Lazer Creek Apiary · Natural Food Sources

Happy Bees, Happy Teacher

I’ve been away from the keyboard for far too long.  Well, I haven’t really been away from the keyboard, I’ve just been typing lesson plans instead of blogging.   School starts early here in Georgia!

After multiple weekends of focusing on all the regular start-of-school year tasks, I took time with the bees and on the tractor yesterday.   The bees are still doing well, despite (or maybe because of) our lack of attention.   I did have to add space to a couple of over-achieving hives and the new queen in the castle was running around all fat and happy but not laying any brood.   That hive didn’t have many resources, so I moved them over to a NUC, added a frame of brood with bees, and topped them with a mason jar feeder.  We’ve never experienced robbing with the mason jars, but the internal frame feeders didn’t work out too well with weak hives last year.

I don’t know if my mental calendar is off because I started teaching a month earlier than usual or if this is just a good year for the bees, but we don’t appear to have much of a dearth this year.   The bees are bringing in dark ochre pollen this week and most hives have nectar.  Foragers are ignoring the syrup bucket and the trial handfuls of pollen I’ve thrown out.   Last week’s pollen was mainly a pale cream color, so there is a variety of natural food out there for them.   At least the bees still need us to keep the wild muscadine vines and the brambles away, although they don’t seem to object to have a little cover to hide the entrances to their homes.

We are also having fewer issues with small hive beetles this year.   The new location and the landscape fabric under the hives seem to be working out.   We also continue to trap wax moths on top of the screen inner covers and I no longer feel squeamish when squishing them!    I came the closest I have ever been to squishing a spider yesterday, but chickened out at the last moment!   I swear that thing had ambitions to become a tarantula!

I really miss  reading the blogs of all the wonderful people I follow, but I think life will get back to normal very soon.   The first weeks of a school year are hectic everywhere and changing schools just adds a little more to the mix.   I love my new school and the community it’s in.   There are only 400 students in the high school and almost 800 people attended the football game Friday night.   I met 80 parents on meet-the-teacher night before school started.    The school year is off to a good start and coming home to bees and trees is so relaxing!

Life is good on the farm, and I’ll catch up on everyone’s blogs just as soon as I can!

 

Construction · Lazer Creek Apiary · Natural Food Sources

Dog-gone confused

Maggie
Maggie after a hard day’s supervising the humans.

Maggie has been quite happy to spend her days running around the farm for the past 6 weeks and made it clear that she thought her humans must be insane to go back to a 98 degree house in the city. How do you explain a broken air conditioner to a dog? Needless to say, none of us was very happy, but Blythewood Heating and Air rearranged their Tuesday schedule and came out first thing Tuesday morning to replace the failed part.  The humans have been so happy with their service over the years.

After the air conditioner was repaired, Mrs. Human went shopping while Mr. Human went to work and Maggie spent the afternoon in her crate. Then the humans came home and started putting stuff in boxes, especially Mrs. Human’s leave-the-house-all-day-and-don’t jump-on-her-until-she-changes clothes. That got worse today when the humans came home with a truck and put “Maggie’s” loveseat in there followed by a whole lot of other furniture, including some from the forbidden-to-dogs guest room. However, Maggie is now happily back at the farm, stretched out on the bed in the RV because Mrs. Human has the laptop bag on her spot on the couch.


We were able to put most of the furniture we intend to keep into a 16 foot Budget rental truck, and Hubby is currently about an hour away from the farm. We need to build the workshop before we can move much more, but what we have in each location is more than enough. Spending summers in an old FEMA RV has really changed our attitudes about our definition of enough. I will be really happy to get my food processor and mixer down here, but as we don’t have much of a garden going yet, I won’t be canning anyway. The fig tree in the city doesn’t even have many figs this year, so I wasn’t tempted to try any new fig recipes in between packing boxes and shopping.

UPDATE:  I was unable to save or publish this last week, but the mobile hotspot appears to be in a better mood today.   Hubby’s wonderful brother helped us unload the rental truck last Friday and I’ve been living in the mobile home for a little over a week.   Ferrell gas hooked up the propane on Tuesday, but I haven’t tried the stove yet as we have yet to move pots and pans.    Hubby completed the front deck yesterday while I was at work and it is beautiful (and safe).

