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Summer Hives

About a week ago, we were in southern Minnesota – in Racine. This is our second year for having hives down there. After that photo was taken, I dawned my bee-suit and hopped onto the riding mower and cut the grass around the hives; the farm-hands won’t cut the grass near the hives.

Last year, we had four hives on the farm; only two over-wintered successfully.  Those are the two on the left-side of the photo (to my right).  It always amazes me that, as the honey-season progresses, each hive progresses (or regresses) differently.  The two successfully over-wintered hives were doing great in early May.  The one that I am leaning against in the photo continues to do quite well; three full honey boxes with the fourth added just prior to the photo being taken.  The hive on the far left is doing very well with the exception of the bees not occupying the upper two honey boxes.  They had half-filled out the bottom super (the two-colored box), but then, stopped.  There isn’t any signs of illness or weakness in the queen; they are just no longer moving up into the boxes.  The other hive that has done a 180° turn is the shortest one in the photo.  We hived the package of bees in that hive along with the other three new hives, but after checking it in early June, the bees were not expanding out of the bottom deep box.  Removing a second deep from atop, we left it with the hopes of not putting much effort into – thinking the queen was weak or had even died.  By the end of June, we added a honey box on top because the deep box was completely filled out with brood comb.

Back in St. Paul, at the house, our four hives are just chugging along.  Located at the back of our property, the bees of the hives quietly go about pollinating the neighborhood.  They are doing their duties quite well.  The hive that I have my arm on in the photo has three deep brood boxes as well as the four honey boxes.  It’s a strong hive.  All the hives are doing well.

At this point in the season, we are going to have a lot of honey this year.



Here in St. Paul, this evening, it rained extremely hard.  When Melissa and I left the university for the day, the outdoor temperature, according to the thermometer in the Volkswagen, was hovering north of 90 degrees Fahrenheit.  The air had palpable qualities to it; throughout the afternoon, thunderstorms had been popping up all around the metro area.

These hot days, often stifling nights (on an extremely pleasant note, once the front moved through our area, this evening, the temperature dropped over 20 degrees), remind me our my childhood.  I could trot out one of those bullshit stories out about how things were different and much harsher when I was a kid; granted, the Jokela house, in Hibbing, did not have air conditioning (that house still does not); that’s not the point.  Early in the summer, as a kid, meant that, soon, my cousins and their mom – my mom’s sister – would be driving from their home north of Denver, Colorado, all the way up to Hibbing.

As very young children, my sister and I would fly stand-by with our mom to Colorado – to visit her sister Jane and her boys – our cousins. Mid-way through the 1980s, things flipped; Jane and the boys would drive up to Hibbing instead of us flying out there.

Looking back at my childhood, it seems so fleeting; just a flash in the pan, yet, I distinctly remember how it was such a brutal-feeling event when the cousins would packed up, and drive off in their minivan.   I would cry, my sister would cry.  It would be another hot and humid August to slog through, and then, the drudgery of public school would be upon us, again, the day after Labor Day; we would not see the cousins until the next summer.  There was no email or instant message in these days; you could call your cousin on the phone, but that was not the same as riding bikes – in person, swimming – in person, making model cars – in person, or being spell bound – in person – by the tales of adventure that could be had in wilds of rural Colorado.

For the most part, the bond all of us cousins had was a complete fluke.  We all happened to be relatively close in age; there is month between the oldest cousin, Michael, and my sister; there is three months between myself and  Ryan; Jon was the outlier, being the youngest, there were a couple years between Ryan and him.  There was four years in age between the mother-siblings; my mom being the older of the two.  If my mom had settled down earlier and her sister later, there might have been too much age between cousins for a bond to form.

As we children aged out of being mere kids and started to age into being mere teens, the cohort that was the cousins began to fall apart.  Michael noticed girls, and soon, when summer arrived, Jane would head to Minnesota with just Ryan and Jon.  The golden age of this cohort stands out strongly in my mind.  We fished on Perch Lake at a cabin our grandfather rented.  We hiked and made adventures in the woods around the cabin.   We put on hundreds of miles on the four-wheeler our dad had.  We would have imaginative games – often based loosely on whatever movie we had seen at the movie theatre earlier in the week.

The cohort that was the cousins abruptly fell completely apart when Jane died in late June of 1998.  Even if Jane had not passed, I wonder how much longer the cohort could have lasted.  Meghann, my sister, was off attending college, as was Michael.  I would be college-bound within a year; as would Ryan.   We were all moving in our own direction, and it was not toward one another.

I visited Colorado once or twice in the early 2000s; and again, when the cousins’ father passed away in 2010.  For the most part, all of the cousins have taken their own path.  Meghann has been living in Japan for the last three years; I have been in St. Paul for the last two; Michael and his wife live in Louisiana, and Ryan & Jon still call the greater Denver area home.

