Gardening · Lazer Creek Apiary · Natural Food Sources · Nature · Pests - General

Fall Nectar Flow

20190908 Buckwheat
One of three areas planted with buckwheat

While temperatures and humidity remain unbearably high, the fall nectar and pollen flows are on.   We’re lucky to have a spring-fed creek running along two sides of our property as our evening and night-time temperatures are lower than the local average and we have heavy dew every morning.  We’ve had a very dry week, but even areas that we don’t water remain green.  The Goldenrod currently looks unimpressive, but that will change as temperatures drop and we hopefully get some rain.

We planted about two acres of buckwheat a few weeks ago, both to provide nectar and to improve soil in areas that we had not yet tilled and/or had recently cleared.    We water it most days and this crop is the most impressive yet.   On weekends I get to water it early in the morning which helps the nectar flow:  by 9:00 a.m., this morning, the fields sounded like one big, happy bee hive.  We have sunflower seeded in with the buckwheat and will sow white dutch clover once it actually feels like fall.  Buckwheat is used as green manure and will provide nutrients and moisture to the clover seedlings.

20190908 Bee on Buckwheat-COLLAGEI saw pollinators that I don’t remember ever seeing before and quite a few that are regular visitors on the blossoms today.  A large variety of butterflies passes through almost year round, and carpenter bees are a permanent (and unwelcome) fixture.

There are two bugs that I really don’t like right now (well, three, if you count the aphids all of my tomato plants, especially the one that hitch-hiked a ride into the house last weekend):   one is the Tomato Hornworm and the other is the Assassin Fly aka Robber Fly.   Because of my neck/shoulder problem, I’ve been neglecting the tomato plants.  As a result, I caught (?) / picked (?) 20+ hornworms from my tomato plants and ended up throwing away an equal number of munched-on tomatoes.  The biggest worm was larger in length and width than my middle finger and the only way to dispatch them is to drown them in soapy water.  Yuck!    Well, I guess other people could squish them or attack them with garden shears, but I haven’t reached that point yet.  Drowning works quite well, as long as you don’t forget the soap.   (Yep, I forgot one day and they all crawled back out of the bucket.)

20190908 Assassin FlyThe Assassin Flies like to hang out by the lily pond and I find it very upsetting to see one cradling one of my honey bees like a baby only to suck its brains out!   Luckily there are fewer of those around.

But let me end this with good news:  I made it through two work days without taking any pain killers after breakfast two days this week.    The doctor says my left tricep is “still weak as a kitten” and my right isn’t much better, but the nerves are healing.    He’s added some exercises, and of course my Sleeping-Beauty muscles are just as cranky as I am when the alarm clock goes off now that they are being woken up!   Healing isn’t always comfortable, but I am healing, and that’s what’s important.

It’s a beautiful day and life is good on the farm!

 

 

Lazer Creek Apiary · Natural Food Sources

Sumac, not Devil’s Walking Stick

20190814 sumac
Bees on sumac

While checking our recent buckwheat and sunflower plantings, I noticed a plant that we’ve assumed was Devil’s Walking Stick covered in bees and other pollinators.  Most of these shrubs/trees on our land are inaccessible, but this small one is right next to a trail.   Bees were zipping from one flower to the next in a frenzy while gathering a dark-ochre pollen.    There were no bees on the same plant when I went back with Hubby after supper or a few minutes ago, even though pollen is still visible.

The lack of thorns on the stem is the first give-away that this is not Devil’s Walking Stick, and the non-serrated edges of the leaves is the second.

Hubby’s research last night provided mixed opinions about sumac honey, but as we usually leave fall honey on hives, we probably won’t get to form our own opinion this year.  Quite a few beekeepers also recommend using sumac seed pods as smoker fuel as it calms bees.  Now we just need to figure out how to get through all the blackberries to harvest enough seed pods to test that theory.   One beekeeper also reported a reduction in mites after using sumac-smoke.  We’ll have to fight our way to at least a couple of trees once seed pods form.    Once again, what bees appear to like or not like depends on the time of day and for 3 years we’ve been around these trees when the bees were not visiting.

