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……
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!
Spring break is finally here, and we are spending it with the bees and the trees! The blackberries are starting to bloom and we see pollen coming into the hives, so the pace should be picking up in the apiary very soon. Hubby drove down last weekend to check our walkaway splits from the prior week while I stayed home and rested my foot. Yep, his back is getting better and my foot got worse, but we now both feeling better daily.
While hubby was here, he saw a post on LetGo about an apiary that was being liquidated because the apiarist had sadly passed away. It seemed worth checking out, and it was; hubby made the 200 mile trip to Jesup, GA and returned with 10 packages of bees and 10 mated queens. He installed the packages and two queens before returning to SC on Sunday and the remaining queens took a road trip! We were able to get them all through the week in the city and back to the farm without any losses.
So, of course yesterday afternoon was all about making sure queens were out of their cages and finding homes for the other queens. We had a couple of walkaway splits that had not produced a queen cell, so we added queens to those. We decided to break up our evil hive into nucs with new queens and found that they did not currently have a queen, so our timing was perfect on that one. They did have a recently opened queen cell, so we tore the hive down completely and moved the nucs to another part of the apiary, just in case there was a queen out on a mating flight. That hive has remained aggressive through multiple requeenings, so we really don’t want their genetics to be perpetuated.
Last week and yesterday afternoon were a whirlwind of action, so today will be about cleaning up the bee yard and figuring out how many hives we actually have now! We’ll then start on complete inspections of established hives, including mite counts, and then get all of the new hives inspected over the next few days. We have to pace ourselves so that our creaky old bones don’t pitch a fit again but balance that with figuring out where we stand. My brain does not like not knowing our numbers or inspection status any more than my ankle likes being twisted!
We remain hopeful that this will be our last spring of long-distance bee keeping. I have some interviews lined up over spring break and my current school knows that I hope to move to Georgia. Big changes like this make me nervous, but being here in the woods relieves all that stress and some…..
Little evokes as much childlike joy in me as the sight of the first crocus or early daffodil. I think it has a lot to do with the long winters of England and Germany those first 27 years of my life. A daffodil pushing up through the snow and blooming bright yellow was always such a welcome sign. I’m not sure that people in warmer climates can ever quite grasp just how long and dreary winters are in other regions!
Not only are daffodils blooming at the farm and in the city, the buckwheat at the farm is sprouting with its promise of nectar for the bees. Of course, the blackberries are too, but I’ll forgive them for snagging my pants so long as they feed the bees. I see many colors of pollen coming in right now, but the bees are all over the syrup buckets now that I’ve tipped them so the remaining syrup can drain out. I guess that means nectar is still in short supply out there.
According to my phone, it’s only 58 degrees, but the bees are very active despite that. Of course the hives in the sun are more active than those in the shade. I plan to check for space and the likelihood of swarms this afternoon, but it’s not quite warm enough yet. I’ve spent the morning staging equipment for inspections and possible splits and doing the tedious job of scraping propolis off frames and wood ware. That’s not a job I relish, but it’s sunny and the sky is blue so I’d rather do that than sit inside. (Unless of course I’m grabbing another cup of coffee and blogging.)
I’ll start the inspections with the hives that had the lowest numbers of bees first just to make sure they haven’t experienced a population explosion and need another brood box. By the time I finish that, it should be warm enough to check frames on the hives that I suspect are running out of space. We had to limit ourselves to putting an additional box on top of the English hive last trip because, although they were jam packed, temperatures were starting to fall and we didn’t have time to do anything else. That hive is also no longer centered on the bottom board and the second box is tipped a little, which is making the rest of the hive look precarious. I think I’m going to have to bite the bullet and re-stack the whole darn thing. It’s tempting to start with that one, but it’s always been our strongest producer so it’s the most likely to need to be split.
It’s 60 degrees – time to head back outdoors, enjoy life and keep myself busy until it’s warm enough to do what I really came here for!
As I sat here last night knitting and watching a western that is older than I, it was impossible to not think back to doing the same thing throughout my teenage years. True, instead of being dad’s channel-changer, we now have a remote and don’t have to take the two steps to the T.V. We also had 9 channels, instead of the 3 we both grew up with. And we got to choose what we watched — something that rarely happened when grown-ups were home and the one-and-only T.V. was in the living room. Watching a wildlife episode of NOVA afterwards just reinforced the feeling of stepping back in time. It’s a good feeling.
The deja-vu continues this morning as the fog and drizzle feel very English, although the pine trees do not. My cousin and I have been reminiscing about our big family Christmases, and he has promised to send me pictures of my uncle in his apiary. I never knew he kept bees. I remember the mushroom cellar, wood working shop, the kitchen renovation that took years to complete (I think of him every time I look at our abundance of almost-finish projects!), the incredible garden, and the many other ever-changing interests that made him such an amazing person, but I don’t remember bees. It’s nice to feel connected to him in one more way.
Talking of apiaries, our hives are all thriving. I peeked in two of the small hives yesterday and both have a little sugar left on the candy boards. I doubt the bigger hives have any, but we are less worried about their ability to provide for themselves. The forecast is for temperatures in the high 60s until Christmas, so I’m debating putting one feeder bucket out and then refilling candy boards for the hives that have them. I’ll try lifting the hives to assess how much honey they have left, but will only take lids off long enough to swap out candy boards. I’ll also put a trial tray of pollen substitute and powdered sugar out. The bees either flock to it or ignore it, so I’ll just dump one cup onto a tray that is protected from the rain.
