Natural Beekeeping Conference This Weekend!

13900131_1415069945173422_1735699895366642927_nAll the big names in the natural beekeeping movement (including Michael Bush and Dee Lusby and many more) are coming to SoCal this weekend. And I’ll be doing a crazy talk on Sunday morning as well as scoring some future podcast guests. Hope to see some of you there. More info and the schedule can be found here.

Join HoneyLove August 19-21, 2016 for an unforgettable weekend filled with educational lectures and workshops, hands-on demonstrations, the latest in natural beekeeping techniques and findings, an elite collection of exhibitors and sponsors, rare opportunities for you to connect with likeminded beeks, sweet raw honey tastings from around the world AND OUR ANNUAL YELLOW TIE EVENT on August 19th, 6-9pm!

There will also be “Special Interest Groups” on both days covering a wide range of topics for both beginner and advanced beekeepers (see full schedule at the bottom of this page).

All who are interested in bees and beekeeping are welcomed to attend! #HLONBC

Limited tickets available to this awesome weekend so REGISTER NOW!

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Help! I’ve got Paper Wasps

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Around this time of year we field a lot of questions about paper wasps, likely because the nests get larger in the summer. The most popular nesting site for paper wasps around here is in the eaves of a house. When the nest is by a door people tend to get uneasy.

Take a chill pill
Don’t panic! Paper wasps are extremely docile and rarely sting. Most importantly, paper wasps are a beneficial insect. They eat beetle larvae, caterpillars, flies and nectar (making them pollinators). They are your friends in the garden. Right now I have a large colony living in the eave of our front porch right over my favorite chair. I’ve sat in that chair, with my head a mere four feet from my paper wasp buddies, for many hours and have never once been bothered.

Biology
Like honeybees, paper wasp are social insects. A mated queen lays eggs. But the similarity ends there. Paper wasp nests range in size between a dozen to 200 individuals. A honeybee colony can be made up of 60,000 workers or more. And honeybees only gather pollen and nectar. Paper wasps feed their young with protein (other insects).

What a paper wasp sting feels like
About the only way you can get stung by a paper wasp is to grasp one. I did this inadvertently once when I reached behind a fence. Keeping bees, I’m well aware of what a honeybee sting feels like. The paper wasp sting was, initially, sharper than a honeybee sting but the pain dissipated quickly.

Paper wasp control
If you don’t want a paper wasp colony next to a door or window it’s best to get rid of the colony early in the season. You can knock it down with a stream of water from a hose or with a long pole. Make sure you have an exit route planned! They will no longer be peaceable after you do this.

Most importantly, after you knock down the nest (a good while after, of course, after they’ve calmed down), oil the location where they were with cooking oil or furniture oil so they can’t attach a new nest in that spot. You can also buy poison at the hardware store but who’s a fan of poison!? It’s really unnecessary. If you have a bee suit you can put it on and remove the colony with a gloved hand. But the best option is to leave them in place so that they can eat all those nasty flies, beetles and caterpillars. A wasp colony makes your yard a healthier, more balanced place.

Also, as you decide what to do with the nest on your house, keep in mind the fact that the colony will dissipate come winter. They will produce a young queen who will move elsewhere, and the remaining workers will die off. In other words, if you can wait until cold weather, your wasp problem will solve itself. Then you can knock down the old nest and grease the area so they don’t revisit that spot.

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Nanotecture: Tiny Built Things

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Nanotecture: Tiny Built Things is a tiny book of big ideas. It’s 336 pages of objects ranging from bird houses to sheds to temporary art installations. The unifying theme is clever design and a less than house sized scale.

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This is the kind of book to thumb through if you’ve got a creative block, are curious about materials or just looking for inspiration.

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And there’s lots of dog and cat architecture.

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And saunas, like the bike propelled mini sauna above.

I don’t know if I need to own a copy of this book (I’ve got a library copy), but I’ve spent a many evenings leafing through the pages. On a side note, many of the objects in this book are temporary outdoor art installations, something you see a lot of in Northern Europe in the summer. I don’t know why we don’t see more of these types of art and design shows in the U.S. They’re popular and a nice use of public space.

The book has inspired me this morning to cut the blogging short and head to my workshop and build something.

086 The Connection Between Cats and Grain

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Why is it that cats come from the same part of the world where people first figured out how to grow and store grain? Would we have bread if we didn’t have cats? In this podcast Kelly and Erik explore the ancient history, famous cats and take a detour into the world of distillery cats and ship’s cats.

Special thanks to Paul Koudounaris, whose lecture inspired this podcast, and the website Purr-n-Fur for information on ship’s and distillery cats.

Many thanks to our Patreon subscribers for making this podcast and blog possible.

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.

How to Squirrel Proof Your Fruit Trees

IMG_7297We’ve been guilty in the past of claiming that growing fruit is labor-free. That’s a lazy blogger’s lie. The truth is that you have to stay on top of pruning, irrigation, fruit thinning, fertilizing and pest prevention if you want to harvest any fruit. After not getting a single peach off our small tree last year due to squirrels, I vowed to do things differently this year.

I considered a number of squirrel prevention techniques:

  • Metal collars on trunks. This doesn’t work, especially in urban areas. Squirrels are superb acrobats and can simply jump from a roof, fence or adjacent tree on to your fruit tree.
  • Trapping, killing, hunting. I don’t have the heart to do this and it’s illegal in urban areas but it is what professional orchardists do.
  • Electronic or visual frightening devices. According to UC Davis, these don’t work. Squirrels aren’t dumb.
  • Dogs. Maybe, but it depends on the dog. Our late doberman was more interested in alerting us to the mail carrier’s rounds. He was more interested but, ultimately, unsuccessful in his 13 year battle against skunks.

Exclusion with plastic bird netting is the most promising technique for urban areas. In order to do this you need to keep the tree pruned to a manageable size. I purchased a 14-foot by 14-foot piece of bird netting and Kelly and I put it on the tree (it’s a two-person job as bird netting is a pain to work with). We secured it with clothes pins. You must be absolutely certain to leave no gaps in the net. If you leave a gap you could trap birds and the squirrels will also work their way in. The next step is to keep a close eye on the fruit and harvest it as soon as you can, perhaps a little sooner than is ideal.

Unfortunately, squirrels can easily chew through bird netting so this method is far from foolproof. According to UC Davis, exclusionary methods will only work if the squirrels have other things to eat. Another argument for biodiversity in our landscapes, I suppose.

If you know of any foolproof squirrel prevention techniques please leave a comment!