Gardening · Lazer Creek Apiary · Natural Food Sources · Nature · Pests - General

Fall Nectar Flow

20190908 Buckwheat
One of three areas planted with buckwheat

While temperatures and humidity remain unbearably high, the fall nectar and pollen flows are on.   We’re lucky to have a spring-fed creek running along two sides of our property as our evening and night-time temperatures are lower than the local average and we have heavy dew every morning.  We’ve had a very dry week, but even areas that we don’t water remain green.  The Goldenrod currently looks unimpressive, but that will change as temperatures drop and we hopefully get some rain.

We planted about two acres of buckwheat a few weeks ago, both to provide nectar and to improve soil in areas that we had not yet tilled and/or had recently cleared.    We water it most days and this crop is the most impressive yet.   On weekends I get to water it early in the morning which helps the nectar flow:  by 9:00 a.m., this morning, the fields sounded like one big, happy bee hive.  We have sunflower seeded in with the buckwheat and will sow white dutch clover once it actually feels like fall.  Buckwheat is used as green manure and will provide nutrients and moisture to the clover seedlings.

20190908 Bee on Buckwheat-COLLAGEI saw pollinators that I don’t remember ever seeing before and quite a few that are regular visitors on the blossoms today.  A large variety of butterflies passes through almost year round, and carpenter bees are a permanent (and unwelcome) fixture.

There are two bugs that I really don’t like right now (well, three, if you count the aphids all of my tomato plants, especially the one that hitch-hiked a ride into the house last weekend):   one is the Tomato Hornworm and the other is the Assassin Fly aka Robber Fly.   Because of my neck/shoulder problem, I’ve been neglecting the tomato plants.  As a result, I caught (?) / picked (?) 20+ hornworms from my tomato plants and ended up throwing away an equal number of munched-on tomatoes.  The biggest worm was larger in length and width than my middle finger and the only way to dispatch them is to drown them in soapy water.  Yuck!    Well, I guess other people could squish them or attack them with garden shears, but I haven’t reached that point yet.  Drowning works quite well, as long as you don’t forget the soap.   (Yep, I forgot one day and they all crawled back out of the bucket.)

20190908 Assassin FlyThe Assassin Flies like to hang out by the lily pond and I find it very upsetting to see one cradling one of my honey bees like a baby only to suck its brains out!   Luckily there are fewer of those around.

But let me end this with good news:  I made it through two work days without taking any pain killers after breakfast two days this week.    The doctor says my left tricep is “still weak as a kitten” and my right isn’t much better, but the nerves are healing.    He’s added some exercises, and of course my Sleeping-Beauty muscles are just as cranky as I am when the alarm clock goes off now that they are being woken up!   Healing isn’t always comfortable, but I am healing, and that’s what’s important.

It’s a beautiful day and life is good on the farm!

 

 

Lazer Creek Apiary · Natural Food Sources

Sumac, not Devil’s Walking Stick

20190814 sumac
Bees on sumac

While checking our recent buckwheat and sunflower plantings, I noticed a plant that we’ve assumed was Devil’s Walking Stick covered in bees and other pollinators.  Most of these shrubs/trees on our land are inaccessible, but this small one is right next to a trail.   Bees were zipping from one flower to the next in a frenzy while gathering a dark-ochre pollen.    There were no bees on the same plant when I went back with Hubby after supper or a few minutes ago, even though pollen is still visible.

The lack of thorns on the stem is the first give-away that this is not Devil’s Walking Stick, and the non-serrated edges of the leaves is the second.

Hubby’s research last night provided mixed opinions about sumac honey, but as we usually leave fall honey on hives, we probably won’t get to form our own opinion this year.  Quite a few beekeepers also recommend using sumac seed pods as smoker fuel as it calms bees.  Now we just need to figure out how to get through all the blackberries to harvest enough seed pods to test that theory.   One beekeeper also reported a reduction in mites after using sumac-smoke.  We’ll have to fight our way to at least a couple of trees once seed pods form.    Once again, what bees appear to like or not like depends on the time of day and for 3 years we’ve been around these trees when the bees were not visiting.

