Tag Archives: Homestead

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.

Rest day


It’s been a very busy week at the ranch: an employee on vacation, new bees arriving, someone hosing their server, planting out, along with all the other everyday, normal things that make life tick around here.

The server issue took about 40 hours to recover, plus another 10-ish to iron out little things – it was that bad, from an admin standpoint – so I’ve been running on less sleep than normal. That’s ok. In a couple of weeks I’l be taking a 6-8 nap during the daytime.

I’ve got the broccoli, some of the onions, and a flat of tomatoes out of the barn and into the rows. I intercropped onions and broccoli, and put some carrots (from seed) with the tomatoes. That leaves five flats in the barn and half a flat of onions and leeks hanging out in front garden south, awaiting their places. Plus the seeds I’ll sow directly (cukes) and the flats to start the melons so they can be set out (although I may very well just say screw it, and sow them directly, too).

The Buckfast bees – a variety new to me, as I’ve only had Italians to this point – seem to be super chill bees. They were not particularly bothered by much of anything I was doing, even when I had to shake the packages. Even at that point, some of them didn’t rocket out of the packages to come at me (bro!) and just stayed in the package, hanging out. I’m working on editing video of one of the installs to show that.

This morning, though, the week finally caught me. I was just too exhausted to do anything outside. It didn’t help that it was almost 90F today, and that being short on rest makes me queasy, which itself just piles on top of the queasiness I’m having when pouring food down the tube, which I think is a sign that the balloon has deflated, as it did last time. AND: we had our first heat index day.

This is the earliest date here at the ranch for a heat index day.

Now, though, it’s about an hour-ish until sundown, and it’s cooler (82F and with a light breeze as I type this) and I can hear some distant thunder – a forecast of rain that, as usual, passed us by. I feel much better after just doing some “real” work as needed, and resting inside. I’m thinking about popping out and putting the cuke seed and the zuke/squash seed in. That would be a couple fewer things that need to be done tomorrow.

Losing your voice in 30 days

Last time, I talked about surprises. And I’m going to talk about it again here.

Based on my last visit to my ENT, my surgery would be sometime in May, because of the 6-8 week period that they had patients already slated. People with, I might add, actual cancer in their necks, unlike me and my personal juice-filled neck that wants to kill me in a different way.

Yesterday, the scheduler called, and the surgery has been set for April 25 – about a month before I figured everyone would be on the same page and in the same OR to slice open my neck (I’ve dubbed it N-day).

What this means for me is a giant acceleration of all the things I need to get done before going under the knife, since I’ll be recovering for at least a couple of weeks afterward and won’t be able to/feel like doing anything.

Yesterday, I got all the new blackberry roots into place, in the row on the east side near the driveway, and also in the eastern side of front garden north. The latter meant quite the battle with the wisteria that thinks it should invade the entire garden.

Today: I have five blueberries to get in place, and then it will be time to go samurai on the flats in the barn: everybody gets planted out, whether they’re entirely ready for it or not.

On Wednesday, I received two packages of bees (Italians). Amazingly enough, our postal driver actually delivered them – that’s not generally what they do out here, and I’ve always had to scoot over to our very small PO and pick up the packages no one wants to touch.

They installed well – as well as any other install – but there seemed to be a lot more than three pounds of bees in the second package, the installation video for which is right here:

I have less than a month to get more than a month’s worth of stuff done. Stay tuned.

Until next time, peeps: be well.

 

Strawberry fields forever

Fifty strawberries out in the beds a few days ago. You’ll see nothing down the very center of the row: I’ll be putting sunflowers along that line. I have some mammoth gray seed that hopefully the bugs did not get to as it languished int he barn last year to use. Longtime readers of this here blog will have seen those before, towering nine or ten feet above the beds. They are truly impressive (both the longtime readers and the sunflowers, of course).

I cut down some of the cover crop in other rows and threw it into this row to act as a mulching agent. The sides will also be coming off this bed, as with all the others, to make it safe for the kidlets (and sometimes clumsy adults, aka, me, when I slice a finger or hand open on one because I’m not really paying attention).

