Doing the grunt work

One of the things about the ranch that remains constant is that there is always something to do, either inside or out. This past week, the goal was weeding the back garden area and chopping up the vetch (which, hilariously enough, the autocorrect on my phone wants to correct to “kvetch”) that has regrown, so it can be used both to mulch the transplants when the time comes and so it can compost in place to return itself to the soil for later years. Today: achievement unlocked! The two rows in the foreground need some topping off with fresh soil and manure, and that will be done well before the transplants are ready to go out.

Back Garden Feb 2015

Next target: the front gardens. In addition to the weeding chores, keeping the bees fed and happy during these winter days is also very important, as is keeping a good water supply for them. I do this with a birdbath near the beeyard, with some sticks in it to allow the bees to drink without drowning themselves. Even with this in place, we still have to fish them out of the pool from time to time, but once they dry off, they’re off again back to their hives. I found this one girl hanging out at the edge of the birdbath basin, drinking up.

Bee, drinking Feb 2015

Just another day at the ranch on a beautiful day that felt more like spring than winter.

 

 

 

 

Helpers. Lots of helpers.

After processing out the honey in the extractor and then getting the honey that was in the uncapping tub (and also taking that beeswax out, to be cleaned and stored until we do a melt), the last task is cleaning everything. Fortunately, there are many thousands of helpers ready and willing to do just that.

Uncapping_tub_20150124

It takes a lot of them as there is still quite a bit of honey left, clinging to absolutely everything: extracting honey is not a pristine or entirely clean (hands-wise) process. Like Cecil B. DeMille, we have a cast of thousands.

Helper bees on the rack

The girls can be quite acrobatic when they are searching for every last drop of sweet honey to carry back to their hives.

Cleanup crew

They are also quite focused on their task, which allows Norma Desmond here to be ready for her closeup.

Norma Desmond

 

Let there be honey!

A late season frame pull for honey, as the bees in one hive were starting to approach the honeybound phase: storing so much honey that no cells were available for the queen to lay. Replacing a couple of full frames with empties can hold that at bay hopefully, until such time as we can pull more honey-filled frame and/or split off some of the bees from that hive to create a new hive with a new queen.
Late season honey

Mutants at the ranch

This is what happens when you miss something during a harvest – at least to some things. I had put some carrots at the end of the asparagus row, to utilize the space until I get the remaining asparagus plants dug, separated, and relocated. Instead of laying low for about 60 days, this guy was in there for around four months, give or take.

Giant mutant carrot

What do we do with such a creature? Not eat it, to be sure. At some point, many things will just become too woody to taste good. Okra is a good example of this: if those pods are not cut, they’ll often grow longer than your hand, and turn into something actually resembling wood as they dry and turn brown. Not good eating. If we had any chickens at the moment, we would cut up this carrot and feed it to them, but since we don’t, it goes to the compost pile, where eventually it will serve as nutrient for something else. The circle of life, and all that.

Resting season

A bit of a break from the blog. Too long of one, I’d say, and high time to get back to focusing on the things that matter instead of continuing to surf around only to lose hours of time down a sinkhole that cannot be retrieved.

Even though this is a season of dormancy and rest, it is – and should be – one of regeneration, of restarts. And so it shall be.

A fowl deed

Another chicken down, sadly: mom informs me after she’s collected eggs that one of the chickens is dead (because I am the dead chicken collector). She didn’t take a close look as she doesn’t like to look at them too closely after they’ve died and won’t watch if I have to put one down. So, my sister happens to be here, and goes to dig a hole while I go collect the girl for burial. Through my extensive and sharply honed detective skills, I find the cause of death: the chicken’s head has been ripped off. The most likely culprit? Raccoon. I picked up the poor girl, gently placed her in the hole my sister had dug, and we covered her up. I checked the perimeter of the fence on that side and found a gap in the gate that a raccoon may have been able to fit through, and a section of the wire above the fence that is not as high as the rest but also bowed outwards – something I’ll ask my bro ┬áto address when he’s up next (as well as asking him to walk the full perimeter to check for other gaps/necessary repair locations). In the meantime: RIP, other red chicken.

You can’t spell beekeeping without “hope”

Last month, I created two new split hives. A split, for those unfamiliar with such things, is when you take a frame or frames of brood and bees from an existing, strong hive, and put them in a new hive, either with a new queen (which is what I did) or by taking our brood that contains eggs that were recently laid so the bees will create an emergency queen for themselves.

