Friday, January 9, 2015

An Escape to Iowa.......Winter Fly Fishing in the Driftless

Iowa trout stream in January

It's hard to believe I was enjoying a calm 30-degree day on the water exactly one week ago.  Sure, my guides froze, but I was able to get in at least a dozen casts before I had to chip away the ice.  Sure, my feet got a bit cold at times, but it was nothing a brisk walk upstream didn't cure.  After the below zero temps we've been experiencing this past week in the Midwest, I imagine it would be difficult to find much open water or rising trout these days.  It makes me very thankful that I was able to enjoy a beautiful winter day on a nice Driftless stream at the start of the new year.  The midges were hatching and the trout were rising in every run.  Though the ice was thick in spots, there was enough open water to fill the day.  I was hoping for a little dry fly fishing on this trip but didn't expected to do it exclusively.  I ended up casting to rising trout with tiny midges all day long:)


Friday, March 21, 2014

Scouting Water and Sleeping Babies

Spring has been making brief appearances in Southern Wisconsin this past week.  There's been a lot of melting going on and the sun has been shining.  It makes a person want to shake out the cobwebs and find any reason possible to get outside and feel the warm-ish breeze and listen to the birds sing.
This past winter was rough.  I normally really enjoy the snow and sometimes lament the loss of it this time of year......but not this season.  With the prolonged frigid temperatures that never seemed to let up, it was difficult to enjoy time outdoors.  Even when my husband offered to watch our son for a few hours, I didn't feel like hitting the cross country ski trails with -30 degree wind chills. My son was born in October, and I think I can count on two hands the number of times we've spent any amount of time outside besides rushing to and from the warmth of the car. So to say I have cabin fever is an understatement, and I think my son is feeling it too.
On one of these inspiring days when spring started to peek through the curtains of winter, I found myself driving with a sleeping baby in the backseat.  Instead of heading straight home, I took a detour to scout some trout streams near my hometown.  I've spent so much time driving into the western portion of the Driftless Area, that I've rarely fished the streams in my own backyard.  With a baby at home now, my time is a little more valuable and I don't want to be wasting 90-minutes driving to a particular stream when I could be rigged up and fishing within ten minutes of leaving my house. 

On this particular drive, I "discovered" a class II trout stream that is exactly 8-minutes from my driveway.  It wasn't very big, but the water was clear and I could see several nice runs and undercut banks from one of the bridge accesses.  After looking up the stream later on the DNR website, there's apparently 10 miles of stream to cover, which means I won't be lacking for water this season even if I stay close to home.  I had spent so much time fishing water a couple counties to the west that I never realized how much good trout water is much closer to home.  It's exciting to know I can likely spend this entire season exploring streams within a 10 mile radius from my house without getting bored.
After my son woke up, I ended the scouting mission and turned towards home, but I couldn't get the image of the perfect bubble line out of my head.  Luckily, my in-laws were visiting for the afternoon and were more than willing to babysit, so I quickly threw my gear into the car and returned to the stream.
I only had an hour, which led to me feeling rushed, which led to me hooking everything possible except a fish;)  It didn't help that, despite the sunshine, the air temperature was still low enough to freeze up the guides and the water was probably still pretty cold due to recent melting.  As every fly fisherman has said at least once, "It was just nice to get out."  Though I didn't kick up any fish on this particular stretch, I'm sure they're in there somewhere.  I'll certainly be heading back soon to do some more exploring.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Baby Duty with a Splash of Fly Casting

