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.

Gardening · Lazer Creek Apiary · Natural Food Sources · Queen Bee · Supplemental Feeding

Cooking with Gas – April Updates

Enough propane to last a while!
Enough propane to last a while!

Today we got a very large propane tank to power our tiny home!   This will be the tank that provides propane to the house eventually, but it’s worth it even now — both for the convenience of having a reliable source of heat and hot water and for the cost savings.   We ran out of propane one of those well-below freezing nights over winter break, and we don’t want to make a habit out of that!   Getting up in the dark and the cold to drive 10 miles to get a tank of propane is not fun.   Well, it wasn’t bad for me as I turned the electric blanket up and waited for hubby to return, but it was no fun for him.

Future workshop site
Future workshop site

We’ve made other great progress this week.   Hubby has leveled the site for the future workshop.   He had to take down some trees and scrape off the top soil to get down to clay, so I now have temporary raised beds made from those trees and the soil for this year’s veggie garden.   I’ve also planted more grass, clover, and wild-flower seed to reduce erosion along the driveway while providing for the bees.   The bees are still very interested in the syrup buckets, so I’m impatient to see some nectar plants start supplying them with what they need.

Temporary raised beds
Temporary raised beds

For some reason, the well filter keeps clogging, and I wonder if the tree clearing across the creek has anything to do with it.   We ended up removing the filter after the third after-dark trip to the well house one night, but now silt clogs the sprinklers so they don’t turn off.   That made for an interesting shower last night — five sprinklers were running and I got to wash shampoo out of my hair with  the left over trickle.    After that, walking across the slick clay to turn off all the faucets in the dark was a challenge, but then I looked up at the beautiful night sky and the challenge turned into a blessing.   It’s been too long since we walked down the driveway after dark.   I love the electric gate opener, but I didn’t realize how much I missed our evening walks to go lock the gate.

The really good news is that most of the bee packages and splits we made are doing well.    Bees moved out of one of the hives that took a long time to release the queen, but the rest have eggs and/or brood in various stages and all of the queens are fat and active.   The hives in the old location are still battling small hive beetles, so we’re trying beetle traps made of Borax and Crisco paste in CD covers for the first time.    We’ll let you know how that goes.   The hives in the new, sunnier location have far fewer problems with beetles so far.

More good news is that I received a job offer for next school year, so I’ll be living at the farm full time after June.   That moved the workshop up the priority list as we’ll need somewhere to put all the tools from the garage, but at least we’ll no longer be moving carpentry projects up and down I-20!   I’m enjoying spring break, so I’m trying very hard to not think about packing up everything else in the house and getting the house on the market.   It’s much less stressful to think about being able to monitor the bees on a more consistent basis.

Blue bells
Blue bells – another childhood favorite of mine.

 

 

 

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!

Bees · Gardening · Lazer Creek Apiary · Pests - Bees

Many Happy Returns

If you read my blog from two weeks ago, you’ll know that at that time we did not have a single bee anywhere in our yard — not even on a feeder bucket.   Well, we left the bucket out and on Thursday we found a handful of bees feasting away.    There were a few more yesterday, and even more today.   All of the foragers are young bees, which supports our premise that the old field force was killed off.   The timing would be about right for nurse bees to have graduated to being foragers.

Another exciting thing about these bees is that there are some black bees mixed in with the regular Italians.   Black bees have a reputation of being aggressive, but they are also known to be resistant to varroa mites.   We would love to add some of those genetics to our bee colonies.   Black bee numbers were decimated in the early 1900s by tracheal mites, and some thought they had been completely wiped out, but researchers have found some in Europe and in the United States.     The ones on the bucket are certainly not aggressive as hubby and I have both coaxed some onto our hands to get a closer look.   Of course, that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be aggressive around their hive.   We plan to leave feeders out over winter even though we don’t have any active hives in our yard.   If we can support the local bee population, we are still achieving one of our goals.   If we attract another swarm — well, that would be icing on the cake!

