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.

Bees · Lazer Creek Apiary · Natural Food Sources · Products and Vendors · Supplemental Feeding

Buckwheat Update

There are reasons my old laptop is at the farm, and right now the main one seems to be to induce stress eating!   But after 2 hours, I have pictures downloaded from my phone and have unsuccessfully looked through today’s buckwheat photographs in search of a bee in focus.   The bees were generally camera shy in the first place, and trying to take pictures after 2 hours in the bee yard wasn’t ideal, so here’s a picture of bee-less buckwheat!

Buckwheat
Buckwheat

The bees forage on the buckwheat and wildflowers from about 8:30 a.m. to lunch.   They show some interest in sugar syrup in the afternoon, but not as much as I expected.  There must still be natural nectar sources available.   I also saw three different colors of pollen coming into the hives this morning.   I didn’t see much open brood in the hives I checked today, but the queens are still fat and each hive had at least 3 frames of capped brood, some nectar, and some bee bread.    Most hives that were queenless last inspection now have active and healthy queens, but two NUCs have failed to produce a queen despite a couple of rounds of added brood.   I added them to a some weaker hives using newspaper to divide the two colonies until they get used to each other.

We were low on 10-frame lids, so we’d temporarily double stacked some NUCs.   Three of them were jam-packed, and I moved them to 10-frame boxes and even added supers to two of them.   I didn’t see any small hive beetles yet, but I know they’re coming.   Actually, they are probably already down at the lower apiary, but I still have 8 hives to check in the new location before I head down there.  So far, the landscape fabric below the hives appears to be making a difference — or maybe it’s just the sunnier location.

English Hive - June 2018
English Hive – June 2018

It’s clearly been a good spring as areas that were clear spring break now have weeds taller than I.  I had to cut a path to my hive before I could see if they have a new queen (they do).  I’m waiting for a rain shower that will keep the girls inside to cut the weeds in front of the hive, but I may have to just suit up and sweat my way through that little patch one evening before I come inside.    While they are not mean bees, they are a little more animated than I am used to from that hive and I don’t plan to sit outside after stirring them up.   That said, they allowed me to do a full inspection this morning and any day without a sting is a good day.

Talking of stings, Bill Turnbull’s book Confessions of a Bad Beekeeper includes hilarious tales of bee stings and the incompletely thought through decisions that led to them in a way that makes me feel good about my own mistakes while imparting some basic knowledge for people interested in the sometimes crazy hobby / business of beekeeping.   It’s an easy read and perfect for my tired brain one week into summer break.    Anyone who describes a bee stinger as a hammer with a thumbtack attached (page 5) clearly knows what he’s talking about, and a sting to the face for a television host certainly has more repercussions than a sting to a face of a teacher who only has an audience of 100 or so on any given day!

I am greatly enjoying my active days at the farm.    I still can’t quite believe that I get to stay here once school starts.   The real work of getting the infrastructure in place for me to do so will start next week when Hubby arrives and we get to do fun things like install a new septic system!  I guess that’s better than having to dig up an old one, and the new mini-home will be well worth the effort.   The RV has served us well for two years, but things going scratch-scratch in the walls at 1:00 a.m. do not make for a good night’s sleep!   Scratch-scratch is better than city life — at least until I come face to face with whatever it is!

City Life

Farewells and new beginnings

A dining room full of classroom stuff!
A dining room full of classroom stuff!

After a week of sorting, discarding, and packing, we loaded my classroom things onto the 12 foot trailer and into my car and brought it all home.    The enclosed trailer is full of bee wood-ware, so we had to use the open trailer and to rush to beat the rain.   I’ve only moved enough out of the car to make room for the dog and some clothes, so I’ll be moving boxes into the shipping container as soon as I get to the farm.  When I see teachers leaving with one carboard box of things,  I think I must be insane to buy the books and other resources I do, but I’m always looking for new ideas to keep my teaching fresh and my students engaged.

Still, we’ll put most of the furniture into the new house and workshop instead of moving the heavier things to another school.   The beautiful podium Hubby made for me will, of course, go to the new school, as will some of the smaller bookcases from this house.

