Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Sprouts in nooks and crannies

Last year, one particular kale plant in our garden grew into a tree.  We enjoyed its leaves all winter long and into the next spring.  Through March and April, it started to bolt, but I let it blossom for the bees.  When we pulled it out in May, it was nearly 8 feet tall.

Honey Harvest

In September, we celebrated a huge milestone around here-- our first honey harvest.Our ladies did such a great job producing honey this year that we decided we could take some without harming their winter honey stores.

This was quite a learning process for us.  First, we had to figure out how to get the honey out of the hive.  According to google, a number of methods exist. There's the chemical approach, where one applies a bee repellant to the hive.  Blech.  Totally not appealing to me, as this defeats the purpose of natural/ organic beekeeping.  Alternately, we could buy an expensive bee blower and  blow the bees out.  This was also not appealing, for cost reasons and because it seems unpleasant for the bees.  Some people also just brush bees off each frame, but in general, I'm not a big fan of the bee brush because it aggravates my bees and I'm more likely to get stung.

The method we settled upon employs a device called a "bee escape," which is basically a bee maze in which bees can crawl down, out of the top box, but not back up.  This method works because bees navigate with a set of specific rules.  When they reach a wall or corner, they always travel to the right and follow the wall until they reach a corner.  They never turn left. So, as long as you build a maze with right-leading exits, the idea is that the bees won't leave.  I found some plans online then recruited my favorite carpenter to help me build the bee escape.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Garlic in the Ground

The garlic is in the ground.

 Last year, I planted some heads from the grocery store that were kicking around our garlic bin and crossed my fingers. I did not have great luck.  I'm not sure whether something ate the cloves, or whether they just weren't viable and shriveled up and died, but I don't remember harvesting any garlic.

I splurged this year and ordered $30 worth of seed garlic (1.5 lbs ) from Uprising Seeds, one of my favorite local seed providers.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Bike Ride to Talia and Justin's wedding

The last weekend of September, I participated in a bike ride to our dear friends' Talia and Justin's wedding.  The wedding itself was at Fort Warden, but for a bike route, the wedding party decided to ride north on beautiful Whibey Island then ferry-hop over to Fort Warden.

We met up at the Clinton side of the Mukilteo-Clinton ferry.  I was in the bride's car, and we missed the ferry everyone else was on by seconds.  We were cutting it close to begin with, but the deal breaker was the mean-spirited cop who tailgated us all the way from the top of the hill in Mukilteo down to the ferry, ruining our chances of speeding just a little to catch the ferry.

By the time we arrived, quite a crowd had assembled - 30 or so riders, some from .83, others from grad school, plus other friends and family of the bride and groom.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

End of summer round up- adventures on and off the bike

Fall's here and my morning commute has been crisp and cool.  Cyclocross is underway and I've been enjoying the pain and suffering each Sunday morning brings, even from my typical place in the middle of the Cat 4 women's pack. Before summer's too far in the rear view mirror, here's a roundup of summer highlights on the bike and off, many of which I didn't have a chance to write about.

Mountain biking with my nephew, Mason

To celebrate my mom's birthday, we spent a weekend on the Yakima river in a nice cabin.  My four year old  nephew, Mason, brought his bike and we had our first mountain bike ride together.  He absolutely MOBS!  I just loved watching him tackle the trails with no fear, and I'm amazed at his skills given his age! Apologies for the shaky video quality, I was holding the camera in one hand and trying to steer with the other:  

Monday, September 10, 2012

Capitol Forest 50... or, new ways to experience suffering.

The Capitol Forest 50 mile endurance race has been on my "to conquer" list since college.  Somehow, I've never gotten around to it.  This year, with a few long mountain bike rides under my belt, I signed up.

However, the day before the race, I came down with a nasty cold.  I'd been feeling it creeping up all week, but around 1pm on Friday afternoon, as I sat at my desk, my heart sank as my throat started to hurt.  As my nose grew stuffy and the lymph nodes in my neck got sore, I debated whether it would be smart to spend 6+ hours suffering on my bike the next day.  Actually, I knew it wouldn't be smart, but I didn't want to miss out again, and I sure didn't want the $100 + entry fee to go to waste. 

Friday, September 7, 2012

Pedaling and Paddling in Monterey

I spent the past week at Asilomar Conference Center near Monterey, CA attending the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) summer study session.  This conference had a number of amazing speakers and workshops.  My personal favorite was Amory Lovins, president of the Rocky Mountain Institute, who gave a fantastic talk (with amazing graphics) about his vision for a market-led transformation to a post-oil energy economy (if this sort of thing interests you, you can check out a nearly identical TED Talk he recently gave).

