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!
….the buyer’s home inspection showed a slight leak under the master bath and a couple of other minor issues that we needed to take care of. (There was no leak at the time we had a home inspection done.) We had someone come in to do estimates for the repairs and he said the wax ring on the toilet needed to be replaced. We’re not sure how he knew that, but sometime over the following weekend, the water supply line to the toilet sheared off (not a normal PVC break) and flooded the house. The bamboo floors in the master bedroom and closet have to be torn out, some of the bathroom tiles have cracked because of damage to the sub-floor, the padding has to be replaced under the brand-new carpet in the dining room, and the dining room wallpaper may need to be replaced. Luckily, the insurance adjuster is working directly with the contractor on repairs, so things should be moving forward, but work will almost certainly not be done before closing on Thursday. Of course, we’ll have to pay our deductible and we’re really concerned about how much our next water bill will be, but so far the buyers want to move forward with the sale.
Still, life is good on the farm. We are back up to 37 hives and most are packed with nectar. The blackberry flow was really good this year, and the wild flowers are continuing to bloom. We have buckwheat planted in a few areas, and it is coming along quite well. There are even a few over-achievers blooming already! The rest should bloom when many of the wild flowers fade, so we’ll be able to delay the nectar dearth. We should be able to mow once the buckwheat goes to seed and then let it grow and bloom again. By then it may be too hot for that, but as buckwheat is an excellent soil conditioner and cover crop, it will help either way.
The first lavender blooms are opening and all of the plants have survived pruning! I let the lavender in the city get too “leggy,” and it’s been scary to prune this batch as much as is recommended. In fact, I pruned a little less than recommended this time, but the results show that I need to have faith in the multiple sources I read.
We already have a constant supply of strawberries. Grapes, thornless blackberries, tomatoes, cucumbers, and melons all look promising. I plan to harvest some wild blackberries for jam, but the thornless ones are so much easier to deal with! One blueberry bush has twice as many blueberries as last year, but don’t get excited — we had 5 last year! The other two bushes are doing well, but didn’t flower this year as we moved them a couple of months ago.
Surprise, surprise, we are also almost at the end of the school year. I’m so used to teaching into June that I can’t quite wrap my head around the fact that next week is the last one for seniors. Some seniors stopped coming to class over a week ago, which has me concerned about them maintaining a passing grade, but hopefully they’ll be back tomorrow. We also got to the end of standardized testing last week, and teachers and students alike are glad to have that over with! It’s been an interesting year, as any first year at a new school is, and I’m glad that school will be over before Memorial Day. It was always such a struggle to keep students focused after Memorial Day, especially students who took AP and IB exams at the start of May.
So, soon I’ll be back in the bee yard and garden full time, unless I’m in the kitchen canning the results of our labors. We only have half a cup of honey left from two years ago, so we’re looking forward to harvesting this year. The exterior workshop construction is complete, but we won’t start on building the honey extraction room until after we sell the house, so we may be extracting in the kitchen again!
With the workshop done, Hubby was able to change the blades on the cutter, so we’re taking it in turns to get “tractor therapy” and bush-hog the cleared areas. After 3 years, the blackberries have given up and the Dutch White Clover has settled in, so we want to keep that maintained. Plus, I don’t want to have to worry about what’s hiding in the long grass when I go to the well house or compost pile.
Here I am, starting another topic, when daylight is burning and I have trees to plant! We bought a healthy black walnut at the Cotton Pickin Fair yesterday, and I’m going to ride down to its new home on the golf cart and get it in the ground before I start another hour writing and uploading pictures.
Here’s hoping life is as good in your world as it is here at the farm. Let’s just forget about the annoying house in the city!
Our strategy of combining weak hives, even if that meant sacrificing queens, in late fall has paid off and we are going into February with 25 strong hives. We did lose one NUC that we were on the fence about. They hung in there until the below freezing temperatures last weekend, but sadly didn’t make it past the last 23 degree morning because the cluster just wasn’t quite big enough to keep warm. We were so close, and, if I could go back, I would probably grab the NUC and put it in the greenhouse for that last week of January! Ian Steppler stacks hives to retain warmth, and that is a strategy we thought about trying but simply didn’t get around to. Once again, we are reminding ourselves that we are closer than ever before to spending all of our time at the farm: we just need to get our city house on the market and sold and stop making that 600 round-trip drive to get it market ready!
