Chickens · Honey · Lazer Creek Apiary · Pests - Bees · Pests - General · Products and Vendors

Happy Thanksgiving, 2021

French Apple Tart – Mary Berry’s Baking Bible

We have so much to be thankful for this year, as always. We have just started our 6th year as the owners this beautiful property and we continue to make progress. Our mobile home now has brick underpinning, the honey kitchen is framed in the workshop, and even more blackberries have been cut back. We also have official building plans. Like so many other people, we are now waiting for an available electrician for the honey kitchen and an affordable quote for the house, but we have a roof over our head, jobs, and good health.

As always, the tiny kitchen made baking the French tart challenging, and I spent a lot of time wishing for my new kitchen while getting ready for Thanksgiving meals. We are both trying to focus on our progress and not give in to the frustration of trying to get tradespeople out here! But we have a forever-house in our future and a small deck overlooking the creek that is perfect for day-dreaming about the view from the back porch of the house in due time.

Our somewhat rainy summer this year led to a record honey harvest. We were able to pull spring honey at the end of May and then summer honey when the sourwood trees stopped blooming in July. We are also going into winter with hives that have good stores of goldenrod honey. The two locations that we seeded with nematodes over the last few years now have minimal small hive beetle issues, and the new NUC yard has been a good experimental control as the hives there have been inundated with the pests. We’ll order another batch from Arbico in spring and get that area treated as well. Also, we have not had a single wax moth problem all year, which is cause for celebration in itself as those larvae and so disgusting and even the chickens won’t eat them.

The chickens are another blessing, although with 11 hens we have been somewhat over-blessed with eggs this summer. Now that they days are shorter and the two older are girls recovering from a molt, the number of eggs in manageable. We still have plenty to give to friends and family, but part of that is because we just simply needed a break from scrambled eggs for breakfast every morning!

I hope that life is as good for you, my readers, as it is for us here on the farm. I love the day after Thanksgiving, because the cooking and cleaning are done and I have time to look back through old blogs and see how far we have come with this wonderful adventure we are on. Now I need to get outside, take the dog for a run, and appreciate the farm from the other side of the office window!

Hive equipment · Lazer Creek Apiary · Products and Vendors

You bought what?

We have honey to bottle, a honey workshop to finish building, hives to inspect, a house to build, so I was surprised to find out that Hubby got a great deal on wood ware for the apiary and had placed our biggest order yet. the two thousand and five hundred frames shown above is only part of the shipment.

In addition to the frames, we have 250 8- and 10-frame deep boxes to be assembled and painted, so our winter weekends will be busy! We ran out of 8-frame deeps this year and are close to running out of 10s, so we do need the equipment to continue the growth we are grateful to be experiencing. It’s just such a big stack of wood! As always when it comes to growing the business, Hubby is the engine, and I am the brakes. It works well as we balance each other out, especially as in the Progressive Insurance commercials, I am turning into my parent (dad) as far as spending goes and would never take any risks!

The shipment arrived through Yellow Freight, but as they are too big to turn around on our property we would have had to offload everything out on the road — the country road with a 55 mph speed limit and blind corners from both directions. Hubby therefore picked up the shipment in LaGrange. As his brother’s big trailer is two feet lower than loading dock, it took some maneuvering to get everything transferred, but the staff at Yellow Freight were incredibly helpful. The office staff had already bent over backwards to accommodate pickup times to fit Hubby’s work schedule and then two days of stormy weather.

Our biggest problem came with off-loading everything once it arrived here. We were expecting six pallets, each of which we could have unloaded with our tractor. It arrived on three pallets, one of which was stacked higher than I am tall. We had fun moving that one into the workshop as Hubby could only see my hands waving above the load to give directions! And I was standing on tip-toes.

So….. Hubby rented a Bobcat, picked it up, and then couldn’t remove the bucket to attach the forks because the quick-release handles were damaged. That led to my first adrenaline-filled experience of guiding him (backwards) onto a trailer that had only a couple of inches clearance on either side. He took it back, found out that they shop knew about the damage, and is awaiting replacement parts. They next morning, he picked the same Bobcat up again, and followed the instructions they gave to remove the bucket — with their assurance that we would not be liable for any damage caused in the process. After that, it took very little time to move everything into the shop, just ahead of the next round of storms.

