Category Archives: Homestead

Time for lunch

A small pair of birds built a nest in a ponytail palm we had brought up on the back patio during one of the more frigid evenings in our “winter” season. We hadn’t quite gotten to putting it back out before they started building, and when we realized what they were doing, we couldn’t move it at that point – that would be rude!

The female laid a total of four eggs, and on our occasional peeks, it seems all of them hatched into the usual ugly, reminiscent-of-dinosaurs babies. We have some pics of them both pre and post hatching, but for now, a little clip of one of the parents bringing home the bacon, as it were.

20160424 PM feeding

All hail the new queen

Late yesterday, I had the new (to me) experience of watching a new queen emerge from her cell.  Fortunately, I had taken the camera out with me and was able to capture it for other folks to see.

How it came about: I was dealing with a swarm and checking a hive for queen cells, only to find a queen cell, just opened, and the new queen emerging. It took almost 25 minutes for the queen and the workers that figured out what was happening to get the hole opened widely enough for her to get out. Then yours truly, while attempting to bet the worker bees out and keep the queen in the cup so I could mark her, allowed the queen to scurry off into the hive. I did a check for her, but by the time all this finished, my smoker was out and it was dusk. I had to end the hunt as the girls were getting a bit peevish.

Lesson learned: just capture them all, and then go about dealing with getting the workers out of the cup so the queen can be marked.



A word to the wise

A word of advice for anyone who thinks they want to be a beekeeper. Think on it twice. Three times. Half a dozen. A million. Then put it out of your head. Otherwise, you’re going to be delighted when you capture an enormous swarm and think how lucky you are, until you realize that giant swarm is probably two when you go in to examine it after hiving it. Then you’ll be cursing them out because you swear that last evening at dusk you found two distinct queens, but today, you can only find (and cage) one. You’ll spend the rest of your day tediously moving the bees frame by frame to the new actual hives, hunting for a swiftly moving, sunlight hating needle in a gigantic stack of buzzing, flying, also quickly moving needles that are basically all the same color. This will make you feel a bit like Captain Queeg in The Caine Mutiny and the search for the second key: did you really find two queens, or was it just the one making a sudden appearance in another part of the hive? I’m hoping for the former and the other queen is not in the hive with the now caged queen, but in amongst all the other bees I dumped into a different hive.

Spring, bitches!

Mother Nature doesn’t give a crap about your calendars, or a groundhog seeing a shadow or not, or anything else puny humans wish to do. When she’s ready to do something, she does it. Spring is here. Of course, now that I’ve said that, she’ll probably decide to kick my ass for it by shoving a random freeze in there, but we only had a handful of those during our incredibly milder than usual “winter”.


I do believe it’s time to go ahead and transplant the brassicas – they’re getting crowded in their flat anyway now that overnight temps are in the 45-55F range. The tomatoes I am more wary about, because there are a crapload of them out there under the lights, and Mother Nature deciding to get buzzed and do something crazy would force a restart, thus delaying our first harvest of tomatoes. The peppers still need more warm overnights, which they can get in the barn better than outside.

The melons, pumpkins, and squashes also need to go out: one of them is already putting out tendrils and trying to capture a lock on the chain the light is hanging from, and if I don’t get it out of there soon, it will probably come to life and kill me while I sleep.

New life at the ranch

That title is a tad misleading, really: since our winters are so mild, the queens rarely take too much time off from laying, which means on any given day, there are likely new bees making their way out of their cells. Yesterday, while breaking down hive #9 for inspection and splitting – I wound up making two splits off this hive, and it will likely stand up to a third – I caught some new bee action on the cam.

Cold before the warm

It’s sort of like calm before the storm, except better because after this little bit of cool weather at the ranch, we will hopefully be turning to spring for good. Not that cooler weather isn’t welcome – minus the freezing bits – but that little voice in my head is already yammering about splitting hives and transplanting from the flats, which are growing very nicely under the lights in the barn.

