Friday, April 22, 2016

The Scientific Reason Gardening Makes You Happy

It's spring and there seems to be some kind of compulsion to head to the garden center to buy things to plant. Following winter we can't wait to get outside and get our hands dirty. There is a human urge to dig in the soil. It makes us...happy.

If you are a gardener, or know one, you probably know that they are joyful when they are digging in the dirt. Actually the ones I know just seem to be more upbeat than the general population all the time.  If you thought it was just because gardening was their thing, think again. The real reason might be a little thing called Mycobacterium vaccae. 

Seriously, a REALLY little thing.

It's a soil microbe that is inhaled when digging or tilling that can also be absorbed through the skin. In can also be released and inhaled while walking in the woods. In my case I'm sure I'm also eating a ton of it when I'm in a rush to scarf down some food and get back outside.

Testing seems to show that exposure to it indirectly increases serotonin. For more about the science  behind how it works see the links I've included at the bottom.

Several years ago tests were even done with cancer patients. It didn't prolong life but the studies found that it did improve the quality of life for people. They reported feeling an increase in vitality, cognition, and a decrease in pain.

Our American culture is increasingly removed from the outdoors. Parents are hyper vigilant about keeping children clean (and supervised which is a whole other discussion). We spend an ever increasing amount of our time in cars, buildings, in front of screens, and disconnected from nature. Then wonder why we feel so anxious and overwhelmed.

Ever had a bad day and just longed to step outside whatever building you were in?

By the way, studies also show that just being outside can elevate a person's mood and of course it's a must for those with seasonal depression.

It's kind of fun to imagine the TV commercial:

"Ask your doctor about gardening. Side effects include increased muscle tone, increased vitamin D, stronger bones, weight loss, healthier meals, fresh herbs, and a crop of tomatoes."

Is Dirt the New Prozac?

Soil Bacteria Work in Similar Ways to Antidepressants

Why Gardening is Good for Your Health

Do You Need a Nature Prescription?

Benefits of Ecotherapy

(Do I really need to tell you that I'm not a doctor or that you need to seek professional help for depression that is severe or ongoing?)

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Part 2 of The Windy Day Swarm Saga

If you missed yesterday's post you can read it here.

As Sunday ended I was feeling like a fairly successful beekeeper. Though in reality this swarm was only retrieved due to the extremely high winds and not really any skills on my part. I headed over to check on how the bees were getting along early the next morning. It was downright cold as the sun came up and so I didn't expect to see any bees outside.

It appeared that all the bees had gone inside to be with their queen. There was a light drizzle and I walked around to look at the next hive which was a split I'd done the other day.

As I came around the front of the swarm hive, my heart sank.

I hadn't captured the queen on the inside of the hive body but apparently she had been underneath the bottom the whole time. That's where the swarm was clustered in the cold.

On the bottom.

From the very first bee meeting I ever went to it was preached to always have extra equipment. Luckily, this spring I am the most prepared I've ever been but I was picturing the hive I hadn't yet put together and painted. The weather was working in my favor again because I knew that in this rain and cold they were extremely unlikely to leave this spot.

I studied where the bees were. I tried to formulate a plan to hive them. Problem solving is a big part of beekeeping. You spend a lot of time trying to figure out what's going on, what it means, and what you are going to do about it.

When I say "I work for the queen" I'm not kidding.

Tuesday morning was cold but clear. I headed to the new hives early in the morning. Too early as it turned out, but I had nightmares of them flying off into the sunrise at the first opportunity. I set up a new hive a few feet away. Then it was time to get the swarm. I removed the top and honey box. I was hoping to gingerly pick up the bottom board and just shake them into their new home.

I know, aren't I hilarious?

As I lifted the bottom board there were thousands of bees on it but also hundreds and hundreds on the cinder blocks and a large mass fell to the ground. I shook the bottom board with what I had over their new home and quickly placed the lid on top. I carefully moved the cinder blocks over to the front of the hive hoping they'd find their way inside.

Then I watched.

For an hour. 

Now I had 3 clusters left outside huddled together to stay warm. Finally as the sun rose and fell across them the bees began to move into the space I'd left in the entrance. One by one. I'd have had more luck if I'd waited until the day warmed up.

Patience is not a virtue I possess. 

I went home for breakfast and when I returned an hour or so later the bees had all gone inside. In the afternoon when I went to check on them there were 20 or so orienting themselves in front of the hive.

Mission accomplished.  

The swarm hive is the one in the front. The two in back are splits I made to prevent swarming from the original hives (which obviously wasn't all that successful). The nuc I mentioned in yesterday's post is on top of the right hive.  

Friday, April 15, 2016

Swarm Activity on a Ridiculously Windy Day

swarm of bees going in box

I apologize for the lack of photos accompanying this post. On Sunday I was caught unprepared for any swarming because of the high constant winds and gale force gusts. Seriously, it seemed like the roof might blow off the house any minute.

I couldn't believe it when I looked out the office window and saw so much activity. Then I ran out to the garden and saw that the bees filled the air from their hive to the front yard. In the wind it took much longer for them to cluster together since it was probably like landing a plane in a tornado but also the high winds were disseminating the queen's pheromone so  many of the girls just looked lost flying around the sky not sure where to go. I was mourning the loss of this huge swarm. Swarm retrieval fifty feet up in a tree is not going to happen.

Just when I was lamenting their choice they began to move and regrouped on a branch of my Japanese Maple. I regained hope. It was going to be tricky but it was doable. They had almost all clustered up when another huge gust sent many of them flying and they all took to the air again. They flew next door and clustered on the ground beside a storage shed.