Surprisingly, my second Bobcat-loading guidance went incredibly well and Hubby got the Bobcat back onto the trailer very quickly. Hubby always impresses me when he works with equipment like this.

So while life may be a little crowded in the workshop again, it is still very, very good on the farm. As the current weather forecast predicts rain on and off all day, I’m heading to the predictable conditions in the RV to bottle some honey, so it will also be a very sweet day.

Honey · Lazer Creek Apiary · Natural Food Sources · Products and Vendors

First 2021 Honey Extraction

Honey Extractor

We knew we had a good amount of honey in the hives, but we were not expecting quite as much as we found yesterday. We extracted 2.5 5-gallon buckets of honey , and we still have half-capped frames in some hives. The first sourwood tree is about to burst into bloom, so if we get some decent rainfall over the next three weeks, we’ll have even more before the season ends.

While weather is always the biggest factor in honey production, the clover we have seeded over the past five years is also a contributing factor to our record harvest. I mow the areas with clover every two weeks, alternating fields to ensure that the bees always have something blooming. I set the mower to the highest setting so that I’m only deadheading spent blooms, and I water the densest sections every couple of days. Clover roots go deeper than most grasses, so the plants are both good erosion. They also put nitrogen into the soil, so they help the grass that we have planted with them. The slopes where we have established clover are far greener than the areas where the clover is just getting started.

I was just searching electric honey extractors and saw a search for “Are electric honey extractors worth it?” We are still using our hand-crank, 9-frame extractor, and at around 2:00 pm yesterday I would have said an emphatic “Yes!” However, the cost on anything that meets our needs exceeds our honey revenue. I’m hesitant to spend that much money on something that will just sit in a corner for most of the year, but I’m sure that will change as we grow the business while growing older. It sure was a good cardio and strength-training session yesterday, and it’s nice to be able to do all that an not be in pain today. That adds to my hesitancy to spend over a thousand dollars.

Talking about spending money — honey bottles have gone up since fall and the ones we usually use don’t have caps available, even in colors I don’t much care for. Once we fill the last of the bottles we bought in fall, we’ll be switching to honey bears. It will be interesting to see how the customers react to them. Like some of the soaps that are not really my taste (too highly scented) they may do better. We’ll see.

Well, I have some cleanup to do in our temporary honey kitchen. Next year we will be in the one that is currently under construction. It will be nice to have room to move around and equipment placed for optimal work flow, even if that equipment does require lots of manual labor!

Life is good, and very, very sweet, here on the farm.

Chickens · Honey · Products and Vendors

2021 Honey Harvest

Capped and uncapped honey frame

Memorial Day weekend is usually when we harvest our first batch of honey, and that was the plan this year. The weather has been better than last spring, the hives have been thriving, and the bees have been busy gathering nectar from all of the clover we have surrounding their hives now. So why are here at the end of the holiday weekend with not a single frame spun out?

It’s the chickens fault! The “baby chicks” are very rapidly outgrowing their temporary home but are not yet quite big enough to move in with the big girls. Last year’s run and coop aren’t quite big enough for all 12 of the girls, so we’ve been busy building an extension to the existing run. The small coop we bought when the new chicks outgrew the brooder within 4 weeks will move into one end of the run and we’ll put a chicken-sized door into the other run. The only hold up right now is the gate — the gate that Tractor Supply said would ship in 3 – 5 days. Ten days later, we still can’t get an estimate on when it will arrive. Now, if you’ve read my previous posts, you know that I’m a big fan of Tractor Supply, but if we’d known there was going to be a big delivery delay, we would have purchased something different somewhere else so we could just get the job done.

Coop extension

As you can see, we haven’t been wasting time, though. Instead of using cinderblocks to critter-proof the run, I’m building rock gardens. The section to the left of the pine tree is where the gate will go. The white fence is what I put around my raised beds when the chickens were free-ranging and ate things not intended for them — like all my strawberries! Now that the girls no longer free-range, I can repurpose the fence.

Did I even write about the end of free-ranging here? One day the girls were out eating bugs when the dogs started to go crazy. I stepped out on the porch and heard squawking chickens. That’s about all we know for sure, but the slowest (physically and mentally) chicken has not been seen since. A few days later we returned to the house after taking the dogs for their evening run and the dogs chased an eagle out of the large field in front of our house. Our best guess is that the lost chicken became dinner for the eagle, a hawk, or a fox as we never found any feathers.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, the other two were so stressed out that they stopped laying for a while. They also show no desire to leave their run whereas before they were very determined to go explore the woods. They called for their sister for a couple of days and then just moped around for a couple more. Happily, they are getting back on track now. Apparently stress can impact their digestive system and feeding them yogurt can help with that , so they’ve been getting hand-picked salads with yogurt dressing! And by salads, I mean the weeds they prefer when they foraged.

