Tag Archives: photograph(s)

More bees with honey than vinegar

WARNING: This is another post that features a lot of photos of insects, so if that’s not your cup of tea, you may just want to keep scrolling.

My mother acquired an opportunity to go on a beekeeping tour, and I was lucky enough to be included in the adventure. The tour was given by one of our neighbors; he and his bees live less than a mile from our house.

We met at the Wissahickon Charter School, where there are four hives, and ten lucky students a year are selected for the beekeeping program.

Suiting up

Suiting up

I was given the “hook,” a metal spatula-cum-hook tool, first, and got to open the first hive, a Langstroth hive (as designed by Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth in the 1850s, in Philadelphia. If you’re curious, there are lots of nice diagrams available if you do a Google image search), so there are no pictures of that. It was cool, though, after I got the hang of levering up the frames.

A Langstroth hive, with top (and upper levels) removed.

A Langstroth hive, with top (and upper levels) removed.

After a bit, I yielded up the hook to my mother, and took over photography, instead.

Mom holding up one frame.

Mom holding up one frame.

Did I mention that my bus home goes by this place every day? I never even knew that there were beehives there, though I think that they may be visible from the road, if you know where to look.

This frame is not very "built up," so what you're seeing is a shaped piece of wax that can be put into the frame as a guide.

This frame is not very “built up,” so what you’re seeing is a shaped piece of wax that can be put into the frame as a guide.

Mom got stung, probably through sheer bad luck, but luckily she’s not remotely allergic to bee stings. She had the distinction of being the first person to get stung this year working those hives, but I think it’s an honor she would have forgone.

I believe that two of the bees slightly to the left of the center of this picture are drone bees -- males -- unlike the rest, which are workers, and female.  The drones are a little bit bigger, and their eyes are bigger, too.

I believe that two of the bees slightly to the left of the center of this picture are drone bees — males — unlike the rest, which are workers, and female. The drones are a little bit bigger, and their eyes are bigger, too.

After looking at three Langstroth hives, and seeing lots of bees, but not as many eggs or larvae as expected, we opened up the fourth hive, an experimental design.

The top bars, which the bees build comb on, are sharply triangular, unlike a top bar hive, which you'll see later.

The top bars, which the bees build comb on, are sharply triangular, unlike a top bar hive, which you’ll see later.

This style of hive design doesn’t use any guide wax; the bees just go for it and start building. They can start in more than one spot, and the cells will line up perfectly.

Some of the cells in the center of this picture are filled with larvae, slightly yellowish coiled grubs, and if I zoom in very close to the center-left of the picture, I can see little white dots that I think are eggs.

Some of the cells in the center of this picture are filled with larvae, slightly yellowish coiled grubs, and if I zoom in very close to the center-left of the picture, I can see little white dots that I think are eggs.

Our guide Matt got stung, too, and the bees were becoming agitated, so we packed up.

Putting the lid back on

Putting the lid back on

We all shucked out of our protective gear, drank lots of water, and headed over to Matt’s house to see some top bar hives.

A top bar hive with legs.  There were two more without legs.  This one belongs to Matt's daughter, who's ten.  He was careful to point out his state-of-the-art hive covers.

A top bar hive with legs. There were two more without legs. This one belongs to Matt’s daughter, who’s ten. He was careful to point out his state-of-the-art hive covers.

We all arranged ourselves on the roof of the shed, and cracked open the first of the hives.

The first one wasn't as neat, and there were a few places where the comb was coming away from its rows.  Of course, the cool thing about beeswax is that you can often just shove it back into place (carefully!) and the bees will stick it back on and make everything shipshape.

The first one wasn’t as neat, and there were a few places where the comb was coming away from its rows. Of course, the cool thing about beeswax is that you can often just shove it back into place (carefully!) and the bees will stick it back on and make everything shipshape.

The first hive was “irreparably queenless” — a worker bee can lay eggs and take on some of the role of the queen, but the eggs are unfertilized, and only drones will hatch from them. Sometimes if fertilized eggs are introduced into the hive, the hive can raise a new queen, but this one wasn’t managing to do so. The second seemed to be thriving, and we saw eggs and larvae, but no queen. So we moved on to the third hive.

On the left, you can see the edge of the smoker, to slow the bees down.  There were a lot of smoking jokes throughout the afternoon.

On the left, you can see the edge of the smoker, to slow the bees down. There were a lot of smoking jokes throughout the afternoon.

The cells in the upper right of this comb contain honey; you can tell by the flakey white wax covering.  Bees put honey on top, for insulation.