I checked candy boards last weekend and was happy to see hundreds of little eyes starting up at me from sugar piles and bees bringing pollen in through the main entrances. Today, bees are removing spilled sugar from the hives. Does that mean they don’t need it any more, or is it just in the wrong place? I didn’t see much pollen coming in, but there are more bees than usual gathering water. I love the sound of contented bees, although I wish there were fewer of them sucking water out of the door mat on the front deck!
There are also signs of spring in the garden. I was frustrated over the absence of crocus last weekend as I thought they should be blooming by now. After all, that’s why I plant them! Crocus are usually the first dashes of color, but the daffodils are leading the way this year. I was happy to finally see crocus shoots this morning. Clover seeded over the last three years is also returning, and one of the fig trees is about to produce its first leaf of the year. I hope to see a good crop of clover flowers for the bees this year as most of our clover should be well established by now. All-in-all, it’s pretty amazing to look back at pictures from three years ago and the progress we’ve been able to make in a relatively short time.
Talking of time, it’s flown by while I’ve been fighting my computer to edit and upload pictures. It must be downloading another Windows update, because it’s apparently been busy doing things other than what I’ve wanted it to do! I had planned to do some gardening this afternoon, but now I think I just need to close the greenhouse and let it start storing some warmth for the evening. The cattle panel greenhouse has been a great success. We are only using three light bulbs to heat it, and up until last week, even the elephant ears were still growing. Our more traditional greenhouse did not protect plants this well. We’re trying to see what we can do without running a heater, and so far, so good. I am going to try heating mats under seedling trays this spring. I’ll let you’all know how that goes. Either way, we plan to add more cattle panel greenhouses before next winter as well as adding raised beds to the garden this spring.
Last weekend was all about curled hair and eye-liner as I gussied myself up to go to the school’s homecoming dance. The DJ played a good mix of music, my students were all handsome / beautiful, and I had a whole lot of fun. The students were very appreciative, and that made the evening even more special. Of course, getting ready took up much of Saturday and recovering from a late night (anything after 9:30 is late these days) took care of Sunday — well that and the normal Sunday grading and lesson planning stuff. I still hadn’t really recovered by Friday, and I was creaky and achey from sitting around too much all week, so I welcomed a day of walking, tractor driving, and construction yesterday.
Apparently people buying houses in the city don’t appreciate beautiful flower beds that require lots of maintenance, so Hubby has been digging up and re-potting plants while simplifying our garden. This is just a fragment of the things we need to overwinter and plant. We gave our greenhouse to a friend when we started getting the house ready to sell as we didn’t think it would survive a 300 mile trip, so we needed a new solution. Hubby has been watching videos about greenhouses made from cattle panels — they are inexpensive, sturdy, and don’t take much time to build, so that became yesterday’s project.
He’d already done the math and knew what to buy, so, after a trip to Tractor Supply and Home Depot, all we had to do was put it together. First we laid the boards out and then moved them a few times. We’re both very visual people and just have to see whether we’re going to have enough room around anything we build. Hubby then used the tractor to level the ground while keeping a slight slope to enable drainage.
The next step was to see just how much headroom Hubby would have. With the original configuration of the foundation boards, he wouldn’t have been able to stand up and we’d have a lot of unusable space under the slope of the sides. Reducing the width by just one foot made a much more usable and comfortable workspace.
Measuring Greenhouse v Hubby
Checking slope for future shelves
Hubby cut the boards and created a nice, square foundation which we placed on top of heavy duty landscape fabric covered with gravel. He hammered spikes into the ground to keep the foundation in place and then we started putting the cattle panels in. We chose to overlap the panels by 4 inches to give a little more strength to the middle of the structure. Cattle panels also have a section with smaller mesh at one end, and we made sure these were on the ends for stability. We also made sure that the ribs that go across ended up on the inside to reduce friction on the plastic. (That sounds so simple now, but it involved a lot fighting 12 foot lengths of panel!)
We secured the panels to each other with cable ties and covered the ends with plumbing insulation to protect the plastic. Hubby then framed the supports and the door frame at either end and stapled the panels to the wood frame. While he finished that up, I put the more delicate plants in the greenhouse with the least cold tolerant ones in the center. We’ll plant some of them over Thanksgiving break, which will free up some room to get our shelves in and make the space usable for spring seedlings.
By this point, I was tired and hungry, so I abandoned Hubby and headed for the kitchen. He managed to get the plastic over the frame without me — something I thought we were going to do this morning — and today he is finishing up the door. He’s also decided that we need a window in the back — preferably an automatic one as today’s sunshine has turned our greenhouse into a sauna.