The conference included a rigorous morning schedule, but afternoons were less structured and created space for some serious recreational opportunities. In  anticipation, I shipped Sylvie down ahead of time. My good buddy and teammate Ric was also in town for the conference, and had a bike, so we escaped Monday afternoon for some coastal exploration.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Summer Epic- Suntop

Our good friend Jeremy came up to visit from Oakland in late July, and Jeremy likes to ride bikes.  He likes to ride bikes so much, in fact, that he rode his bike the entire way to our wedding in Winthrop, WA from Seattle (the rest of us rode from Newhalem, which was rather epic all by itself).   His plans for this trip included a solo 200 mile effort from Seattle up to Vancouver, BC, then a second one from Seattle down to Portland.  Slacker.  To toughen him up, we thought we'd add a 20+ mile, 5,000 ft climb on dirt to the mix.  

We had a great crew of 7 assemble to tackle this IMBA designated Epic Ride.  Present were myself and Chad, Jeremy, Tye H, and team mates Jilly B, Theresa H, and Brian T (Chase came too, although we left Lexi to take a nice snooze in the truck, which we parked in the shade).  We had bikes spanning four decades in age.  Jeremy rode the grandaddy, a mid '80's rigid steel Stumpjumper, Theresa rocked an early '90's aluminium bike of unknown branding, and I rode my trusty late '90's steel hardtail, Rocky.  Chad and Tye broght us to 21st century with Chad's mid-2000's steel Soma and Tye's full suspension Trek of the same age. Jill and Brian had the newest, shiniest steeds in the mix, Brian on his sweet Intense (4 or 5 years old) and Jill riding her gorgeous Indy Fab 29'er, custom built last season.  

We camped the night before at the Greenwater, WA airstrip (just a bit north of Crystal Mountain, these trails are off of highway 410).  
The ladies looking so fresh and so clean pre-ride!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Happy Pollinator Week!

Bet you didn't know that this week is National Pollinator Week.  Initiated and managed by the Pollinator Partnership, National Pollinator Week is designed to raise awareness about the growing crisis of declining pollinator populations worldwide. The Pollinator Partnership does all kinds of other great things to support and promote healthy pollinator populations.  For example, they publish regional planting guides that offer plant lists of pollinator-attracting plants, as well as tips to create healthy pollinator habitat.  

I've planted a lot of flowers over the past year, and I've been amazed at the diversity of pollinators present in our yard.  Here are some of my favorite bumble bee pollinators:  

This one is a fuzzy, little yellow bumble bee which frequents raspberry plants. Maybe she is a Bombus mixtus?   (There are many bumble bee species, but she seems to resemble other Mixtus specimens).  

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Unicorn Redemption (Part IV of Spokane Round and Round)

After a deliriously high lap 3, I slept hard for nearly three hours.  Apparently going without caffeine had been a great decision.  I woke up, stretched a bit, had some food and yes, coffee, then got ready.  I then made my way to the start line, where I signed in for my lap, then chatted for a bit with some friends from Bike Works in Seattle.  In hardly any time, TBD crossed the finish line on his final lap, going strong and looking great!

I headed out, dressed in full unicorn regalia to mark this final lap.  The unicorn first came out to play at the Magnuson Cyclocross race last fall, and I'm sad to report that she had less than stellar results.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Revelations in the Dusk and Dawn (Spokane Round and Round, Part III)

I set out for my second lap just after 8pm on Saturday evening.  Although the sun had set, it wasn't yet dark- Spokane has an unusually long twilight period in May, and the light hangs in the air forever. Since part of the lap would be in total darkness, my lights were ready to go.  On my handlebars, I had an ultra bright MagicShine LED with a back-up blinky light.  To my helmet, I attached a headlamp with zip ties. A handlebar/ helmet combo is a great way to go- your helmet light illuminates the direction you are looking in, while the handlebar lights illuminate the direction the bike is headed in (sometimes these are not the same direction- for example, when going around a switchback).

I also wanted to be in a more festive mood, so I rocked my forest elf dress.  It was actually a perfect piece of cycling attire- the arms came just below the elbows, so my forearms were free to breathe, and the poly fabric wicked moisture well so I didn't get too sweaty.  The extra layer gave me just a little added protection from the night chill, and I was comfortably cozy for the entire loop.

