For the past three days, helicopters have flown low over the area, usually in the mornings. The timber company across the creek is either thinning trees or clear-cutting, so maybe they’re checking the progress. During the fly-overs today, hubby was checking hives across the road at the neighbor’s sunflower field and I was checking some of our hives — we both found out that bees don’t like helicopters.
It’s interesting to listen to the recording of my hive inspection because there is a clear change in the tone and volume of the bee buzzes after the chopper made the first pass. The bees were nervous at that point, but not too aggressive. After the second pass, the bees just boiled out of the hive and started stinging in a way that I have never experienced before. I was able to fend off some by pulling my BDUs away from my legs, but I ended up with 8 stings — a record for me. Even more unusual was that a handful of bees followed me all the way back to the RV and kept up with me driving at 12 mph on the ATV!
We wish we could find out when any future flights are likely to take place so that we could schedule hive inspections around them. We both know that if we hear a chopper coming and we’re in a hive, we’re going to end that inspection there and then and get the hive put back together.
To end on a positive note, 7 of the hives we inspected today are full of nectar. This time last year, we were in a drought and had to feed sugar water to sustain the hives. Sunflowers and sourwood trees are blooming and our bees are clearly taking advantage of all the resources they can find. We may even be able to pull some more honey before the end of summer.
There’s nothing quite as unnerving while working on a hive on a hot day as wondering whether what you feel is a drop of sweat running down your leg or a bee wandering around like a lost and irritated soul inside your pants — unless it’s hearing a loud buzzing around your head and realizing that there is an angry bee is inside your veil! There’s also nothing quite as amusing to listen to when transcribing hive inspections from Voice Recorder than hearing:
“Is that sweat?”
“Bee in the pants, bee in the pants, bee in the pants….”
….with a rising pitch and a falling volume as I leave the area as quickly as possible while trying to walk in a way that does not make the bee any less happy than it already is!
Over the years, I’ve beat myself around the head with a bunch of lemon grass, had hubby hit me on the head, dropped trou in the bee yard, and hurriedly fought with zippers and Velcro while trying to watch a bee about 2 inches from my nose! Most of the time, this doesn’t result in a sting, but yesterday’s bee in the pants episode followed 2 stings through the pants, so we skipped checking additional hives today!
This is the first year our bees have had the propensity to crawl up our boots and into our pant legs! Tucking our pants into our boots has not worked well, because the bees then end up in our boots — stings on the feet or stings on the thigh? We ordered some blousing garters from Amazon yesterday to see if we can keep them out that way!
Come to think of it, I haven’t had any bees sting me from inside my pants, but I’m sure I’ll feel better knowing that there’s a greater chance of them staying outside my clothes.
Now, bees won’t sting unless provoked, because a bee that stings subsequently dies, unlike those pesky yellow-jackets that set up home in our gate. We have one hive with irritable bees, but most of the others are generally very well behaved. However, one hive yesterday had expanded honey stores to beyond what would fit well in the space available, so when I removed the first frame to check it, I broke the cappings that protected the honey. Bees don’t like people messing with their honey. I guess it’s the same as a hacker raiding my bank account or someone breaking into the house and emptying my pantry! I can’t blame them for being angry, so I’m quite content to apply Stops the Sting and ice packs a couple of times a day and go about my business! Past experiences have shown me that my body doesn’t deal well with too many stings at the same time, so that’s the main reason to postpone hive checks for a day.
Neither avoiding the hives nor these stings have slowed us down any. We’re making progress cleaning up the loading deck. As that’s where the trees were trimmed prior to being loaded on trucks, we have a lot of small branches or even tree trunks all over the place that hide in the tall weeds and make using the bush-hog difficult. We’ve settled on weed-eating paths into the weeds to expose logs and stumps before hubby bush-hogs just to protect our equipment. With weeds that are well over 8 feet tall in places, we just have to do that this year. Now that we have our own tractor, we’ll be able to maintain areas of the land that we need to keep clear and avoid getting lost in the jungle! It’s slower and more tedious work than re-clearing areas that hubby previously cleared, but we are seeing progress. As the tree canopies increase, the undergrowth will become less of a problem, but we’ll have somewhat of a battle on our hands for the rest of this year.
Yesterday, I temporarily deferred my equal rights ideologies and stepped back (way back) into a hunter-gatherer role, trailing along behind the man of the house, picking berries while he did the manly task!
