Category Archives: City of Campbell

Birds, Bees and garden update…

Ah, Monday evening… nice to make it through the day in one piece, eh? There’s been a lot of activity around here over the past few days, so I thought I’d bring you up to speed on what’s what.

As you may recall (or re-read, if you like at, ten days ago I brought home two 4lb packages of bees and installed them in the late / warm afternoon. Normally, you’d check the hive out @ day 4 to make sure the Queen had been freed from her transport cage (I’ll get a pic of that and post it up here, soon) and was working around the hive. But with last week’s cold, rainy and windy weather, I opted to wait until it warmed up and settled down before taking a peek. The perfect day came yesterday.

I suited up in my bee-wrangler’s outfit, fired up the smoker and grabbed my frame tool (to lift the frame out of the hive) and headed out to hive #1 (the one on the left). I gave them a few good whiff’s of smoke through the entrance, then cracked the top and gave ’em a few puffs down the chute (as it were). Ah, that got them buzzing – an intruder with fire and smoke, what next?

Looking inside I could see a very large amount of freshly drawn comb – very, very pretty milky white comb laid out in a wonderful pattern… like honeycomb 😉 Next, using the frame tool, I separated the two (center) frames where I’d embedded the Queen’s cage and withdrew the cage for inspection. Great – sugar plug had been eaten through, the Queen was free and (having just taken Mr. C’s class) I could see the fresh laid larvae filling some of the chambers… there were also a number of cells with freshly-delivered pollen, too. Ok, nothing more to see here – move along… so I placed the frames as they should be and I closed the hive. Groovy, I’m back in beesnuss. Next to hive #2.

Same routine – stand back, it’s gonna get smokey here.

This time, though, when I checked the Queen’s cage she was still inside. They’d eaten almost all of the plug but not quite enough to free her. Damn – what to do? Hive open. Fire and Smoke in my hands. Queen trapped. Bees cranky and flying around me like, well… like an ex-wife.

Help Mr. Wizard – what now?!

I removed the Queen’s cage, closed the hive and took the cage to the patio table to see if I could free her and then place her back in her hive. I cracked open the cage and guess what happened next?

Yup. She flew away. WTF was I thinking?

Luckily for me, she only flew about 6″ and placed herself on the umbrella… where (using the Mr. C technique I learned) I scooped her in my hands, covered her (buzzing all the while, I think) and made my way back to the hive. I managed to open the hive and drop her back down in the center of the hive, closing it up as I made my retreat.

Alrighty-then, Whodaman? Yeah, I’m the man… and I was feeling pretty good about it, too, until I was almost back to the patio when I thought, “Well, shoot – I wonder what a real beekeeper would do???”

So I called Tom @ (he’s the guy on the right in in the pic) and darned if he didn’t answer the phone… on Easter Sunday. I relayed what had happened, he told me what he would have done but assured me that my approach was do-able, too… just check on the Queen in 4 days to make sure she’s laying and I’m good-to-go. (If she’s not laying by then, I’m roadkill. Just kidding, I’ll order a replacement Queen and give it another shot.)

Now here’s an interesting point (if you care about these kinds of things): since their Queen wasn’t yet freed and laying, many of hive #2’s worker’s headed over to hive #1 to take care of a real Queen who was laying – the only thing they live for. So hive #2 is somewhat under-populated at the moment. Tom suggested that once hive #2’s Queen is laying / productive, to switch the hives during mid-day and when the returning hive #1 bees return, they’ll actually return to the hive formerly known as #2 and vice versa… so they should build their population’s up in a short time. I like Tom’s thinking and hope things work out just as he says (it’s all in the execution though, isn’t it?).

So that’s the latest on the bees.

As for the birds, well the Junior Bob’s are living in the citrus grove and adapting to my traipsing through a couple of times a day to move the garbage cans out for pickup tomorrow. Good looking birds, though noticeably smaller than mature doves… they seem to acclimate to my voice pretty well, as they did to Joanne while she was working around them yesterday.

The garden’s first crops are ready as we speak: we’ve got lettuce coming out of our kazoo’s! The tomatoes seem to be doing well in their earthboxes and the potatoes look to be doing nicely, too. Our latest trees, peach and pomegranate are having mixed success – the peach is doing great, the pom appears to be DOA… time to return to summerwinds.

And finally, Joanne processed and cooked several batches of tangerine marmalade yesterday… it’s “steeping” in the fridge, likely to be cooked / jarred tomorrow night; orange marmalade on deck after that, as is another gallon or two of limoncelli.

As always, thx for stopping by, be well and don’t forget to write when you get work.

The bees are back in town…

Last Saturday I headed off to Vacaville to pick up my two 4-lb packages of Carniolan bees. Since it’s a 200 mile round trip drive, I believe next year I’ll let them mail the little buggers to me 🙂

Anyway, here’s their home-to-bee before I began installing them. Note to the left of the hives are the pond and a wonderful lavender patch – both are great for the bees well-being and honey production.