Spokane Round and Round, Part II

The Spokane 24 hour mountain bike started with a "Le Mans" style start, which you'll most definitely want to experience via the link below.  I was skeptical about this element of the race.  We're going to be racing for 24 hours- is it really necessary to tack on an additional 800 meter lap for one unlucky soul?  Isn't this just a footnote on the weekend's guaranteed agony?  Lucky for us, Dave actually does some running on purpose, and even enjoys it, so he agreed to be our start man. 

With a gun blast, the race commenced.  I must admit, I did get quite a kick out of watching a gaggle of lycra and helmet-clad athletes trotting awkwardly across the start line in cycling shoes.  

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

24 hours- Spokane Round and Round Part I

I spent Memorial Day weekend with four teammates at Riverside State Park in Spokane, doing our first ever 24 hour mountain bike relay race.  This particular race has been on my radar since I learned how to ride a mountain bike, and I was thrilled to finally have a critical mass of people in my life who are crazy enough to undertake this kind of madness.  The format was to ride as many 15-mile laps as possible in a 24 hour period, from noon on Saturday until noon on Sunday.  We were nutty enough doing it on a team of five riders, but there were 50+ other uber-nuts who signed up to do the race SOLO.

Approximately three fifths of our team, dubbed the Boadcious Booties and Bulging Beer Bellies, departed Seattle mid morning on Friday, packing Tyler's Volvo station wagon to the tippy top with gear. We even had a four-bike hitch rack on the back.  JillyB's fancy Indy Fab went on the outside slot, which made me a little nervous, being the nicest of all our bikes by a factor of at least 5, and considering how low the wagon was riding.  Luckily, all the bikes (and riders) arrived unscathed after a smooth, uneventful, sunny drive across eastern WA.  We rolled into camp around 3:30pm to find an expansive scene of RV's, tents, bike racks, camp chairs, and very fit, muscly people packed in tight like sardines. Like burning man, but with Gu and Nuun instead of acid and magical cookies (and spandex instead of fuzzy mini skirts and kilts). The race directors directed us to the back of the camping area, and because Tyler boldy wove the Volvo between the trees into the woods, we scored a huge wooded area with virtually no one else around (great for letting the dogs loose, and for tired racers trying to catch some quiet time between laps).

Lupines and Arrowleaf balsamroot were in full bloom.

JillyB getting ready for a pre-ride

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Stottlemeyer Sunshine

Last weekend I raced in my first endurance mountain bike race, on the Stottlemeyer trail system in Port Gamble.  The race distance was 30 miles (two 15 mile laps), significantly longer than any of the West Side MTB races. 
We arrived on Friday night and camped in the back of our pickup, which was actually a great way to go. The vibe from the event staff was incredible, right from the get go- I was handed a Rainier tall boy and given permission to set up camp and let our dogs out to run around.  The NW Epic series people really know how to put on a good race! With the aid of the tall boy, I headed to bed on the early side and slept well, waking up to a bright, crisp morning.  I had a leisurely breakfast and warm-up before my 10:10 am line up. 

About that line up- it was intimidating.  Local CX pros Kari Studley and Jenni Gartner were there, as well as a crew of super fast CX Cat 2/3's.  There were also some road powerhouses in the mix.  As far as I could tell, I was one of just a few cat 4 racers in the crowd.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A Tale of Two Swarms

Last week I took advantage of a nice sunny evening to wander over to the bees and check up on them post split.  I saw this in one of the trees:

Apologies for the image quality.  My camera is being repaired!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Hive Split Attempt, Part II (with more of Venessa's amazing pics!)

To recap, Venessa and attempted a hive split two weeks ago, but had very little information to evaluate whether we did it correctly. In order to devise a strategy to get both of our hives queenright (having healthy, laying queens), we needed some more information.  We needed to make sure that the queenless hive had either open brood or a queen cell, and that both hives had plenty of honey to eat.

We waited for the sun to come out, which fortunately it did on Saturday.  The first inspection was on hive 1, which we suspected would be queenless. The bees had been riled up in the first week after the split, and the hive had emitted a distinct hum. Also, in the previous two weeks I had seen bees hanging out on the front of the hive, looking aimless and lazy.  All of these are signs of queenlessness.

However, when we opened the hive, we were surprised to find a very full, calm, purposeful, hive of bees who had drawn a lot of comb in the last two weeks.

That is a full hive, especially after a recent split! Photo by  Venessa G.  

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Hive Split Attempt, Part I

My last bee post recapped the sad ending to my sweet bee hive.  Fortunately, my co-keeper Venessa's hive had an amazingly healthy winter, and by early April, was showing signs of an impending swarming (the natural reproductive means for honey bee colonies).  Rather than attempting to catch a swarm (which can be done, if you happen to be around when the hive swarms), we wanted to split this healthy colony into two smaller ones.  The ideal situation would be to time this split right when the hive is starting their normal swarm activity.

