Category Archives: Homestead

The queen has arrived

I had to requeen a couple of hives – both because the queens went missing, and one of which had a laying worker issue – and I added a mated queen to another, to bypass having the workers build one of their own, which can be an iffy thing.

Two hives went queenless, and a third was a split I’d made off a larger hive. When i went out to check on queen releases, all had been released by the workers – but I couldn’t find two of them. The queen in the split I found readily enough, but she was not yet laying. The other two? No dice, even taking down the entire stacks of boxes from both. That could have just been the queens being much faster than me, or me simply missing them and their blue dots.

So I went back out a few days later, and in one of the two where I had been unable to find the queen previously, I did spot her. I also found the girls pulling out the drone brood the laying worker had been creating everywhere. so she would have space to lay up the frames.  A very good thing, that. In the other: still no sign of the new queen. I’m going to head out tomorrow to try to find her one last time. If I can’t, I’ll be pulling the rest of the honey off that hive, reducing them down to two brood boxes (as I run eight frame mediums for everything), and ordering yet another queen to see if they’ll take her.

On the split, however, I caught the queen in the act of laying, something I’ve rarely seen and never managed to film. Until that day.

This was a four frame split from the larger hive, and I expect the queen to lay up the box to get it to full strength by “winter”, such as it is here. These new queens are from Wildflower Meadows, and they specifically breed as hygenic queens. Their customer service is also great. Between drones from my survivor hives, and the inevitable succession daughters of these queens, I should potentially get some great genetics for my yard.

Did I hold?

So….the last time I graced you with my presence, I had been talking about doing some limited gardening this year, to give my raised beds and myself a break.

To be fair, that’s how it started. I got some seed started in flats under the lights in the barn.

Things just snowballed from there. As long as I was growing x, I reasoned, I could just as easily go ahead and grow y as well. So I direct sowed carrot and radishes and cukes and sunflowers and okra and green beans and lima beans and sweet potatoes .  I stuck garlic cloves into dirt  in a window sill planter and put it in the barn under the grow lights. Before I knew it, I had a fully fledged garden operation going. Again.

And while I was at it, I thought, we should get some more meat birds so we could run them in and out before it got brutally hot. Once summer hits, it’s no fun raising meat birds. They’re hot, you’re hot, nobody’s happy.

So we did. I ordered 25 cornish cross chicks.  We lost one the first day, one the next, and I put the other 23 out in the chicken tractor as soon as I could. One of those vanished into thin air, perhaps in the jaws of a rather persistent red fox that’s been visiting the ranch, so at the moment, I have 22 tiny dinosaurs who don’t do much other than eat, sleep, and poop out on pasture.

Then, something got into the main  chicken yard and killed all but one of my laying hens – most likely a raccoon, since one was missing a head and raccoons do like chicken heads. That left one lonely chicken I’ve named Bernice. Despite my mother saying no more laying hens, I ordered six new baby layers. They arrived just before I was able to set the meaties out on pasture. Picture 32 chicks, peeping constantly except when they were sleeping, in your garage.  Now just he six layer chicks are out there, and foremost on my mind at this  very moment is looking for scrap wood tomorrow so I can throw together a small chicken tractor and get them outside –  but still have extra protection, as there’s a red-shouldered hawk that likes to hang out in the trees near the chicken yard, and a not-yet ready layer would fit in its talons nicely. The evening temps should also not be in the 50s again after tonight, although with the weirdo weather we’ve been having, I’ll have to have a contingency plan, just in case.

Two days ago, I got in on a bulk order of vanilla beans, which at retail and even some bulk places is worth more than gold right now. I put dibs on 20 ounces of Indonesian Grade A beans at $12/ounce, and if you know anything about vanilla, you know that is a major deal.

Then I lost my mind and wondered if we could grow vanilla here. It’s hot, it’s humid – those are the kind of conditions it prefers. o I ordered a 9″ vanilla orchid cutting to cultivate here. In the “winter” and spring, when it isn’t very humid during the day and the evenings can dip under 50F, I can either put it in the barn, or (more likely) I can build a small greenhouse for it. It requires hand pollination in the very small window of opportunity it presents flowers. Because what’s one more thing to add to the mix here?