The photo below is of the partially harvested frames from last season that I’d tucked in the freezer to jump-start this year’s colonies. If you click on this pic, you can peer down inside the frame to see the comb and honey waiting for the bees. Note: directly opposite the visible comb / honey is another frame that looks about the same – lots of comb / honey.

To install the Queen in this hive, I will place her “cage” (it’s a plastic holding cell with a sugar plug in the bottom end of it) in between the two frames, holding her cage in place with the comb / honey. (Can’t be too much honey / too tightly or she will drown in the honey.) When I install the bees and the Queen, they worker bees will eat the sugar plug and free the Queen, who will immediately begin laying eggs in the surrounding comb.

The pic below shows the two “packages of bees. If estimates are correct, there should be 40k+ bees in each box, though I stopped counting at “10” 🙂 See that can on the top? That’s a container of medication that will be mixed with water and placed in the solution feeder that gets placed at their hive entrance.

Beginning an hour before installation, I lightly spray the bees with a very weak sugar / water solution… several times, in fact. This keeps them hydrated and enables them to eat the sugar water (for calories); pretty soon thereafter, when they’re in the new hive, the sugar water / food will cause them begin making wax and building out the hive.

The way installation works is, holding the box at a slight angle, I bang it on the ground to loosen the can. Then I remove the can and then, holding the package / hole over their hive, I bang the snot out of the package against the top of the hive, dropping the bees down in to the hive. Because they’re full, not engaged in protecting their own hive so are non-aggressive, we can be fairly rough with them.

Once I’ve installed them in their new hive, I place the medication / water solution in front of their hive and leave their package homes outside the hive… the ones who didn’t drop out will eventually find their way in to their new homes by nightfall. (Too cold for them outside @ night – everybody’s gotta be home by dark.)

Here they are around / inside and waiting to go inside their new homes.

Close up of the action. There’s an incredible amount of bee poop flying @ this point, btw!
(edit: An important note is that after leaving the bees as you see them in the picture below, not only will they head in to the hive before dark, but by early morning the next day, they’ll also haul away any dead bee bodies so they attract as little attention from bad guys (yellow jackets, birds, etc) as possible.

And here’s the very noisy Queen bee that got away… I could never get it installed in the hive but did get this picture!

While I really enjoy many aspects of having bees – they’re wonderful for the neighborhood, our own trees / gardens, and the wonderful honey they provide – I find installing the bees to be fairly stressful… I suppose it could be the 200 mile drive immediately before installing them that takes a bit of wear on me.

I hope you like the pics – I’ll provide updates in a week when I check the Queen / hive for egg production.


Box ‘o Bees

(Click the pic to see the bees up close.)

Seeing how I’m planning on picking up 2 packages (that would be “colonies” to you, ahem, non apiarists 😉 of bees this coming Saturday, I thought it’d be a good thing to take Mr. Carrier’s “Beekeeping for Beginners” class that was being held last Saturday. (Btw, of course you remember that his website – http://www.carriersbees – is the cat’s meow for Silicon Valley Beekeepers, right?)

Anyway, I showed up at his place at the crack of 10AM and joined another 8 or so folks in his living room to talk about the lives and caretaking of the little buggers. Not long in to our discussion, it was time to watch a PBS-produced video on bees. Not too long in to the video, there appeared to be a swarm of bees forming in Mr. C’s front yard… so we put the video on hold and watched him head out front to check things out.

Sure enough, there were a bajillion bees flying in the yard… and a HUGE ball of them formed around several branches of his almond tree. So what’s Mr. C do? He places a “bee box” (cardboard box with the bottom duct-taped to prevent bees from escaping) under the huge ball of bees on the branch, then grabs a 3-pronged hoe and violently yanks the bee-branch down hard several times. This causes many of the bees to fall – WHUMP! – to the ground, in and around the box.

Bees – by the tens of thousands (!!!) – crawling and flying around so thick if you opened your mouth you’d probably swallow a handful in a second.

As if that wasn’t enough, Mr. C repeats the process 3 or 4 times in rapid succession… pretty soon, he’s got a pretty good box ‘o bees going.

By now, most of us brave souls have put on our bee-jammies and gone outside to watch the action up close. Now, to be clear, when honeybees swarm, they’re actually migrating to a new location. To survive such an excursion, nature has told them to gorge on honey before leaving their hive / home… so by the time they form up on the tree (which is their way of protecting their Queen and the only reason they exist), they’re just stuffed and want to rest… in other words, they’re extremely passive to humans and other living things.