I have another 25 strawberry crowns that arrived on Friday to put out, but they will go into the next bed (the one with the hoops at the top of the image). We are having a few days of “winter”, which to people in non-southern states might term “fall” or even “spring” because they live in weirdo land where stuff is frozen eight months of the year. I’m waiting for the temps to even out a bit so as to minimize transplant shock, even though strawberries seem not to care all that much. I care, and since it would be me out there in 50 degree temps doing it, what I say goes.

We went with June bearing varieties only in this order, as we like to be able to do the picking and processing all at once for efficiency reasons – because there is enough to pick on a daily basis when the season kicks in without having strawberries be part of that.  I do have some everbearing types still in the rows, so the kidlets – or adults who can eat – will have the chance to find a jewel  here or there and be able to taste a war strawberry, right from the plant.

I’m trying to determine a way to keep the strawberries off the ground that won’t involve spending a fortune on cutesy little plastic bowl type things and that will allow me to remove weeds that pop up. And they do pop up: the weeds had overrun this bed because I’d not gotten down any cover crop in it. Whatever I come up with, I’ll also be putting bird netting over the beds, to stop the birds – who literally have acres of other stuff to eat – from feasting on the berries.

I had the camera rolling while I put these in, but there were no incidents like me lopping off an appendage, so not posting it! All told, according to camera time, it took about half an hour to plant all fifty crowns, pick out the random weeds in the bed, and straighten the irrigation lines from the squirrels and birds walking/hopping through and disturbing the layout.

The above doesn’t look like much, but they now look like they’ve been there forever. Never fear: pics will follow. I didn’t have my phone on me (horrors!) when I was walking through the gardens with all the kidlets that were here the past couple days.

Until next time, peeps: be well.

Asparagus

On one fine day, I went to plant, and carried with me six mesh bags,

Full of crowns, just slightly damp, of asparagus, and per their tags,

They were both green and purple, yes, these things exist.

The old ones failed, due to my illnesses, and yet I persist

In tilting at windmills season after season

And must, at times, seem bereft of reason.

 

OK, crappy The Raven homage pounded out in under five minutes aside, I did indeed finish putting out the new asparagus crowns today. I think there was a total of 80, in both green (Jersey) and purple (Pacific). A few of them had already started putting up tiny new stalks while I had them in a bowl, waiting for the weather to get better – we actually reached freezing the other overnight, just briefly. Yesterday,  I did a quarter of them, and today the remainder. The stuff in the row here is cover crop I cut and dropped, to act as mulch.

I worked around the asparagus still in this bed, including this wee asparagus stalk I found forming right at the next 18″ distance from the previous crown I had put in.

This is a purple variety, one of the survivors of two years of neglect while I was having my pneumonia festivities. In a couple of days, it should be big enough to snap off and let someone (mom!) eat it. Yes, we eat (well, they eat) raw asparagus here. Cooked, too, but there’s just something about stuff right out of the garden. Brush off a bit of dirt, and down it goes.

After this, I headed to the back garden to put in snap beans. Pics od that to come.

Tomorrow: 50 strawberry plants to put in beside those survivors, some of which are already putting out fruit. The blueberries started flowering about 10 days ago, so it won’t be wrong before we’re pulling off handfuls of berries from those.

Unless something changes drastically here, we’ve blown past “winter” with, I’d say, probably five overnights where the temps dipped to freeing or below for a significant period of time, and gone right into spring (and even summer, since tomorrow is forecasting a high of 87F).

Until next time, peeps: be well.

Learning by doing

For some of the things you do in life, it’s far easier to learn by doing than it is to learn by theory  by reading blog posts or by watching videos. This is not to say these things are not helpful, because they are, but sometimes you don’t get the little nuances unless you’ve done the Thing, whatever the Thing may be.

I think this is true of processing meat bird chickens. Raising them is quite easy, and that part can be learned by watching videos or reading instructables (note: I’ve no idea if there are instructables for raising meat bird chickens, but there are for just about everything else).