I am very excited about my new job, even after the ubiquitous  meetings in which teachers are reminded about federal and state laws pertaining to education.    Tedious as these meetings can be, they are crucial for new teachers and a good refresher for the rest of us.    I really like my co-workers, administrators, and the policies that are in place.    Best of all, I get to drive through beautiful countryside at the end of every day, sometimes watch a train (or two) go by, and then spend my evening at the farm.

It’s been too hot to get into a bee jacket in the evenings, but the hives I checked this morning have done very well without us while we’ve been busy with other things.   Unlike other years, there does not appear to have been a pollen or nectar dearth this summer as all the established hives are jam-packed with resources.   We’ve had a lot of rain this summer, and I think the bees are finding a lot of wild flowers on the forestry land that was cleared over winter.

We’ve been too busy this summer for me to blog much, but I hope that changes now that we are almost settled.   There are so many things that I’m excited to write about, but for now I have to go write about what I’m going to teach next week!

Construction · Lazer Creek Apiary · Products and Vendors

Tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock….

Yes, that’s the sound of time ticking away as the end of my summer approaches.   My first day at work is just over a week away and we have so much left to do.   I don’t feel stressed, but last night I dreamed that I left school to run errands during lunch, got lost, the GPS on my fitness watch wouldn’t work  so I didn’t know where I was, and I couldn’t contact anyone at the school until after my students left for the day.   I have never left school at lunch to run errands, but the rest is understandable.  My iPad GPS can’t figure out where we are, so The Weather Channel keeps giving me the weather forecast for Columbia, SC, which is driving me crazy.   I bought a new fitness tracker watch: It went through 2 CR2025 batteries in under a week, and the seller only gave me a partial refund for what is clearly a defective product, so more frustration.   And I guess I am a little stressed about starting work at a new school, although I really like all of the people I’ve met already and the school has great policies in place.   For one thing, they are really serious about cell phones — there’s a time and a place for them, even in the classroom, but they can be such a disruption and distraction.

Sonotube footers
Sonotube footers

But, back to the farm, while we still have time.   We now have electricity, air-conditioning, water, septic, and a land-line phone for when the one-and-only cell phone tower takes a day off!   The propane company is coming out tomorrow to discuss where to place the propane tank, and Hubby is working on the foundation for the front deck as we speak.     He’s trying to get the footers in before the rain returns so that the cement can cure.

Cement mixer
Cement mixer

His brother, thankfully, has an electric cement mixer which is making life a little easier.    I am being no help whatsoever having succumbed to a bad cold!   I couldn’t get through a summer without one, I guess.   The front deck will be built in two stages — the first giving us a way into the house that meets code and the second a place for the whole family to hang out.   While the footers are curing, we’ll add the underpinning to that part of the home before building the actual deck.   Of course, the back deck will take precedence over the family deck as we don’t want anyone to break any bones by trying to exit through the back door.

Clothes line
Clothes line

I’ve been very happy to put laundry baskets in the back doorway and walk around the trailer to retrieve them and hang clothes on the line.   A family friend gave us his old washing machine and it has been wonderful to wash clothes at home, even if that does currently involve climbing up and down shipping-pallet steps!    I don’t know why the machines at the laundromat never seem to get clothes clean and barely rinse the detergent out.   I love the way clothes smell when they’ve been dried outside, but I had forgotten that they don’t feel very soft and fluffy if there’s no breeze while they are drying.   I may need to bring the iron and ironing board down here.    Sigh…. I hate ironing.

Curcuma and hostas
Curcuma and hostas

So now that we have closet space and 765 square feet of home,  we’ll start bringing furniture and work clothes down here.    I have a couple of teacher-workday outfits here, but no dress shoes, makeup or jewelry, so I guess a trip to the city is in my near future.    I also want to dig up some daylilies to add to the hostas I planted over the septic tank so that we know where NOT to drive the tractor.    Talking about the septic tank — we decided to have the septic system installed and are very happy that we did.   We realized that we were in over our heads when we measured the slope of the land.   What looked fairly level was actually a seven foot drop over the length of the leech field.   It was well worth paying a professional to work with the inspector to get the permit approved.    It’s not like we don’t have plenty of other things to keep ourselves busy!

It’s been a short summer for me, but a great one, and I don’t have to go back to the city when school starts.   Sadly, Hubby does, but that will make getting the house on the market easier and it will all work out in the end.    At least this way, one of us can keep an eye on the bees while the other tidies up loose ends in the city.