Anyway, after watching the swarm begin to settle in to the box, we head back in to watch a bit more video; eventually we suit up and head out to his hives to have him walk us through basic hive / brood / colony maintenance. As we’re wrapping up that session, what should happen but yet another swarm began to form in his front yard. (Man, what’saguygottadotogetabreak aroundhere,anyway?) So we got another box while he yanked them down from the tree / branch (same tree, same branch, btw). In 10 minutes they’d all settled into the box, so Mr. C removed the (now empty) observation hive from his “showroom” and repopulated it with the new, “wild” swarm bees.

With 2 swarms in-hand and the class winding down, we called it a day and left Mr. C to populate a new hive with the 1st swarm of the day… the pics you see here are of that swarm. It’s just a guess on my part, but I’m betting there are somewhere between 80-100k bees in that box – notice how their weight is causing the side / top to collapse.

Everyone loved the class and especially enjoyed the multiple swarm activities.

Lucky me…

About six weeks ago Joanne and I were in downtown Campbell on a Saturday morning… having a cup of coffee and relaxing a bit. As we were leaving Orchard Valley Roasting, who should we come across but this fine Grey African Parrot (and its caretaker).

Being something of a large-bird fan, I asked the caretaker if I might visit with her Parrot – whose name is French and means “to kiss”. (I’ve run that through Google translator and came up with enough variations that I’ll not attempt to recall its actual name.) The bird immediately came to me and crawled up / down my arms / shoulders and as they often do, began preening me just a bit – apparently I never look quite right to Parrots because they always try to clean me up a bit.

We visited for about 10 minutes – lots of feather stroking, soft-voice talking and human-preening going on – and eventually coaxed the Parrot to return to its caretaker and went our separate ways.

On a personal note, it’s always such a pleasure to visit with even somewhat rancorous Parrots / birds as they usually settle down pretty quickly with me; parting ways with them is often a down-moment for you-know-who.

Here are some quick pics I shot in the backyard over the weekend. It’s pretty clear to see Spring is just around the corner. (ALWAYS REMEMBER TO CLICK THE PIC FOR FULL DETAILS.)

Looking straight out back.

Click the pic to see Molly at the top branch of the birch tree. Molly always flies to me / that place on the tree when I come in to the back yard.

Ah, the “Sun Man” next to the Ghiardelli Chocolate pot… that’s Daphne in the background.

Daphne from behind…

Daphne silhouetted by the, um, purple bush-thing.

Pear tree in blossom next to the other purple bush-thing.

Apparently the bees are away and resting while I air out the house. New bees get ordered today.

Artichoke plant we just can’t seem to kill.

First cherry blossom of the year. (Click for close-up)

2nd Plum tree, halfway through blossom, now with leaves showing.

I’ll add more later, just wanted to get these up.

UPDATE: Welcoming a new member of the family…

(Please scroll to the bottom to read the update – it’s worth it! 🙂

On Friday morning after Springfield Al and I split to head our separate directions, I headed off in a familiar – but not often visited – neighborhood street as part of my route home. As I followed the bend in the road, in the corner of my left eye I caught what appeared to be a garage sale.

Now, I’m not much for garage sales, but when we’re out and about on the tandem, Joanne often says (from the stoker position, sotto voce), “garage sale”. Not, “garage sale, let’s go check it out” or “garage sale, keep going” but “garage sale”. And I’m supposed to know exactly what that means.

Turns out after many years of hearing “garage sale” and not going to see what they’ve got for sale, I do know what “garage sale” means. It means, “You, the one with steering control of the vehicle we’re using, had better point the vehicle and us toward the garage sale. When we get there, you may remain with the vehicle if you want, but I’m going in. And I’m going to need your wallet.

Huh. Who knew?

So when I’m out on my own these days, typically on my bike, when I see a garage sale I hear the voice that must be obeyed and head toward it. Yesterday that turned out to be a good thing. When I rode up on my bike, it was clear the owners of the early 60’s home were the older couple who was busy tidying up after lookey-lous.

With my bike rolling next to me, I cruised through the tables of stuff (man, do I really need more stuff? Nah. But I’m well-trained so I kept on going in… and I had my wallet, just in case. And that’s when I saw it at the back of the garage.

Apparently solid maple construction. Apparently tube vs solid state. And just as apparent, it had been in the family for 40+ years. Nice bench seat with hand-embroidered stitching.

And did I mention it had “FREE” on it? Well, it did.

So I asked the owners if it worked well. “Sure, why don’t you turn it on and play it?”

“I can turn it on but I don’t know how to play.”

“Hey, you’re in luck because all 6 of our kids learned to play on it and their instruction books are in the bench seat. Here they are.”

And so they were: Instruction books for all types of organ music. And the original registration paperwork. And the original customer survey (sample question: Is your family income less than $2,000? Is your family income $20,000+? 2k was the bottom bracket, 20k was the top bracket. My how times have changed.)