There are so many beautiful ripe blackberries on our property, but they are so hard to get to. At the best of times, wild blackberries demand a blood sacrifice, so I am always weighing the pain-versus-gain factor. Since my last blackberry harvest, BIL sent us a picture of a timber rattle snake up under one of his blueberry bushes, edging back into some wild blackberries, so that made me even more cautious.
Then, hubby came along and cleared a strip along one of the really good blackberry patches with the bush hog, giving me much easier access — still not pain free, but easier. By following in his wake, I was able to harvest 1 1/2 quarts of beautiful, juicy blackberries which I then washed, boiled, and froze so that I can turn them into jam when we’re back in the city. As a few family members need to avoid seeds and the rest of us don’t really enjoy picking seeds out of our teeth, I’ll strain them and then press the rest of the juice out of them before adding apples and making blackberry-apple jam. I cheated last year and bought frozen blackberries for a trial batch, but that jam was good enough to make me want to harvest what nature has provided for us here.
Of course the other side of the hunter-gatherer equation is the hunter. I guess hubby was hunting undergrowth when he cleared those paths for me, but his other hunting chores yesterday involved getting rid of the critters that have been bugging me! We discovered that the yellow jackets at the gate had actually moved into the gate through a drain hole, so it’s no surprise that they became irritable when we rattled the chain against their home. They are now in an afterlife of some kind. We avoid using pesticides whenever possible, but we can’t have yellow jackets attacking guests or us at the gate. His other accomplishment led to one more restless night followed by a good night’s sleep as two field mice have now been evicted from under the kitchen sink. There’s a huge hole cut into the back of the cabinet, and we thoroughly spray-foamed that, but that didn’t stop them. There’s another hole cut in the side of the cabinet to let the drain pipe go through. We’re hesitant to put spray foam in there because we don’t want it on the back of the oven, but we’ll seal it up with aluminum foil after we’re sure there are no more mice romping around in the walls. We’re generally believers in the if-you-kill-it-eat-it philosophy, but I draw the line at making mouse and yellow-jacket casserole. (Actually, I draw the line well before that — there’s still too much suburb in me to eat possum or squirrel, although I did LOVE the dove hubby hunted last fall.)
Even though I spent much of the day taking on more-than-usual traditional female tasks, I did start the day having fun on our new Kubota tractor! I have been hesitant to bush hog on borrowed tractors, even though BIL and our neighbor have shown more confidence in my abilities than I’ve believed myself to have, but I quite quickly became comfortable on relatively flat land knowing that if I damaged something, it would be something I was paying for! I even found it easier to back the tractor up than to back my car up because I can see where I’m going so much better. However, that became tricky after a while because of my on-going neck discomfort (I can’t call it pain right now) and my bi-focals. While bi-focals are great for many things, they don’t work well for looking back over one’s shoulder or for checking bee hives. I have an eye appointment next week and will probably get a pair of long-distance glasses and a pair with which I can see bee frames. I’m not sure how I’ll juggle three different pairs of glasses — maybe the eye doctor will have a better suggestion!
Our other exciting 15 minutes yesterday was when we had to combat a waterfall running down the inside of the RV door! Hubby made adjustments to the strike plate for the door latch and that kept the rain out, but in the time that took, the torrent filled a casserole dish and soaked a bunch of towels. (I wish I had a picture to post, but we were both a little too occupied to grab a camera!) It’s times like these that make me glad I brought every old towel that we had at the house here. Sure, they take up space, but sometimes they come in handy. We started today with a trip to the laundromat and that led to reorganizing towel storage — what better time to do it than when every towel in the house has just been washed?
It’s a beautiful sunny day, the trails we cut last year are now trails again, and we can see the stakes for the house-site again. Life is good on the farm!
Let me first start with the good things about today:
Once again, friends and family members took time out of their busy days to bail me out of a predicament — or two. Or the same predicament twice… you decide.
People at Taylor-Foster Hardware store also went out of their way to help me and didn’t make me feel incompetent at all!
I have successfully learned how to use a screw extractor.
At 59 years old, I am still able to climb out of a window without any injuries.
I am not allergic to yellow jacket stings, although there is now a yellow-jacket on my hit list.
Half the “living room” of the RV is painted and redecorated.
Our loan for the tractor was approved, so we should be proud Kubota owners tomorrow.
So, back to climbing out of windows.