My son is nearly four months now, and it's true what people say about kids growing up so fast.  He's changing a little bit every day, and the past four months have been a blur. When I try to recall the first few weeks with him--or even the first month---I find it hard to remember the details. I understand now why my mother-in-law has trouble remembering specifics about my husband as a baby when I ask her for comparisons. I guess it's one of those clichés that are totally true, but you just can't realize it until you're experiencing it firsthand. I try to keep this in mind when I'm struggling to get our son back to sleep at 3:00 am or trying to comfort him when he's fussy. If I find myself daydreaming about "easier" times down the road, I try to remember that these days are fleeting and will be missed down the road. I've heard the time with a young child described as the "longest shortest time," which is a totally accurate description so far. Some days and nights drag on and I start wishing for a break, but then I look at my son and realize just how fast he's growing up. I know that the frustrations we're facing at the moment will be distant memories soon enough.
I'm fortunate to be able to stay home with my son for the first six months of his life,  which I try to appreciate when I start feeling stir crazy. I know many women have to go back to work much earlier and it must be very difficult for them. I currently get to spend every waking and sleeping hour with my son, which I'm greatful for, but it's nice to get some time to myself every once in awhile.  Thanks to my husband and the fact that our son will now take a bottle when needed, I've recently been able to get out of the house for some "me time."  These short breaks help me re-energize and I look forward to returning home to my family afterwards.  Fittingly, most of these outings have revolved around fly fishing.
My first official solo trip away from home since my son's birth was to a casting open gym. Some friends recently formed the Madison Fly Casters Club as a way for area fly fishers to get together during the offseason for some winter casting practice.  They reserved a couple basketball courts at a local sports arena and arranged for a couple hours of casting, beer drinking, and socializing.  At first it felt strange getting into the car without the baby carrier and diaper bag---I had the feeling I was forgetting something--but it didn't take me long to start enjoying the drive. I turned up the music and took in the rolling hills on each side of me. Once there, it was really nice to chat with some old and new friends about fly fishing and babies. Finding out that other parents of young kids have gone through and survived all the same problems my husband and I are facing made me see the big picture. It helped me realize that the things currently stressing us out are pretty insignificant in the grand scheme of things. So overall, the open gym was a great way for everyone to fight cabin fever and get their casting arms moving again. I'm looking forward to the next one scheduled this month.
Photo courtesy of 
Just a few nights ago, my husband volunteered to babysit so I could attend the Fly Fishing Film Tour (F3T) that was in town. It was nice to sit back in the theater with a cold beer and get lost in some good fly fishing footage. It was also good to see friendly faces and visit with friends. I've met a lot of great people through fly fishing, and it's always nice to catch up with them. Though there were a few too many salt water films and not enough spring creek footage for my taste, it was a great reason for a night out in subzero temperatures.
As my son gets older and the frigid temps become more manageable, I'm sure it will be easier for me to get out of the house--with or without the baby. I'm very thankful to my husband for encouraging me to do so. He's had to work off and on over the past four months and probably feels a bit guilty that I've been "stuck" at home so much on baby duty. If it weren't for him, I wouldn't have been able to get these moments to myself that helped me gain perspective and return home happy to be back on baby duty. I used to envy my husband when he had to leave for work; he was able to socialize with other adults, get out of the house, and experience some freedom without having to battle our son during naptime. I now realize, though, that I was the lucky one who got to stay home with our baby. If the first four months have gone by this quickly, he'll be a year old before we know it. Instead of worrying about whether our son is getting enough "tummy time," we'll be worrying about gating off the stairs. I'm sure as time goes by we'll look back wistfully on these early months, and rather than lamenting the weeks stuck at home on baby duty, I know I''ll appreciate the amount of time I was able to spend with my baby boy.

**If you're in the Madison area and interested in joining the Madison Fly Casters Club, check out their Facebook page:

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Ephemeral Moments

When you're pregnant, people tell you that your life will never be the same once your baby arrives, but it's hard to fully prepare for it.  My son was born six weeks ago and the time has passed by in a flash.  Our initial days together have blended into one short window of time, yet it seems ages ago that I gave birth.

It's still strange to call him my son.  Just as it took time to start calling my boyfriend my husband after our wedding, I'm still not used to calling this baby that I carried for forty weeks and one day my son.  It sounds so official.  It's as if the use of that noun immediately moves me into the realm of full-fledged adulthood.  It was a move I was ready to make but it just hasn't entirely sunk in yet.

My maternal feelings are growing more every day.  It wasn't love at first sight as some mothers describe it, rather my son initially felt like a stranger to me.  Even though he shares half of my genetics and was a fixture inside me for nine months, it still took time for us to get to know one another once he entered the world.  We experienced some struggles the first four weeks but seem to have figured each other out recently.  I've become better at deciphering his needs and wants and he has become more reassured by me.  It's still a bit surreal at times to realize this baby belongs to me, is part of me, and that I am currently responsible for 99% of his health and wellness.  It's both sobering and comforting to realize how much he needs me at this stage of his life and how his future self will be influenced by how well I care for him now.

During the intense crying jags or the 3:00 am feedings I sometimes think wistfully about a time down the road when my son will be able to tell us what he wants and will sleep through the night, but I'm making a concerted effort to appreciate everything about these early days. I know many parents that look back longingly on this newborn period, and everyone says that kids grow up so fast.  There must be something to that cliché.  Therefore, I'm consciously trying to savor each moment with my son because there's no reversing to clock once you realize how precious this time was.

