What’s Blooming on April 11, 2015

More wildflowers around my home.

I got out with my camera the other day and shot some more images of what’s blooming at my place. I didn’t walk the whole 10 acres; these shots were taken between my home and my “Lookout Point” bench. Once again, I looked them up in my WA State Wildflower app; here’s what I think they are.

Lupine

Lupine
Lupine are extremely widespread here and although they’ve just started blooming at my place, I saw them at higher elevations on a hike with a friend last week. They will bloom throughout the summer, as long as there’s enough moisture in the soil to support them.

Balsam Root

Balsam Root
My three big balsam root patches are probably at maximum bloom right now. The biggest of the patches are right on Lookout Point; the other two patches are east near my new bee yard. I noticed this year that they favor southwest-facing hillsides. Because my home faces north, there are tons of these on the hills, as far as the eye can see.

Blue Mustard

Blue Mustard
There are bunches of these alongside the path to Lookout Point. I suspect they need a lot of moisture to survive and don’t expect them to last long unless we get more rain.

Phlox

Phlox
I’m not sure which kind of Phlox these are — the Wildflower app has lots of variants — but I’m pretty sure its Phlox. They’re very tiny flowers.

Prairie-Star (?)

Prairie-Star (?)
Last month, I identified this flower as Prairie-Star, but this month, I’m not so sure. It’s still blooming in tiny little bunches throughout my property.

On Keeping a Neat Desk

And conquering clutter.

I am — or, hopefully, was — the Queen of Clutter. And I’ve always hated it.

The Clutter

The clutter seems to come into my home with me. Sometimes it arrives by mail or UPS or FedEx in the form of junk mail, bills, account statements, and items ordered. Other times it arrives in my car or Jeep or truck in the form of items bought at a store or given to me by a friend or family member. Other times, I have no idea where it comes from. It just seems to appear.

My procrastinating nature — and yes, I am a confessed procrastinator — causes the clutter to pile up on any horizontal surface readily available. That included my dresser, night table, kitchen table, and desk. I would go through the piles periodically, pull items out — for example, a bill or a letter — to deal with them, and then keep piling. When the piles needed to be hidden to neaten up a room, they’d be shifted to a pile elsewhere, sometimes in an empty box that would be piled with other previously empty boxes. The situation was completely intolerable and embarrassing, to say the least. And I know I’m not the only one who was bothered by it.

My desk and office seemed to be the ending point for most of the shifted clutter. In my Arizona home, I had a huge L-shaped desk where I often had several computers and monitors and printers set up. Back in those days, my primary source of income was writing books about how to use computers and I wrote several a year. The huge desk gave me plenty of space to work and accumulate clutter. The rest of the room, including the floor, was for overflow. It was so awful that after a while, I preferred working with a laptop at the kitchen table than in my own office.

Fast Forward to Today

It’s been more than three years since the last days I worked in my home office.

These days, I’m putting the finishing touches on a new home in a new place. My living space is considerably smaller — half the size, in fact — but I don’t have to share it with another person. And it has a simple floor plan with just two rooms, a bathroom, and a loft. Rather than having an office in its own room, I’ve given myself a small corner of the great room, just under 4 x 7 feet, for my office space.

I had a second desk when I lived in Arizona. I’d bought it on sale at Pottery Barn in Phoenix and set it up in the bedroom of the Phoenix condo I lived in for a short time. When I moved, I brought it and its matching file cabinet to Washington with me. It has since become my primary desk while my big, old L-shaped desk became a workbench in my shop downstairs. It fits remarkably well in the small space and looks rather nice there, too.

I became determined not to let it become the resting place for the same kind of clutter I had in Arizona, and, so far, have done very well.

Lessons from my Sister

My sister was a corporate banker with Citigroup for a bunch of years. I remember visiting her a few times at her office on Wall Street in Manhattan. The one thing that always amazed me was how neat and clean her desk was. There was never anything on it that she wasn’t working on at that moment. And, at the end of the day, it was always completely cleared off.

I was jealous of her ability to do that and, for a long time, thought it was beyond my own capabilities.

I’ve since realized that it isn’t that tough. The trick is to never let anything accumulate on the desktop. And the best way to do that is to make sure that at the end of each day, the desktop is completely cleared off.

Getting Things Done

Getting Things Done
This is the latest edition of Allen’s book. I wonder if this edition takes advantage of more computer-based organization tools.

