Chickens · Honey · Lazer Creek Apiary · Pests - Bees · Pests - General · Products and Vendors

Happy Thanksgiving, 2021

French Apple Tart – Mary Berry’s Baking Bible

We have so much to be thankful for this year, as always. We have just started our 6th year as the owners this beautiful property and we continue to make progress. Our mobile home now has brick underpinning, the honey kitchen is framed in the workshop, and even more blackberries have been cut back. We also have official building plans. Like so many other people, we are now waiting for an available electrician for the honey kitchen and an affordable quote for the house, but we have a roof over our head, jobs, and good health.

As always, the tiny kitchen made baking the French tart challenging, and I spent a lot of time wishing for my new kitchen while getting ready for Thanksgiving meals. We are both trying to focus on our progress and not give in to the frustration of trying to get tradespeople out here! But we have a forever-house in our future and a small deck overlooking the creek that is perfect for day-dreaming about the view from the back porch of the house in due time.

Our somewhat rainy summer this year led to a record honey harvest. We were able to pull spring honey at the end of May and then summer honey when the sourwood trees stopped blooming in July. We are also going into winter with hives that have good stores of goldenrod honey. The two locations that we seeded with nematodes over the last few years now have minimal small hive beetle issues, and the new NUC yard has been a good experimental control as the hives there have been inundated with the pests. We’ll order another batch from Arbico in spring and get that area treated as well. Also, we have not had a single wax moth problem all year, which is cause for celebration in itself as those larvae and so disgusting and even the chickens won’t eat them.

The chickens are another blessing, although with 11 hens we have been somewhat over-blessed with eggs this summer. Now that they days are shorter and the two older are girls recovering from a molt, the number of eggs in manageable. We still have plenty to give to friends and family, but part of that is because we just simply needed a break from scrambled eggs for breakfast every morning!

I hope that life is as good for you, my readers, as it is for us here on the farm. I love the day after Thanksgiving, because the cooking and cleaning are done and I have time to look back through old blogs and see how far we have come with this wonderful adventure we are on. Now I need to get outside, take the dog for a run, and appreciate the farm from the other side of the office window!

Chickens

Little Green Eggs

Eggs from Red Sex Links and Americana Chickens

The new chickens are finally laying! Hubby found the first green egg – it was smaller and rounder than the ones in the picture and more of an army green color than the pretty teal ones I found today. The eggs grow in number and size every day and, unlike the brown eggs, the color permeates through to the inside of the shell. We are certainly going to have plenty of scrambled eggs for a while!

Another difference we’re seeing with the Ameraucana chickens is their ability to fly. Cocky, our rooster, can fly vertically from the ground to the roof of the chicken run where he struts his stuff and calls out to the world.

I was awake very early one morning and could hear him crowing before the sun was up. It’s a good thing that we no longer live in a neighborhood. The vote is still out on whether to keep him or not as he is aggressive toward the hens at times and is starting to bow up at me when I come close — and at the dogs, the golf cart – pretty much anything that invades his territory. He does, however, back down from the mature hens who very much put him in his place. For now I’m assuming this is a case of teenage hormones.

The Ameraucana hens also like to roost in the rafters of the chicken run. That may be in part because the old hens didn’t want to share the coop at first, but the hens are going in there to use the nesting boxes so maybe that will resolve itself soon. Of course, it’s still incredibly hot so they may just be more comfortable sleeping outside. Some nights I think I would be!

So life continues to be busy and very, very good here on the farm. I’m not sure how we’re going to get everything done when I return to work, but we’ll keep muddling through until retirement!

Chickens · Construction · Lazer Creek Apiary

The chicks move in to their new quarters

We love the variety in our Ameraucana chickens. The white one with brown wings likes to crow like a rooster, although she hasn’t done that since she got all this extra space to roam around in. She’s pretty bossy and there’s a 10% chance that she’s actually male according to what I’ve read about sexing baby chicks. I guess we’ll figure that out over the next couple of months and then we’ll have a decision to make. Roosters can be pretty hard on chickens and I really don’t want any more chicks for a couple of years. Twelve chickens will provide more eggs than we’ll need, but we’ll also be happy to share with friends.