When bees are about to swarm, the hive builds 2-4 queen cells, and feeds the larve in these cells plentiful amounts of Royal Jelly, a highly nutritious substance that transforms normal worker bee larvae into Queen larvae.  While the new queens are incubating, the existing queen gathers a portion of the workers to leave the hive and seek out new space, splitting the colony into two. The remaining workers stay behind to support the colony and tend to the emerging queens, who, immediately upon hatching, have a battle to the death to determine the new ruling queen.  That queen bee which kills her competitors while evading their stingers is the victor.  (Very Hunger Games-esque, but with only females- Queen Katniss will have no Peeta to help defend her in the Hive Hunger Games. Honey Games? I digress).

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Strawberry Wall

A few weeks ago, I saw an email on the Seattle farm co-op listserv about buying strawberry starts in bulk from Rain Tree Nursery, for great prices.  Before I stopped to think about space requirements, I had purchased 125 strawberry plants for $30.  A great deal, right?  But where to put all of these babies?  I love, love, love strawberries, and I can't think of many better uses of garden space than a gigantic strawberry patch.  However, 125 strawberry plans require a space of roughly 20' x 20', which is more space than want to devote just to strawberries.  Plus, the dogs have completely decimated last year's strawberry patch in their quest to rid our yard of moles and voles, and the idea of getting the plants off the ground was enticing to me.  I did a bit of research and found some cool vertical ideas for strawberries. 

First,  these amazing Plants on Walls containers, made out of some kind of beautiful magical fabric called "florafelt." While beautiful, these are quite expensive at $50/ panel (and I would need many of them). 

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Cookin in the Kettles at Whidbey Island

Sunday's race was blessed with the best weather, by far, in this mountain bike series.  The scenery was also superlative.  Jill and I warmed up in sunshine, taking in the views. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012


The most recent check in my hive revealed a sad, small cluster of bees milling about the top of the hive.  Numbers were way down, and there was evidence of dyssentry (bee-diahhrea).  I gave them a Beepro pollen patty and a feeding of Pro-Health as a final desperate attempt to keep them alive, but to no avail- the hive did not make it.

A few sad bee carcasses (One of Venessa's lovely shots from her blog, Kernels and Seeds. 

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

More dirty fun- Soaring Eagle and Steilacoom

The West Side MTB races have been keeping me active all winter.  Races 2 and 3 were great muddy fun, and added great variety to the twisty turny thrillfest of Dash Point.

Race two went down at Soaring Eagle.  Jill and I were joined by one of my favorite bike buddies, Mr. Justin Calvo.

Amara Boursaw's great shots!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Two unrelated wonderful jewels

I've been busy on catch up posts about recent gardening and mountain bike adventures, which I hope to finish soon and get posted.  In the meantime, I happened upon a two jewels of wonder that I must share.

First, here is an image of the most amazing bicycle wheelie ever.  I love the abiding sense of adventure and playfulness portrayed here- a reminder that the invigoration offered by the bicycle can be accessible at any age (and, now that I think about it, a  great image to commemorate International Women's Day).

Via The Daily Bike . 

Second, here is an absolutely jaw-dropping video by visionary filmmaker Louie Schwartzberg about the hidden beauty of pollination.  The entire video, including commentary by Schwartzberg, can be viewed as a TED talk (which I highly recommend doing).  This segment below gets right to the beauty without any discussion, and really is quite a visual treat.  Apparently it will be out on Disney Nature as a full length film soon (I will be anxiously anticipating this!).

A video:  

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Peas and Garlic Sprouts

Small signs of spring abound in nature at this moment.  My allergies are back, which is a sure sign of pollen activity by those tall, stately cedars and their shrubby cousins, the Junipers.  Crocuses are up, daffodils are poking their leaves through the soil, and the wind has lost its nip.  Buds are swelling on the blueberry bushes and on the fruit trees, and leaves are ready to pop out of the bare raspberry canes.  Today in the garden I noted another sure sign of spring- garlic sprouts poking their stout heads above ground!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