The cells in the upper right of this comb contain honey; you can tell by the flakey white wax covering. Bees put honey on top, for insulation.

Worker brood -- sealed cells with developing larvae inside.  The darker cells are starting to be filled with nectar, and the leftmost bee has just hatched.

Worker brood — sealed cells with developing larvae inside. The darker cells are starting to be filled with nectar, and the leftmost bee has just hatched.

Of course, sometimes things get a little twisted around.  If you didn't see the larvae before, look closely at the edge in the center-left of the picture.

Of course, sometimes things get a little twisted around. If you didn’t see the larvae before, look closely at the edge in the center-left of the picture.

Bees create their own plumb line by hanging onto each others' legs and dangling, in a process called "festooning."

Bees create their own plumb line by hanging onto each others’ legs and dangling, in a process called “festooning.”

In our continuing search for a queen, we came across numerous queen cells, larger cells that hang pendant from the rest of the comb.

These are empty; you can tell by the hole in the bottom.

These are empty; you can tell by the hole in the bottom.

Sellers will often mark queen bees with a red dot, to make them easy to spot.

And then, at last we found her!

And then, at last we found her!

We quickly put that bar back in with the others, to keep the queen safe and secure.

After the tour, we had a honey tasting.

After the tour, we had a honey tasting.

I’ve now tasted honey from Dubai, and also eucalyptus honey.

Our host and his father-in-law.

Our host and his father-in-law.

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Two pictures

I was wandering through old photographs, and found two pictures from Spain that amused me, so I thought that I would post them here.

Penguin graffiti:

que calor penguins

‘Que Calor?’ means ‘What heat?’ or ‘What hot?’

New Year’s Day parade in Granada:

I have no idea who this guy is or what that flag was, but I still think it's cool.

I have no idea who this guy is or what that flag was, but I still think it’s cool.

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Pictures of the Parrots

Here are the pictures that accompany that last post:

Batbird!

Batbird!

Hanging out with my psittacine friends.

Hanging out with my psittacine friends.

Pictures courtesy of cmoore.

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They say a picture is worth a thousand words

And I certainly hope that’s true, because I’ve been intending to make a proper, full-length post, talking about my new job and what’s going on in my life, for months now, but that hasn’t happened, so I’m gong to just give you a photo I took at our MLK Day service project. This group was painting murals in an elementary school cafeteria.

Two of my students, a random student, and a coworker.

Two of my students, a random student, and a coworker.

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The Lilies of the Field

I’m not in Zambia anymore. Now I can talk about the things that I didn’t talk about while I was there, the things that I didn’t want to people at home to worry about. The things that I didn’t want me to worry about.

The prospect of drought was the scariest thing in Zambia.

Don’t get me wrong; there were lots of scary things in Zambia. Snakes were scary. (And I like snakes.) There was a snake killed in what was essentially my back yard whose poison is so lethal that you die within five days, and there is no antidote. Because it is non-agressive, this snake is not particularly high on the list of snakes people worry about.

AIDS was scary. (AIDS is still scary, in a more immediate way than snakes, whose ability to terrify has faded with distance. But then, AIDS is here, too.) I think that few service workers would argue with the assertion that AIDS is the biggest social problem facing Zambia today, and it really deserves to be the topic of its own post (come to think of it, snakes may, as well). Twenty-five percent of the Zambia population is HIV positive. One in four. A full-but-not-completely-overloaded minibus holds 18 or 20 people; I remember a piece of art at the National Museum, part of an AIDS awareness campaign, highlighting the fact that four or five people on the average minibus are HIV positive. It was Alison, commuting about two hours a day on minibuses, who came up with the idea that if that minibus got into an accident, even someone who walked away relatively unscathed would probably be exposed to the virus. And getting into a motorized vehicle in Zambia was terrifying enough even without that. Traffic in third-world countries is probably the greatest serious threat to physical well-being faced by most SALTers. One of the Zambia MCC workers was involved in a bad road accident while I was there, and considering what happened to her vehicle, it is miraculous that scrapes and cuts and broken bones are all that anyone received.

Drought was scarier. This isn’t to say that I spent more time thinking about drought than I did about any of these things, because I didn’t. Drought is only a seasonal threat, and normal weather in Zambia would look an awful lot like drought to most Americans. And I can’t say that drought was terrifying in quite the same personally-relevant way as snakes or AIDS (oddly enough, aside from AIDS statistics, it was much easier to not think about traffic. Quite possibly I couldn’t think about the risk and still be able to function, so I didn’t think about it. We don’t think about the risks of getting in a car here, either). But the worst thing that a snake or traffic accident could do would be to kill me or someone I cared about. And AIDS is a sweeping societal problem, but it’s a sweeping societal problem that people live and cope with, and will continue to do so as long as rich countries are willing to continue subsidizing anti-retroviral treatment.