But for now, I have a place to keep the plants alive on frosty nights. With the spring-fed creek on two sides of the property, we have frosts when the weather forecast predicts temperatures in the low 40s, and I’ve already had to scrape the windshield once this week.
As for the bees, I only saw about 30 yesterday, but today’s sunshine has them on the move again. They are now taking an interest in the pollen substitute so I’ll be sure to keep the pollen feeders stocked. I still have some pollen patties made with sugar syrup in the freezer, but I’ll save them for cooler weather as they tend to be beetle magnets. I’ll also put a test syrup feeder out up by the greenhouse. I don’t want to put one anywhere near the bee yard as I’m still seeing yellow jackets and hornets and don’t want to lure them into the apiary. I think all the hives are able to defend themselves now that we’ve collapsed them down for winter, but European hornets might still be in the neighborhood and they won the battle with one strong hive this time last year.
It’s amazing how physical labor can make a mind and body feel so much better, but it does. As teachers, we also don’t always see the results of our hard work for quite some time, so a project that we can actually finish in a weekend always does us good. Even more than that — I just like working with Hubby!
He just sent me one more greenhouse picture and the dog is so cute I just have to add it here before I go hit the books!
Life is good here on the farm, and I hope it is equally good where you’all are!
Our RV upgrade was delivered on Tuesday, so we will soon have 765 square feet of living space and a shower that Hubby can stand under! Of course, we have to endure the waiting game first — waiting for the electrician to hook the home up, then for the air conditioning installation. Once the a/c is in, we can get the propane tank moved and connected and wait for repairs and inspections along the way. While all of that is going on, we need to hook up water lines and install the septic system. It’s possible to take a test to acquire a one-time septic installation permit for your own land in Georgia and with Hubby’s army engineering training, that won’t be a problem. However, we spent many hours over the past two days transporting supplies for the septic and the decks and the heavy lifting still needs to be done. We also have to make a trip to one of the more distant hardware stores to buy what the closest Home Depot didn’t have enough of in stock yesterday…..
Our first foray into the house — just to measure so that we know what actually will fit from the house in South Carolina — resulted in our first clay stain on the light beige carpet, despite all the precautions we took to avoid that. Beige carpet, clay, and a dog are a bad combination — not that the dog has been in the house yet, so we can’t blame her! We surrounded the home with grass seed covered with straw last night, but it will be a while before the “front yard” stops being a muddy mess after a thunderstorm, so we’ve decided to remove the carpet in the living room and install laminates before we move furniture down here. Installing flooring in a 13 foot by 13 foot space is a breeze compared to what we’ve done in the past. (Diagonal hardwoods look great on HGTV and in our bedroom, but we’ll NEVER do that again.)
Meanwhile, our everyday life goes on, but with gardens, bees, and walks to the creek taking a back seat to getting the home move-in ready. I took the time to put landscape fabric around magnolia trees this morning and plan to gather more rocks to put on top of the fabric after this cool-down break. We’ve eaten our first zucchini from this garden, all five blueberries that we harvested this year, and handfuls of plump, sweet blackberries from the thornless vines we planted last summer. One grape vine is producing well, but I reluctantly pruned it a little this morning as this is its first year and it needs to put its resources into deep roots and good health, not grapes. Hubby’s brother has provided us with a bounty of vegetables and blueberries from his garden, so we are eating well, despite the size and maturity of our mini-garden.
The bees are bringing in three colors of pollen in large quantities and all hives are full of nectar, bee bread, and honey. While the bees are now showing an interest in syrup, every hive has enough resources that I don’t worry when I’m too busy to refill feeders. I’m still trying to reduce the number of drownings on feeders. The gravity fed dog bowls work fairly well, but the bees insist on moving the gravel aside to crawl under the container when levels get low. Somehow they’ve forced their way through cheesecloth, squeezed through rocks, and just generally worked around everything I’ve tried to block spelunking expeditions. The next step is the wire mesh we use for robbing screens. Surely I’m smarter than a bee and can figure out how to save them from themselves!
We didn’t harvest any honey this year, although we do plan to pull some and store it before the fall flow so that we can feed it back to them over winter. Not harvesting honey is a sacrifice that we have to make this year as there are only so many hours to the day and my first day of work is rapidly approaching! The new bees are still very productive and mild-mannered and I’ve only been stung twice in 3 weeks.
Well, it looks like it’s going to rain soon, so it’s time to stop typing and go gather rocks. We have no shortage of them, so I have plenty to keep me occupied until the weather drives me back indoors.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.