Friday, April 30, 2010

Solar-Oven Chicken and Rice

Pretty, huh? The chicken was delicious, moist and fall off the bone tender. The rice however was a mushy mess. I probably need to use a sturdier rice grain next time. I used plain old short grain white rice this time (not quick cook, we don't even own any quick cook rice). I also sliced up two zucchini and they were just okay. The chicken was definitely the star of this dish.

Solar Oven Chicken and Rice

3 chicken thighs, 3 chicken legs
salt, pepper, paprika, garlic salt, Lawry's seasoning
1 cup rice
1 cup water
2 sliced zucchini

Put rice and water at the bottom of a covered baking dish. Arrange sliced zucchini over the top of rice. Arrange chicken pieces over the zucchini and season. Cover and place in solar oven.

Cooking time will vary. I put this out in the solar oven at about 11 am and pointed the oven at where the sun would be at 2-3pm. When I got home at 5, I reoriented the oven (it was still at ~225F) and let it heat back up to 300. I used a clear glass baking dish and covered it with a dark dishtowel to help minimize heat reflection out of the oven.

This was my first time at purchasing 'humanely raised, organic, hand cut' chicken from a local store. Most of the time we buy the big bags of pre-frozen chicken breasts from Sams (with sodium broth-and who knows what else-added), or we use fresh chicken which we have butchered ourselves--kind of a leap from one to the other right? I have found that with our home butchered and organic chicken from sprouts, I have to add a lot more salt to get the meat to taste right. I'm guessing it will take some time to re-calibrate my taste buds from being used to broth infused chicken breast to all natural chicken.

The most amazing part is that this meal cooked with zero electricity, gas, or other fuel which requires a monthly bill. This whole meal was cooked in my solar oven, using only the heat of the spring time sunshine. How great is that?

Bee Removal--Aubrey 4-29-2010

Our kids are spending the weekend with their grandparents, so hubby and I had the rare chance at a date night... so what did we do after dropping off the kids? Romantic candle light dinner? Theater? Dancing? Drinks? Go to bed early and enjoy a quite house? No, no, no, nope.
Here's a clue... check out my elegant attire for the evening...

How about driving 60 miles to eat some fast food and do another bee removal? Yep.

This hive was near Aubrey and had been there for about four years. The bees had made their home inside the siding of a wooden shop building.

As the sun set, we fired up the bee vac and started to catch as many of the bees as we could. This was our first time to do an extraction just my hubby and I.
Lucky for us, the siding pried off very easily to reveal the bees home.

This comb was built across the lenght of the wall joists as well, very pretty and new looking comb with gobs of bees.

At the bottom of the wall cavity was some older comb which had clearly broken off and fallen from above

Wait, who's that working the vacuum?

Yep, me! It was amazing to see the inside of the hive like that. The bees were hanging in sheets on the comb. I could have scooped them off by the bucketfull. I had no idea that there were so many bees involved when the guys did one of these removals. It was truly an amazing thing to see. There was a lot of brood and a lot of drone cells

The comb was stacked about three layers deep in the wall cavity

I kept feeling Curtis brush my back and legs and asked what he was doing. Turns out I was just covered in bees and I totally did not care.

This is not a great picture of me, but there is a bee on my bonnet right in front of my nose. I ended up getting stung once when I crushed a bee under my arm, it hurt pretty bad for just a few minutes and then I could not even point to where the sting was. Completely unlike a wasp sting (which make me cry for days)

The hive was located in one 16 inch section between the building joists; however we had to remove the adjoining two sections to catch all the bees.

All clean.

this is the back of my minivan on it's first bee removal. Packed full of sticky coolers and a giant box of buzzing bees.

Once we got home, we placed the new brood box and super then removed the bee vac components-- lots of bees!

Hubby did not seem as impressed as me, but this sees like the most bees we have seen yet.

We had to smoke them very heavily to try and get them to move down into the hive body.

These girls ended up with a brood box and super filled with bees. Due to all of the bees, we were not able to add back as much of the brood comb as we have for the other hives. I hope they will be okay.

Here is the cooler full of comb from our adventure in Aubrey

One other note... the homeowner mentioned seeing a swarm of bees in one of her trees a few years back. She said it was there for a day or two and then dissappeared... gee I wonder where it went?

Bee Removal--Farmers Branch April 28, 2010

The guys got to enjoy a short drive to get bees on Wednesday night. A man in Farmers Branch, just about a mile from our house, called to say he had a hive of bees in his garage.

Here's hubby, rockin' the shorts and mud boots look.

Like many of the other removals, the bees had found their way into a wall. Unlike the other removals, the bees had built their comb across the width of the wall joist (about 16 inches across) instead of perpendicular to it (about 6 inches wide. This meant some enormous comb sheets.

There was a decent amount of brood in this very dark comb, and the guys were able to secure about 2 frames worth for the bees.

In addition to the cooler full of brood comb, there was also a cooler full of honey.

Since this hive was originally located so close to our house, the guys made the call to keep the hive at our friends house (which would be about 4 miles away from the original hive. Bees can forage from 2 to 2.5 miles away from their hive so it is very possible that had we kept these bees at our home, they would have just wandered back to their old garage... probably not what the homeowner had in mind.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Wax Melting Part II

Well, more lessons learned... as I was writing my Wax Melting Part I post, I updated what I did along with my comments on what I should have done and boy am I still learning. One big mistake was to use my favorite green mixing bowl to melt wax into...

