Construction · Gardening · Lazer Creek Apiary · Relaxing

Cattle Panel Greenhouse

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.

Homeless plants
Plants on the move!

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.

Greenhouse 1
Planning size and location

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.

 

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!

Greenhouse 10
Finished Greenhouse

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!

 

 

 

Construction · Gardening · Lazer Creek Apiary · Natural Food Sources · RV rehab · Supplemental Feeding

Lots of Work: Lots of Progress

…but still so much more to do!

Clayton Homes - Bliss - Mobile Home
Clayton Homes – Bliss – Mobile Home

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!

Dog bowl feeders
Dog bowl feeders

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.

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…..