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.)
I’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.)
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!
….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.
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.
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.
Surprise, 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.
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!
Once again we’re under a tornado watch, but the danger is a lot less than a month ago. We should be out from under the thunderstorms by this afternoon. Meanwhile, I’m sitting here looking at the rivulets running along the side of the drive and at our beautiful grassy area going across to the well house. The White Dutch Clover is well enough established to bloom in many places. Of our 20 acres, we probably have 15 covered with blackberry bushes in full bloom right now. There is a lot of crimson clover in the orchard. Everything is really beautiful, but there’s not a bee to be seen on all the things we’ve planted for them. (Not that we planted the thorny blackberry vines, but we will always leave some patches as a nectar source.) The bees are clearly finding plenty of resources elsewhere as all hives have multiple frames full of nectar and the bees are drawing lots of beautiful new comb. As always, we have to recognize that the bees know what the hive needs at this point in time, and they will gather what they want. We see lots of bees returning from the direction of the creek, so they are either heading toward the deciduous trees or going across the creek to the forest land that was cleared 18 months ago.
I checked most of the hives over spring break — the first week of April. We are applying ProDFM for the first time this year and seeing good results. Of course, it’s always difficult to determine whether or not the bees would have done as well without our intervention, but treated hives appear to be thriving better than those we did not treat. Some of our hives had bees on about half the frames 10 days ago and are now bursting at the seams. A few hives have open brood and eggs covering four or more frames.
I checked hives that I didn’t get to over break yesterday and pulled out frames with eggs and 1 – 3 day brood and Hubby started our second grafting attempt. That turned out to be a very efficient way to do that, and after harvesting, we placed those frames into NUCs for walkaways. That also enabled us to add empty frames to high producing hives. We didn’t see any swarm cells in those hives yet, but the hives are producing lots of drones, so we need to do what we can to discourage swarm tendencies.
We had 75% success the first time we attempted grafting, but work and weather got in the way of us checking the grafts in a timely manner and the queens hatched and left! I saw one small queen in the hive that same week, but she must have lost her way on a mating flight. This time we have NUCs set up to receive any good queen cells. We split two angry hives into NUCs and only grafted from mellow and productive hives. If the NUCs build their own queen cells over the next few days, we’ll pinch those off and give them a queen that is more likely to be one we can work with. (Hubby ended up having to taking shelter under the garden sprinkler to deter some bees that need an attitude adjustment yesterday!)
Our hive beetle problem-corner remains an issue despite a variety of things we’ve tried. I moved one 10-frame to a NUC over break and that NUC had almost no bees yesterday and a sickening number of SHM larvae wiggling away on the frames. Hubby is now moving healthy bees from the lower apiary to our sunnier upper apiary, but he’s not moving hives up from that one corner. We will move them to other benches in the lower apiary and treat them, but we don’t want to risk infesting what is currently a good location. We have had some luck with putting old carpet under one of hive stands in the lower apiary and we’ll use up old carpet that we brought from the house under our new hive stands. Cheap landscape fabric, Diatomaceous Earth, and a variety of SHB traps did nothing for the corner closest to the spring although all of those methods helped elsewhere. We have better landscape fabric under all hive stands in the upper apiary, and we think that is helping.
Talking about landscape fabric, Hubby has built two raised beds so far and we are using heavy landscape fabric on those as well as on the new blueberry and boysenberry patch. Four varieties of heirloom tomatoes are thriving in the first raised bed and Lemon Cucumber seedlings are ready to be moved into the second one. The older we get, the less we want to bend down to weed any kind of garden, so raised beds are the way to go! With rainfall like we just had, they are also a good way to keep soil amendments where we need them instead of seeing them wash down to the creek! Hubby stacked the blocks without using any mortar to enable us move the beds if they don’t work well in their current location and to allow excess water to escape. Hubby is going to build a smaller bed for asparagus and everything else will have to live in old Home Depot buckets this year! We’ve gone from gardening in the sandy soil of Columbia, SC to gardening in clay. I must say that almost all of our transplants are doing far better here than they ever did at the old house.
There’s lots of “Hubby did this” and “Hubby is going to do this” in this post, but that’s not because I’ve become a lady of luxury. I’m a very frustrated bee-keeper dealing with tendonitis in my right ankle/calf! I made a lot of progress over spring break, but walking around the classroom last week set me back again. Still, my ankle looks and feels a whole lot better than a month ago, and I know from past experiences that being patient now provide a better outcome by summer. Not that I’m really being patient — I guess being proactive would be a better term. When have I ever been patient?
The storms have passed and the rain has stopped, so it’s time for me to take a trip around the farm in the golf cart before settling down to grade essays and write lesson plans. Hubby has also cooked something that smells delicious, so eating is probably my first priority. We have come through another storm front without damage and bees, trees, and vegetables are all doing well. Life is good on the farm.