I have four pots of bamboo I’m cultivating so in the future I can harvest and use it for projects around the ranch. I have a meyer lemon, ponderosa lemon, persian lime, and a fig tree in pots on my driveway.

There’s a wisteria in the front garden that acts like it was the star of The Blob. It has swallowed and killed half the blackberries along the fenceline, and is trying to move in on the blueberries (which are taking forever to ripen because of the weird weather).

I put 50 strawberry plants in amongst the asaparagus. There are at least 25 more coming, and I think around 30 more asparagus roots as well. The grapes on the western side of the north garden are beginning to fruit, and it’s a race to see who will get them first: disease, birds, or us.

I now have 12 hives in the beeyard, with one split trying to make a queen. For the first time in a couple of years, we’ll have honey to process again.  I designed an inner cover with ventilation and a place for a feeding jar for new colonies so I don’t have to put feeders at the front of the hives, which can often put a hive at risk for robbing. This way, the feeder is safely inside, covered by an empty hive body, bu the bees cannot get up into the empty space to draw comb that winds up being a pain. Several of the hives are new, and the queens in those hive are absolutely slamming it – if they don’t produce enough honey for m to take some off after the current nectar flow dries up, they’ll surely have some for the fall flow.

As for me: I’ve been out exactly three times since the first week in March. Two of those were to the post office to pick up birds and bees. One was to the NOC. This is not something I particularly mind, as I’d rather be home (although I do kind of miss wandering around the garden center at the two major hardware big box stores).

I hope all of you are well and not going stir crazy from quarantines.

Until next time, peeps: be well. Stay safe.

So much happening

Out there in the world, I mean. Some time ago, I stopped following the news. I also ditched social media, for the most part, except for business-related things. I have to say that it was liberating, and has reduced my stress levels quite a bit.

As I type this, the country is basically shutting down, because the incompetence of the current Administration virtually guaranteed that our initial response to COVID-19 would be…..nothing. The first case of COVID-19 showed up here in the US in JANUARY. Despite warnings, the dumbass in chief downplayed the seriousness of COVID-19, and now here we all sit, quarantined, with a finally-reacting government unable (and, truthfully, I think, unwilling) to do a whole lot about it. Our situation here in the US is worse because after deciding that nothing was probably not the correct approach, they’ve moved to the slow, tedious, red-tape filled response level. It has been astonishing, after dipping my toe back into the news, to see the bullshit from the White House about this.

I can only take so much of it, though. As much of an information junkie that I am, I still cannot justify to myself any need to have all the social media crap open in my browsers or on my phone through the day. Is there anything I can do to increase the speed at which our government acts? No. Is there any information I personally have about COVID-19 that would be useful to anyone? No. Do I need to be reminded time and again that stupid people exist and that there are far more people only concerned about themselves (that would be you, spring breakers, telling the news that you had this trip planned for months, and you’re going to party, dammit!) than most people in general realize? Nope, I get enough of that at my day job.

So, I’m just working. Taking care of my dogs and my chickens and my bees. Still no gardening this year. I’ve discovered that years of recurrent pneumonia means I just don’t have the stamina to do it all this year. But next year, I’m planning big things in the garden.

A couple of days ago, I ordered a batch of meat birds. They will ship on the 31st. I’ll raise them up, and then process them at about eight weeks. I also ordered some more layer hens, to get our egg production back in order.

The dogs have an appointment to get their teeth cleaned on the 31st. I was on the edge about canceling that, but they really do need it, as last year they didn’t go. Plus, the interaction I have at the vet for this is much less than a regular visit.

I canceled all my own doctor visits slated for March and April. I don’t think hanging out in areas full of sick people or possibly sick people (given the spread of the virus by asymptomatic people) is the best idea for me. The next appointment on the calendar is for the first week in May, with the ENT who did my laryngectomy. It will be one year since the Big Op, which just amazes me. Time flies and all that.

That’s it for now. Nothing very exciting is happening, and I’m continuing to read a lot of books (and I owe reviews on five or six right now, which I will write up later this morning). I am also discovering lots of new sites and YouTube channels that I probably would not have had it not been for those few forays back into social media. Happy accidents.

