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……
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!
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
While our spring results are not perfect, we are very happy to have only lost two hives this winter. I thought we went into winter with over 20 hives, but when I updated the records yesterday morning, I found that we have 15 hives. However, that makes the percentage we lost this winter even better — and our best year yet. Even the two we lost probably would have made it through if we hadn’t had that incredibly long cold spell. In fall, we long debated combining them with each other or with other hives as they were not strong, but they also weren’t quite that weak and they had honey. We added candy boards in December and hoped for the best. Neither hive even went into the candy boards. There were actually some resources left in the frames, but the bees died clustered — about 3 cups of bees in each hive. Sixteen degrees is just too cold and we are counting our blessings that the other hives are doing as well as they are.
With temperatures in the mid seventies on Saturday, many bees were out gathering pollen and every hive still had a good number of bees in the hive. We even had to add a super to the English hive and the best other hives have 10 frames of bees. A couple of hives only have three frames, but there was a variety of ages so the queen must be ramping up production. Despite the sunshine and the warm temperature, the intermittent breeze had a chill to it so I didn’t pull any frames. I counted frames of bees and tested the weight of the boxes. It feels like some of the ladies have really been packing sugar into frames! Hubby helped out on the last two hives and pulled some frames without a large number of bees on them and saw lots of wonderful bee bread, pollen, and nectar.
I was impatient (and over confident) in the morning and did a quick check of candy boards before suiting up. Our generally worst tempered hive had no sugar left, so I decided to give them one of the candy boards from a dead-out. The unappreciative little critters stung me right above my top lip, so I spent the rest of the weekend looking like I was trying to do that stupid duck-face thing! Hopefully I’ll abide by “we live and we learn” in the future. I almost look normal again today, which is good because I have to get a new ID made tomorrow.
While I was checking hives, hubby installed some more hive stands in the new location and then he painted all the new wood ware with paint from the reject shelf at Lowe’s. I love the new colors! I know some beekeepers prefer an all-white apiary, but bees orient on color. That’s my excuse for our rainbow hives, and I’m sticking to it. I know for sure that hubby would not pick magenta if he was the only one working the bees, but he does like making me happy! It works out well for both of us as I’d rather have pretty bee hives than jewelry, and you can’t buy a diamond ring for $9.00!
It was so wonderful to spend a weekend at the farm, even with a mouse in the camper! (That was my motivation to get up at 6:00 a.m.) I love waking up to the quiet and a view of pine trees. While we’ll make frequent trips back before then, I’m counting down the days until spring break and a whole week in paradise!
During a job interview many years ago, I was asked whether I’d rather be an art critic or an artist. I’ve never figured out what that had to do with being a computer programmer, but I do finally know the answer — I want to be an artist — or at least be creative! I only spent 90 minutes grading this morning before the urge to empty the compost pot became the most important thing in my life, and that led to seeing a bee flying, which led to visiting the bee yard, which led to taking pictures, which led me back to the computer and this blog! To grade, one must be a critic, and I find it hard to “criticize” according the criteria on a rubric. Yes, I agree that it’s a fair way to grade, and, yes, students knew what the expectations were for their oral exam, but the happy feelings that blue skies and sunshine evoke makes it hard to give a student a failing grade! Never mind that my dominant learning style is hands-on activity, my second most dominant is visual, and my least dominant is listening — and here I sit with 17.5 hours of oral exams to listen to. I should not have procrastinated, and I probably shouldn’t be blogging, but just like every other year I’ll get through it somehow.
It’s only 48 degrees out this morning, but the bees are foraging and we want them to have as much stored as possible going into the predicted 20 degree nights next week, so it wasn’t just procrastination that led me down to the bee yard. Cold as it is, there were so many bees on the pollen feeder station that I couldn’t get to the trays and had to scatter the pollen-sugar mix where the bees can get to it but the dog can’t. (Maggie climbed a stack of shipping pallets to get to a pollen tray yesterday — you’d think we didn’t feed her sometimes!) I so enjoy standing there listening to the sound of happy bees, especially on a day as beautiful as today. We are just so lucky to have this little piece of heaven to call our own.