But videos of the processing  of chickens doesn’t always includes all the steps. Some people don’t put in the dispatching of the chickens, or the evisceration. I’m not sure why that is, really: people should know how their food gets to their table, and while people like me, who process far smaller numbers than the big ag providers, have a slightly different process,  our methods are – or should be – as humane as we can make them.

I took video last year as I was processing the meat birds I had raised. I did two batches: one in October and one in December. The first batch I did just to prove to myself that I could do it to feed my family. The second batch I did to feed my family and also see if I could trim some time off the processing of each bird, as I was going through the entire process by myself: none of the family wanted to be involved in it, although my mom did take the chickens out of their ice water bath I had plopped them in as I finished each one, weighed them, and got it into the fridge, ready to be broken down.

It took me about 19 minutes to go through the entire sequence of steps , from catching the live bird, to the processed bird resting in cold water.

All of this is just a big ol’ roundabout way to say I documented the chicken butchering process on video, and you can watch it if you want to. I put it after the fold, as I don’t want people showing up and then possibly being grossed out.

Continue reading Learning by doing

Wabbit season

No, it is not wabbit season. Or duck season. It’s bee season!

Spring is a busy time for managing bees – especially if you’re in a place where winter has never really arrived. In cases like that, the bees start ramping up their numbers fairly quickly, and that means we beekeepers will spend quite a lot of time on management. You’ll forgive me, I hope, for often rattling on about bees here in the blog.

I find it quite relaxing to just sit and watch the bees go about their business. That also allows you to get shots like this:

Look at the bee in the very center of this. She has been rooting around in flowers so much, she has pollen all over her, in addition to the pollen she has in the pollen baskets on her legs. That is true dedication.

“So what about that project you mentioned yesterday, Captain?”

That was the reason I was whacking yesterday (and how I took a stinger to the face): I was clearing a lane to lay out weedblock and pavers so I could move hive stands to that lane. Keeping the weeds and grass down under the hives is important, as it helps stop small hive beetles from getting back into a hive when they have been ejected by the bees.

That meant whacking down a lane, rolling out weedblock, hauling pavers to weight it, and then pinning it with landscape staples. It looks like this:

I plan to cover the rest of the weedblock with river stones, with diatomaceous earth under those. That way, the small hive beetles that fall through to the bottom will have  a not so great experience, all around.

After I pulled the stands up where the grass and weeds had chained them down, I cleaned them off and did some minor repairs on a few of them. Once done, I moved them over to sit on top of the weedblock. This should make everyone happy. Especially me, since I won’t have to whack down weeds under their stands, something that inevitably pisses them off.

What it looked like before I got the weedblock  down:

 

Today I got this finished before the rain finally came and dumped a half inch on us. Working, suited up and crawling around, in the heat took its toll and I am exhausted. So I’ll end this one here, and bid everyone a good evening.

Until next time, peeps: be well.

 

4 w

To split or not to split

No, I am not handing out tiny eviction notices to the bees, although some days, they make it difficult to coexist.

That is a bee stinger in the bridge of my nose.  I’ve been stung plenty of times, including just under one of my eyes, but I have to say that having a sting where it’s primarily cartilage hurts quite a bit more than the others I’ve had.

It’s amazing that something this small can be so painful.  I feel like I’ve been punched in the face. Between the sting and the walk back in from the beeyard, my nose was already swelling, as you can see there, and it took a little work to get the stinger out of my face. It’s still swelling, and it won’t be long before I can’t breathe out of my nose. Fun times with bees!

How’d I get stung? I foolishly thought – on an overcast kind of day – that my using the whacker to cut grass, etc., down to the dirt (for reasons I’ll make clear) would be fine without a suit, as I was well away from them.

Wrong. Clearly.

This is how it looks right now.

My eye is not swollen shut (yet),  but the color is creeping into it and I would not be surprised to find it that way in the morning. Or maybe I’ll get lucky and the swelling will go down ovenrnight. Who can say?

So what was I doing? Sorry, that will have to wait until tomorrow when I complete the project.

Until then, peeps: be well.