The buckwheat that Hubby sowed last weekend is already sprouting, so we should have buckwheat nectar in a few weeks.  The buckwheat will hopefully crowd out some of the weeds that are bound to attempt a come-back while also improving the soil.   Once fall temperatures arrive, we’ll mix some clover seed in so that we have a perennial nectar source in those areas.   We’re impatiently waiting for the sunflower seeds to sprout.  We were late planting them and they are very popular with the local birds right now, but at least that area is prepped for next year.

20190815 lily
Water Lily

Something that we’ve noticed about the lily pond is that it is teeming with bees any time a swarm is present.  Once the swarm is settled, pond activity returns to normal.   Now that we’ve put two-and-two together, we’re going to start looking up if we see unusual numbers of bees gathering water.

The current high heat index is making it a little easier to stay indoors and let my neck and arm heal, and the golf cart allows me to spend some time in nature when I just have to get off the couch!    Life is good, and the dog days of summer at probably the best time for mandated laziness!

 

 

Bees · Hive equipment · Honey · Lazer Creek Apiary · Natural Food Sources · Pests - Bees

50 Hives and Counting….

2019-07 New Hive Stands
New Hive Stands – July 2019

According to Hubby’s spreadsheet, 50 hives going into the spring nectar flow is the magic number at which the apiary will become financially viable, based on honey sales alone.    We weren’t there at the start of spring this year, and probably won’t harvest any more honey this year as we’re letting our hives keep their nectar to build reserves for the dearth, but with the three splits I made yesterday, we do now have 50 strong hives.

Hubby has been working on new hive stands in a sunnier location than our first site, and the above three splits are the first occupants.  We want to move all of the hives from the first site because small hive beetles thrive in the shade there and the hives are too close to the planned house site.  Contractors may not be as thrilled as we are to watch bees head to the creek or fly around making orientation flights!   Before the big migration, we want to get carpet remnants under each stand to make life difficult for small hive beetles.  We already have quality landscape fabric along the whole run because it’s more fun checking hives when you don’t have to fight blackberry vines while doing so!

2019-07 Painting
Painting for fun and function.

Talking of checking hives, I only have four left to check for this round, and I’m pretty sure we’ll be able to make some more splits.   But my back hurt this morning, and it was hot and humid, and I just couldn’t face suiting up!   What’s the best (productive) thing to do on a hot humid day?   Well, pressure wash hive components and paint!   I repainted some wood ware last week, and most of what was left just needed a touch up on the hive numbers, so today was a low pressure day.   When we have a bunch of hive components that are all the same color, you can be pretty sure Hubby used the paint sprayer.   When we have a mixture, I hand painted.   We need the balance between efficiency and variety otherwise we’d run out of hive bodies.  Well, I need the variety — I love to look out at a colorful bee yard.

I can also rationalize a multi-colored bee yard because it reduces drifting.  Even when we have a number of similar hives, I try to paint the hive numbers in a variety of colors and add designs that help the bees find their ways home.   I have to admit that what drives me most is the joy of making things pretty.   Hubby and the bees don’t seem to care that I only ever took one art class in high school or that my flowers rarely look like anything found in nature.   Hubby likes to see me happy, and sometimes that means painting pink flowers, and sometimes it means designing a database!

My other summer project has been an Access database.  Our Excel spreadsheet for tracking hive inspections was becoming too cumbersome, so I gave Access another shot.   That I got nowhere with Access the past two summers says a lot about my stress levels back then as almost everything is falling into place now that I am relaxed and rested.  That brings me a different kind of joy than the colorful hives, especially as it’s proving useful.  Hubby asked me how many active NUCs we have last night, and I was able to tell him with just a few mouse clicks, so he kept throwing questions at me!  I was able to answer almost all of them with minimal effort.   There are still a number of reports that I want to develop, but they won’t be a chore as I love exercising that side of my brain sometimes.

