It’s June 9, and we’ve already surpassed May’s 3.9-inch rainfall total; most of the rain has fallen in the last three days and there is more to come. My heart goes out to all of the people who were already living with floods and certainly did not need this rain, but at the same time I am grateful that our Georgia drought has been somewhat alleviated.
I took advantage of a break in this morning’s rain to take the honey-covered blossoms from my lavender-infused honey outside for the bees to clean up and heard a roar of bees coming from the cucumber bed. It wasn’t quite loud enough to be a swarm, but it was far louder than usual — about the volume of a small hive. Lo and behold, bees of all kinds were taking advantage of the blossoms that were sheltered from the rain and still had nectar to offer. One bedraggled bumblebee was even hanging upside down trying to dry off. The fennel in the background of the top image has been a big hit with the bees the past few days, but it got knocked around in the 60 mph gusts the other day and we’re worried it may not recover. Likewise, about a third of our corn was flattened, and the tomato cages were knocked askew. We’ll try to stand all of these back up once this weather system passes — our efforts between downpours have been futile!
We’re a couple of days away from tasting our first lemon cucumber. The one in the bottom right frame is about half the size of the ripening one. I checked the big one yesterday and it’s still green. According to High Mowing Seeds, lemon cucumbers are edible but crunchy when light yellow and at their best right before turning the color of a lemon. I’ll be careful checking anything in that bed from now on as the biggest millipede or centipede I’ve ever seen hitch-hiked it’s way back into the house with me! I just tried to identify which type it is, but just looking at the pictures makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. It doesn’t help that the thing either bit or stung Hubby when he came to my rescue.
(Hubby was kind enough to look it up for me. It was a centipede and they do inject venom when they bite. However, they eat soft-bodied insects such as spiders and aphids, so they are welcome in the garden, just not in the house.)
Maggie has been doing better with this round of storms. She doesn’t shake anymore or insist on being held like a lap dog. However, she does “hide” under her duck when the going gets tough! Right now, she’s wandering around checking out all the new smells and is quite content to be outside without her humans. She’ll be even happier if we grab the golf-cart keys and head out to join her — one more cup of coffee and we’ll be out the door until the rain drives us back inside.
During the week, it’s hard to see whether or not the bees appreciate the quarter acre of buckwheat we have planted for them because the nectar dries up in the heat of the day. Temperatures have been in the 90s this week, so it doesn’t take long for the blooms to run dry. There was a loud hum in the garden this morning, so I came back indoors to get the camera and then spent about 20 minutes looking closely at the buckwheat through the lens. (I gave up when I heard something rustle around the cucumbers as I wasn’t appropriately dressed to encounter any snakes.)
I’ve seen red wasps on the buckwheat in the evening, but this morning was all about the bees – honey bees, bumble bees, and tiny bees that I don’t have a name for. Butterflies are making the best of the pink clover, and the dog was fascinated by something in the wood line. All in all, it was the perfect way to start the day.
So now I’ve had sufficient coffee, it’s time to start on chores, the first of which is get the RV ready for guests. We have only been in there to access the freezer or work on craft projects since we moved into the mobile home in June, so the critters have had free run of the place. Now that the kids are coming in for the weekend, it’s time to evict the squatters and clean up their mess! Hubby put some traps out last night, but I’m hoping that the mess-makers were only in there over the coldest days of winter. (After disturbing a mouse while packing up my classroom, I know that’s a futile hope.)
While I’m not looking forward to cleaning, life is still good on the farm. Another school year is over and I can look back on a year during which my students made a lot of progress. Then I can look around the farm and see what a difference living here full time has made. Finally I can look at the tomatoes, cucumbers, and melons that are growing so very well and promising healthy eating in just a few weeks. I love this place!
Once again we’re under a tornado watch, but the danger is a lot less than a month ago. We should be out from under the thunderstorms by this afternoon. Meanwhile, I’m sitting here looking at the rivulets running along the side of the drive and at our beautiful grassy area going across to the well house. The White Dutch Clover is well enough established to bloom in many places. Of our 20 acres, we probably have 15 covered with blackberry bushes in full bloom right now. There is a lot of crimson clover in the orchard. Everything is really beautiful, but there’s not a bee to be seen on all the things we’ve planted for them. (Not that we planted the thorny blackberry vines, but we will always leave some patches as a nectar source.) The bees are clearly finding plenty of resources elsewhere as all hives have multiple frames full of nectar and the bees are drawing lots of beautiful new comb. As always, we have to recognize that the bees know what the hive needs at this point in time, and they will gather what they want. We see lots of bees returning from the direction of the creek, so they are either heading toward the deciduous trees or going across the creek to the forest land that was cleared 18 months ago.
