Back to Work! Where Have We Been?

Bee boxes ready to go.

We have been derelict in our blog, video, and podcast posting. It has been a busy July, but we are back to sharing our work now, and you can expect to see regular posts and videos coming out now into the fall. Here is a brief recap of what we have been up to in the last month.

Bee-Breeding Project Marches On

As you probably know, we’ve been continuing to manage the nearly sixty beehives that we’re keeping out on the Agrecol prairie-seed fields as part of a breeding experiment. This is an occasional time commitment, but when they need attention, it is a multi-hour affair. Early in July, I was spending days building equipment: bee boxes (pictured above) and frames to go in the boxes. Each box takes about 45 minutes of cutting, assembling, and oiling. A frame takes only a minute to assemble, but each box needs ten of them. By the end of the season, I’ll have made about a thousand frames to fill a hundred boxes.

And then we split out our existing hives. This means we take half the bees and some frames from each existing hive and put them in their own box to create a new colony. This takes some careful management to split out twenty hives and place all the nascent colonies on new hive stands.

From left to right: existing colonies, split hives, and bases waiting for nucs.

We also got an influx of twenty nucleus colonies, meaning a mini-hive made for transport. For each incoming hive and split hive, we needed to add equipment. In the photo, you can see the bases of each hive waiting for the installation of the nucs.

We were also guests on the Larry Meiller show on Wisconsin Public Radio’s Ideas Network last Wednesday. If you missed it, you can hear a recording right here.

The project was also written up in the Wisconsin State Journal, which can be read here.

Gardening Continues Apace

It is a busy time in the garden. The weeds are fighting (and in some cases winning) against my carefully laid weed barriers, but I can see a difference in the places that I’ve been diligent for a few years.

The green house is producing a prodigious amount of cucumbers and we have nearly forty quarts of pickles canned for the winter. Just as the cucumbers wind down, the little tomato factories will start pumping out more red deliciousness than we can eat. At that point we’ll switch over to sun drying some and canning the rest as sauce and paste.

The raspberry season has come and gone. We gathered in about a dozen quarts from our berry patch, most of which got turned into jam for delicious winter enjoyment. It’ll be a nice burst of sweet summer flavor on cold winter mornings.

View of the greenhouse at the begin of July.
A smattering of garden produce in early July.
Black-cap raspberries.
Sliced vinegar pickles.

Wheat Harvest

A stook (group) of bound sheaves.

And just this last week, the wheat harvest has kicked into full gear. Over the weekend, nine folks came to help us harvest wheat off of a nearby field. We strove for social distance and masks, which was difficult in 90°F, but over the day, we harvested finished harvesting about a tenth of an acre, which should yield between 400 and 600 lb of wheat berries, which are then ground into flour.

Part of our harvesting crew.

In the field, we used sickles and a scythe to cut and bind bundles of wheat (sheaves), which were then brought back to the institute. There we used a variety of methods to thresh the seeds off of the plant heads. The simplest was beating the heads in a a clean tub until all the seeds were free. The next was the traditional flail, which is essentially two dowels — one had a larger diameter and the other was longer, attached by a swivel — used to bash grain heads against a tarp laid on the ground, knocking the grain free. The final thresher was a drum with a bicycle-powered axle with sixteen rotating flails that thresh grain heads, dropping the seeds and chaff into a bucket.

After threshing and sorting (running the bits through sieves), the remaining seeds and chaff are winnowed using a fan to blow the lighter chaff away.

Now four pickup loads of sheaves are sitting in my garage and I have to run them through the thresher and winnower in order to store our grain for the winter.


So stay tuned as videos and the blog posts come back as we return from our small hiatus.

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