Life has been especially good this week as Hubby didn’t have to work at his day-job.   We are so blessed to be surrounded by so much beauty.   We have a constant supply of fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, and melons, and the garden will be even bigger next year.  Life really doesn’t get any better than this!

2019-07 Lily Pond

Lazer Creek Apiary · Natural Food Sources · Nature · Pests - General

The cucumbers are abuzz!

20190609 Bee Drinking
Bee drinking

It’s June 9, and we’ve already surpassed May’s 3.9-inch rainfall total; most of the rain has fallen in the last three days and there is more to come.  My heart goes out to all of the people who were already living with floods and certainly did not need this rain, but at the same time I am grateful that our Georgia drought has been somewhat alleviated.

20190609 Bees on Cukes
Bees on cucumber and melon bed.

I took advantage of a break in this morning’s rain to take the honey-covered blossoms from my lavender-infused honey outside for the bees to clean up and heard a roar of bees coming from the cucumber bed.   It wasn’t quite loud enough to be a swarm, but it was far louder than usual — about the volume of a small hive.  Lo and behold, bees of all kinds were taking advantage of the  blossoms that were sheltered from the rain and still had nectar to offer.   One bedraggled bumblebee was even hanging upside down trying to dry off.    The fennel in the background of the top image has been a big hit with the bees the past few days, but it got knocked around in the 60 mph gusts the other day and we’re worried it may not recover.  Likewise, about a third of our corn was flattened, and the tomato cages were knocked askew.   We’ll try to stand all of these back up once this weather system passes — our efforts between downpours have been futile!

20190609 Veggies
June 9 – Cantaloupe, Honeydew, Lemon Cucumber, and Cucumber.

We’re a couple of days away from tasting our first lemon cucumber.   The one in the bottom right frame is about half the size of the ripening one.  I checked the big one yesterday and it’s still green.  According to High Mowing Seeds, lemon cucumbers are edible but crunchy when light yellow and at their best right before turning the color of a lemon.   I’ll be careful checking anything in that bed from now on as the biggest millipede or centipede I’ve ever seen hitch-hiked it’s way back into the house with me!  I just tried to identify which type it is, but just looking at the pictures makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up.   It doesn’t help that the thing either bit or stung Hubby when he came to my rescue.

(Hubby was kind enough to look it up for me.  It was a centipede and they do inject venom when they bite.  However, they eat soft-bodied insects such as spiders and aphids, so they are welcome in the garden, just not in the house.)

20190607 Maggie
Maggie with her duck

Maggie has been doing better with this round of storms.  She doesn’t shake anymore or insist on being held like a lap dog.  However, she does “hide” under her duck when the going gets tough!   Right now, she’s wandering around checking out all the new smells and is quite content to be outside without her humans.   She’ll be even happier if we grab the golf-cart keys and head out to join her — one more cup of coffee and we’ll be out the door until the rain drives us back inside.

Cooking · Home Remedies · Honey · Lazer Creek Apiary · Natural Food Sources · Pests - Bees · Products and Vendors

Our biggest harvest yet – 95 lbs of honey.

May honey 2019
May honey, 2019

Spring was good to us with its profusion of blackberry blossoms which yielded hives full of pale and delicious honey.   We put our daughter and her boyfriend, JI, in bee suits for the first time and had them smoking and brushing bees, which they greatly enjoyed.  (I’m glad that I was the only one who got stung on their first excursion to the bee yard!  I even restrained my remarks to the bee that crawled up my boot. )

We only checked honey supers above excluders and were still able to pull 95 pounds of honey.   There are full supers with frames that were 3/4 capped last weekend, so we’ll have more to process in the near future.

Decapping
Decapping

As the workshop is still in disarray, we extracted the honey in the kitchen with the four of us working very well together in the cramped space.  JI is a natural at decapping frames and we all took turns cranking the handle on the extractor.  I’d covered the island with a sheet and put towels down on the floor, so clean up was a breeze.  With water and electricity at the shop now, we were able to pressure wash the equipment.  I even had enough energy left to pressure-wash the wood ware that I plan to repaint sometime this week.   (Or do I mean next week?  What day is it? I love summer break!)

