Chickens · Construction · Gardening · Lazer Creek Apiary

All Cooped Up

Like the rest of the world, we are self-isolating but lucky to be living less cooped up than our friends who live in apartments.    We both continue to teach, but from a distance.  I’m finally getting into a routine and after a round of parent emails, students have been busy making up work today!

But tomorrow is Saturday.   Tomorrow we start building the chicken coop.   But first, a greenhouse update from Hubby:

Greenhouse is back up and running after a year with improvements that should extend its life and usability. Tried to go cheap last year and used standard 6 mil poly plastic. Found it worked great for about 120 days. Then it totally disintegrated due to UV. This year I used real greenhouse poly which is UV protected and suppose to last 5 years. I also added a solar powered vent opener and “wiggle wire” fasteners around the bottom to keep the poly tight. ‘Maters already growing.

Cattle panel greenhouseEven though the plastic turned brittle and tore easily by summer, the cattle panel greenhouse ended up being more energy efficient than our old pre-fab greenhouse.  The gravel floor seems to help retain heat.   We didn’t have many plants to overwinter this year as we got them all in the ground, so we didn’t need the greenhouse until spring planting time.  I was going to plant fewer tomatoes and peppers this year, but with the way things are going right now have decided that more is better.    We’d already planned to add more raised beds and we had the cinder-blocks delivered last week.  The delivery man from Taylor-Foster Hardware and Hubby found it odd to not shake hands, but we are all practicing safe distancing.

Hubby also added an automatic window to the greenhouse.  We may add one to the front next time around, but this year it’s easy enough to open the door when it’s hot and close it in the evenings, especially as we go up to the RV to visit our chicks in their temporary home whenever we need a computer break.

Because we have so much going on, we’d decided to wait until next year to get chickens.  Then schools closed for a week, then two weeks, then……     So, we now have 3 chicks in the RV and a friend has offered up 2 laying hens as soon as we have the coop built.   Maggie is fascinated by the chicks and they are now used to having big brown doggie eyes staring at them.   Just like the house site, we’ve changed our minds more times than we can count as to where to place the coop but have decided to place it close to the greenhouse with the two plastic compost bins between the two.

Meanwhile, a string of too warm days and 23 degree nights took its toll on our bees, but they are recovering.   We hope we won’t have another hard freeze.   Even if we do, the queens are laying like crazy and every hive is crowded now, so they’d survive.   Very few bees are visiting syrup feeders this week, so they must be finding real nectar out there somewhere.   We have the first blackberry and clover blossoms, but I haven’t seen bees on either yet.

We sincerely hope that all our readers remain healthy.   These are worrying times, and I feel so blessed to have 20 acres of stress relief right outside our door.   Stay safe.  Stay healthy.   Our thoughts are with you.

 

 

 

Beekeepers Associations and Groups · Home Remedies · Lazer Creek Apiary

Experimenting with Beeswax

I do believe that this has been the longest breaks between blogs, but it didn’t seem like anything new was happening in the bee yard!   It’s too warm.  It’s too cold.  It’s raining too much.  Some weak hives didn’t survive sub-zero temperatures but others did.  There’s a lot of pollen coming in.  That’s the Cliffnotes recap of the last couple of months!

Clean wax for candles
Clean wax for candles

I have, however, been experimenting with beeswax.  The first step was figuring out how to refine the wax we already had.   Hubby melts wax in hot water, then lets it cool.  The wax floats to the top and the junk falls to the bottom, and we end up with fairly clean wax.  I then filter that through cloth and finally felt to eliminate tiny particles and end up with wax that is ready to use for candles.    I pour that refined wax in small molds and store it for later use.

Current products
Current products

It’s taken me some time to figure out which wicks work with which candle molds and tins, but I finally have an assortment of candle styles that burn well all the way down.   Beeswax candles are reputed to reduce indoor pollutants while burning longer and brighter than paraffin based candles.   I currently opt to make on 100% beeswax candles without additional scents.    I was hoping to make some dipped candles this week, but between the cool temperatures and the sniffles, I don’t think I’ll get to sit outside for 4 hours dipping wicks into a container of melted wax!   I know what a klutz I am, so I’m not going to try dipping wax inside the workshop; I’ve done a good job so far of keeping the melted wax contained, but there’s no point in pushing my luck.