We had a lot of the brush that we can’t get to with the tractor pushed back this week which should reduce the risk of non-flying predators. We haven’t seen the terrain this clearly since the timber was thinned our first spring, and even then there was a lot a waste blocking the view. We are ready to start building the forever house, but builders are booked up for months. Still, with this clearing we know that our chosen site is the best one for us. It will happen when the time is right.

We’ll harvest honey, rehouse the chickens, and eat homegrown tomatoes very soon. Life is never boring on the farm and it is always good.

Gardening · Lazer Creek Apiary · Products and Vendors

Stihl Garden Pruner

Hubby finally found a “chainsaw” that is just right for me – a Stihl GTA 26 garden pruner! It’s a light-weight, battery-operated hand pruner that is capable of cutting down saplings and trimming tree limbs. I cleared part of the view of the creek with it yesterday afternoon, and we’ve been using a variety of tools to selectively cut trees between our planned house and the creek today.

Not only do we have a better view of the creek, we’ve unearthed another three sourwood trees. Sourwoods need adequate sunshine to bloom, so trimming non-nectar trees that are shading them will help us with our honey production next year. Our guide is that if we can put our thumb and forefinger around a sapling, it needs to go because it’s simply taking resources from the trees around it without much of a chance of ever being a strong tree in its own right. Of course, we’re also battling muscadine vine and blackberry briars while keeping a close watch for snakes, so it’s not exactly fun. It is, however, very satisfying to see instant progress.

After yesterday’s workout with the mini-saw, I decided to rest my muscles this morning and made a new batch of itch-soother salve. I ran out of salve last week, but had to wait for the oil-herb infusion to be ready for a new batch. It’s fairly quick and easy to make. Some of my first batch was a little grainy in texture, so I used the immersion blender this time once the beeswax melted. Now I just have to wait for my next bee sting to see if it’s as effective as the first batch! I also need to figure out how much each jar costs me to make as I originally spent $40 for the herbs that go in it.

Once I finished the salve and the clean-up, I couldn’t resist heading back out into the woods where I could hear Hubby with his chainsaw! Right now, I’m taking a break from the heat and waiting for the pruner’s battery to recharge, but I anticipate being back at work in just a few minutes.

Time to hydrate and head back outside before the afternoon thunderstorms move in!

Bee Rescue/Removal · Lazer Creek Apiary · Products and Vendors

Bees in Trees – 80 feet up!

20200508_swarm down
After an hour or so, the bees were down on the ground.

Sometimes it seems that bees know just when I’m wearing a dress and heels or when we have ice-cream in the back of the car after a grocery run — they just know when to make swarming more of a challenge for us.   Then I have to think back on the swarm that moved into an empty NUC while I was checking bees last fall to realize that maybe we just remember the inconvenient swarms better!

This swarm initially looked like 4 smaller swarms, but it turned into one of the biggest swarms we’ve had.  We last inspected the hive on Sunday.  They had barely started working the honey super and we made a split to give the queen open frames to lay fresh brood, but by Friday they had the honey super about 30% full, multiple frames had hatched, and they were still storing nectar in the brood boxes.  Even with the bees in the trees, the hive was still rocking it!   The nectar flow is good this year, and we need to recheck some other strong hives again as soon as the coffee kicks in this morning.

20200509_swarm
Some bees flew even higher up into the tree

The swarm was pretty high up in a pine tree, so it took some brainstorming, which included discarding crazy ideas while building upon them, to get the branch down.   We even very briefly considered chopping the tree down!  Hubby managed to drop the swarm right onto the tarp we’d laid down with multiple boxes on it.   We’d baited all of them with Swarm Commander and I’d put a frame with nectar, brood, and bees from the original hive in the 10-frame.  After they’d recovered from the fall, they started pagenting in to the 10-frame and one of the NUCs.   Some of them returned the tree, just higher up than before.    They spent the night out there, but they are still alive and kicking!