Here is the wax after day 2 in the solar oven. This time I left the glass door closed, but not latched.

The wax had all melted through and left a pile of sludge on the paper towel.

Here is a side view of the paper towel and bowl.

The paper towel was completely saturated with wax and the wax had also dripped onto the floor of the solar oven, quite a messy process and potentially very dangerous if you you were trying to melt wax in a real oven.

I tore off the paper towel and began to see the mistake of using my favorite bowl... bits of waxy towel stuck everywhere

As the wax began to cool and solidify, it followed a very interesting pattern, almost like a honeycomb shape during the cooling.

I am sure there is some scientific explanation for this, but how amazing to watch.

I allowed the wax to fully cool and then poked it out of the bowl. It formed a pretty disk about 6 inches in diameter and about 8mm thick (yes, I'm an engineer and I mix units. Big things I measure in English units, tiny things I measure in Metric, it works for me. Even more confusing is that for my job I work with temperature daily, but always in Centigrade. For all of my at-home purposes, I think in Fahrenheit)

So, back to my favorite bowl... wax is basically waterproof, so I could not wash it out, it did not pick out completely, would not scrape out... my poor bowl sat on the counter for two days with bits of wax and waxy paper towel stuck to it until I was able to put it back in the solar oven to heat back up. I then used a clean paper towel to wipe off the melted wax. It took a few repeats before the bowl was clean again. Phew, I sure missed my favorite mixing bowl, and I was not the only one. I overheard hubby teaching the boy how to make brownies: "Step one, you get the green mixing bowl..."

For a family who uses maybe 1 roll of paper towels every quarter, this has been a very wasteful experiment, towels to filter through, towels to clean up with, not to mention all of that wasted wax. I've found plans for a large scale solar melter, considering we now have a cooler and two 5 gallon buckets filled with comb, plus the guys went on a removal last night, we are going on a bee removal tonight and have one booked for tomorrow as well. Busy season, but lots of bees and lots of wax.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Bee Removal--Mesquite April 21, 2010

I got to attend my first bee removal with the guys last night. At sunset we drove to Mesquite. Before arriving, we had been told the bees were in a shed and had been there for about 7 years. The man later told me that he's been through 4 different pool service companies because they refuse to come back after their workers get stung the first few times, yikes! The homeowner has plans to tear down the shed in the next few weeks so he had no problem with us ripping out the floor to get at the hive.

Here is the shed, it was a small wooden shed with a wooden floor joists, the bees had made their home under the floor in a corner of the shed.

There was a lot more gear involved in the bee removal than I ever thought possible. Two bee vacs, two boxes of equipment, a circular saw, lights, extension cords, pry bars, hoses... but they seemed to use most of the gear they brought

The guys got suited up and began to pull up the floor.

There were no where near as many bees as I expected in and around the hive, the guys too said that there were not as many bees as they usually saw.

Unfortunately, since the hive was built under the floor of the shed, the comb was stuck down into the dirt and rocks and was very dirty to pull out. You can see how the comb has been attached to the dirt--which pulled up when we pulled up the floor.

As they removed sections of flooring, the guys used the bee vac to suck up any bees they saw.

This picture is sad, you can see the honey pooling on the floor and dirt stuck all over the comb. Due to the old flooring and weird hive location, it was nearly impossible to remove any of the comb without damaging it.

The hive and comb covered an area of about 5 feet by 2 feet under the floor. Most of the comb was clearly very old and dark in color.

As they removed each piece of comb, they were careful to vacuum off any bees.

Under the next section of floor, farthest from the bee entrance there was some newer comb, but it had not been filled yet.

The guys are very methodical and efficient in their work. It was fun to watch them deconstruct the hive

We loaded the comb into coolers for the ride home.

There was one nasty surprise... a dead cat that had been there a long long time. Hubby was down on his stomach reaching under a shelf to suck up more bees when he looked over he saw this

Well, hubby said it worse than that, that is just fur--apparently the dead cat was making quite a face too-- but I was not willing to get down close enough for a good shot.

We left Mesquite at about 11 that night and headed home to handle the other part of a bee extraction.

Proof I was there!

We ended up with two coolers full of comb and the bee vac had a lot more bees than the guys expected. Like the last few extractions, hubby tried to wire the brood comb to the bee hive frames, but this comb was too narrow to do it very neatly. Still, the hive got about 4 frames of brood returned to them and I also set out the honey comb for them to clean today. I've read that it is bad beekeeper practice to give bees honey when there is more than one hive nearby, but we did not have many other options.

My first night of bee removal was a success. Mostly I just took pictures, but I was there in the middle of the extraction with bees crawling all over me and it was very neat to see. Only one sting for any of us... hubby got stung on his finger when he was taking his hat off.

Later today, I'll try to figure out what to do with all of the excess comb. I expect the bees will have completely cleaned the combs I left out for them. The honey had a sharp twang to it that I do not like, so we won't be extracting any honey from this hive. I learned that some of the spring flowers have strong unplesant tastes in honey, primarily wisteria.