I’ve been using wax from our general stash for candles, but when to comes to skin products, I’m only using wax from honey cappings or from unused foundation that melted into a glob in our storage building.  The best product so far is a massage lotion bar that uses sesame oil and cocoa butter in addition to the beeswax.   It even softened up the calluses on my feet that come from too many hours wearing work boots!    I’m less impressed with the anti-itch salve I made, but I may have needed to let the essential oils sit longer.   It does a good job on my dry skin, but the massage lotion bar does a better job.   Plus, it smells like chocolate and I’ve found I like smelling like chocolate almost as much as I like eating chocolate!   My main sources for information so far have been Beeswax Alchemy and The Beeswax Workshop.  We were looking forward to a “Beyond Wax” workshop at the annual Georgia Beekeepers Association Spring Conference, but the flu kept us at home instead.  We’re now looking forward to the fall conference.

Hubby and I have been enjoying some of the less-fragrant natural soaps I received for Christmas, so my next foray will be into soap making.    (I also enjoy the more fragrant soaps, but smelling like rose petals isn’t really his thing.)

Of course, winter is also the time for the more mundane tasks like painting and repairing wood-ware and keeping an eye on the bees when the weather permits.   It’s also spring cleaning time, so I’m reluctantly spending some time in the house.   Coughs and sniffles aside, life is still good on the farm and getting better all the time.

 

 

Lazer Creek Apiary · Relaxing · Supplemental Feeding

December Time Warp

20191128Clouds
Clouds – Thanksgiving 2019

December 21 is not the ideal time to discover that I actually only have 5 have Christmas cards in my desk drawer instead of the anticipated full box.  I guess I didn’t buy my normal stash on clearance at the end of last year.  Or maybe I did, and they are in some weird place.    Despite my best intentions, I still have not yet organized my side of the office since we moved the big desk in here.   When was that?   Sometime in the past 6 months, I think…..

Then I received a text message to remind me of a follow up appointment with my doctor.   Has it really been two weeks since I was there?   Is the new blood pressure medicine doing it’s job?  There are more questions than answers in my head right now.

The good news is that yesterday was the last day of school until January 2 and maybe I can find my missing brain cells over the next two weeks.  The weeks since Thanksgiving have been as hectic as any other school year for Hubby and me, but we have been less stressed than in years past.   We’re determined to put a Christmas tree up in our 13 x 13 foot living room this year, and Hubby is on his way to the storage building to see if the one we have will fit.   Not only did we go from 2400 square feet to 740 square feet, we went from 10 feet ceilings to whatever they are in this mobile home.   I know the ceilings aren’t high enough to risk installing a ceiling fan, but how tall is the tree we’ve had for years?

It was warm enough to check hives and add some candy boards last week.  Some of the hives we were concerned about now have enough bees to ease our minds, and adding a little sugar for cold, wet days should help them make it until spring.   We’re not adding a large quantity of sugar this year as we ended up with a wasteful mess last year.  Now that we’re living here full time, it will be easy to add sugar as needed.  We seldom go for more than a couple of weeks without at least one day above 60 degrees here, so we have a huge advantage over beekeepers to the north.   We are also keeping the pollen feeder full of pollen substitute mixed with powered sugar so that the bees have something to find when they insist on foraging.   I went to check the feeder this morning, and bees were already on it despite the 50 degree temperature.

The November swarm we caught is even doing well.  There was only one frame of bees the day after they moved in, but they now have three.  Maybe more bees showed up after that first day, or maybe the queen was determined to bump up her numbers.  It was not a good time of year for them to swarm, but luckily they did so on a day when I was in the bee yard.   There’s so much logging going on around us that we suspect they are wild bees whose home was destroyed.    Maybe they are even renegade bees that swarmed away from us sometime in the past and have now come back to where it’s safer and there’s a buffet set up!   Either way, we’re always glad to add to the genetic mix.

Well, I need to run to the store and buy whatever Christmas cards I can find and then get busy doing what I always intend to complete Thanksgiving weekend!   More about the bee yard later…..