The last time I remember climbing in through or out of a window was at the first house I lived in. I forgot my house key on a regular basis, and the bathroom window was just big enough for me to get through when there was no-one home. By the time we moved when I was fourteen, it was becoming a tight fit, but as that window required me climbing up onto the window sill and then climbing in the small window that actually opened above the larger window pane, I felt pretty sure I could climb out of the RV window and step down to the bench below. I was right, but I shouldn’t have had to do that in the first place.
It all started when I went to let the dog out this morning and the door wouldn’t open. We had always wondered what the second lock on the RV door was for, and we’d lock it for good measure when we’d leave, but today we (I) found out that when that second lock is locked from outside with the key, it prevents anyone inside from unlocking the latch from inside. Now, I see no reason for this as it could only possibly be of any help to kidnappers and I don’t see RV manufacturers intentionally aiding and abetting crimes, but the fact was that when hubby left in the morning, he unintentionally locked me in!
My first rescuer was our neighbor who seems to bail us out of something or other every time we are here. He came over, unlocked the door, and I was free. That is, I was free for a little while. Before I sent him a text message and while I was waiting for him to arrive, I decided to remove the plate from the inside of the lock to see if there was anything I could jiggle or spray with WD-40 to get out. That didn’t work, so I had everything half put back together when he arrived. Silly me then decided to take it back apart and spray some more WD-40 into it for good luck …. and then I put it back together with the door latch part in the wrong position …. and I stripped the one screw that I put it while doing so. Once again, I was inside with a dog that needed to go out and a door that didn’t open.
Now, asking a neighbor for help when hubby has unintentionally locked me in is very different from asking for help when I have very shortly afterwards unintentionally locked myself in. (It’s a pride thing!) I googled ways to remove a stripped screw and nothing that was inside the RV worked. I decided my best bet was to get down to the shipping container to see if a smaller screw driver or anything else that might work was available. So, out the window I went. I don’t remember it being quite as difficult 45+ years ago, but I’m still quite proud that I made it out in one piece! I came back with a hammer (Bob Villa recommended trying to hammer a screw driver a little deeper into the screw among other things), a crow bar (not practical, but it seemed like a good idea at the time), and a screw driver. The door opened from the outside, so I let myself in and promptly shut the door again to keep the rain out! The rain was out, I was in, and the screw wasn’t going anywhere. I needed a screw extractor — something I’d never used before.
By this time, I’d spoken to hubby a couple of times and he was very much against me repeating my acrobatic out-the-window maneuver. My second rescuer was my wonderful brother-in-law who stopped by long enough to open the door even though he was already running late to catch a flight. The dog went out, I went out, and I DID NOT close the door again. Eventually I got the dog back in (she was a little freaked out by my animated language while trying to get out of the window, especially when the window latch latched itself under the back of my bra strap, leaving me dangling with my toes barely touching the bench below the window) and made my way to Taylor-Foster.
I bought a set of screw drivers to leave in the RV for future emergencies and the screw extractor. The directions were pretty straight forward and the only real problem I had was getting the extractor to turn once I had it firmly embedded, but finally I was back where I was when my neighbor left almost 3 hours before. The door opens much easier now, thanks to all the WD-40 I sprayed in there, so I that’s another plus. I don’t see any new bruises and nothing hurts, so I guess I’m in pretty good shape for someone who’s AARP eligible. I have a new skill and increased confidence in my abilities. Finally, despite the late start, I managed to get the portion of painting done that I had planned to do today.
I did forget to say how I know I’m not allergic to yellow jacket stings. There’s one acting very territorially at the front gate and it stung me on the chin as I was leaving and on the hand when I came back. As hornet stings give me asthma attacks, I’ll take knowing that my body handles yellow jacket stings as a positive.
It’s supposed to rain again all day tomorrow, but I’ll try to stay out of trouble. Maybe I just need to sit on the couch a read a good book — or maybe I’ll try to teach the dog to at least appear concerned when there are mouse-like sounds in the cabinet under the sink! But that’s a story for another day….
When we drove to our land for the first time, we were discouraged after having spent a day looking at clear-cut plots that had been misrepresented on marketing sites. It was hot, and we were tired. Then we stepped out of our car and a wonderful, cool breeze wafted up from the spring-fed creek. I was dealing with a pinched nerve in my neck and lots of accompanying shoulder pain, so I stayed at the car and hubby went for a walk down to the creek. The breeze never stopped and it was just so peaceful. Cool and peaceful. We came back later with BIL (my brother-in-law) and this time I joined them for a walk. The creek was (and still is) incredible and the pines give way to hardwoods as you approach the creek. I was in love! Then came the part of the walk with the brambles, and the love-hate relationship began!
