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.

 

 

 

 

Beekeepers Associations and Groups · Lazer Creek Apiary · Pests - General · Queen Bee

Getting ready for spring

Frames - February 2018
400 Frames waiting for foundation!

The weather hasn’t been conducive to trips to the bee yard the past two weekends, but that doesn’t mean we’re not thinking of our bees.    On days when the temperature in the garage has been above freezing, Hubby has been busy putting frames together in preparation for another year of growth in the apiary.   I’ll help with the foundation just as soon as I get a break from grading, but as soon as I finish one batch of essays, students write the next batch.  This will be the story of my life for the next couple of months, but I will go visit the bees next weekend!

Hubby has been reading a  book about rearing better queens and one of the suggestions is to include frames with starter strips as comb that the bees draw “freeform” apparently leads to bigger queens.    Old comb with all the cocoon remnants in cells can also negatively affect the size of queens — or the bees have to extend the queen cell out and float the egg into the larger area in a sea of royal jelly.   All in all, we’re going to try some new things this spring.    We’ve also been watching many videos on YouTube to get a variety of ideas.   One guy we really like is Ian from Steppler Farms in Ontario.   While he clearly has different weather conditions to us, his experiences are relevant most of the time.   We missed this month’s Mid-State Beekeeper meeting this month because of a conflict with work, but we also really look forward to getting to the next one and learning more from people in our area.   January’s presentation about fire-ants was enlightening and fascinating — and it will change the way we apply fire ant chemicals.

I’ve always noticed the first signs of spring, but now I notice them differently.   That red haze around some maple-trees — that now means pollen and nectar!   A dust of pollen on the car means bee food in addition to allergy flare-ups.  Bee-keeping does indeed change us.

Leveled embankment
Leveled embankment

Before beekeeping, I would have seen the newly leveled area along our driveway as prime land for daylilies and maybe a rose bush or two.   Now I have dreams of buckwheat and clover to provide early food for the bees.  Instead of having a greenhouse full of tomato seedlings, I currently have basil, rosemary and lavender growing.   These plants repel moths, mosquitoes, house-flies, and some beetles, so I plan to plant them around the new hive stands.  Of course, they are also nectar and pollen sources and the rosemary and lavender repel snakes.  That alone shows how much I’ve changed — protecting the hives has become more important than keeping snakes at bay.   Of course, we haven’t seen a rattlesnake in a while, so my priorities might well change with the next sighting!

I don’t know which of us is more impatient to get out of the city, but I doubt the dog will need any more encouragement than the two of us next weekend.   All the hives were active a couple of weeks ago, but we have no idea what’s going on inside them.   My new pollen feeder was popular, so hopefully the queens have been ramping up production and all those frames in the garage will disappear into the new boxes that await paint.  Spring is just about here and I can’t wait to get back to the bees!

 

 

Lazer Creek Apiary · Pests - General · Relaxing

Fall and yellow jackets

Fall 2017
Fall 2017

While temperatures remain above average, we only have to look at the spectacular fall colors (and occasionally grab a jacket in the morning) to know that winter is just around the corner.    Of course, everything in nature knows it too — including yellow jackets.

Beekeepers across southern Georgia have been reporting record numbers of yellow jackets this year, and we are no exception.   The infestation around our hives made it impossible to do any hive checks this weekend.   However, the screen entrance reducers that we added to the wooden reducers have made it possible for even the weaker hives to defend against the horrific number of pests vying for the resources our bees have worked so hard to store.   Hubby bent strips of screen into steps in a way that the bees enter from the sides through a square opening and then make their way to the wooden entrance in the middle.   I don’t feel like I’m explaining it well, but I’ll get a picture once the yellow jackets die back.    We did very quickly check the candy board on one of the hives and the bees have eaten about half the sugar we put on two weeks ago — or is it three?   We know that next time we make candy boards we will put wax paper on top of the screen so that the sugar has time to harden.   The sugar that fell through has assuredly attracted some of the invaders!

