The new chickens are finally laying! Hubby found the first green egg – it was smaller and rounder than the ones in the picture and more of an army green color than the pretty teal ones I found today. The eggs grow in number and size every day and, unlike the brown eggs, the color permeates through to the inside of the shell. We are certainly going to have plenty of scrambled eggs for a while!
Another difference we’re seeing with the Ameraucana chickens is their ability to fly. Cocky, our rooster, can fly vertically from the ground to the roof of the chicken run where he struts his stuff and calls out to the world.
I was awake very early one morning and could hear him crowing before the sun was up. It’s a good thing that we no longer live in a neighborhood. The vote is still out on whether to keep him or not as he is aggressive toward the hens at times and is starting to bow up at me when I come close — and at the dogs, the golf cart – pretty much anything that invades his territory. He does, however, back down from the mature hens who very much put him in his place. For now I’m assuming this is a case of teenage hormones.
The Ameraucana hens also like to roost in the rafters of the chicken run. That may be in part because the old hens didn’t want to share the coop at first, but the hens are going in there to use the nesting boxes so maybe that will resolve itself soon. Of course, it’s still incredibly hot so they may just be more comfortable sleeping outside. Some nights I think I would be!
So life continues to be busy and very, very good here on the farm. I’m not sure how we’re going to get everything done when I return to work, but we’ll keep muddling through until retirement!
Well, this isn’t a beach photograph, but it is from our first stop of our journey – Savannah, Georgia. At the end of the school year, we realized that we hadn’t taken a vacation since we bought our land almost six years ago. We spent three years driving between South Carolina and Georgia every chance we got and then three years trying to get the land and the apiary where we want it to be. But we’ve had a lot of rain this year — good for both honey production and plant growth, bad for keeping the grass and weeds under control. So we decided to just escape the farm for a few days.
Of course, it wasn’t that simple. We bought a nice dog kennel and then found out it wouldn’t be delivered until after Hubby went back to work. We ended up hiring someone to bring it here and then added a chain link enclosure for the dogs to roam around it. Of course, the big dog (the escape artist) managed to break through the chain link gate within the first hour. We reinforced the gate: she broke through a corner of the fence. We reinforced that: she went to another corner. Then they both tried to tunnel their way out. We put some hardware cloth down around the perimeter of the fence and they dug that up. I ended up buying some paving slabs to block the digging at the gate and we left the next day. Our wonderful neighbor ended up reinforcing the gate with some of the hardware cloth and then blocking the gap under the kennel. Only the small dog managed to wriggle her way through that exit, but still….. They have been doing better with going in the run when we leave the farm for short periods now that they know we’ll return.
Still, we spent a wonderful afternoon and evening in Savannah and even took the riverboat cruise that I’d been wanting to take for years. We were so relaxed and didn’t feel tired for the first time in years!
The next day, we drove to Tybee Island to see The Savannah Bee Company and then up the beautiful Highway 17 toward Myrtle Beach. We spent two wonderful days with our long-time friends, walked on the beach, and went to Brookgreen Gardens twice. Our friends, of course, introduced us to the latest picks in restaurants and we enjoyed a nice variety of food.
From the beach, we headed back to our old hometown of Columbia, South Carolina. Hubby drove past our old house and we still don’t miss it at all. I still don’t understand why they cut down the blue spruce Christmas tree, but it’s not our house anymore. In fact, the whole yard now looks like boring builder grade plantings, but I guess that’s a lot easier to maintain.
The best part of our visit to Columbia was seeing the beautiful house our daughter and future son-in-law bought. I think it would have been my dream house when I was their age – and before we started thinking in terms of downsizing. They have a nice sized yard that is very private and beautifully landscaped. While it has already been hard work, they are both enjoying making the house their own.
We finished up our trip with breakfast with our son-in-law’s parents. We could have sat there all day and chatted with them had we not all had other things we needed to do! We did a little city shopping before heading back to our little slice of heaven. We do so love it here, but we have realized that we sometimes need to see something different!
For our final hurrah of the summer, we went to Calloway Gardens for a second short trip away from farm life. The spa there is luxurious and we got great massages and then just relaxed and day dreamed. There’s a restaurant in Pine Mountain we’ve said we’ve wanted to try for a couple of years, and we finally made it there too. All round, it was a good break for Hubby between teacher in-service and students.