So, although I'm looking forward to the day he can walk along a trout stream with me and turn over rocks to find caddis casings, I'm appreciating the time I have with my son right now.  I inhale the smells of his milk breath and diapers, both of which only a mother can love.   I watch his eyes flutter and face contort as he falls asleep in my arms.  I enjoy our daily routine, as mundane as it may seem, because I realize how fleeting this window of our lives will be.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

39 Weeks Down....1 Week to Go

With only a week remaining until the arrival of my due date, I actually have time to think about my pregnancy and what the approaching outcome will entail.  It's all been very abstract for me from the beginning.  Back in February when we got a positive pregnancy result, there weren't many physical changes to speak of and there was no tangible evidence that a baby had actually been created.  I had no morning sickness to speak of and my regular clothes fit for a long time.  Once our greenhouse season was in full swing, I became too busy to really think about my pregnancy.  I worked long days every day without much time to rest and reflect on what was going on inside my body.  To the baby's credit, he was extremely cooperative all summer.  My pregnancy hasn't prevented me from doing anything I normally do (with the exception of an October steelhead trip), and I've remained extremely active over the past nine months.  It wasn't until a week or two ago that the increased discomfort began.  It coincided with the end of our greenhouse season, so I'm not sure if I'm more uncomfortable now because the baby is at his biggest point or if it's because I have time to notice it.  Either way, I've still had it very easy overall so I don't complain much.  Sure my shoes are pretty tight now, my ribcage is sore, and I have to get up once or twice each night to use the bathroom, but things could have been much worse for much longer. 

As I said before, I stayed so busy during the duration of my pregnancy that the baby didn't start to become real to me until recently.  With the greenhouse now closed for the season, I have more free time in a single day than I had over the course of the entire summer.  I spent our first week of the off season in nesting mode:  I washed the baby clothes, organized the house, froze tomato sauce and applesauce for the winter, got the car seat installed, stocked the kitchen with food, etc.  Now that I checked off all the important things on my baby to-do list, there's days when I start to feel a bit listless.  It's only the second week of our off season and I'm already bored. Unbelievable. I should be appreciating this time to myself because I'll soon me lamenting the loss of it.  Who knows when I'll ever have this much time to myself again.....

With this new time off comes too much time to think, which has led to some mental meltdowns recently.  The labor part doesn't worry me; I know it will be painful but I know it will end, and I also know my pain tolerance is high.  Most mothers I know have gone through some sort of labor, so if they can do it so can I.  I'm also not too nervous about caring for a newborn.  I've done a lot of reading, we've taken the classes, and our families will be around to help.  The part that's been throwing me for a loop, though, is the realization that our lives are about to profoundly change.  It's actually beginning to dawn on me that we'll be bringing home a newborn sometime within the next few weeks.  The baby is still intangible to me; I don't have a picture in my head of what he'll look like, we don't have a definite name picked out yet, and I don't feel I've really bonded with him inside the womb.  Whether we're ready or not, the arrival of the baby will be the biggest life changing event in either of our lives......and it's scary.  I know the timing couldn't be better and my husband and I are not regretting the pregnancy one bit, but it's still making me very anxious and emotional lately.  Once this baby is here, our lives will have an entirely new focus.  We'll no longer just be looking out for ourselves and each other.  This baby will become the epicenter of our lives.  I know it will be a good thing but it's just begun to sink in how much our lives are about to change. I've been very independent for a very long time but will soon be retiring that independence.  I know I'll get it back eventually, but it scares me.  I also know that I'll likely forget all these fears once the baby is here.

To my husband's credit, he already loves the baby.  He is much more emotionally open than I am and I can tell he's excited for the baby to get here. I have a hunch that as my due date approaches I, too, will turn the corner and begin to look forward to the arrival of our son.  A lot of people have said to me over the past couple months, "You must be getting so excited to meet him!"  I would go along with their excitement but it wasn't genuine.  It had previously been too abstract for me, and right now I'm more anxious than excited.  When I look at the crib and baby clothes, I feel agitation rather than love.