The main nectar source right now appears to be elderberry, and the bees are still visiting  buckwheat early in the day.   I’m very happy to see them on the lavender, but I don’t yet have enough lavender for it to make a difference.  I just read that varroa mites don’t like the way lavender smells, so lavender pollen and nectar can help protect bees.  (Source:  Plants for honey bees)   That makes me want to go out and clip more cuttings right now, but I need to wait a while as the plants are currently in full bloom.

Honey May 2019
My first attempt at lavender-infused honey.

I did cut some blooms a couple of days ago for my first attempt at making lavender infused honey.    I know I need more, but I really want to leave as many flowers on the plant for bee-forage as possible.  Some of the recipes I looked at require heating the honey, which I prefer not to do, so I am following a recipe from NectarApothecary.com  that takes 4 – 6 weeks.   I do not have dried blooms, so I know there’s a risk that fresh flowers will make the honey crystallize, but I’m not worried about that as I plan to add it to tea or simply eat it by the spoonful when I have a sore throat!    I know I’m not supposed to disturb the honey, but I can’t resist taking the lid off to inhale the incredible aroma now and then.  It’s only a matter of time before I dunk a teaspoon in, so there may not be much left in the jar by the end of the six weeks….

Honey KegToday we get to find a home (other than the living room) for the Honey Keg and pour our liquid gold into it for storage and eventual easy bottling.  I couldn’t find my mason jars and lids the other day, so it may be time to just have a case of pre-sterilized containers shipped in.   Our previous process of ladling honey into jars in the kitchen sink is going to take too long, but I’m not going to complain about how much honey we have.  After all, our progress means we’re one step closer to being able to retire from our day jobs!

It’s another beautiful day on the farm, and we finally have a chance of rain in the forecast.   Cucumbers, grapes, blackberries, and tomatoes are all getting closer to being edible.  We got to eat four incredible blueberries from one of the new bushes yesterday.  The workshop passed the building inspection yesterday.  Best of all — we no longer have to worry about what is going on with our old house and can now focus on framing the honey shop in the workshop.  It just simply doesn’t get any better than this!

 

Bees · Gardening · Lazer Creek Apiary · Natural Food Sources · Nature · Pests - General

Buckwheat Nectar

Buckwheat bees
Buckwheat nectar source

During the week, it’s hard to see whether or not the bees appreciate the quarter acre of buckwheat we have planted for them because the nectar dries up in the heat of the day.   Temperatures have been in the 90s this week, so it doesn’t take long for the blooms to run dry.    There was a loud hum in the garden this morning, so I came back indoors to get the camera and then spent about 20 minutes looking closely at the buckwheat through the lens.  (I gave up when I heard something rustle around the cucumbers as I wasn’t appropriately dressed to encounter any snakes.)

bumble bee on buckwheatI’ve seen red wasps on the buckwheat in the evening, but this morning was all about the bees – honey bees, bumble bees, and tiny bees that I don’t have a name for.    Butterflies are making the best of the pink clover, and the dog was fascinated by something in the wood line.   All in all, it was the perfect way to start the day.

So now I’ve had sufficient coffee,  it’s time to start on chores, the first of which is get the RV ready for guests.   We have only been in there to access the freezer or work on craft projects since we moved into the mobile home in June, so the critters have had free run of the place.   Now that the kids are coming in for the weekend, it’s time to evict the squatters and clean up their mess!   Hubby put some traps out last night, but I’m hoping that the mess-makers were only in there over the coldest days of winter.   (After disturbing a mouse while packing up my classroom, I know that’s a futile hope.)

First tomatoes of 2019
First tomatoes of 2019

While I’m not looking forward to cleaning, life is still good on the farm.   Another school year is over and I can look back on a year during which my students made a lot of progress.  Then I can look around the farm and see what a difference living here full time has made.   Finally I can look at the tomatoes, cucumbers, and melons that are growing so very well and promising healthy eating in just a few weeks.   I love this place!

