Bees · Lazer Creek Apiary · Nature · Products and Vendors · Supplemental Feeding

Counting Our Blessings – March 2019

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Crocus, March 2019

Tornadoes

Last Sunday afternoon, we listened to so many tornado warnings that we lost count.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with the watch/warning system, a tornado watch means that weather conditions are favorable.  A warning means that an active tornado has been sighted or that radar has a strong indication that one has formed in the vicinity, so more than 5 warnings makes for a stressful afternoon.   Here in Georgia, most tornadoes are shrouded in rain, so they are less visible than in other areas of the country, which doesn’t help the nerves.   The one that touched down came within 300 yards of our niece’s and her husband’s house, then came through south of our land and north of BILs.   We had no damage at all here, but, sadly, the county seat sustained significant damage.

The tornado swept through Talbotton between the school and the court house, destroying homes and taking down beautiful old trees.  Click here to see pictures. It’s been heart-breaking to drive through town to and from work this week.   On Monday, so many trees were down and so many news crews were parked along the narrow road that it was hard to see much else.   As the week progressed, the debris close to the road receded, but that made the extent of the damage more apparent in many ways.   Still, when we look at the loss of life and the more severe damage to the west of us, we know it could have been worse.

Freezing Temperatures

Once the storm passed, we had three nights of below freezing temperatures.  We’d attempted our first queen grafting on Saturday and completed a quick check of all the hives.  We were a little concerned about having enough bees in the grafting hive, and quite concerned about the bees being able to cover all the wonderful brood we saw in the other hives.   As soon as temperatures were above 60, all of the hives were active and there is minimal evidence of chill-brood cleanup.

First attempt at grafting queens
First attempt at grafting queens

We checked the grafting frame on Thursday and are happy with the success rate of our first attempt.   The cell walls are weaker than we’d like, but we have queens.   One of our hives is in severe need of a new queen — or a can of Raid!  (Just kidding about the Raid.)

Warm Today

It’s very warm out today and the bees are vigorously hitting any sugar source they can find.  I had some leftover fondant in plates and baking cups, so I put those out to supplement the syrup buckets.  I slept in this morning, so I was too late to replenish buckets even with a bee suit on.   The girls are crazy this morning!

Bees on Fondant
Bees on Fondant

We have thunderstorms predicted tomorrow, but nothing like last weekend.  The warm weather is likely to continue, and I have trays of seedlings in the greenhouse just waiting for the danger of frost to be over.   I also had a Carolina Wren in there this morning….  Nature keeps life interesting and sometimes gives me a better jolt than coffee!

The cattle panel greenhouse has performed so much better than the more traditional greenhouse we had in the city.   I have two seed tray mats and three light bulbs in there, and everything survived a 25 degree night.   I still need to plant the lemon cucumber from High Mowing Seeds, and some Echinacea, but then I think I’ll be done.   All of the other seeds from High Mowing are doing great, and I’m excited to taste all the heirloom tomatoes in May.

The rest of my weekend will be spent reading 136 essays and entering grades!   These are revised essays, so the grading will go far quicker than for the first drafts, but it really is time for me to stop procrastinating.   It’s hard to believe that we are 3/4 of the way through the school year and it’s time to close the gradebooks out again.   I may have to take the laptop into the living room, because it is just so very hard to sit inside looking out of the window as spring reveals its unique beauty and resilience.

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Violets

Now, have I ever told you about my funny and embarrassing story about the wild violets Beccy and I picked when we were 14?   I’d better save that for another day, or I’ll never get started on those essays!

Oh, and remind me to tell you what the turkeys have been up to……

Lazer Creek Apiary · Nature

Gobble, Gobble, Toil and Trouble

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Turkey, March 2, 2019

I very reluctantly dragged myself off the couch to go update Quicken before heading out to the bee yard this morning and was rewarded with the sight of a turkey, strutting and fanning right outside the house.   We watched for about 30 minutes and took a lot of pictures.  What an exciting start to the day!

Of course, the turkeys have moved up here to partake of the buckwheat seed we sowed last weekend, so that is less exciting.   We really want to have enough buckwheat blooming to keep the bees fed.  Still, we are enthralled with watching the flock.

