I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. ~ Thoreau

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The bird days of spring...

Yesterday was just bizarre.

Fred finished up the chicken coop on Thursday, working his butt off to get it completed, well more like two fingers and several layers of skin, and surprisingly, he was completely done before dark. It is fully equipped with two nesting boxes (which the chickens will not need for some time), a perch (which they will need sooner, although they do not quite understand that yet) and three doors (one with a ramp into their “yard” of their coop, a big one for mucking the house, and one for access into our back yard.) It is quite the palatial mansion of chickendom.

So instead of bringing the chickens back into the bathroom after spending the day in the yard of the coop, which had been our original intent, the chickens spent Thursday night in their new digs. Just before sundown we settled them in the house of their coop and watched them furiously eat their pine shaving bedding as fast as they could. Everything I have read seems to indicate that pine shavings make the best liter because they reduce odor and are very absorbent. A friend warned me early on that cedar shavings, while they smell great, can be deadly to chickens causing some kind of respiratory disease. No one mentioned a word about the chickens ingesting their bedding?!

I am at a loss as to whether or not eating the pine shavings will be harmful. Eventually, after the newness wore off, they settled down and started acting a little more normal (for chickens) and only occasionally picked at their bedding choosing their food dispenser instead. I had spent most of the afternoon, while Fred finished coop construction, trying to train my flock to drink from a gerbil waterer. One of the many reference books said that this was the cleanest way to provide lots of fresh drinking water for the girls and it keeps them from running through their water or filling it with bedding and droppings.

This was a seriously hysterical exercise. To begin with I placed their water dish, the waterer and their food bowl all in close proximity within their yard. I took the box of raisins and sat down in the yard with them. Let me tell you these chickens would make terrible spies they would sell their grandma to the devil for a box of Sunmaid. I coaxed the chickens over to me with raisins and then I started tapping on the ball in the tube of the dispenser so they could see and taste that there was water there. I held my finger out with a few drops of water on it (this got my finger soundly pecked). Then I reached back up and tapped the ball a few more times. The ladies looked at me with puzzled chicken amusement. They obviously think I am insane.

At this point I considered admitting defeat. The chicken-lady at Green’s, who has been extremely helpful and full of good advice, pretty much laughed at Fred when he told her why I wanted a gerbil waterer. She said chickens do not have tongues so drinking out of one of those would be nearly impossible. Fred had bought a traditional trough waterer which I promptly made him return. I would prove my vast chicken training skills and I would keep my coop marginally cleaner by training my chickens-of-superior-intelligence to drink from the gerbil waterer. It was starting to look iffy. I reached over and picked up Miranda-chicken.

(Let me stop for a second to tell you that the chickens have developed enough distinct personality and looks for us to give them names. They have been named for myself and my three dear friends in honor of the fact that when we get together we sound like a bunch of clucking hens. They are named as follows: Stacy-chicken, Miranda-chicken, Gina-chicken and Autumn-chicken. I do not know if it is luck or transference but ever since we named them a week or so ago, they have begun to take on the personality qualities and behaviors of their namesakes, it is extremely funny.)

Miranda-chicken is in the middle of the flock size wise and she is one of the calmer birds. I held her up to the waterer and reached out with my thumb to press the ball. Water immediately welled up on my digit and she excitedly began bobbing her head. I thought, “Awesome! This is it, she has got it.” I set her down and she immediately began to peck the grass where the water had fallen. Ok, so they are not going to be brain surgeon chickens. I sighed. How did I get them to realize they needed to tap the ball to get the water?

The good thing about Miranda-chicken’s interest in the grass under the waterer was it sparked everyone else’s curiosity too. Cats’ curiosity has nothing on chickens’. Those girls cannot stand the thought of someone getting something they are being left out on. They will cluck and squawk and steal and just generally throw a fit trying to get something someone else has. So everyone crowded under the waterer where the drop had disappeared. Amidst this maylay the waterer was inadvertently jostled several times. This resulted in a series of drops falling from the spout. Now the real hilarity ensued, picture four ugly chickens bobbing their heads trying to catch water droplets.

This went on for quite some time. I kept tapping the ball thinking eventually one of them would realize where the water was coming from. Quite some time later one of them accidentally hit the ball with the side of their beak. When she realized that water came out she then began trying to drink from the side of her mouth, not exactly the most efficient means of consuming water, since when she opened her beak to let the water in the majority of it promptly slid out the other side. She became the functioning water dispenser for the other chickens who promptly lined up underneath her and began drinking greedily. That did not last too long. When she realized everyone was getting something she was not she quickly began pecking at their heads. Okay back to square one.

So I pulled them away from the waterer and stuck a raisin in it. The raisin allowed for a slow drip of water to come out. I hoped that once one of them realized there was a raisin there they would start to peck at the ball thus releasing the water and learning to drink from the dispenser. No such luck, these chickens, who are absolutely mad for raisins, ignored that raisin and the water dripping around it like it had the plague. SIGH.

I seriously thought I was going to have to return to Green’s waterer in hand and admit defeat. I was already contemplating tossing out the gerbil waterer and catalog ordering a traditional waterer so that I would not have to face complete humiliation in the feed store, when: one of the chickens in a staggering half mad chicken fit ran beak first into the waterer. Realizing there was a raisin there she promptly pulled it out and ate it while water dripped on her head. When she realized there was water she began pecking her beak into the dispenser. Eureka! She got it. Of course everyone else quickly followed suit assuming she has something they wanted and there was quickly a run on the water dispenser. Yay! Victory! So that is how the chickens learned to drink from the gerbil waterer. They poke the tip of their beak against the ball and that releases the vacuum allowing water to flow into their mouths. It keeps their water fresh and clean and provides a greater source of water than traditional trough dispensers.

Thursday night after all the construction and the drama Fred, the chickens and myself were exhausted. So we put the chickens in their house, closed up all the doors so they would not accidentally fall out or be eaten by anything, and went to bed.

Friday morning we headed out to see how they had faired through the night. We found them huddled in a tight ball under the warming lamp fast asleep. So much for “getting up with the chickens” apparently we get up way before the chickens even think about leaving their nice warm digs. We removed the panel blocking the door to the ramp which leads to the yard inside their pen. I moved their food and water down into the yard hoping this would coax them down the ramp and into the grass. Um, no such luck. After we had tried this for several minutes we then tried putting one chicken down in the yard hoping the others would realized where she was and head down after her. This did not work either. In fact, this resulted in some seriously traumatized chickens all standing in one corner, albeit on different floors and peeping their little forlorn hearts out.

Then we tried to move two chickens into the yard hoping that with even numbers up and down someone would make a decision to reunite the flock with everyone either moving back into the house or down into the yard. More peeping ensued. We put a Hansel and Gretel trail of raisins on the ramp. No go. We finally resorted into taking the chickens into the yard, putting them on the ramp and then reaching them up through the hole in the floor to be reunited with their sisters. The chickens treated this like a David Copperfield-esque illusion of epic proportions, the onlookers being completely amazed and stunned every time one of their sisters appeared through the magic hole in the floor but this still did not convince them to try the ramp.