My First Win

This past Sunday I raced in my first second mountain bike race ever (the first one in high school).  My alarm went off at 5:45 am.  I hit the snooze button, still sore and sleepy from a hiking adventure the previous day, and fell back into a dream in which my mother (who lives in Spokane) was asking to use our bathroom.  The conscious part of my mind broke into our dialogue, tapped on my forehead, and whispered in my ear that perhaps I'd been snoozing too long.  I rolled over to check the clock, and it was 6:25.  Shit! Jill was scheduled to pick me up at 6:30 and that woman is never late.  I bolted out of bed in a panic, dove headfirst into my racing kit, ran downstairs and grabbed my bag, which luckily I had packed the night before.  Jill pulled into the driveway just as I was pulling my bike out of the basement.  I collapsed into the passenger seat and settled in to enjoy the comfort of the heated seats in the Subaru for the drive down to Dash Point State Park.
As we traveled south, I medicated with caffeine, to wake up, and Advil, to help my sore hips and legs loosen up. Warm up started off rather stiff and slow, but after about 20 minutes and I started to feel good- loose, relaxed, comfortable.  The course really suited my riding style- lots of ups and downs, plenty of turns and roots, on the technical side, but still nice and flowy. Excellent!

We headed back to the start line about 15 minutes before our start. That's when the nerves and self doubt started to settle in. I had no idea how this was going to go.  My heart sank a little bit when some Team Group Health ladies lined up.  These are ladies I really enjoy racing with, but they generally beat me in road and CX and I was intimidated by their arrival. I actively tried to push those thoughts out of my head and focused on the start. With a "ready, go!" we were off.  I stomped in to my pedals and took off down the incline, grabbing the hole shot.  I  expected someone to come flying around me at any minute, but no one did.  I flew over the first knoll and nearly over my handlebars as the trail dove to the right.  Somehow I recovered and sat back in the saddle, reminding myself to calm down and ride within my means.
A train of TGH and Cycle U ladies coming down the first descent (I snagged this shot from the TGH flickr stream).  

Friday, February 10, 2012

Seed Uprising

As a reward for planning my garden out ahead of time this year, I splurged on some unique varieties of flowers, fruits and veggies from Uprising Seeds.  Based in Bellingham, Uprising is an amazing business. They offer only organic and open- pollinated varieties while supporting a strong network of seed growers in the state. They do meticulous research on varietial performance, and they know their seeds extremely well!  They don't carry the variety that some of the larger seed companies do, but each seed description is extremely thoughtful and helpful, and all of their seeds are chosen with our Northwest maritime gardening climate in mind.

The bulk of our garden will grow from seeds on hand from last year- but, I still found an eclectic mix of beauties too add to our garden space. I chose exotic blooms (for the bees, and to feed my love of cutting flowers), some unique greens, and some heirloom veggies which I hope will become jewels of our harvest.

All photos from Uprising Organics online seed catalog.  

Garden Planning with GrowVeg

During these rainy, damp months, when the garden is looking pretty ragged, it's a bit too warm to ski, and I'm not feeling uber excited about being on my bike, I like to curl up under a quilt with my laptop and a cup of tea and plan the spring's garden layout.  This is our second year planting veggies in the raised beds, and we're planning on rotating crops this year.  Crop rotation has a number of benefits for backyard gardeners.  It is easier to stick with organic methods, because pests have a hard time following rotating crops from season to season, and it allows you to balance out the nutrient load from year to year, as different plants deplete and add nutrients to the soil.

There are many, many MANY methods for crop rotation out there, and though I've tried to map a handful of them on paper, I find it quite confusing and tedious to track what should be planted where in order to maximize a rotation scheme.  I spent a little time searching for a good crop rotation app on the internets, and I came across GrowVeg.Com.     I signed up for the free trial and was immediately hooked.  The interface looks like this:

Monday, January 16, 2012

Stinky Spoke recap

Chad and I did the Stinky Spoke poker bike ride on Saturday.  An off-road but not technical ride, it is scheduled every year for what should be some of the worst weather of the year.  In terms of bad weather, this ride definitely did not  disappoint!

We started in a bit of rain, temps in the mid '30s.  About a 1/4 of a mile in was the dreaded Heart Attack Hill. You got a "medallion" (really a Redhook beer coaster) if you made it all the way up without stopping.
The dreaded Heart Attack Hill.  Lots of people walked.

Mid-winter Bee Check Up (with beecam)

With the exception of today's snow, its been a relatively mild winter in Seattle, much to the benefit of our bee ladies. Venessa's hive has been doing great, staying clustered up and working slowly through their honey stores. In a recent peek hrough the window, they were clustered close to the glass, slowly vibrating, a collective calm enveloping them.

By contrast, my hive appears to have worked through their honey stores much more rapidly and has nearly run out. Recent peeks into the viewing window reveal a much more chaotic scene.