I was using my nuc (a small hive body that holds only 5 frames) for a split I made Saturday so I put together a bottom board, honey super and cover to try to coax them into. I baited the landing board with lemongrass oil. I taped the whole thing together since it would have to be moved later and sat it right next to the swarm.

Within 10 minutes they were going inside and clustering all around the outside. I kept hoping they would all go in but that would have been too easy. I wanted to hurry since these girls were not on my property.

You know how every neighborhood has that one neighbor?

I sent my husband to the door but they wouldn't come to the door even though they were home. I could just envision them coming out to thousands of bees in their yard and asking what the hell was going on.

And why do bees like to swarm on the weekends when the neighbors are all home? I've tried to explain that this behavior really needs to be a nine to five Monday through Friday deal but they don't seem interested in keeping banker's hours.

I scoured the house and shed for a box big enough to place the whole honey super in but in the end the best I could do was our empty yard waste container which has wheels. It's basically the city trash can only the contents of it get picked up by a special truck and are taken to be made into mulch.

I didn't even bother with smoking because it would have been useless in the wind. I lifted the box of bees, most of which were hanging around on the outside and slid it into the trash can on wheels. Some fell off as I scraped them against the side in my haste. I quickly rolled it across the cove to their new home while a trail of bees followed me. My other neighbors sat on the patio and watched me while drinking beer.

When I tell you I am entertainment for my neighbors I'm not kidding.

It wasn't a neat hiving. I took the lid off and shook some bees into the new hive. Then I shook them off the bottom. I used a brush my husband brought along to scrape them up out of the can and put them inside. It looked disastrous. Only about half the swarm made it in the hive, the can was still abuzz, there were hundreds in the air. I stuffed the entrance with grass leaving a small opening on one side so bees still outside could find their way in.

You know how many bees you have to catch to make sure you have the whole new colony?


The queen.

When I had all the bees I could reasonably hope to I put the lid on and stepped away. While my husband and I chatted a few feet from the activity the bees began to settle on the outside of the hive.  I waited a few minutes and then checked the opening. There were six or seven bees around it with their rear ends up in the air fanning their wings to let the stragglers know that the queen was inside.

I went home and cleaned up and put my equipment away. An hour later I strolled back to check on them. Every bee had gone inside.

Or so I thought...

Tomorrow I'll share the conclusion of this escapade. 

Friday, April 1, 2016

90 Mile March Results: What to do when you don't meet a goal

How did your 90 Mile March go?

I started strong but the weather this month was something I hadn't taken into account. I had only logged 43 miles by the 20th when I should have reached the 60 mile mark. We had an entire week of rain complete with a leaky roof and flood warnings.

The other thing I didn't take into account is that as a gardener, Master Gardener intern, and beekeeper this is by far my busiest time of the year.

I only have so much physical energy. I have been using it to dig trenches and lay pavers. I've hauled brick and sand and gravel. I've shoveled mountains of mulch. I've hoisted brood boxes of bees that weighed 60 lbs. I've made endless laps around the yard and garden trying to get things cleaned up for spring. I don't know how to measure that kind of activity. It's more physical than walking at the park. And it's super productive!

But I didn't hit my 90 mile goal for March. Like by a lot. I ended up logging only about 57 miles.

I hope you met your goal! But here's what to do if you didn't:

Don't beat yourself up. If you got in any miles during the month you are that many miles ahead of everyone who sat on the couch. Go YOU!

Embrace your new habit. So what if we didn't hit our goal! We started forming a new habit of walking daily if the weather is nice. Systems of behavior and not goals are what stick with us over the long haul.

Adapt, improvise, and overcome. Instead of feeling like a failure or giving up because you didn't meet your goal, put your shoes on and keep going. Because I detest treadmills I could only walk on days that have suitable weather. So in the future my goal may be to walk 3 miles every day that the weather is nice enough for it to be enjoyable or to walk a certain number of miles a week. If my aim is to walk 12 miles a week for instance I have a better chance of scheduling those 12 miles. I'll be the first to say that 21 miles a week was ambitious and didn't leave us any slack in our time frame.

Revisit the purpose behind setting the goal. If you didn't achieve your goal ask yourself "Why did I want to do this in the first place?" More than likely it was because you felt the need for more physical activity or to get outside more. Or to create the new habit of walking daily. I'll bet you did all of those things even if you only got in 20 miles for the whole month.

Congratulate yourself on doing something. Many years ago when I was mostly sedentary my goal was just to put on my shoes every day. That was it. But once I had my shoes on I thought I might as well walk down the street. Then I figured if I was going to walk down the street I could walk around the corner....

You get the idea.

Tricks and tips for getting it done going forward:

Lay out your clothes and shoes the night before. On mornings when I thought I might just have one more cup of coffee instead of walking I would see my stack of walking gear. Something in my brain reacted to it and those were the easiest days to get going.

The buddy system. Enroll your spouse of a friend to walk with you. It's harder to stay on the sofa when someone says "Are you ready to walk?"

Think of your walk as a treat. Why do we think all the ways to reward ourselves involve sugary foods? Tell yourself that you deserve your walk! You deserve some quiet time and fresh air. Spring is the easiest time of year to convince yourself of this. Neighborhoods and parks are full of eye candy when everything is in bloom.

Think of your walk as being part of your community.  Studies show that just observing people in community increases your feeling of connection. If you walk at the same time everyday you'll start to recognize the other people out there with you.

Keep going! So now that we've started creating a new habit let's keep going! Keep working on your walking and come up with a system and schedule that works for you.