Finally we gave up and put them back in the house leaving the door to the floor open so if they chose to venture down they could. Friday was a damp soggy day though and when we came home from all our adventures we found the chickens exactly where we had left them only significantly more hungry and thirsty since the food and water had been in the yard all afternoon. We moved the food and water back up into the house, gave them a few treats and shut them back in for the night. It is now a little after seven thirty on Saturday morning and it is raining buckets. We have not headed out to check on them yet but I guarantee there is no hurry considering the cool temperatures and the damp weather they will definitely want to spend the day in their house. We will go out in a bit to make sure they have food and water and that the warming light is working.

So that brings you up to date on the chickens and their stressful lives at Chicken University but it probably does not do much to explain the title of this blog or the opening sentence. Yesterday we had to go to town. We needed an estimate on some care repairs and we needed a new inspection sticker. This was pretty much an all afternoon ordeal so we dropped the car off, had some coffee, caught a movie and goofed around town. After we picked the car up we figured we would grab some Indian food for dinner. The Indian restaurant does not open until five so we had about an hour or so to kill. We decided we would head over to the feed store to pick up another waterer and a new leash and collar for the dog.

While we were there wandering around the coveralls we heard “peep peep peep” we walked over to the bucket and saw one tiny little chick peeping its heart out all by its lonesome under the warming light. It was teeny and bright yellow more round then our girls and with a funny looking beak. It immediately took a liking to Fred and came over to the edge of the bucket. Fred stooped down to read the tag attached to the side. It was a special order slip for three turkeys. A turkey? Ok, that explained its funny looking beak. Fred immediately put the kibosh on turkey ownership but as we walked away from the bucket it began to forlornly peep again.

I asked Fred how bad could it possibly be? We could keep it in the tub for a week or two then toss it in the coop with the chickens. Fred said no. The little baby turkey increased its desperate pleading peeps. Fred started to crack. I said go find the chicken lady and see what she says. If it would not hurt the chickens and the chickens would not hurt it then what was the harm. We had decided to get a turkey. Fred went off to find her as I perused the hats. Fred came back with a despondent look and the chicken-lady in tow.

“You don’t want that turkey,” she said.

“Why is it sick? Is something wrong with it?” I asked.

“Um sort of,” she hedged.

I pressed. That was not a good enough answer for me. And anyone who knows me knows I specialize in special needs animals. Even the vets pawn off damaged stragglers on me. She finally told me it had a double breast. I was confused. Was this some kind of turkey birth defect that left the poor thing seriously deformed? I did not really care if it was especially ugly, I mean what turkey is pretty, right? I told her as much and she finally came clean and told me it would not live past a year old and if it did we would have to kill it. WHAT?!

Apparently the term “double-breasted” is not a birth defect at all. Instead it is a man-manipulated, i.e. genetically mutation breeding trait that causes a turkey to be born with the muscle tissue of the breast being twice as large as what nature intended. This means that around or before the time the turkey reaches one year old its breast tissue will become so large that its legs will break under the weight. I am sorry this is cruel and I am sure this is not what God intended when he gave man stewardship of the Earth. This to me is a lack of responsibility and a prime example of the wretched gap we have put between ourselves and our food sources.

Please think about this when you buy your turkeys this Thanksgiving. No animal should be bred for the ultimate fate of breaking its own legs. If we all say no, if we all make smarter, more educated more compassionate choices then there will be no market for this cruelty and if there is no market for it then breeders will have to bend to the will of the consumer and stop doing things that are so atrociously cruel.

Needless to say, we left the feed store without the poor little doomed turkey and in a stupor of depression over man’s lack of a sense of responsibility and cruelty to the animals in our care. As we half heartedly drove toward the Indian restaurant Fred exclaimed “oh no!” I thought great what now? Are we driving up on an accident? As Fred pointed and I looked down in the road their lay a half grown dove in the middle of the intersection. At first we thought it was dead, struck by a car, but then as we looked we could see it blinking and its head moving from side to side. It was terrified.

Fred did a U-turn and went back, he had to do a few more tricky car maneuvers (I was sure someone would run over it before we got back) before we pulled back up to the intersection. He stopped the car and turned on the flashers. I jumped out and scooped the baby into my hands. While Fred blocked traffic I ran across the street and placed the baby in the grass neatly tucked under some shrubbery. It did not appear to have any broken wings and looked as though it may have been learning to fly and either stunned by a car or landed in the road and became terrified. I put it there hoping its mother was close and would tend it.

Seeing as how we were down town I do not expect there were lots of cats or dogs running loose to eat it before its mother could come, however, on our way home we took an extra take out box and decided if it was still there it must be hurt and we would take it home to tend it. It was no longer there and I am choosing to believe its mother came for it. (Please do not rain on my parade with any opposing theories!)

So as you can see we had an adventurous few days surrounding all things avian. We will be at the Kanawha Valley Sustainability Fair today at the ReStore diagonally across from Green’s. We will be there manning the KVBA booth so please stop by and see us. There will be lots of great information and lots of good food.

Thanks for reading,
Much love,


Thursday, May 20, 2010

Bathroom Chickens

Ok, I will admit it. Our bathroom is really starting to stink! The weather has been so bad for the past week that it has been impossible to finish the chicken coop and we cannot put the chickens out in it until all the little cracks and crevices are sealed. I would be devastated if we had made it this far in our chicken raising career, only to have our flock decimated by some predator. We originally intended to have three chickens, we bought four because everyone we talked to and all of the books assured us that you normally loose a quarter of your flock in the beginning.

Well it has been a month and frankly I am happy to say that my chicken raising skills must obviously be better than my beekeeping skills. We have yet to kill a single chicken. I think that is quite an accomplishment considering the vast number of bees I’ve killed with my murderous beekeeping ways. When we got the chickens four weeks ago they were teeny tiny little balls of fluff, you could easily fit two of them in the palm of your hand. Now they are slightly larger than an extremely fat pigeon and ten times as ugly. Sufficient to say the teen age years are equally as detrimental to chickens as they are to pubescent band geeks. Fred says they look like miniature vultures. I do not know what they look like. Half plucked, moth-eaten, over loved ducklings? Needless to say they are no long the tiny fluff balls we brought home from Green’s.

This is evident in their ability to pop up out of their box at their whim and the copious amounts of chicken dookie soiling the paper every day. They are constantly jumping up on the edge of the box, teetering momentarily on the lip then careening wildly with flapping wings either to become wedged between the wall of the box and the bathtub or to ungracefully plop to the bathroom floor. This is follow by panicked squawking from the escapee and her fellow inmates left behind. It is like once they have “flown the coop” so to speak they are in a new kind of panic being exposed to the whole new world of the bathroom. After squawking wildly for several minutes a deathly hush will fall over the whole flock, like they are all afraid to make another peep. I walk in, pick up the offender and gentle put her back with her sisters. She is momentarily frozen and then the joyous reunion peeping begins and her sister’s welcome her back to box world with much fluttering about and wing flapping.

