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  • Cautiously Optimistic

    In my last bee post in June, I mentioned the weak hive. My remedy of putting in a few frames of brood from my other hive did not work. The next time I went into the hive, it had been heavily invaded with wax moths. There evil invaders take advantage of weak hives. Normally, the bees are able to fight them off but my hive was just not strong enough. It is just ugly: they make sticky webs across the frames and the worms eat into the wax. The only positive part was that there were still a large number of bees in the hive.

    I made an emergency call to a bee keeping expert. Could I at least try to save this hive? He advised swapping frames with the healthy hive again, adding any unaffected frames from the invaded hives and reducing the whole hive to one box. I ended up with six frames of bees, brood and honey and added four empty frames to fill the box.

    I am lousy at finding queens so couldn’t find one. But, after a week or so, I found the evidence of the bees making an emergency queen. This is another one of those fascinating things that bees do and one of the reasons I don’t buy queens. It just makes sense that having the bees make one is better than introducing one.

    Once they make a queen, it’s all a game of timelines and numbers. From laid egg to hatch is 16 days for a queen. Then another 5 to 6 days  until she is ready to make her mating flight. Then, a few more days until she lays eggs. It can be 28 days plus or minus 5 days.

    So, today, when I pulled some frames, I saw larvae. Yay! That works perfectly with the timeline. I reduced the hive to one box on July 12. Around July 31, I saw hatched queen cells. That’s 19 days. Larvae show up in about 3 to 5 days after the eggs are laid. That means my larvae were eggs around August 6, 25 days after this all began, just about a perfect timeline.

    It is going to take 20 days for those larvae to turn into bees. Workers bees live about 40 days. I put capped brood in the hive on July 12. There wasn’t a whole lot left on July 31. That means the current bees in the hive are anywhere from 14 to 28 days old. So, I am expecting to see the population go down in the next couple weeks. I may need to add one more frame of brood from my healthy hive, which had plenty of open brood.

    So…I am cautiously optimistic that I can save this hive. I did commit to getting two more nucs of bees. If all goes well, I will have four active hives.

    Today was also the first day of dusting the bees with confectioner’s sugar. It is a known, organic method for fighting varroa mites. They live on the bees so when you dust them, they clean off the sugar and get rid of the mites at the same time. I have sheets with grids that I can slide in the hide to do a mite count and may do so the next time I check the hives.

    I continue to balance nature and management. All the beekeepers I know are having a tough year: the late frost killed off the blossoms that fuel the spring flow and some hives, like mine, never requeened. This is the most management I’ve had to do int the three years I have had the hives and I’m hoping it will save my hive.

    One item of interest: I am getting nucs from someone who practices Slovenian bee keeping, a method that makes it easier for people to manage a hive. A typical hive box can weigh 50 pounds. It is right on the edge of what I can lift so if I am going to continue this hobby into my next decade, a friendlier method would be welcome. I am looking forward to seeing the operation.

  • Spring 2016 Update

    The azaleas are blooming so we put out the hummingbird feeders yesterday. Saw the first bird today. No photos yet.

    PeasBob has been busy in the sun porch and garden. He has lots of tomato, pepper, and eggplant seedlings just waiting for danger of frost to pass. But he also has lots of stuff in the ground: beautiful lettuces, peas just up and getting ready to climb, beets. They should survive a bit of frost. We’ve had fresh asparagus and plenty of lettuce from the sun porch. 

    I checked on the bees in March and was pleased to find healthy hives that had pretty decent stores of honey as well as evidence of newly laid babies. May have even seen the queen. The bees in the hive on the left were particularly active; that hive has a deep and a medium box so is smaller and generally more active. I wanted to see if I could avoid a swarm so added a queen excluder and honey super. Not sure I did, but they seemed to settle down. I also put the honey super on the other hive. I am hoping that, since they had strong store left, they’ll start making honey for me.

    LadyWe’ve made our two male royal palm turkeys quite happy by bringing a hen on board. For now, she’s hanging out in her own pen while they pay court. Give her a chance to get acclimated. She has acquired three ladies in waiting, bantam hens who lost their rooster and are joining the main flock.

    The males are doing all manner of displaying, dancing, and generally showing off. I haven’t gotten video of the dance they were doing in unison last night but here’s a bit of the display:

    Look at Me!


  • Endings and Beginnings

    In early December 2012, we brought four pigs home, not really fully prepared for what it meant to add livestock to the farm. In those three years, I have done things I never imagined I would from being present at the birth and death of a pig to eating an animal I helped raise. Last week, we bade farewell to the last six pigs. We don’t regret the adventure and learned a lot about ourselves and our relationship to animals, but we are ready for a break from the responsibility.

