or my friend Patrick thinks maybe there are wild bees somewhere in the area. My understanding has been that with the rise of the various mites, foulbrood diseases and so on, that wild honeybees were essentially extinct. Years ago when I got into it, an old time beekeeper said up into maybe the 1980s, people would call beekeepers when they spotted swarms, and beekeepers would go capture the swarm and install it in a hive.

Swarming bees scare civilians because they imagine they're going to go bad-movie killer bee any minute, though lacking a home to defend swarm bees are the most docile bees you'll ever meet. But anyway, the way this guy told it, when people called him the past few years saying they had a swarm or bees setting up shop on their property where they didn't want them, he didn't even go out to check. It was never honeybees, it was always some other type of bee. There's lots of kinds of bees, and as far as I know they're pretty much all beneficial pollinators, but a beekeeper is interested in the apis genus exclusively (and really only a handful of species of that).

So I tried last year to find a beekeeper to just park a hive in my back yard, and didn't hit pay dirt. Then I thought to ask my friend Patrick, who's been keeping several hives at the Switzer Community Farm in Westside. I'd heard they were losing their lot to development, and while I think their eviction has been delayed maybe another season, I thought perhaps Patrick would have a hive or two needing a home.

I remember all the work that went into building those Langstroth hives, and no small expense to boot, so I had kind of ruled out getting back into the beekeeper thing on my own. Patrick obliged, bringing over a top-bar hive. Even went half on the expense of the colony, so at $75 I'm definitely getting into the game as cheaply as you can, a borrowed hive and half price bugs. I still have my old bug-baff and gloves, the only equipment I might need here that I don't presently own is a smoker.

The top-bar design, he's played with it as well as Langstroth and Warre. Of the three he thought the top-bar would be most suited to my situation. Like the Warre, it's a more natural setup for the girls than a Langstroth. The Langstroth was genius when it was developed in that it allowed non-destructive harvest (not having to basically wipe out a colony to get the honey), and it allowed a more industrial production setup. You pull the supers off, cut the caps off the frames and put them in a centrifuge and spin the honey out, then put the frames back in the supers. But apparently what's easier on the beekeeper is harder on the bees, and from what Patrick says they need far less medication and suffer far fewer maladies in hives that more closely imitate their natural home (such as a hollowed out log or tree stump).

With the top bar hive, you're probably leaving more honey in the hive for the bees to sustain themselves (meaning they're getting less of their nutrition from sugar water the beekeeper supplies), and that probably helps with the bees being happy and healthy as well. We probably won't harvest any honey (perhaps one or two combs) the first year, so it'll be less productive honey-wise than what I'd get out of a Langstroth. But there's significantly less maintenance to do. And it's right in the back yard, no having to drive a half hour to tend them.

The other charm of this setup, from my point of view, is the carpentry is considerably less involved. Just looking at this one, I can see how easy it would be to build a few more. And the space I have for them, I could easily put four to six of these back there if I were inclined to do so.

In another week or so our package of bees should arrive and we'll pour them in (I'll try to shoot video of that process, I remember it being visually very interesting).

The aluminum you see is a separator to keep the colony building in the front initially. Then it comes out and they build their way back. When you harvest honey, you pull up the strips with the comb from one end and break off the comb, then return the bar to the opposite end. It's pretty slick.

Oh, and I can hear the nervous nellies wondering about the menace to the neighborhood my little box might pose. Relax. Honeybees are purely beneficial insects, and they really only sting to defend their hive. Walk up and give a swift kick to the supports on this guy, yeah, they'll sting the shit out of you. Hang out in the first few feet in front of the mouth, you'll get buzzed plenty as they fly past you on their way to get food and water. But mostly you won't even know your next door neighbor has bees if you don't know what those white boxes are. If my neighbors notice anything, it's likely to be that their fruit trees are more productive.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

First Annual 73rd Running of the Pines

So this was basically a Pinewood Derby for grownups. Well, mostly grownups. One of the fastest cars was entered by a 9 year old girl.

It was at the coolest little bike shop ever, Velo+, with employees and owner entering their own cars (some of them built just today). A keg of Boulevard was on hand, pizza from Jerry's Bait was brought in, it was a whole three ring circus.

It was strict BSA rules except bribery was encouraged and there was both a BSA class and a 'if it can go down the track' wide-open class.

I had my car from Cub Scouts, I guess it must be around 37 years old—give or take. I'm 45 now, so whatever age I was when we did the Derby in cub scouts minus that. It was a gram overweight so I had to shave some of the lead off the bottom to get it down to 142 grams.

And I borrowed some graphite to help it out.

My new car, the Sweet Transvestite, it wasn't visually what I intended but it got the job done. I bribed David just to brand it after the run because that was the penalty for bribery, your car got branded. I didn't want a cheat or anything, I just wanted the car branded and the bribes went to the Boy Scout troop who loaned us the track.

The Sweet Transvestite took a lot of weight to get to 142 grams actually. As painted it was only 65, so I put all the metal that came in the kit on there and then a bit of spare from someone else and then a big fat washer.

The most creative entry, by far, was an edible car featuring marshmallow peeps and whatnot. It had terrible ground clearance and didn't quite manage to get all the way down the track, but very, very original. And Mo really enjoyed eating the 'spectators' (the peeps leftover) and then eventually the car when the woman who had entered it gave it to her on account of how much Mo loves marshmallow peeps.