We do feel a little sorry for the poor guy — he’s putting on quite a show for the ladies, but they’re more interested in what’s for breakfast.  There are 14 hens strolling up to the clearing by the RV, and not one of them even appears to know he exists.

Maybe that’s why his strutting made me think of Macbeth:  “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player / That struts and frets his hour upon the stage / And then is heard no more ” Macbeth Act V, Scene 5, Lines 2381-2383.  He sure is strutting and fretting on his stage, but we do hope to see him again!

Turkey-COLLAGE

 

Construction · Lazer Creek Apiary · Nature · Products and Vendors · Queen Bee · Supplemental Feeding

Swarms and Storms

We have our first 2019 swarm capture!   Swarm might be an overstatement, but while we were adding and removing supers yesterday, Hubby went to grab some frames from a hive I’d baited with Swarm Commander and found a fat, active queen with a handful of bees in the center of the brood box.   We’d just split a hive, so we ended up doing a newspaper introduction to the queenless hive as the poor girl didn’t have enough attendants to get her through a 38 degree night.   Hubby just took a peek in the hive, and all looks good.   He didn’t remove any frames, but the bees are very calm and clearly bees have broken through from the very full bottom box to where their new sovereign is housed.

Hubby purchased two Rapid Bee Feeders to try, so we gave that hive and a weak hive one each.   We like the Pro Feeders, but we’ve also experienced some robbing with those when we’ve used them in a weak hive during a dearth.   It’s tough to keep the girls fed when temperatures fluctuate as much as they are currently doing.   Our goal is to build strength first and foremost this year as we have to get the hive beetles under better control than last year.   We’ll move hives out of the lower apiary and into a sunnier area just as soon as we can install more hive stands.  As any beekeeper knows, there are more things on the to-do list than there are hours to get them to-done at this time of year!

Red Oak
Red Oak – Struck by Lightning

As for storms:   a couple of months ago, we had such a loud clap of thunder that the dog sat on my lap shaking like a leaf for almost an hour afterward.   The weekend before last, Hubby and BIL wandered around in the woods and came across a red oak that has clearly been struck by lightening, probably that night.  One piece of the tree is splintered, but still attached, while other “splinters” are in concentric circles around the tree.   The largest of these is about 12 feet long and was flung 100 yards into the woods.    That’s certainly a tree we need to keep an eye on and not one to take a walk close to on a windy day.

The recent floods have also moved sandbanks around in the creek and washed soil away from tree roots, so there are a couple of large trees down in the creek that also look precarious.  Even so, it was such a joy to walk the property boundary and watch the dog play in the creek yesterday.   Sometimes we have to just put work aside and enjoy our home.

Talking of work, in anticipation of the new raised beds this spring, I’ve filled the greenhouse with seed trays!   I have a few types of heirloom tomatoes and some heirloom carrots.  The carrots are in a grow bag as I anticipate them being ready to eat before the raised beds are ready.   The strawberry plants are in bloom, the blueberry bushes have been relocated to a better spot, and boysenberries have been added to that bed.   We have a new pear tree to replace the one that died, although we don’t know which one survived as its tag disappeared.  We had two varieties so that they could cross-pollinate — now we either have two different trees or two Kiefer pears.   We’ll figure that out sooner or later.

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Workshop – February 2019

Other than that, we’ve been busy with teacher stuff!   Oh – we’re also making progress on the workshop.  Did I already blog about that?  Looking back, I guess not!  I’ll snap some more pictures and blog about that next time we have a sunny weekend.

It’s amazing what a difference both of us living here makes.    We’re able to accomplish so much more and I’m already envisioning jars of fresh honey and baskets of tomatoes in May.    Of course, we’re also both happier living in the same city.  Eighteen years and one day since we met and we still love spending time together –life really is good!

Lazer Creek Apiary · Nature · Relaxing · Supplemental Feeding

A Walk in the Woods

A view of the creek.

Over the past few days, we keep walking down to the bluff that overlooks the creek. It’s so peaceful there. Even though the water is up a little, there is still a soothing sound of water running over granite rocks. Add to that the sounds of a happy dog bounding through fallen leaves and the occasional bee flying by to get a drink, and it seems like the perfect place to have 50 feet from the back porch of the house. We plan to put a bench out there in the near future so that we can just sit and daydream together and maybe decide once and for all where the house will go.