Why so much stuff?   Well, as I mentioned, there are so many good resources out there and every group of students is different.   If I’m not reaching them with the materials or methods that have worked in the past, I buy new books.   I’ve accumulated a lot of books in the past 10 years!   But there’s another reason: students constantly tell me how much they like my room.   I’ve tried to emulate teachers I admire and coordinate furnishings, but I always end up with an eclectic mix ranging from posters from The Royal Shakespeare Company to Big Bang Theory posters from Amazon.com!   I have Shakespeare and Teacher Care Bears and a fuzzy stuffed bee toy with huge eyes that just makes me smile on even the worst days.   I have coffee table books for Hamlet, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, The History of the English Language, Harley Davidson Motorcycles and many more.   Introverted students, especially, like to hang out  at lunch, away from all the bustle and surrounded by books.   I didn’t really  realize why until I experienced how totally depressing bare walls in a classroom can be when I sat in my depersonalized space for 3 days.

It was sad to say goodbye to people I’ve worked with for the past six years, and even harder to say goodbye to those I’ve known since student teaching.   I am very excited to be moving to a rural school and to be returning to the farm at the end of every day.  There’s so much to get done between now and then, but I’m up for the challenge and looking forward to making new friends.

Bees · Construction · Honey · Lazer Creek Apiary · Natural Food Sources

Buckwheat, and Carrots, and Bees, oh my….

Carrot flowers
Carrot plants in bloom

A couple  of years ago, we had an erosion problem along the driveway and I had some left-over seed packets, so I sowed carrots, cabbage, and who-knows-what-else in front of the “garden” where the English hive resides.   I’d read that both carrots and cabbage produce nectar sources at times when nectar is scare, and I figured that the carrot tubers would have to break up the cement-like clay at least a little.   Well, now the carrots are blooming, and it’s a wonderful sight, especially with a large variety of pollinators visiting.

According to The World Carrot Museum, carrots are biennial and require a cold snap to produce seeds in their second year.   Well, the extended period of below-freezing temperatures certainly seems to have done a good job with that this year.  Some of the flower stalks are at chest height and there is an abundance of blooms.

HoneyBeeSuite says that carrot honey has an aroma reminiscent of chocolate, and what could be better than honey and chocolate?   I doubt that we have enough plants to really be able to taste that, but it’s certainly an incentive to plant more carrots that we don’t intend to harvest for food.

Buckwheat seedlings
Buckwheat seedlings

Buckwheat honey, on the other hand, has an earthy flavor that people either seem to love or hate.   Again, I doubt that we have enough buckwheat planted to really get an idea of what true buckwheat honey tastes like, but we do have two areas of buckwheat growing that will provide nectar a month apart from each other.   I’ll continue to sow at intervals to help the bees through the nectar dearth that we all know is coming.    The bloom time on the fall crop we planted last October was only a couple of weeks, but the bees were all over it while it lasted.   My hope is that it will self-seed enough to keep a nectar supply going.   Its self-seeding habit can become a problem if it’s planted where it’s unwanted, but it’s also a great crop to till under before it seeds to improve soil quality, if that’s what you want.   It seemed like the perfect solution for the area that will eventually become a garden and orchard, but for now just needs something growing to slow down water run-off.

Bees - May 2018
Bees – May 2018

Hubby is currently inspecting hives, but a quick look yesterday showed that all are thriving.   He took 80 large frames with him, so between those and all the medium frames we already have at the farm, he can continue to provide room for growth for the next couple of weeks.   Me — I’m home sniffing and sneezing.  Allergies or a cold?  Who knows, but I was too muddled-headed to drive to the farm last night.   With Tropical Storm Alberto on the way, staying home and maybe packing some more boxes doesn’t feel so bad, although I hate to miss a long weekend at the farm.

Hubby had to drive down early to meet the mobile home representative to make sure we can get our new small-home onto the lot and discuss whether we need to remove any trees to get it into the space currently occupied by the RV.    We weren’t expecting the new home for 8 – 10 weeks as we had to custom order one with a propane stove and furnace, but we could have it as soon as in 3 – 4 weeks, according to current estimates.   Once again, our priorities have shifted and getting the infrastructure in place now takes precedence over getting the workshop erected.   Still, that makes selling the city house easier as we’ll be able to move some furniture directly to the mobile home and store only what doesn’t fit.    We’re also planning a moving sale as we have quite a lot of stuff that we really don’t like enough to pay storage fees and we’re going from a four bedroom house to a one bedroom (plus the mobile home) for retirement.