But it looks like the afternoon rains are coming, so time to sign off and grab the clothes off the line!

 

 

Construction · Gardening · Lazer Creek Apiary · Natural Food Sources · RV rehab · Supplemental Feeding

Lots of Work: Lots of Progress

…but still so much more to do!

Clayton Homes - Bliss - Mobile Home
Clayton Homes – Bliss – Mobile Home

Our RV upgrade was delivered on Tuesday, so we will soon have 765 square feet of living space and a shower that Hubby can stand under!   Of course, we have to endure the waiting game first — waiting for the electrician to hook the home up, then for the air conditioning installation.  Once the a/c is in, we can get the propane tank moved and connected and wait for repairs and inspections along the way.  While all of that is going on, we need to hook up water lines and install the septic system.    It’s possible to take a test to acquire  a one-time septic installation permit for your own land in Georgia and with Hubby’s army engineering training, that won’t be a problem.  However, we spent many hours over the past two days transporting supplies for the septic and the decks and the heavy lifting still needs to be done.    We also have to make a trip to one of the more distant hardware stores to buy what the closest Home Depot didn’t have enough of in stock yesterday…..

Our first foray into the house — just to measure so that we know what actually will fit from the house in South Carolina — resulted in our first clay stain on the light beige carpet, despite all the precautions we took to avoid that.   Beige carpet, clay, and a dog are a bad combination — not that the dog has been in the house yet, so we can’t blame her!    We surrounded the home with grass seed covered with straw last night, but it will be a while before the “front yard” stops being a muddy mess after a thunderstorm, so we’ve decided to remove the carpet in the living room and install laminates before we move furniture down here.  Installing flooring in a 13 foot by 13 foot space is a breeze compared to what we’ve done in the past.  (Diagonal hardwoods look great on HGTV and in our bedroom, but we’ll NEVER do that again.) 

Meanwhile, our everyday life goes on, but with gardens, bees, and walks to the creek taking a back seat to getting the home move-in ready.    I took the time to put landscape fabric around magnolia trees this morning and plan to gather more rocks to put on top of the fabric after this cool-down break.   We’ve eaten our first zucchini from this garden, all five blueberries that we harvested this year, and handfuls of plump, sweet blackberries from the thornless vines we planted last summer.    One grape vine is producing well, but I reluctantly pruned it a little this morning as this is its first year and it needs to put its resources into deep roots and good health, not grapes.    Hubby’s brother has provided us with a bounty of vegetables and blueberries from his garden, so we are eating well, despite the size and maturity of our mini-garden.

The bees are bringing in three colors of pollen in large quantities and all hives are full of nectar, bee bread, and honey.  While the bees are now showing an interest in syrup, every hive has enough resources that I don’t worry when I’m too busy to refill feeders.   I’m still trying to reduce the number of drownings on feeders.  The gravity fed dog bowls work fairly well, but the bees insist on moving the gravel aside to crawl under the container when levels get low.   Somehow they’ve forced their way through cheesecloth, squeezed through rocks, and just generally worked around everything I’ve tried to block spelunking expeditions.  The next step is the wire mesh we use for robbing screens.  Surely I’m smarter than a bee and can figure out how to save them from themselves!

Dog bowl feeders
Dog bowl feeders

We didn’t harvest any honey this year, although we do plan to pull some and store it before the fall flow so that we can feed it back to them over winter.    Not harvesting honey is a sacrifice that we have to make this year as there are only so many hours to the day and my first day of work is rapidly approaching!    The new bees are still very productive and mild-mannered and I’ve only been stung twice in 3 weeks.

Well, it looks like it’s going to rain soon, so it’s time to stop typing and go gather rocks.  We have no shortage of them, so I have plenty to keep me occupied until the weather drives me back indoors.

Bees · Lazer Creek Apiary · Natural Food Sources · Products and Vendors · Supplemental Feeding

Buckwheat Update

There are reasons my old laptop is at the farm, and right now the main one seems to be to induce stress eating!   But after 2 hours, I have pictures downloaded from my phone and have unsuccessfully looked through today’s buckwheat photographs in search of a bee in focus.   The bees were generally camera shy in the first place, and trying to take pictures after 2 hours in the bee yard wasn’t ideal, so here’s a picture of bee-less buckwheat!