The buckwheat that Hubby sowed last weekend is already sprouting, so we should have buckwheat nectar in a few weeks.  The buckwheat will hopefully crowd out some of the weeds that are bound to attempt a come-back while also improving the soil.   Once fall temperatures arrive, we’ll mix some clover seed in so that we have a perennial nectar source in those areas.   We’re impatiently waiting for the sunflower seeds to sprout.  We were late planting them and they are very popular with the local birds right now, but at least that area is prepped for next year.

20190815 lily
Water Lily

Something that we’ve noticed about the lily pond is that it is teeming with bees any time a swarm is present.  Once the swarm is settled, pond activity returns to normal.   Now that we’ve put two-and-two together, we’re going to start looking up if we see unusual numbers of bees gathering water.

The current high heat index is making it a little easier to stay indoors and let my neck and arm heal, and the golf cart allows me to spend some time in nature when I just have to get off the couch!    Life is good, and the dog days of summer at probably the best time for mandated laziness!

 

 

Bees · Gardening · Lazer Creek Apiary · Natural Food Sources · Nature · Pests - General

Buckwheat Nectar

Buckwheat bees
Buckwheat nectar source

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.)

bumble bee on buckwheatI’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.)

First tomatoes of 2019
First tomatoes of 2019

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!

 

Construction · Gardening · Honey · Lazer Creek Apiary · Natural Food Sources · Nature · Products and Vendors

4 days away from selling the house, but….

broken line
Broken Water LIne

….the buyer’s home inspection showed a slight leak under the master bath and a couple of other minor issues that we needed to take care of.  (There was no leak at the time we had a home inspection done.)  We had someone come in to do estimates for the repairs and he said the wax ring on the toilet needed to be replaced.  We’re not sure how he knew that, but sometime over the following weekend, the water supply line to the toilet sheared off (not a normal PVC break) and flooded the house.    The bamboo floors in the master bedroom and closet have to be torn out, some of the bathroom tiles have cracked because of damage to the sub-floor, the padding has to be replaced under the brand-new carpet in the dining room, and the dining room wallpaper may need to be replaced.   Luckily, the insurance adjuster is working directly with the contractor on repairs, so things should be moving forward, but work will almost certainly not be done before closing on Thursday.   Of course, we’ll have to pay our deductible and we’re really concerned about how much our next water bill will be, but so far the buyers want to move forward with the sale.

buckwheat-COLLAGE
Buckwheat May 2019

Still, life is good on the farm.  We are back up to 37 hives and most are packed with nectar.  The blackberry flow was really good this year, and the wild flowers are continuing to bloom.  We have buckwheat planted in a few areas, and it is coming along quite well.   There are even a few over-achievers blooming already!   The rest should bloom when many of the wild flowers fade, so we’ll be able to delay the nectar dearth.  We should be able to mow once the buckwheat goes to seed and then let it grow and bloom again.  By then it may be too hot for that, but as buckwheat is an excellent soil conditioner and  cover crop, it will help either way.

May 5-COLLAGE
Plants May 5, 2019

The first lavender blooms are opening and all of the plants have survived pruning!    I let the lavender in the city get too “leggy,” and it’s been scary to prune this batch as much as is recommended.   In fact, I pruned a little less than recommended this time, but the results show that I need to have faith in the multiple sources I read.

We already have a constant supply of strawberries.  Grapes, thornless blackberries, tomatoes, cucumbers, and melons all look promising.   I plan to harvest some wild blackberries for jam, but the thornless ones are so much easier to deal with!   One blueberry bush has twice as many blueberries as last year, but don’t get excited — we had 5 last year!   The other two bushes are doing well, but didn’t flower this year as we moved them a couple of months ago.


SchoolSurprise, surprise, we are also almost at the end of the school year.   I’m so used to teaching into June that I can’t quite wrap my head around the fact that next week is the last one for seniors.   Some seniors stopped coming to class over a week ago, which has me concerned about them maintaining a passing grade, but hopefully they’ll be back tomorrow.   We also got to the end of standardized testing last week, and teachers and students alike are glad to have that over with!    It’s been an interesting year, as any first year at a new school is, and I’m glad that school will be over before Memorial Day.  It was always such a struggle to keep students focused after Memorial Day, especially students who took AP and IB exams at the start of May.