Lavender
Lavender

As neither checking the weak hive nor doing any work close to the apiary was an option, I weeded the lavender garden and threw out a little more buckwheat seed.   It’s probably too late for the seed to do much, but who knows when these warm temperatures will end?   Bees are foraging on the buckwheat planted in front of the RV, so the possibility of blocking new weeds, adding nitrogen into the soil, and providing bee food is too tempting to resist.

I let my lavender plants in the city grow until they became very straggly and woody.   Then, when I pruned them back, two of them didn’t survive.   I don’t want to make that mistake again, so I, somewhat reluctantly, trimmed lavender and rosemary plants today and now have a good harvest to hang in the well house to dry.   To say that my last attempt to make lavender oil was unsuccessful would be an understatement — baby oil with coconut oil makes an awful base — so I’m looking forward to a second attempt.   However, I did successfully use mineral oil to make a batch of lemon grass oil, which I then used to make beeswax furniture polish, so that’s what I’ll try with at least some of this lavender.    Hmmmm – maybe I should re-read the book I have about making products with lavender before I decide….

So, as we are rapidly approaching the time to make the commute back to city life, I am happy to report that I have blisters instead of eye strain and a relaxed mind and body that find it impossible to feel any stress.    We got to spend a wonderful evening with family yesterday.  We got to hear about our neighbors’ road trip. Maggie got to spend time with all of her doggy friends.  The lavender garden looks like a garden again.   There are a whole lot of things that didn’t go as planned this weekend, but somehow when we’re here, plans feel less important.   Life is good and getting better all the time!

 

Canning · Cooking · Farmers · Lazer Creek Apiary · Pests - General

Hunter-gatherers

Yesterday, I temporarily deferred my equal rights ideologies and stepped back (way back) into a hunter-gatherer role,  trailing along behind the man of the house, picking berries while he did the manly task!

There are so many beautiful ripe blackberries on our property, but they are so hard to get to.  At the best of times, wild blackberries demand a blood sacrifice,  so I am always weighing the pain-versus-gain factor.   Since my last blackberry harvest, BIL sent us a picture of a timber rattle snake up under one of his blueberry bushes, edging back into some wild blackberries, so that made me even more cautious.

Blackberries
Wild Blackberries

Then, hubby came along and cleared a strip along one of the really good blackberry patches with the bush hog, giving me much easier access — still not  pain free, but easier.  By following in his wake, I was able to harvest 1 1/2 quarts of beautiful, juicy blackberries which I then washed, boiled, and froze so that I can turn them into jam when we’re back in the city.    As a few family members need to avoid seeds and the rest of us don’t really enjoy picking seeds out of our teeth, I’ll strain them and then press the rest of the juice out of them before adding apples and making blackberry-apple jam.  I cheated last year and bought frozen blackberries for a trial batch, but that jam was good enough to make me want to harvest what nature has provided for us here.

Of course the other side of the hunter-gatherer equation is the hunter.   I guess hubby was hunting undergrowth when he cleared those paths for me, but his other hunting chores yesterday involved getting rid of the critters that have been bugging me!   We discovered that the yellow jackets at the gate had actually moved into the gate through a drain hole, so it’s no surprise that they became irritable when we rattled the chain against their home.  They are now in an afterlife of some kind.   We avoid using pesticides whenever possible, but we can’t have yellow jackets attacking guests or us at the gate.   His other accomplishment led to one more restless night followed by a good night’s sleep as two field mice have now been evicted from under the kitchen sink.   There’s a huge hole cut into the back of the cabinet, and we thoroughly spray-foamed that, but that didn’t stop them.  There’s another hole cut in the side of the cabinet to let the drain pipe go through.  We’re hesitant to put spray foam in there because we don’t want it on the back of the oven, but we’ll seal it up with aluminum foil after we’re sure there are no more mice romping around in the walls.    We’re generally believers in the if-you-kill-it-eat-it philosophy, but I draw the line at making mouse and yellow-jacket casserole.  (Actually, I draw the line well before that — there’s still too much suburb in me to eat possum or squirrel, although I did LOVE the dove hubby hunted last fall.)