For Christmas back in 2006 — I know this because I searched my blog posts for the first time I wrote about it and it was nearly eight and a half years ago — I got a copy of David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done. This book was written to help people conquer clutter, fight procrastination, and get more done. In other words, it was written for people like me.

I read about halfway through it. It proposed an organizational strategy that used lots of paper and folders and labels to organize the clutter into manageable tasks. I admit that I wasn’t too keen on that part of the book — in my mind, it just created more clutter by adding to the piles of paper. But it also provided a good strategy for dealing with incoming paper — the stuff of future clutter. There was a flow chart and I found it so useful that I made my own version of it in a drawing program, printed it out, and hung it on the wall over my desk in my RV.

Getting Things Done Flowchart
Here’s my version of the GTD flowchart.

Of course, this cannot completely solve my clutter problem. “Incubate” is what causes clutter on my desktop. “Reference material” is another source of clutter — that paper has to be stored somewhere. I have a file cabinet with just two drawers and will likely use one to store stationery items like letterhead and envelopes. And I know from experience that any reference material I think is worth keeping is seldom referred to in the future. In reality, it’s “deferred trash.” I can’t delegate anything, either. I don’t have employees or a partner — which is a good thing, believe me — so I have to handle everything.

So, as you can imagine, this is of limited use to me.

The Joy of Scanning

I’ve discovered that the absolute best way to keep clutter at bay is to scan the documents you think you need and store them on a backed-up computer hard disk as PDF files. And that’s what I do now.

ScanSnap Scanner
My ScanSnap scanner is portable and efficient for the volume of scanning I do.

I’ve got a little ScanSnap portable scanner that can take as many sheets of paper as I need it to. I’ve created a date-based filing system on my computer with consistent naming conventions. It works like a charm — when I take the time to scan. The key, it seems is to scan something as soon as it hits my desk and then destroy the original paper and throw it into the recycle bin. No piles.

I try to avoid having to scan anything. This is easy these days with electronic bank statements and the like. Periodically, I go online and download statements, filing them into my existing system. I have a To Do list that reminds me to download for each account every three months. I tick it off when it’s done and I’m reminded three months later to do it again. The reminder stays active until it’s done; the three-month clock starts when I tick it off.

TurboScan
Some of this week’s receipts in TurboScan in my iPhone before moving them to my computer.

Receipts from traveling were a huge source of clutter in the past. But I’ve recently even resolved this with a $3 app on my iPhone: TurboScan. This app uses my phone’s camera to take photos of my receipts and then stores them. When I get home, I export them as PDFs to iTunes, copy them to my hard disk, and file them away in the appropriate folders. Not a single piece of paper comes home with me. Can’t make clutter if you don’t bring it in the house. Best $3 I’ve spent in a long time.

Back to My Desk

These days, I allow only the following items to live on my desktop:

  • My computer. It’s a 27-inch iMac that’s still going strong as it comes up on its fourth birthday. I have a 24-inch monitor I can use with it and there’s a slight chance I might bring it up — especially if I start writing computer books again. For now, the computer sits alone in the back corner of my desk.
  • My keyboard and mouse. I need these. Although my desk has a drawer that could be used as keyboard drawer, I prefer to use the drawer for small office supplies like clips and a stapler and the three-hole punch that was in the desk when I unwrapped it after the move. (A parting gift from my wasband? I doubt it.)
  • A mouse pad. The desk surface is a nice wood and I don’t want to ruin it by scratching a mouse all over it.
  • Backup hard disk. I use Time Machine to back up my computer automatically.
  • A pencil cup. It’s an oversized mug with pens, pencils, scissors, ruler, and other similar items in it.
  • Coaster. For my coffee cup or other beverages. Again, I don’t want to ruin that nice desk top.
  • Charging cables for my iPad and iPhone. I tend to keep them plugged in at my desk when I’m not using them so they’re handy when I need them.
  • USB Hub. I need the ports.
  • Tissue box. I always keep tissues nearby; I’ve had sinus issues my whole life, although they’ve been very minor since moving out west from the New York metro area.

My Office
This photo of my office was shot just moments after finishing this blog post. The only extra items you see are my coffee cup (on the coaster) and iPad (on a charger). And yes, the chair is temporary; haven’t brought my office chair up yet.