Workshop
Workshop

So, soon I’ll be back in the bee yard and garden full time, unless I’m in the kitchen canning the results of our labors.   We only have half a cup of honey left from two years ago, so we’re looking forward to harvesting this year.  The exterior workshop construction is complete, but we won’t start on building the honey extraction room until after we sell the house, so we may be extracting in the kitchen again!

With the workshop done, Hubby was able to change the blades on the cutter, so we’re taking it in turns to get “tractor therapy” and bush-hog the cleared areas.  After 3 years, the blackberries have given up and the Dutch White Clover has settled in, so we want to keep that maintained.  Plus, I don’t want to have to worry about what’s hiding in the long grass when I go to the well house or compost pile.

Here I am, starting another topic, when daylight is burning and I have trees to plant!   We bought a healthy black walnut at the Cotton Pickin Fair yesterday, and I’m going to ride down to its new home on the golf cart and get it in the ground before I start another hour writing and uploading pictures.

Here’s hoping life is as good in your world as it is here at the farm.   Let’s just forget about the annoying house in the city!

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!

Construction · Gardening · Lazer Creek Apiary

Smoke on the Water (a.k.a. burning wet wood)

The last of the wood pile
The final big burn!

Two years after having our trees thinned, we are down to one pile of waste wood to burn.   With last week’s rain and the cold, we spent two frustrating days trying to get a fire started.  Even when we got it going yesterday, it never really flamed up much, but the coals were so hot by the end of the day that even last night’s heavy rain wasn’t enough to extinguish the fire completely.  It is still smouldering from the inside out this evening, much like a compost pile.     If we can get a burn permit tomorrow, we may be able to get rid of the last of the big logs without having to spend hours coaxing a fire back into the wet wood.

While tending the fire, I’ve been box-blading the deck, getting it leveled out and distributing the ashes from previous burn piles.   I also redirected some of the water that comes down the driveway and flows onto the deck on one side and used to flow into the woods on the other.  Over time, more water has been encroaching onto parts of the driveway, and driving up during a thunderstorm the other day provided us a good opportunity to see where we could make some quick modifications.   Hubby needs to show me how to adjust the box-blade so that I can create real ditches, but what I’ve done so far is at least a temporary solution!

I’ve been having fun on the tractor and am gaining confidence.  As I have to extend my leg to reach the gas pedal, the onset of knee pain and the onset of over-confidence have so far coincided, so I haven’t managed to get myself into any questionable situations so far.   Backing up remains problematic if I’m wearing my bi-focals instead of my safety glasses, but I’ve managed to auger two holes in the right places!   I did, however, hand the tractor back over the hubby for the final holes this evening as I was becoming increasingly cross-eyed.

Compost bins
Compost bins

Talking of cross-eyed, hubby’s nose and the post-hole diggers somehow collided at the end the day yesterday, but he does not have black eyes!    He, of course, wanted to keep working on the compost bin, but his nose wouldn’t let him.     He was able to get the corner posts set today and we’ll put the walls up tomorrow, weather permitting.   We’re going to use shipping pallets to form the walls for now.  We know they’ll rot over time, but as the garden plans are every-changing, this may not be the permanent location for the compost.    We’ll keep the tumbler bin up by the house for kitchen waste, but that will be just a drop in the bucket once we start gardening for real.

Composting helped us create a fertile garden in central South Carolina’s sand, and now it will help us do the same to middle Georgia’s clay!   After box-blading yesterday, we see that between what has decomposed in the log piles and the ashes from the fires, we now have some really nice soil to at least get some cover crops growing early spring.   I’ve thrown out pounds of grass and clover seed over the past year, but without breaking the packed clay surface,  very little was able to germinate.   I have a bag of buckwheat ready to sow — it’s a great early cover crop that also provides nectar.   Buckwheat honey is supposed to taste really good, but we don’t have enough acreage to provide enough nectar of any one kind to be able to give our claim our honey is from any single plant type.  Still, the bees liked the trial batch we planted in fall and that’s good enough for us.

Arriving back from grocery shopping during the thunderstorm gave us the incentive to move another project up the to-do list — the gate opener!   But that story will have to wait until the next blog because the sun is shining and it’s just too nice to stay indoors typing!