I love the land even more now that we are 18 months into making it our retirement home, but my love-hate for all things thorny continues! I love the plethora of wild blackberries, but I hate the thorns. Even the dead stems from previous years have thorns; sometimes they seem to be worse than the ones on the live plants. The blackberries are growing even better now that we have had the trees thinned and they get more light. Thankfully we can see the canopies of the pine trees growing too, so there’ll be more shade in a year or two and maybe the blackberries will become manageable! From what I read a few nights ago, they are pretty much indestructible, so manageable is all I’m aiming for right now!
Another even thornier plant that loves to wrap itself around my ankles is sensitive briar (Mimosa pudica). It’s called that because its leaves fold up when touched. They are so delicate looking and the flowers are beautiful, but the thorns are anything but delicate. Regardless of how I feel about how insensitive this plant can be to my skin, bees of all kinds love it. I saw honey and bumble bees with full pollen sacs on the flowers yesterday. The plant is considered invasive, so I feel less guilty about weed-eating a bunch of it today!
I love being surrounded by all this greenery, but it’s another love-hate relationship for reasons besides thorny things. Hubby cleared a beautiful trail down to the creek last fall, but the trail disappeared into a field of weeds taller than I am in just a few weeks this spring! I just spent over an hour weed-eating my way back to the spring. From that point on, we’re in hardwoods and the weeds and thorns are minimal. The work was well worth it as the dog had so much fun playing in the creek and I had so much fun watching her! Of course, the water is so cold that it’s always a pleasant break from the heat of the day to just sit close to it. I cut the trail a little wider than last time — not that that will make a difference because most of the weeds will grow back up and only a few vines will encroach from the sides. Still, the image of the huge rattlesnake we saw our first November here remains with me, and I do like being able to see what’s on either side of a trail we’re walking!
My last love-hate is Georgia clay! It’s so hard to dig into — it can be like concrete when it’s dry. Then when it rains, it’s a gooey mess that sticks to your boots until it pulls them off your feet. When we dug the trenches for the water lines, some parts of the clay smelled like dirty baby diapers. BUT, unlike the pure sand we have at the house in the city, when I water the soil here, it stays damp for a while. Most of the cuttings I’ve brought down here are doing so much better than their parent plants. Both sand and clay can become good growing soil with enough organic matter mixed in, which is one of the reasons we’re avid composters. Still, all the country songs about Georgia clay make me smile, so I know that I really do love this patch of clay and granite despite all the pink stains that clay leaves in socks and on floors!
Nothing is perfect, but there is also good in just about everything. I’m bruised and scratched after my week of working out here, but I am so at peace. When it’s too hot to work, I read for pleasure (Where Men Win Glory by Jon Krakauer or Ladies Night by Mary Kay Andrews, depending on my mood at the time) or I take a nap. I’ve checked 18 bee hives and worn the blades off the weed-eater. Despite my love-hate relationship with some elements of the farm, I love everything about actually living here!
It’s hot. It’s humid. I’d just spent 45 minutes pushing the lawnmower up and down slopes that should be bush-hogged, not mowed. (We set the mower up high so I can get over branches and stumps.) When I realized I’d left my clipboard in the shipping container, I decided to just record what I was doing and worry about transcribing it later.
Well, from now on that’s the way I’ll do all hive inspections. We’ve tried both taking notes on paper and entering directly into the phone app we use to track hive history. Both are challenging when wearing gloves, especially when the gloves are sticky, as bee gloves tend to get. When the bees are all being friendly, taking a glove off is not a problem, but it’s a hassle taking it off and putting it back on again even then. Either way is time consuming because we have to stop checking the hive to take notes. Standing there taking notes for hubby while he does all the fun stuff is boring and makes my feminist side feel like I’ve stepped about 50 years. With the voice recorder, it’s simply a matter of saying what you see as you see it. Of course, you also get to hear the grunting sounds of me lifting an 8-frame box full of deep honey frames, but at least I had my back turned to the phone and I only sound a little like an Orangutan.