Part of me wishes I was still working ten hours a day so I didn't have time to process everything that's going to be happening within the next few weeks, but another part of me is glad that I'm confronting these fears.  I know it's normal to be nervous and I know I'll have no regrets once the baby is here.  It's been eye opening for me to see how genuinely excited people are for this baby--people I don't even know--so we definitely must be headed towards something very special.  Although I don't feel drawn towards babies and don't have the urge to coo and coddle infants I see on the street, I know it will be different with my own child.  And when I take the time to think about it now, I AM looking forward to developing that special bond with my son, and I AM looking forward to moving on from a couple to a cohesive unit of three.  Maybe today's the day I start turning the corner and love and anticipation about my son's arrival begin to replace anxiety and fear.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Fly Fishing for Two

With the Wisconsin inland trout season coming to a close soon and my due date less than three weeks away, I figured I needed to squeeze in a few hours of fly fishing before I lost the chance.  I decided to stay close to home, so I chose a well known stream just ten minutes from my front door.  I haven't spent much time fishing my local waters--I'm on more familiar ground with streams an hour away--so I was looking forward to exploring a new stretch of water that was so conveniently located.

The first point of concern was whether my waders would still fit.  It had been a couple months since I'd last worn them, so I had no idea whether they were going to fit over my belly or not.  As luck would have it, I had about an inch to spare.

After gearing up, I headed down the well worn path from the parking area into the trees.  Normally very nimble and sure-footed, I found myself being extra careful on the steep parts of the trail.  My extra weight out front has apparently affected my balance a bit. Once out of the trees, I entered a meadow of grass reaching above my head.  I silently thanked the previous fishermen who had laid out a maze of trampled paths for me to follow.

Once I reached the water, I followed it downstream a ways so I could fish up. There wasn't much going on in terms of hatches or risers, but on the first cast a little guy made a splashy take at my Pass Lake dropper as soon as it hit the water.  I assumed that was a sign of good things to come.  I continued fishing upstream and had a lot of quick takes on the dropper as it floated along the undercut banks.

As the sun got higher, my stamina got lower.  I could feel my energy waning fast, so after only an hour on the water, I headed back to the parking lot.  It was hard to abandon the runs I saw ahead of me, but I didn't want to test the baby's patience.  Temporarily gone are the days of being able to fish for an entire day without even stopping to eat, but I'm glad I made it out to explore some new water.

As it turned out, I managed to get out one more time before the season closed.  A couple friends were heading to the Driftless for an afternoon and invited me along.  We ended up fishing the same stretch of water we ended the 2012 season on.  It was a similar sort of day, too, with the sun shining, a cool breeze blowing, and the leaves beginning to change color.

There were lots of risers around, and although more fish were missed than caught, enough of them took my flies to make the trip a successful end to the season.

One season is now closed, but a different one is about to begin for me.  I've enjoyed my independence for a long time; I've been able to do what I wanted when I wanted for the most part.  As I prepare for this new adventure, though, I'm beginning to look forward to having responsibility for someone else.  I know I'll miss having the freedom to pack up and leave for a weekend of fishing whenever it suits me, but I predict that spending a weekend with my husband and newborn will be even more fulfilling.  And down the road, I'm looking forward to having a new fly fishing partner by my side.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Creating My Personal Honeyhole.......Or My First Season of Beekeeping

PART I:  Installation

Keeping with my tendencies to gravitate towards activities associated with the granola lifestyle, I decided to try my hand at beekeeping this year.  I began this new adventure in January by ordering my hive while the snow was still flying.  It was a bit intimidating browsing through catalogs and websites filled with beekeeping paraphernalia, but I eventually put an order together.  I ended up buying a single hive composed of two deep brood boxes and two honey supers.  I had initially intended to start with two bee hives, but at my husband's insistence I stuck to just one.  With placing the hives behind our greenhouses, he was worried that we'd experience a significant increase in honeybees around the store, which could interfere with our customers' shopping experience. So one hive it was.  If all goes well this summer, maybe I'll add another next year.  Along with the brood and super boxes, I also ordered additional gear like a smoker, suit and attached veil, hive tool, a hive top feeder, etc.
Before and after placing my hive order, I spent hours researching honeybees, and I even took a UW-Extension course on beekeeping. Whereas some people have a "learn by doing" attitude, I prefer to gather as much knowledge as possible before delving into something new.  Once spring came around, I felt pretty confident that I could get my hive up and running.  I had all the equipment I needed, the hive was painted and assembled, and I had the perfect spot picked out for the hive.  Its home would be about fifty yards behind the greenhouses nestled in a grove of pine trees so the bees would get eastern exposure and have good protection from winter winds.