Me — well I have another week or so before I go back to work, so I’m spring cleaning, bee keeping, and gardening. I also went to yoga yesterday and realized I should have been going all summer! That reminds me – I promised myself that I would take time away from digital devices to stretch every day, so that’s what I’m going to do!
So, while life is good on the farm, remember that all of us need a change of scenery once in a while. Whether you take 5 minutes or 5 days for yourself, just make sure you take a little time every day.
It’s been years since Hubby earned his Certified Beekeeper certificate and he is already working toward the next step. For me, it’s been years of not being able to take days off work at the end of the school year to take the classes or the test. Well, most of that occurs on weekends, but my weekends and evenings were filled up with essay grading and other tasks, and I didn’t feel like I had enough brain power left to take a test in May!
I was therefore very happy to receive an email about a test session in Atlanta on a Saturday this June. I even read the email very shortly after it arrived (which doesn’t happen often) and was able to book one of the few remaining test times. Whew.
The next hurdle was driving into downtown Atlanta. Even when I drove in heavy city traffic and on Interstates daily, I did not like Atlanta traffic. As I almost never drive even close to an Interstate these days, Hubby was kind enough to be my chauffeur. As it was, Hubby had to tolerate my gasps and squeaks as aggressive drivers zigged and zagged across lanes far too close to us. Do I sound like I’m 20 years or so older than I actually am? Yes, I was in full-on crazy bee-lady mode.
We made it in one piece and with plenty of time to spare and met some very nice people from across the state who were also waiting for their test times. Now from what Hubby remembers of his test, he had about half the number of written test questions I had and only 8 hive components to name compared to my 20. The first page or so of my written test was all fill-in-the-blank questions and I became quite nervous when people started turning pages while I was only halfway down page one. Then I realized that they were going to go back to that part later! Onto the practical portions. The first frames on my hive inspection were all honey, and those were followed by capped honey with a perfect circle of capped brood in the middle. Our bees are not that organized! One frame even had some pollen stuffed in one cell. No other pollen or bee bread on the frame. Weird. Halfway through the box, things started to look more normal and I was able to identify everything I needed to show the examiner.
Some of the questions on the test and some of the hive components had me doubting myself for the 10 days it took to receive my results, but I am now a certified beekeeper. While the day was not without its challenges (traffic, heavy rain, nerves), reviewing our books was priceless. There are things I had forgotten which I am now implementing, and there were things that I hadn’t fully understood at the time I first read the books but now have the hands-on experience to marry what I’ve seen with what the books explain.
A week ago, I firmly believed that I would not pursue certification any further than this, but now I am again considering going all the way to master beekeeper, mainly because of the increased depth of knowledge I gained. Between bees, soaps, essential oils, and gardening, I certainly have enough to keep my mind busy, but I know a variety of interests is what keeps me happy.
Of course, the bees were unimpressed and rewarded me with multiple stings the week after I received my results. The pollen dearth is here, the sourwood nectar is running low, thunderstorms abound, and the bees are cranky. I wouldn’t change it for the world. Even while digging a stinger out from a finger tip, life is good on the farm.
We have honey to bottle, a honey workshop to finish building, hives to inspect, a house to build, so I was surprised to find out that Hubby got a great deal on wood ware for the apiary and had placed our biggest order yet. the two thousand and five hundred frames shown above is only part of the shipment.
In addition to the frames, we have 250 8- and 10-frame deep boxes to be assembled and painted, so our winter weekends will be busy! We ran out of 8-frame deeps this year and are close to running out of 10s, so we do need the equipment to continue the growth we are grateful to be experiencing. It’s just such a big stack of wood! As always when it comes to growing the business, Hubby is the engine, and I am the brakes. It works well as we balance each other out, especially as in the Progressive Insurance commercials, I am turning into my parent (dad) as far as spending goes and would never take any risks!
The shipment arrived through Yellow Freight, but as they are too big to turn around on our property we would have had to offload everything out on the road — the country road with a 55 mph speed limit and blind corners from both directions. Hubby therefore picked up the shipment in LaGrange. As his brother’s big trailer is two feet lower than loading dock, it took some maneuvering to get everything transferred, but the staff at Yellow Freight were incredibly helpful. The office staff had already bent over backwards to accommodate pickup times to fit Hubby’s work schedule and then two days of stormy weather.