Even with Meghann living in Japan, thanks to technology and a penchant for travel, she and I have remained pretty close.  The Colorado cousins are a bit of a different story.  Jon visited Melissa and I once in, Proctor, in the 2003; he brought his big shaggy dog with for the trip.  As Jon hit his early twenties, like the rest of us, he took his own path.

The early twenties, so it seems, can be a hard inflection point.  You take a corner so hard, that you lose things that are trailing you.  It is much like when Melissa and I moved in together; it was an abrupt move that severed the weak links I had with college roommates.  Similar things happened with friends left in Hibbing when I moved to Duluth to attend school.  You hit a fork in the road, and, as Yogi Berra said, you take it; whether those in your surroundings take the same branch of the fork — that is a different question.

All is not lost, however.  I do not think the cohort will ever reunite for a another round of building a model of Cole Trickle’s 1990 yellow & green Chevrolet, nor do I think we will ever again pretend to be characters from Young Guns, the Great Outdoors, Crocodile Dundee, or any of the Police Academy movies, but there does remain chance to reconnect with absent kin.

Related Post: Summer Has Arrived (written: July 5, 2010)

July 4th Bees

I took a hike up to the bees at back our property here in St. Paul, and setup the camera.



We have a hodgepodge of stumps on our property; many are located toward the edges of the property.  Buckthorn stumps, like the one in the picture, dot this border-land.  We  removed the buckthorn on the south side our first year at the house in 2012; this was to make way for a fence.  This south-side-fence-land area has since been replanted with wildflowers; there is also a large patch of wild phlox near our way-back-garage. There is also a cluster of poplar (cottonwoods, if you live in the southern part of Minnesota) stumps on the north-edge of our property; the back-woods has a few apple tree stumps and enormous grape-vine-stumps.

A few years ago, we got the idea to grow a few of our own mushrooms.  We picked up a few bags of spawn plugs from Fungi Perfecti.  We downed several oak trees at the in-laws’ cabin that needed to be cleared out.  We bucked up the lengths of oak into more manageable logs, and then got to work drilling holes, pushing an inoculated dowel into the hole and then sealing up the holes with beeswax.

These logs lived under our old chicken coop for an entire season (check out the grandness that was our rooster, Beyonce, in the background of that photo; logs in the photo were the leftovers from the good parts that were not rotting).

When we moved, the logs went into storage along with much of our belongings.  When we bought the house, we placed the logs into a neat stack, under the eaves of our house on the sidewalk; later, we moved them to the back side of a berm that is in the backyard.

And, there they sat, through the fall & winter of 2012, spring, summer, fall and winter of 2013, and into the spring of 2014.

Recently, my interest in mushrooms has been piqued, again; I have started to notice them around the yard.  There are slime molds growing the poplar stumps, thin-stemmed mushrooms growing from stair bales, tiny shelf fungi growing on the buckthorn posts of the garden fence, several morels have popped up here and there – next to one of the siberian elms and in and amongst a patch of lily of the valleys.

With the recent attention to mushrooms, a couple days ago, I wandered over to the neglected oak logs.  The writing on the beeswax-covered ends has worn off; I had written on each log with a date and the mushroom type.  The beeswax was also quite faded.

I flipped one log over and discovered an ants’ nest.  I rolled another log over, and what did I find – a couple shiitake mushrooms.  I am hoping with the recent heavy rains, that more morels, shiitakes and maybe some of the lion’s manes pop out.

Black Walnuts

Growing up in Hibbing and specifically on the block I grew up on, I did not pay much attention to the large walnut tree that grew (it is still there) in Frank Pascuzzi’s backyard.  Every fall, the alley would be littered with husks from the tree’s seeds – green-husked, tennis-balled shaped-and-sized things; squirrels could be see carrying husk-less nuts in their mouths while run down the low-slung electrical wires above the alley.

My mother would yell at me, “don’t touch the husks, they’ll turn your hands black!”  I never really figured out what the big damn deal was with the husks; it is not like the husks were the walnut-equivalent of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’s Violet Beauregarde‘s three-course-meal-chewing-gum; I wasn’t going to turn into a black-and-green-husked walnut.  My hands would just be stained for a short while.

Even with the threat of stained hands, the walnuts made fantastic weapons.  Pegging your friend (or enemy) in the head with a thing that looked like a tennis ball but felt like a baseball was awesome.

juglnigr-rangeBut, there was one thing that I did not realize until late last fall.  That the walnut tree (and now, a likely offspring of that tree growing in a yard across the alley) should not be growing in Hibbing.  This is not some political should not or a moral should not, this is more of an oddity should not.  Black walnut trees (Juglans nigra) generally can be found as far north in Minnesota as the Twin Cities.  Even then, looking at the map, walnut trees are a southern Minnesota thing.  The walnut tree in Hibbing is effectively 200 miles too far north.

As the USDA lays out on their website, “Many . . .  environmental factors, in addition to hardiness zones, contribute to the success or failure of plants. Wind, soil type, soil moisture, humidity, pollution, snow, and winter sunshine can greatly affect the survival of plants. The way plants are placed in the landscape, how they are planted, and their size and health might also influence their survival.” It is very much possible to have isolated populations – like the small patch of them, indicated on the map, in South Dakota.