On another note, this ad keeps popping up during my surfing, and if you don’t look directly at it, and just catch it out of the corner of your eye, it really does look like a dick pic. Try it, you’ll see what I mean. Seriously, advertising people, did you not think this through at all? It has bonus negative points for having Doctor “There’s nothing I won’t endorse for money!” Oz on it.

Looks like a dick

Reclaiming your life

First off: an aptly named “megaton” leek. This has overwintered along with some close friends, and is now officially just slightly less in diameter than my wrist. I can hear you now. “What on earth am I to do with giant, mutant leeks, farmer?”

Megaton leek

Eat them, of course. Potato leek soup. Slice them thinly and add them to whatever dish you’re making that involves onions (just lessen the onion, and add some leek). Slice them, lay them out on parchment on a half sheet pan, freeze them, then bag them. They will last practically forever, and you can just reach in and grab some as you need. The possibilities are not entirely endless, but there are a ton of them.

So what is this “reclaiming your life” thing? It is: getting off social media instead of seeing all that time go down a black hole, purposeless and wasted. You might say to yourself that you’ll just spend ten or fifteen minutes checking in, and the next thing you know, it’s three hours later and you’ve not accomplished anything, gotten yourself pissed off or stressed out, or any other not very healthy thing. Plus, the crazy people pushing woo is simply unbearable. Other than posting something about people staying away from the ranch while I get rid of this pneumonia, and one phenomenal video of a guy singing Agnus Dei (Barber’s Adagio for Strings, if you’re not familiar with that), I have not been whiling away time on facebook, not getting other things done. I haven’t been keeping an eye on twitter. I’ve posted a few bee pics to instagram. And my life has improved for it, both from a productivity standpoint and a general sanity standpoint. It has also allowed me to return to the long form posting that just seems to be impossible on the various social media sites, as that is not what they are designed for, in the overall scheme – add to that weirdo algorithms that make people miss what you say (facebook) or trying to follow far too many people (all of them), and it’s just better without it. People who want to follow what I have to say will come here or to one of my other sites if they are so inclined, and I’m perfectly fine with that. I highly recommend leaving those things behind (except for business-related posts, of course) or at least setting an actual timer if you feel you must browse through what’s going on. You’ll probably find (as I did) that you’ve been spending way too much time on things that really don’t make a huge difference in the overall scheme of things. You’ll also probably find you have quite a bit of free time to work on doing whatever it is you really want to do. The benefits far outweigh the negatives of reading whatever people are having for dinner or that they’re going to the store (seriously, I’ve seen people post to facebook that they’re going to walmart). Leave it behind and reclaim that time and your life.  End of rant.

Given the erosion of the bee population at the ranch – one hive went queenless and absolutely refused to make another, even after three tries, another hive simply absconded for no apparent reason I could determine after examining the hive, etc.  – I ordered eight packages of bees. Two will ship in April and six in May, months that are not creeping toward us, but running at full speed as if we’re playing Red Rover, Red Rover. Yesterday and today, I finally got around to processing the frames of honey I had pulled in late December and January from various hives. Usually, I would leave them on, but since winter as most people know it hasn’t really paid us a visit at all save one night that got down to 23F and a few other random days and nights of cold weather, it’s been positively springlike here. Too much honey in the hives can leave the honeybound. That spells trouble as we jog along to spring, as the queens will be hunting around for somewhere to lay, and if they don’t like what they see or if the hive feels too crowded, they will swarm. Remember, last year we had a swarm in February. In order to get things going for spring, those pulled frames had to be extracted and gotten out of the way. Total: about 100 pounds of honey, which smells like it might be a bit fermented, but we’ll have to wait and see on that. It would be a shame to have to dump it, but unless I can find someone who wants to make mead with it, that’s what will happen. Pity.