I also had a third hive I had split previously, without a queen, which was going nowhere, but which had bees in it. So I also added a queen to that hive as well. About a week ago, I opened this hive to find it completely empty of bees: a failed split.

Today I visited the bees to feed them, only to find one of the attempted split hives completely empty: abandoned, including a queen with clipped wings who would be unable to fly. I think this one is on me. Last week, I had removed some frames that wax moths had gotten into but that I had cleared, because the bees were not drawing any comb on them. This change may have thrown a wrench into things and either pissed them off that they drifted to the other hives or they just left, in which case they’re all dead by now, having no queen. So, I’ve ordered another queen, and this time will take two frames of brood from the very large hive, and beyond those two frames pulled from the other hive, the other frames will be brand new. Hopefully that will allow them to build up as we move into winter. If it works, I’ll do the same with the original split attempt. Overall, it’s disappointing this one left. However, the second split I did at the same time as this one is still working itself up: I found the queen, the workers are drawing comb, and I think they will survive. Or I hope. Beekeeping is, at its most basic, a lot about hope.

In other news, the three new package hives seem to be doing fine, and one of them was really aggressive and pissy when I opened it to have a quick peek inside – it was still rather early and slightly foggy, so the foragers were not all out foraging. Full bee suit FTW!

Later this week, I’ll go into the supers on the really string hive, and the second hive that is making a fairly nice go of things, and see if there is more honey to pull. But I’ll bring the smoker when I do, to keep them a bit more sedate than they were today.

It’s been such a long time…

Song lyrics notwithstanding, yes it has. My apologies to that handful of faithful readers checking in, only to be disappointed by the lack of content. The one good thing about facebook I can put here is that it makes posting small snippets of things, or commenting on something or other, very easy – too easy, in fact: there’s often not a lot of substance in all the shares, little opinion from the poster, and some of the things of the “this will blow your mind!” variety get tedious and annoying after awhile. Between that, the data selling, and the constant changes in privacy stuff, it’s enough to say it’s time to step back from that and get back to basics, plus get into some other things that need to be done (like working on some work-related side things and writing). No doubt this will lessen my irritation with incredibly stupid people – at least a little.

 

 

Why raised beds

“Why,” people ask, “if you have so much space available on the property do you grow in raised beds instead of directly in the ground?”

This is one reason.

Layers

Really, when it gets down to it, it is THE reason. This is a cross section of the soil here. This picture was taken when I was digging out holes for the new grapevines to be planted. What you can see is a thin layer of sandy soil, a large layer of clay, and at the bottom is an even larger layer of thick sand – think wet beach sand. If I had dug a bit further down, I’d have hit the hardpan. There are problems with this sort of ground: there’s little in the way of nutrients for plants, and most would be unable to break their roots through the layer of clay. This means you can start something from seed or even a small transplanted seedling, but it will reach a certain size and then stop, not being able to get the food it needs or get its roots deeply into the ground. The other issue is water.

Flooded March 2014

If it rains quite a bit – 3.57 inches in 24 hours in the photo here (March 2014) – the water has nowhere to go. It can’t filter down into the ground because the clay layer refuses to let it pass. If we planted directly in the ground, every time there was any significant rain, we’d lose whatever was in the ground. So, we use raised beds for planting. The water may flood some of the walkways, and we may need to wear our muck boots to work, but the plants themselves, save the random sweet potatoes that escape and decide to grow in the ground outside the frames, are safely above it.

 

Deep freeze

The first of two nights that we will feel more north than south: lows in the 20s, which likely means upper teens here inland.┬áThat means putting the headlamp on and heading out to the far reaches of the property to get the taps started. Inevitably, you’re going to get wet as you make the trek to each one, then go back after getting them all on, to make sure they’re flowing hard enough to keep the wellhead motor cycling and keep the lines from freezing, but low enough that you’re not spewing a hundred gallons an hour on the ground. In an hour or so, go back out and recheck to make sure they all have a good flow still going. Tuesday is not supposed to get out of freezing until around noon, and then only for a couple of hours before plunging again in the night, but at least here we only have to live with this for very short bursts, and not months and months at a time. If I wanted to deal with that sort of thing for extended periods, I’d just move up north instead of (impatiently) waiting for “winter” to be over.