    Whereas chickens and other fowl can survive without daily attention, pigs demand it. They were contented behind the electric fence until their stomachs growled and then they came looking for dinner. We’ve had a few barnyard buddies who hung out under the porch of the cottage and came out to steal the turkey food or get a ru. I think my favorite story is coming home late on a summer evening to see the barn yard littered with half eaten watermelons. That could mean only one thing: Biscuit, our first boar, was out. Sure enough, he had busted through the chain link and made his way through a pile of melons, a piggy favorite. We pushed him back in, knowing, he wasn’t secure and headed to bed. We woke to a ruckus in the middle of the night to discover Biscuit wandering around in search of more melons. I coaxed him back to his pen, made a more secure barrier and watched as he headed into his pen, stretched out, sighed contentedly and feel asleep.

    With the pigs gone, Bob may be able to travel for more than a day or two. We have also turned our attention to the house. We pulled up the carpets in most of the front of the house to reveal the hard wood floors. Bob covered the hole in the wood paneled den in the back of the house and it has become our family room for the winter. We haven’t had to use the wood burning stove very much with the warm weather, but we’re ready when winter really does come. The stove warms the den and the kitchen and makes a cozy living area for us.

    We are taking advantage of the sun porch to raise lettuces and I have sprouts and herbs in the kitchen window. We have some greens and broccoli down front. Freshly picked broccoli, lightly steamed with butter and lemon, is one of the joys of farm living. And the hens continue to provide eggs…just enough for the two of us. We’ll keep gardening but will also use the dollars we save to support other farmers, knowing how hard it is to produce sustainable food in all its various forms whether on hoof or nest or vine. You will pay more probably, but you will do so knowing that your dollars are going right back into your community, literally, and ensuring an ongoing source for fresh food for you and your neighbors.

    I harvested a little honey this year. The hives appear strong and are full as we head into winter, but the supers had very little honey. I did not feed them very much last year and wonder if their stores were too low. I’m going to feed them on January 1. I am also considering adding two more hives to the apiary.

    Fox in the Field

    Bob has done a great job clearing much of the acreage but there is still some wilderness that is home, along with our barn yard, to wildlife. We usually see wild turkeys and this year, we provided sanctuary to at least one fox. We’ve protected the chickens a bit better because we don’t have the heart to get rid of him. We can live in balance. Bob caught some video of him in the pasture.

    Turkey in the Den

    The most fun this fall has been with our two Royal Palm turkeys. They are both toms who like to jump the fence into the back yard and eat the sunflower seeds. They wander along the back porch and have, at least once, been in the front hall as we leave the doors open for the dogs in the warm weather. They don’t have names…I call them collectively “gentlemen” and they greet me in the morning and gobble at trains and sirens. Endlessly amusing. They are a daily reminder of our somewhat odd life: I forget sometimes that not everyone looks our their laundry room window to see two turkeys roosting on the wash line.

    It is a good life. and we are looking forward to the journey ahead. We hope you had a wonderful holiday and wish you a magical new year!

  • Pigs, Produce and Preserving

    I need to stop making pledges about any particular schedule of blogging. Summer gets the best of us in many ways. The weeds begin to win and the wind goes out of the sails, often just when it is time for fall gardening. I don’t think people understand the importance of this overlapping time period, particularly where we are in southern central Virginia. There is definitely a fall season, just perfect for greens, with some like collards thriving AFTER the first frost. Many people won’t eat them before then. Add broccoli, lettuces, and kale and you have a wonderful fall harvest. But it means starting that while you are still doing the other even as the days are getting shorter. So, Bob is working hard, gleaning what he can before turning over the soil.

    So, there’s a lot going on farm wise including the addition of a new pig. We adopted a full blooded Berkshire boar to help bring some diversity to our gene pool. Watch out, ladies, he is a looker! We also still have Biscuit, who managed to escape the pen a couple times this summer, laying waste to the hen yard and stirring up the rest of the herd. I led him back at 3 AM one morning, tossing pieces of watermelons and squash along the way. He seems more secure now behind electric fence, but we always feed him first to discourage head butting the chain link. He has, Bob says, “No respect for the fence.”

    We had three litters of pigs this summer and learned a lot, including a few painful lessons with sad consequences. But, we also had a wonderful time watching one litter, Hamp’s Herd, grow up. They were the last group born and lived the most wild, natural life with their mama. In fact, for the first eight weeks, they were pretty much free ranging as they could easily slip under the electric fence. They used the nearby soybean field to move around, coming back for a meal with mama and then heading out to pillage the cantaloupe bed.

