Bees · Construction · Honey · Lazer Creek Apiary · Natural Food Sources

Buckwheat, and Carrots, and Bees, oh my….

Carrot flowers
Carrot plants in bloom

A couple  of years ago, we had an erosion problem along the driveway and I had some left-over seed packets, so I sowed carrots, cabbage, and who-knows-what-else in front of the “garden” where the English hive resides.   I’d read that both carrots and cabbage produce nectar sources at times when nectar is scare, and I figured that the carrot tubers would have to break up the cement-like clay at least a little.   Well, now the carrots are blooming, and it’s a wonderful sight, especially with a large variety of pollinators visiting.

According to The World Carrot Museum, carrots are biennial and require a cold snap to produce seeds in their second year.   Well, the extended period of below-freezing temperatures certainly seems to have done a good job with that this year.  Some of the flower stalks are at chest height and there is an abundance of blooms.

HoneyBeeSuite says that carrot honey has an aroma reminiscent of chocolate, and what could be better than honey and chocolate?   I doubt that we have enough plants to really be able to taste that, but it’s certainly an incentive to plant more carrots that we don’t intend to harvest for food.

Buckwheat seedlings
Buckwheat seedlings

Buckwheat honey, on the other hand, has an earthy flavor that people either seem to love or hate.   Again, I doubt that we have enough buckwheat planted to really get an idea of what true buckwheat honey tastes like, but we do have two areas of buckwheat growing that will provide nectar a month apart from each other.   I’ll continue to sow at intervals to help the bees through the nectar dearth that we all know is coming.    The bloom time on the fall crop we planted last October was only a couple of weeks, but the bees were all over it while it lasted.   My hope is that it will self-seed enough to keep a nectar supply going.   Its self-seeding habit can become a problem if it’s planted where it’s unwanted, but it’s also a great crop to till under before it seeds to improve soil quality, if that’s what you want.   It seemed like the perfect solution for the area that will eventually become a garden and orchard, but for now just needs something growing to slow down water run-off.

Bees - May 2018
Bees – May 2018

Hubby is currently inspecting hives, but a quick look yesterday showed that all are thriving.   He took 80 large frames with him, so between those and all the medium frames we already have at the farm, he can continue to provide room for growth for the next couple of weeks.   Me — I’m home sniffing and sneezing.  Allergies or a cold?  Who knows, but I was too muddled-headed to drive to the farm last night.   With Tropical Storm Alberto on the way, staying home and maybe packing some more boxes doesn’t feel so bad, although I hate to miss a long weekend at the farm.

Hubby had to drive down early to meet the mobile home representative to make sure we can get our new small-home onto the lot and discuss whether we need to remove any trees to get it into the space currently occupied by the RV.    We weren’t expecting the new home for 8 – 10 weeks as we had to custom order one with a propane stove and furnace, but we could have it as soon as in 3 – 4 weeks, according to current estimates.   Once again, our priorities have shifted and getting the infrastructure in place now takes precedence over getting the workshop erected.   Still, that makes selling the city house easier as we’ll be able to move some furniture directly to the mobile home and store only what doesn’t fit.    We’re also planning a moving sale as we have quite a lot of stuff that we really don’t like enough to pay storage fees and we’re going from a four bedroom house to a one bedroom (plus the mobile home) for retirement.

There’s a lot going on right now, and it’s a little overwhelming at times, especially as I am also packing up my classroom and deciding what to keep.   I have so much student work that brings back such great memories from the past 10 years, but it’s taking up more and more space every year.   Maybe I just need to take the good camera in to work one day and photograph everything so that I can keep the memories while minimizing the number of boxes to transport and store.    Making those decisions in two different locations is stressful for someone like me who still has every piece of artwork and every card given to me by my now-grown daughters.  I’m even hanging on to an empty poster tube because it’s one of the last things I received with my mother’s handwriting on the mailing label!    Maybe we need to build the downsized house, but add climate-controlled building for sentimental stuff I just can’t let go of!  Just don’t tell Hubby I said that……

Bees · Construction · Lazer Creek Apiary · Pests - General

Workshop progress and swarming bees

Pouring the slab for the workshop.
Pouring the slab for the workshop.

Well, the slab has been poured for the workshop, the pieces and parts of the building are on site and we will start putting the puzzle together Memorial Day weekend.   I figure it’s going to be like a larger version of the greenhouse — a much larger version — but I’m hoping that things go together better!   The metal is clearly sturdier, so if the holes are drilled in the right places, things should go well.