Until next time, peeps: be well. Wash your hands. Stay home.  We’re a resilient species, and most likely, we’ll get through this one way or another.

A quarter of cleanup

The first quarter of 2020 is going to be a cleanup quarter. We’ve been busting ass for six months making our changes that are a result of our vendor’s changes, and boy, how I would love to be done with this by the end of Q1.

We’re also rearranging things at the NOC; another batch will be done tomorrow, and then this weekend a biggie (even though it only involves one switch). I can hear it now: the plaintive cries of people wondering what happened because they didn’t read any of the announcements we posted ahead of time.

It’s fine. We’re used to it.

Thus far, my primary exercise in the new year has been hauling servers around and taking inventory – necessary but tedious things. But I know the maxim is: do the hard thing first. This is the hard thing right now, and the sooner it’s done, the sooner we can move along back to our usual, quiet support levels, and the other things we (I) want to do.

I keep thinking about the garden, and growing peppers, and telling myself to just grow some tabascos in buckets. That way, I don’t have an excuse to go hog wild out there, and while we can buy cayenne and paprika powder at the store, my mom is not a fan of the actual Tabasco brand. She says it has a bit of a metallic taste at the end. So, I think I’m going to slow my roll on getting caught up back in the great outdoors and not letting the gardens or myself rest, and just set up a bucket brigade – peppers, versus water.

I do have some bamboo plants I would like to get in the ground this year, though. I could focus on digging some holes and working in some good soil. Maybe that will quench the need to get my hands really dirty in the great outdoors. I got them oh, maybe four months ago? All but one have generated new growth. They grow incredibly fast, which is good, because the house going up on the lot diagonally to us is not just large, but toward the front of the property, and I’d rather not be looking at that when out on my front porch. Every other house in this limited development, including mine, sits back from the road. Not a fan of where they’ve placed it, although I suspect the neighbor to his west (the eastern lot is not yet developed) is even less of one. Who knows, maybe I’ll start a bamboo trend in the neighborhood. It’s clumping bamboo, not spreading, so never fear, dear readers: I am still a good neighbor in that regard. Next up is blocking out the neighbor to my south along that fenceline so I don’t have to look at his heavy timber trucking equipment when I’m out at the bees or in the rear garden.

First things first, though, and that is to get all the tech stuff that needs to be done, done. It’s been a weird six months, but the one good thing is that I had the Big Op a month and a half before that vendor got crazy. If I’d had to deal with this while immediately recovering from that, it would have been a nightmare.

Forward, ho! And until next time, peeps: be well.

Intentions: 2020

People ask “What are your resolutions for the new year?”

I stopped making resolutions a long time ago, and for a long, long time now, greeting the new year has not been anything like turning a corner. It’s just more of the same, with a new date stamped on the calendar. For the past four years, I’ve either been sick, or getting over being sick, at the turn of the new year.

This year, thanks to losing my voice (primarily) and sense of smell via a total laryngectomy, I am healthy (mostly) heading into the new year. Since I’ve been relatively healthy since the end of April, when I had the Big Op, and now, I’ve had time to think about what I’d like to do in 2020. I say relatively, as I’ve had a couple of instances of what my docs call minor pulmonary infections, and what I call lung snot. Fortunately, modern medicine has graced us with antibiotics for these things.

As some of you know, I had wanted to participate in NaNoWriMo in November, as I had a brand new, quite exciting idea to write, back in early May, after I got out of the hospital with a hole in my neck. I knew most of the story, and over the next couple of weeks, I fleshed it out in my head and was confidant that a few other things I needed for it would come by the time November rolled around.

Then, the end of June came, and with that, one of our largest vendors announced a complete and total change to their licensing. That in turn required us to make a huge decision: to stay with it, or make a change of our own. Those of you who are clients will know this already, but we chose the latter.  This resulted in an equally huge, and quite sudden amount of work necessary on our part to implement the changes we needed to make.

There is an upside to this, as there is with almost everything: it knocked us out of a bit of complacency, and also resulted in other changes we decided to make in order to make things more efficient and to adjust a couple of our business models.

“What does this have to do with anything, Captain?”