 

Construction · Gardening · Honey · Lazer Creek Apiary · Natural Food Sources · Nature · Products and Vendors

4 days away from selling the house, but….

broken line
Broken Water LIne

….the buyer’s home inspection showed a slight leak under the master bath and a couple of other minor issues that we needed to take care of.  (There was no leak at the time we had a home inspection done.)  We had someone come in to do estimates for the repairs and he said the wax ring on the toilet needed to be replaced.  We’re not sure how he knew that, but sometime over the following weekend, the water supply line to the toilet sheared off (not a normal PVC break) and flooded the house.    The bamboo floors in the master bedroom and closet have to be torn out, some of the bathroom tiles have cracked because of damage to the sub-floor, the padding has to be replaced under the brand-new carpet in the dining room, and the dining room wallpaper may need to be replaced.   Luckily, the insurance adjuster is working directly with the contractor on repairs, so things should be moving forward, but work will almost certainly not be done before closing on Thursday.   Of course, we’ll have to pay our deductible and we’re really concerned about how much our next water bill will be, but so far the buyers want to move forward with the sale.

buckwheat-COLLAGE
Buckwheat May 2019

Still, life is good on the farm.  We are back up to 37 hives and most are packed with nectar.  The blackberry flow was really good this year, and the wild flowers are continuing to bloom.  We have buckwheat planted in a few areas, and it is coming along quite well.   There are even a few over-achievers blooming already!   The rest should bloom when many of the wild flowers fade, so we’ll be able to delay the nectar dearth.  We should be able to mow once the buckwheat goes to seed and then let it grow and bloom again.  By then it may be too hot for that, but as buckwheat is an excellent soil conditioner and  cover crop, it will help either way.

May 5-COLLAGE
Plants May 5, 2019

The first lavender blooms are opening and all of the plants have survived pruning!    I let the lavender in the city get too “leggy,” and it’s been scary to prune this batch as much as is recommended.   In fact, I pruned a little less than recommended this time, but the results show that I need to have faith in the multiple sources I read.

We already have a constant supply of strawberries.  Grapes, thornless blackberries, tomatoes, cucumbers, and melons all look promising.   I plan to harvest some wild blackberries for jam, but the thornless ones are so much easier to deal with!   One blueberry bush has twice as many blueberries as last year, but don’t get excited — we had 5 last year!   The other two bushes are doing well, but didn’t flower this year as we moved them a couple of months ago.


SchoolSurprise, surprise, we are also almost at the end of the school year.   I’m so used to teaching into June that I can’t quite wrap my head around the fact that next week is the last one for seniors.   Some seniors stopped coming to class over a week ago, which has me concerned about them maintaining a passing grade, but hopefully they’ll be back tomorrow.   We also got to the end of standardized testing last week, and teachers and students alike are glad to have that over with!    It’s been an interesting year, as any first year at a new school is, and I’m glad that school will be over before Memorial Day.  It was always such a struggle to keep students focused after Memorial Day, especially students who took AP and IB exams at the start of May.

Workshop
Workshop

So, soon I’ll be back in the bee yard and garden full time, unless I’m in the kitchen canning the results of our labors.   We only have half a cup of honey left from two years ago, so we’re looking forward to harvesting this year.  The exterior workshop construction is complete, but we won’t start on building the honey extraction room until after we sell the house, so we may be extracting in the kitchen again!

With the workshop done, Hubby was able to change the blades on the cutter, so we’re taking it in turns to get “tractor therapy” and bush-hog the cleared areas.  After 3 years, the blackberries have given up and the Dutch White Clover has settled in, so we want to keep that maintained.  Plus, I don’t want to have to worry about what’s hiding in the long grass when I go to the well house or compost pile.

Here I am, starting another topic, when daylight is burning and I have trees to plant!   We bought a healthy black walnut at the Cotton Pickin Fair yesterday, and I’m going to ride down to its new home on the golf cart and get it in the ground before I start another hour writing and uploading pictures.

Here’s hoping life is as good in your world as it is here at the farm.   Let’s just forget about the annoying house in the city!