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!

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……

Lazer Creek Apiary · Natural Food Sources · Nature · Pests - Bees · Queen Bee

The Return of the Hives!

Blackberry flowers
Blackberry flowers

One good thing about this time of year is that I can perform full checks of 18 hives in just a couple of hours!   While I’d hate to see so few bees and no honey come June, it sure is nice to be able to knock out half the bee yard before lunch without even breaking a sweat.

My feeling about the blackberry bushes is the reverse.  Right now, I’m happy to see all the flowers because they are such a good nectar source and our bees are bringing in lots of lovely nectar and pollen right now.   However, as soon as the blackberry bushes stop blooming, I’ll get hubby to hook the cutter up to the tractor and I’ll mow down all the ones that are growing like the weeds they are along our trails.   They are quite welcome to keep growing off the trails for now — at least until after I make another batch of blackberry-apple jam.

The bees are doing great and so far there are very few small hive beetles in the new yard.   Most of the hives are beetle free, but 3 had wasps starting nests under the lids.   Two were yellow jackets and one was a red wasp — I’m not sure which I like least.   Well maybe I do — I like the ones that are gone!

The new bees that hubby bought in Jesup are very friendly.   Some of the hives are outgrowing their space, while others are just plodding along.   The packages he bought all still have their queens and they are laying, but some of the queens he bought separately are nowhere to be found.  We’re pretty sure that not being able to install them right away contributed to those losses, but at least the remaining ones are making up for lost time.   We tried introducing a NUC with an weak  queen from last year to a hive that had become queenless this spring, but that failed.   The hive itself is incredibly strong, but no queen — unless she’s out on a mating flight.    It seems to me that they would have preferred a weak queen to no queen at all, but bees don’t always make sense.

Yellow Columbines
Yellow Columbines — Columbines grow so much better in the clay here than in the sandy soil back in the city!

It’s nice to be back and see the grass seed sprouting along the driveway along with what might be wildflowers from the seed my friend sent for my birthday.    I also have spring onions growing and one lonely squash plant.   Last week, hubby thought something had been snacking in the temporary vegetable beds, so that plant might not be even there next weekend — or it may be surrounded by other plants.   We did get to eat one strawberry each this afternoon and are looking forward to more in years to come.

It still seems a little surreal that I will be here full time soon.   For now, we’re bringing one or two boxes of stuff with us each time we drive down.   I don’t think either one of us wants to think about packing up the house until we get to the end of the school year, but when the mood strikes I do gather stuff to take to Goodwill.   We are both pack-rats, but as we’re downsizing some things just have to go.   Maggie, the dog, is just so much happier here so I’m sure she’d pack for us while we’re at work if she knew how.

It’s been a productive and tiring day, but I’ll be going to sleep stress free and with a big smile on my face.   Every trip reaffirms that buying this land was the perfect decision for us and our future.   Happy spring, everyone — it seems like it might be sticking around this time!

Gardening · Lazer Creek Apiary · Natural Food Sources · Queen Bee · Supplemental Feeding

Cooking with Gas – April Updates

Enough propane to last a while!
Enough propane to last a while!

Today we got a very large propane tank to power our tiny home!   This will be the tank that provides propane to the house eventually, but it’s worth it even now — both for the convenience of having a reliable source of heat and hot water and for the cost savings.   We ran out of propane one of those well-below freezing nights over winter break, and we don’t want to make a habit out of that!   Getting up in the dark and the cold to drive 10 miles to get a tank of propane is not fun.   Well, it wasn’t bad for me as I turned the electric blanket up and waited for hubby to return, but it was no fun for him.

Future workshop site
Future workshop site

We’ve made other great progress this week.   Hubby has leveled the site for the future workshop.   He had to take down some trees and scrape off the top soil to get down to clay, so I now have temporary raised beds made from those trees and the soil for this year’s veggie garden.   I’ve also planted more grass, clover, and wild-flower seed to reduce erosion along the driveway while providing for the bees.   The bees are still very interested in the syrup buckets, so I’m impatient to see some nectar plants start supplying them with what they need.

Temporary raised beds
Temporary raised beds

For some reason, the well filter keeps clogging, and I wonder if the tree clearing across the creek has anything to do with it.   We ended up removing the filter after the third after-dark trip to the well house one night, but now silt clogs the sprinklers so they don’t turn off.   That made for an interesting shower last night — five sprinklers were running and I got to wash shampoo out of my hair with  the left over trickle.    After that, walking across the slick clay to turn off all the faucets in the dark was a challenge, but then I looked up at the beautiful night sky and the challenge turned into a blessing.   It’s been too long since we walked down the driveway after dark.   I love the electric gate opener, but I didn’t realize how much I missed our evening walks to go lock the gate.

The really good news is that most of the bee packages and splits we made are doing well.    Bees moved out of one of the hives that took a long time to release the queen, but the rest have eggs and/or brood in various stages and all of the queens are fat and active.   The hives in the old location are still battling small hive beetles, so we’re trying beetle traps made of Borax and Crisco paste in CD covers for the first time.    We’ll let you know how that goes.   The hives in the new, sunnier location have far fewer problems with beetles so far.

More good news is that I received a job offer for next school year, so I’ll be living at the farm full time after June.   That moved the workshop up the priority list as we’ll need somewhere to put all the tools from the garage, but at least we’ll no longer be moving carpentry projects up and down I-20!   I’m enjoying spring break, so I’m trying very hard to not think about packing up everything else in the house and getting the house on the market.   It’s much less stressful to think about being able to monitor the bees on a more consistent basis.

Blue bells
Blue bells – another childhood favorite of mine.

 

 

 

Natural Food Sources

Spring is Here – sorta

We checked our city hives 10 days ago, and one queen is laying like crazy while the other one still appears to be on winter vacation!   Both hives have lots of bee bread, so brood is imminent.  So, is it that much cooler in the corner where the “lazy” queen is or is she just running out of eggs?  We’ll take a peek in the hives again on Sunday if it’s warm enough.

I hate the idea of replacing a queen we have raised from an egg and who has served us so well for over two years, but it’s a fact of life that we may have to dethrone her and find a replacement.  We have three queen cells on frames in the queen castle, but we won’t know if they are viable for a few weeks so the old queen still has time to prove she’s worth her keep.  She has been a fantastic queen — lots of eggs and friendly bees.  I’m hoping she starts filling up those frames by Sunday!

I checked my hive at the farm, and the bees have barely started making bee bread.   It’s odd, because some plants around the farm like Forsythia are ahead of the ones here, but other plants still look dead.  Why can’t spring give clear signals?   It was a little too cool to go into the hives that were not in the full sun, so I guess we’ll check those next trip.

Hubby bought pollen to try to jump-start the hives, but the bees don’t seem to like it.  At least, they don’t like it at this minute!  We know that bees want what they want when they want it and select the flowers that provide the micro-nutrients they need at any given time.   They might want our pollen next week, or they’ll crave something that’s blooming.

After buying the pollen, we read about the downside of trying to create queens early in the season — it doesn’t matter how many queens we produce if there are no drones with whom they can mate.  Bees kill drones when going into winter as their only job is to mate with queens.   So, no drones, no fertile queen — and the bees will kill a queen, or at least kick her out, if she doesn’t start laying eggs as quickly they think appropriate.   Our strongest hive had many drone cells 10 days ago, but are there enough from other hives for a successful mating flight?

As I’ve found out with seedlings over the decades, you can’t rush nature.   It helps to get a little jump-start with the greenhouse, but trying to move nature’s time-table up by a month isn’t in the cards.  Once again it all comes down to patience, which I may learn eventually!