Thursday, November 29, 2012

Keeping the Bees Warm and Dry

This fall I had been reading about Moisture Quilts on and liked the idea but wanted to make a few changes. The idea is to provide insulation and ventilation to the bees and also absorb the moisture that is produced by the bee cluster. I think one of my colonies died last year due to lack of ventilation, as the moisture condensed and dripped down on the cluster.  Also, in addition to providing ventilation, insulation and moisture control, I wanted to build in a space for feeding the bees, not included in the original moisture quilt. Usually the top covers of the hive fit down close to the top of the honeycomb frames, leaving only enough room for a bee to walk across the top of the frames. This is about 3/8 of an inch and is referred to as "bee space". In the summer, if there is anymore than bee space between anything in the hive, the bees fill it with comb. So as a result there is no room to feed unless you add an empty box for that purpose. Lastly, I wanted to use wire screen to hold the wood shavings insulation, rather than burlap like they used originally.
So, one day this fall I set out to build some boxes that would meet these needs, this is what I came up with.

Construction Phase 1
First off, I cut some pine 1x6's to length and drilled 3/4" holes in two sides for vents. Next I glued and nailed the boards together to make three boxes. Then I cut 1/4" wire screen to fit inside the boxes and stapled it in place. I positioned the screen in each box so that it was about three inches down from the top, and also made sure the folded edges of the screen covered the holes just to make sure no unwanted hive guests moved in. Finally I painted the boxes and left them to dry.
Construction Phase 2

The next day, I placed the boxes on the hives. Things were looking good. The portion of the box above the screen would hold pine shavings for insulation and moisture control, the portion below the screen would be for feeding, and the holes would provide the venting. I started to load up the first box with pine shavings, but soon saw that fine pieces of the shavings were going to filter down onto the bees. I guess 1/4" screen was a little too coarse. I didn't like that, so I cut a couple old T shirts in to sheets and placed the cotton sheets on top of the wire. This should allow the moisture to travel up to the top of the hive and condense and then drip down on to the shavings, and not the bees.

Modified Moisture Quilt in place.
Here is the modified moisture quilt in place. When I last checked the bees, all three colonies were looking good. They had plenty of honey to eat and were clustered nicely. As we head into December, I'll check them again and see if I need to feed to help them through the hard times. As spring approaches, I'll feed protein to help the colony get a jump on the brood rearing and building up the population for the bloom.   Speaking of honey, how is your honey store? We still have a few jars left of our Johnson's Garden Honey available. They make great gifts for anyone interested in local, homegrown goods and health foods. Shoot me a note at or comment on this post if your interested. Remember, honey is non-perishable and easily shipped!
That's all for now, thanks for reading.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Hunting Meat