Last Sunday afternoon, we listened to so many tornado warnings that we lost count. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the watch/warning system, a tornado watch means that weather conditions are favorable. A warning means that an active tornado has been sighted or that radar has a strong indication that one has formed in the vicinity, so more than 5 warnings makes for a stressful afternoon. Here in Georgia, most tornadoes are shrouded in rain, so they are less visible than in other areas of the country, which doesn’t help the nerves. The one that touched down came within 300 yards of our niece’s and her husband’s house, then came through south of our land and north of BILs. We had no damage at all here, but, sadly, the county seat sustained significant damage.
The tornado swept through Talbotton between the school and the court house, destroying homes and taking down beautiful old trees. Click here to see pictures. It’s been heart-breaking to drive through town to and from work this week. On Monday, so many trees were down and so many news crews were parked along the narrow road that it was hard to see much else. As the week progressed, the debris close to the road receded, but that made the extent of the damage more apparent in many ways. Still, when we look at the loss of life and the more severe damage to the west of us, we know it could have been worse.
Once the storm passed, we had three nights of below freezing temperatures. We’d attempted our first queen grafting on Saturday and completed a quick check of all the hives. We were a little concerned about having enough bees in the grafting hive, and quite concerned about the bees being able to cover all the wonderful brood we saw in the other hives. As soon as temperatures were above 60, all of the hives were active and there is minimal evidence of chill-brood cleanup.
We checked the grafting frame on Thursday and are happy with the success rate of our first attempt. The cell walls are weaker than we’d like, but we have queens. One of our hives is in severe need of a new queen — or a can of Raid! (Just kidding about the Raid.)
It’s very warm out today and the bees are vigorously hitting any sugar source they can find. I had some leftover fondant in plates and baking cups, so I put those out to supplement the syrup buckets. I slept in this morning, so I was too late to replenish buckets even with a bee suit on. The girls are crazy this morning!
We have thunderstorms predicted tomorrow, but nothing like last weekend. The warm weather is likely to continue, and I have trays of seedlings in the greenhouse just waiting for the danger of frost to be over. I also had a Carolina Wren in there this morning…. Nature keeps life interesting and sometimes gives me a better jolt than coffee!
The cattle panel greenhouse has performed so much better than the more traditional greenhouse we had in the city. I have two seed tray mats and three light bulbs in there, and everything survived a 25 degree night. I still need to plant the lemon cucumber from High Mowing Seeds, and some Echinacea, but then I think I’ll be done. All of the other seeds from High Mowing are doing great, and I’m excited to taste all the heirloom tomatoes in May.
The rest of my weekend will be spent reading 136 essays and entering grades! These are revised essays, so the grading will go far quicker than for the first drafts, but it really is time for me to stop procrastinating. It’s hard to believe that we are 3/4 of the way through the school year and it’s time to close the gradebooks out again. I may have to take the laptop into the living room, because it is just so very hard to sit inside looking out of the window as spring reveals its unique beauty and resilience.
Now, have I ever told you about my funny and embarrassing story about the wild violets Beccy and I picked when we were 14? I’d better save that for another day, or I’ll never get started on those essays!
Oh, and remind me to tell you what the turkeys have been up to……
We have our first 2019 swarm capture! Swarm might be an overstatement, but while we were adding and removing supers yesterday, Hubby went to grab some frames from a hive I’d baited with Swarm Commander and found a fat, active queen with a handful of bees in the center of the brood box. We’d just split a hive, so we ended up doing a newspaper introduction to the queenless hive as the poor girl didn’t have enough attendants to get her through a 38 degree night. Hubby just took a peek in the hive, and all looks good. He didn’t remove any frames, but the bees are very calm and clearly bees have broken through from the very full bottom box to where their new sovereign is housed.
Hubby purchased two Rapid Bee Feeders to try, so we gave that hive and a weak hive one each. We like the Pro Feeders, but we’ve also experienced some robbing with those when we’ve used them in a weak hive during a dearth. It’s tough to keep the girls fed when temperatures fluctuate as much as they are currently doing. Our goal is to build strength first and foremost this year as we have to get the hive beetles under better control than last year. We’ll move hives out of the lower apiary and into a sunnier area just as soon as we can install more hive stands. As any beekeeper knows, there are more things on the to-do list than there are hours to get them to-done at this time of year!
As for storms: a couple of months ago, we had such a loud clap of thunder that the dog sat on my lap shaking like a leaf for almost an hour afterward. The weekend before last, Hubby and BIL wandered around in the woods and came across a red oak that has clearly been struck by lightening, probably that night. One piece of the tree is splintered, but still attached, while other “splinters” are in concentric circles around the tree. The largest of these is about 12 feet long and was flung 100 yards into the woods. That’s certainly a tree we need to keep an eye on and not one to take a walk close to on a windy day.
The recent floods have also moved sandbanks around in the creek and washed soil away from tree roots, so there are a couple of large trees down in the creek that also look precarious. Even so, it was such a joy to walk the property boundary and watch the dog play in the creek yesterday. Sometimes we have to just put work aside and enjoy our home.