Two items live on top of my file cabinet, which abuts the desk:

  • A printer. Right now, I’m using the Brother laser printer I bought cheap a bunch of years ago. It’s wicked fast and does a decent job printing. I have two other printers — a LaserJet network printer and a Color LaserJet USB printer. But how many printers does a person need? I suspect I’ll replace the Brother with the Color LaserJet when I move into my new home and get rid of the other two printers. Or maybe get rid of the LaserJet — which prints great but very slowly — and keep the Brother as a spare. I don’t print very often, but it would be nice to have the option of printing in color.
  • A portable scanner. It’s a ScanSnap and it feeds a sheet at a time. A great little scanner if you don’t need to scan often. What I like about it is that I can set it aside next to my printer when I’m not using it and, because my desk is always clean, pull it out when I need it.

There are a few other things I keep out in my office area, either on the hanging corner shelves or my oversized windowsill:

  • Router. The internet comes into the room behind my desk; the router needs to be nearby. Added bonus: I can plug my computer right into it rather than use WiFi.
  • Podcaster microphone. I occasionally appear on podcasts and video podcasts and have been thinking of starting a new podcast this summer. The microphone also works well for voice recognition, which I hope to start using more frequently. It’s easy enough to reach for the mic and put it on my desk when I need it.
  • UPS. I’ve always had my computer plugged into an uninterrupted power supply. Not only does this filter the power to make it cleaner, but it prevents sudden shutdowns in the event of a power failure. I keep it on the floor and have just about all of my equipment plugged into either the battery + surge suppression or surge suppression side.

At the end of the day, before I go to bed, my desk cleanup job is simple: just make sure the above-listed items are the only items on horizontal surfaces in my office area. Anything else must be dealt with and/or put away before I go to bed. Because nothing ever accumulates, its remarkably easy to do.

Oddly enough, when I mentioned this strategy to a friend yesterday, his response was, “How you do penalize yourself if you don’t achieve that goal?” My response was: “I always achieve it so no penalty is necessary.”

And so far, I have.

Stress-free Living

The biggest benefit of getting clutter under control and keeping a neat workspace and home is that it eliminates one source of stress.

For me, having those clutter piles around were a constant source of stress. Each pile represented a huge stack of stuff I needed to deal with that I’d already put off many times for many reasons. What made things worse is that when the clutter problem got very bad on my desk, I had difficulty finding things I needed to work on and lacked the space to spread out and work.

Getting rid of clutter is the first step to increased productivity and a stress-free lifestyle. Don’t believe me? Try it for yourself.

Construction: New Kitchen Video Tour

It’s about 95% done and I love it!

On May 20, 2014, I began blogging about the construction of my new home in Malaga, WA. You can read all of these posts — and see the time-lapse and walkthrough movies that go with many them — by clicking the new home construction tag.

After losing a full day to an unscheduled (but lucrative) trip to Sacramento on Sunday night through Monday afternoon, I finally finished up the shelves in my pantry. That enabled me to put away a lot of the things that were sitting around my countertops, thus making my new kitchen presentable in photos and videos. I thought I’d show it off now, before I start my next big project.

Because I only had 1200 square feet of total space to play with, I had to limit the size of the kitchen. Somehow, however, I managed to create a good-sized, highly functional space.

Kitchen
My kitchen is now about 95% done. Most of what’s left to do is just trim.

I designed the kitchen space from scratch, carving an area at the end of my great room that shared a wall with my bathroom. The idea was to minimize plumbing costs by minimizing the plumbing runs. With the sink on that wall and the stove on an island, the refrigerator would be set into the adjacent wall, completing the “triangle” that’s so important in kitchen design.

The countertop length was limited by the fact that there’s a window at the end of that wall, but it’s still a full 11 feet long. The island is 3-1/2 feet wide by 7-1/2 feet long. Frankly, I think I have almost as much counter space in this home as I did in my old Arizona home with its extremely spacious kitchen.

Anyway, I’ll let you take a look at it for yourself. Here’s my narrated video:

It’s not quite done. As you saw in the video, I still have these little projects ahead of me:

  • Install under cabinet lighting.
  • Install trim around walls and cabinets.
  • Install transition trim between appliance floors (adhesive vinyl on plywood) and main floor (Pergo laminated hardwood planks).
  • Wrap finish (with wood trim) pantry doorway and hang pantry doorway curtain. (This is temporary until I can get a custom door, likely sometime next year.)
  • Install white trim on pantry shelves and paint shelf support ends and screws.
  • Hang pendant lamps.
  • Hang fifth track lighting fixture.
  • Put decorative baskets and silk plants atop cabinets.