Drought is bigger than that. Southern Province, of which Macha is a part, is the breadbasket (nshima pot?) of Zambia. And if the rains don’t come, or they come too late, or they come and then they stop for a bit, there is a bad harvest. (One of the fellows who worked in food security told me that maize is a terrible staple crop for Zambia, because it’s not sufficiently drought-resistant. Millet would be better, or I think sorghum (which is eaten some in the northern part of Zambia), because they do not require the same steady water input, but most Zambians want maize, and so maize is the crop upon which farming in Zambia rests, much like the US and corn.) And then people die. Lots of people. (More than usual.) Many of them children. And that’s just the way it would be.

This isn’t just a thought experiment. While Zambia has had some exceptionally good harvests in recent years, there have also been years when the rains have not come just so, and the crop has failed. One of MCC’s responsibilities in Zambia is that if there is a drought, they are responsible for the distribution of the government’s maize reserve in Southern Province. (The government of Zambia, to its credit, is working really hard to buy surplus grain to put aside. But even in an optimal scenario, Zambia is just so sprawling, and so very, very rural over large portions of it, that I simply cannot imagine how food would be distributed to everyone who needed it. During dry season, it takes an hour and a half to drive from Macha to Chikanta, forty kilometers away. In rainy season longer. And Chikanta is close and the roads are pretty good. Transport becomes more and more difficult the further you get from numbered routes and paved roads.) I don’t know if I would have been pulled into that responsibility or not. And I was not concerned that drought would mean that I was without food, though it would doubtless make stretching my food budget a more interesting proposition. But somehow it is scarier than death or injury or illness to think that neighbors would be starving while I had plenty — but not enough to be able to share with everyone. (And yet this happens every day in America, too. We’re just very good at not looking.)

And current predictions for global climate change indicate that Zambia — that much of sub-Saharan Africa — will become unfarmably arid within my lifetime.

Recently I’ve been thinking about drought, and about rain and harvests, because I just got back from Iowa, where we stayed with farmers, friends of my maternal grandmother. In case you pay even less attention to the news than I do, the midwestern United States is currently experiencing a drought, and the harvest is suffering. One of the farmers involved in Constance’s CSA* told her that Virginia is the only state in the US not suffering from drought. I don’t know if that’s true. When I visited the farm Emily works on in Massachusetts, they did not seem particularly troubled by drought.

Onions at Simple Gifts Farm, Amherst, Massachusetts

Onions at Simple Gifts Farm, Amherst, Massachusetts

In fact, a number of the tomatoes were suffering from blight, a problem that I had always understood to be related to wet years. But perhaps it is just the nature of things for tomato plants in Massachusetts to be sorry-looking by the end of September. What I do know is that when I came back to Pennsylvania after eleven months in Zambia, even as I was struck by how wonderfully GREEN everything looked (recall that dry season started at the beginning of April, and will not end until November or perhaps December), I was also struck by how brown the grass was, and the funny dried-out way the corn looked, and how many fields were not nearly as tall as they ought to be.

Soybeans in Illinois

Soybeans in Illinois

And when I took the train south to Virginia, the land around me got greener, in a shift as obvious as the transition from Zambia in dry season to Zambia in rainy season.

Iowa is pretty brown right now. Hay is still green, if it hasn’t been cut recently, but soybeans are gray-brown and corn is yellow-brown, or the crop has already been harvested, leaving a wilderness of husks and broken stalks. I’m not really sure what Iowa is supposed to look like right now. Corn does die and get yellow in the fall. But the plants seem thinner and more bleached-looking, and everything is completely bone dry in a way that I do not remember from autumn in Pennsylvania.

Harvested cornfield near Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge, Illinois

Harvested cornfield near Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge, Illinois

Our hostess told us that corn should be less than 16 percent moisture, but that they want it to be at least 14 percent. Right now it’s at ten, and not only do they have a smaller-than-usual crop, they’re losing out again because the corn is so dry that it’s not as heavy (and it’s sold by weight). She said that their farm’s usual yield is upwards of 140 bushels an acre, but that this year they’re expecting closer to 50 bushels an acre. I didn’t get the sense that farmers are skirting starvation, as would be true in Zambia, but that doesn’t mean things are easy, either.