My hive in early spring:  assembled and ready for a colony.
Next, it was time to order some bees, so I contacted a local beekeeper I had heard about.  She has lots of hives and sells honey related products at farmers markets in the area.  She takes orders from local beekeepers for packages of bees throughout the winter and provides a pickup location for them once they arrive in April. 

Before picking up my bees, I had done a lot of reading on the topic of hive installation, watched several YouTube videos, and I even took the opportunity to help out another beekeeper I knew with her own installation.  So when I got the call that the bees were ready to be picked up, I felt pretty prepared.  Beehives  don't seem to require much work during the summer season; most of the effort seems to be the initial installation of the bees in the spring and the honey extraction in the fall. 

The bees came in a 3-pound wooden package with the queen suspended inside in her own cage along with a can of sugar syrup to feed the bees during their journey.
A 3# package of bees.
It was a cool April day, so the bees remained in a tight formation around the queen in order to keep her warm.  After bringing the package of bees to the hive, my first task was to open up the hive and remove a couple frames in order to make room for the bees and the can of sugar syrup.  After prying the sugar syrup out of the bee package, I placed it inside the bottom brood box of the hive in order to provide the bees with some extra food while they adjusted to their new home.
Removing the sugar syrup.
I next removed the queen cage and made sure that the queen was present and alive.
The queen cage removed, which was surrounded by attendant bees.
Before hanging the queen cage inside the hive, I carefully removed the cork on one end and replaced it with a piece of marshmallow.  This would allow the attendant bees to slowly eat through the marshmallow and adjust to their new queen's pheromones before releasing her from her cage.

The queen cage.
Removing the cork from the queen cage.

The cork has been replaced with a marshmallow.
I then used a thumb tack to secure the queen cage to one of the middle frames of the hive.  I hung the cage vertically between two frames, which would allow an easy escape once her attendants ate through the marshmallow.
Securing the queen cage to a middle hive frame.
I next had to transfer the rest of the bees into the hive box.  This was done by giving the box a good rap on the ground in order to knock the clump of bees to the bottom of the box and then shaking the bees out of the box and into the hive.  I repeated this several times until there were only a handful of bees left inside the package.

After successfully transferring most of the bees into the hive, I then carefully replaced the frames I had initially removed for the installation.  I then put on the hive top feeder, filled it up with some sugar syrup, and replaced the hive cover.

All in all, the process took about ten minutes and went very smoothly.  I luckily had a friend willing to help me out, which made the process even easier.  About three days after installing the bees, I opened up the hive to make sure the queen had been released and that she was still in the hive, which she was.  I then removed the queen cage and the can of sugar syrup from the hive and added the remaining frames that had been removed in order to make room for the syrup.  About a week later, I opened up the hive once more to make sure the bees were making honeycomb on the frame foundations and to see if I could spot any eggs.  There was definitely a lot of comb being made, but I wasn't able to see any eggs inside the cells.  They were probably there, but I just didn't see them because they're so small.  After several more weeks passed, I opened up the hive again.  This time I found the queen and also saw many larva, which meant the queen was doing her job.

Part II:  Inspections

Since April, the bees have been hard at work.  They filled out the empty frames on the initial brood box, so I added a second one in mid-May.  Those frames filled up pretty quickly once the warm weather hit and the flowers started blooming.  I added my first honey super in mid-June, and by mid-July the bees had filled three-quarters of those frames with honey, so I added the second super at that time.    These are the two boxes that I could potentially harvest at the end of the summer.
The late summer hive with two honey supers added.
In early August, I decided I should do a full hive inspection because I hadn't checked the brood boxes since the spring.  According to the books I had read and other beekeepers, I had been neglecting the bees by not checking up on them every couple of weeks, but my summers get real hectic at the greenhouse and when I'd walk back to take a peek at the hive, the bees seemed to be doing just fine. 

