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!
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!
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.
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!
Our strategy of combining weak hives, even if that meant sacrificing queens, in late fall has paid off and we are going into February with 25 strong hives. We did lose one NUC that we were on the fence about. They hung in there until the below freezing temperatures last weekend, but sadly didn’t make it past the last 23 degree morning because the cluster just wasn’t quite big enough to keep warm. We were so close, and, if I could go back, I would probably grab the NUC and put it in the greenhouse for that last week of January! Ian Steppler stacks hives to retain warmth, and that is a strategy we thought about trying but simply didn’t get around to. Once again, we are reminding ourselves that we are closer than ever before to spending all of our time at the farm: we just need to get our city house on the market and sold and stop making that 600 round-trip drive to get it market ready!
I checked candy boards last weekend and was happy to see hundreds of little eyes starting up at me from sugar piles and bees bringing pollen in through the main entrances. Today, bees are removing spilled sugar from the hives. Does that mean they don’t need it any more, or is it just in the wrong place? I didn’t see much pollen coming in, but there are more bees than usual gathering water. I love the sound of contented bees, although I wish there were fewer of them sucking water out of the door mat on the front deck!
There are also signs of spring in the garden. I was frustrated over the absence of crocus last weekend as I thought they should be blooming by now. After all, that’s why I plant them! Crocus are usually the first dashes of color, but the daffodils are leading the way this year. I was happy to finally see crocus shoots this morning. Clover seeded over the last three years is also returning, and one of the fig trees is about to produce its first leaf of the year. I hope to see a good crop of clover flowers for the bees this year as most of our clover should be well established by now. All-in-all, it’s pretty amazing to look back at pictures from three years ago and the progress we’ve been able to make in a relatively short time.
Talking of time, it’s flown by while I’ve been fighting my computer to edit and upload pictures. It must be downloading another Windows update, because it’s apparently been busy doing things other than what I’ve wanted it to do! I had planned to do some gardening this afternoon, but now I think I just need to close the greenhouse and let it start storing some warmth for the evening. The cattle panel greenhouse has been a great success. We are only using three light bulbs to heat it, and up until last week, even the elephant ears were still growing. Our more traditional greenhouse did not protect plants this well. We’re trying to see what we can do without running a heater, and so far, so good. I am going to try heating mats under seedling trays this spring. I’ll let you’all know how that goes. Either way, we plan to add more cattle panel greenhouses before next winter as well as adding raised beds to the garden this spring.
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……
Tomorrow is the last day of the semester and a student holiday, so today is a day free from writing lesson plans or updating grades and I finally have time to blog. Even better, this is the first year since I started teaching IB that I don’t go into winter break with 40+ hours of grading to do, so it will actually be a break. As with all new jobs, this one has brought good things along with challenges. I find myself working more hours than last year, but that is probably more because I am teaching 9th grade for the first time in 7 years and am pretty much starting from scratch with planning what to teach them. But on to the really good news….
Next semester, Hubby will be living full time at the farm and teaching in Georgia. We are so excited, albeit a little overwhelmed with getting the house ready to sell and downsizing from 2400 to 760 square feet! Eventually we’ll have a house half-way between the two sizes, but this stage of moving is making us think even harder than before about what we want to keep and what is simply clutter. We already know that the new house will not have a dining room as in the past 16 years, we’ve used the dining room about 4 times a year — well, to eat in at least. The rest of the time it became a junk-magnet.
Back to Hubby’s new job. He’ll be working at a school that is starting up a brand new JROTC program, which is incredibly exciting. He did this with his first school, so we know he can be very successful with it. His new school just added a new CATE (Career and Technology Education) wing, so he will be moving into brand new classrooms designed with JROTC in mind. They even asked him what color markings he wants on the floor of the rifle range. And yes, he has a designated space for the rifle team. I already envision us back at nationals!
We have been able to make a lot of progress at the farm this fall with me being here to stay on top of the most important things. We are going into winter with strong hives and looking forward to a good spring. We didn’t pull any honey this year because we have no room to extract here and didn’t want to haul honey supers back to South Carolina, so almost all of the hives have plenty of resources. When it warms up next week, I’ll add candy boards to hives that need them. The relatively wet summer set the hives up for success and we did not experience any robbing, unlike last year. Right now, I have two syrup feeders and 3 pollen/powdered sugar feeders out and all are busy, even though it’s not quite 60 degrees out.
