Neon orange, actually. The girls are all bringing in basketloads of neon orange pollen that look remarkably like a certain cheese we all know and love, but that I will not name. The name sounds like this, though.
I tried to get a couple of closeups of: the eggs in the cells, the pollen in the cells, and one of the girls with her pollen baskets stuffed with cheddar. Two out of three ain’t bad, as they say. The pollen-laden gal went off to do a waggle dance to inform some other bees, which I also tried to catch, but when i looked at the video, I realized the sun was still behind me enough that you cannot see a damn thing happening on the frame. Oh well, there will be other chances, because that’s how they communicate where nectar and pollen are out in the world. In the meantime, this photo turned out the best, I think. Those little white things that look like pieces of rice are eggs. This is from one of the new packages installed in late May. Of those, all but one are motoring right along. The one had a bit of a later start because they couldn’t get the queen out in the same timeframe. So, she’s a few days behind in laying. No worries, though. They’re all healthy and active, and this is what counts.
The girls are incredibly busy, as our nectar flow is still on. This week will probably be hellish, as the forecast calls for high 90s and zero rain. While that is generally fine for the girls, as long as things stay in bloom, it’s hard on the farmer slash beekeeper. It’s almost time to go into the established hives and start pulling honey, too. That’s best done, like most things, when the majority of the foragers are out foraging, which here means between 10AM and 4 PM, the hottest part of the day. Maybe we’ll get a sneak rain shower here and there – but probably not, so I will also be filling the birdbath I use as the general watering hole for the girls every day so they’ll have access to fresh water and not start hanging out at the pool.
A little rain must fall. Thankfully, that day is today, after another week of zero rain. Just over a quarter inch in less than an hour. Although I’d already watered the rear gardens as part of my todo list, I’ll take it anyway. We are far below the normal levels of rain for this season in our area, so a few more days just like this would be very welcome. Not, I might add, the frog-drowning, five inches of rain in two hours variety. That does no one any good. A nice, steady rain, however, is gold.
This is the first cuke of the season. Last year, we had none at all. Half the seeds did not germinate, the ones that did were anemic at best, and none of those produced any fruit. It was a complete bust. This year, I put cukes again out back, but hedged my bets by putting cukes out front a month later as well. It’s a good thing I did. This little one (it’s specifically for picking gherkin-sized fruit like this, so the size is fine) is from the back gardens. Of those in the rear, just under half made it through from their sowing. I thought, at the time, I sowed cukes in the front gardens, that none of them would flower, much less produce anything. But those that did seem to have gathered their legs under them and are pepping up.
I don’t believe the group out back will do as well as the group out front are doing. I’ll have a comparison picture between the two contestants tomorrow.
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.
The best gauge for us of whether spring is here? Frog butts on the window across from my desk. They hang out there to nab the insects that are drawn to the light seeping out of the window into the darkness.
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?”
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.
I’m back to hitting the treadmill, but decided to leave off the “working it out” titles on posts, since I wind up including other things in those posts, and you, Dear Reader, should not be fooled into thinking there will be just some boring story about exercise and elect to skip it. Instead, I’ll get to pull you in, unsuspecting, to regale you with tales of my not-terribly-exciting life that (from the looks of the archives) seem to follow a most Groundhog Day-like annual routine. For instance, at this time last year, I was doing the same thing I am doing today and have been doing the past few: getting all the seed information into a spreadsheet to decide what to buy and where to buy it.
Let me just say that 2015 was, from a farming aspect, terrible. Too many sicknesses and other things going on made the year a grind. On the plus side, we have all made it out the other end of the year, waiting to greet 2016 as it slides in and gets it feet under it.
It took Mother Nature a long time to get out of summer mode here. Last week, this week’s forecast looked as if she was just going to drop winter on us like and anvil in a Looney Tunes cartoon. Now, it looks more like fall (or fall-ish, as the case may be).
Since she is treating us so magnanimously, I decided to see if we could get a late year/early year crop in: I put in some carrots and radishes over the weekend, and today added some lettuces to that same row. My intent was to put in spinach as well, but the rains came – welcome rain, as we’d had none for weeks. Even without that rain, some of the radish seed I’d put in was already poking up through the soil, and today’s rain (and the rains to come) will help those along.
