During the week, it’s hard to see whether or not the bees appreciate the quarter acre of buckwheat we have planted for them because the nectar dries up in the heat of the day. Temperatures have been in the 90s this week, so it doesn’t take long for the blooms to run dry. There was a loud hum in the garden this morning, so I came back indoors to get the camera and then spent about 20 minutes looking closely at the buckwheat through the lens. (I gave up when I heard something rustle around the cucumbers as I wasn’t appropriately dressed to encounter any snakes.)
I’ve seen red wasps on the buckwheat in the evening, but this morning was all about the bees – honey bees, bumble bees, and tiny bees that I don’t have a name for. Butterflies are making the best of the pink clover, and the dog was fascinated by something in the wood line. All in all, it was the perfect way to start the day.
So now I’ve had sufficient coffee, it’s time to start on chores, the first of which is get the RV ready for guests. We have only been in there to access the freezer or work on craft projects since we moved into the mobile home in June, so the critters have had free run of the place. Now that the kids are coming in for the weekend, it’s time to evict the squatters and clean up their mess! Hubby put some traps out last night, but I’m hoping that the mess-makers were only in there over the coldest days of winter. (After disturbing a mouse while packing up my classroom, I know that’s a futile hope.)
While I’m not looking forward to cleaning, life is still good on the farm. Another school year is over and I can look back on a year during which my students made a lot of progress. Then I can look around the farm and see what a difference living here full time has made. Finally I can look at the tomatoes, cucumbers, and melons that are growing so very well and promising healthy eating in just a few weeks. I love this place!
Today we got a very large propane tank to power our tiny home! This will be the tank that provides propane to the house eventually, but it’s worth it even now — both for the convenience of having a reliable source of heat and hot water and for the cost savings. We ran out of propane one of those well-below freezing nights over winter break, and we don’t want to make a habit out of that! Getting up in the dark and the cold to drive 10 miles to get a tank of propane is not fun. Well, it wasn’t bad for me as I turned the electric blanket up and waited for hubby to return, but it was no fun for him.
We’ve made other great progress this week. Hubby has leveled the site for the future workshop. He had to take down some trees and scrape off the top soil to get down to clay, so I now have temporary raised beds made from those trees and the soil for this year’s veggie garden. I’ve also planted more grass, clover, and wild-flower seed to reduce erosion along the driveway while providing for the bees. The bees are still very interested in the syrup buckets, so I’m impatient to see some nectar plants start supplying them with what they need.
For some reason, the well filter keeps clogging, and I wonder if the tree clearing across the creek has anything to do with it. We ended up removing the filter after the third after-dark trip to the well house one night, but now silt clogs the sprinklers so they don’t turn off. That made for an interesting shower last night — five sprinklers were running and I got to wash shampoo out of my hair with the left over trickle. After that, walking across the slick clay to turn off all the faucets in the dark was a challenge, but then I looked up at the beautiful night sky and the challenge turned into a blessing. It’s been too long since we walked down the driveway after dark. I love the electric gate opener, but I didn’t realize how much I missed our evening walks to go lock the gate.
The really good news is that most of the bee packages and splits we made are doing well. Bees moved out of one of the hives that took a long time to release the queen, but the rest have eggs and/or brood in various stages and all of the queens are fat and active. The hives in the old location are still battling small hive beetles, so we’re trying beetle traps made of Borax and Crisco paste in CD covers for the first time. We’ll let you know how that goes. The hives in the new, sunnier location have far fewer problems with beetles so far.
More good news is that I received a job offer for next school year, so I’ll be living at the farm full time after June. That moved the workshop up the priority list as we’ll need somewhere to put all the tools from the garage, but at least we’ll no longer be moving carpentry projects up and down I-20! I’m enjoying spring break, so I’m trying very hard to not think about packing up everything else in the house and getting the house on the market. It’s much less stressful to think about being able to monitor the bees on a more consistent basis.
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.
For the past three days, helicopters have flown low over the area, usually in the mornings. The timber company across the creek is either thinning trees or clear-cutting, so maybe they’re checking the progress. During the fly-overs today, hubby was checking hives across the road at the neighbor’s sunflower field and I was checking some of our hives — we both found out that bees don’t like helicopters.
It’s interesting to listen to the recording of my hive inspection because there is a clear change in the tone and volume of the bee buzzes after the chopper made the first pass. The bees were nervous at that point, but not too aggressive. After the second pass, the bees just boiled out of the hive and started stinging in a way that I have never experienced before. I was able to fend off some by pulling my BDUs away from my legs, but I ended up with 8 stings — a record for me. Even more unusual was that a handful of bees followed me all the way back to the RV and kept up with me driving at 12 mph on the ATV!
We wish we could find out when any future flights are likely to take place so that we could schedule hive inspections around them. We both know that if we hear a chopper coming and we’re in a hive, we’re going to end that inspection there and then and get the hive put back together.
To end on a positive note, 7 of the hives we inspected today are full of nectar. This time last year, we were in a drought and had to feed sugar water to sustain the hives. Sunflowers and sourwood trees are blooming and our bees are clearly taking advantage of all the resources they can find. We may even be able to pull some more honey before the end of summer.