So the chicken run gate finally came in and we were able to move the small coop into its new position. We first partitioned off the run about halfway down and I caught and moved 6 of the pullets. The other four went into the coop, so they took a ride as Hubby and I maneuvered the small house into place as gently as we could. The ones I was able to catch made the transition very quickly and went to work eating the oregano. The ones that traveled took about 30 minutes to exit the coop. One cautiously stepped down down (and back up, and back down) for a while, but the others shot out like they had been fired from a t-shirt cannon once that first one moved into the run and joined their sisters.

All of them took to the roosting bars very quickly and by day two became quite adept at flying from one to the other. Meanwhile, the two older girls were very vocal from their side of the chicken wire for the first hour, but they have settled down now. We’ll let the pullets get a little bigger and then frame a doorway between the two runs and let them share the space.

We did not predator-proof the extension to the extent that we did the original run, but we do have chicken wire in the ground and I will complete the rock garden around all of the fencing soon. We may need to add another nesting box to the original coop, but we planned for that when we did the original framing so it will be a relatively easy addition. We will see if the three nesting boxes on the big coop and the three new ones on the small coop will suffice first. I know the original girls are picky about which nesting box they use and typically share the same one, so I’m not going to try to predict what any of them are going to prefer.

The two old girls have either found some motivation from seeing their replacements or they have recovered from the trauma of seeing their sister snatched away from them by a predator and they are back to each producing a daily egg. I am still feeding them yogurt-covered greens and adding apple cider vinegar to their water. I add apple cider vinegar or Hydro Hen more frequently this time of year anyway as they have to drink so much more when the weather turns hot. Hydro Hen also acidifies their water and helps them fight off yeast infections according to what I’ve read over the past few weeks.

I’ll be back soon to blog about the pallets full of wood-ware parts that Hubby just picked up from Yellow Freight. We’ll have plenty to keep us busy all winter, and we’re not even officially in summer yet. Life is never boring on the farm, and it is, as always, good.

Chickens · Honey · Products and Vendors

2021 Honey Harvest

Capped and uncapped honey frame

Memorial Day weekend is usually when we harvest our first batch of honey, and that was the plan this year. The weather has been better than last spring, the hives have been thriving, and the bees have been busy gathering nectar from all of the clover we have surrounding their hives now. So why are here at the end of the holiday weekend with not a single frame spun out?

It’s the chickens fault! The “baby chicks” are very rapidly outgrowing their temporary home but are not yet quite big enough to move in with the big girls. Last year’s run and coop aren’t quite big enough for all 12 of the girls, so we’ve been busy building an extension to the existing run. The small coop we bought when the new chicks outgrew the brooder within 4 weeks will move into one end of the run and we’ll put a chicken-sized door into the other run. The only hold up right now is the gate — the gate that Tractor Supply said would ship in 3 – 5 days. Ten days later, we still can’t get an estimate on when it will arrive. Now, if you’ve read my previous posts, you know that I’m a big fan of Tractor Supply, but if we’d known there was going to be a big delivery delay, we would have purchased something different somewhere else so we could just get the job done.

Coop extension

As you can see, we haven’t been wasting time, though. Instead of using cinderblocks to critter-proof the run, I’m building rock gardens. The section to the left of the pine tree is where the gate will go. The white fence is what I put around my raised beds when the chickens were free-ranging and ate things not intended for them — like all my strawberries! Now that the girls no longer free-range, I can repurpose the fence.

Did I even write about the end of free-ranging here? One day the girls were out eating bugs when the dogs started to go crazy. I stepped out on the porch and heard squawking chickens. That’s about all we know for sure, but the slowest (physically and mentally) chicken has not been seen since. A few days later we returned to the house after taking the dogs for their evening run and the dogs chased an eagle out of the large field in front of our house. Our best guess is that the lost chicken became dinner for the eagle, a hawk, or a fox as we never found any feathers.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, the other two were so stressed out that they stopped laying for a while. They also show no desire to leave their run whereas before they were very determined to go explore the woods. They called for their sister for a couple of days and then just moped around for a couple more. Happily, they are getting back on track now. Apparently stress can impact their digestive system and feeding them yogurt can help with that , so they’ve been getting hand-picked salads with yogurt dressing! And by salads, I mean the weeds they prefer when they foraged.

We had a lot of the brush that we can’t get to with the tractor pushed back this week which should reduce the risk of non-flying predators. We haven’t seen the terrain this clearly since the timber was thinned our first spring, and even then there was a lot a waste blocking the view. We are ready to start building the forever house, but builders are booked up for months. Still, with this clearing we know that our chosen site is the best one for us. It will happen when the time is right.