I chose a day that wasn't unbearably hot and rounded up my gear.  My pregnant waistline prevented me from fitting into any old pairs of jeans or thick work pants, but I figured my hooded bee suit and some thin yoga pants would be protection enough.  (I figured wrong.)  I began by smoking the hive entrance then lifting the outer cover and sending some puffs of smoke onto the inner cover.  My ultimate goal was to see how many frames of honey were in the two supers and to see what the brood boxes looked like inside.  After letting the smoke settle down into the hive, I removed the outer and inner covers and began using my hive tool to separate the upper super.  The bees are very good at sealing cracks within the hive with propolis, and I had a difficult time getting the supers unstuck from one another.  I finally was able to remove both supers and was happy to see many frames filled with capped honey.  At this point, the bees were getting agitated and started to slam into my hood.  This signaled a good time to calm them down with some more smoke, but my smoker had gone out and I couldn't get it relit.  So I tried to ignore the angry bees and continued working my way down into the hive.  I took out a few frames from the upper brood box and saw more capped honey.  After finally separating this box from the bottom brood box, I struggled to lift it up.  I wasn't prepared for it to be so heavy.  I do a lot of heavy lifting throughout the summer around the greenhouse, so I know I'm not a weakling, but the brood box was almost more than I could manage.  I had finally got down the to bottom brood box and was about to start looking through the frames to perhaps find the queen and check for eggs and larvae, when I got two simultaneous stings on each thigh.  The bees were getting more and more agitated by the second, so I immediately began to reassemble the hive.  I heaved the upper brood box back in place along with both supers but then realized I'd make a rookie mistake and forgot to replace one of the frames I had removed from the bottom brood box.  So amidst dive bombing bees and throbbing thighs, I began disassembling the hive again in order to replace the missing frame.  When I finally got the hive back together, I was drenched in sweat and totally wore out.  I didn't realize beekeeping was such physical work. 

All in all, it was pretty much a failed inspection, but I learned some important lessons:  pack my smoker better so it stays lit when I really need it; wear appropriate clothing when working the hive and don't assume the bees won't sting; and always make sure all frames are in place before moving on to the next box.  Better luck next time!

PART III:  Harvesting

I decided to harvest honey in mid-September on one of the last warm days in the forecast.  The nectar flow wasn't quite done, but my due date was only four weeks away and I was worried that if I waited longer into the season I'd either run out of warm days or--even scarier---days before the baby came.  From what I had read, it's best to harvest and extract honey before the weather turns cold in order to prevent crystallization of the honey, but you also want to harvest late enough in the season that you're getting the most honey possible.  Ideally, the day should have been warm and sunny, but as I was strapped for time, I was forced to harvest on a warm but cloudy day.  I had purchased a fume board and a bottle of BeeQuick earlier in the summer and had my summary of steps to follow for harvesting.  I rounded up my gear and suited up---this time donning a pair of thick work pants.  I wasn't anywhere close to being able to button or zip them up, but they did the job.

I packed my smoker much fuller this time to prevent a repeat of my last inspection, and headed out to the hive.  I began by smoking the entrance and giving the bees a chance to settle down.  I then sprayed some BeeQuick on the felt side of the fume board and smoked beneath the outer cover to send the bees deeper into the hive.  After removing the outer and inner covers, I replaced them with the fume board.  This contraption has felt on one side and dark colored plastic on the other.  The felt gets saturated with the BeeQuick, which is an almond-scented chemical that is suppose to repel the bees.  As the dark side of the fume board heats up in the sun, it causes the BeeQuick to permeate down into the supers below, which in theory should make it easy to remove the supers sans bees.  I let the fume board sit on the upper super for 3-5 minutes and then took a peek inside.  It appeared the upper super was pretty much void of bees at this points, so I removed it from the hive and set it on the wagon I had brought along.  I covered it with a towel to prevent any honey robbing and then put the fume board on top of the lower super.  While waiting for the fume board to vacate bees from the lower super, I went back to inspect the first one on the wagon.  Unfortunately, there were still quite a few bees on the frames so I had to remove each frame one at a time and used a brush to remove the clinging bees before covering the frames with the towel.

By this time, the fume board had been on the bottom honey super for over 5 minutes, but when I went to remove the box, there were still a lot of bees on the frames.  Again, I had to remove each frame individually and brush off the bees.  Luckily I had brought a large storage bin along, so as I cleared each frame of bees, I put them inside the secure bin.  In hindsight, the fume board probably would have worked better if it had been sunnier, and I probably needed to use more BeeQuick.  After finally getting both supers mostly free of bees, I put the inner and outer covers back on the hive and hightailed it out of there.  At this point I was totally soaked in sweat and wore out once again.  I pulled the wagon with the supers about 50 yards from the hive and took off my gear to cool off.  After rehydrating, I went back to the wagon and noticed all sorts of bees robbing the spots of honey that had dripped onto the cover of the storage bin as well as my hive tool and gloves.  I opened the lid and brushed out some of the bees I had missed and began pulling the wagon out through the greenhouses and up to my car to load.  Before leaving work for the day, I smartly thought to check for any bees flying around my car before getting inside.  Sure enough, there were about half a dozen honeybees clinging to the windows, but they were pretty easy to shoo out of the car.  Once I got home I unloaded the supers and checked once again for stray bees.  The upper super that was covered with a towel appeared to be totally bee free, but when I opened the plastic storage bin of frames from the lower super, there were a couple dozen bees crawling around inside.  I'm not sure how they escaped my brush the first time, but this time I made sure I got them all off of the frames.  I then put the two supers inside my garage and called it a day.

