Friday, March 23, 2012

Where's My Stitches?

Checked out the most fun looking book from the library yesterday: 200 Stitch Patterns for Baby Blankets, written by Jan Eaton.

Though I am only crude and boring at knitting, I am more than happy to throw my efforts at crochet patterns of all kinds, which this book has plenty of.

One of the first real projects I made for myself: a Ruffled Scarf
Years ago a kindly grade school teacher taught me how to finger crochet the basic chain. It took me just as many years to actually pick up a hook and some yarn and learn to go beyond that simple chain. 

I started with the simple things: Blankets mostly, flat pieces that needed no pattern other than going back and forth. Then I hit the net to look up videos, and learned the basic stitches. And, finally, it occurred to me to look in the library catalog for pattern books.

A soft baby blanket I made with chenille yarn
Once I got those books into my grubby little paws, it was party time.

I made ruffled scarves, fancy baby blankets, attempted a stuffed animal (failed), played with the stitch patterns off a very cute little number that would never look good on me (I am, at least, realistic), and a tote bag, which is now being cannibalized for another project I'm making.

The center square of my most recent project, a sofa throw

I figure hey, if I get any good, maybe I can make some cash off of it. Especially as my quilting skills are rubbish right now (I had a great-aunt who made brilliant quilts, Christmas stockings, Christmas tree blankets to cover the floor under the tree, etc. Great stuff.)

Doubtless I'll be back all excited about a new pattern I've learned. Meanwhile, I'll keep plugging away.

Monday, March 19, 2012

On Bees

Aha! Here is what I should have been doing today: writing the follow up post to my last blog entry. I thought that maybe I should have been doing something, just couldn't remember what it was. A senior moment, for a not-so-senior person. Scary.

Leatherwood blooms

 So, for those of you who don't know, Tasmania is pretty famous for it's Leatherwood honey. It's apparently quite common for local beekeepers to be up in the wee hours loading up hives to take advantage of the opportunity to collect that rich, floral smelling treat. Eucryphia Lucida, otherwise known as the leatherwood tree, grows in the the temperate rainforests on the west side of the state, and flowers December to January. Beekeepers have said to have hives stacked nine boxes high in this season. Ironically, the local market for this famous honey is pretty weak; beekeepers would have to export it to make any real cash.

Capeweed is a notorious plant pest
 So, from there, I shall segue into pollen, an important source of proteins for the bees. Interestingly, the pollen from the leatherwood tree has only a moderate ranking when it comes to general "goodness" for the bees. Brassica pollens apparently offer a whole lot more in protein, so if you are thinking of raising bees, perhaps you might think of custom seed mixes to sow in fields (if you've got them of course. Fields, that is.) Strangely enough, capeweed, an almost impossible to eradicate weed pest in this state, is the Rolls Royce of all pollens.

Now, pollen isn't the only thing bees collect. Field bees (the bees that leave the hive to go foraging) will collect four things: nectar, pollen, water, and propolis (plant resins). Pollen and nectar are used to feed the bees, and propolis is used to sticky up any cracks or crevices that the bees don't want in their hive (and boy, can they gum things up). Water is stored in cells and is used to keep the hive cool in the summer time. Seeing as the average hive temperature is about 37 degrees Celsius, on a hot summers day they can go through 4 liters of water to keep everything cool.

These bees are fanning at the entrance of the hive; air circulation is key to keeping the hive at the optimum temperature
Another interesting bee fact that I didn't know till a few weeks ago is that bees have five eyes. Count em, five! Two large compound eyes, and three small simple eyes, called ocelli, which are used for the poor light conditions within the hive. Bees are also unable to see the color red- no old fashioned roses for them, I guess. The three castes of bees can also be identified by their eyes. The drones (male bees) have enormous wrap around compound eyes. The workers (infertile female bees) have smaller eyes on the sides of their heads, and the queen, well, she's a little near sighted I guess; her eyes are slightly smaller than those of the workers.

I'll wrap this up for this evening, as it's time I started our supper. But I'll be back later in the week to share more brilliance on bees.


Sunday, March 18, 2012

These Days of Learning

So, yesterday I went to my first beekeeping class! I came home so excited I couldn't actually bring myself to settle down and write, especially since I was barely contained from bouncing all over the room and the internet as I bragged about making my very own hive frame (all by myself!)

Look at what I made, Ma!

I was there for six hours, and although the official "teaching" only amounted to about 5 hours, I counted chatted with the other beeks and newbees as a learning experience as well. I remember walking in when I first arrived, seeing a load of old men, and thinking "Oh boy, I'm out of my league here", but it got better once I signed in and sat down. There were two other women, one learning about bees and the other with a proper bee addiction. The rest were men with gray hair. I was easily the youngest person in the room.

Now, normally I am shy to the extreme around strangers. It takes me a long time to warm up to people I don't know. The only person I recognized I didn't really know at all; he was the guy I was chatting to at the Launceston Show about beekeeping, and where I'd signed up for more information. But I realized that if I was to make any sort of connection with these people, I was going to have to play bold. So *gasp!* I introduced myself to the people sitting around me. All nice, interesting people. Throughout the class I even learned were many of them lived, and that two were near me, and one lived about ten minutes away from my friend. I even managed to arrange rides to and from the next classes. Go me!