They are truly hysterical to watch. As they get older they become more and more tame and less and less terrified of the world around them. Especially if there are raisins involved. I think they would do just about anything for a raisin. Two of them will now sit in the palm of my hand or perch on my finger if there is a raisin involved. They are also wildly curious about anything anyone might be eating or drinking in their vicinity. If you get near the box with even the appearance that you might be holding something edible they will all stretch their necks out and come to the corner peeping and looking and vying for attention. They are also undeniably curious.

This is amusing because for the first couple weeks of their lives they we completely terrified of everything. I was quite certain that one of them would surely expire from a heart attack simple from me changing their paper. Now they come to my hand and peck curiously at my bracelets and rings, they are fascinated with blue nail polish and squawk indignantly when they realize the hand is not bearing raisins. Really the absolute funniest of their antics arise from their raisin lust. They will snatch whole raisins from your fingers than run maniacally around the box unable to stop long enough to eat their snack for fear one of their sisters will snatch it.

One brave and greedy little chicken will snatch the raisin then run full tilt circles around the box making strangled cries of triumph while being chased by her three siblings desperate to snatch the prize from her beak. This usually continues for several seconds as the raisin is passed from chicken to chicken until it is finally torn into small enough pieces to be eaten on the run. And the first raisin is always the most prized, even if other raisins are offered or tossed into the box. The chicken with the initial raisin has the boon that everyone else wants. They are like jealous little children constantly afraid they are being left out.
Speaking of jealous little children, my eighteen month old niece loves the “bock bocks” as she calls them (chicken is apparently to difficult to pronounce, seeing as how when I say “chicken” she gives me her trade-mark daddy-scowl and stoically corrects me “bock bock om,” she is very patient with my lack luster learning skills although it obviously frustrates her to no end) however she has no intention of sharing the raisins with them at all. It is beyond hysterical to watch her totter into the bathroom to peer over the edge of the tub, clutching a box of raisins. The eager chicks line up at the edge of the box peeping and trying to get a better look at her and the bounty. She giggles and coos and hold out a raisin, and as soon as a chick gets close enough to possible grab it, she squeals and shoves it in her mouth as fast as possible. What can I say? The kid likes the bock bocks but not nearly enough to part with her raisins!

So here we are, with a stinky bathroom filled with four pullets quickly outgrowing their quarters and no finished coop in which to house them. Fred is out piecing the chicken wire on as I type but the unpainted part of the coop has become so sodden in the torrential rains of the last week that there is no way it can be painted until we have had a few days of sunshine to dry it out. So we are in a holding pattern with stinky bird in a too small box until we can get the coop completed. And it has to be completed before we can put them out. If you read the chicken books (and I have, probably too many of them) there are any myriad of predators out their just waiting to devour the chickens. I think the absolute worst were the raccoons that will bite off the chicken’s heads and leave the little corpses spread around the coop or the rats that wait till the chickens fall into their sleep stupor and then gnaw off their feet! I have been having nightmares about mutilated chickens since I finished that chapter a week ago.

We have definitely decided to install a night light inside the coop. We are looking for one that is solar powered that will charge through the day and put off a soft glow at night. We do not want to make the coop so bright that the chickens cannot rest but chickens apparently go into almost a comatose state in complete darkness. This is why they roost and prefer roosts higher up off the ground. Although chickens have very little means of self defense to begin with, apparently, in this state of stupor they have none and will not even attempt to evade a predator or to squawk and warn of intruders. Several books I have read indicate that putting a night light in the coop will provide the chickens with enough light to allow them to become mobile in self defense if faced with a predator.

I was also surprised with how little noise the chicks really do make. Several people have asked how we sleep with the chickens right there in our master bathroom. But really after the sun goes down, they quite down and go right off to sleep. If someone gets up in the night to use the bathroom they may peep a little out of curiosity but mostly they just turn around and drift back off. They have really been quite easy to care for and, contrary to several of the things we were warned of, they are not mean or standoffish nor are they unbearably filthy. The do smell but it is not their fault. The birds themselves do not have an odor but where they are currently housed in such close quarters their litter constantly reeks and needs changing. They are still using shredded newspaper, however, when we move them to the coop we intend to switch to pine shavings.

From what we have read and been told pine shavings will help control odor and are extremely absorbent. We are going to use the deep liter method which will hopefully result in less time mucking out the coop and will also insulate the floor and help teach the chickens to “scratch” or hunt for their food using their feet to dig around. So far the chickens are quite entertaining and although I will not miss the smell I will miss their bathroom antics.

Come back to read about their adventure of moving out and living on their own.

Much love,


Monday, May 17, 2010

Harvest Time

Harvest Time
Saturday was a beautiful day, the first in a while, not marred by beastly humidity or rain. Fred was off work and we were about 4 days overdue for hive inspection and maintenance but weather and time had been against us all week. On days when it cleared off enough to get in the hives we were only left with mere hours, or less, before the bees return. This is barely enough time to open one hive let alone three. The state inspector was once again put off for another week because inspecting hives in the rain is both dangerous (for yourself and your stock) and futile (the hive would be unbearably crowded with put upon bees in a bad temper). So we found ourselves, once again, frustrated through the week and antsy to get a look in our hives.

When Fred got home from work on Friday it was after five p.m. and nearing the time when the last straggling workers would be returning to the hive with their bounty. Fred came in the house shouting for me to “come here”. I assumed “here” was somewhere outside considering he promptly banged back out the door he had come in. Any of you who are my friends on facebook already know that Friday had been a trying day. After a muggy hot walk to the insurance agency Louie had crapped out on me and refused to take another step, forcing me to bribe him with a cheeseburger and call my dad for a ride home. I was pooped, had just lay down and was in no mood to play hide-and-seek with my husband.

When I got my shoes on (My neighbors were appalled, I’m sure. My outfit consisted of the remnants of my walk: a dirty sports top, camo-cargo shorts and socks, and the only shoes close to the door: Mary-Jane crocs.) I went outside to locate Fred. I found him in the building scrambling into his beekeeping gear and fooling around with the smoker. “Huh?” was about the only thing close to coherent that came out of my mouth. He advised me that he thought our original “small” hive had swarmed. Sure enough, I looked over, and, seeing as how this was the first really sunny day we have had, may have muttered some serious grumblings against the spring rains under my breath. How could they have swarmed? It had been raining for days. Bees cannot fly once their wings are wet so on rainy days they mostly stay close to the hive.

I was aggravated. The bees were heavy around the mouth of the hive and bearded on one side of the entrance. Bearding is what the bees do when the hives become too hot or crowded, or they have already decided to swarm. They come outside of the hive and cling together draping in front of the hive and resembling a man’s beard. This allows them to cool off and to be instantaneously ready to leave when the queen does. Fred’s panic was caused when he pulled in from work and the bearding was visible from the driveway. I told him to calm down. If they had swarmed they would not still be there clinging to the hive and the possibility of them swarming that late in the evening was slim. I figured we at least had until Saturday morning but just to be sure we took a look around the surrounding trees and buildings looking for the cluster of a swarm. Thank goodness we did not find any because I am not entirely sure what we would have done.