Microclimates abound as do odd strains of genetics.  A tree growing in Eureka, Missouri may be a Juglans nigra, but it might not be able to survive a winter in Hibbing.  Likewise, a black walnut from Hibbing might not be able to survive the summers of east-central Missouri.

Trees and particularly fruit trees, have piqued my interest for a while; a year or two before leaving Proctor, I had planted several cherry and apple trees at that house.  Our first spring here in Saint Paul, on our acre-of-earth, we planted cherry trees, apple trees, plum trees, and a hardy peach tree.  This was in addition to the existing pear and apple trees at our place.  Adding to that list of trees, we also have several large black walnut trees, mulberry trees, hackberry trees, and dozens of understory trees, like buckthorn, lilac, and ironwood, in the forest that covers the back of our property.

In addition to the penchant for trees, I have beeing tossing around a bit of an oddball idea: buy tax forfeited property and then plant trees on it.  Minnesota’s more heavily forested counties tend to have many pieces of land available for purchase (or here).  It is a bit of a goofy idea and there are bound to be hiccups with such an idea.  None of my friends that I have run the idea past, have seemed interested or enthusiastic.  You could grow fruit trees, but there is predation by those pesky ruminants that are spread throughout the state.  Though, that is often an issue with young trees no matter what they end up bearing.

Last fall, I was looking out at the back yard, looking at the walnut trees with their clusters of tennis-ball-sized-green-husked nuts, and it occurred to me that I could grow my own trees from seeds.  Mentally, I have connected my crazy buy-tax-forfeited-land with collecting-tree-seeds-to-be-planted.

There is a proverb floating out on the Internet, often attributed to being of Chinese origins, that says, “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago.  The second best time is now.”  This could also just be metaphorical in the sense that you should do something soon rather than later.  So, with that in mind, I started to collect tree seeds.

Melissa called me a human-squirrel.  We would be in a park or at the highway rest area, and if there was a nut tree with seeds under it, I would start to gather up nuts.  I gathered walnut seeds in St. Paul, Blue Earth, Iowa City, Eureka, MO, and Racine, MN.  Unfortunately, I did not get up to Hibbing in time to gather walnut seeds there.  I branched out from walnuts and collected oak acorns, too.  Hastings, Winona, St. Paul, and Rochester, MN.  I collected bur oak, swamp white oak, white oak, and red oak seeds.

Generally, these seeds to be stratified in order for them to begin growing into trees.  Stratification is the process of chilling seeds for an extended period of time; in the real world, this is generally called winter, but for the seeds I gathered, this was the wine-chilling drawer in our refrigerator.  But before going into the shallow-freeze, I needed to get a better handle on whether the seeds were actually viable enough to be likely to grow.

That’s where the float test comes into play.  In the case of the walnuts, the husks needed to be removed first.  I let the seeds sit for a few days in a cool, dry place before attempting to remove the husks.  Removing the husks involved latex gloves and serrated knife.  Once the husks had been removed, you can try the float test.  Fill a jar or tall glass with water and just place a nut in the water.  If it floats, your nut is bad.  If it sinks, you have a slightly more viable candidate-nut.  Floating means there is air trapped inside the nut.  Air in a nut is an indication that there is likely a worm in the nut.

The nuts that passed the float-test (or failed to float in the float-test) were put into ziplock bags filled with damp sawdust and placed into the refrigerator.  The length of stratification varied from 137 days for the walnuts picked up in Racine, MN, to 196 days for the Quercus macrocarpa (bur oak) picked up in Rochester, MN.

We waited.  And, we waited.


With some of the seeds in the refrigerator for over six months, Melissa, at times, became annoyed that I had all these bags seeds and wet sawdust in there taking up space.  The bags of wet sawdust with seeds, each bag being marked with species and date of collection, stayed in the refrigerator until late March (2014), I started to catalog the seeds in a Google Doc’s spreadsheet, writing the encoded identifier on the plastic or wood markers, and then plant the seeds in small pots.  Eventually, little tiny trees began to poke through the soil. Black walnut seeds from Blue Earth, MN, were the first to nudge through to the surface.  Walnuts from Racine, MN were followed by St. Paul and Iowa City.  Eureka, MO, is the hold out; I think, though, that are one or two nuts from there are about to sprout.

Oaks, as it would seem, have a slightly different sprout-timing.  While the walnuts have been pushing up tiny trunks, an equally tiny tap-root has been pushing downward.  The oak acorns that are sprouting, are busy pushing down a tap root – their tiny trunks will be pushed skyward later.

Getting these seeds to grow seems to have relatively straightforward; next, will be getting these little trees through the summer and into the fall.  Then, I’ll start to collect nuts, again, as I travel here and there — hopefully collecting some from the trees in Hibbing.


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