The concrete needs to cure for 28 day days before we apply stress to it, so the first task is to just build the frame.   We’ll add the insulation and siding in June when the foundation can withstand a wind load.   This will be my big red barn and hubby has promised to put a cupola on top once he gets a chance to build one.  I’m excited, especially as the cupola will do double duty as a bat house.   I really enjoy watching the bats swoop between the trees at dusk, and I hope they eat love-bugs as the first of those are making an appearance already.

Finished workshop slab
Finished workshop slab

The PVC pipes are our electricity, water, and drainage access lines for the future.   The large pipe on the right is simply a conduit that runs from one side of the shop to the other to allow for easy expansion of things like wiring if (when?) we find the need to change our original plans.   Before we left on Sunday, we spread wheat straw around the slab to minimize the splatter of clay onto our bright, shiny, new concrete with the rain we anticipate over the next week or so.   I threw a couple more cups of buckwheat seed out with the straw.  After all, why waste space that can be used for nectar producing plants?

Another decision we made this past weekend was to replace the RV with a small mobile home that will later become the business office for the apiary.   We’ll live there until we get the house built.   I’d intended to live in the RV until we finished the house, but the lack of closet space combined with the abundance of mice slowly started to weigh on my mind.   The darn mice love to chew on my wooden spoons in the kitchen drawer, so I replaced the spoons with silicone spatulas.   The mice then ate the silicone.   We keep plugging up holes, and they keep finding new ways in.   The most amusing evidence was the time I arrived to find about 9 feet of toilet paper unspooled — it’s actually pretty funny to picture a mouse trying to climb up the toilet paper roll, but still disturbing!

So, by the end of summer, we should be upgrading to 762 square feet of home, but we’re not the only ones looking for a larger living space:  hubby arrived just in time to see bees swarm from my hive into a tree on Wednesday evening.   He put multiple swarm traps out, but they still headed toward the creek the next morning.   While I love having that hive up by the RV, it tends to be the last to get checked, which means that it doesn’t always get checked when it should.   That will change in summer when we can check a few hives a day instead of trying to get to all 38 on a weekend.  We did check hives Saturday afternoon and upgraded most NUCs to 8 or 10 frame hives and added supers to some of the existing 8s and 10s.   While doing so, we checker-boarded frames with fresh foundation in the brood chamber and moved nectar frames up to the supers.   The nectar flow is incredibly good this year and all of the queens are laying well.   We only found one hive with swarm cells, and we distributed them to NUCs.

We’re experimenting with starter strips instead of full sheets of foundation this year.   We put a mixture of both into each hive this time to see which the bees prefer.   I installed frames with starter strips into a couple of hives last trip and the bees are drawing really pretty comb onto them.

The weather is probably not going to be conducive to a trip this coming weekend, but that gives us time to pack up a few more things to take with us the week after.   There’s one thing for sure — when you keep bees, you’ll never run out of things to do whether you’re in the city or the country, so life, as always, is good.

 

 

 

 

Bee Stings · Construction · Gardening · Honey · Lazer Creek Apiary · Pests - Bees · Queen Bee · Storage

Slowly Moving West

We have started taking plants and boxes of household goods to the farm — just what will fit in the vehicles each time and what we have had time to pack.  Most of the bee stuff is down there now, which makes getting around in the 40-foot container challenging!   Still, the bees are rapidly going through the frames we’ve built, so empty totes come back to the city with us in time to be refilled.

Shop Site
Shop Site

Building the shop has become a priority so that we have more space to put things and so that we have a clean space to sling honey this summer.  As we want to sell in Georgia, we need to be certified in Georgia.   Hubby spent most of the weekend leveling the shop site and was working on trenching to install conduit last time I talked to him.   (I came back early to get laundry done for the week.)    Our neighbor has been a great help, both in terms of giving advice and helping on the tractor.   His company will be pouring the slab next week and then the construction can start.  It’s exciting!

Spring border
Daffodil, iris, crinum lily, and other spring transplants.

Even though there was a lot to get done, hubby was still willing to help me get spring bulbs transplanted.  They’re all looking rather sad right now, but I know from experience that they’ll look great next spring, if not before.   The grass and wildflower seeds are doing well, and I added some clover seed and fertilizer yesterday.   If we can just get enough growing to slow down the erosion, we’ll have a less muddy driveway when we get those Southern downpours!   The drainage ditches hubby, my brother-in-law, and I have cut are making a huge difference, and plants will just be the final touch we need.