20200509_swarm capture
This morning, bees are checking out the swarm-capture hives

After a while, we shook the remaining bees from the tarp into the 10-frame and just crossed our fingers.    Now that’s it’s warmed up, bees are migrating down from the tree to the two capture-hives.   Of course, we won’t know for a few days whether they are just regrouping in preparation of another escape attempt or happy in their new home, but we consider this capture a success, an adventure, and a wonderful example of how well Hubby and I work together.

We both took one sting each (for swarming bees they were relatively well-mannered) and the anti-itch salve I made from a Beeswax Alchemy recipe worked wonders.   It was the first time we’d been able to try it on a bee sting — I’ve wanted to know if it works for a long time, but not enough to intentionally get stung.    I’m not so sure that the soap I tried last week is turning out as well, but it is the most complex soap recipe I’ve tried yet.   More about soaps, lotions, and salves next blog….

 

 

Chickens · Construction · Lazer Creek Apiary · Pests - General · Products and Vendors

The Great Escape!

20200412 coop and run
Chicken Coop

When I walked into the RV to check on the chicks yesterday morning, all three were perched on the wire mesh that is supposed to keep them inside the cattle trough until they are big enough to move outside.  Surrounding the trough was “evidence” that they had been exploring for quite a while, and they appeared to be smirking at me!   Their new home was almost ready, so we moved up their move-in date, set about completing the final necessary construction, added a brooder lamp to the coop just in case we have some more cool nights, and and moved them over.  I had one more RV chicken wrangling rodeo and then they were in their new home.

We’d expected them to be nervous, but they immediately started exploring and searching for motivational meal-worms.    Within half an hour, they were climbing on their ladder and by the end of the day they had become quite adept at walking up and down the rungs.   The high point of the day was when Hubby found an earthworm in the soil he brought up for the planters and we got to watch two very determined chicks chase one highly motivated chick around while she gobbled up her treat!   They looked remarkably like a picture I remember from one of my daughter’s story books many years ago.

20200411 Grayson Chicks
Curious Cat Checks Chickens

Grayson, one of the twin cats, has been sniffing around the empty dog crate where the chicks have been vacationing for some time, and it didn’t take him long to show up and see what we were all up to.   He did a very good tiger imitation as he walked around the coop and chicken run many times while checking out the measures we’ve taken to keep him, coyotes, raccoons, and other critters out.

We have field wire extending out about 2 feet from the coop and run to keep predators from digging under the fence.   On the sides of the run, we have chicken wire going all the way to the top.   Along the bottom, we have hardware cloth covering the ends of the field wire and chicken wire.  On top of all that, we have cinder-blocks that I will use as planters, and the remaining field-wire is covered with gravel on the high traffic areas and soil where a future wildflower garden will be.   After my sister-in-law’s surprises last summer, we hope the hardware cloth will provide a challenge for any snakes that want eggs for breakfast, but we know that snakes and mice can be pretty determined critters.

20200411 coop inside
Inside the coop.  We’ll add the nesting boxes later. 

The two The two Red Sex Links went right into the coop last night once they realized I was throwing meal worms into it.   The baby, which I’d name Speedy if I were going to name chicks, was reluctant to enter, to say the least.   Trying to get Speedy in while stopping the other two leaving was getting everyone hot and bothered, so we closed the chicken door.   After a while, the inside chicks and Speedy started calling back and forth to each other.  Speedy walked up to the door, kept chirping, and then walked right through when I opened the door up for her.   It took them a little while and a few meal worms to come out this morning, but now we have a routine started.   The chicken door is automatic, and my brother-in-law says that their chickens very quickly got used to going in when they knew the door was about the close.   We have a storm coming through tonight, so we’ll probably herd them again this evening, but as quickly as these girls figured out how to escape the brooder pen after their first accidental escape, I’m sure they’ll figure out where it’s warm at night very soon.

Maggie with chicks
Maggie guards the chicks

Okay – Now it’s time to stop calling the youngest chick Speedy as I am determined to not name the chickens, especially not that one as there’s a possibility that she may not be a she!   At some point, I will need to wrap my head around having a chicken in the crock pot!   Maybe.

We still need to add the nesting boxes and paint the trim, but today has just turned into another rainy day.  Our bodies are telling us that it’s time to take a day off from heavy lifting, and we need to mentally make the shift to our return from spring break!

Stay healthy, everyone, and we will try to do the same because life is just too good to miss on the farm.