I was worried about the time it would take to transcribe the recording, but you can skip the silence while listening, which cut a 21 minute recording down to less than half that. At times, I could barely keep up with my notes. Of course, as I made my way down the tall hive, the bees became more animated and there was less silent time to skip! I managed to check 4 hives before my glasses fogged up too much — I think I have 8 left to do.
One thing I should have thought about before mowing the weeds was how much the mower irritates the bees. Poor Maggie (the dog) ended up with three bee stings. She sat very calmly and let me scrape the bees off with my pocket knife and was back to playing in no time, but I’ll leave her in the RV next time I cut around the hives. Racoons scratch the ground below hives to get bees to come out and see what’s going on; then they eat the bees. Scratching and vibrating sounds therefore put bees on the defensive and maybe Maggie looks like an oversized raccoon or possum to them! None of them came after me. The picture above is from last night, before I mowed.
For those of you who are not bee-keepers, the small hives you see contain 5 frames on which bees create comb which they use to store pollen and nectar or in which the queen lays eggs. Five frames are great for getting a new hive started. The ones with 8 frames are more practical for bee and honey production as are the 10 frame hives in the background. Some bee-keepers prefer 8-frame hives and others prefer 10-frames, and there are lots of theories about which ones are best. It’s more economical to use the 10 frame hives from the perspective of how much the wood costs to make one versus how many bees fit into it. The big difference for us is the weight — it’s very hard for me to lift a deep box full of honey from a 10-frame hive. Actually, when it’s full of honey, it’s not even easy for my husband! We use medium boxes (3/4 the depth) for targeted honey production, but even those are still really heavy for me. At this time of year, the bees have stored lots of honey (hopefully) to get them through the dearth in nectar flow that is right around the corner. There will be plenty of pollen available, but less nectar — the nectar provides their carbohydrates and the pollen their protein. While we may harvest some of the honey, we’ll leave them plenty. It makes no sense to take all their honey and then end up having to feed them sugar water to get them through the dearth.
The size of the boxes is also important when there are fewer bees in a hive. Having too many frames for them to protect opens them up to being invaded by pests. That’s why we start our new hives out in the 5-frame NUCs and move them up to 10-frames as they gain the strength to protect what they have. Two years ago, I simply wouldn’t squish a bug, but now that I’ve seen what hive beetles and wax moths can do to a bee colony, I’ll even squish them with my thumb — providing I’m wearing gloves of course!
Well, I’ve had time to cool off and it’s not raining right now, so it’s time to go weed-eat some more!
My husband and I were raised by a generation that admonished us to eat everything on our plate and never let food go to waste. We somewhat reluctantly shelled peas, cut beans, picked gooseberries and pulled endless weeds from the time we could help until we left home. It was therefore somewhat of a relief when the 17 degree frost killed the flowers on our fig tree this year. I had visions of staying guilt-free at the farm and not having to think about the number of figs going to waste.
We had always wondered about the little figs that appeared shortly after the first leaves — and sometimes before. I did a little research after the frost and found out that what look like figs are actually inverted flowers. It seems odd to me that a flower and the fruit look pretty much the same, but it clearly works for the tree — aside from the fact that it is dependent on a specific species of wasp for pollination. But no flowers equals no figs and that meant a summer without chopping, boiling, stirring and canning figs every 3 days or so!
Then, lo and behold, a couple of weeks ago the fig tree erupted with twice as many figs as in years past! I don’t know whether having more leaves before producing flowers inspired the tree to pop out so many or whether it’s just saying thank-you for the Miracle Grow. Either way, I’ll be making fig jam again this year. On a positive note, I get to experiment with even more recipes.
Our biggest yield last year was 15 pounds in one picking. Now, I was picking about 3 pounds every day when we were in the city and the 15 pounds were a week’s growth after a farm trip. That much maxed out my big jam saucepan. At the farm today, I was so happy to see our three new fig trees recovering from the frost and the drought, but I’m also wondering about our level of insanity in planting 3 trees! I may need to get that 6-burner stove I’d been considering for the new house.
For now, I’m going to stop worrying about the figs in my future and go harvest wild blackberries! I don’t think I’ve tried fig and blackberry jam yet, but I know that fig and apple jam is one of my favorites!
I’ll have to boil them and then freeze them here and then take them back to the city to turn into jam, but that much I can handle on my little RV stove! Let me check to see if it’s stopped raining so that I can start picking…..