Normally when bees swarm what happens is they leave in a group following tightly behind and around the queen and usually their first maneuver is to go straight up to the highest, nearest point and cluster there, either to wait out the night or to regroup before looking for new shelter. Some beekeepers clip the wings of their queen to ensure never losing a swarm. What happens then is the queen who is preparing to swarm comes out of the hive and promptly falls to the ground, where ultimately she dies. The bees that were swarming with her will go out from the hive some distance but when they no longer smell her pheromones they will eventually return to the hive and re-assimilate.

We think this may have been the case with our hive. Apparently what we were watching was not our bees preparing to swarm but instead returning to the hive after a failed attempt to swarm. Let me pause to say this hive was newly supered last week so there is an empty box on the top and plenty of room for the bees, however once nature has taken over and the bees have begun to make preparations to swarm there is little to nothing that can be done to prevent it. We believe the old queen had either had her wings clipped or injured at some point which also makes us think we had actually located her during one of our earlier hive checks. We had found a large bee with what appeared to be damaged wings but we were unsure if she was the queen because at that point in time we were unaware of the practice of wing clipping.

We got down on our hands and knees in front of the hive in the encroaching darkness and began to search around to see if we could locate the former queen. I do not know what exactly we thought we would do with her if we did find her. I suppose we would have simple put her out of her misery and kept her for comparison sake late on. You see, there would be no reason to return her to the hive the new queen would have already hatched and would kill her anyway. We could have tried to put her in a new brood box but since her swarm had already returned to the ranks it would be unlikely they would come back out and join her in a new location, so it is probably best that we could not find her in the tall grass in front of the hive. We did find a couple of dead drones which may have been from the new queen’s mating flight but we did not see our former queen.

The politics of the hive frequently ring with the echoes of the Elizabethan royal court or the Biblical adventures of the Old Testament. There are coups, there are murders, there are mass exoduses, there are violent overthrows, and there is a veritable drama of operatic proportions always afoot in the hive. So now our small hive has a new queen, or so we in our novice skills believe. We think the former queen’s army has been assimilated almost bloodlessly and we, as beekeepers, are thankful to not loose yet another part of another hive. We put our tools away and headed in for the evening.

Saturday morning dawned with beautiful sunshine and mild temperatures. We had an appointment early in the morning to take a look at some property in Frame and then we planned to systematically go through each hive, checking for all the keys “ingredients” and for any pest or predator that may have invaded. We got home a little later than planned but got in the hive about one o’clock. The super on the hive we believed tried to swarm was still mostly empty which meant there was plenty of room for the returning masses, as we moved down into the other supers and the brood box we found plenty of everything: bees, drones, brood, larva, honey and pollen. It seemed like all was well. We were not (as usual) able to locate the new queen but we saw definite signs that there is a new queen there were several hatched and partially hatched queen cells.

Which brings me to another quandary; I am not entirely sure how we missed those queen cells during our inspection last week. (Or I should say I missed them, Fred cannot be blamed for that hive because I went through it myself before he got home from work.) It is supposed to take twenty-one days total to rear a new queen, from egg to hatchling, I was in the hive approximately eleven days ago and did not see those cells. I think I know what I am looking for but obviously I still have a lot to learn. We systematically went through every hive inspecting each super, brood box and frame. Although we are still unable to locate our queens our hives look healthy and all three show signs of having a queen i.e. there is fresh brood in each and the bees appear to be gathering honey.

I am also proud to announce that this past Saturday we made our first harvest! Not of honey, so do not get too excited, but of wax. Earlier this week while we gave our presentation to the Girl Scout troop of Dunbar we were able to have a look at some of the wares of our fellow beekeepers. The treasurer of the KVBA brought with him a box of molded beeswax. Now we knew that beeswax has a great value for many things from lubricating sewing thread to making cosmetics, what we did not know was that it was prudent to keep every small scrap of wax for our harvest!

The treasurer of the KVBA told us he never throws away a piece of wax, instead as he inspects his hives he takes all the little scrapings and puts them in a jar to later be melted down and poured into a mold. He then sells those chunks of wax alongside his honey at the fairs and festivals and in his own little shop. Genius! I hate to throw anything away and this is right up my alley. So on Saturday Fred and I got a little box and carefully hoarded every tiny scrap of wax. I am happy to say that when cleaning the edges of the frames and the edges of the brood box and pinching off any hatched queen cells we collected about a cup to a cup and a half of wax. Now I have not had time yet to try my hand at melting it down and straining it of odd bee bits but I am looking forward to doing that this evening.

We brought our little treasure inside and left it on the kitchen counter over night, mistake. We woke up to find ants feasting on the tiny bits of honey clinging to the wax. So right now the wax is sitting outside waiting on me to finish up this blog and get busy.


For those of you who are curious the Girl Scout meeting went wonderfully! We could not have asked for a more attentive and interested group of young girls. They enjoyed our little demonstration of how beekeeping works and they also enjoyed tasting various types of honey provided by the president of the KVBA. We had a great time and were invited back to do a future demo on making beeswax lip balm.

Thank you all for reading and stay tuned for my foray into cleaning and molding beeswax,
Much love,


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Rainy Days

Leviticus 26:4 “I will send you rain in its seasons, and the ground will yield its crops and the trees of the field their fruit…”

I know, I know we need the rain and with my allergies running amok I know the rain will help tamp down the pollen and will aid my bees in their harvest. But in my non-driving state rainy days often leave me frustrated and soggy. I either have to stay home unable to work outside, slosh somewhere on foot, wait on the bus in the drizzle or call someone for a ride. Today is Election Day and I had planned to walk or ride my bike to the polling place, to the library and hardware store today but seeing as how the high is only in the seventies and the rain is likely to continue all morning that does not look like much of an option now.

Where we live and how our property sits, in the elbow joint of creek and river, often means the rain holds a much more ominous place in the harmony of our lives. I have rushed home from work on several occasions to helplessly watch the water creep up through the back of our yard. There is nothing to do except begin systematically moving things out of the building and up to higher ground. Spring is often a double edged sword of joy and anxiety. The much needed rain waters our plants and provides our bees with a cooling drink but too much rain and suddenly we wait in anxiety and anticipation. Will it stop? Will this be the time it moves into the house? Are we going to lose everything? Must we move the hives to safety?

You see bee hives must be positioned just so to maximize the bees workday and temperature control of the hive. I did not realize these things when we first decided to get bees. I assumed you just stuck the boxes anywhere and let the bees do their thing. Like about most beekeeping things, I was painfully ignorant. Bees must have a relatively near water source, not only do they need water to drink like humans but they also carry it back to their hive to cool the brood and queen, to thin the honey and give their sisters a much needed drink. Hives must be positioned to catch the morning sun, if the hives are shaded they are slower to warm up in the mornings so the workers’ day will be shortened and the amount of pollen and nectar they gather will be significantly less. This is not only damaging to a beekeeper’s honey harvest but could potentially be the death knell of the colonies who are unable to store enough food to get through the winter. Another important thing to consider when placing a hive is which way the wind blows. Through the winter months a hive exposed to direct winter winds at its entrance could quickly chill and die.