While I was watching the bees and listening to their happy buzzing,  I noticed leaves on the Flame Azalea in our memory garden.  This particular azalea was planted in memory of my aunt as its vibrant colors just reminded me of her.   The plant is also a native plant, not a modern hybrid, and Aunt Joan was so very English in all the best ways.   I’m not saying she was old-fashioned, because she wasn’t.   She was an inspiration, multi-talented, and full of life.   I know the azalea is just a plant, but I felt a sense of loss  when it died.   While I still thought about Aunt Joan every time I looked at the bare twigs (I couldn’t bear to dig it up), that didn’t cheer me up much!    I am so happy to see new growth and am looking forward to next spring when it bursts into oranges, reds, and yellows again.

Without much hope, I thought that if the azalea could come back, maybe the Japanese Maple would too.    Now this tree marks the resting place of our daughter’s cat, so it doesn’t have quite the emotional connection for me that the other plants in the memory garden have, but when it died, I felt like I’d let our daughter down.   The last thing she needs to see when she walks over there is a dead twig!   Lo and behold — new buds and one new leaf.

The idea of a memory garden started when a co-worker gave me tulip bulbs to plant in memory of my father.   Tulips do not typically regenerate in the heat and the sandy soil of central South Carolina, but these tulips have returned every year.   I enjoy seeing perennials pop back up every year anyway, but that joy takes on a different facet when it is combined with happy memories of those who were so loved so much.

The memory garden will be hard to leave behind when we finally move to the farm full time, but we are trying to root cuttings from all the shrubs to take with us.   If that fails, we’ll buy new shrubs of the same kind to put in the memory garden we have already started down there.    That garden already has English blue-bells and daffodils planted in it.  It’s going to take some time to convince the summer weeds to stay out of there, but we’ll win that battle!    My parents, Aunt Joan, and hubby’s parents all loved gardening.   What better way to remember them all than to dig in the soil and create something beautiful?

 

Canning · Gardening

Unexpected Figs

My husband and I were raised by a generation that admonished us to eat everything on our plate and never let food go to waste.  We somewhat reluctantly shelled peas, cut beans, picked gooseberries and pulled endless weeds from the time we could help until we left home.  It was therefore somewhat of a relief when the 17 degree frost killed the flowers on our fig tree this year.   I had visions of staying guilt-free at the farm and not having to think about the number of figs going to waste.

We had always wondered about the little figs that appeared shortly after the first leaves — and sometimes before.   I did a little research after the frost and found out that what look like figs are actually inverted flowers.   It seems odd to me that a flower and the fruit look pretty much the same, but it clearly works for the tree — aside from the fact that it is dependent on a specific species of wasp for pollination.  But no flowers equals no figs and that meant a summer without  chopping, boiling, stirring and canning figs every 3 days or so!

Figs
Figs

Then, lo and behold, a couple of weeks ago the fig tree erupted with twice as many figs as in years past!   I don’t know whether having more leaves before producing flowers inspired the tree to pop out so many or whether it’s just saying thank-you for the Miracle Grow.  Either way, I’ll be making fig jam again this year.   On a positive note, I get to experiment with even more recipes.

Our biggest yield last year was 15 pounds in one picking.   Now, I was picking about 3 pounds every day when we were in the city and the 15 pounds were a week’s growth after a farm trip.  That much maxed out my big jam saucepan.   At the farm today,  I was so happy to see our three new fig trees recovering from the frost and the drought, but I’m also wondering about our level of insanity in planting 3 trees!   I may need to get that 6-burner stove I’d been considering for the new house.

For now, I’m going to stop worrying about the figs in my future and go harvest wild blackberries!   I don’t think I’ve tried fig and blackberry jam yet, but I know that fig and apple jam is one of my favorites!

Blackberries
Blackberries

I’ll have to boil them and then freeze them here and then take them back to the city to turn into jam, but that much I can handle on my little RV stove!   Let me check to see if it’s stopped raining so that I can start picking…..

Bees · Gardening

Bee Successful

That’s a message I try to communicate to my students all year, but this morning I am congratulating hubby and I on our success with bees this year.

comb
Comb with nectar

 

The bees we rescued last week are doing quite well, as are a few of their buddies.   When we took the comb out of the floor cavity, we separated comb with brood from comb with just honey, so we ended up with quite a bit of honey and nectar in the brood-tote.   Sunday evening, we put the brood tote in the greenhouse so that we could open the lid to let the bees out without having bees drown once it started raining.  Even after 4 full days, there is still a lot of nectar in that comb.   The bees are mobbing this buffet of ready-made food!

