Repurposing Old Bee Hive Boxes

Reuse, recycle.

A few months back, my beekeeping friend James told me he’d was able to get a bunch of used deep hive boxes for about $5 each. Knowing I used deep boxes — he uses only mediums — he offered them to me. I asked about the condition and he admitted that they were pretty beat up but could probably be usable with just a cleaning and fresh coat of paint. They were heavy-duty commercial boxes — the kind the migratory beekeepers use. I told him I’d take 10.

Beat Up Hive Boxes
These hive boxes are a little more beat up than I was expecting them to be.

I picked them up a while later. Although structurally sound, they were very beat up. James showed me one that he’d painted and it didn’t look half bad. Since the price was right and I had plenty of paint, I took them.

I spent one morning scraping the paint off four of them with a wire brush and then repainting them. They did look much better. But when I slipped some frames into one of them, I realized that they weren’t consistently sized; the frames fit too loosely and would require careful placement to prevent them from falling into the box.

This is my garden hive, so-called because I placed it near my garden. It was built with two of the used boxes and it’s pretty clear that they simply don’t fit the way they need to.

But it wasn’t until I placed the first box of frames onto a hive bottom — for a swarm capture I needed to permanently house — that I realized the problem couldn’t be solved with just a coat of paint. The top and bottom edges of the boxes were rough. This caused gaps between the bottom and the box and between stacked boxes. The gaps were large enough for light and air to pass through. That meant the bees would be busy filling all those gaps with propolis, thus gluing them together.

I used the four I’d painted and found the same problem with all of them. Although I didn’t want to invest more money in beekeeping equipment than I had to, it was clear that these boxes would not be suitable for long-term use. They’d need to be replaced.

I placed an order for five new boxes from Mann Lake, figuring that I’d begin swapping them out on my next inspections.

But what to do with the unneeded boxes?

The answer was in my garden, which was growing wild in the planters I’d bought and made: more movable planters.

Understand that bee hive boxes do not have tops or bottoms. All they have are sides. While I could simply place a box on the ground, fill it with soil, and plant something in it, that wouldn’t make it movable. It also wouldn’t keep the moles (or voles or whatever I have making holes on my property) from digging in from underneath to kill whatever was growing in the box.

So I did the same thing I did for my large pallet planters — I lined the bottom with wire mesh. I had a large piece I’d been using on the door for my chicken yard that I clipped off, cut to size, and lay inside of each of the three boxes I painted for my trial run. I used a staple gun to fasten the wire to the sides of the boxes. Then I placed the first box in position, put a layer of stray on the bottom, right over the wire, and topped it off with some potting soil. I planted corn in the box, covered the soil with some more straw (to discourage digging by birds), watered it, and left it.

The corn wasn’t supposed to germinate for 8-10 days, but within 6 days, it was pushing its way up between the pieces of straw.

Beehive Planters
A row of the beehive planters. You can see the corn poking up through the straw in the closest box.

I lined up the other two boxes on the ground beside the first. I planted corn in one and onions in the other. When the heat breaks, I’ll prep the remaining three boxes, although I may not plant anything in them until next year.

What I like most about these movable planters is that they’re making it possible for me to have a garden this year, before I’m ready to commit to a location for the garden. And while the bottoms might not be the most sturdy, they do make it possible for plant roots to reach through, into the soil below.

I just hope I didn’t plant the corn too late for a good harvest.

A New Sign

With a tiny garden.

Here's My Sign
My first stab at a house sign.

Way back in August 2013, I blogged about my first week as a single landowner. In that blog post, I showed off a picture of a temporary sign I’d made to mark my driveway for contractors and visitors.

I was proud of that silly, ugly sign — it was a mark of achievement. It was evidence that I was on the road to a new life. A better life without a sad old man holding me back. Maria, rebooted, version 3.0.

Old Sign
By May 2014, my once-proud sign was looking very sad.

Time went on. I put a little ring of rocks around the sign and added a solar-powered light for nighttime. In the autumn, I planted bulbs.

Then winter came. I moved away for about five months, first on a local house-sitting “job” and then on a frost contract in California. When I returned, the ground was dry and the few bulbs that had emerged were struggling. The sign looked forlorn and sad.

The sign wasn’t meant to be permanent. I was hoping that a friend of mine in Arizona who works with metal would make me a new sign, but the death of her husband and the aftermath kept her busy with other things. I’d need to find another solution.