Smoker
Smoker with new bellows

Of course, we didn’t neglect the bees this weekend, even with all the other tasks we needed to accomplish.    We had to replace the bellows on one of our smokers, and we love this new Pro Bellow from Mann Lake.   There’s a nozzle at the bottom that blows air directly into the smoker, and that has made it easier to get the smoker lit.   I’ll let you know how it holds up, but for now I’m sold!

I intended to just check the queenless hives, but we ended up checking all the hives for space after seeing how much nectar the bees have brought in over the past week.   Two hives have already started capping honey, and I only saw three small hive beetles all day.  There were no new wasp nests started in lids, but there were enough cockroaches on top of inner covers to keep the hair on the back of my neck standing up!   Talking of hair — if you have short hair, don’t pull your hat too tight — hubby got stung on his head through his cap yesterday!

Bricks on hives
Bricks on hives to indicate which hives have queens, and which do not.

We continue to use a combination of methods to track what’s going on in hives.   A flat brick indicates that the hive has a laying queen, and an upright means that the hive is queenless.   In addition, I write notes on the lids with a Sharpie.  We have three hives with queen cells that have hatched since last weekend, but I didn’t see a queen yesterday, so I like having that history at my fingertips when I go to recheck.   Then we have a spreadsheet in which we track hive inspections, treatments, and mite counts.    That’s becoming quite time-consuming and I’m working on automating some of the reporting and tracking, although I probably won’t get much done until summer.   As my new school starts the new year 3 weeks earlier than South Carolina schools, and we need to get this house on the market, and build the workshop, and move my work clothes, I may not find much time to refine the database while keeping up with a growing apiary!    It’s a good set of problems to have!

We’re looking forward to May’s Mid-Carolina Beekeeper Association meeting on Tuesday.  Has it really been a month since the last meeting?   Time flies in spring, which is why we all have to get hive equipment ready in winter!

Enjoy the (finally) warmer weather and take time to smell the roses.

City Life · Construction · Lazer Creek Apiary · Products and Vendors · Supplemental Feeding

A Mule for Christmas (and other distractions from grading).

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.

Feeding pollen and sugar to bees
Feeding pollen and sugar to bees

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.

Boots
Work boots

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.

Maggie - exhausted
Maggie – exhausted

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.

 

 

 

Construction · Gardening · Lazer Creek Apiary

Smoke on the Water (a.k.a. burning wet wood)

The last of the wood pile
The final big burn!

Two years after having our trees thinned, we are down to one pile of waste wood to burn.   With last week’s rain and the cold, we spent two frustrating days trying to get a fire started.  Even when we got it going yesterday, it never really flamed up much, but the coals were so hot by the end of the day that even last night’s heavy rain wasn’t enough to extinguish the fire completely.  It is still smouldering from the inside out this evening, much like a compost pile.     If we can get a burn permit tomorrow, we may be able to get rid of the last of the big logs without having to spend hours coaxing a fire back into the wet wood.

While tending the fire, I’ve been box-blading the deck, getting it leveled out and distributing the ashes from previous burn piles.   I also redirected some of the water that comes down the driveway and flows onto the deck on one side and used to flow into the woods on the other.  Over time, more water has been encroaching onto parts of the driveway, and driving up during a thunderstorm the other day provided us a good opportunity to see where we could make some quick modifications.   Hubby needs to show me how to adjust the box-blade so that I can create real ditches, but what I’ve done so far is at least a temporary solution!

I’ve been having fun on the tractor and am gaining confidence.  As I have to extend my leg to reach the gas pedal, the onset of knee pain and the onset of over-confidence have so far coincided, so I haven’t managed to get myself into any questionable situations so far.   Backing up remains problematic if I’m wearing my bi-focals instead of my safety glasses, but I’ve managed to auger two holes in the right places!   I did, however, hand the tractor back over the hubby for the final holes this evening as I was becoming increasingly cross-eyed.