We chatted for a bit while I tried to think of someone we might know who would want this original, mint condition Hammond M103 organ. Ellen? Maybe, but she already has a piano she doesn’t play. Ummm. Ummm. Dang. I couldn’t think of anyone else.

So naturally I said I’d take it. We like strays, especially when they’re well-behaved.

Joanne and I went over this morning and loaded it in the truck. Tomorrow we’ll bring it in the sunroom and let it settle down a bit. Then we’ll dink around on it (it has the “pointer” method of instruction books with it… right up my alley, I think.) and begin in earnest to find a home for it.

Well, who knew?!

Who knew that within 3 minutes of bringing it in the house, Joanne and Al would be playing a chopsticks duet? And that 3 minutes later (if that!) Al would be playing the darn thing as if it hadn’t been 45 years since he’d last sat at a keyboard (@ San Jose State Music class, the same class attended by the Smothers Brothers). No kidding, in the first couple of minutes Al and Joanne were plinking away @ chopsticks and when Joanne left the bench, Al broke into “Maria” from West Side Story and a host of other songs. (I recorded a few minutes of Al playing with the flip video that I’ll try to get posted over the next few days.)

Uh-mazing! It was wonderful – absolutely wonderful – to have Al in our house playing (what I’ve come to call) Fresh Music… live music. It could very well be that with this new discovery (Al the pianist / organist), the Hammond may well have found its new permanent home.

If you’re in the neighborhood, stop by to see and play it if you like… it’s great and sounds wonderful in the hands of someone who knows how to make it sing 🙂

Henrietta and Gracie

Not a new Jeopardy category (though they could be, I suppose), they’re a couple of gals we’d seen around town before but got to meet this morning. (DON’T FORGET TO CLICK THE PICTURES TO SEE THE ENTIRE PICTURE)

Back in November I made a post that said Campbell Chicks are the best. Today Springfield Al and I were introduced to them both. The one in the foreground is Gracie and the other one is Henrietta. Or is it the other way around? Dang.

Anyway, Al and I stopped by to introduce ourselves to the “chicken lady” (yes, I know – we’re very original in our naming conventions 😉 and to ask her if she’d like to participate in the Campbell Farmer approach to garden-sharing. Turns out she’d be thrilled to participate so we’ve added another contributing / exchanging person and their gardens. (She’s already got a nice garden going and is converting another unused area to garden as we speak.)

Thus far we’ve got “the usual” goodies: lettuces, onions, cucumbers, eggplants, tomatoes, peas, beans, potatoes, herbs, watermelons, cantaloupes, fresh chicken eggs, jams, jellies and honey.

Seems like with very little effort, we’re picking up momentum. Stay tuned.

Thanks for stopping by and don’t forget to write when you get work. home page photo / logo

Springfield Al and I were out yesterday and I shot this pic to crop and use as part of the homepage of

Downtown Ted tells me the beginning of his winter vegetables will be ready soon to give me in exchange for the jar ‘o honey I gave him last week.

So far, I’ve got local sources for fresh laid eggs and winter veggies (beans, lettuces, etc). Our citrus is ready for harvesting now, so we’ve got fresh orange juice and citrus needed for the marmalades everyone likes so much. Oh, I know: I’ll check with that certain neighbor who loves to bake bread to see if she’ll swap some of our goodies for her bread. Mr. C has smooth-skinned avocados I need to pick for him today… he always offers some, so I’ll swap some pomegranate jelly for those, too.

Darn… if only there was a milk cow in the neighborhood, we’d be closing in on a pretty good local-food exchange.

That’s it for now. Thanks for stopping by and don’t forget to write when you have work.

“She (still) misses her cat”…

(This is a follow-up to my earlier post this month about Pepper’s obvious grieving & loneliness after the passing of Delilah. For that post, visit

Today about noon as I was heading out the door to have lunch with Los Gatos Steve, Joanne popped out of her office, put her conference call phone on mute and said, “I found Pepper in the guest room closet. She’d found the large bag with Delilah and Pan’s (saved for prep for knitting) fur and had begun to tear the bag open to “get to” Delilah.”

As much as we tried not to, in seconds we were both in free-flowing tears. Sad for Pepper and sad for ourselves, at the loss of Little One and her much-larger-than-life role in our household and lives.

It’s ironic this happened today because just last night, for the first time since her passing, we were laughing outloud at Delilah’s in my face approach to dealing with me when it came to food: as long as we both drew breath, Dee knew my sole purpose in life was to ensure she was fed and watered to the gills, 24 x 7 x 365.

If I am to take anything positive out of Pep’s actions today, I suppose they just confirm what we felt we witnessed over the years: That Pepper and Dee were great companions and Dee’s passing hasn’t diminished that feeling of friendship and loyalty in Pepper one iota.