I should mention that I had a neat sign back in Arizona. It was made out of sandstone with symbols and numbers carved into it. I’d bought it from an artist at a show in Cave Creek (I think) and it was custom made. (Wish I had a photo of it to share!) I was hoping to get something like that, but I simply couldn’t find anything.

Then, last week when I was in California again for work, I happened upon an art tile shop. They made house numbers and frames. I chose a style with a black frame, picked out my numbers, and had them assembled. I bought it home and mounted it on a pair of stakes I painted black to match and then I pulled the other sign — with some difficulty! — and replaced it with the new one.

Yesterday, I went to Fred Meyer for groceries and stopped at their excellent garden shop. I bought a bunch of flowering plants that should bloom all summer. I loosened up the soil, removed rocks, added compost and top soil. Then I planted the flowers around the sign. I covered the soil with a dressing of straw (which I have no shortage of), watered it good, and took this photo.

A New Sign
Freshly planted: my new sign and some flowering plants.

Not bad, eh?

Of course, the big challenge will be to keep it watered…wish me luck!

Scavenging in a Landing Zone

Sunflower seeds, right from the source.

The other day, I had a helicopter charter from Wenatchee to Ephrata. My landing zone was a harvested sunflower field.

Parked at the Sunflower LZ
I parked not far from the end of the irrigation pivot for the field.

The ground was rough but frozen hard. I landed with my skids perpendicular to the furrows where the plants had been lined up during the growing season. Thick dried stalks littered the field and, as I came in for my landing, I wondered how many would become airborne and whether they’d cause me any problems. Some did stir while other pieces of the harvested plants got airborne in my downwash as I neared the ground. But there was no danger. I settled down so softly, my passengers even commented on it.

“Smooth,” one of them said as he unbuckled his seatbelt.

My two passengers climbed out as I began the cool down procedure. They walked around the front of the helicopter, well beneath the spinning blades, and met the men they’d come to see alongside the road. I watched them cross the street and disappear down a driveway.

It didn’t take long to cool down the engine. It was 1°C outside. I brought the blades to a stop and climbed out to survey my surroundings and take another look at the ground near my skids. It’s a habit I have on off-airport landings — checking the skids to make sure they’re free of objects or terrain that could cause a dangerous pivot point later when it was time to leave. And, of course, I took a few pictures; I always photograph my landing zones.

That’s when I found out what I’d landed on. From the air, I’d assumed it had been corn. But there were quite a few big, round structures in the field and it didn’t take long to figure out what they were: the seed heads of sunflowers.

The Seed Heads

The Sunflower LZ
This Google satellite view tells the story of a big round field with a draw running through it and a smaller field in the corner where I’d parked.

This part of Washington is farm country. While they mostly grow tree fruit and grapes in the Wenatchee area where I live, out toward Quincy and Ephrata and Moses Lake they grow a lot of row crops. The corner of this huge field had its own little irrigation pivot. I don’t know what they grew in the rest of the field, but this corner had been sunflowers, and lots of them. I could only imagine how beautiful they must have looked in bloom.

Now there were just scattered seed heads lying around. Like any machine-harvested field, some crops are left behind.

I got to thinking about those sunflowers and all the seeds that were embedded in them. Hundreds in each seed head. They obviously didn’t want them. If I grabbed a bunch, pulled the seeds off, and scattered the seeds around my 10 acre lot in Malaga, there’s a good chance I’d get a few sunflowers for very little effort. My bees would be very pleased indeed for the late season pollen and nectar source.

I started gathering seed heads. They were dry but dirty. The stalks on some were quite long. I pulled out my pocket knife and sawed them off.

I’d gathered four of them and had stowed them under one of the back seats when I got a text message from my client.

“You can come in if you want,” it said.

Usually, I sit out at the helicopter and read while I wait for my passengers. But usually, it isn’t 1°C outside. I realized I was cold. I closed up the back seat, put my knife away, grabbed my iPad, and traced their steps across the street and into the lobby of the nursery/packing house they were visiting. After explaining who I was, I settled down on one of the chairs there, took off my coat, and read.

The Seeds

I brought the seed heads home from the airport after our flight and stowed them in a big shoebox in the garage. (Now I know why I saved that box.) I wasn’t sure how wet they were and I didn’t want bugs in the house or mice among the seed heads.

Today, I took them out for a better look. They were quite beautiful in an old, post-harvest kind of way. They were brown — not black, as we’re so accustomed to seeing in snack packaging. I’m not sure if they were brown because of the dirt or because of the type of sunflower.