Compost bins
Compost bins

Talking of cross-eyed, hubby’s nose and the post-hole diggers somehow collided at the end the day yesterday, but he does not have black eyes!    He, of course, wanted to keep working on the compost bin, but his nose wouldn’t let him.     He was able to get the corner posts set today and we’ll put the walls up tomorrow, weather permitting.   We’re going to use shipping pallets to form the walls for now.  We know they’ll rot over time, but as the garden plans are every-changing, this may not be the permanent location for the compost.    We’ll keep the tumbler bin up by the house for kitchen waste, but that will be just a drop in the bucket once we start gardening for real.

Composting helped us create a fertile garden in central South Carolina’s sand, and now it will help us do the same to middle Georgia’s clay!   After box-blading yesterday, we see that between what has decomposed in the log piles and the ashes from the fires, we now have some really nice soil to at least get some cover crops growing early spring.   I’ve thrown out pounds of grass and clover seed over the past year, but without breaking the packed clay surface,  very little was able to germinate.   I have a bag of buckwheat ready to sow — it’s a great early cover crop that also provides nectar.   Buckwheat honey is supposed to taste really good, but we don’t have enough acreage to provide enough nectar of any one kind to be able to give our claim our honey is from any single plant type.  Still, the bees liked the trial batch we planted in fall and that’s good enough for us.

Arriving back from grocery shopping during the thunderstorm gave us the incentive to move another project up the to-do list — the gate opener!   But that story will have to wait until the next blog because the sun is shining and it’s just too nice to stay indoors typing!

Construction · Cooking · Lazer Creek Apiary

Oops – I did it again! Food processor woes.

At the end of July, I had 4 pounds of very ripe figs ready to process into jam and could not get the lid to my food processor to seat.  At first I thought it was too early in the morning, so I polished my glasses, took another gulp of coffee, and tried again.   After struggling with it for another five minutes and feeling like a fool, I looked at the top of the bowl and saw that it was no longer perfectly round!   With all those figs waiting and us trying to get ready to head back to the farm, I took the easy way out and headed to Target to buy a replacement for the food processor that had served me well for well over 10 years.   Why did this happen?   The answer to that lay in the booklet that came with the new one — don’t wash the bowl on a sani-rinse cycle.   I’d never done that before because I usually have my jars washing before I start slicing and dicing, but with the kitchen counter replacement, I was doing things out of order.

I made two batches of jam using my shiny new food processor and happily headed back to the woods and stayed there until a multi-day forecast of 80% rain!   I came home and harvested the last of the figs and got ready to make a new batch.   Once again I was dealing with a lid that didn’t fit and once again the bowl is no longer round.   However, this time I know that I did not wash the bowl on a sani-cycle, so I’m not very happy about my purchase.  I’m still waiting to hear back from the manufacturer about why replacement bowls are not available.

The jam I made with that batch of figs tastes good, but as I resorted to pureeing the figs in the blender before making fig and blueberry jam, it just doesn’t look as appetizing as when the figs are in chunks.   Now we’re at the point of the year where I look forward to having more pantry space so that we don’t have to store jam and honey in odd places around the kitchen and dining room.    Maybe next year we’ll be able to start the foundation for the new house….

New countertop and sink
New counter-top and sink

Still, it is a joy to cook in my kitchen with its shiny new counter tops and stain resistant sink.   Even the blackberry and blueberry juices wiped right off.    We painted the floors of the base cabinets when we replaced the counter tops, so much of this week was about putting shelf paper down and putting everything away.   Instead of just putting stuff back where it’s been for the past 15 years, I tried to put things away where they made more sense.  We’ll see how well that plan works as we try to find stuff over the next few weeks!

So, on Tuesday, Farmerella and her Prince Charming turn back into teachers, but we’re returning as relaxed, inspired, and excited teachers for our 8th year until retirement!   We have to get used to alarm clocks instead of sunrises and walking on the treadmill instead of walking down to unlock the gate in the mornings, but my recent reading and hubby’s two seminars this summer have us burgeoning with new ways to present material, and that is invigorating.    It’s going to be a good year!

 

RV rehab

Climbing out windows….

…and other adventures.

Let me first start with the good things about today:

  • Once again,  friends and family members took time out of their busy days to bail me out of a predicament — or two.  Or the same predicament twice…  you decide.
  • People at Taylor-Foster Hardware store also went out of their way to help  me and didn’t make me feel incompetent at all!
  • I have successfully learned how to use a screw extractor.
  • At 59 years old, I am still able to climb out of a window without any injuries.
  • I am not allergic to yellow jacket stings, although there is now a yellow-jacket on my hit list.
  • Half the “living room” of the RV is painted and redecorated.
  • Our loan for the tractor was approved, so we should be proud Kubota owners tomorrow.