I checked most of the hives over spring break — the first week of April. We are applying ProDFM for the first time this year and seeing good results. Of course, it’s always difficult to determine whether or not the bees would have done as well without our intervention, but treated hives appear to be thriving better than those we did not treat. Some of our hives had bees on about half the frames 10 days ago and are now bursting at the seams. A few hives have open brood and eggs covering four or more frames.
I checked hives that I didn’t get to over break yesterday and pulled out frames with eggs and 1 – 3 day brood and Hubby started our second grafting attempt. That turned out to be a very efficient way to do that, and after harvesting, we placed those frames into NUCs for walkaways. That also enabled us to add empty frames to high producing hives. We didn’t see any swarm cells in those hives yet, but the hives are producing lots of drones, so we need to do what we can to discourage swarm tendencies.
We had 75% success the first time we attempted grafting, but work and weather got in the way of us checking the grafts in a timely manner and the queens hatched and left! I saw one small queen in the hive that same week, but she must have lost her way on a mating flight. This time we have NUCs set up to receive any good queen cells. We split two angry hives into NUCs and only grafted from mellow and productive hives. If the NUCs build their own queen cells over the next few days, we’ll pinch those off and give them a queen that is more likely to be one we can work with. (Hubby ended up having to taking shelter under the garden sprinkler to deter some bees that need an attitude adjustment yesterday!)
Our hive beetle problem-corner remains an issue despite a variety of things we’ve tried. I moved one 10-frame to a NUC over break and that NUC had almost no bees yesterday and a sickening number of SHM larvae wiggling away on the frames. Hubby is now moving healthy bees from the lower apiary to our sunnier upper apiary, but he’s not moving hives up from that one corner. We will move them to other benches in the lower apiary and treat them, but we don’t want to risk infesting what is currently a good location. We have had some luck with putting old carpet under one of hive stands in the lower apiary and we’ll use up old carpet that we brought from the house under our new hive stands. Cheap landscape fabric, Diatomaceous Earth, and a variety of SHB traps did nothing for the corner closest to the spring although all of those methods helped elsewhere. We have better landscape fabric under all hive stands in the upper apiary, and we think that is helping.
Talking about landscape fabric, Hubby has built two raised beds so far and we are using heavy landscape fabric on those as well as on the new blueberry and boysenberry patch. Four varieties of heirloom tomatoes are thriving in the first raised bed and Lemon Cucumber seedlings are ready to be moved into the second one. The older we get, the less we want to bend down to weed any kind of garden, so raised beds are the way to go! With rainfall like we just had, they are also a good way to keep soil amendments where we need them instead of seeing them wash down to the creek! Hubby stacked the blocks without using any mortar to enable us move the beds if they don’t work well in their current location and to allow excess water to escape. Hubby is going to build a smaller bed for asparagus and everything else will have to live in old Home Depot buckets this year! We’ve gone from gardening in the sandy soil of Columbia, SC to gardening in clay. I must say that almost all of our transplants are doing far better here than they ever did at the old house.
There’s lots of “Hubby did this” and “Hubby is going to do this” in this post, but that’s not because I’ve become a lady of luxury. I’m a very frustrated bee-keeper dealing with tendonitis in my right ankle/calf! I made a lot of progress over spring break, but walking around the classroom last week set me back again. Still, my ankle looks and feels a whole lot better than a month ago, and I know from past experiences that being patient now provide a better outcome by summer. Not that I’m really being patient — I guess being proactive would be a better term. When have I ever been patient?
The storms have passed and the rain has stopped, so it’s time for me to take a trip around the farm in the golf cart before settling down to grade essays and write lesson plans. Hubby has also cooked something that smells delicious, so eating is probably my first priority. We have come through another storm front without damage and bees, trees, and vegetables are all doing well. Life is good on the farm.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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.
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.)
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!