My walk down there today started out as a simple pollen feeder check. Even though we have candy boards on all but two hives (one has lots of honey, the other we apparently overlooked), the bees are feeding heavily on the pollen and powdered sugar mix. On just one of feeder, they consumed 2 cups of mixture in an afternoon a couple of days ago. I love listening to their contented hum, which is really the main reason I wandered down there this afternoon. I took this picture, and the one above, and then the camera died.

Sometimes a dead battery is a good thing, because I wasn’t ready to go back inside and just meandered along the creek bank for a while and took in the beauty of my surroundings. Even though I called the dog, she kept going to all the places she expected me to be and therefore never found me. Once we reunited at the lower apiary, we walked that loop together and just had fun exploring.

While organizing the office feels only a little less overwhelming than before, the impromptu walk was restorative. Now I just need to narrow my focus to one stack or box of stuff at a time instead of staring at the chaos created when we moved clutter in here so that we could install the laminate flooring in the living room. Maybe I’ll take just one more short break in the now very tidy living room before I dive in……

Lazer Creek Apiary · Natural Food Sources · Nature · Pests - Bees · Queen Bee

The Return of the Hives!

Blackberry flowers
Blackberry flowers

One good thing about this time of year is that I can perform full checks of 18 hives in just a couple of hours!   While I’d hate to see so few bees and no honey come June, it sure is nice to be able to knock out half the bee yard before lunch without even breaking a sweat.

My feeling about the blackberry bushes is the reverse.  Right now, I’m happy to see all the flowers because they are such a good nectar source and our bees are bringing in lots of lovely nectar and pollen right now.   However, as soon as the blackberry bushes stop blooming, I’ll get hubby to hook the cutter up to the tractor and I’ll mow down all the ones that are growing like the weeds they are along our trails.   They are quite welcome to keep growing off the trails for now — at least until after I make another batch of blackberry-apple jam.

The bees are doing great and so far there are very few small hive beetles in the new yard.   Most of the hives are beetle free, but 3 had wasps starting nests under the lids.   Two were yellow jackets and one was a red wasp — I’m not sure which I like least.   Well maybe I do — I like the ones that are gone!

The new bees that hubby bought in Jesup are very friendly.   Some of the hives are outgrowing their space, while others are just plodding along.   The packages he bought all still have their queens and they are laying, but some of the queens he bought separately are nowhere to be found.  We’re pretty sure that not being able to install them right away contributed to those losses, but at least the remaining ones are making up for lost time.   We tried introducing a NUC with an weak  queen from last year to a hive that had become queenless this spring, but that failed.   The hive itself is incredibly strong, but no queen — unless she’s out on a mating flight.    It seems to me that they would have preferred a weak queen to no queen at all, but bees don’t always make sense.

Yellow Columbines
Yellow Columbines — Columbines grow so much better in the clay here than in the sandy soil back in the city!

It’s nice to be back and see the grass seed sprouting along the driveway along with what might be wildflowers from the seed my friend sent for my birthday.    I also have spring onions growing and one lonely squash plant.   Last week, hubby thought something had been snacking in the temporary vegetable beds, so that plant might not be even there next weekend — or it may be surrounded by other plants.   We did get to eat one strawberry each this afternoon and are looking forward to more in years to come.

It still seems a little surreal that I will be here full time soon.   For now, we’re bringing one or two boxes of stuff with us each time we drive down.   I don’t think either one of us wants to think about packing up the house until we get to the end of the school year, but when the mood strikes I do gather stuff to take to Goodwill.   We are both pack-rats, but as we’re downsizing some things just have to go.   Maggie, the dog, is just so much happier here so I’m sure she’d pack for us while we’re at work if she knew how.

It’s been a productive and tiring day, but I’ll be going to sleep stress free and with a big smile on my face.   Every trip reaffirms that buying this land was the perfect decision for us and our future.   Happy spring, everyone — it seems like it might be sticking around this time!

Bees · Lazer Creek Apiary · Nature

Heater Bees

This is less a blog, and more a quick post to share an interesting article about the bees that keep a hive warm in winter.    As most of the country is in the middle of this long cold-spell, I’m sure that most of us who are beekeepers are concerned about our hives.   We placed candy boards on every hive before we returned to the city, and I hope they add a layer of insulation as well as food.  Still, I worry…..   and we won’t know how well each hive pulled through until it’s warm enough for bees to fly again.