Now that the great basement debate is over, we look forward to starting the foundation for our house in 2018. Ideally we’d finish it and start framing, but I don’t want to set myself up for disappointment if we don’t get that far! There are so very many things that impact what we can accomplish here, but we are overall very happy with our progress. We hope to finish burning the wood piles over winter break, doing some tractor work on the deck and starting some raised beds that may or may not become hoop houses. This year’s batch of magnolia seeds are germinating in the greenhouse in the city and I’ll have a new round of lavender, rosemary, and shrub cuttings to plant by spring break. That reminds me — I have a bag of daffodil bulbs from the Tractor Supply clearance shelf to get in the ground, so I should stop blogging and get to work.
It seems appropriate that we purchased the farm a few days before Thanksgiving because we have an annual reminder to take stock of our progress and be consciously thankful about all of our blessings. Simply sitting around a campfire and enjoying the peaceful sounds of nature instead of having city sounds encroach into our house and lives at all times of day and night is wonderful. Lying in bed and watching daybreak without feeling the need to jump up and start working is even better. It’s not that we don’t have plenty of things to do here, we just have a different mindset once we leave I-20 and start our drive through the country to the farm.
Of necessity, I put groceries away when I arrived yesterday, but once the perishable goods were safely stored, I put my boots on and took a quick walk around. It was only 60 degrees, but there was a steady stream of bees in and out of every hive. Some bees even had huge bags of dark orange pollen. While there are still some yellow-jackets and flies, they are fewer in number, although the traps don’t seem to have contributed much to the reduction. Still, we’re thankful that we can step into the bee yard without having to suit up and even more thankful that the entrance reducers are keeping the invaders out. Best of all is that the bees are doing well.
We have decided to move the hives to a sunnier spot over winter break as we have one corner of the present apiary where hive beetles just thrive. I may start leveling out some of the ground where the hives will go this weekend. That brings me to another thing to be thankful for: the tractor. We have the best neighbors and family who have loaned us equipment over the two years we have owned this land. We would not be where we are without them. However, being able to buy our own tractor has been a game-changer because we have unlimited time to use it when we’re here. Our neighbor is always willing to let us borrow equipment for as long as we like, but we don’t like to take advantage of his generosity. While we still have some of his tractor implements over here, we are not getting in the way of him being able to bush-hog or do all of the other things a tractor helps with.
Sitting here with an old computer that is trying to run a month’s worth of updates over a cell-phone hot spot makes me thankful that we get away from technology (to an extent) while we’re here. While our computers at home and at work are faster, they do have a tendency to run updates any time we’re in a hurry to get something done! I spend so much time looking at computer screens that I could no longer read student essays on the computer after the first hour last week and this. Last night was the first night in a long time that my left eye did not throb with eyestrain. While a new pair of bi-focals would probably help alleviate that problem, looking at trees solves it! I’m too much of a geek to ever abandon technology completely, but too much time in front of a computer is not physically or mentally healthy.
That said, it’s time to put on some boots and head outside. It’s a beautiful, sunny day and temperatures are just right for doing manual labor. The dog is so clearly having fun that we can’t help but smile to see her cavorting about. I honestly don’t know what we’d do without the stress relief that the farm provides, or the friends and family that it brings us closer to, or the dreams for the future that become more tangible when we just stop and make plans. I hope all of you have a relaxing and stress-free Thanksgiving holiday and that life is as good to you as it is to us.
While temperatures remain above average, we only have to look at the spectacular fall colors (and occasionally grab a jacket in the morning) to know that winter is just around the corner. Of course, everything in nature knows it too — including yellow jackets.
Beekeepers across southern Georgia have been reporting record numbers of yellow jackets this year, and we are no exception. The infestation around our hives made it impossible to do any hive checks this weekend. However, the screen entrance reducers that we added to the wooden reducers have made it possible for even the weaker hives to defend against the horrific number of pests vying for the resources our bees have worked so hard to store. Hubby bent strips of screen into steps in a way that the bees enter from the sides through a square opening and then make their way to the wooden entrance in the middle. I don’t feel like I’m explaining it well, but I’ll get a picture once the yellow jackets die back. We did very quickly check the candy board on one of the hives and the bees have eaten about half the sugar we put on two weeks ago — or is it three? We know that next time we make candy boards we will put wax paper on top of the screen so that the sugar has time to harden. The sugar that fell through has assuredly attracted some of the invaders!
As neither checking the weak hive nor doing any work close to the apiary was an option, I weeded the lavender garden and threw out a little more buckwheat seed. It’s probably too late for the seed to do much, but who knows when these warm temperatures will end? Bees are foraging on the buckwheat planted in front of the RV, so the possibility of blocking new weeds, adding nitrogen into the soil, and providing bee food is too tempting to resist.
I let my lavender plants in the city grow until they became very straggly and woody. Then, when I pruned them back, two of them didn’t survive. I don’t want to make that mistake again, so I, somewhat reluctantly, trimmed lavender and rosemary plants today and now have a good harvest to hang in the well house to dry. To say that my last attempt to make lavender oil was unsuccessful would be an understatement — baby oil with coconut oil makes an awful base — so I’m looking forward to a second attempt. However, I did successfully use mineral oil to make a batch of lemon grass oil, which I then used to make beeswax furniture polish, so that’s what I’ll try with at least some of this lavender. Hmmmm – maybe I should re-read the book I have about making products with lavender before I decide….
So, as we are rapidly approaching the time to make the commute back to city life, I am happy to report that I have blisters instead of eye strain and a relaxed mind and body that find it impossible to feel any stress. We got to spend a wonderful evening with family yesterday. We got to hear about our neighbors’ road trip. Maggie got to spend time with all of her doggy friends. The lavender garden looks like a garden again. There are a whole lot of things that didn’t go as planned this weekend, but somehow when we’re here, plans feel less important. Life is good and getting better all the time!