Our biggest problem came with off-loading everything once it arrived here. We were expecting six pallets, each of which we could have unloaded with our tractor. It arrived on three pallets, one of which was stacked higher than I am tall. We had fun moving that one into the workshop as Hubby could only see my hands waving above the load to give directions! And I was standing on tip-toes.
So….. Hubby rented a Bobcat, picked it up, and then couldn’t remove the bucket to attach the forks because the quick-release handles were damaged. That led to my first adrenaline-filled experience of guiding him (backwards) onto a trailer that had only a couple of inches clearance on either side. He took it back, found out that they shop knew about the damage, and is awaiting replacement parts. They next morning, he picked the same Bobcat up again, and followed the instructions they gave to remove the bucket — with their assurance that we would not be liable for any damage caused in the process. After that, it took very little time to move everything into the shop, just ahead of the next round of storms.
Surprisingly, my second Bobcat-loading guidance went incredibly well and Hubby got the Bobcat back onto the trailer very quickly. Hubby always impresses me when he works with equipment like this.
So while life may be a little crowded in the workshop again, it is still very, very good on the farm. As the current weather forecast predicts rain on and off all day, I’m heading to the predictable conditions in the RV to bottle some honey, so it will also be a very sweet day.
We love the variety in our Ameraucana chickens. The white one with brown wings likes to crow like a rooster, although she hasn’t done that since she got all this extra space to roam around in. She’s pretty bossy and there’s a 10% chance that she’s actually male according to what I’ve read about sexing baby chicks. I guess we’ll figure that out over the next couple of months and then we’ll have a decision to make. Roosters can be pretty hard on chickens and I really don’t want any more chicks for a couple of years. Twelve chickens will provide more eggs than we’ll need, but we’ll also be happy to share with friends.
So the chicken run gate finally came in and we were able to move the small coop into its new position. We first partitioned off the run about halfway down and I caught and moved 6 of the pullets. The other four went into the coop, so they took a ride as Hubby and I maneuvered the small house into place as gently as we could. The ones I was able to catch made the transition very quickly and went to work eating the oregano. The ones that traveled took about 30 minutes to exit the coop. One cautiously stepped down down (and back up, and back down) for a while, but the others shot out like they had been fired from a t-shirt cannon once that first one moved into the run and joined their sisters.
All of them took to the roosting bars very quickly and by day two became quite adept at flying from one to the other. Meanwhile, the two older girls were very vocal from their side of the chicken wire for the first hour, but they have settled down now. We’ll let the pullets get a little bigger and then frame a doorway between the two runs and let them share the space.
We did not predator-proof the extension to the extent that we did the original run, but we do have chicken wire in the ground and I will complete the rock garden around all of the fencing soon. We may need to add another nesting box to the original coop, but we planned for that when we did the original framing so it will be a relatively easy addition. We will see if the three nesting boxes on the big coop and the three new ones on the small coop will suffice first. I know the original girls are picky about which nesting box they use and typically share the same one, so I’m not going to try to predict what any of them are going to prefer.
The two old girls have either found some motivation from seeing their replacements or they have recovered from the trauma of seeing their sister snatched away from them by a predator and they are back to each producing a daily egg. I am still feeding them yogurt-covered greens and adding apple cider vinegar to their water. I add apple cider vinegar or Hydro Hen more frequently this time of year anyway as they have to drink so much more when the weather turns hot. Hydro Hen also acidifies their water and helps them fight off yeast infections according to what I’ve read over the past few weeks.
I’ll be back soon to blog about the pallets full of wood-ware parts that Hubby just picked up from Yellow Freight. We’ll have plenty to keep us busy all winter, and we’re not even officially in summer yet. Life is never boring on the farm, and it is, as always, good.
We knew we had a good amount of honey in the hives, but we were not expecting quite as much as we found yesterday. We extracted 2.5 5-gallon buckets of honey , and we still have half-capped frames in some hives. The first sourwood tree is about to burst into bloom, so if we get some decent rainfall over the next three weeks, we’ll have even more before the season ends.
