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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

Chickens · Construction · Gardening · Lazer Creek Apiary

All Cooped Up

Like the rest of the world, we are self-isolating but lucky to be living less cooped up than our friends who live in apartments.    We both continue to teach, but from a distance.  I’m finally getting into a routine and after a round of parent emails, students have been busy making up work today!

But tomorrow is Saturday.   Tomorrow we start building the chicken coop.   But first, a greenhouse update from Hubby:

Greenhouse is back up and running after a year with improvements that should extend its life and usability. Tried to go cheap last year and used standard 6 mil poly plastic. Found it worked great for about 120 days. Then it totally disintegrated due to UV. This year I used real greenhouse poly which is UV protected and suppose to last 5 years. I also added a solar powered vent opener and “wiggle wire” fasteners around the bottom to keep the poly tight. ‘Maters already growing.

Cattle panel greenhouseEven though the plastic turned brittle and tore easily by summer, the cattle panel greenhouse ended up being more energy efficient than our old pre-fab greenhouse.  The gravel floor seems to help retain heat.   We didn’t have many plants to overwinter this year as we got them all in the ground, so we didn’t need the greenhouse until spring planting time.  I was going to plant fewer tomatoes and peppers this year, but with the way things are going right now have decided that more is better.    We’d already planned to add more raised beds and we had the cinder-blocks delivered last week.  The delivery man from Taylor-Foster Hardware and Hubby found it odd to not shake hands, but we are all practicing safe distancing.

Hubby also added an automatic window to the greenhouse.  We may add one to the front next time around, but this year it’s easy enough to open the door when it’s hot and close it in the evenings, especially as we go up to the RV to visit our chicks in their temporary home whenever we need a computer break.

Because we have so much going on, we’d decided to wait until next year to get chickens.  Then schools closed for a week, then two weeks, then……     So, we now have 3 chicks in the RV and a friend has offered up 2 laying hens as soon as we have the coop built.   Maggie is fascinated by the chicks and they are now used to having big brown doggie eyes staring at them.   Just like the house site, we’ve changed our minds more times than we can count as to where to place the coop but have decided to place it close to the greenhouse with the two plastic compost bins between the two.

Meanwhile, a string of too warm days and 23 degree nights took its toll on our bees, but they are recovering.   We hope we won’t have another hard freeze.   Even if we do, the queens are laying like crazy and every hive is crowded now, so they’d survive.   Very few bees are visiting syrup feeders this week, so they must be finding real nectar out there somewhere.   We have the first blackberry and clover blossoms, but I haven’t seen bees on either yet.

We sincerely hope that all our readers remain healthy.   These are worrying times, and I feel so blessed to have 20 acres of stress relief right outside our door.   Stay safe.  Stay healthy.   Our thoughts are with you.

 

 

 

Bees · Construction · Lazer Creek Apiary · Nature

Missed (photo) opportunities

I have the most amazing commute and wanted to take a picture of the fall colors, but on the perfect days to take a picture, I was running late.  When I was on time, the light just wasn’t quite right.  Then we had that night with below freezing temperatures….

A couple of blocks before my school, there were two brilliant yellow trees with a scarlet tree between them.  One night of cold, windy weather dealt with that pretty picture.  Still, there’s a permanently beautiful view across the valley from the crest of a hill by a cattle ranch.  Clouds roll across the creeks and the sky is often a brilliant blue, even right after sunrise.   Even though I don’t have pictures to share with you, I see the views clearly in my mind and they bring me great joy.   Those views also inspired me to buy a 2020 calendar featuring the Cotswolds in England — one of my favorite places that has similar terrain to where we now live.   (Talking to high school friends on Facebook has been making me homesick!)

The commute home is almost as beautiful, but the long-range views are missing.  Then I pull into our driveway and see our land.   Between the two commutes, I spend the day enjoying teaching and being with my students and all the wonderful people with whom I work.   True, I get overwhelmed with grading and lesson planning sometimes, but 90% of the time, I’m smiling (on the inside at least)!

20191110 Spring
View of the spring

When I get home, I’m often surprised at the changes that have taken place while I was gone.  Our neighbor’s son is clearing undergrowth for us when he has time.   As our views open up, we’ve changed our minds about where to build the house, and then changed them back again, only to change again a day later.