Tractor delivery
Our new tractor

Even though I spent much of the day taking on more-than-usual traditional female tasks, I did start the day having fun on our new Kubota tractor!   I have been hesitant to bush hog on borrowed tractors, even though BIL and our neighbor have shown more confidence in my abilities than I’ve believed myself to have, but I quite quickly became comfortable on relatively flat land knowing that if I damaged something, it would be something I was paying for!    I even found it easier to back the tractor up than to back my car up because I can see where I’m going so much better.   However, that became tricky after a while because of my on-going neck discomfort (I can’t call it pain right now) and my bi-focals.   While bi-focals are great for many things, they don’t work well for looking back over one’s shoulder or for checking bee hives.   I have an eye appointment next week and will probably get a pair of long-distance glasses and a pair with which I can see bee frames.    I’m not sure how I’ll juggle three different pairs of glasses — maybe the eye doctor will have a better suggestion!

Our other exciting 15 minutes yesterday was when we had to combat a waterfall running down the inside of the RV door!   Hubby made adjustments to the strike plate for the door latch and that kept the rain out, but in the time that took, the torrent filled a casserole dish and soaked a bunch of towels. (I wish I had a picture to post, but we were both a little too occupied to grab a camera!) It’s times like these that make me glad I brought every old towel that we had at the house here.  Sure, they take up space, but sometimes they come in handy.   We started today with a trip to the laundromat and that led to reorganizing towel storage — what better time to do it than when every towel in the house has just been washed?

It’s a beautiful sunny day,  the trails we cut last year are now trails again, and we can see the stakes for the house-site again.     Life is good on the farm!

 

Construction · Pests - General

Filling in trenches!

 

First trench
Case backhoe

A few weeks ago, hubby dug the trenches for our water lines.  The piece of equipment he wanted wasn’t available, so he got the Terramite backhoe way in the back of the picture to the left.  It managed to dig out the packed clay, but stumps defeated it.   Our wonderful neighbor, BH, came over and offered us the use of something a little bigger.   Hubby had lots of fun digging with this one and managed to get over 400 feet of trenching done in two days. We finally have the right water pipes, have them installed, pressure tested for leaks, marked well, and we are ready to fill in the holes.  The first thing we tackled was the break in the driveway as we either had to carry everything over the trench or take the long way around with the four wheeler — which I won’t drive cross-country!    I’m still getting used to it and have only reached a maximum speed of 7 m.p.h. on the driveway so far.

Water line inside a sleeve
Pipes clearly marked

BH suggested that we feed our water and power line to the well through a larger piece of PVC pipe in order to protect it some from the pressure of us driving across the section that runs under the driveway.  Most of the damage he sees to underground pipes stems from rocks abrading the plastic and that is more likely to happen under a heavily traveled area.  Other suggestions that he made were to wrap the pipe in caution tape and tie wrap the electric line so that it stays under the pipe.   That way, if we forget where the lines are and start digging, the first thing we’ll hit is the water and that’s only if we don’t notice the caution tape.   The next step was to rake soil around and under the pipes so that when we backfill the trenches, the pipes are supported and the soil immediately around them is clear of rocks.  That was my main job today, and I only got a short run finished.  Guess what I’ll be doing tomorrow?

Back to the driveway….

Hubby rented a soil compactor so that the driveway remains stable over the long haul.  Haul is a good word as we pretty much had to haul the darn thing up the trench and sometimes give it a helping hand on the downhill run too!   That’s why I’m back at the RV typing instead of still digging and raking out in the 97 degree weather with the men.  (8 hours of that was enough.)  It was an interesting and tedious experience, but I know that section of driveway isn’t going anywhere.

Woodford faucet

The outdoor water faucets hubby installed drain when you turn them off, releasing the water back into the soil and preventing the faucets from freezing.   They are available in a variety of lengths so that they can be buried deeper in colder regions.  The ones we have are buried two feet in the ground.   The base is surrounded by drainage rock so that water can drain easily, and hubby covered the exit with fabric to prevent dirt and roots from entering.   We have other faucets at intervals along the long run of pipe so that we can attach drip irrigation lines eventually, but the main water sources for the RV and the workshop are these very robust ones.  (The drip irrigation faucets will be low to the ground and easy to cover in winter.)   Another of BH’s suggestions for these long runs of pipe was to install telescoping repair couplings at intervals to enable expansion and contraction without the pipes having to bend.  This afternoon pipe that was straight in the morning was significantly bowed by 3:00 p.m. and the installation of couplings like these took care of that.