As one of my friends pointed out not too long ago, the work never really ends when you build or own a home. I don’t mind. I have plenty of free time at home in the summer months and always need a project to work on.

New Bees, a New Bee Yard

I reboot my beekeeping efforts with two nucs in a new location.

I started beekeeping back in the spring of 2013. I’ve had mixed results.

Some History

I started beekeeping in June 2013 and have been blogging about it periodically. If you’re interested in reading the other posts in this series, follow the Adventures in Beekeeping tag. Keep in mind that posts appear in reverse chronological order, with the most recent first.

I started with one colony in 2013, caught a swarm, and then split a hive to end the season with three colonies. That first colony yielded about 2-1/2 gallons of honey with an early harvest. I was very encouraged. Late in the season, I moved my hives from their temporary homes in Wenatchee and Wenatchee Heights to my new home in Malaga. I set up an apiary or bee yard for them not far from where I was living in my RV and would build my home.

I lost two of the three colonies over the winter of 2013/2014 but the surviving hive, which I took with me to California for two months, was strong and I split it early. When I returned home, I added four packages in April and caught a swarm, ending the season with seven hives.

Unfortunately, I neglected my beekeeping duties that summer — mostly because I was kept so busy with the construction of my new home — harvested another 2-1/2 gallons of honey very late, and failed to treat for mites. My neglect did not go unpunished: despite moving six of the hives to East Wenatchee for the winter to avoid the Shadow Time at home, all seven of my hives died.

Cleaning Up

I retrieved the hives from East Wenatchee on their trailer, opened the boxes, and took a look. All of the boxes were full of dead bees and a lot of mold. (Yes, I know: I should have ventilated the tops of the boxes. I did mention my general neglect, didn’t I?) I thought it was the mold that killed them, but later decided it was probably a general weakening due to mites, which I hadn’t treated for prior to winter. (Lesson learned.)

I started pulling out frames and scraping them clean, keeping the comb to melt down wax. Some of the frames I’d bought locally at Coastal Farm and Ranch had been improperly brushed with wax, resulting in irregular comb that was a real bitch to extract honey from. I was determined to rewax all of the frames bought from Coastal before reusing them and needed the wax stores to do the job. But with so many dead bees and so much mold, most of it wasn’t worth saving.

I surfed the net to find some info on cleaning mold out of hives. Several sources said to simply reuse the moldy frames — the bees would clean it up. One source even had a video showing a moldy frame put into a hive and that same frame, a week later, cleaned up and being used by the bees.

Many sources suggested freezing frames to kill any pests that might be on them. That’s easy enough to do — I have a chest freezer that’s big enough to hold a few dozen frames at a time — but since my hives were out in freezing weather after the bees died, I don’t think it’s necessary.

Meanwhile, on warm days — and we had a few of them last week — the neighborhood bees, most of which are likely pollinators brought to the area for cherry pollination, came by and cleaned out the remaining honey. For a few days, the area around that bee trailer was buzzing with thousands of “robber” bees. It took them about a week to clean up.

Pollinators
The pollinators are back! This orchard just off my street has blooming cherry trees and pollinator bees brought in just for the season.

I ordered four packages of bees from the supplier used by the beekeeping club I belong to: the North Central Washington Beekeepers Association. Unfortunately, they would not arrive until mid April.

I set up a hive box, base, and lid on the hive stand near my garden. That’ll be for my garden hive. And then I started to rethink where to put my new hives once I got them.

A New Bee Yard

I have ten acres of land here in Malaga. While about 30% of it is too hilly to accommodate bee hives and I’m using about 10% of it for my home, I still have several acres I’m not using. It seemed silly to put the bees so close to my home, in my view, when I could move them farther east on some land I wasn’t likely to use for anything else.

Lay of the Land
I threw together this hybrid topo/satellite map to show the lay of the land. The odd shaped red box is my 10 acre parcel; the south property line follows the road — hence the odd shape. The X is my homesite.

Understand that my lot has an odd shape. While its west and north boundaries run pretty much north/south and east/west respectively, its south boundary follows the road. Since the road winds northeast past my home, the farther you get on the east side of my property, the narrower the property is. At the very far east end, which is over a ridge and out of sight from my home, it’s only about 20 feet wide.