20191110 Woods
Possible view from the back of the future house

We know that we want the back of the house to look out toward the woods and possibly with a view of the creek, which is to the right of the above scene.   We’ll be right at the transition from planted pines to hardwoods within hearing of the creek, regardless of quite where the house ends up.

Just like the ever-changing location, we’ve changed our minds about the house more times than we can count.  However, we keep coming back to Whisper Creek from Southern Homes.  We’ve talked about changes to all of the house plans we’ve looked at, including that one, but now that we’ve decided to replace the second bathroom with a tornado shelter, we’re content to leave everything else alone!   The kitchen provides all the room I need to can veggies and make jam, and the porches are just the right size.   We don’t like the mixed siding on the outside, but using the same siding everywhere is not a structural change.   I found myself mentally planning paint colors and countertops this morning, and that hasn’t happened with any other plan in the four years we’ve owned the land!

Yes, it’s been four years.  I’m glad I have old blogs to look back as we thought it had been five years.   We have so much to be thankful for going into another wonderful Thanksgiving.  The move here has done wonders for our mental and physical health, and we are overall healthy.  We have friends and family who are worth their weight in gold, and may start building our forever home before Thanksgiving 2020 rolls around.  We are going into winter with more hives than before, and I have an “Early Bird” chicken catalog to peruse.   Life is good!

City Life · Construction

Finally – the house is sold!

 

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The house, 2003.

In the past, we have always looked back on a home with nostalgia during the process of selling a house.  Over a 20-year period, I’d even drive by my first house to look at the trees I’d planted as Arbor Day twigs and enjoy the sight of them as mature trees.  Maybe that will come with the house in Columbia, but at this point we prefer to just forget about it!

As I blogged about at the start of the month, a supply line mysteriously sheared off the weekend before our original closing date and the first floor was flooded.  The insurance paid everything for the $11,000 of repairs except the deductible,  but we are still out $1,000.   There were also a couple of other minor things that the seller wanted fixed (caulk over the garage door, etc.) and we ended up with a fantastic contractor.  (Bomb Island Builders.)   The owner even worked over Memorial Day weekend to ensure that everything was complete by closing.

Then the buyers showed up after lunch on the day of closing and wanted to nitpick things.   At closing, the attorney decided to hold the checks for the repairs until the buyers are satisfied.  They went to the house yesterday (the day after closing) and started requesting that the contractor fix things that were never on the list from the home inspection.   We are now worried that the contractor will not be able to get his check in a timely manner.

Now, the buyers have wanted to test the sprinkler system for over a month, but it didn’t get checked until Tuesday morning.  So, as I’m driving to Columbia, my phone keeps dinging.  The sprinklers won’t turn on (you have to wait a minute or two for the lines to fill when the sprinklers have been idle for six months), sprinkler heads are broken (uhh — how did that happen? It turned out to be two of the misters in the side garden, which the contractor fixed in about 5 minutes), we need a letter from the contractor that states that the window about the garage is not cracked, the contractor needs to paid in full before closing…..  on and on and on.   The entire 300 mile drive was filled with stress about things that had been left to the morning of closing.

Then closing:  the buyers didn’t do the final walk through until well after lunch.  They showed up to the closing appointment 20 minutes late.  They made a couple of comments about the house before they realized that I was the seller, and I set them straight on a couple of things.  (It takes a long time before I’ll snap, but they were claiming that the kick plates were missing from the bathroom cabinets.  That was never on a list of things to address, and the cabinets have kick plates built in.)

Then they met with the attorney first and carefully read every single piece of paper.   I didn’t get to go in to sign my paperwork until an hour after closing, and the attorney’s next clients were already waiting.

Deep breath:  I feel my blood pressure rising. I need to go sniff my calming lavender blossoms.  I need to go listen to the hum of bees. 

It’s done.  The house is now theirs.  I’m back at the farm, and counting my blessings.   We are never going to sell this place.   Tomorrow I’ll post a happy post about blackberry-blossom honey, but I think I’ll turn this last burst of stress on the bugs trying to make a home in the cucumbers plants!

 

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!

Construction · Lazer Creek Apiary · Nature · Products and Vendors · Queen Bee · Supplemental Feeding

Swarms and Storms

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!

Red Oak
Red Oak – Struck by Lightning

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.

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Workshop – February 2019

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!