3 Mules the Movie

Back in 2012 Kelly and I were running an errand in the neighborhood when we encountered a man with three mules walking down busy Sunset Boulevard. I put up a quick blog post with a few photos. Thanks to Google, for the next two years, my blog post became a place to comment on the whereabouts of the “mule man” whose real name is John Sears.

Through that same blog post we met a very talented local filmmaker named John McDonald who has been working on a documentary about Sears. I had the great privilege of seeing a short work in progress version of the film McDonald would like to complete.

It turns out the story is more complex than I would have imagined from my first encounter with the mule man on Sunset Boulevard. Sears is making a point about public space and our rights to travel and use the commons. It’s a stance that often puts him at odds with law enforcement, local governments and, perhaps, modernity itself.

You can see some excerpts from McDonald’s film on YouTube and make a tax deductible contribution towards completing the project. You can follow Sears via his Facebook page 3 Mules. McDonald’s website is 3mulesmovie.com.

102 Beekeeping Controversies With Susan Rudnicki

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Listen to “102 Beekeeping Contoversies With Susan Rudnicki” on Spreaker.

Behind the headlines about bee die-offs is an untold story about the methods of conventional beekeeping. There is a sharp divide between mainstream beekeepers and natural beekeepers. In this episode we delve deep into the controversies over how bees are managed with beekeeper Susan Rudnicki. We recorded this episode in front of a live audience at one of Honey Love’s monthly symposiums. We get into a lot of detail on beekeeping methods, so consider this episode a kind of natural beekeeping 101. During the podcast Susan discusses:

  • Why are all the bees dying?
  • Treatment vs. non-treatment.
  • Why most advice is pro-treatment.
  • Keeping feral stock.
  • Africanized bees.
  • Mistakes.
  • How often to inspect.
  • Swarm prevention.
  • When to take honey in a Mediterranean climate
  • Dodgy bee removal services.
  • The “Complete Idiots Guide to Beekeeping.”
  • What’s wrong with package bees?
  • The difference between swarming and absconding.
  • That Flow Hive thingy.
  • Darwinian concepts in beekeeping.
  • “Scientific” beekeeper Randy Oliver’s change of opinion on feral stock: here and here.
  • Bee Audacious conference.
  • Foundation vs. no foundation.
  • Reducing entrances.
  • Queen excluders.
  • Screened bottom boards.
  • Straightening crooked comb.
  • Eight frame boxes.
  • The problem with organic treatments.
  • Les Crowder’s “Top Bar Beekeeping.”

If you’d like to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

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Your Urban Homesteading Vocabulary Word of the Day: Slumgum

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Some beekeeping jobs result in garbage bags full of dark, dirty comb. Such was the case, this past week, when I cleaned out an acquaintance’s hive that had absconded. In the course of processing that comb into wax I came across a word I’d never seen before: “slumgum.” Slumgum is the dark brown sludge made of propolis, larvae parts and dirt that you’re left with once you filter out the wax.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, we can thank my fellow Californians for this nineteenth century neologism. The OED cites the 1890 classic, Gleanings of Bee Culture, as the earliest occurrence of the word “slumgum,”

1890 Gleanings Bee Culture XVIII. 704/2 The cappings are laid on this perforated tin, and, when they melt, the wax and honey run through into the chamber below, leaving what Californians call the ‘slumgum’ on the tin above.

Awesome!

Slumgum tips:

  • Don’t throw out the slumgum. You can bait your empty hives with it. Bees love the smell of slumgum.
  • Don’t leave your slumgum outside like I did. It turns out that urban night critters such as skunks and raccoons also love slumgum. Some mammal dragged mine off and ate it!
  • Side note: check your library’s online digital resources. The Los Angeles Public Library offers the Oxford English Dictionary, and many more online reference resources, for free to anyone with a LA library card.

Stay tuned for a longer post on beeswax processing in the next month.

Cat Scratching Post Update

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One of the more successful feline interventions around the Root Simple compound was my idea of turning a corner of our couch into a cat scratching post. Since cats love scratching furniture, why not make the corners out of sisal rope and solve two problems at once?

As you can see from the before and after shots, the cats love their scratching post. With two cats in residence, I’ve found that I have to renew the sisal every four to six months.

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In my original blog post on how-to make a cat scratcher I suggested using heavy duty staples. I’ve since switched to #17 x 1 inch wire nails which are easier to use and do a better job of securing the sisal. I still recommend using 3/8 inch sisal rope. And I also added a few dabs of hot glue to keep the sisal on the post a little longer.