Before that point, however, right where the lot starts to get narrow, is a small ridge where my lot is about 100 feet wide. I know exactly where my property line is there because I had surveyors place a stake on the ridge back in 2013 before I bought the property. This is the easternmost part of my land that I can see from my home; I have to stand on that ridge to see beyond it. It’s also the part of my land that receives direct sunlight the longest.

I’d been considering that location as a site for my bee yard for a while and I drove out there a few times to take a closer look. The ground wasn’t exactly level and there were some sagebrush bushes, along with the bunch grass and wildflowers native to the area. But there were a few areas that were relatively clear and level and would be easy enough to get to with my ATV or Jeep or even the bee trailer. It would be a shame to carve in a two-track road with my tires, but it wasn’t as if the road would be long or I’d see it from my home. The ground was soft enough that I could probably even drive in a few T-posts, which I already had, and fence in the area to keep out large critters.

I let the information stew in my brain while I went on with my life.

Two Nucs from Wapato

I am not a patient person. The warm weather and abundance of wildflowers and orchard flowers were driving me nuts. If I had bees, they’d be out and about, visiting flowers, bringing home pollen and nectar, growing their hives. I could not only do a hive split in late May or early June, but I could probably even harvest some honey then — which was a good thing because I had less than a quart left.

Beekeeping 101: Nuc vs. Package

A nuc is a nucleus hive. It’s a cardboard box with an established queen and five drawn-out frames of honey and brood. It’s basically a small colony. You get it home, put the frames in a standard hive box with five empty frames, and the colony simply carries on, expanding into those frames you provided. This is the easiest way to get started.

A package is a box of bees with a queen in a cage. You dump the bees into a hive box filled with empty frames, put the queen’s cage between two frames with the cork replaced by a piece of candy or marshmallow, and cover up the box. The bees eat through the candy to release the queen and she starts laying eggs.

The main benefit of a nuc is that with capped brood already available, new bees will emerge from cells immediately; although a queen in a package should start laying eggs immediately, it’ll take three weeks for the new bees to start emerging.

So I started poking around, looking for bees. And I discovered that the Sunrise Honey Farm was selling nucs, with a pickup date down in Wapato on April 4.

To be fair, some people from my club had ordered nucs from Sunrise and they were delivered to Wenatchee the previous weekend. Somehow I thought the bees I ordered would arrive the same day so I ordered the packages, which were considerably less expensive. If I’d known that the nucs would arrive three weeks earlier, I would have gone with the nucs.

I did not want to drive to Wapato. It’s more than two hours away, south of Yakima. But I wanted an earlier start. So I called Sunrise and left a message. A few days later, they called back to say that they had a cancellation and there were two nucs available. I told them I’d take them. They told me to be in Wapato between 7 AM and 10 AM on Saturday.

I left home at 7 AM in my little Honda S2000 to make the drive. Along the way, I stopped down at Crescent Bar, where one of the cherry orchards I’m on contract to dry was in full bloom with bees on. I could not have timed it any better. When I arrived, the beekeepers were just pulling the last pallet of hives out of the orchard. I pulled over, rolled down the window, and chatted with the beekeeper, Eric, for about 10 minutes.

Wow. What an education! He told me that the cause of death in my hives was most likely nosema, although varroa, as I suspected, had probably weakened them, too. He recommended a product to apply at the end of honey harvest, before winter. He also suggested that I feed pollen late in the season when food sources were scarce. He said that doing these things should keep the bees strong enough to get through the winter.

I drove the rest of the way along a scenic route that took me along the Columbia River and then through rolling hills studded with farms and orchards. After a quick bathroom stop at a gas station five miles short of my destination, I pulled into a farmhouse driveway where I flatbed truck waited. It was just after 10 AM and there were just two nuc boxes on the truck’s bed.

I apologized for being late and they told me I was right on time. I gave them money and we loaded the two boxes into my car’s trunk. They didn’t fit, of course — my trunk needed to be about two inches deeper. So we used Penny’s dog leash to tie the trunk lid down. (Note to self: put bungee cord in Honda trunk.) We said goodbye and I headed home to Malaga; they headed back to their home in Spokane.

Hiving My Nucs

At home, I took the nucs out of the trunk and put them in the shade. One of them was buzzing loudly; the other was more subdued. I put the car away.

I was very pleased to see that the new nuc boxes were solid. In the past, I’d gotten boxes that the bees could escape from; it didn’t seem as if any were escaping from these.

It was only about 1 PM so I had plenty of time to get the bee yard set up and put the bees in their hives. Or at least I thought I did. The weather made me doubt that.