We also installed a spin down water filter on the main water line coming from the well.   (I’m not sure if it’s the same brand as the one in the link.)

Spin down water filter

This style was the third filter we tried on the irrigation well at our house after having non-stop problems with sprinklers not shutting off and other zones not turning on. The more traditional filters clogged too easily with the fine sediment, but this one worked perfectly.   It also doesn’t require any additional purchases, like replacement filters.  When it becomes clogged, simply turn the handle and it flushes out.  We had to do this multiple times a day for the first month we had the irrigation well, but only flush it a few times a year since we had a heavy rain flow that apparently flushed out the water table.   We have a bucket with gravel underneath it as water rushing out onto bare ground created a muddy mess, but we have been very happy with the system.

When hubby rented the soil compactor from Taylor-Foster Hardware, he also rented an Outback Brush Cutter for me.    My first hour with it was a little hair-raising as I felt like it was in control and was intent on dragging me into the woods!    After that, I simply slowed it down to a pace at which a snail could have easily passed me and then I didn’t stop until it ran out of gas.   It did a great job clearing brambles and other weeds.   I’d planned to use it along our fence line today, but never made it out of the trenches  until I made my escape to the air-conditioning.  (I’m preparing to teach a unit of World War I poetry, so thoughts of trench warfare are always hovering around somewhere in my brain.)    The brush cutter certainly did a better job than the weedeater and in less time.  Each one puts a different muscle group to work, so maybe I need both after we find gold and can afford a $5,000 piece of equipment!

Until we find that gold, we’ll definitely keep renting equipment and shopping for supplies at Taylor-Foster in Manchester, GA.   The people there are always so friendly and helpful and they have an amazing selection of supplies for a small town store.  They also have an ice-cream freezer right next to the checkout counter, and you won’t find that at the big box stores.   We bought plumbing parts yesterday and then bought strawberry shortcake ice cream bars for lunch!

The bees continue to do well here and are bringing in lots of pollen.  The city bees abandoned my lavender for Echinacea while we were away.  I spotted 5 different bee varieties on the Echinacea and Pholx in just a couple of minutes.   The bees are happy.  We are happy.   Life is good!

 

Bees on Echinacea, July 2016
Business Planning · Farmers · Government Agencies

AgAware/Agsouth

Bee on lavender, June 2016

The school year is over, JROTC camp is over, hubby is on vacation, and we are very much looking forward to waking up on our own land.   We still have water and septic lines to finish up and bees to move, but when a friend told us about a couple of workshops this week, we felt attending them was well worth delaying other projects, and we were right.

Yesterday we attended the Team Agriculture Georgia (TAG) Workshop for Small, Beginning, and Limited Resource Farmers.   We learned a lot about the resources (financial and other) available to us.  Even though hubby’s degrees are in business, farming is a different kind of business than the ones he studied in school.  AgSouth offers many courses at no cost to farmers, some of which help you qualify for FSA loans.  I have four typed pages of notes just about creating a business plan.   One of the things that stood out to me from the AgSouth presentation is that we need to move our mindset away from bee-keeping as a hobby and toward bee-keeping as a business.   While I’ve thought of it as a business, the presentation made me realize that I was actually still mentally in hobby mode.   Our conversations since yesterday have been productive.   Something as simple as setting a goal that is specific, measurable, attainable, rewarding, and timed  (a SMART goal) instead of having a general goal of wanting “more” bees and honey has made me think deeply.

The afternoon session we attended informed us about USDA programs available.   The Natural Resources Conservation Service is there to help private landowners make good conservation decision, and they will come to your farm to make suggestions about all kinds of things.  One of the things mentioned was “herbaceous weed control” and we’re wondering if they’d have suggestions as to how to get rid of the blackberries and those spiny vines!