Anyway. Not bad for a first class, lots of stuff to absorb for sure, but I feel that I probably would have had a harder time absorbing it if I hadn't been reading about it for a few weeks already. I think I did right to check out all those books from the library! At least I didn't' feel completely clueless when the words of trade started rolling off their tongues.

It was all basic stuff, but I learned that Australia is indeed still free of the Varroa mite, although Apis cerana (the Asian Honeybee) is now an epidemic in the country because of a sampling that came in on the mast of a yacht. Because A. cerana is the natural vector for the Varroa mite, they're really going to have to be on the look out for it, especially as they're considering allowing queen importation. I honestly hope they are extremely stringent in their quarantines. The most popular bee "breed" seems to be A. mellifera, the European Honeybee. (There are a few other species, but the three names I've heard and read about are from Russia, the Caucasian mountains, and the aggressive African bees.)

There's a hopping mouse that can squeeze through 10mm spaces. Some Tassie beekeepers will make their hive entrances 9mm just to eliminate the chances of these little guys getting in.
I also learned that Tasmania has a hopping mouse that can squeeze through 10mm spaces to get into hives, that a hive on a hot summer day will go through 4 liters of water, that the bees will allow the invasion of a bumble bee into the hive just so they can kill it and strip the hairs off it's body to mix with their capping wax, and that you should never put your hand under a hive until you've rattled a stick under it, just in case a snake was hanging out in the warmth (and sometimes the snakes get in the hive too... so watch out!)

Since this is becoming a long post, I think I shall end it here, and come back with more later in a new post. It also means I've got the intro stuff out of the way and can focus on more specific things.

Friday, March 16, 2012

I Wanna Be A Beek!

My most favorite treat in the world is the raw honeycomb, liberally oozing with tasty, sweet honey, and chewy wax. It's like natural, honey flavored chewing gum.

Mmm, yummy honeycomb, the perfect snack
 Not too long ago, I asked a friend what she thought about about beekeeping. She seemed to think it was a great idea, because she and her man go through a lot of honey. Since we're pretty much in the same boat, I decided that beekeeping would be an interesting hobby to start (and it sounds like my friend has already picked out a spot for a hive!)

So I signed up for beekeeping courses. Well, a course. A three day course, to be exact, that starts on Saturday. Woohoo! I start officially learning about bees on the morrow! I'm so excited.

For the last couple weeks I was reading and researching anything involving bees. I've been learning primarily about the Langstroth hive, which is the typical square stacked box you think about when beekeeping is mentioned. I've also learned that the traditional idea of a beehive is a skep (basically a straw basket), and that another way is called the top bar hive, which seems to be a little easier than the Langstroth.

Kenyan Top Bar Hive
I've been learning about the structure of the hive, what bees eat, and the pests and diseases that bother them. Most of this info has come out of the For Dummies book on the subject, I admit, but it's a good start. I've joined groups on Facebook regarding beekeeping, and I've been trumpeting to the sky the fact that I'm ready, willing and SO EXCITED TO LEARN. 

Langstroth Hives
Believe me, you'll be hearing plenty more on THIS subject!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Down the Drain

Some of us may have experienced the event of losing something down the bathroom drain. A favorite earring usually is the case (for women, at least; no idea about you blokes). Mine wasn't so much a favorite, as it was one of my functional ones: A stainless steel stud. While washing up at the sink last night (well, this morning, at 2am), it decided to jump, and no, I have no idea how I managed to encourage it to do that. Zombie-ing around at 2am will do that to you.

So, well, bummer. Especially considering that I've managed to NOT lose anything down the drain since I was like, four. (I used to lose whole toothbrushes down the drain when I was four. That's something only a four-year-old can manage I think.)

My first thought, at 2 am: Dammit! Well, maybe I can get it with a magnet on a string.

My second thought: Um... stainless steel doesn't stick to magnets.

My third thought: I'll ask hubs to help tomorrow.

Then, as I went back to bed, I thought "You know, I really don't need to ask hubs for help, it's just a case of taking off the U-bend and retrieving the earring. It's not going anywhere, it can wait. How hard can it be?"

Apparently not hard at all. In fact, it was easy as pie. Hell, it was much easier than pie, because pie actually takes some skill and effort to make (whoever came up with the phrase easy as pie clearly had no idea what they were talking about).

Now, I've never done it before. I'm by no means any sort of plumber. I knew how to do it in theory, so I hit Google. A quick link later, and I had instructions (gotta love the internet). Turns out I hardly needed those, as when I finally got under the bathroom sink to take a look (and moved all the stuff.... and found a pan to catch the water that actually fit under the sink), I learned that I only had to twist off two PVC rings and out came the U-bend in the pipe, with a surge of nasty smelling water.

I shook the earring out into the pan, retrieved it, and took the section of pipe to the kitchen sink.

It was RANK. And coated with gunk. It was NASTY. Baking soda, vinegar, hot water, and liberal application of an old toothbrush took care of that though. Even got rid of almost all the smell. After that, it was merely a moment spent to slap it back into place and tighten the rings up again.

Voila! I didn't even need a pipe wrench. Go me!