For the exercise bit: during the first bowl game today, I went out to check on and feed the bees. During halftime of the second, I hit the treadmill once more. I’m also planning another treadmill session during this last game of the night.
Currently reading: A Cold Day for Murder by Dana Stabenow
It isn’t quite Death of a Salesman, but it’s still a little sad. The small swarm I captured late in the season, which I was, for months, trying to keep alive to the point of combining it with the remaining bees and queen from hive #11 that absconded is dead. That’s the way things go sometimes, I suppose. Doesn’t make it any easier. I took the frames from those boxes and left them out yesterday afternoon for the girls from the other hives to clean. Late in the day toward sundown, I put them into a couple of hive bodies to avoid having them get rained on or collect dew. After a few more days, I’ll go out and collect those frames and boxes and store them in the shed until spring arrives.
In other news, yesterday was a bee day only, exercise-wise. We’ve had record breaking temperatures here and insanely high humidity. I did manage to get through the remaining hives I had not yet inspected and do all the things that needed to be done with #11. The other hives all seem to be going about their business normally. Hives #13 and #14, which are package bees from May of this year, never really built up to the level I would have liked to have seen out of them. Poorly mated queens can cause that, so those two in particular will require some watching next season to make sure the queens get themselves in gear to build up the colony – if they don’t, the bees themselves may decide to replace their queens as unproductive, a process known as supercedure. This would be fine with me, as it’s how I’ve let the other hives manage themselves.
As we did last year, we will be doing an end of year/beginning of year harvest of honey. The youngsters cleaned the extractor (thanks!), and will be ready for me whenever I’m ready for it. Generally, we wouldn’t be harvesting honey at this point, but the weird weather has this unexpected bonus round.
The first of the year is supposed to bring much cooler, winter-like weather to us here, but no freezes in the forecast as of right now. That’s good, as it will allow the girls to recognize that it’s time to slow down a little, and I’ll be able to focus more on clearing the beds for the upcoming season, checking the grow lights in the barn, doing some minor repairs here and there, and in general getting the soil ready for when it’s warm enough to start planting out.
Here’s to 2016 being a much, much better growing and harvesting year than 2015.
I started keeping notes on the hives back in October, when it was clear this was necessary to keep track of each hive and to remind me of what I was doing as we headed toward winter and started to wind things down. This has been a great help, given that winter does not appear to be in an hurry to arrive, and allows me to keep track of which hives I’ve swapped top and bottom boxes, which hives I’ve found the queens and larvae (or both), how many bees I’m observing in each hive, and all the other million little things that go along with keeping bees versus having bees.
Yesterday, after finding an abandoned queen, I took the small swarm I caught and combined it with the box where the queen remained, newspaper between the boxes so the new bees could get used to the new queen’s pheromones. Today’s visit to the beeyard including checking that combined hive, and there was no queen (at least I couldn’t find her) and very few bees . I’ve been nursing this small group of bees along for months, trying to get them to produce their own queen, and they simply haven’t gotten it down. I left the setup out there for now, but I’m probably going to have to write this one down as a loss.
The other hives I checked today, and where I swapped boxes, seem to be doing well: found the queens in a couple, found some larvae, found a good base population of bees, and found lots and lots of honey. So much honey that I’ll probably need to take some off so the girls don’t get any bright ideas about possibly swarming out because the amount of empty comb real estate is running out quickly. As with everything else in life, every day is a learning experience, and some days raise more questions than answers – right now, those mostly revolve around the weather and the extraordinarily high temperatures we’ve been having, since that means the girls remain active, foraging, drawing comb, and finding nectar and pollen to store.
Tomorrow, I’ll go back out to the hives and check a few more and get another great workout from moving heavy things, until all have been inspected as this month winds down. Who knows what 2016 will bring? Other than the need to determine the timing for making splits to form new hives when the existing hives start ramping up after winter, that is. If winter ever arrives.
‘Tis the season to have Mother Nature completely out of whack. The flowers keep blooming, the weeds keep growing (grrrr), many of the trees still have not shed their leaves, the grassy areas at the ranch are probably going to need another mowing session, and the bees keep right on going as if it’s still spring/summer. Today out there it feels like May heading into June, not late December heading into January.