Comb
Comb to be cleaned up

I took the comb from the top, which has been almost completely cleaned up, and put in on our garden cart.   (Ignore the date on the picture — we had to resort back to our old camera and I forget the set the date!)   The bees now have access from above and below and can continue pulling honey and nectar out to store in their own hives.   There are still some cleaning up the tote in the greenhouse — as long as nothing starts to smell bad, we’ll let them retrieve what they can and then melt the wax down.

The hives we created from the rescued bees are also doing well.   I still didn’t see the queen this morning, but we had one NUC from a previous split that had 12 queen cells!   We were able to put a frame of brood with a queen cell into two of the rescue NUCs and still leave 8 cells in their “home” NUC.   I’d love to cut some of those cells out and create more splits, but we need to move some NUCs to out yards or the farm first.   The third NUC from the rescue is a little weak, so we’ll hold off on putting a queen cell in there.  They may move to one of the other, more viable, hives.  If not, we’ll help them along with some more brood from elsewhere next weekend.

All other recent splits have evidence of a queen (new brood), but I didn’t see a queen in any of them.   I was moving quickly through them and may have missed the queens or the queens may be out mating again.   These are queens that have hatched within the last week, so we’re very happy to see brood.  I guess I’ll have to set up new hive benches at the farm as well as check those bees so that we have somewhere to put them all!   A neighbor wants us to place some hives in his sunflower plot, so maybe I’ll wait until hubby makes it down to the farm to set up bee benches!

Something else that made me happy this morning was the sight of my asparagus plants!   I have no idea where I’m going to plant them at the farm yet, but I think I may just drop them in between the sprinklers.  We know we won’t be tilling the soil there and I don’t know that we’ll get the actual garden set up this summer with everything else we need to do.    We won’t be able to harvest asparagus for at least two years, so I want to get them in the ground somewhere this year!

asparagus
asparagus from seed

 

Who knew that asparagus looks like little pine trees when it’s not in the grocery store?   Apparently the plants can end up 5 feet tall!   Maybe I’ll plant them behind the lavender and use them as a screen to block the view from the road!

Gardening

Arbor Day aids my procratination

Trees and shrubs – protected from the dog with milk crates!

As it was already 97 degrees in the greenhouse by 9:00 a.m. this morning, I decided to move our trees that are awaiting planting to their outside spot under the sprinklers.  All too often, I forget to open the greenhouse windows in the morning, so the poor plants end up baking — now that we’re back to dark mornings, that’s been more of a problem this past week.

So, I managed to put off grading for an hour or so while I played with plants, potted the blue-berry bush I bought yesterday, and started some trays of tomatoes and peppers.  I honestly planned to get comfortable and grade after that, but when I took the trash out I found a box of trees from Arbor Day on the front step.    We didn’t receive our entire order, but there was enough planting to do for me to postpone grading another hour.   Then I ate lunch.  Now I’m blogging!

Yes, it’s that time of the year when it’s hard to stay indoors.   It’s neither too hot nor too cold outside.  It seems that every day another variety of daffodil blooms in my garden.   The bees are buzzing contentedly and the grumpy ones are 270 miles away at the farm!   I do love teaching, but it’s also the time of year when I am just tired of reading essays!   Spring break is late this year, and most of our spring days-off became inclement weather make-up days for the third year in a row.  Students are ready for spring break.  Teachers are ready for spring break.  We are knee-deep in state mandated standardized testing, and I just want to take the dog for a long walk.

But enough complaining.   The trees and shrubs we received so far this year from Arbor Day have really good root systems, unlike some of what was shipped last year.    The Catalpa and Red Maple trees are a good height and I actually had enough potting soil at home to plant them all.   The arrival of this box is a reminder to grab another bag of potting soil next time we’re at Lowe’s, and my Lemon Grass and Mandevilla  both survived winter in the greenhouse.  The Mandevilla is even blooming already.  The two varieties of Chocolate Vine on the arbor are filling the yard with a jasmine-like scent, and spring break is only three weeks away.  As always, life is good.