There’s a lot going on right now, and it’s a little overwhelming at times, especially as I am also packing up my classroom and deciding what to keep.   I have so much student work that brings back such great memories from the past 10 years, but it’s taking up more and more space every year.   Maybe I just need to take the good camera in to work one day and photograph everything so that I can keep the memories while minimizing the number of boxes to transport and store.    Making those decisions in two different locations is stressful for someone like me who still has every piece of artwork and every card given to me by my now-grown daughters.  I’m even hanging on to an empty poster tube because it’s one of the last things I received with my mother’s handwriting on the mailing label!    Maybe we need to build the downsized house, but add climate-controlled building for sentimental stuff I just can’t let go of!  Just don’t tell Hubby I said that……

Bees · Construction · Lazer Creek Apiary · Pests - General

Workshop progress and swarming bees

Pouring the slab for the workshop.
Pouring the slab for the workshop.

Well, the slab has been poured for the workshop, the pieces and parts of the building are on site and we will start putting the puzzle together Memorial Day weekend.   I figure it’s going to be like a larger version of the greenhouse — a much larger version — but I’m hoping that things go together better!   The metal is clearly sturdier, so if the holes are drilled in the right places, things should go well.

The concrete needs to cure for 28 day days before we apply stress to it, so the first task is to just build the frame.   We’ll add the insulation and siding in June when the foundation can withstand a wind load.   This will be my big red barn and hubby has promised to put a cupola on top once he gets a chance to build one.  I’m excited, especially as the cupola will do double duty as a bat house.   I really enjoy watching the bats swoop between the trees at dusk, and I hope they eat love-bugs as the first of those are making an appearance already.

Finished workshop slab
Finished workshop slab

The PVC pipes are our electricity, water, and drainage access lines for the future.   The large pipe on the right is simply a conduit that runs from one side of the shop to the other to allow for easy expansion of things like wiring if (when?) we find the need to change our original plans.   Before we left on Sunday, we spread wheat straw around the slab to minimize the splatter of clay onto our bright, shiny, new concrete with the rain we anticipate over the next week or so.   I threw a couple more cups of buckwheat seed out with the straw.  After all, why waste space that can be used for nectar producing plants?

Another decision we made this past weekend was to replace the RV with a small mobile home that will later become the business office for the apiary.   We’ll live there until we get the house built.   I’d intended to live in the RV until we finished the house, but the lack of closet space combined with the abundance of mice slowly started to weigh on my mind.   The darn mice love to chew on my wooden spoons in the kitchen drawer, so I replaced the spoons with silicone spatulas.   The mice then ate the silicone.   We keep plugging up holes, and they keep finding new ways in.   The most amusing evidence was the time I arrived to find about 9 feet of toilet paper unspooled — it’s actually pretty funny to picture a mouse trying to climb up the toilet paper roll, but still disturbing!

So, by the end of summer, we should be upgrading to 762 square feet of home, but we’re not the only ones looking for a larger living space:  hubby arrived just in time to see bees swarm from my hive into a tree on Wednesday evening.   He put multiple swarm traps out, but they still headed toward the creek the next morning.   While I love having that hive up by the RV, it tends to be the last to get checked, which means that it doesn’t always get checked when it should.   That will change in summer when we can check a few hives a day instead of trying to get to all 38 on a weekend.  We did check hives Saturday afternoon and upgraded most NUCs to 8 or 10 frame hives and added supers to some of the existing 8s and 10s.   While doing so, we checker-boarded frames with fresh foundation in the brood chamber and moved nectar frames up to the supers.   The nectar flow is incredibly good this year and all of the queens are laying well.   We only found one hive with swarm cells, and we distributed them to NUCs.

We’re experimenting with starter strips instead of full sheets of foundation this year.   We put a mixture of both into each hive this time to see which the bees prefer.   I installed frames with starter strips into a couple of hives last trip and the bees are drawing really pretty comb onto them.

The weather is probably not going to be conducive to a trip this coming weekend, but that gives us time to pack up a few more things to take with us the week after.   There’s one thing for sure — when you keep bees, you’ll never run out of things to do whether you’re in the city or the country, so life, as always, is good.

 

 

 

 

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.

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!