Saturday, June 27, 2009

A Different Project


Let's take a break from the farm life for awhile. Enough with the construction projects, the fencing projects, the bees, and the chickens. While these are interesting - and continue to occupy a portion of my daily routine - I have recently embarked on another project: the restoration of an old bicycle.

Bicycles define our family. Shirley prefers to bicycle rather than drive. In fact, she drives the car about once a month. Shirley does everything by bike: grocery shopping, running errands, even attending birthday parties, church services, and funerals by bicycle. Our daughter and her husband ride their bikes to work and to run errands, and our son, Mike, has recently expressed an interest in becoming re-acquainted with a bicycle
- after driving his car non-stop for the last three years .

I have lost my fascination and craving for the lightest, fastest and newest bicycle. My bike is about 15 years old and Shirley's is even older. Our bikes are workhorses with comfortable saddles (seats to the non-cyclists), panniers (bags on the back for hauling everything from 48 rolls of toilet paper from Costco, the cat carrier with a couple of cats, to 50 pounds of flour), and low gearing to enable us to climb the hills in the East Bay.

But lest I digress too much, let's get back to the new "project". After weeks of checking Craigslist, I found an old Carlton (British bicycle) that was hand-built from Reynolds 531 tubing in 1964. This bike has seen better days and the technology, while functional, is certainly not on par with new bikes being sold today. But this is not a project about building some exotic racing machine. Rather, this is a father/son project. Mike and I decided that it would be fun to restore this the Carlton to its original condition. Our plan was to sand the frame, knock off the rust, scrape off the gunk, replace a few broken or missing parts, true the wheels, grease the bearings, oil the chain, and put some air in the tires. This goal was pretty straightforward until Day 1. The bike - being of British ancestry - was built to exacting standards. Unfortunately, these "exacting standards" happen to be the manufacturer's standards which are different from other British bicycle standards, French standards, Italian standards, Japanese standards, and the standards adhered to by the handful of bicycle manufactures that were making bicycles in the U.S. The threads are different and every nut and bolt seems to be a different size. I have come across two bolts that I have yet to find either a metric or standard wrench that will fit it, and the right side of the crank has reverse threads! Disassembling this bike was like solving the Rubic's Cube!

So, over the next couple of weeks, I will take you through some of our work on this project. The following photo shows Mike preparing the fork for a coat of primer and hopefully some new paint.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Alert: Swarm in the Area

The other day when I was watering the blueberries on the hill, I noticed that one of the bushes was a-buzz with bees. Dave suspected that it was a swarm and later we noticed that the bees in this swarm were trying to 'break in' to one of our hives. "Our" bees managed to hold them off.

Yesterday, Dave and I actually saw a swarm of bees attached to a bush on the hill. Dave called a member of the Mount Diablo Beekeepers Association to see if anyone wanted a swarm to fill an empty hive. Brad said he would pick it up for Steve Gentry, a local beekeeper who manages over 100 beehives around town. Steve is all into bees and beeswax products. He sells his honey for $9 a pound at the produce store and farmer's markets.

Diane, a friend, stopped by to visit at the same time Brad arrived to remove our swarm. It was a good thing she was here too as we needed something for this guy to transport the swarm in. She happened to have an empty 5 gallon paint bucket in her trunk that she was taking to the dump.

Dave told Brad that we did not want to pay the usual $50 swarm removal fee. If no one wanted the swarm, we would let it be and eventually it would leave on its own. Dave and Diane went to Ace Hardware to pick up paint straining cloth. This is breathable material with a rubber band that fits perfectly over the 5 gallon bucket. Brad donned Dave's bee suit – a tight fit as he is a huge guy, Dave cut the limb, and the guy lifted the swarm into the bucket. All done. If we had had an extra bee hive we could have adopted the swarm ourselves.

Diane left shortly after the excitement was over and Patrick, our neighbor, came down to find out what we were doing. He was fascinated by the 'humming' bucket and the warmth the bees had generated in such a short time in the bucket. It is just our luck – this is the first swarm we have seen in our area and we cannot keep it because we don’t have an empty hive.

Number of bee stings - 1. Dave and I will need to invest in different gloves as the ones we loaned to Brad are not bee proof. Brad has been stung before and did not make a big deal about it.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Good Night

It is fun to watch the chickens put themselves to bed at night. Unlike most children, they do not need any coaxing. The chickens head for the hen house at about 8:20 PM. A few chickens actually go in a few minutes earlier - perhaps to secure the best roosting spot. Some of the birds scramble up the ramp, check out who is already roosting, then head back outside to dig up another bug or seed before calling it a day.

Most of the older chickens think they belong to a private club and do their best to intimidate and prevent the Bobbsey Twins (as I have nick-named the two youngest chicks because they stick together like glue and look exaclty alike) from entering the hen house. After a lot of commotion, pushing and shoving, and sometimes even a little pecking, everyone finds a place to sleep.
The chickens are calm at this time of the day, so you can pet them to your heart's content. Their feathers are surprisingly soft. I always wish our gals a good night and give them a heads up if there is something special going on the next day. Then I put their feed in the house and lock them up so they are safe from racoons, possums, and other nightly 'predators.'

Just Like Me!

My friends and family know how crazy I am about popcorn. As it turns out, my chickens enjoy popcorn too. Paula brought over a bowl of leftover herb coated popcorn. Since Dave and I prefer plain popcorn, I served this to our gals for breakfast. They scarfed it right up.

Our chickens also like to chew on the leaves of my rose bushes. I will take steps to replant those today before there is nothing left of them.