Sunflower Seed Heads
Seed heads in a shoebox.

Sunflower Seeds
Harvested sunflower seeds beside the largest of the four seed heads I brought home.

I picked one up and, holding it over the box, rubbed it roughly with my thumb. The seeds began to dislodge and fall off into the box. About ten minutes of rubbing cleared them off the three smaller seed heads. I figured I had about 2,000 sunflower seeds. The final seed head would likely add another 1,000 or so.

The plan is to let them dry indoors in the box. When I’m sure they’re good and dry — and I honestly think they already are — I’ll put them in a bag. In February, before I leave for my frost gig, I’ll scatter them all over my property, keeping about 100 or so to manually plant alongside my vegetable garden.

But before I do any of that, I’ll likely soak a few of these to make sure they sprout. After all, there is a chance that they’re hybrids grown for some specific purpose — oil, seeds, etc. — and that the seeds themselves aren’t fertile. I’ll know soon enough.

3,000 free sunflower seeds. Not bad for a bit of scavenging.

Buying Native Plants

My order is in for spring!

I get a lot of mail here — a lot more mail than I got in Arizona. I’m still trying to figure that out.

Among the mail I got this week was a four-page newsletter from the Cascadia Conservation District. I’m not a member — at least I don’t think so. I think it just went out to everyone.

Quaking Aspen
I shot this photo of quaking aspen trees at my neighbor’s home last month. I ordered 20 bare root stock aspen trees and hope to have my own grove growing next year.

This particular issue had an order form for the 2014 Native Plant Sale. I was thrilled to find bare root stock of native trees at very affordable prices. For example, a bundle of ten 12-inch Quaking Aspen trees was only $15. The same price applied to other trees that interested me: Blue Elderberry (which has edible berries), Red Osier Dogwood (which has red bark in winter), and Woods Rose. And if I wanted Ponderosa Pines — which I do, but not right away — I could get a bundle of 25 trees for $20 or 200 for $120.

There were more options on the order form, but I just chose the ones listed above (except the pines). I chose them primarily because they’re fast growers and they flower at various times of the spring or summer. (My bees will like that.) As for the aspens — well, I just love aspen trees. I mean, who doesn’t? You can download an illustrated brochure of all the plants here.

What’s best about all this, though, is that these are native trees — not something from out of the area brought in to Home Depot or nurseries just because people like them. I think it’s important to landscape with native plants. Not only are they more likely to do better locally, but in this area, they’re likely to need less irrigation or soil supplementation.

The order form requires me to submit my order with at least 50% payment by February 14, 2014. But because I know I’ll forget if I put it aside, I filled it out today and will mail it in when I drive down to town later. Plant pickup will be on April 5, 2014. In the meantime, they’re also offering a “Native Planting 101″ Workshop in February, which I’ve already signed up for.

So yes, in April I’ll be digging a lot of little holes. But I’m excited about moving forward with landscaping on my property. This looks like a great way to start.

Land of Wildflowers

Something new is blooming every time I visit my future home.

As I blogged earlier in the week, I spent some time on the Cathedral Rock Road lot I plan to build my home in Malaga, WA. I wanted to measure out the footprint for my building and put in marked stakes at each corner. It would help me visualize where the building would go and how much space it would take up.

The 48 x 50 building looked tiny on the 10-acre lot. So I decided to make it bigger: 60 x 50. That’ll give me room for a good sized shop bench and storage beside the RV and helicopter.

I’d been texting earlier in the day with my friend Tom, who keeps bees in Vermont. That conversation continued, even when I was walking around, pounding stakes with red ribbons into the ground. I mentioned that I wished I was able to set my bees up on the lot now because there were plenty of flowers around. He wondered how many hives the area would support. I hadn’t given it any thought. But it also got me wondering about how many different kinds of flowers there were right there.

Not having anything pressing to do, I took out my camera and started shooting quick photos of the different kinds of flowers I saw. I thought I’d share them here, mostly to document them. I might do the same thing in a month and then again in two months. It’ll be interesting to build a history of flowers, especially since my bees will soon be depending on them for nutrition while they make me honey and wax.

So here are the photos.

Tiny Yellow Flowers Tiny White Flowers
Purple Flowers Big Purple Flowers
White Flowers White & Yellow Flowers
Yellow Flowers Lupine

This is just what I saw that day, while walking around. There were different flowers earlier in the season and I suppose there will be different flowers later in the season.

If so, I’ll show them off here.