We’ll harvest honey, rehouse the chickens, and eat homegrown tomatoes very soon. Life is never boring on the farm and it is always good.

Chickens · Honey · Lazer Creek Apiary · Pests - Bees · Supplemental Feeding

Honey Refractometer

This year has been odd in regards to honey production. We would normally harvest wildflower honey early June and sourwood honey in July, but June was a bust. We ended up with one medium plastic frame that wouldn’t seat in the extractor and one large frame that fell apart and dumped all the comb in the bottom. While we were able to extract about five pounds over about two hours, the time spent was not worth the output.

However, the bees packed the frames when the sourwood trees were blooming, so we have honey coming — we’re just waiting for the girls to cap the honey! Just in case the honey was actually ready to harvest, Hubby bought a honey refractometer. The last remaining bit of honey we have from last year contains 16% moisture. What is in the hives was still at 20% a week ago. Below 17.8%, the honey will not spoil , but until it gets there, we and our customers are waiting.

Our biggest problem with that right now is the increase is small hive beetles and the decrease in available resources for the bees. Small hive beetle larva can ruin a frame on uncapped honey very quickly if the hive population is low, so we’re keeping an eye on that. We’re also holding off on supplemental feeding as we don’t want any sugar syrup making its way into our honey supers. Once we’ve pulled honey, we’ll split strong hives, feed them well, and try to build up strength before the fall nectar flow starts.

In early spring, we had an abandoned hive that was rife with small hive and wax moth larvae — the chicks loved it! A not-so-nice part of me already feels intense satisfaction feed Japanese beetles to the chickens, but I’m still hoping to not have any chicken treats in our hives — especially as the chickens have not yet started to repay our kindness with eggs!

Hopefully we’ll get to pull honey this weekend. If not, I will attempt my first hot-process soap. Life is good on the farm, and we never run out of things to do!

Chickens · Construction · Lazer Creek Apiary · Pests - General · Products and Vendors

The Great Escape!

20200412 coop and run
Chicken Coop

When I walked into the RV to check on the chicks yesterday morning, all three were perched on the wire mesh that is supposed to keep them inside the cattle trough until they are big enough to move outside.  Surrounding the trough was “evidence” that they had been exploring for quite a while, and they appeared to be smirking at me!   Their new home was almost ready, so we moved up their move-in date, set about completing the final necessary construction, added a brooder lamp to the coop just in case we have some more cool nights, and and moved them over.  I had one more RV chicken wrangling rodeo and then they were in their new home.

We’d expected them to be nervous, but they immediately started exploring and searching for motivational meal-worms.    Within half an hour, they were climbing on their ladder and by the end of the day they had become quite adept at walking up and down the rungs.   The high point of the day was when Hubby found an earthworm in the soil he brought up for the planters and we got to watch two very determined chicks chase one highly motivated chick around while she gobbled up her treat!   They looked remarkably like a picture I remember from one of my daughter’s story books many years ago.

20200411 Grayson Chicks
Curious Cat Checks Chickens

Grayson, one of the twin cats, has been sniffing around the empty dog crate where the chicks have been vacationing for some time, and it didn’t take him long to show up and see what we were all up to.   He did a very good tiger imitation as he walked around the coop and chicken run many times while checking out the measures we’ve taken to keep him, coyotes, raccoons, and other critters out.

We have field wire extending out about 2 feet from the coop and run to keep predators from digging under the fence.   On the sides of the run, we have chicken wire going all the way to the top.   Along the bottom, we have hardware cloth covering the ends of the field wire and chicken wire.  On top of all that, we have cinder-blocks that I will use as planters, and the remaining field-wire is covered with gravel on the high traffic areas and soil where a future wildflower garden will be.   After my sister-in-law’s surprises last summer, we hope the hardware cloth will provide a challenge for any snakes that want eggs for breakfast, but we know that snakes and mice can be pretty determined critters.

20200411 coop inside
Inside the coop.  We’ll add the nesting boxes later. 