Taking all these things into consideration greatly narrowed down our options of where to place our hives. One final thing that was of equal importance to me was: I wanted to be able to see my hives from at least one window of our house. We live in a neighborhood with many children and pets all around and I did not want to set our hives so far away that they would be temptation for the mischievous child with rock in their pocket or to for my bees to become the favorite crunchy snack of every local dog. As my dear dumb Louie has already made evident, procuring the possible crunchy snack that flies around is well worth the occasional sting on the nose. This narrowed down the location of our hives even more and we finally settled on the outside fence line of our backyard facing away from the house where they would be in the morning sun and within the view of all the back windows of our home.

The only real problem with this situation is not a problem on most days but is a potential disaster on days like today, when the steady drum of rain beats a soft staccato on the roof hour after hour. If the river backs up and the creek begins to rise it could be in our first hive before you could blink. They do not sit terribly close to the water but the way the creek angles the water pools it comes up in that odd bend first, quickly creeping into the building and silently snaking its way along the fence line. It could potentially ruin at least one hive before we would have time to gather the supplies to move it.

So as I lay here listening to the rain tap on my roof I wonder if I should instead be in the building finding screen to seal the hive entrances and straps to bind them together. The rain today is only supposed to last through the morning, probably not enough to cause any significant rise in the creek level, but it has still made me think. Unless we have days and days worth of rain I doubt any but the one hive would be in immediate danger but we need to design a plan of some sort on what to do in case the rains come swiftly as they often do in the spring. Short of dragging it with the tractor I do not know how I would move a hive by myself. I could take it apart and move it piece by piece but that would only enrage and confuse the bees and probably defeat the purpose of moving them out of the water in the first place.

Once a beehive has been placed you are not supposed to move it around in the yard. In fact, most books recommend it not be moved a distance of any less than two miles. This has something to do with the way the bees forage and how they can be confused if the hive is moved a few feet or yards from its original location. Apparently moving them outside of this distance leaves them outside their established territory and forces them to completely reprogram their home location instead of trying over and over to get back to the original location of the hive. So, I assume, to temporarily move them, say out of the path of rising flood waters, would mean we would have to seal them in the hive until such time as we were able to move them back to their original stand. That just puts me right back in the predicament of how do I move a whole stand of bees alone?

When Fred and I brought the bees home in the early part of the spring it was all we could do to manage the hives out of the bed of the truck together. These were light hives mostly depleted of their winter stores and containing minimal brood, larva and supplies. They still weight approximately fifty pounds apiece and while fifty pounds is not a huge amount of weight to move as an individual, remember the hives consist of boxes that are merely stacked together not fastened in anyway except by the wax and propolis of the bees this makes for an awkward burden. We can figure now, since the bees have been foraging for months, that the hives weigh significantly more and would be even more difficult to move together not to mention if Fred is at work and I am forced to move the hive alone.

So we will have to come up with some kind of contingency plan. I have not come this far to watch our bees drown or be swept off their stand and decimated. I wonder if we could not rig the stand somehow to attach it to a coaster so I could seal it up and then slowly drag it with the tractor. I do not know but it bears consideration. It was such a wet and snowy winter I fear we may be in for record rain falls this spring also.

I trust God to not give us any burden we cannot bear but we still have work to do. 1 Peter 5:7 “Cast all your cares upon Him for He cares for you.” Faith is one of those tricky things where you have to let go and leave it with God instead of constantly snatching it back to sit and worry over it some more. I am someone who often wants to snatch back their cares, as I get older I am learning to sit on my proverbial hands but it is often something I have to do repeatedly, sometimes more than once a day. I blame genetics :) my dad is a worrier. He has gotten better as he has gotten older but even he will admit that it is easy to fall into the trap of worrying about things and making stuff up to worry about.

I think the key is to give it to God at the first niggling of doubt or distress in the back of your mind. Now, do not misinterpret what I am saying, giving God our problems and having faith does not negate our responsibility or ability to be prepared it simply means that once we have made all the necessary preparations, when things have moved beyond our ability to control, we have to stop and trust that God will care for us and for all our need.

Have faith for He cares for you!

Thank you for reading, much love,


Monday, May 10, 2010

Trash Pile or Compost?

Composting has always kind of been a mystery to me. How do the slimy egg shells and the grainy coffee grind turn into that beautiful soft nourishing stuff you buy in the plastic bags every spring in Kmart’s garden center. I do not get it. I associate composting with the greasy nasty bucket my paternal grandmother kept beside the kitchen counter. I was really too young to remember what actually happened to the stuff in that bucket but what I do remember is that anything that was food scrap of any kind went in it and it was gross and dirty. I also remember that if you threw your pop can in there you were in trouble too. :)

In spite of these less than pleasant associations with composting Fred and I have realized that we, as a family, produce exorbitant amounts of trash every year. While we have managed to only put out one trash can full every two weeks or so, greatly cutting down on what we use to produce, we know that we are still throwing away some stuff that could be composted. Not only are we creating more trash in the landfill than is necessary, we are robbing ourselves of a valuable resource and we are spending more money than we need to every year in potting soil for our back porch garden and flower beds.

So how do we economically change? That is our big question. We have read several articles on composting and the best (and least stinky) ways to do so. We thought at first we would like to have one of those composting barrels that you see advertised in all the gardening magazines. You know the ones, they look like big green drums turned on their side and they are attached to a metal frame with a hand crank on one side and here is the kicker there is always a nice looking, smartly dressed young woman standing off to the side holding the handle, ready to give the barrel a crank. Or, my personal favorite is when her designer-garden-glove-clad hand is reaching in the barrel with a huge smile on her face and a velvety handful of dirt coating her glove with a caption like: “Less mess and no smell! Make your own nourishing top soil!”

Well let me tell you, those barrels are NOT cheap and they are way out of our already thin stretched budget for the year. (If you have been following this blog you know that we are making baby steps, trying to improve the quality of our lives and move towards a smaller ecological footprint in our little family. I wonder how people who want to be “green” all of a sudden just wake up and completely remodel their lives? It is expensive!) I will say this, I promise that my grandma, a school cook, and my grandpa, a mechanic, who raised nine children and most all of their own food, did most certainly NOT have a thousand dollar composting barrel. I am pretty sure the bucket that sat off beside the stove came from the feed store and had several other lives before it made it to grandma’s kitchen. As it becomes trendier to be “green” it also becomes more expensive and our consumer driven culture urges us to spend more and more on gadgets and tools, ultimately defeating the purpose of going green in the first place!

I find that as I try to curb my “gotta have it” mentality instead of wanting/needing to spend all kinds of money on new clothes, new shoes, new purses and new jewelry I have moved towards wanting to spend on new gadgets and “green” toys. All a company has to do is label something as “GREEN” and dress it up with a little slick eco-friendly looking packaging and in my zealousness to do-it-right-right-now I find myself drawn to it like a crow to something shiny, whether we need it or not. As I begin to recognize this trait in myself (and in Fred) this is something we have decided to work on together. We have to be able to curb that initial desire to buy it, get it, have it right now and discern what we actually need to further our goals versus what we think we need based on clever advertising or societal programming. We wonder, if we are constantly buying more stuff aren’t we just continuing the problem, just redirecting it into a different venue?