Maize storage in an elevated "silo" in Mboole, Southern Province, Zambia

Maize storage in an elevated “silo” in Mboole, Southern Province, Zambia

*Community Supported Agriculture, a system in which members of the community buy shares of the year’s harvest, and receive a portion of whatever bounty the farm produces that year

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Rocket Ship

Life on Earth can be an adventure too… you just need to know where to look!
Sarah Jane (Elisabeth Sladen), The Sarah Jane Adventures

I’ve been back in Philadelphia for almost two weeks now, visiting people, unpacking (my room was rented out while I was gone, so this involves not just a fairly modest two suitcases, but instead almost everything I own), hanging out, and looking for work. I’m over jetlag, but my life has been moving at a leisurely pace, with few events that seem blog-worthy. I love being back in Philadelphia (more on that later, perhaps); I’d never been away from home for as long as 11 months before, and while I didn’t feel it in Zambia, I certainly felt it upon my return.

We went to a performance of The Merry Wives of Windsor last week, which was lots of fun, and raucous and bawdy, and the whole trip reminded me of the diversity and the vibrancy I love about Philadelphia . . . and round about Act III or IV, the sky got very dark and it started pouring. So I never did see the end of the play, but my chitenge served very admirably as a semi-permeable raincape (Use #22 of a Chitenge. #23 is padding for carrying things on your head, #24 is a shawl when the room is over-airconditioned and you’re cold. Chitenge is pronounched chi-teng-gee, chi as in chimpanzee, teng like ten with an extra g, and gee like ghee, clarified butter), and all-in-all we had a very satisfying evening.

I did laundry this morning, and when I pulled my sheets in off the line, I found a small passenger.

I think it's a juvenile lacewing.

I think it’s a juvenile lacewing.

I had a terribly difficult time getting him (her?) off, too: I persuaded the little fellow onto my finger, but then it did not wish to get off, and I eventually had to use a maple seed as a miniature spatula. Even so, it was difficult to get the lacewing onto the maple leaf, rather than throwing it to the winds.

Are curious minds satisfied?

Are curious minds satisfied?

When I was walking to the library later, I passed a woman doing ballet in the Citizen’s Bank parking lot, using a vertical yellow pole as a makeshift bar. She did not have the typical ballerina figure, but there was a grace in the strength of her movements all the same, and in the calm poise with which she was practicing pliés and relevés alone, standing by the sidewalk, holding a chunk of yellow-orange cement.

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Not, in fact, melting my camera

This post was written some weeks ago, but for several reasons, I didn’t post it at the time.

Due to a fortuitous combination of a much-delayed graduation gift (thanks, Dee!) and opportunity knocking, I have a new camera. And not just any new camera, but a really, REALLY nice camera, the sort of camera that I used to sigh over in the back room of the computer labs and promise myself, Someday, I will get a camera like that.

One of the very nice things about really good cameras is that they take much better pictures than reasonably nice cameras.

We’re starting to get into the season for grassfires. Not the big, uncontrolled, terrifying grassfires (mostly not. There was one a few weeks ago that was a bit scary when the wind was blowing our direction; luckily it shifted), not yet, not until things dry out more, and people start burning the land to encourage new growth to feed the cows. But things are dry enough to burn, and there are fires, either accidental, or intentional — just a few days ago I looked out of my window and saw a wall of fire in the direction of the Wooden House.

Of course, I rushed outside to make sure that the Wooden House was not actually on fire, and discovered that they were burning the grass around it, so that they would have a firebreak, “for when the big fire comes.”

One of the things that fascinates me about these fires is that they usually don’t burn the whole way up the grass stems, but just clear out the undergrowth, leaving the stems standing, slightly scorched at the bottom, but mostly untouched at the top. These fires burn HOT, though. It’s a good thing the camera has a good zoom lens, because I often did not want to get any closer.

There was another fire about a month ago, too.

If some of these pictures lead you to doubt my sense, I assure you that no Miriams were harmed in the making of this post. The only lasting effect was a sooty smear of burnt grass on my skirt, which is easily remedied in my next load of laundry.

———————————

I fly out of Lusaka International Airport this afternoon, and arrive in Philadelphia tomorrow via Johannesburg and Heathrow. We’ll have a few days of Re-entry Retreat with all of the SALTers from various countries, and then disperse to our homes.

The physical travel is almost finished, but I intend to continue posting on things that catch my eye as I reintegrate into American culture. I’ve also promised several posts over the course of this year that I never got around to writing, and there are a number of other things that I could write about, like food and living in an officially Christian country and the Peace Clubs Fair I went to last weekend, not to mention posting more of the zillions of pictures I’ve taken. So my question to you is: are there things you would like to read? Either about Zambia or about returning to the US?

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