Buckwheat
Buckwheat

The bees forage on the buckwheat and wildflowers from about 8:30 a.m. to lunch.   They show some interest in sugar syrup in the afternoon, but not as much as I expected.  There must still be natural nectar sources available.   I also saw three different colors of pollen coming into the hives this morning.   I didn’t see much open brood in the hives I checked today, but the queens are still fat and each hive had at least 3 frames of capped brood, some nectar, and some bee bread.    Most hives that were queenless last inspection now have active and healthy queens, but two NUCs have failed to produce a queen despite a couple of rounds of added brood.   I added them to a some weaker hives using newspaper to divide the two colonies until they get used to each other.

We were low on 10-frame lids, so we’d temporarily double stacked some NUCs.   Three of them were jam-packed, and I moved them to 10-frame boxes and even added supers to two of them.   I didn’t see any small hive beetles yet, but I know they’re coming.   Actually, they are probably already down at the lower apiary, but I still have 8 hives to check in the new location before I head down there.  So far, the landscape fabric below the hives appears to be making a difference — or maybe it’s just the sunnier location.

English Hive - June 2018
English Hive – June 2018

It’s clearly been a good spring as areas that were clear spring break now have weeds taller than I.  I had to cut a path to my hive before I could see if they have a new queen (they do).  I’m waiting for a rain shower that will keep the girls inside to cut the weeds in front of the hive, but I may have to just suit up and sweat my way through that little patch one evening before I come inside.    While they are not mean bees, they are a little more animated than I am used to from that hive and I don’t plan to sit outside after stirring them up.   That said, they allowed me to do a full inspection this morning and any day without a sting is a good day.

Talking of stings, Bill Turnbull’s book Confessions of a Bad Beekeeper includes hilarious tales of bee stings and the incompletely thought through decisions that led to them in a way that makes me feel good about my own mistakes while imparting some basic knowledge for people interested in the sometimes crazy hobby / business of beekeeping.   It’s an easy read and perfect for my tired brain one week into summer break.    Anyone who describes a bee stinger as a hammer with a thumbtack attached (page 5) clearly knows what he’s talking about, and a sting to the face for a television host certainly has more repercussions than a sting to a face of a teacher who only has an audience of 100 or so on any given day!

I am greatly enjoying my active days at the farm.    I still can’t quite believe that I get to stay here once school starts.   The real work of getting the infrastructure in place for me to do so will start next week when Hubby arrives and we get to do fun things like install a new septic system!  I guess that’s better than having to dig up an old one, and the new mini-home will be well worth the effort.   The RV has served us well for two years, but things going scratch-scratch in the walls at 1:00 a.m. do not make for a good night’s sleep!   Scratch-scratch is better than city life — at least until I come face to face with whatever it is!

City Life

Farewells and new beginnings

A dining room full of classroom stuff!
A dining room full of classroom stuff!

After a week of sorting, discarding, and packing, we loaded my classroom things onto the 12 foot trailer and into my car and brought it all home.    The enclosed trailer is full of bee wood-ware, so we had to use the open trailer and to rush to beat the rain.   I’ve only moved enough out of the car to make room for the dog and some clothes, so I’ll be moving boxes into the shipping container as soon as I get to the farm.  When I see teachers leaving with one carboard box of things,  I think I must be insane to buy the books and other resources I do, but I’m always looking for new ideas to keep my teaching fresh and my students engaged.

Still, we’ll put most of the furniture into the new house and workshop instead of moving the heavier things to another school.   The beautiful podium Hubby made for me will, of course, go to the new school, as will some of the smaller bookcases from this house.

Why so much stuff?   Well, as I mentioned, there are so many good resources out there and every group of students is different.   If I’m not reaching them with the materials or methods that have worked in the past, I buy new books.   I’ve accumulated a lot of books in the past 10 years!   But there’s another reason: students constantly tell me how much they like my room.   I’ve tried to emulate teachers I admire and coordinate furnishings, but I always end up with an eclectic mix ranging from posters from The Royal Shakespeare Company to Big Bang Theory posters from Amazon.com!   I have Shakespeare and Teacher Care Bears and a fuzzy stuffed bee toy with huge eyes that just makes me smile on even the worst days.   I have coffee table books for Hamlet, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, The History of the English Language, Harley Davidson Motorcycles and many more.   Introverted students, especially, like to hang out  at lunch, away from all the bustle and surrounded by books.   I didn’t really  realize why until I experienced how totally depressing bare walls in a classroom can be when I sat in my depersonalized space for 3 days.