The first session we attended was about honey bees and other pollinators.  While we already knew much of what was discussed, we did pick up some good additional information and it stroked our egos to realize how much we do know!   We also got some ideas about services we can possibly offer to farmers and beginning bee-keepers in our area.

Today we attended an AgAware Marketing Seminar that was replete with information and resulted in another 4 pages of typed notes in addition to hubby’s notes.   When he finally makes it home through the wind, and the rain, and the downed trees, and downed power lines (it’s been a long, interesting trip home for him), we’ll combine notes and discuss which of the many things we want to research from both days to prioritize.

If anyone is interested, I’d be glad to share my notes, but I strongly recommend attending workshops like these, especially if you are just getting started, or even just thinking about, building an agriculture business of any size.   We learned so much and we are so excited to refine our business plan.

Other news that I still need to blog about:  we harvested our first honey, we waterproofed the RV roof, we dug trenches for water lines, and we drank from our well.  It’s been an exciting few weeks!  My brain has been rebelling against putting anything into complete sentences or proof-reading, but I’m ready to start writing again now.

Construction · Farmers · Lazer Creek Apiary

Thinning Trees

While we are hesitant to lose our privacy, we know that our trees are overcrowded and therefore not healthy.  We could probably have left them alone for another year or two, but as we need egress for the power company and a space on which to start building our cabin, we decided to have the trees thinned now.   Heathier trees are more able to withstand pine beetle attacks and thinned trees will grow faster the remaining trees have less competition for nutrients.

This is a good time for us to thin as we will not have to deal with having the heavy equipment and tree branches once we start living there — whether on a permanent or vacation-only basis.  We plan to mulch all of the trimmings, although we realize all may be an unrealistic goal!   We just think about how much mulch we were able to generate from one downed Bradford Pear tree a couple of years ago and envision a thick mulch carpet under the power lines along “Bee Lane.”   A little voice keeps telling me that there are going to be more branches than we can possibly grind up over spring break and that those branches are ideal hiding places for snakes, but I’ll put on my snake boots and we’ll do what we can!

We have heard some horror stories about more trees being removed than agreed upon, damage to land, and missing hardwoods when “only pines were harvested.”   We strongly recommend using a certified timber harvester and asking neighbors who they would recommend.    Our harvester, Scott Smith, was recommended by many people that we and our brother-in-law know and we have  not heard a single negative comment.   Scott originally came out and tied pink tape onto trees to keep in a small section of our land so that we could see what his recommended thinning would look like.  We liked what we saw, so, before his team showed up, he painted every tree that is to remain and painted boundary lines where the harvesters should stop, which is especially important to us as the land transitions to hardwoods as it nears the creek.    We walked our property boundary on Saturday — something we had planned to do over winter break but could not do due to the incessant rain.  We looked at the marked trees and tried to envision what our land will look like by the end of this week.  We found some more springs, some amazing boulders, and a couple of open areas that will be perfect for planting our seedlings.    Our long-term plan is to transition the land to half pine, half hardwood, but our plans are constantly evolving so may change again in the next five minutes — or at least after we see what the land looks like.

I headed straight back to the city on Monday, but my husband took a side-trip to see the harvesting in progress.  He got to see the first load of trees leave our land and took pictures of the harvesting process.  The way he described it, the man running the loader was able to snap a branch off with the grapple on the loader  more accurately than I can do with my little chain saw!   He was simply amazed at the skill and efficiency of the team.    We did not realize that they would even out the loading deck and driveway with a bulldozer to make their lives easier, and we are very happy with that added bonus.

I know we have a lot of work ahead of us, but we will take a load of daylilies with me spring break and start to turn the loading deck into a garden.   We have already taken our leaky RV and turned it into a home, although we may not be able to move it to our land until summer.  The proceeds from the trees should be enough to pay for electricity and a well.  Our home site is more visible from the road now, but we know we are heading in the right direction.   The dream is becoming a reality; life is good.