Another sign that spring is barreling down at us: frog butts on the windows, and peepers singing at night, even though the nights are still on the bit chilly side. That’s when you know: get yourself together and start busting your ass to get things done.

First up: weeding. If I want to get sunflower seeds in, and start the first round of beans, the weeding needs to be done. That’s y goal this week, in addition to laying another brood box on the only single box hive still in the beeyard – which, handily enough, I can populate with some of the spun frames, as I had a dozen of them during the honey extraction process. Marvelous.

I hope you all are well and that life is treating you kindly – or if not kindly, at least with a sort of benign neglect that does not mean life hates you.

And for your parting gift

As my handful of readers know, I watched the Super Bowl on Sunday (congratulations, Manning – please retire before someone takes your head off and you die on the field) and did my thing where I rate the ads. Side note: someone on twitter asked why people watched the  ads and made comments about those but not through the rest of the year. This should be obvious to the questioner, but apparently is not: the ads for the big game are supposed to be better and funnier, even though sometimes they fall flat. Good ads are noticed during the year, but there are far fewer of them, and most of the time, they are not funny in the laugh out loud sense.

The day after – and no hangovers here, as I can’t drink any more – was business as usual. Tuesday, however, started off poorly and rapidly got worse: after getting up in the morning, I went back to bed for a “nap” that was more like a coma, and slept until 5:30 that evening. Tremendously out of character for me, as those who know of my insomniac ways are aware. A few hours after being up, I once again went back to be and slept through to the next morning.

All seemed to be fine Wednesday, although I did take a nap that morning, for just a couple of hours instead of all day.

Thursday. That was the day the body marshaled all it forces to tell me something was wrong just after noon, by signaling a horrific pain in my left shoulder and an even worse one in my right upper chest. The  shoulder could be from anything, really – I had been to the NOC pulling some servers and racking another. The chest, though, is an entirely different story. Given my weirdo history, anything involving the chest generally rewards me with an immediate order for a chest xray, as it did in this case.

Verdict: pneumonia. Usually,  I get aspiration pneumonia, which is the type you often get if you have issues swallowing properly or fully and food or drink winds up in your lungs instead of your belly. Thanks to the (fuck you!) cancer rounds, this is my typical problem. There’s no real way to tell which type this is, but it doesn’t matter all that much as the treatment is the same: heavy duty antibiotics, which I picked up yesterday and will take for the next week. Fun times!

That means rest and light duty for me, but I still need to check my flats in the barn and check the feeders on the bees. I also need to prep for the upcoming season by ordering bee supplies, keeping watch on the girls to detect swarm activity, and so on, and this is very difficult when every breath burns and feels like someone is stabbing you with a dull knife. I shall, as always, carry on, because there is Shit that Needs To Be Done, and I’ll survive, as usual.

We’re forecast to have another evening right around freezing Saturday night into Sunday morning, with perfectly balmy temps after that. Those will be the days the girls start gearing up for spring and will be the danger times for swarms. We had the first swarm emerge last year toward the latter half of February – when honestly, we, or I, was not expecting anything of the sort. That’s a lesson learned: the bees don’t care about schedules. They care about the environment, both inside the hive and out. The only good thing so far about the swarm issue this year is that in my couple of examinations on the nicer days, I’ve noticed no drones. No drones = no mating partners for queens, although I have no idea if this makes a difference to them or not. Hopefully it does.

One of the hives (#9) has a ton of bees in it, or did when I last opened it. It might be good for not one but two splits from it, which would be awesome. That, however, also needs to wait on weather moderation and the availability of drones. If it gets warm and stays there, those splits might be done sooner than later.

In other news, the seedlings are emerging in the barn under the lights, and we’ve had no hitches in anything otherwise. Except the pneumonia thing. Thankfully, modern medicine is ON IT.

Stay well, folks, and I promise the next entry will have some pictures for your viewing pleasure (and a little teasing if you happen to be in one of those places frozen solid for four months out of the year).