While weather is always the biggest factor in honey production, the clover we have seeded over the past five years is also a contributing factor to our record harvest. I mow the areas with clover every two weeks, alternating fields to ensure that the bees always have something blooming. I set the mower to the highest setting so that I’m only deadheading spent blooms, and I water the densest sections every couple of days. Clover roots go deeper than most grasses, so the plants are both good erosion. They also put nitrogen into the soil, so they help the grass that we have planted with them. The slopes where we have established clover are far greener than the areas where the clover is just getting started.
I was just searching electric honey extractors and saw a search for “Are electric honey extractors worth it?” We are still using our hand-crank, 9-frame extractor, and at around 2:00 pm yesterday I would have said an emphatic “Yes!” However, the cost on anything that meets our needs exceeds our honey revenue. I’m hesitant to spend that much money on something that will just sit in a corner for most of the year, but I’m sure that will change as we grow the business while growing older. It sure was a good cardio and strength-training session yesterday, and it’s nice to be able to do all that an not be in pain today. That adds to my hesitancy to spend over a thousand dollars.
Talking about spending money — honey bottles have gone up since fall and the ones we usually use don’t have caps available, even in colors I don’t much care for. Once we fill the last of the bottles we bought in fall, we’ll be switching to honey bears. It will be interesting to see how the customers react to them. Like some of the soaps that are not really my taste (too highly scented) they may do better. We’ll see.
Well, I have some cleanup to do in our temporary honey kitchen. Next year we will be in the one that is currently under construction. It will be nice to have room to move around and equipment placed for optimal work flow, even if that equipment does require lots of manual labor!
Life is good, and very, very sweet, here on the farm.
Memorial Day weekend is usually when we harvest our first batch of honey, and that was the plan this year. The weather has been better than last spring, the hives have been thriving, and the bees have been busy gathering nectar from all of the clover we have surrounding their hives now. So why are here at the end of the holiday weekend with not a single frame spun out?
It’s the chickens fault! The “baby chicks” are very rapidly outgrowing their temporary home but are not yet quite big enough to move in with the big girls. Last year’s run and coop aren’t quite big enough for all 12 of the girls, so we’ve been busy building an extension to the existing run. The small coop we bought when the new chicks outgrew the brooder within 4 weeks will move into one end of the run and we’ll put a chicken-sized door into the other run. The only hold up right now is the gate — the gate that Tractor Supply said would ship in 3 – 5 days. Ten days later, we still can’t get an estimate on when it will arrive. Now, if you’ve read my previous posts, you know that I’m a big fan of Tractor Supply, but if we’d known there was going to be a big delivery delay, we would have purchased something different somewhere else so we could just get the job done.
As you can see, we haven’t been wasting time, though. Instead of using cinderblocks to critter-proof the run, I’m building rock gardens. The section to the left of the pine tree is where the gate will go. The white fence is what I put around my raised beds when the chickens were free-ranging and ate things not intended for them — like all my strawberries! Now that the girls no longer free-range, I can repurpose the fence.
Did I even write about the end of free-ranging here? One day the girls were out eating bugs when the dogs started to go crazy. I stepped out on the porch and heard squawking chickens. That’s about all we know for sure, but the slowest (physically and mentally) chicken has not been seen since. A few days later we returned to the house after taking the dogs for their evening run and the dogs chased an eagle out of the large field in front of our house. Our best guess is that the lost chicken became dinner for the eagle, a hawk, or a fox as we never found any feathers.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, the other two were so stressed out that they stopped laying for a while. They also show no desire to leave their run whereas before they were very determined to go explore the woods. They called for their sister for a couple of days and then just moped around for a couple more. Happily, they are getting back on track now. Apparently stress can impact their digestive system and feeding them yogurt can help with that , so they’ve been getting hand-picked salads with yogurt dressing! And by salads, I mean the weeds they prefer when they foraged.
We had a lot of the brush that we can’t get to with the tractor pushed back this week which should reduce the risk of non-flying predators. We haven’t seen the terrain this clearly since the timber was thinned our first spring, and even then there was a lot a waste blocking the view. We are ready to start building the forever house, but builders are booked up for months. Still, with this clearing we know that our chosen site is the best one for us. It will happen when the time is right.
We’ll harvest honey, rehouse the chickens, and eat homegrown tomatoes very soon. Life is never boring on the farm and it is always good.