    Potatoes are coming in just now, redskins and yukon golds. Several varieties of sweet potatoes won’t be too far behind. We ate the first potatoes last night, roasted with chicken. I am looking forward to freezing mashed potatoes for us to break out at Thanksgiving. I’ve done them before and they are just like you find in the freezer case but you can decide what to add to them. Ditto for sweet potatoes which can go into muffins, pies and the traditional marshmallow casserole.

  • First Honey Harvest

    After nearly 18 months, two failed hives, and a long cold winter of worry, I harvested two frames of honey today! Only one of my hives produced any honey–and it looks like there are easily three or four more full frames in the super–so I decided to go the slower, low tech route of draining the frames rather than investing in an extractor. I belong to a bee club that shares an extractor but I will be away next weekend when they have the “extractaganza.” Even inexpensive hand crank extractors that do two frames at a time are over $300. I invested in a straining system for was closer to $100.

    You can check out the very short video below that shows the system and doing the uncapping of the comb:

    I haven’t messed with the bees for awhile. They appear active and healthy and the few times I have checked, there has been lots of fresh brood and plenty of bees in the box. I forgot that August is the time to dust them, so I added that to my list. You dust them with confectioner’s sugar over the course of a few weeks to help cut down on mites. They groom themselves to get the sugar off and take the mites along with it. I should do a mite test but I think I’ll just go with the sugar.

    Every time I open the hives, I learn. The lesson today was two fold: get the smoker working at full capacity before you get to the hive and, if you have a specific goal, don’t use the time to do a full hive inspection of the non-honey-producing hive. They tolerated me checking a frame in the top box but were not at all happy when I moved that top box in an effort to check out the bottom box, something I haven’t done since early spring when I swapped the boxes. Even in a bee suit, angry bees are scary bees. I got stung through the suit on my knee. I retreated, relighted and got the hive back together pretty quickly before grabbing a few frames from the other hive. I didn’t both to do any kind of inspection. I will give them a couple days to calm down before doing the sugar treatment.

    I had to try a little of the honey and I think it’s pretty good. It’s a light honey–we have lots of clover–but it has a good, solid honey flavor. We should get about 5 to 6 pounds from the two frames I brought up and I may do 2 more before the season is over. I’m already looking for baking recipes that use honey as the sweetener and I added some to a lovely cold brew decaf with milk and a little vodka: wonderfully refreshing as we head into the evening.

    Dinner is pan seared tuna (a gift from friends who went to the Outer Banks) with roasted vegies and pasta in tomato jam made by another friend. I had never had it before and found it very good: he thought it was a little too sweet but I think some pasta and cheese will help cut the sweetness and make a nice summery sauce. We’re having King Arthur Flour’s Chocolate Zucchini Cake made as cupcakes and I’m going to put on Hershey’s “Perfectly Chocolate” Chocolate Icing. I see it as a perfect balance of healthy (whole wheat and zucchini) and sinful (lots of Penzey’s Natural High Fat Cocoa Powder).

    I took advantage of the hot oven and baked a batch of King Arthur Flour’s Simplest Muffins using shredded carrots and raisins as mix ins. We have had an amazing carrot crop this year: Bob did purple haze along with some vibrant orange and yellow.

  • Bookends of the Day

    Hello Dolly!My day–at least the daylight hours–begins and ends with chickens.  The automatic door that is supposed to open and close with the daylight simply refuses to work. I have to uncover the small door in the morning so they can get into the yard and then cover it at dusk after they have settled into the henhouse on the roost. My husband has tried to fix it numerous times and it works for a little while and then stops. We should probably just give up and buy a new one. But, I don’t really mind checking in with the chickens each day.

    In the morning, I feed them and give them fresh water and just check them over. At night, I count them.  That’s how I discovered we were missing a Rhode Island Red. Today, we found a small pile of feathers in the barn yard and think a hawk probably got her.  We had a small group of chickens that were getting out each day and I had started free ranging the others in the evening. But they were doing pretty severe damage to the garden and I don’t want to lose any more to predators.

    So, yesterday, we finished netting the top of the hen yard. It seemed to keep everyone in today but we shall see.  Chickens are good at getting out, especially when they know there are rows of greens just outside the pen.

    I managed to get out and grab some fall photos before the hurricane blew the leaves from the trees:


    1. Across the Lawn, 2. Chicken and Mum, 3. In the Maple, 4. Farm Propaganda, 5. Cosmos Up Close, 6. Wyandotte, 7. The Carpet, 8. Magnolia Pod, 9. Flock, 10. Blackeyed Susan Vine, 11. Cosmos, 12. Pineapple Sage, 13. The Last of the Garden, 14. The Farm in Autumn, 15. Rhode Island Red, 16. Carpet of Leaves, 17. Hello Dolly!, 18. Cosmos, 19. Untitled, 20. Many Colors