So, back to climbing out of windows.

The last time I remember climbing in through or out of a window was at the first house I lived in.  I forgot my house key on a regular basis, and the bathroom window was just big enough for me to get through when there was no-one home.  By the time we moved when I was fourteen, it was becoming a tight fit, but as that window required me climbing up onto the window sill and then climbing in the small window that actually opened above the larger window pane, I felt pretty sure I could climb out of the RV window and step down to the bench below.  I was right, but I shouldn’t have had to do that in the first place.

It all started when I went to let the dog out this morning and the door wouldn’t open.  We had always wondered what the second lock on the RV door was for, and we’d lock it for good measure when we’d leave, but today we (I) found out that when that second lock is locked from outside with the key, it prevents anyone inside from unlocking the latch from inside.  Now, I see no reason for this as it could only possibly be of any help to kidnappers and I don’t see RV manufacturers intentionally aiding and abetting crimes, but the fact was that when hubby left in the morning, he unintentionally locked me in!

My first rescuer was our neighbor who seems to bail us out of something or other every time we are here.  He came over, unlocked the door, and I was free.  That is, I was free for a little while.   Before I sent him a text message and while I was waiting for him to arrive, I decided to remove the plate from the inside of the lock to see if there was anything I could jiggle or spray with WD-40 to get out.   That didn’t work, so I had everything half put back together when he arrived.   Silly me then decided to take it back apart and spray some more WD-40 into it for good luck …. and then I put it back together with the door latch part in the wrong position …. and I stripped the one screw that I put it while doing so.  Once again, I was inside with a dog that needed to go out and a door that didn’t open.

 

latch
Stripped screw

Now, asking a neighbor for help when hubby has unintentionally locked me in is very different from asking for help when I have very shortly afterwards unintentionally locked myself in.  (It’s a pride thing!)  I googled ways to remove a stripped screw and nothing that was inside the RV worked.  I decided my best bet was to get down to the shipping container to see if a smaller screw driver or anything else that might work was available.   So, out the window I went.   I don’t remember it being quite as difficult 45+ years ago, but I’m still quite proud that I made it out in one piece!  I came back with a hammer (Bob Villa recommended trying to hammer a screw driver a little deeper into the screw among other things), a crow bar (not practical, but it seemed like a good idea at the time), and a screw driver.   The door opened from the outside, so I let myself in and promptly shut the door again to keep the rain out!   The rain was out, I was in, and the screw wasn’t going anywhere.  I needed a screw extractor — something I’d never used before.

By this time, I’d spoken to hubby a couple of times and he was very much against me repeating my acrobatic out-the-window maneuver.    My second rescuer was my wonderful brother-in-law who stopped by long enough to open the door even though he was already running late to catch a flight.   The dog went out, I went out, and I DID NOT close the door again.  Eventually I got the dog back in (she was a little freaked out by my animated language while trying to get out of the window, especially when the window latch latched itself under the back of my bra strap, leaving me dangling with my toes barely touching the bench below the window) and made my way to Taylor-Foster.

I bought a set of screw drivers to leave in the RV for future emergencies and the screw extractor.   The directions were pretty straight forward and the only real problem I had was getting the extractor to turn once I had it firmly embedded, but finally I was back where I was when my neighbor left almost 3 hours before.    The door opens much easier now, thanks to all the WD-40 I sprayed in there, so I that’s another plus.  I don’t see any new bruises and nothing hurts, so I guess I’m in pretty good shape for someone who’s AARP eligible.  I have a new skill and increased confidence in my abilities.   Finally, despite the late start, I managed to get the portion of painting done that I had planned to do today.

I did forget to say how I know I’m not allergic to yellow jacket stings.  There’s one acting very territorially at the front gate and it stung me on the chin as I was leaving and on the hand when I came back.   As hornet stings give me asthma attacks, I’ll take knowing that my body handles yellow jacket stings as a positive.

It’s supposed to rain again all day tomorrow, but I’ll try to stay out of trouble.   Maybe I just need to sit on the couch a read a good book — or maybe I’ll try to teach the dog to at least appear concerned when there are mouse-like sounds in the cabinet under the sink!   But that’s a story for another day….

mouse
Mouse from cdn.isciencetimes.com