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!

Canning · Cooking · Farmers · Lazer Creek Apiary · Pests - General

Hunter-gatherers

Yesterday, I temporarily deferred my equal rights ideologies and stepped back (way back) into a hunter-gatherer role,  trailing along behind the man of the house, picking berries while he did the manly task!

There are so many beautiful ripe blackberries on our property, but they are so hard to get to.  At the best of times, wild blackberries demand a blood sacrifice,  so I am always weighing the pain-versus-gain factor.   Since my last blackberry harvest, BIL sent us a picture of a timber rattle snake up under one of his blueberry bushes, edging back into some wild blackberries, so that made me even more cautious.

Blackberries
Wild Blackberries

Then, hubby came along and cleared a strip along one of the really good blackberry patches with the bush hog, giving me much easier access — still not  pain free, but easier.  By following in his wake, I was able to harvest 1 1/2 quarts of beautiful, juicy blackberries which I then washed, boiled, and froze so that I can turn them into jam when we’re back in the city.    As a few family members need to avoid seeds and the rest of us don’t really enjoy picking seeds out of our teeth, I’ll strain them and then press the rest of the juice out of them before adding apples and making blackberry-apple jam.  I cheated last year and bought frozen blackberries for a trial batch, but that jam was good enough to make me want to harvest what nature has provided for us here.

Of course the other side of the hunter-gatherer equation is the hunter.   I guess hubby was hunting undergrowth when he cleared those paths for me, but his other hunting chores yesterday involved getting rid of the critters that have been bugging me!   We discovered that the yellow jackets at the gate had actually moved into the gate through a drain hole, so it’s no surprise that they became irritable when we rattled the chain against their home.  They are now in an afterlife of some kind.   We avoid using pesticides whenever possible, but we can’t have yellow jackets attacking guests or us at the gate.   His other accomplishment led to one more restless night followed by a good night’s sleep as two field mice have now been evicted from under the kitchen sink.   There’s a huge hole cut into the back of the cabinet, and we thoroughly spray-foamed that, but that didn’t stop them.  There’s another hole cut in the side of the cabinet to let the drain pipe go through.  We’re hesitant to put spray foam in there because we don’t want it on the back of the oven, but we’ll seal it up with aluminum foil after we’re sure there are no more mice romping around in the walls.    We’re generally believers in the if-you-kill-it-eat-it philosophy, but I draw the line at making mouse and yellow-jacket casserole.  (Actually, I draw the line well before that — there’s still too much suburb in me to eat possum or squirrel, although I did LOVE the dove hubby hunted last fall.)

Tractor delivery
Our new tractor

Even though I spent much of the day taking on more-than-usual traditional female tasks, I did start the day having fun on our new Kubota tractor!   I have been hesitant to bush hog on borrowed tractors, even though BIL and our neighbor have shown more confidence in my abilities than I’ve believed myself to have, but I quite quickly became comfortable on relatively flat land knowing that if I damaged something, it would be something I was paying for!    I even found it easier to back the tractor up than to back my car up because I can see where I’m going so much better.   However, that became tricky after a while because of my on-going neck discomfort (I can’t call it pain right now) and my bi-focals.   While bi-focals are great for many things, they don’t work well for looking back over one’s shoulder or for checking bee hives.   I have an eye appointment next week and will probably get a pair of long-distance glasses and a pair with which I can see bee frames.    I’m not sure how I’ll juggle three different pairs of glasses — maybe the eye doctor will have a better suggestion!

Our other exciting 15 minutes yesterday was when we had to combat a waterfall running down the inside of the RV door!   Hubby made adjustments to the strike plate for the door latch and that kept the rain out, but in the time that took, the torrent filled a casserole dish and soaked a bunch of towels. (I wish I had a picture to post, but we were both a little too occupied to grab a camera!) It’s times like these that make me glad I brought every old towel that we had at the house here.  Sure, they take up space, but sometimes they come in handy.   We started today with a trip to the laundromat and that led to reorganizing towel storage — what better time to do it than when every towel in the house has just been washed?

It’s a beautiful sunny day,  the trails we cut last year are now trails again, and we can see the stakes for the house-site again.     Life is good on the farm!

 

Lazer Creek Apiary · Nature

Love-Hate Relationships

When we drove to our land for the first time, we were discouraged after having spent a day looking at clear-cut plots that had been misrepresented on marketing sites.  It was hot, and we were tired.  Then we stepped out of our car and a wonderful, cool breeze wafted up from the spring-fed creek.   I was dealing with a pinched nerve in my neck and lots of accompanying shoulder pain, so I stayed at the car and hubby went for a walk down to the creek.   The breeze never stopped and it was just so peaceful.  Cool and peaceful.  We came back later with BIL (my brother-in-law) and this time I joined them for a walk.  The creek was (and still is) incredible and the pines give way to hardwoods as you approach the creek.  I was in love!   Then came the part of the walk with the brambles, and the love-hate relationship began!

