Journal archives for August 2012

August 01, 2012

With the Sawyers.

Our PCT crew this year cleared trails near Devil's Postpile. This was back in early June; I'm a bit slow to post...

Work came from the aftermath of a terrific windstorm last December. Thousands of trees--many big Lodgepoles or Red Fir-- were up rooted. Revealed in this event was the fact that many forest giants grow a huge buttress of roots against the prevailing winds. Unfortunately, they do this by redirecting the simple radial pattern of root growth so that everything swings around to oppose the usual zephirs; leaving a fatal weakness on one side... Storm gusts coming from 180 degrees knocked these over like ninepins. A huge mess resulted. Oddly, the damage is spotty: all down in one grove, adjacent trees for a hundred yards entirely spared. So other things equal, the forest can take it.

Mostly, we work from a trailcamp on the PCT. For this we took places in a camp near the DP Ranger station. It was odd having this delightful valley to ourselves, as the road beyond Minaret Summit(always with restricted access) was closed for the cleanup. Most of the handful of(relatively primitive) carcamps in the valley were choked with fallen trees. Our spot was pristine. Furthermore, we'd illicit access to the hotspring that feeds the old showers closed for the last few years in Red's Meadow. As I understand, that was done because they failed despite 100 years of perfect service, to meet some modern codes...

Ironically, the years of starving the skeletal trailwork staff still maintained by the govt. led to an administrator dipping into emergency funds to flood the place with chainsaw crews. These folks did good and necessary work along roads and in campgrounds; but were challenged to properly address the trails. Not understanding the trail, they often cut detours around fallen debris to expedite things. This made for extra work for the trail people.

Our contribution involved the traditional approach of clearing with handtools, notably restored vintage crosscut saws. For me personally, this was a great chance to practice and get certified to use these remarkable tools. Developed entirely by empiric engineering over the 80 years or so before the onset of mechanical saws in the 40's, they've never been equalled. In fact, the few contemporary blades made for the limited market of wilderness-area workers are nearly worthless. Hence the great pains taken to find the old saws and restore them. This is a formidable task that few are up to... One of our crew is a retired Lawrence Livermore machinist(only the best are up to the intricate work involved in the chinese puzzleboxes of atomic munitions); and he'd had only indifferent success working on his prized saws after considerable instruction. A determined fellow, he'll eventually get it right.

Most would be surprised to learn how wonderfully these cut. It's not much exaggeration to say they are easier--although slower-- to use than the finest chainsaw. Fine tapered steel blades describing a perfect arc, with precisely aligned rakers and teeth just glide through the wood. A well-tuned blade 'sings' with a pleasant vibration as it zips through the wood. The art is in placing cuts and wedging them to prevent entrapment of the blade. Actually slicing a 36" log is done in a few minutes.

The cut pieces, hugeous as they may be, are readily moved away with iron bars. Of course, the skillful sawyer tries to plan things so the cut section drops and rolls away without need for these efforts. It is a great pleasure to work with people who have these skills. As we worked, crews in the valley cut with lots of piercing howls and blue smoke; while huge loaders manoevered in to place the logs aside or into the trucks of firewood contractors. A clearer metaphor of 'progress' would be hard to imagine.

Posted on August 01, 2012 15:55 by icosahedron icosahedron | 1 observation | 0 comments | Leave a comment

The Pennyroyal must be destroyed? Just my opinion...

Another pleasant feature of the Pepperwood glades that has to go are the lovely clumps of sweet pennyroyal. We set out to clear this from a few dried-up vernal pools on the western slope of the property; with the backdrop of sweeping views of the hills rising beyond the liano and northward above the Russian River.

We'd of done better a month or two earlier, as the ground was dry and we'd no way to get the roots of this hardy mint. I've been pulling spearmint and catnip out of the fine garden loam of my little garden for years, and it'll never be done. At least we eliminated most of this year's seed crop.

A big bonus was the the dozens of fat golden Orb spiders stationed around these patches. I'd be forgiven for assuming they were there to catch the nectaring insects drawn by the flowers. We worked mostly in the cool and foggy morning; so I couldn't really see what they actually caught... except for a few of the myriad small grasshoppers that fled before our slightest step. Whatever they got, they were some of the fattest I've seen; with numerous egg cases proudly in evidence. I wonder how they'll do absent the pennyroyal.

We also saw more Mantids than I've ever encountered. These with equally yellow-brown or jade green. Most were big females, although I saw the occasional diminutive male. Lots of the girls seemed suspiciously plump--I'd guess gravid-- so possibly the men had already done their service.

Posted on August 01, 2012 16:24 by icosahedron icosahedron | 2 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

August 19, 2012

Bees II

So far, our colony has been quite content at 629 Monroe. It's been a while since my first post; basically because they've been trouble-free.

I fed them with sugar solution for only six weeks; stopping arbitarily before a camping trip in the first week of June. They'd happily consumed two cups of sugar(= 1qt. solution) every two or three days. I was surprised to see that this varied quite a bit. Perhaps wild nectar was just too tempting some days? Or maybe other hive chores took precedence? Or it just might be as simple as a temperature dependent change in their activity. At any rate, they'd filled most of two deep boxes with comb, and a steady stream of workers arrived with pollen during warm hours; so I quessed they'd be ok. And so they've been.

To date, I see no sign of mites or any remarkable mortality. A few worker corpses lie on the sandstone slab in front of the hive every day; a trivial amount if that's all the loss. By now, all the package bees and most of the first born here should be buzzing in bee heaven-- if anything, i'm not seeing all the departed. We have very many yellowjackets, and these often attend the departed. Perhaps they clean up dead or dying bees before I notice them.

One puzzle to me is the small drama every week or so of a small 'swarm' of workers in front of the entrance flying in a tight formation. This contains only 100-200 individuals; and lasts only about an hour before they settle down. Usually what you see are a solid phalynx of bees at the entrance milling around, and workers either popping out or barreling into the hive from their rounds. I've seen a drone or two, but not many. I guess they are there, just supremely droneish and disdaining to step outside. Rarely, a bee is attacked on attempting to enter. Such are hit by a flying tackle at the gate; and the pair fall to the ground...

In July I added a shallow super on the two deep hive bodies. Much to the disgust of my beemaster friend, I did not put a queen-excluder in place. Sue Hubble says that most--but not all--queens will stay below by preference anyway. And since I'm told not to harvest honey the first year, brood in the 'honey supers' is no real problem.

Yesterday, this is closed to being filled with honeycomb. I added another shallow super. I could be forgiven for projecting a small surplus of honey for myself.

Posted on August 19, 2012 18:23 by icosahedron icosahedron | 0 comments | Leave a comment