So back to my conundrum: How did grandma turn all that trash into top soil? Or did she even bother? They raised chickens and a small garden and at times other animals. Did those scraps even make it into some kind of compost or were there even more immediate needs for them? I do not know and I cannot ask grandma or grandpa they have both been gone for several years. For all I know those scraps may have just been fed to one of the many dogs who came and went through their yard. I don’t know. What I do know is that Fred and I would like to use the scraps from our own kitchen as compost, but how? We know for sure we are not spending a thousand dollars on a slick home compositing machine with all the bells and whistles. So what do we do?

For years, before his death, Fred’s dad installed car lifts in garages all around the state. The byproduct of that career is a building full of gadgets and supplies (aka junk) that sits on the creek bank of our property. That building used to be the Sandford & Son bane of my existence; however, as we try to build things ourselves and become more self-sufficient as a family, that building is quickly becoming the Aladdin’s cave of our world. In it we found almost all of the supplies to build our chicken coop, we only had to buy a few pressure treated landscape timbers, some hinges and a can of paint. We have found the paint for our beehives and the fuel for our smoker as well as a myriad of other treasures. So could we find the raw materials needed to build our own composting machine? Fred dove into the building to find out.

At first it looked promising, upon initial inspection Fred found a couple of fifty gallon drums that would be a good size not only for our dreamed of composting machine but also for a rain bucket that we hoped to use to catch run off for use in watering our plants and animals. Upon closer inspection though, the barrels had suspicious and unidentifiable smells. Not knowing what was previously stored in the barrels, and having no way to ask Fred’s dad, we are afraid to use them to house anything that will be consumed or that will be part of the chain of consumption by our family. After all, it would be pretty bad if we went to all this effort only to find out in the long run that we had poisoned ourselves and our whole family with the compost we had so diligently saved.

That left us back at square one, do we invest in the compost barrel or do we try something else? After more research and reading I came across the website of some local people living “off-grid.” Frankly, their idea of “off-grid” and my idea of “off-grid” are extremely different but what I learned while looking at their page and their pictures was: they composted without the aid of a barrel or any man-made equivalent in which to house their waste. Instead they buried the scraps and unused bio-degradables under a leaf pile on their property. The leaves acted as a natural thermal blanket to trap the heat and help speed the process along and also provided some barrier to the smell of rot emanating from the pile Eureka! That was it! We thought we had our answer.

We have a ready-made spot on the lower corner of our fence line where the leaves from all our trees seem to drift and settle. We thought we could merely lift the leaves and begin throwing all our bio-degradable waste underneath. The added bonus was: it would not change the look of our yard at all, no giant drum sitting off the back porch in constant need of cranking only some leaves to occasionally stir. Well this worked out for about five hot minutes or until we let Louie out to go to the restroom.

Our sweet dumb dog, who on a good day could not smell a cheese burger in front of his face, zeroed in on the compost pile like a fighter pilot. Thank heaven we had not put a bunch of trash out there or, not only would our yard look like a war zone, but we would probably also had been faced with huge vet bills from a sick dog. Needless to say, Louie hit the compost pile at ninety miles an hour, slinging trash and chicken poop all over himself and the lawn, yay. Compost pile in the corner? FAIL.

We may be back to the barrel idea out of sheer necessity. We cannot have Louie eating his weight in compost ever time we let him out and we obviously cannot trust him to resist the urge to roll in everything stinky in the yard. So we are back to the drawing board on the compost. The thousand dollar barrel is still out. We may try and make a cheaper version of it ourselves. Another option is to use some old sections of chain link fence to section off the leaf corner and stick with that plan. The problem there is if we fence off that corner the leaves may just gather on the outside of the fence instead of drifting into the corner like they have done in the past. We are not giving up on our dreams of velvety rich dirt made in our own backyard; we have just been kicked back to go. I do not want to spend hours picking up leaves and moving them into the fence every day because frankly, the more self-sufficient we become the more time consuming these activities are, at least for us in our novice state.

It is a little frustrating and a little funny. I have found that it helps to have a sense of humor about all of this. Yes, we are serious in our pursuit, but are we perfect? NO WAY! Are we bumbling klutzes who have no clue what they are doing and are stumbling about in the dark? ABSOLUTELY! Besides, who would not think it was funny to see a dog tearing around the yard in circles looking for all intent purposes like he just won the doggy lotto with a mouthful of day old chicken poop covered news paper?! I know, gross, but it was pretty funny. We keep plugging along, in the immortal words of my mother “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” (In my head I always added “or bitter” to the end of that quip!)


Here is a funny little update for all of you following the bee-drama:
Fred and I have been asked by the president of the KVBA to help this week with a presentation to a local Girl Scout troop. They must be desperate for speakers! Ha! He specifically told Fred that they would like me to say something because he thinks the Girl Scouts will be more responsive to information coming from a female. Um, ok? In my head I picture it going something like this:

“Uh, hi, I’m Autumn. Beekeeping is great. I’ve killed half my bees in less than four months and I’ve been stung repeatedly in bizarre places. I’ve managed to trap one queen, possibly kill another and murder an entire split. Doesn’t beekeeping sound like the career for you? Please don’t ask me any questions because I seriously doubt I can give you an answer that even remotely sounds believable.”

Yes, I am being dramatic, I know it probably will not be that bad. But I seriously doubt I have much critical knowledge to impart to a bunch of Girl Scouts about beekeeping. Come back to read about it, I will update if they do not burn me at the stake!

Much love and thanks for reading,


Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Bee tenacious...

Guess what I’m doing right now? Right this very second as I type this blog. I am squinting one eye shut against the excruciating pain of failure and even more so against the suicide-invoking level of pain from a scalp sting. OH YES you read it correctly, a scalp sting, to add insult to injury on the exact spot where I stood up and whacked my head against a cabinet door not even a mere week ago. And just to make it all extra special I took two Benadryl, rubbed a sting swab into my scalp and then to round out the triumvirate by rubbing a baking soda concoction into my head. I cannot even begin to tell you how attractive I look right now sitting here typing this suffering from mild heat exhaustion, and trying to stay alert for any signs of anaphylaxis.

I have been stung multiple times in my short yet illustrious bee keeping career. I really thought that nothing could beat the agony of being stung on the arch of my foot but guess what? I was wrong, dead wrong. Being stung on the scalp is, by far, my most painful bee keeping experience to date. That is, if you put aside the pain my pride has suffered from being such a complete bee keeping twit.

For the immediate clarification of this entry I will refer to my three hives as follows: large hive, small hive and new hive. The new hive is the one that I recently split off from the large hive and the large and small hives are the two originals we bought to start our apiary.