It was sad to say goodbye to people I’ve worked with for the past six years, and even harder to say goodbye to those I’ve known since student teaching.   I am very excited to be moving to a rural school and to be returning to the farm at the end of every day.  There’s so much to get done between now and then, but I’m up for the challenge and looking forward to making new friends.

Bees · Construction · Honey · Lazer Creek Apiary · Natural Food Sources

Buckwheat, and Carrots, and Bees, oh my….

Carrot flowers
Carrot plants in bloom

A couple  of years ago, we had an erosion problem along the driveway and I had some left-over seed packets, so I sowed carrots, cabbage, and who-knows-what-else in front of the “garden” where the English hive resides.   I’d read that both carrots and cabbage produce nectar sources at times when nectar is scare, and I figured that the carrot tubers would have to break up the cement-like clay at least a little.   Well, now the carrots are blooming, and it’s a wonderful sight, especially with a large variety of pollinators visiting.

According to The World Carrot Museum, carrots are biennial and require a cold snap to produce seeds in their second year.   Well, the extended period of below-freezing temperatures certainly seems to have done a good job with that this year.  Some of the flower stalks are at chest height and there is an abundance of blooms.

HoneyBeeSuite says that carrot honey has an aroma reminiscent of chocolate, and what could be better than honey and chocolate?   I doubt that we have enough plants to really be able to taste that, but it’s certainly an incentive to plant more carrots that we don’t intend to harvest for food.

Buckwheat seedlings
Buckwheat seedlings

Buckwheat honey, on the other hand, has an earthy flavor that people either seem to love or hate.   Again, I doubt that we have enough buckwheat planted to really get an idea of what true buckwheat honey tastes like, but we do have two areas of buckwheat growing that will provide nectar a month apart from each other.   I’ll continue to sow at intervals to help the bees through the nectar dearth that we all know is coming.    The bloom time on the fall crop we planted last October was only a couple of weeks, but the bees were all over it while it lasted.   My hope is that it will self-seed enough to keep a nectar supply going.   Its self-seeding habit can become a problem if it’s planted where it’s unwanted, but it’s also a great crop to till under before it seeds to improve soil quality, if that’s what you want.   It seemed like the perfect solution for the area that will eventually become a garden and orchard, but for now just needs something growing to slow down water run-off.

Bees - May 2018
Bees – May 2018

Hubby is currently inspecting hives, but a quick look yesterday showed that all are thriving.   He took 80 large frames with him, so between those and all the medium frames we already have at the farm, he can continue to provide room for growth for the next couple of weeks.   Me — I’m home sniffing and sneezing.  Allergies or a cold?  Who knows, but I was too muddled-headed to drive to the farm last night.   With Tropical Storm Alberto on the way, staying home and maybe packing some more boxes doesn’t feel so bad, although I hate to miss a long weekend at the farm.

Hubby had to drive down early to meet the mobile home representative to make sure we can get our new small-home onto the lot and discuss whether we need to remove any trees to get it into the space currently occupied by the RV.    We weren’t expecting the new home for 8 – 10 weeks as we had to custom order one with a propane stove and furnace, but we could have it as soon as in 3 – 4 weeks, according to current estimates.   Once again, our priorities have shifted and getting the infrastructure in place now takes precedence over getting the workshop erected.   Still, that makes selling the city house easier as we’ll be able to move some furniture directly to the mobile home and store only what doesn’t fit.    We’re also planning a moving sale as we have quite a lot of stuff that we really don’t like enough to pay storage fees and we’re going from a four bedroom house to a one bedroom (plus the mobile home) for retirement.

There’s a lot going on right now, and it’s a little overwhelming at times, especially as I am also packing up my classroom and deciding what to keep.   I have so much student work that brings back such great memories from the past 10 years, but it’s taking up more and more space every year.   Maybe I just need to take the good camera in to work one day and photograph everything so that I can keep the memories while minimizing the number of boxes to transport and store.    Making those decisions in two different locations is stressful for someone like me who still has every piece of artwork and every card given to me by my now-grown daughters.  I’m even hanging on to an empty poster tube because it’s one of the last things I received with my mother’s handwriting on the mailing label!    Maybe we need to build the downsized house, but add climate-controlled building for sentimental stuff I just can’t let go of!  Just don’t tell Hubby I said that……