What does any of this have to do with a mule? Not much, but our Christmas present to each other this year was a Mighty Mule gate opener. Well, it was hubby’s Christmas to me, and my gift was to graciously concede that it is money well spent! Even on a good day, having to get out of the car and walk across the gravel to unlock the gate becomes tedious. If I’m wearing anything other than my trusty work boots, the likelihood of a twisted ankle increases with the height of the heel. Rain makes the process even less fun. Last week’s thunderstorm actually made it somewhat hilarious. If we do end up moving here before retirement, we need to somehow be able to get out of the gate in all weather still looking presentable enough to show up at work.
It took hubby a while to install the gate opener, partly because of the instructions, partly because of all the adjustments and settings, and partly because the dog and I were hibernating in the camper instead of helping for much of the time. By the end of the day on Christmas Day, he had everything working, but then spent most of the next day trying to get it to work right! The gate opens fine, and even closes after 30 seconds. The problem was that it randomly re-opened. That doesn’t offer much security and is likely to run the battery down. I searched the Internet for answers on our way to the family dinner and found that many people have problems with the wand that detects when a car pulls up to the gate to leave. Hubby spoke with tech support and tried many things, but the final solution was along the lines of Hotel California — guests who have the code can check in any time they like, but they can never leave! The wand is going back for a refund and hubby will research other solutions.
Well, it’s time to listen to at least a couple more exams — 7 down, 30 to go! It makes me want to curl up with the dog and just take a nap.
As I sat here last night knitting and watching a western that is older than I, it was impossible to not think back to doing the same thing throughout my teenage years. True, instead of being dad’s channel-changer, we now have a remote and don’t have to take the two steps to the T.V. We also had 9 channels, instead of the 3 we both grew up with. And we got to choose what we watched — something that rarely happened when grown-ups were home and the one-and-only T.V. was in the living room. Watching a wildlife episode of NOVA afterwards just reinforced the feeling of stepping back in time. It’s a good feeling.
The deja-vu continues this morning as the fog and drizzle feel very English, although the pine trees do not. My cousin and I have been reminiscing about our big family Christmases, and he has promised to send me pictures of my uncle in his apiary. I never knew he kept bees. I remember the mushroom cellar, wood working shop, the kitchen renovation that took years to complete (I think of him every time I look at our abundance of almost-finish projects!), the incredible garden, and the many other ever-changing interests that made him such an amazing person, but I don’t remember bees. It’s nice to feel connected to him in one more way.
Talking of apiaries, our hives are all thriving. I peeked in two of the small hives yesterday and both have a little sugar left on the candy boards. I doubt the bigger hives have any, but we are less worried about their ability to provide for themselves. The forecast is for temperatures in the high 60s until Christmas, so I’m debating putting one feeder bucket out and then refilling candy boards for the hives that have them. I’ll try lifting the hives to assess how much honey they have left, but will only take lids off long enough to swap out candy boards. I’ll also put a trial tray of pollen substitute and powdered sugar out. The bees either flock to it or ignore it, so I’ll just dump one cup onto a tray that is protected from the rain.
Now that the great basement debate is over, we look forward to starting the foundation for our house in 2018. Ideally we’d finish it and start framing, but I don’t want to set myself up for disappointment if we don’t get that far! There are so very many things that impact what we can accomplish here, but we are overall very happy with our progress. We hope to finish burning the wood piles over winter break, doing some tractor work on the deck and starting some raised beds that may or may not become hoop houses. This year’s batch of magnolia seeds are germinating in the greenhouse in the city and I’ll have a new round of lavender, rosemary, and shrub cuttings to plant by spring break. That reminds me — I have a bag of daffodil bulbs from the Tractor Supply clearance shelf to get in the ground, so I should stop blogging and get to work.