Part IV:  Extracting

It's recommended that you extract honey on a warm day so the honey flows freely from the combs.  Looking at the oncoming cold front, I was forced to extract my honey the first night after harvesting.  I again had a short list of steps to follow, which made extracting look to be pretty darn easy.  I had previously purchased a very basic two frame honey extractor along with a honey bucket and filter.

2 frame manual honey extractor

I set up my extracting area in the garage and set to it.  I grabbed my first frame and used a serrated bread knife to remove the caps on each side of the frame.  Most books recommend using a heated uncapping knife, but with the small number of frames I had to harvest, I couldn't bring myself to spend $100 on one, but I had read that a good serrated knife would also work.  The uncapping wasn't as easy as I thought it would be (surprise, surprise).  Ideally, the knife is suppose to remove just the outermost layer of wax from the comb, exposing the cells full of honey.  After extracting the honey, there should be intact honeycomb left on the frames for the bees to use again next year.  Until I got a strategy down, I nearly destroyed the cells on the first few frames I uncapped by cutting into the wax too deeply with the knife.  The later frames turned out much better.  I let the wax fall into a stainless steel pot as I uncapped, and these wax cappings were later placed in a colander over another bowl in order to recover honey that was removed during the uncapping process.
A full honey frame ready to be uncapped.
Once I had my first two frames uncapped on both sides, I put them into my mechanical extractor and started spinning it with the hand crank.  If my arms weren't sore from lifting the heavy supers the previous day, they were definitely sore after a night of hand cranking the honey extractor.  After spinning the first two frames for a about two minutes, I took out each one and reversed its position in the extractor in order to pull the honey out of both sides.  To my delight, I started seeing thick, amber colored honey dripping down the inside of the extractor.  I continued the process of cutting off the wax cappings and spinning the frames until I was down to my last two.  I picked up one of these frames and was about to cut through the cappings, when I felt a strong burning on my index finger.  Apparently a single lonely bee was clinging to life on the underside of the frame and had given me a sting in its last act of defending its honey.  Through the throbbing, I removed the stinger and extracted the honey from the last couple frames.

Capped honey
Extracted honey frame.
Once all the frames had been emptied of honey, I placed the honey gate of the extractor over my honey bucket.  I had placed a filter in the top of the honey bucket in order to filter out dead bees, pieces of wax, and other debris that had found its way into the honey.  I opened the honey gate and watched the slow waterfall of honey flow out of the extractor.  It made all the stings, sweat, and sore muscles of the summer worth it to see the viscous flow of honey pouring out. 
Filtering honey from the extractor.
The next day, I removed the colander of wax cappings to melt down at a later date and added the bowl of honey salvaged from them into the honey bucket.  There was a surprising amount of honey recovered from the cappings, probably due to my inept uncapping of the frames.  I left my bucket of filtered honey to sit in our laundry room for several days in order to let the air bubbles rise out the top before I bottled it up.  About four days after extracting, I gathered up some old mason jars and set to bottling my honey.  All in all, I ended up with about 2 1/2 gallons of honey.  Much will be given away to friends and family, but I'll be keeping plenty for myself!

After bottling the honey, I melted  the wax cappings that I collected during the extraction using a double boiler.  The result was very little bees wax, but I'm sure I'll find a use for it.
Melting the wax cappings.
A block of beeswax.

The next day, I took the empty supers and placed them back on the hive.  I had read that the frames need to be totally dry before storing them for winter, and by placing them back on the hives for a few days, the bees will pick them clean of any remaining honey.  After about three days, I removed the supers for good and moved them into my garage.  The last thing to do before winter will be to install a mouse guard on the front entrance and make sure there is adequate ventilation for winter.

Part V:  Conclusion

During this first season of beekeeping, I've learned that nothing is as easy as it appears.  I had a short list of steps to follow for each beekeeping task, and I naively thought they were going to be simple processes.  As it turns out, everything that can go wrong does go wrong when you're a novice beekeeper.  I'm surprised I made it through the season with as few stings as I did (4 total--one cheek, both thighs, and one finger) and with a satisfactory amount of honey to boot. 