There are some new-to-me facts in this article, such as why it’s not a bad thing when a queen leaves some cells empty when laying eggs.   Enjoy!

How Honey Bees Keep Their Hives Warm Given That They are Cold Blooded

Lazer Creek Apiary · Nature

Love-Hate Relationships

When we drove to our land for the first time, we were discouraged after having spent a day looking at clear-cut plots that had been misrepresented on marketing sites.  It was hot, and we were tired.  Then we stepped out of our car and a wonderful, cool breeze wafted up from the spring-fed creek.   I was dealing with a pinched nerve in my neck and lots of accompanying shoulder pain, so I stayed at the car and hubby went for a walk down to the creek.   The breeze never stopped and it was just so peaceful.  Cool and peaceful.  We came back later with BIL (my brother-in-law) and this time I joined them for a walk.  The creek was (and still is) incredible and the pines give way to hardwoods as you approach the creek.  I was in love!   Then came the part of the walk with the brambles, and the love-hate relationship began!

I love the land even more now that we are 18 months into making it our retirement home, but my love-hate for all things thorny continues!   I love the plethora of wild blackberries, but I hate the thorns.  Even the dead stems from previous years have thorns; sometimes they seem to be worse than the ones on the live plants.   The blackberries are growing even better now that we have had the trees thinned and they get more light.   Thankfully we can see the canopies of the pine trees growing too, so there’ll be more shade in a year or two and maybe the blackberries will become manageable!  From what I read a few nights ago, they are pretty much indestructible, so manageable is all I’m aiming for right now!

Blackberries
Blackberries

 

Another even thornier plant that loves to wrap itself around my ankles is sensitive briar (Mimosa pudica).   It’s called that because its leaves fold up when touched.  They are so delicate looking and the flowers are beautiful, but the thorns are anything but delicate.   Regardless of how I feel about how insensitive this plant can be to my skin, bees of all kinds love it.   I saw honey and bumble bees with full pollen sacs on the flowers yesterday.   The plant is considered invasive, so I feel less guilty about weed-eating a bunch of it today!

Sensitive Briar
Honey bee on sensitive vine

 

I love being surrounded by all this greenery, but it’s another love-hate relationship for reasons besides thorny things.   Hubby cleared a beautiful trail down to the creek last fall, but the trail disappeared into a field of weeds taller than I am in just a few weeks this spring!   I just spent over an hour weed-eating my way back to the spring.  From that point on, we’re in hardwoods and the weeds and thorns are minimal.  The work was well worth it as the dog had so much fun playing in the creek and I had so much fun watching her!   Of course, the water is so cold that it’s always a pleasant break from the heat of the day to just sit close to it.  I cut the trail a little wider than last time — not that that will make a difference because most of the weeds will grow back up and only a few vines will encroach from the sides.  Still, the image of the huge rattlesnake we saw our first November here remains with me, and I do like being able to see what’s on either side of a trail we’re walking!

Trail to Creek
Before and After

 

My last love-hate is Georgia clay!   It’s so hard to dig into —  it can be like concrete when it’s dry.   Then when it rains, it’s a gooey mess that sticks to your boots until it pulls them off your feet.   When we dug the trenches for the water lines, some parts of the clay smelled like dirty baby diapers.   BUT, unlike the pure sand we have at the house in the city, when I water the soil here, it stays damp for a while.   Most of the cuttings I’ve brought down here are doing so much better than their parent plants.   Both sand and clay can become good growing soil with enough organic matter mixed in, which is one of the reasons we’re avid composters.  Still, all the country songs about Georgia clay make me smile, so I know that I really do love this patch of clay and granite despite all the pink stains that clay leaves in socks and on floors!

Nothing is perfect, but there is also good in just about everything.  I’m bruised and scratched after my week of working out here, but I am so at peace.   When it’s too hot to work, I read for pleasure (Where Men Win Glory by Jon Krakauer or Ladies Night by Mary Kay Andrews, depending on my mood at the time) or I take a nap.   I’ve checked 18 bee hives and worn the blades off the weed-eater.   Despite my love-hate relationship with some elements of the farm, I love everything about actually living here!