Today was the first really pretty day that I have been able to get in the hives. We had several days of rain which are not good bee keeping days and I knew we had to get in the hives soon. I spent the better part of the morning and early afternoon painting the chicken coop so I was unable to get to the beehives till about 2:30PM. This is actually about the perfect time to get in them because it is the warmest part of the day and most of the bees will be out foraging. I decided to start with the large hive because the bee inspector said I needed to check it for queen cells. I had spent the last of the daylight, when I spoke to him on Thursday, going through the new hive so I had not been able to go through the large one and look for queen cells like he had instructed me.

Well I should have. I think I have lost a swarm. Even after all of the time and struggle and effort to split the hive and create the new colony I think my large hive swarmed anyway. When I popped the top on it and looked at the two supers above the queen excluder there was nothing except the foundations we had put in them to begin with. Not a single drop of honey, nothing. I pulled off the top two supers and moved down into the super below the queen excluder. Well there were lots of bees and lots of brood but only a nominal amount of honey and not nearly the amount that was there last week. This is pretty indicative of a swarm. When the old queen leaves she takes half the bees and they take half (or more) of everything in the hive. What I also found, to my great disappointment, were empty queen cells.

I don’t know how I missed them last week. I looked, last time I was in that hive I pulled out every frame out of every super and the brood box. But today I found two empty queen cells and one with a partially emerged queen. So this is pretty much a sure sign that I have already lost the swarm and that the new queen is in charge. The good thing, or so I have read, about a new reared queen versus an emergency queen is that they colony has had more time to prepare for her so she is better fed and tended and will probably be a good layer. This became evident as I moved through the frames in the super and in the brood box. The cells were full of larva and eggs in all different stages of development. That is a good sign. Hopefully the colony can successfully rebuild before winter and hopefully we will not suffer any more setbacks.

After the disappointment of finding two empty supers and a seriously robbed super and brood box I put the hive back together and moved over to the new hive just to take a peek. I did not intend to disturb them too much I just wanted to make sure there were still bees in there. The activity coming and going from the new hive has begun to drop off, again, and I am concerned that they just will not make it. I cracked the top and removed the inner lid and saw there were still a significant number of bees moving about. So I put the lid back on, left them to their own devices and moved back to start on the small hive. Whose name may very shortly need to be changed. Oh let me also point out that in the hour plus that I spent messing in the large hive I was STILL unable to locate the queen, new, old, dressed in drag, whatever, no queen.

I moved to the small hive with heavy looks. If I had lost the majority of the large hive I figured my small hive had suffered a similar fate. Well, not so much. Apparently in our inept fumbling last week when we tried to super the hive and add a queen excluder, we managed to exclude the queen, all right. Exclude her from the lower super and the brood box! UGH, can you say frustration? Needless to say, almost every frame of the super was filled with brood and drone cells and very little capped honey. I was so angry at myself and so frustrated and so hot and exhausted and tired I just slapped the lid back on and went to the building to sit down.

Fred came home shortly to find me sitting in the building looking like someone had run over Louie. I explained to him how in only a matter of two weeks, give or take, we had managed to probably kill the new hive, loose a swarm from the large hive and trap the queen in a single super on the small hive. Fred tried to put it in perspective. He said, “Look, we are new at this. We still have bees. If we killed the new hive then that is sad but we didn’t have them to begin with.”

After I calmed down a little we talked about what to do next. We knew we had to leave the new hive alone to sink or swim. We figured the best thing to do with the small hive was just give the egg filled super to the colony and move the queen excluder out and we figured with the large hive we needed to get at least one of those supers off the hive. We were also concerned about the ventilation in the new hive. The other two hives have screened bottoms so that air can circulate; the new one has a solid bottom so we figured we need to ventilate a little better. We geared back up, stoked the smoker and headed back to the hives.

We started with the small hive and removed the queen excluder and put it back together. Then we moved over to the large hive and stole one of the empty supers. We doused it really well with sugar water and peppermint oil because there were just a couple of bees milling about on it and we thought we would stick it above the queen excluder on the small hive and let them, hopefully, fill it. So we lifted the lid on the small hive again, sprayed them all down and added the super. At this point I was trashed. I had been working in the sun all day and sweating buckets. Fred agreed to cut the notch in the inner lid of the new hive and I went back to the building to take off my gear.

After I had stripped and sat down to cool off Fred came walking back to the building. When he started to remove his veil I noticed he had dragged one of the more tenacious girls back over to the building with him. I said, “Be careful, you’ve got one of the girls on the back of your jacket.” He stepped over so I could brush her away. Well apparently she was having a really bad day too. She flew back into the building. Fred took his gear off and started to do something on the workbench, I got up to head into the house well she somehow got in my hair. I yelled for Fred to help me I shook my head like a middle aged man jamming out to Teen-Spirit on Rock Band but it was too late she stung me on the head.

(I will pause here to apologize to any of my neighbors who heard me scream anything inappropriate this afternoon. Please do not call the police. Fred and I are not involved in any kind of domestic dispute and I am human. That was my Christmas Story/flat tire moment.)

Now, here I sit, feeling like a complete failure. Still unable to locate any of my queens and wondering if I will have any bees alive come this time next year with the absolute worst headache imaginable. Take two parts migraine and mix with one part sledgehammer to the skull and you could closely approximate what it feels like to be stung on the scalp. Of course my head hurts and I am upset about my latest in a grow collection of exotic bee sting locales but what I am most upset about is my total inability to find the queen. How am I supposed to ever be any good at this if I cannot find her?

Oh, and for any of you who are wondering about my lesson with the state inspector, he blew me off. Well, not really, but he could not come today he had to be in the southern part of the state and so he will not be able to get here until next week. I hope I still have bees to inspect by then. We will keep trying, Ecclesiastes 9: 10 “Whatever your hand finds to do, verily, do it with all your might…”


As for the chicks, they are still alive (at least they were when I started this blog) and they are still living in the bathtub in my bathroom. They are still unbelievably tiny but they have more than doubled their size since we got them. The Jersey Giants, the breed we chose, is supposed to be a very large docile bird that does not mind being held or played with. One of my friends, who raises chickens, actually referred to them as the “great dane” of the chicken world. I do not know. So far our chicks are really skittish. We have not let the kids hold them yet for fear of dropping them or holding them too tight or just twisting them funny and hurting them but Fred and I have been trying to hold them and touch them so they will get used to interacting with people and not be so afraid.

What is really funny is how interested our dog Louie is. I take the chickens outside every day and put them in a box with the bottom cut out so they can get some sunshine and spend some time in the grass. Today I had to run inside to get something while I was painting the chicken coop and I said to Louie, “Watch the babies!” I hesitated and asked myself “Am I asking the fox to watch the hen house?” But I did it anyway I often tell him to watch my niece when I go into the next room and he always dutifully follows her around (this may be due to the raisins she is always sneaking him) and barks if she starts to pull books off the shelf or whatnot. So I ran inside for a moment and when I came back out he lay at the corner of the box. When I looked inside the chicks lay at the same corner. Apparently I have a WV brown dog/ mother hen. I had to laugh.

So that was today’s drama. I will post pictures of the coop in a few days it is really close to being finished.

Thank you for reading,
Much love,

Monday, May 3, 2010

Off-grid or Invisible?