Generally, Mo thought the whole event was total bullshit but once the pizza and peeps were in play she settled in and had a good time.

There was a 3D printed car entered, too. Pretty cool. The guy had a misprint with him as well, I guess as good as those printers have gotten they sometimes get it wrong. It was the exact same car as his other one except in the middle it all of a sudden zigged over to one side.

There were quite a few vintage cars, but a lot of ones built just for this. The fastest overall turned out to be the Ragbrai Bus, which shows that aerodynamics matter far less than you'd think. The Ragbrai Bus was just a brick of wood on wheels, but it consistently outran everyone.

It was such a good time. I can't wait for next year, the Second Annual 73rd Running of the Pines.

I even have ideas for three more cars. Milk & Cheese, the comic book, drill holes in a block and paint it yellow, two big black eyebrows and you have Cheese. The other one, same eyebrows, cut a triangular top and paint it white: Milk. Dairy products gone bad as Derby cars.

The other is a coffin: that old saw of commuter cyclists that 'cars are coffins,' there's a theme right there.

Critical Flat

I was all stoked to ride Critical Mass. It'd been a hard week at work, crazy busy, and I was really looking forward to cutting loose with my friends.

Corinna wasn't feeling up to the whole thing, but she wanted a workout and so decided to ride me out of KCK at least. As we were riding along she said, 'You're almost flat.'

This is a shock. I ride with Schwalbe Marathon Plus Tour tires, which while heavy, are almost invincible. It's been at least a year since I flatted. I think maybe almost two years actually. Usually it's a nail, that's one of the few things these tires can't shrug off, but I can't find any damage to the tire or evidence of a nail.

But being that I rarely flat, I was really rusty on changing a flat. I got to a gas station, so I didn't have to do a hundred strokes on the frame pump to get the tire up and running, but it was still over 20 minutes by the time I got the old tube off, the new tube in, realized I'd left that stupid nut they put on a Presta stem on, took it all apart and removed that, reassembled it, inspected to make sure I hadn't trapped the tube between the bead and rim, and so on.

Corinna sat there keeping me company while I did this and I realized (and told her so), good thing you didn't watch me do this on our first date. Actually, back then I hadn't found the Schwalbe tires so I changed flats more often and was smoother at it. But if we'd been on that first date and I'd had a flat and been this fucking inept at changing it, she'd have deleted me from her phone and refused my calls. We never would have gotten to second base. True story.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Public Service Stickers

I made these prototypes but I don't think I'm going to release them into the wild. They're on permanent adhesive label stock.

A proper bumper sticker is printed on stock with a removeable adhesive that won't harm car paint. That's because Gill Studios realized back in the day that fucking up a car's paint job was bad for the bumper sticker biz.

And it would likewise be bad bike advocacy if someone has to spend a bunch of time and denatured alcohol type products to get one of these off their car. Parking in the bike lane is an asshole thing to do, but if all they can remember is what a dick the cyclist who stickered their car was, well, that's not a step in the right direction.

The text at the bottom reads: "My Mom probably raised me better, but I did. Being an inconsiderate jerk didn't get me a ticket, though, just this snazzy bumper sticker. Maybe I will learn."

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Sweet Transvestite, That's How I Roll

I know in these annals I have trashed Scouts based on my own mostly negative experience. If Boy Scouts was a great thing for you, great, I'm happy for you. And the bullying I endured is small beer compared to the sexual abuse some of my friends went through in that organization.

But in the process of building my drag queen Pinewood Derby car (pitiful, I know, but it's supposed to look like Frankie from the Rocky Horror Picture Show), I realized that part of the appeal of making a rolling Frankie for the First Annual 73rd Running of the Pines, is that Rocky Horror was in some ways where I found what Scouts was supposed to offer.

Rocky Horror was a pretty significant part of my high school experience. Started at the Bijou, but that closed and we ended up having to settle for Oak Park Mall's theater, which showed the film but was iffy about the props, costumes, etc. we wanted to bring in. They generally let us do what we wanted but inevitably someone would show up who didn't get it, do something that had nothing to do with audience participation but was genuinely vandalism of the theater, and we'd be on probation.

Anyway, my first time seeing the movie, well, honest, it's not much of a movie. Plot holes you could drive a truck through, low production values, if people weren't talking back to the screen it would probably suck. Oh, and acting along, playing out the parts on screen in the front of the theater.

I managed to screw up the courage to be Brad some. This involved stripping to my tighty-whities at the age of 15 or 16 in front of strangers, and then wearing nothing more than a robe for the next hour or so.

This takes a lot of confidence. Just standing at the front of the theater in my clothes did, acdtually, but to then undress and walk around in my underwear, wow.

On the screen, though, there's Tim Curry in panties, fishnets, ridiculous amounts of makeup, a corset. And he's just letting it all hang out and basically saying, I'm sexy, deal with it.

I didn't want to dress like a woman, but I sure wanted that much confidence. I still do.

So anyway, this whole project was therapeutic for me. Rocky Horror did make up for what I didn't gain from Scouts. As I explained to my own offspring from time to time as they grew up, a lot of maturing amounts to learning to ignore the opinions of people who don't matter. Don't dream it, be it.