A lot. Because it knocked NaNoWriMo out of the water, and except for a few days’ break here and there, we’ve been steadily implementing the changes we decided to make. When there are hundreds of servers involved, and all the work is hands on to do the migrations and replacements, it means everything else is on hold, because almost every waking hour is devoted to getting this finished. It also means 16-18 hour workdays, every day, with the exception of those few breaks.

Another group of the changes has been at the datacenter level, and we’ve been physically working on those as well – the work is physically demanding (the servers weigh 35-40 pounds each, depending on the model), hot, and dirty – kind of like the gardening I do. It’s interesting how this one change from one vendor has resulted in other changes, like ripples from the boulder they dropped in the water.

While we are still getting through the changes, I expect we’ll be finished by the end of the first quarter 2020. I had decided to not do any gardening in 2020, to give myself and the beds a rest, but I realized that I’d at least need to do tabascos (peppers) as the hot sauce I made back in 2016(?) is almost gone, and the plants I put in back in spring of 2019 were gnawed on by deer and didn’t produce much of anything worthwhile.  That led to the realization that we also need cayenne and paprika powders for culinary use, so I need to grow some of those as well, since we’re almost out.

I may toss a couple of cukes in, just for the fam/friends and their salads. And if I’m doing that, I might as well do a few tomatoes (not not over a hundred of them, as I usually do), as well as a couple of other low maintenance items: lettuce, carrots, and so on.

At the end of the day, I do still need to get exercise, and gardening is good for that. I’m just paring it back a bit instead of going full bore out there. So that’s one intention for the new year.

Next up: the bees. I lost colonies in 2019, some because I wasn’t paying attention to them (laryngectomy and recovering) and others for unknown reasons (they had plenty of bees, food, and so forth). I have four in the beeyard. I know two at least will make it through our “winter” with some feeding, and I have four packages coming in the screen. I am changing how they’re set up, though, and will move the two on the wooden stands to sitting on cinder blocks, as the bees on the blocks have done so much better – all the losses we from hives on the wooden stand. My intention for the bees is to better manage them in 2020, since my major health issues are presumably behind me.

Next up: reading. I’ve read 64 books in 2019, and expect to finish another one today for a total of 65 of the 70 I had planned. I want to read more in 2020, and I’ll be setting a goal of 75 for the coming year – nothing crazy, like going from 70 to 100. When people set these types of goals, they can often set themselves up for failure by setting a new goal that is too far above whatever the previous level was. If you’re a couch potato and set a goal of running three marathons in the coming year, that’s probably not going to be realistic. My advice: set something reasonable, and make it concrete. Don’t say you’re going to “lose weight”. Say you’re going to lose 10 pounds in the next 60 days. That’s more reasonable. So, 75 books for 2020.

Next up: food. My intention is to cook for my mom and brother (and one sister who lives nearby, if she wants to come along) more often in 2020. “But Captain,” you say, “didn’t you just tell us to set concrete goals?” I did, thanks for noticing. This one largely depends on my brother’s schedule, though, so it has to be a little fluid. I’m aiming for at least one meal a week for them. That will get me back into the kitchen, where i love to work, and will also feed them, something I also love to do. Everyone wins.

Next up: mind/body. My intent is to continue doing my heavily modified yoga routine. There are things I cannot physically do and never will be able to do, but I can do a lot, and an increase in flexibility and strength is the goal. I’ve also been half-assededly meditating, and that needs to change into an every day thing as well, and that’s my goal: at least five minutes a day, at some point in the day (probably before I finally throw in the towel and go to bed).

Next up: writing. This is the big one. My intention is to write every day, at least two pages a day (to start). This will be difficult, just as it was in 2019, at least for Q1, minimum, since the work that currently pays the bills will still be taking up a huge amount of time. But I’m hopeful by Q2, with a reduced garden load during the season, and a lessened focus need on “work work”, I’ll be able to actually get time in. At this very low rate of writing, I should be able to finish a book at the standard length for my primary genre (mysteries/thrillers), in about four months – doable, and not terribly stressful since there’s enough stress in my life already.

I’m sure there will be other, transitory, things that pop up – life is like that – but These are the things I’m consciously focusing on for the coming year.