I love the land even more now that we are 18 months into making it our retirement home, but my love-hate for all things thorny continues!   I love the plethora of wild blackberries, but I hate the thorns.  Even the dead stems from previous years have thorns; sometimes they seem to be worse than the ones on the live plants.   The blackberries are growing even better now that we have had the trees thinned and they get more light.   Thankfully we can see the canopies of the pine trees growing too, so there’ll be more shade in a year or two and maybe the blackberries will become manageable!  From what I read a few nights ago, they are pretty much indestructible, so manageable is all I’m aiming for right now!

Blackberries
Blackberries

 

Another even thornier plant that loves to wrap itself around my ankles is sensitive briar (Mimosa pudica).   It’s called that because its leaves fold up when touched.  They are so delicate looking and the flowers are beautiful, but the thorns are anything but delicate.   Regardless of how I feel about how insensitive this plant can be to my skin, bees of all kinds love it.   I saw honey and bumble bees with full pollen sacs on the flowers yesterday.   The plant is considered invasive, so I feel less guilty about weed-eating a bunch of it today!

Sensitive Briar
Honey bee on sensitive vine

 

I love being surrounded by all this greenery, but it’s another love-hate relationship for reasons besides thorny things.   Hubby cleared a beautiful trail down to the creek last fall, but the trail disappeared into a field of weeds taller than I am in just a few weeks this spring!   I just spent over an hour weed-eating my way back to the spring.  From that point on, we’re in hardwoods and the weeds and thorns are minimal.  The work was well worth it as the dog had so much fun playing in the creek and I had so much fun watching her!   Of course, the water is so cold that it’s always a pleasant break from the heat of the day to just sit close to it.  I cut the trail a little wider than last time — not that that will make a difference because most of the weeds will grow back up and only a few vines will encroach from the sides.  Still, the image of the huge rattlesnake we saw our first November here remains with me, and I do like being able to see what’s on either side of a trail we’re walking!

Trail to Creek
Before and After

 

My last love-hate is Georgia clay!   It’s so hard to dig into —  it can be like concrete when it’s dry.   Then when it rains, it’s a gooey mess that sticks to your boots until it pulls them off your feet.   When we dug the trenches for the water lines, some parts of the clay smelled like dirty baby diapers.   BUT, unlike the pure sand we have at the house in the city, when I water the soil here, it stays damp for a while.   Most of the cuttings I’ve brought down here are doing so much better than their parent plants.   Both sand and clay can become good growing soil with enough organic matter mixed in, which is one of the reasons we’re avid composters.  Still, all the country songs about Georgia clay make me smile, so I know that I really do love this patch of clay and granite despite all the pink stains that clay leaves in socks and on floors!

Nothing is perfect, but there is also good in just about everything.  I’m bruised and scratched after my week of working out here, but I am so at peace.   When it’s too hot to work, I read for pleasure (Where Men Win Glory by Jon Krakauer or Ladies Night by Mary Kay Andrews, depending on my mood at the time) or I take a nap.   I’ve checked 18 bee hives and worn the blades off the weed-eater.   Despite my love-hate relationship with some elements of the farm, I love everything about actually living here!

 

 

 

Canning · Gardening

Unexpected Figs

My husband and I were raised by a generation that admonished us to eat everything on our plate and never let food go to waste.  We somewhat reluctantly shelled peas, cut beans, picked gooseberries and pulled endless weeds from the time we could help until we left home.  It was therefore somewhat of a relief when the 17 degree frost killed the flowers on our fig tree this year.   I had visions of staying guilt-free at the farm and not having to think about the number of figs going to waste.

We had always wondered about the little figs that appeared shortly after the first leaves — and sometimes before.   I did a little research after the frost and found out that what look like figs are actually inverted flowers.   It seems odd to me that a flower and the fruit look pretty much the same, but it clearly works for the tree — aside from the fact that it is dependent on a specific species of wasp for pollination.  But no flowers equals no figs and that meant a summer without  chopping, boiling, stirring and canning figs every 3 days or so!

Figs
Figs

Then, lo and behold, a couple of weeks ago the fig tree erupted with twice as many figs as in years past!   I don’t know whether having more leaves before producing flowers inspired the tree to pop out so many or whether it’s just saying thank-you for the Miracle Grow.  Either way, I’ll be making fig jam again this year.   On a positive note, I get to experiment with even more recipes.

Our biggest yield last year was 15 pounds in one picking.   Now, I was picking about 3 pounds every day when we were in the city and the 15 pounds were a week’s growth after a farm trip.  That much maxed out my big jam saucepan.   At the farm today,  I was so happy to see our three new fig trees recovering from the frost and the drought, but I’m also wondering about our level of insanity in planting 3 trees!   I may need to get that 6-burner stove I’d been considering for the new house.

For now, I’m going to stop worrying about the figs in my future and go harvest wild blackberries!   I don’t think I’ve tried fig and blackberry jam yet, but I know that fig and apple jam is one of my favorites!

Blackberries
Blackberries

I’ll have to boil them and then freeze them here and then take them back to the city to turn into jam, but that much I can handle on my little RV stove!   Let me check to see if it’s stopped raining so that I can start picking…..