 

Cooking · Lazer Creek Apiary · Relaxing

Sachertorte – second attempt

20191126_SachertorteIt’s that time of year ago — time to open up the cookbooks and use family members as guinea pigs for new holiday recipes!   Last night’s Sachertorte was more like a Sacher-pancake.  It had the chewy consistency of a cake-like Brownie, but Hubby enjoyed it.    At least the second attempt rose in the oven and looks pretty good except for some overly brown bits on the bottom and sides.  I guess I should have adjusted the oven temperature to accommodate the switch from too-big cake pan to smaller glass dish.   Regardless, it is done, and covered in chocolate, and I know my family will eat it even if it would evoke negative-but-friendly comments on The Great British Baking Show.   The final step is to write “Sachertorte” on top with melted milk chocolate, but I’m going to quit while I’m ahead!   It’s not like my handwriting is overly legible when I’m writing with a pen, never mind with a piping bag.  This is a recipe that is better sliced a day or two after baking, so it was a good one to start with.

20191126_SRollsThis morning’s sausage rolls (BBC Food recipe) were more successful than either version of Sachertorte.   The rolls that survive the first hour actually taste better cold, but we usually can’t resist them when they come out of the oven.    I was going to make a second batch, but Hubby just called to say the frozen puff pastry is sold out, and I have no desire to make my own today.   I actually don’t think I’ve made my own since high school cookery class!    I stopped making my own pastry after moving to the U.S. because it was just awful.  Now I know that European butter contains less water and more fat,  so I can blame my made-in-American dry and crumbly pastry on American butter — at least until I give it another try with European butter that is now available here.  But that’s not happening this week….

As we only like turkey in small doses and have no desire to have a lot of it hanging around after Thursday, we’re having beef for Thanksgiving.   And not just any beef — Italian Pot Roast (Stracotto) from The Joy of Cooking.    We love this recipe, but it involves reducing red wine and beef stock down a couple of times which takes time and has in the past made a huge mess on and around the stove.   It’s hard to boil 2 cups of liquid down to half a cup without some splatter, and red wine stains so very badly.  It may be worth getting my deep pressure cooker from storage to use for that stage — or to be more patient simmering away at the sauce over a lower temperature.   You also have to be careful to keep your face away from the pot as inhaling the fumes from a total of 2 1/2 cups of wine can make one quite light-headed.  Maybe that’s why I made such a mess the first time I cooked it!

Another favorite beef recipe of ours is Coastal Bend Texas Beef Tenderloin from Better Home and Gardens.   The downside to that one is that the whole refrigerator will reek of garlic for the 24 hours I allow it to marinate, but it sure does taste good.  The salsa is the perfect complement to the beef as well as to other recipes.

I am going to try one more new recipe from Mary Berry’s Baking Bible tomorrow:  Austrian Curd Cheesecake.   European desserts are generally less sweet than their American counterparts, and I always enjoyed German cheesecake recipes.  Well, there was one that didn’t set and just burst out of the shell and flooded the table….  that was not the best birthday cake I ever made for my daughter!    I hope that the Mary Berry recipe will be a good substitute for my favorite recipes until I find my German cookery books which will probably stayed boxed up in storage until after we build the house.

I always like to think that I’d enjoy cooking this much if I just had more time, but summers prove me wrong.  I enjoy cooking for family get-togethers, but on a day-to-day basis, I’m much rather be outside working with the bees or gardening.  I guess I need to be excited about seeing friends and family to voluntarily slave away at a stove.

Bees · Construction · Lazer Creek Apiary · Nature

Missed (photo) opportunities

I have the most amazing commute and wanted to take a picture of the fall colors, but on the perfect days to take a picture, I was running late.  When I was on time, the light just wasn’t quite right.  Then we had that night with below freezing temperatures….

A couple of blocks before my school, there were two brilliant yellow trees with a scarlet tree between them.  One night of cold, windy weather dealt with that pretty picture.  Still, there’s a permanently beautiful view across the valley from the crest of a hill by a cattle ranch.  Clouds roll across the creeks and the sky is often a brilliant blue, even right after sunrise.   Even though I don’t have pictures to share with you, I see the views clearly in my mind and they bring me great joy.   Those views also inspired me to buy a 2020 calendar featuring the Cotswolds in England — one of my favorite places that has similar terrain to where we now live.   (Talking to high school friends on Facebook has been making me homesick!)

The commute home is almost as beautiful, but the long-range views are missing.  Then I pull into our driveway and see our land.   Between the two commutes, I spend the day enjoying teaching and being with my students and all the wonderful people with whom I work.   True, I get overwhelmed with grading and lesson planning sometimes, but 90% of the time, I’m smiling (on the inside at least)!