That’s all for now. I hope your holidays were grand and the coming year brings you all you want. Until next time, peeps: be well.

Communing with nature’s denizens

After a weeding session (and filming some discussion about types of weeds and why I don’t do chop and drops here), I went back into the house only to find a hitchhiker on my shirt.

This is not the first time I’ve carried something back in, but it is the first time said something has decided it wanted to be really up close and personal, if only briefly.

Check your person before coming inside!

Until next time, peeps: be well.

Summer slam

Hello, my faithful readers.

So what’s been going on? Recovering from the laryngectomy, Regrouping from yet another lost season in the garden. Finally getting back on the tractor for mowing. Doing other chores like taking care of the bees and cleaning out the mobile chicken coop. The latter is made not quite so onerous by the fact that my sense of smell is gone unless I work at it, so moving around chicken crap and soiled nesting material in the heat is not a “pass out from the odor” moment.

Speaking of mowing, there has been a lone cattle egret hanging around the property on the days I mow. It’s a sound strategy, considering all the grasshoppers and crickets and frogs that get disturbed. It’s practically a drive-through for the winged creatures that are on the property – the chickens, but also this guy/gal:

Swallowed it whole, as they do.

S/he spent awhile wandering around in the beeyard as I moved on to finishe mowing elsewhere. It was a nice visit.

In work-related news, one of our biggest vendors decided to upend their entire licensing scheme, so I’ve been spending a ton of time dealing with that (which irritates me, because I could be spending that time on other, more enjoyabe things, but such is life).

I plan to start updating again regularly, just to get me in the habit of doing it. Hopefully, I can translate that over to my (fiction) writing.

Until next time, peeps: be well.

Ten years later….

Today (Thursday as I type this), after ten years, I finally set foot in a theater again.

“Have you not seen a movie in ten years?” one might ask.

I have seen tons of movies – just not on the big screen. The last movie I watched in the theater was Julie & Julia, back in 2009, not terribly long before the second cancer diagnosis in 2010.

Since that time, I have not been in the theater because I didn’t want to be That Person, coughing and hacking and ruining other peoples’ experiences.

So what, you ask, did I see today to break myself back into an actual movie at an actual theater? This one, from John and Molly Chester:

If you have the chance to see this on the big screen, you should. The cinematography is exceptional and the time lapse parts are stunning.

If you have the chance to see this on the big screen, or even if you wait for it on a smaller screen, be sure to have some tissues with you if you’re a crier. There are just enough sad/reality parts to generate some tears if you’re that sort of person, but these parts save the film from being the sort of wide-eyed, hippie “we’ll create a farm and live in harmony with everything!” nonsense that causes people to go into any agricultural pursuit as if nothing bad ever happens. It does.

That said, the film does serve as a kind of call to action, for people brave enough (or foolhardy enough) to get their green thumbs growing, even if not on the scale the Chesters did, and without the investor that made their move possible. The story relies on the hope and (non-religious) sort of faith that it can be done, with some patience and with an acknowledgement that we can’t always control every little thing. We can help, though, and in the end, although nature is what it is – sometimes overwhelming, often confounding, and a tad like a rebellious teen – our dropping of a stone in a small, still lake has just the sort of ripple effect that’s needed for both nature and ourselves.

Five out of five stars.

Until next time peeps: be well.

Goodbye, Mr.Big

We had to say goodbye to Sir, AKA Mr.Big, the rooster.

He didn’t start big, of course.

Mr Big as a youngster

But he grew up into a fine looking rooster.

Watching over the flock

That’s him at the rear, watching over the girls.

Big shot

And that’s him thinking he’s the master of the world because he figured out how to get on top of the IBC tote we have on the outside of the pool fence at the corner of the house for rain catchment off the roof.

Unfortunately, Mr Big got too aggressive with anyone other than me, and sometimes even with me, so he had to go. I had been planning to cull him for the stewpot for the dogs, but as it become clear it would be a bit before I could physically take care of that, we decided to just give him away to anyone who would come get him.

One of my sisters put him on craigslist, and it didn’t take long for someone to claim him.