I used my ATV with its farm trailer attached to move a pallet, and several blocks of scrap wood posts, a level, and the beehive bottoms and tops out to where I planned to put the bees. As I suspected, I could drive the ATV right up to the yard area. I set up the pallet on the blocks, raising it about 8 inches off the ground. I was able to get it surprisingly level. I set up the hive bottoms and checked the level again. One rocked a bit; the pallet wasn’t perfectly flat. Some Pergo scraps under a corner would fix that. I positioned them on half the pallet, leaving room for two more hives. I’d have at least six by month-end.

On the second trip, I brought out the hive bodies with five relatively clean honey and brood frames in each.

By that time, the wind was blowing cold and hard. There was a storm moving in from the south toward Wenatchee. It might even be snowing up on Mission Ridge. Although it looked as if the storm might miss my place, who knew? I didn’t want to be out there with open beehives in a cold wind or rain. So I took a break and went inside for a while.

A friend called. He was in the area and asked if he could drop by. Of course!

We chatted, drank hard cider, assembled two of my three new bar stools, and tried them out. The storm never came. The sun came out and the wind died down. I kept thinking about my bees, eager to get them put away before nightfall. But I was enjoying my friend’s company. Still, when he said he had things to do at home, I didn’t stop him from leaving.

By that time, it was 5 and the sun was getting low. The wind had kicked up again, but not as bad. I loaded the bees, my smoker, and my hive tool into my Jeep. I suited up in my bee suit. Then I drove out to my new bee yard, backed the Jeep into the yard, and got to work.

I did one nuc box at a time. They were both filled with old, propolis-stained brood frames, with many capped brood cells. I didn’t waste time examining each frame or looking for the queen. In both cases, however, I did notice a queen cage fastened to a frame; I’ll need to make sure there’s no queen in each cage before removing them.

New Bee Yard
I used my ATV with its attached farm trailer to bring the hive components out to the new bee yard. There’s a lot of balsamroot in the area.

I have to admit that I’m a bit disappointed. Apparently, these nucs were created by taking brood frames with bees on them from the pollination hives and adding a caged queen. This is like a mix of a nuc and a package — the only thing that makes it better than the package is the inclusion of capped brood. The queen isn’t really “established;” she may not even be laying eggs yet. I need to examine the frames more closely on a warm day to see what’s going on.

Of course, some of the bees were left behind in the nuc boxes. That’s common. I left the boxes in front of the hives with rocks in the bottoms so they wouldn’t blow away if the wind kicked up hard again; the straggling bees might find their way into the hives. Or they might not and simply die overnight in the cold.

I realized belatedly that I should have fed them but I didn’t have any feed ready; I prepped some later when I got back in and put feeders at each hive this morning, before it warmed up. I also picked up the nuc boxes and put them away; they’ll come in handy if I have to capture any swarms over the next few months or if I want to do a hive split.

My Bee Yard
My bees are within sight of my home — and Mission Ridge, which is still snow-covered.

This Year’s Plan

I’ve decided to be a good and dedicated beekeeper this season. That means doing a hive inspection every 10 to 14 days, keeping copious notes about hive conditions, using integrated pest management, and making sure my bees are well fed and healthy before winter. I can’t use hot weather as an excuse to avoid a trip to the bee yard — I bought a vented bee suit at Mann Lake when I was there last month. I’ll also harvest honey on a more timely basis — as I learned last season, a late harvest is not fun.

I’m also working on some plans to put my bees in other locations, including a resort about 40 miles from here. If I get the resort contract, I’ll do some beekeeping seminars for resort guests when I do hive inspections there, thus earning some additional revenue to support this “hobby.” And that’ll open up a whole new market for honey sales.

I’ve already decided that if I have another total loss winter, I’ll give up as a beekeeper. But I think that if I do what I need to do to keep my bees healthy, I’ll have enough colonies next spring to continue without another bee purchase.

Wish me luck!

About the Wind Machines

An important part of crop protection.

The economy of this area of Washington State is based primarily on tree fruit production: apples, cherries, pears, and apricots. Indeed, Columbia River Valley around Wenatchee is one of the biggest apple producing regions in the world.

Fruit trees bloom in the spring, are pollinated by migratory bees, and form fruit. Throughout the summer, the fruit develops and grows. Months later, when the fruit ripens, it’s picked, sent to processing plants, and either shipped out immediately, as in the case of cherries, or stored for later shipment, as in the case of apples.