Yesterday I renewed the sisal on the post and, within minutes, it was already in use:

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In that first post on cat scratchers, I proposed building an “integrated cat scratcher/USB charging station/cat perch using a twisty tree branch.” The cats have voted with their claws and love the scratcher so much that I need to get started on that perch notion and other scratcher projects. The cats need to charge their devices too! The whole interior of the house could just get covered in sisal and USB ports.

What Equipment do I Need to Keep Bees?

Of all the activities around our household, I consider beekeeping the most rewarding. The encounter with this otherworldly species, the pollination services, the honey and wax are worth the occasional sting. But what do you need to get started? I’ve seen some outrageously priced starter kits, not to mention the Juicero of beekeeping, the Flow Hive. By putting together your own set of equipment you can save a lot of money. Here’s my basic starter kit:

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Bee suit
There’s no reason you need to get stung! Dadant has an inexpensive integrated hat/veil jumpsuit that I’ve used for years. This suit is one piece, meaning that there’s no gap between your veil and suit for bees to climb up in and I like that it covers your whole body. Tuck the pant legs into boots and you’re good to go. Bees can still do a kind of half sting through the material, so I wear long sleeve shirts and long pants if I’m doing something where the bees could get angry, such as a removal job. Dadant sells more substantial and durable suits that which might be a good investment if you’re thinking of running a lot of hives or opening your own removal business. There are also more expensive ventilated suits for hot climates. But for hobbyists such as myself, the inexpensive Dadant suit is good enough. Get a size larger than your normal size. Too big is better than too small.

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Gloves
I’ve gone through a lot of gloves over time. I’ve used both rubber gloves and goat skin gloves. The rubber gloves come in handy where there’s the possibility of dripping honey such as when cutting bees out of a wall or doing a honey harvest. The goat skin gloves make for less finger fumbling. I suggest owning both.

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Smoker
Dadant’s basic smoker has not changed design in a hundred years. It’s one of those objects, like the safety bicycle or the fork, that reached its design apotheosis a long time ago and doesn’t need to be subject to the whims of fashion. I own the cheapest model and have found it perfectly adequate. The more expensive models have a kind of cage around them to prevent you from burning yourself but I’ve never found this feature necessary.

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Hive tool
This is a small and deliberately dull crowbar. Bees stick everything together with propolis, so you need the little crow bar to pry stuff apart. I own the economy model. The end of the tool is dull so you don’t damage your equipment.

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Bee brush
You use a bee brush for flicking the bees away so they don’t get crushed when you put the boxes back together. In addition to being polite, this prevents the bees from setting off their alarm pheromone and causing a stinging frenzy.

Bee housing
Like meany topics in beekeeping this is one that divides families and friends. I’m not going to wade into the controversy here but I’ll just say that you should go with whatever interests you: top bar, Langstroth, Warre etc. I buy medium, unassembled Langstroth boxes and frames (without foundation) from LA Honey. The unassembled boxes are much cheaper than getting a kit. I use only medium boxes so that all my equipment is interchangeable and to reduce the weight you have to heft (a full box of bees is surprisingly heavy). Since I live in a place that never freezes I don’t have to use inner covers or worry about insulating hives in the winter. I’m in the no-treatment, natural beekeeping camp so there’s a bunch of other things that I don’t use such as queen excluders, foundation and mite-related gadgets. For more details on this natural approach I’d suggest taking a look at Michael Bush’s extensive website (he also has tips for beekeeping in cold climates). Without wading into the natural beekeeping fight, let me just say going au natural (so to speak) keeps costs way down. You could get even cheaper by making your own top bar hives but I was taught on Langstroth equipment and I’ve just decided to stick with them out of habit.

Stand for the hives
After a bad experience with the wooden stands that I made myself, I bought some metal stands. But you could save a lot of money by just using cinder blocks. The important thing to note is that bee boxes should be off the ground to prevent flooding and to make it easier to lift the boxes. Your stand must be substantial enough to support several hundred pounds as a hive gets really heavy and you really don’t want it to fall over!

Swarm kit
I also keep a swarm kit containing some of the stuff above and a few other items in a tool box that is in the garage and ready to go at all times. You never know when someone is going to call with a bee situation and you don’t want to run about gathering tools at the last moment. My swarm kit contains:

  • smoker
  • burlap to burn in smoker
  • matches
  • spray bottle with syrup made with a 50/50 combo of water and white sugar
  • pruning sheers for cutting tree branches
  • a roll of caution tape
  • bee suit/gloves/boots (most, but not all swarms are docile)
  • nuc box
  • mesh bag to put the nuc box in (especially important if you don’t own a truck!)
  • knife (for cut-outs)
  • Benadryl for when you get stung!

I strongly suggest having all of the things in this post on hand before you think of getting bees.

So beekeepers, what did I forget to include? Leave a comment!

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