Saturday, June 22, 2013

I Like Spiders and Snakes

I was a slightly strange little girl. As soon as school let out for the summer I would begin to collect every kind of insect on the farm and I would make bug zoos with my mom's canning jars. Then I would sadly watch them all die off. Since I had no idea what these insects ate or did for a living, I couldn't really care for them properly.

Spiders were the exception. A few juicy flies would keep them happy, so through the simple result of attrition I kept several spiders as "pets". To this day I will not kill a spider. I think they are really cool and they get rid of flies in the house. I do make them build new webs when they get too dusty and full of fly skeletons.

Another childhood fascination was with snakes. In Oregon there are very few dangerous creatures. We only have one poisonous snake, the Western rattlesnake, and it doesn't live in the Willamette Valley.
So I was free to wander the fields looking for Garter snakes. I would sneak up, grab them behind the head, wave them at my playmates and watch them scream and run!

Somewhere there is a photo of me at age 8, swinging two large snakes, one in each hand, while my cousins and neighbors run screaming. I think my mom took the photo just before she ran back to the house and locked the kitchen door. Ah, the heady power of wielding snakes!

I was excited when I lifted a messy roll of weed cloth last year and found a very large Northwestern Garter snake warming itself in the solar heat of the black cloth.

In the next fold was a very large Western Fence Lizard. Strange bed mates.

Then, when I picked up the rest of the roll, I found this stash of MY STRAWBERRIES!

I have been trying to get a crop of strawberries for the last three years. Between the voles, Robins and the Chipmunks I am losing ground.

I tried putting bird netting over the strawberry bed, but I kept finding little lizards tangled and trapped in it.

Hmm. How can I discourage this large group of strawberry thieves?

Bring in the snakes!
Of course it is too much to ask for a real snake to guard my berries 24/7 but this rubber snake is more than happy to do the job.
And it seems to be working. I have had many more strawberries this year and it is not because the plants are bigger. In fact they are a little stunted because I had to move them last fall.
The only downside to this method is that I keep scaring the *&#% out of myself when the weeds cover the snake and I forget it is there. I like snakes, but I don't like them sneaking up on me.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

How Bee Proof is Bee Proof? The Strengths and Limitations of a Good Bee Suit

Being Spring, we have had a lot of interest in my post on the Ultra Breeze Bee Suit.
I have been pondering what I would say in a review of the suit for 3 or 4 weeks, and I have changed my mind several times on what exactly I have to say about the suit.

Not because the suit is any less than I expected, it is a fantastic piece of workmanship.
I love everything about the suit. It is easy to put on and take off. It has very good visibility, front and side. It really is very cool to wear, much cooler than the old suit I used to wear. It is especially cool if you are moving around, it really does breath.

Large, easily accessible pockets let me carry my "Epi-Pen" where I can get to it fast.
It has large well placed pockets. It has tight, heavy duty zippers and hook and loop tape to prevent gaps at the closures. It is a fantastic suit, clearly designed by a bee keeper who knew what he needed and sewn by people who care about quality. This suit will last a lifetime.

Hopefully mine will be long.

But, and this is a big "but", because I cannot really put it to the sting test, I cannot say it is sting proof.
Being allergic to bees, I am not the person to be testing it for sting-ability. I wear it as a last defense against the 1% chance of being stung. I am not in there throwing around hive frames full of bees, I am gently coercing my bee friends to let me peek inside or change syrup jars on the feeder. I am mowing wide swaths of grass and brush where there might be a hornet.
That's me pointing importantly while wearing my Ultra Breeze bee suit. That's Buck catching a swarm from a neighbors valve box.
Any major interactions with bees- catching swarms, moving hives, is being done by my Bee Deputes, Buck and Jake.

And this is where my story turns a little more philosophical.

Although these precautions had lulled me into a sense of safety, I had a little wake up call last weekend. I was lifting a cardboard box in my studio and, against all odds, I pressed my bare arm against a Yellow Jacket that was crawling on the box and was stung.

There were no doors or windows open. There was such a tiny chance that a bee would be in the room at all. How infinitesimal are the odds that that bee would be crawling on the back of a box right where my arm would press? Anyone want to do that math?

Among the many things I pondered that night while in the ER, was the fact that I can never be "Bee Proof".  I cannot avoid bees even when I am in my own home. I cannot be bee proof.
I cannot wear my bee suit at all times. There is no reason to live being afraid of what might happen, because I can never really know what is going to happen.

I also decided that my final word on the Ultra Breeze Bee Suit is this: buy the suit if you are just wanting to reduce the amount of stings you get and you want to have a cooler, better fitting and more comfortable suit that is made in the USA by people who care. It is well worth the money. It is the Maserati of bee suits.

But don't fool yourself if you are allergic to bees. A nice bee suit is not going to be the panacea you are hoping for. Bees are everywhere and weird things happen.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Apartment Sized Wedgewood for Our Outdoor Kitchen

Those of you who have been following for a while will remember that I found our Oasis trailer (which turned into half of the Art Shack Micro House) while perusing the Craig's List posts for a propane stove for my dream outdoor kitchen.
Well, it didn't happen fast. What has it been, like 2 years? But I finally found the stove I had been searching for!

Although I was lucky enough to get this sweetie for under a $100, it did need a lot of fiddling with.
The "Brand new" gas regulator hose was faulty and had to be replaced - $15 at the store.

The burners are very deluxe but need a thorough cleaning to get the inner ring to light.

The oven was way too hot, so I adjusted it. The fine tune adjuster is just under the chrome cap of the oven knob.

 The burners were burning yellow, which is caused by a poor mix of gas and air.  Aside from the fact that this will not heat efficiently, it will also cover pan bottoms with a thick black soot that gets on everything.

 I adjusted the air ratio by opening these air vents.
Which resulted in a nice clean blue flame.

Now for the real test, the Reluctant Homesteader Cookie in the Wilds test.

Supervised by Homestead cookie expert Mr.J
With just a little hovering I got a nice golden batch of Macadamia White Chocolate Cookies.
Mr.J says "Well done! Now give 'em to me."