Some of you know, some of you don’t, my first step toward a greener existence was not by choice. I was forced. In September of last year I learned I would not be able to drive for a year due to a medical condition. I was quickly stir-crazy trapped in my house with no way to get anywhere without first calling someone and inconveniencing them or waiting on their availability. I hate this. I had always been wildly independent and very much used to do what I want when I felt like it. No longer being able to drive was like having my wings clipped. I needed to be able to get from point A to point B not just for fun but for necessity, things like going to the doctor or the grocery had suddenly become a monumental undertaking. I whined, I cried, I mostly just stayed home.

When the weather was nice it was not as big an issue as when the weather was not. As long as it was relatively warm and the skies were clear, Louie (our dog) and I could walk almost anywhere we needed to go. The nice thing about where we live is it is rural enough to give you a little land and some privacy, but located centrally enough to put us with-in walking distance of everything essential, like the grocery, the library and the hardware store. I consoled myself with the fact that: not only was I saving fossil fuel by not tooling around in my gargantuan truck, but Louie and I were getting much needed exercise walking to all our errands. This was fine for several months. If I needed to go to a doctor appointment or there was some errand Fred could not run on his way home then my dad or mother-in-law would take me with them.

Then the snow came. This past winter was one of the worst I can remember. We had record snowfall amounts trapping us in the house without electricity (which in this house means without heat another green thing we hope to rectify by next winter) and limiting my transportation options from walking to exclusively bumming rides from family and friends. I was miserable. I decided to get a bus pass. Now for someone like me who had never even liked to ride the school bus this really sounded like a nightmare. City buses can be daunting things. They have terrible reputations of being filthy and filled with mentally unstable and dangerous people. I really, really debated even getting on the bus at all. Eventually though I had to claim back at least a small portion of my independence and I determined I would learn to ride the bus.

And that is just it. If you have never been in a position to depend upon public transportation it can be an extremely daunting task. It really is like learning a whole new skill. If you need to get, say, to the other side of town, you must coordinate the bus schedules to make the proper transfer or you will be left standing at the transit mall for possibly an hour plus while waiting on the next bus to arrive. Also, all of the bus schedules say you must have exact fare (although I have found this to be untrue and most bus drivers are friendly and will make change), and the fairs are different depending upon how far you are traveling on the bus, additionally you may also purchase a bus pass at the transit mall for ten dollars which gives you eleven dollars worth of riding time. A simple thing that no one told me, until I had ridden the bus for several weeks, was that if you need to get from one bus to another you may as the driver of the first bus for a transfer, this only adds ten cents to your original fair and saves you from paying an entire second fair on the next bus. These little nuances and tricks are things that are not clearly spelled out on the website or in the schedule, at least not that I could decipher. These are things I have picked up from other riders and from friendly bus drivers.

I did not choose to ride the bus willingly and had I not been forced by my situation it probably never would have even crossed my mind to ride a bus instead of drive myself. But if everyone took public transportation just one day we could each possibly cut our carbon emissions by twenty pounds per day per person (Capital Metro Website). Twenty pounds is a LOT. Now this is probably only true if you have lots of errands to run in lots of different places, and providing that the bus runs where you need to go. Even though the buses do create emissions and do use carbon fuels the thing is that it is only one vehicle versus the fifteen or twenty vehicles in uses if each person on the bus drove separately. So, really public transportation has not only given me back a measure of my freedom it has also helped push me towards a greener lifestyle.

Which brings me to my issue and my real problem that spurned today’s blog topic. How do we change the stigma attached to riding the bus? People (myself included) make assumptions about the kinds of people that ride the bus and rely on public transportation. We assume, foremost, that no one does it by choice. If you ride the bus you must be either too poor to afford a car, too crazy or impair to operate a car (I now fall into this category), or shiftless and without purpose which leaves you with unlimited time to wait on a bus. People who ride buses and wait for buses along the road are treated to deliberate splashing, hurled insults, pity, offers of rides from extremely creepy predators and generally abused or completely ignored and treated like they have suddenly developed the super power of invisibility. Why? Why are we as a society determined to look down our noses at people who are, in reality, taking a small part in saving our environment, whether willingly or not?

You know, if everyone who drives a car would take just one trip a month on the bus instead, think of all the fossil fuel we would save, and how far we would go to removing the stigma of riding the bus as something shameful or pitiable. Last night I spent the night at a friend’s house and instead of having her make and additional trip the opposite direction of her work this morning I told her not to worry about it. I would catch the bus home. Now to get from her house to my house I would need to walk about a mile and a half to the bus stop (no problem, pretty day) and then make a transfer from one bus to the next in town (not my favorite thing to do but I did not have any big plans for the day).

I left her house about 9:00AM and headed down the hill. Now here is what I do not understand. Why is it that a woman on foot, conservatively dressed, somehow becomes a target for every weirdo pervert in a vehicle? I got honked at, whistled at, and three separate men stopped to ask if I needed a ride. Do not get me wrong, I am all for people being good Samaritans. I will try to stop and help someone in a time of need, but I am also pretty sure that none of these men wanted to help me. Especially since one of them stopped after I was already seated at the bus stop and clearly in no distress.

This is the stigma that I am talking about. Now these were not lecherous looking men in beat up old vehicles with the license plates blacked out offering candy from seedy vans. These were men in nice pick-up trucks and normal sedans. What makes it ok to approach a woman waiting on the bus and offer her a ride? If I were sitting in my car beside the road, maybe it would be acceptable to offer help, but these same men would not approach me in parking lot of the grocery while I was loading my car and ask if I needed a ride. So why is it ok at the bus? I think this is why so many of us hesitate to take public transportation, like it somehow reflects on my morality or scruples because I ride the bus. I am not a hooker I am a housewife on her way home to do laundry. Yes, life put me in a position where I am dependent upon the bus to get from one place to another but, now that I realize it is not the equivalent of having bamboo slivers rammed under my toenails, I plan to continue utilizing the bus even after I am to drive again. I like being able to sit and read a book while someone else worries about the traffic and the other angry drivers and road conditions. Will I never drive my truck again? No. Will I consciously drive it less? Absolutely.

What I am asking for from myself and from everyone reading this blog is; please, have a little more consideration for the people utilizing public transportation. Instead of pitying them or looking down our noses at them, take a moment to admire them for their contribution to a greener planet, whether unwittingly or not. Women riding the bus have every much an entitlement to your respect as your mother does. Either by choice or by circumstance we are riding that bus to get from one place to another, not to meet men or to be propositioned. Think about it, how would you feel if you knew when you sent your daughter out to wait on the school bus she ran the risk, almost certainly, of having to fend off unwanted advances? If you would not offer a ride to the grandma working on her knitting, or the man reading a book, or the handicapped person talking to themselves, then do not offer it to anyone.
Respect. That is what it is ultimately all about. Respect for the planet, respect for each other and respect for basic human life. If we all just took a moment to think about it and have a little more respect, this world would be a greener, cleaner, safer place to live.

Thanks for read and thanks for thinking,
Much love,