20191110 Spring
View of the spring

When I get home, I’m often surprised at the changes that have taken place while I was gone.  Our neighbor’s son is clearing undergrowth for us when he has time.   As our views open up, we’ve changed our minds about where to build the house, and then changed them back again, only to change again a day later.

20191110 Woods
Possible view from the back of the future house

We know that we want the back of the house to look out toward the woods and possibly with a view of the creek, which is to the right of the above scene.   We’ll be right at the transition from planted pines to hardwoods within hearing of the creek, regardless of quite where the house ends up.

Just like the ever-changing location, we’ve changed our minds about the house more times than we can count.  However, we keep coming back to Whisper Creek from Southern Homes.  We’ve talked about changes to all of the house plans we’ve looked at, including that one, but now that we’ve decided to replace the second bathroom with a tornado shelter, we’re content to leave everything else alone!   The kitchen provides all the room I need to can veggies and make jam, and the porches are just the right size.   We don’t like the mixed siding on the outside, but using the same siding everywhere is not a structural change.   I found myself mentally planning paint colors and countertops this morning, and that hasn’t happened with any other plan in the four years we’ve owned the land!

Yes, it’s been four years.  I’m glad I have old blogs to look back as we thought it had been five years.   We have so much to be thankful for going into another wonderful Thanksgiving.  The move here has done wonders for our mental and physical health, and we are overall healthy.  We have friends and family who are worth their weight in gold, and may start building our forever home before Thanksgiving 2020 rolls around.  We are going into winter with more hives than before, and I have an “Early Bird” chicken catalog to peruse.   Life is good!

Apiary · Bees · Gardening · Hive equipment · Lazer Creek Apiary · Supplemental Feeding

The Colors (and tasks) of Fall

20191109_Grass
New grass and clover planting with expanded blueberry patch behind – Fall 2019

Plants

The weekend before the drought ended, I turned the soil in the remaining compacted section of the timber company’s loading deck and we sowed a mixture of annual rye, fescue, and White Dutch Clover.  The rains came, and we have lush green grass with an under-story of clover over a few acres of recently cleared land as well as on the deck.  More importantly,  we have eliminated the erosion problem that has plagued us for almost 5 years now.    Oh – and by cleared land, I mean Hubby pushed back some more of the undergrowth between trees so that we could have more room for clover and fewer thorny plants.

We lost one of the magnolia trees planted by the gate in the drought, so when I’ve finished my coffee and this blog, we’re going to plant some camellias and gardenias on that side of the gate so that we have evergreen plants of a manageable size that are beautiful in spring and summer.   I was able to bring some gardenia cuttings from South Carolina, but was unable to get any cuttings from the camellia plants to take root.   By the time we finish that, it will be warm enough to continue getting the bees ready for next week’s cold snap.

20191110 FeedersBees

We constantly had problems with leaky lids (mainly when I put the lids on) when we used bucket feeders, so we’re trying open feeding with our internal feeders right now.  The hives I checked yesterday have a good deal of nectar, but very little bee bread.   We put the pollen feeder back out a few days ago and the bees are hitting it almost as hard as the syrup feeders.   The pollen feeder was a great success during the summer dearth and it was easy to clean up once the fall blooms started.

I went out to refill the syrup while it was still cold enough for the bees to be indoors this morning, but it was not cold enough to intimidate the yellow jackets, so we had to add yellow jacket traps around the feeders.   Those guys irritated me non-stop last weekend while I was applying a  non-skid paint to our ice-rink of a deck!

Hubby was at work yesterday, and the small syrup tank was empty, so I rustled up some bravery and started the gas-operated pump to cycle the syrup in the large tank and then fill the small tank.   Well, it didn’t look like anything was happening once I got the motor started, so I pulled the exit hose out to take a look.  It’s a pretty powerful motor, so once the hose was out (and, yes, the syrup was moving), it wouldn’t go back in.  One sugary shower and a change of clothes later, I got syrup transferred over and had to evacuate the area because every yellow jacket and bee from a  5-mile radius appeared to show up for a free lunch!  I suspect I still have syrup in my hair.