Every now and again as a hunter you have to ask yourself: What am I really hunting for?
For me that question entered my mind one evening this week when a young, fork horned white-tailed buck stepped out in front of me and paused. I was sitting on a rise, watching a stand of dense brush and timber that bordered a grassy meadow. The meadow was crisscrossed with deer trails and the ground littered with deer droppings. I had already seen two does, and as the whitetail are coming into rut now, I knew chances were good there would be a buck in the neighborhood.
It was almost my last opportunity to hunt for the season and as I sat there wondering if I was going to fill my tag, my mind was replaying scenes from earlier in the hunting season: I kept seeing the bucks I'd let go.
There was the 4 point mule deer buck that I saw on the first morning of the season. "Beautiful buck" I had thought, "but too early to tag out now". Then there was the nice pair of white-tails we saw while retrieving Whitney's buck. I had stood there in the rain with my cross hairs on the larger of the pair. "No, one buck is enough to deal with today" I had thought to myself. Next there was another nice muley that I saw on a ridge after riding my mare seven miles behind a gate. The muley was a nice tall fork or maybe three point, but "not big enough for this far back" I had thought. And lastly there was  the big white-tail I had seen, the one that I really wanted. I had gotten up extra early that day and driven an hour and a half to get to the gate I wanted to hunt behind. I hiked for two hours to get to the spot I wanted to hunt even though it was 15 degrees when I left the truck. I spent all morning working slowly through the bowl with no luck, and finally stopped for lunch. It was still only about 20 degrees out with a stiff wind and it didn't take long for me to get cold sitting down. I decided to hike up the ridge to warm up and see if there was anything up there. I took about a dozen slow stiff steps and then looked up. The buck rose out of his bed like a bird flushing out of the grass. As he lept I had time to watch him turn broadside before landing and taking one more leap. That was all I saw, but it was enough. He had a wide, tall rack: a big 4 point at least maybe 5. A big body, mature white-tail buck, one that any hunter would be proud of. I had only seen him for about a half a second, but I spent the next two full days searching for him. At the end of that second day I had hiked over ten miles and still only had the one glimpse of the buck. I decided to try a new place, but that buck still haunted me.
So now here I was, on my last hunting day with evening drawing near watching the does graze. The question entered my mind: Are you hunting for meat or a nice rack? This time I was hunting meat. Having eaten nearly all the venison in our freezer it was time for me to fill my tag. And as I sat there looking back on another great hunting season, the young white-tail stepped out of the timber and paused. I raised my rifle, steadied the cross hairs behind the shoulder, exhaled and squeezed the trigger.
To my dismay, the buck did not lay down in his tracks as is always my goal. My shot must have gone wide because instead, this one spun and ran back into the brush. I stood there watching sadly while night came on dark and fast. After marking the last spot I saw him with my orange hat, I walked back to the truck to get another flashlight and call for back up. I felt terrible, I've never lost a wounded deer yet, and I sure didn't want to now. Whitney came out and we spent the next two hours of the pitch black night searching in the thick brush with flashlights and head lamps. We finally, and thankfully located the dead buck, but not without some real doubts. After I thanked the buck for his sacrifice, I dressed and cleaned him, and as I dragged him back to the truck I breathed a heavy sigh of relief. I had filled my tag and we had recovered the buck and that's what really mattered. It didn't matter that this buck was only a fork, because after all you can't eat the antlers and I know the big bucks are still out there. Somewhere.


Friday, November 9, 2012

Images of hunting season

One night last weekend I was driving home after an exhausting day hunting with no game to show for my efforts when a thought came to me. Isn't it strange that the only images of hunting that we share and celebrate are ones that show a happy hunter posing with a harvested animal? While this is of course a pinnacle moment, it tells nothing of the work and dedication it took to get to that point, or the work that remains to be done after the shot. This is only one moment in a wide range of images that actually make a hunting season, and could be part of why non-hunters don't understand why we hunters feel so strongly about hunting.
If you were to actually show images of my typical hunting season, there would be many many pictures with no game at all. Pictures of cold dark mornings, long silent walks, trees bending in whistling winds and red numb fingers. Photos showing entire days with no words spoken, where no animals are seen and long drives home with nothing to show for the effort.

Whitney preps garden produce and venison for hunting camp stew.
But there would be more than that. There would be pictures of friends around a campfire, corn bread from a dutch oven, and smoke curling from the chimney above a wall tent. There would be pictures of golden larch needles, white snow flakes, and red huckleberry leaves. There would be pictures of vistas and mountains, streams and rivers. Elk tracks in the snow, fresh droppings and a recent bedding spot. Wolf tracks the size of desert plates, and lion tracks on top of your own tracks made only hours before.
But there has to be more than pictures, you have to convey the sensations too. Not only of the frozen fingers and tired legs, but of the sudden spike in the heart rate when you catch a glimpse of something. The disappointment that comes after a long silent walk when out of nowhere a doe stands up and just like that, effectively warns the entire mountain side of your coming. Of your heart pounding in your ears when a buck spots you and gives you that one second stare before bounding away. The wet sheep smell of your wool pants after hiking all day. The sensation of being soaked in sweat from dragging an animal out even when it's so cold the water in your backpack has frozen. And of finally, finally having made it back to the truck well after dark with the narrow beam of your headlamp guiding the way after trying not to think about all the hungry carnivores that have been watching and smelling you go by.
I guess the thing is that there is way too much about a hunting season to try and share all of it, so we just boil down to the one moment of success. The one moment that proves it was all worthwhile. But success without effort is fleeting. For me the hunts that were the hardest are the stories best recalled, and somehow the meat tastes a little better when there is a good story to go with it.
So for any non-hunters that may be reading this, and especially ones that don't appreciate seeing pictures of dead animals and grinning hunters, just remember your only seeing part of the picture.