Off to his next adventure

As it happens, the very nice guy who came to pick him up raises his own chicks, and Mr Big is quite…active with the ladies. We do not raise our own chicks here, so basically the only thing he was doing at the ranch – beyond having the amazingly fleeting sexy funtimes with the girls (seriously, chicken sex is done in under 60 seconds) with zero babies produced, and being equally amazingly annoying to the girls and to us  – was taking up space, eating, and pooping. That’s kind of a no-no on production sites. What’s interesting is that the guy does not raise chickens to eat – they don’t do meat chickens except when they’re culling. But they do raise quail and rabbits (for eating and selling) and baby chicks (for selling). Interesting what you learn about folks.

So Mr. Big is off to have fun with some new gals and has (for now) escaped the stewpot. Things are a lot calmer in the chicken pasture here now that he is not out there trying to run interference.

Until next time, peeps (heh): be well.

 

Buckfast bees, part two

In our last discussion about Buckfast bees, I noted how calm they were for their installs. The bees had released the queens in three of the packages, and I released one (because I had neglected to remove the cork at the candy end). Last night – Saturday night as I write up this entry – they were are fine. They’d started to draw comb and fill it with syrup.

One of the reasons I wanted to test out Buckfasts is because they are said to be disinclined to swarm. In practice, however, of the four packages, three swarmed right out today at some point before 1 PM. And they didn’t just swarm: they swarmed out, found acceptable living quarters somewhere, and then all buzzed off there.

I opened up the first box (hive #3 in the beeyard) and it was just empty. I checked the hive two spots down (#5) and there were TONS of bees in there – far more bees than in a package. Major problem!

The bigger problem was that I could not find the queen in #5, as there were just way too many bees. And despite the fact that Buckfasts are supposed to be calmer, they were flying around everywhere, dipping in from time to time to hit my head.

I went around to the front of the hive, and there, on the ground, right in front of #5, is a marked queen. Well, lucky day! I picked her up and put her on top pf the frames of #5, figuring this must be their queen. She walked along, and some bees started coming to her, and I figured that was that.

Nope.

I happened to see some bees fanning by the edge of the hive stand, near some bricks I had placed there. I stuck my head down there and found the OTHER marked Buckfast queen, along with some of her crew. I managed to capture her in a queen carrier – which the bees cannot open – I had in my pocket.

I then looked up at the top of #5 and saw an absolute mountain of bees on the two middle frames. I pulled one out, and found the bees balling up the queen I’d put there. Oops, wrong hive for that queen – clearly she was the queen from #3 hive. I managed to get her freed from all but a couple of the worker bees, and put #5 queen (in her cage) back in.

Now, of course, I had a problem: a queen bee I was trying to protect from two persistent workers trying to kill her, and no queen cage. I grabbed up the empty queen cage she’d shipped in, managed to get her into it, and plugged the hole with my thumb.

With her secured, I moved about half the bees back to #3 from #5, went in the house to get another queen carrier, moved #3 into it, then took her back outside, put her between the frames again, and closed them both. My theory is that #3 tried to take over #5, and #5 just walked out on her hive, then #3 was probably kicked out. Thus, two queens on the ground, and not a whole lot of bees seemed to want to follow out of #5, for whatever reason.

I was pouring sweat by now because it was a toasty 90F with little to no breeze, but decided I’d better check the other two Buckfast hives to see if they were pulling any shenanigans.

Empty. Both of them. Not a bee to be found anywhere in, under, around the boxes, not on the ground or in any trees. They were just….gone.

(I started this on the 7th. It is the 8th when I’m finishing it.)

So, my experience with Buckfast bees is very, very different than what all the sites say is their general characteristics. I also learned via a little deeper searching that the second and third generations of buckfasts (that is, the daughter and granddaughter of the current queen) can be downright mean and aggressive. I’m not up for that. If these two hives stay – and today when I checked them after being at the NOC  all morning (sans breakfast and coffee, I might add) and they were just as chill as when I tried to get them in the hives when they arrived on the 2nd. We’ve had a big storm pass over us here this afternoon, and I’m kind of dreading going out to the yard tomorrow to see if they’re still there.

Bottom line: no more Buckfast bees at the ranch.