A couple of week ago, I read a blog by Ron Misha about winterizing hives.   He mentioned that his father used to hang a piece of burlap out of the hive lid to wick moisture out of the hives in winter.  We have a roll of burlap, so I am trying that.   We’re going from a record-breaking warm October to lows in the 20s this week, and the hives have more nectar than honey in them.   We’ll add candy boards going into December, but this weekend is all about getting the bees through the coming week.   I combined the weakest hives I came across yesterday and shook bees into others that will struggle to stay warm.   I’m still rebuilding strength in my arms and hands after this summer’s neck problems, so I did not get as far yesterday as I would have liked.   However, the good news is that I stopped when I noticed that I was getting clumsy because my hands were tired.   Sometimes it’s good to be stubborn and push through, and other times it’s better to apply common sense.

I was going to write about some great changes to our landscape and our renewed indecision regarding where to place the house, but I think that needs to wait for another time.   It’s way to pretty outside to sit at a computer for hours, especially when bad weather is going to keep us inside for the next few days.  Stay happy.  Stay warm.  And remember that life is good on the farm!

 

Bees · Lazer Creek Apiary · Natural Food Sources · Pests - Bees · Products and Vendors

Back in the hives and in the kitchen

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

I finally received the go-ahead to start cautiously lifting some weight aka hive lids two weeks ago, so I’ve checked hives I was concerned about and, sadly, burned a bunch of mothy frames.   When we made the last round of splits, we knew we’d have to monitor them closely and keep the division feeders filled, but then Hubby got bronchitis and I was still dealing with my pinched nerve, so neither of us could do what needed to be done.   It’s prime wax-moth season, so they decimated a number of those weak NUCs.

20190930_Goldenrod
Goldenrod

Still, it’s not all bad news.  Despite a very dry month, the Goldenrod is blooming and all the healthy hives have large bee-bread and nectar stores.   We had a strong Buckwheat nectar flow from before the Goldenrod kicked in and the queens are currently ramping up brood production.   If there’s anything good to say about “near record-breaking heat,”  it’s that it gives the bees more time to prepare for winter.   We finally have lows in the 60’s overnight, but continue to have highs in the 90’s with no rain in the forecast.

More good news is that there are very few small hive beetles in the new hive stand location.  We seeded the soil with nematodes from Arbico Organics a couple of months ago and very quickly saw a difference.   (The lower apiary has as much of a problem as ever.  It’s too close to our planned house site, so we’re moving everything out of there soon.)   We used nematodes from Arbico years ago back in the city to get rid of grubs in our lawn, and we plan to seed some to combat Japanese Beetles along with treating around other hive stands in spring.    This recent batch of nematodes was so well packaged that they survived being left at the gate in the direct sun all afternoon thanks to an unnamed delivery service!

This time I’m wearing gloves…..

20190930_jalapeno
Jalapeno

Despite the lack of rain, our single jalapeno plant continues to provide more jalapenos than we can eat.   A friend of ours makes the best jalapeno jelly, so I’m using our overabundance to get much needed practice.

A few weeks ago, I included one chopped one jalapeno in a tomato salad, then rubbed my itchy eye about 2 hours later.  WowIt hurt.  I was scared I’d damaged my eye.  I remembered to flush with lots of water.  If it happens again, I’ll jump in the shower to flush with more water.  I don’t plan on letting it happen again.

Hubby later explained to me that I had pretty much experienced what tear gas is like!   So, when we seeded the 12 ounces of peppers for the first batch of jelly, we obsessively washed our hands before and after — many, many, times.  I guess it helped, but it wasn’t a solution!    Internet tips say rubbing with alcohol removes the oils and bathing in milk removes the burn, but wearing gloves in the best bet of all!   Eighteen ounces of peppers await and I have a pack of 50 gloves in the kitchen drawer.

The jelly was good, but the texture was a little off.  I didn’t realize that powdered pectin is added before sugar but liquid pectin after, and the recipe didn’t make that clear.   We’ll see what happens today.

What I am doing blogging and cooking on a Monday?   Well, Georgia schools have the option of teaching longer classes and reducing the number of days, and that is what we do.   I think it’s hugely beneficial to students, especially those who have been fighting the same upper respiratory illness that Hubby and I had and need some time to just catch up.   My current school does a great job of keeping absenteeism in check, and that is a essential piece of the longer days = fewer days option.   A short break also allows me to get caught up, research some new material to teach, and take care of those routine medical checks that seem to increase with age.    Wow — I think school, and my writing styles morphs back into “teacher” — it’s time to go for a quick walk around the hives and get my “farm-girl” back!