Our big winter break project will be the workshop. We were supposed to build it Memorial Day weekend, then over summer, then Thanksgiving weekend — the weather got in the way of those plans over the holiday weekends and getting the mobile home set up got in the way in summer. It can’t wait any longer as we need somewhere to put all the stuff that’s currently in the garage as soon as the house sells. Plus, as every beekeeper knows, winter is when the building and repair of hive equipment needs to happen. I’ll be posting pictures of the build over the next couple of weeks.
Well, Hubby will be showing up next weekend with another load of miscellaneous stuff, so I need to find homes for what’s in the plastic totes that I haven’t emptied yet as there’s no room in the office to put even one more box! He’ll also be showing up with his clothes, so I have to stop using his closet as my overflow closet and decide what to donate to Goodwill! I still can’t believe how lucky we are to call this place home. Even on the exhausting days, life is good!
Hubby here: I’ve been long in getting around to blogging here myself, as life seems to be one challenge after another. Somewhere I read once that you must experience the rain in order to enjoy the sunshine. I feel when life rains on you, put on a rain jacket! I can see the sunshine of life on the farm, but currently I’m a city slicker hoping to get everything boxed and moved in time along with dealing with a multitude of potential buyers for all the “downsize” items. While I’m excited to move to a new chapter in life, as I look out the office window I can’t help feel a sense of depression to leave all the hard work behind that we have put in over the last 15 years here. The Magnolia tree that was shorter than the Missus when we arrived that is now nearly 45′ high; the garden swing that we built to enjoy the southern summer evenings; irrigation sytems, etc. etc. But I do enjoy the challenge of creating things and this move will give me more than enough challenges. A life in the military moved me every 18-24 months for over 20 years. This has been the longest I have ever lived anywhere my entire life. Even as a child we moved several times. But like the trees on our farm, as time goes on, I simply want to grow my roots deeper every day, enjoy the sunshine with its country beauty and when necessary sway in the moment when the storms of life pass by us. Well it’s time to fill more boxes and curse the fact that our city house has two floors to walk up and down to. Five days and counting to becoming a beekeeper and farmer again.
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!
With Hurricane Michael on the way, it was fortuitous that the DMV was closed for Columbus Day today as that gave me more time to go through hives. I checked 15 this morning, but that’s not as impressive as it sounds as a couple were empty. One of those is the one I watched swarm right as I arrived home from work a few weeks ago.
Taking advice from Beekeeping365 to heart, I removed barely used honey supers, both to eliminate space for hive beetles to run around and to lower the height of the hives in preparation for possible high winds Wednesday night. We have one hive that had two deeps and 3 honey supers from which I was able to remove the top (very light) honey super, but the second one is too heavy for me to lift with it being so high up. To make things worse, that hive stand is starting to tilt, so Hubby is making a quick trip down here to help me secure the hive. He will probably drive fence post pickets in again and strap the hive down. We wanted to split that hive a long time ago because it’s just too tall for me to check, but that’s one more thing we haven’t gotten to this very hectic year.
I was happy to see that none of our hives have beetles in the occupied boxes, so removing the unnecessary supers will allow the bees to put their efforts into preparing for winter. Even better, I only saw one wax moth and it was dead and lying on top of a screen inner cover. The bees appear to still be bringing in lots of Goldenrod nectar, but I didn’t see much pollen coming in today. Every hive had a good stash of bee bread, but I only remember seeing a couple of bees per hive with pollen.
The bees totally ignored my watermelon slices yesterday, and I figured out where the bee that chased me away yesterday lives! The hive has multiple frames of brood, so the queen is really strong, but her offspring are mean. And curious….. one found a way into the wrong side of my hood, despite my careful attention to zippers and Velcro. I’ll wear the more dependable suit tomorrow while I see if I can reduce the height of a few more hives. I really don’t want a driver’s license picture with a sting-swollen face.
Here’s hoping for a weakening of the storm as it’s predicted to dump more rain on areas of the Carolinas that really don’t need any. I’m lucky to have had today to secure things around the farm. If a hurricane has to pass through, it’s polite of it to do so when I have a day off to prepare.