The two The two Red Sex Links went right into the coop last night once they realized I was throwing meal worms into it.   The baby, which I’d name Speedy if I were going to name chicks, was reluctant to enter, to say the least.   Trying to get Speedy in while stopping the other two leaving was getting everyone hot and bothered, so we closed the chicken door.   After a while, the inside chicks and Speedy started calling back and forth to each other.  Speedy walked up to the door, kept chirping, and then walked right through when I opened the door up for her.   It took them a little while and a few meal worms to come out this morning, but now we have a routine started.   The chicken door is automatic, and my brother-in-law says that their chickens very quickly got used to going in when they knew the door was about the close.   We have a storm coming through tonight, so we’ll probably herd them again this evening, but as quickly as these girls figured out how to escape the brooder pen after their first accidental escape, I’m sure they’ll figure out where it’s warm at night very soon.

Maggie with chicks
Maggie guards the chicks

Okay – Now it’s time to stop calling the youngest chick Speedy as I am determined to not name the chickens, especially not that one as there’s a possibility that she may not be a she!   At some point, I will need to wrap my head around having a chicken in the crock pot!   Maybe.

We still need to add the nesting boxes and paint the trim, but today has just turned into another rainy day.  Our bodies are telling us that it’s time to take a day off from heavy lifting, and we need to mentally make the shift to our return from spring break!

Stay healthy, everyone, and we will try to do the same because life is just too good to miss on the farm.

Bees · Chickens · Construction · Lazer Creek Apiary

Rain break

The chicks are rapidly outgrowing their space, and moving them outside to the dog kennel so that I can clean their indoor home is becoming more of adventure with every passing day.    The baby can now fly out of the cattle trough, and the bigger girls can fly out of the plastic crate I use for transport.  Moving them is no longer a one-man job!    Luckily Maggie is just fascinated with them and wants to herd them like she herds everything else and she’s smart enough to realize they are not new dog toys!   The chicks are becoming accustomed to being handled and one is eager to be picked up when she hears dried meals worms in a Dixie cup.   That’s a trick I learned from my sister-in-law; she has her chickens trained to follow the sound of worms in a plastic Dixie cup, which they love even more than my gifts of chickweed and tender dandelion leaves.

20200401_chicks larva
Chicks April 1, 2020

Wax moths had moved into one of our swarm capture hives, so the chicks got a treat of larvae in a bowl followed by a couple of bee frames to clean up.  They enjoyed chasing small hive beetles and I enjoyed watching!    I kept an eye on them to make sure they weren’t eating anything besides the wiggly invaders.  After three minutes, I had clean frames to put in the freezer and maybe reuse later this week.

This week is spring break, so Hubby has been able to make good progress on the coop and chicken run.  We’ll move the girls into the coop once we have the door on and then we’ll finish up the run.   It started raining today while Hubby was adding rafters to the run and I was painting the screen door, so we ended up with a non-construction day.   We both have indoor chores to catch up on, and it’s probably good to give our bodies a break too.

20200405 coop
Chicken Coop

While we currently plan to have a maximum of five chickens, Hubby is building the coop large enough to house more because we’ve learned that our plans are always changing here on the farm.    We may eventually have enough honey and wax products for sale that we’d have a market for eggs too.   I made my first batch of glycerin-honey soap last week and plan to attempt my first batch of soap using lye later this week.    When we harvest honey this year, I need to weigh the wax we refine from cappings to get an idea of how much beeswax soap etc. I can make.    So far, I’ve been using wax from previous years for my experiments, and I don’t plan to make any products with purchased wax.

Hubby just arrived home and announced that the only self-rising flour he could find came in a 25 pound bag, so I guess that I’ll be spending more time than usual baking over the next few weeks!    Even if I bake a cake every day until it’s safe to socialize again, we’ll be eating healthier than we have been doing.    It’s amazing how far we’ve slipped back into our “city” eating habits since the start of the school year.    It takes very little time to make a pitcher of red rooibos tea, but we’ve been drinking sodas for the past few months.   Likewise, I used to eat scrambled eggs for breakfast and they take no longer that Toaster Strudels, but we slipped into a Toaster Strudel routine.   I didn’t realize how many convenience meals we were eating until I noticed how often I was running the dishwasher now that I’m cooking from scratch again!     I hate that it took a pandemic to get us to rethink our eating habits, but that’s also a very small piece of silver lining in the huge cloud that is hanging across the world right now.

Life remains good here on the farm, and our thoughts and prayers are with all our friends, family, and blog-readers in this scary time.