Talking of work, in anticipation of the new raised beds this spring, I’ve filled the greenhouse with seed trays! I have a few types of heirloom tomatoes and some heirloom carrots. The carrots are in a grow bag as I anticipate them being ready to eat before the raised beds are ready. The strawberry plants are in bloom, the blueberry bushes have been relocated to a better spot, and boysenberries have been added to that bed. We have a new pear tree to replace the one that died, although we don’t know which one survived as its tag disappeared. We had two varieties so that they could cross-pollinate — now we either have two different trees or two Kiefer pears. We’ll figure that out sooner or later.
Other than that, we’ve been busy with teacher stuff! Oh – we’re also making progress on the workshop. Did I already blog about that? Looking back, I guess not! I’ll snap some more pictures and blog about that next time we have a sunny weekend.
It’s amazing what a difference both of us living here makes. We’re able to accomplish so much more and I’m already envisioning jars of fresh honey and baskets of tomatoes in May. Of course, we’re also both happier living in the same city. Eighteen years and one day since we met and we still love spending time together –life really is good!
Our strategy of combining weak hives, even if that meant sacrificing queens, in late fall has paid off and we are going into February with 25 strong hives. We did lose one NUC that we were on the fence about. They hung in there until the below freezing temperatures last weekend, but sadly didn’t make it past the last 23 degree morning because the cluster just wasn’t quite big enough to keep warm. We were so close, and, if I could go back, I would probably grab the NUC and put it in the greenhouse for that last week of January! Ian Steppler stacks hives to retain warmth, and that is a strategy we thought about trying but simply didn’t get around to. Once again, we are reminding ourselves that we are closer than ever before to spending all of our time at the farm: we just need to get our city house on the market and sold and stop making that 600 round-trip drive to get it market ready!
I checked candy boards last weekend and was happy to see hundreds of little eyes starting up at me from sugar piles and bees bringing pollen in through the main entrances. Today, bees are removing spilled sugar from the hives. Does that mean they don’t need it any more, or is it just in the wrong place? I didn’t see much pollen coming in, but there are more bees than usual gathering water. I love the sound of contented bees, although I wish there were fewer of them sucking water out of the door mat on the front deck!
There are also signs of spring in the garden. I was frustrated over the absence of crocus last weekend as I thought they should be blooming by now. After all, that’s why I plant them! Crocus are usually the first dashes of color, but the daffodils are leading the way this year. I was happy to finally see crocus shoots this morning. Clover seeded over the last three years is also returning, and one of the fig trees is about to produce its first leaf of the year. I hope to see a good crop of clover flowers for the bees this year as most of our clover should be well established by now. All-in-all, it’s pretty amazing to look back at pictures from three years ago and the progress we’ve been able to make in a relatively short time.
Talking of time, it’s flown by while I’ve been fighting my computer to edit and upload pictures. It must be downloading another Windows update, because it’s apparently been busy doing things other than what I’ve wanted it to do! I had planned to do some gardening this afternoon, but now I think I just need to close the greenhouse and let it start storing some warmth for the evening. The cattle panel greenhouse has been a great success. We are only using three light bulbs to heat it, and up until last week, even the elephant ears were still growing. Our more traditional greenhouse did not protect plants this well. We’re trying to see what we can do without running a heater, and so far, so good. I am going to try heating mats under seedling trays this spring. I’ll let you’all know how that goes. Either way, we plan to add more cattle panel greenhouses before next winter as well as adding raised beds to the garden this spring.
Over the past few days, we keep walking down to the bluff that overlooks the creek. It’s so peaceful there. Even though the water is up a little, there is still a soothing sound of water running over granite rocks. Add to that the sounds of a happy dog bounding through fallen leaves and the occasional bee flying by to get a drink, and it seems like the perfect place to have 50 feet from the back porch of the house. We plan to put a bench out there in the near future so that we can just sit and daydream together and maybe decide once and for all where the house will go.
My walk down there today started out as a simple pollen feeder check. Even though we have candy boards on all but two hives (one has lots of honey, the other we apparently overlooked), the bees are feeding heavily on the pollen and powdered sugar mix. On just one of feeder, they consumed 2 cups of mixture in an afternoon a couple of days ago. I love listening to their contented hum, which is really the main reason I wandered down there this afternoon. I took this picture, and the one above, and then the camera died.
Sometimes a dead battery is a good thing, because I wasn’t ready to go back inside and just meandered along the creek bank for a while and took in the beauty of my surroundings. Even though I called the dog, she kept going to all the places she expected me to be and therefore never found me. Once we reunited at the lower apiary, we walked that loop together and just had fun exploring.
While organizing the office feels only a little less overwhelming than before, the impromptu walk was restorative. Now I just need to narrow my focus to one stack or box of stuff at a time instead of staring at the chaos created when we moved clutter in here so that we could install the laminate flooring in the living room. Maybe I’ll take just one more short break in the now very tidy living room before I dive in……