The bees will be left on their own this winter.  I've left both brood boxes in place, which hopefully will provide enough honey to provide adequate food stores for the colony to make it until early spring.  I plan on next checking the hive in February or March, and if there isn't much honey remaining I'll start a feeding of sugar syrup.  This may be a moot point, though, if the colony disappears.  With colony collapse disorder rearing its ugly head across the country, many beekeepers are having trouble overwintering their hives.  I'm not expecting much and will be pleasantly surprised if I have a viable hive come next spring. If so, I should have an even stronger colony next season, which will mean even more honey.  If the colony doesn't survive winter, then I'll start the process all over again by purchasing another package of bees.  Either way, I'll have some experience under my belt, which should help things go a bit smoother in the future.  Speaking of belts, my waistline should be back to normal next year as well, which will mean fewer stings to my legs and an easier time lifting the hive boxes.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

While Visions of Hoppers Dance in My Head......

Word on the street is it's hopper season in the Driftless.  I wouldn't know, since I haven't had a fly rod in my hand in over two months.  Instead, I get to hear tails of trout making splashy takes for foam hopper patterns and big, bushy stimulators.  With just over a month before my due date, it's not my pregnancy that's kept me off the water or the fact that my waders probably don't fit anymore.  I just haven't been able to escape work.
Since our greenhouse season began last April, I've had a total of three whole days off from work.  Once for my birthday because my mom was in town, once for my baby shower, and once when the heat index was over 100 degrees and my husband was worried about his pregnant wife dealing with the heat.  I'm not exactly complaining; I have a lot of stamina for working.  During the peak of our greenhouse season, I probably put in close to eighty hours each week without losing a step.  As the season starts to slow down in August, I take half days here and there but still put in a good sixty hours in a given week.  It helps that I enjoy what I do.  It also helps that I have slight control issues.....probably more than slight.  I take pride in what I do and want things done in certain ways.  Being physically present at our small business every day leads to consistency and helps us develop good rapport with our customer base.

Now that it's September and we only have a few weeks left  before we shut down for the season, it's still hard to get time off because most of our employees have gone back to school. Being a seasonal business requires us to hire seasonal employees for the most part, and many of them are college students.  This means we lose half of our staff after Labor Day.  So even though our days are much slower at the greenhouse and I would feel comfortable spending more time away, we just don't have employees to cover my absence anymore.  So I just keep plugging away.  Our season will officially end on September 22nd this year, which means I'll have one week to get in as much hopper fishing as I can manage before the Wisconsin trout season closes on September 30th.  Then there should be just a few weeks remaining before our baby enters the world.  From what I hear, I may look back fondly on those eighty hour work weeks once there's a newborn in our midst........

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Shrinking Waders

After working about ninety straight days at the greenhouse, I scheduled a full day off for myself in order to spend some quality time on a Driftless trout stream.  While packing up my gear, I suddenly realized that my waders may have shrunk over the past six months.......or my waistline may have grown.  As it turned out, the hand-me-down waders that barely fit prior to my pregnancy (because they were too big) still barely fit (because of my growing midsection).  As it turns out, I have a couple more inches to spare before I'll be forced to wet wade.
I met up with a friend for the day and was looking forward to some good dry fly fishing.  I hadn't been on the water since early April when olives and midges were hatching, so I was hoping to see some caddis.  It took a lot of driving to find a stretch of water that was both clear and free of other fly fishermen.  I knew the Driftless had been hit hard by flooding in June, but I didn't expect the streams to be in such bad shape.  Most of the water we drove along was overly muddy, and we saw many sections of washed out roads and eroded banks.  The stream we ended up fishing looked very different from what I had seen last season.  I've fished this stream many times---it was one of the first I ever fished---and it was a little sad to see it now.  A lot of work went into restoring this body of water and now there's only a handful of lunkers and other structural improvements left.  At one point during the day, I noticed high water marks in a tree well above my head.  There must have been massive amounts of water moving through this coulee at some point.  It's just another example of how powerful nature can be. 

I saw zero risers throughout the day and nothing hatching, but I did see my first hopper of the season.
It was no surprise that I couldn't get a fish to take a fly on top, but they did take a dropper.  Only a handful of fish were caught, but the ones I got were nice and healthy

I think I'll be letting the Driftless waters recover a bit before I make my next outing.  Once the sediment settles hopefully things will return to a new normal.  When that time comes, I hope my waders still fit.