The timing of all this is determined by the weather and can fluctuate by several weeks every year. The trees get a cue from temperature to start budding and once the buds are formed, there isn’t much that can stop the seasonal progression.

Except frost.

Frost can kill flowers and developing fruit. A bad enough deep freeze over the winter months can even kill trees.

And that’s where frost protection comes in. Growers are deeply concerned about frost destroying a crop so they take steps to protect the crop from frost. In this area, they rely on wind machines to circulate the air in parts of an orchard prone to pockets of cold air.


This video shows wind machines in action at a pear orchard in Cashmere, which is near here. It looks to me as if the trees are in bloom. Unfortunately, the sound is turned off so you can’t get the full effect.

Wind machines look like large, two-bladed fans on a tall pole. Usually powered by propane, they’re often thermostatically controlled — in other words, they are set to turn on in the spring when the temperature drops down to a certain point. The blades spin like any other fan and the fan head rotates, sending wind 360° around the machine’s base.

The idea, of course, is that the cold air has settled down into pockets and that warmer air can be found around it and above it. By circulating the air, the warm air is brought around the trees and frost is prevented.

In California, they use helicopters to protect the almond crop from frost. (As a matter of fact, as I type this my helicopter is in California for a frost contract for the third year in a row.) The principle is the same, but the orchards tend to be much larger and I can only assume that it isn’t financially feasible to install and run wind machines in that area. (Hard to believe it’s cheaper to use helicopters, though.)

This year, some unseasonably warm weather has triggered a very early bloom. My clients tell me that their cherry crop is running 2 to 3 weeks early. Right now, cherries are in various stages of bloom throughout the area; apricots are pretty much done with their bloom. (Apples and pears will come next.) And since winter has not let go of its tenuous grip on us, the temperature has been dropping down into the low to mid 30s each night this week.

Well, not at night. It actually starts getting cold around 4 or 5 AM, as you can see in this weather graph:

Weather Graph
The National Weather Service weather graph page for this area shows the forecasted highs and lows over time.

The result: the wind machines kick on automatically when it starts getting cold: around 4 or 5 AM.

Want to hear what a wind machine sounds like close up? This video has full sound as a field man starts and runs up a wind machine. He’s wearing ear protection for a reason. Stick with it to see the spinning head on top.

Wind machines are not quiet. In fact, from a distance, they sound exactly like helicopters. And as they spin, they sound like moving helicopters — so much so that when I first heard them in action back in Quincy in 2009 or 2010, I thought they were helicopters and actually got up to see what was going on. I suspect that to someone on the ground, they sound exactly like a helicopter drying cherries would sound.

Although there aren’t any orchards on my end of the road, my property does look out at quite a few orchards, some of which have wind machines. There are at least 5 within a mile of me — I can see 4 of them from my side deck. I can also see others much farther out into the distance. And when the close ones are running, I know it. It’s not loud enough to wake me up in my snugly insulated home, but it sure did wake me up when I was living in my thin-walled RV outside. And it’s definitely not something you can pretend you don’t hear.

Fortunately, wind machines are a seasonal nuisance — much like other orchards noises: sprayers, tractors, helicopters, and pickers. Although frost season runs through May in this area, the machines only kick on during cold weather. Looking at the forecast, I can expect to hear them tomorrow morning and probably Wednesday morning, but not likely on Monday or Tuesday morning.

Weather ForecastNWS Wenatchee forecast for this week.

In the meantime, I’ve already gotten the heads up from my California client who might need me down there on Monday. After all, they don’t have wind machines.

For a helicopter pilot working in this area, wind machines are one of the obstacles that can be a hazard when drying cherries. They tower higher than the trees and their blades can be “parked” at any angle or direction. Although some growers will try to use wind machines to dry trees while waiting for pilots, my contract states I won’t fly in an orchard with wind machines spinning so they’re usually turned off when I arrive — or right afterwards. But if the blades aren’t parked, they can move. And one pilot I know learned the hard way about what happens when a helicopter’s main rotor blade hits a wind machine. (He’s okay; the helicopter is not.)

To sum up, wind machines are an important crop protection device that can be a bit of a nuisance with predawn operation in the spring. But I don’t mind listening to them. Like so many orchard owners in the area, my livelihood depends on a healthy cherry crop. If that means tolerating some noise 10-20 mornings out of the year, so be it.