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.
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.
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.
It is not yet spring here, if you go strictly by the calendar. If you go by the weather, however, Mother Nature is telling a far different tale.
This is not to say she won’t change her mind about bypassing winter entirely here. It’s possible she will bring some random freeze and drop it on our doorstep with the same pride a cat has when it brings a dead critter home. Our forecast for the next ten days, in fact, has a random evening with a forecast overnight temperature of 34F. This is mildly concerning to me, as I have directly sowed some things, and if they have germinated and are up, it is possible they could get zapped by a sustained freeze (or even frost, in at least one case).
I’m not going to worry about that, though – I can sow those same seeds again, as they are plentiful and cheap. I sowed them early because that allows me to get them out of the way of when transplant time comes. That’s a very busy time for me, both in the gardens and in the bees. Anything I can knock out of having to do then is a plus.
Right now that means weeding and cleaning out hives that are not in active use. I lost some colonies in 2018, and also have other gear that needs to be cleaned, so I got to it.
One of the things that happens as you are recovering from a couple of years of constant pneumonia and being in and out of the hospital, and then a year of recovery from that,v is that some things miss the boat as far as getting done. This didn’t rank high on the list, and what happens is that wax moths will move in and start using brood comb for their grossness. I got a late start (in the afternoon, as the rain that was forecast never quite made it) and managed to get three stack done.
As part of that doneness, I picked out some of the larvae so the girls (and Sir) could have some nice extra (live!) protein in their diet.
They loved these. I’m sure I’ll have more for them as I move through the rest of the hives to clean them. The best thing is that when I give them food – this or other food – they transform it into eggs for my family.
The hive cleanup is one of the items on the bees section of attractions on Todo Lake, and while I did not get through all of them today, I got a start, and that is what matters. It isn’t always the doing that is the difficult part. The difficulty is in the starting. Then it’s just a matter of allowing momentum to take over to power through, as many of the things on my list are not things that can be done in one sitting.
Once I get the hives cleaned and the frames and foundation dealt with, I’ll need to repaint a few of these hive bodies. And then, these condos will be ready to be put back into service by some of the new bees I’m getting and from the splits I’m going to have to make from the existing hives, as they continue their population levels. Except for a few packages, the rest are varieties I’ve never had before: Russians, Buckfast, and Carniolan. It is going to be fun learning the traits of these newbees in my beeyard.
The other day, I pulled some weeds in the rear gardens as I continue the race against “No Winter”and schedule my transplants.
One row was infested with lesser swine cress. Nice rosette pattern. Deep taproot, though, so it’s a hard one to get out completely, and if you want it done well, you cannot half-ass it.
Even the baby ones have long roots.
Tomorrow – as long as the rain holds off, or at least whatever time I have before it arrives for a visit, I’ll be continuing my bee gear clean up adventure.
That’s it for today, peeps. Until next time: be well.
Generally, the meaties are well-behaved as they run to the feeder each morning.
From time to time, there will be a little squawking at one another if they can’t quite figure out there’s an entire area available and choose to try to muscle in on an existing arc of the circle there.
Sometimes, their laziness is so pronounced, they may choose to sit and just eat what the others are knocking out of the trough, like the meatie at seven o’clock here:
In the end, though, they all get to eat, and boy, do they eat.
The layers seem to be settling into a routine of an afternoon nap. For three days straight when I’ve headed out in the afternoon to check them, they’re all under the front of the coop near the ramp.
I can’t fault them for that – i deem naps a Very Good Thing.
At some point this coming week, I will get some hay into the nesting boxes at the back of the coop so they can start getting used to being in them. I’d prefer not to have to chase eggs everywhere when they begin to lay.
For both sets of birds, starting tomorrow, they will diverge from their feed type. The meaties will get a feed specifically for meat birds, and the layers one specifically for them, although I expect, now that they are out and foraging that they will eat less feed.
Another no-rain day here at the ranch. I guess Mother Nature is giving it some time to try to shrink some of the puddles that are still around so she can refill them.
The meaties went out on pasture after their second week in the brooder, for a couple of reasons. First, they are eating machines, and often crowded out the layers for awhile at each refresh time. Second, by that time, they were already twice the size of the layers, who are not bred to pack on so much weight in a short period of time. Third (and these items are in no particular order), to be frank about it, their poop really, really stinks. I suppose this is a byproduct of an animal specifically bred to gorge itself. But they are gaining size nicely, and will be ready for processing the first week of October, if we stay on track.
In any case, I moved the layers out to the chickshaw last week, and kept them locked up in the coop for a few days so they would understand this was now their home. Monday, I set up the poultry fence – kind of misnamed, really, as it’s designed to keep predators out, not chickens in, given that they can fly and sometimes even remember this fact – closing in their chickshaw and an area around it, and let them out on the grass.
One of the black ones that has been my pal since they were in the brooder was, of course, the first one to take those first steps down the ramp and into the great outdoors. Once they all got out, they acted just like chickens do: they roamed around (not far from the chickshaw, though) ate some grass and whatever else was there, tried to do a little dirt bathing without a lot of success.
We’ve simply had too much rain for that, so I’m going to get them a tub for inside the chickshaw, with sand (and DE mixed in) so they’ll have somewhere for a dirt bath.
I popped out there about half a dozen times today, to make sure they were all still alive and inside the fenced off area. At one point today, I let the dogs come out, too. While Mickey, my big, goofy border collie didn’t really care all that much about them, Einstein, my other dog, did. He’s a terrier mix, and assumed the hunter pose, one leg raised, body taut, when he realized those things smaller than him were something he wanted. Although I warned him away, he stuck his nose on the energized fence and got a quick lesson that these birds were not for him.
In a few months, these girls should start laying. For now, they need to get used to being out in the day and in the coop at night, safe from the critters that roam in the darkness.
It’s official: I’m calling it a season in the gardens.
For the fourth year in a row.
This does not make me happy. On the other hand, in previous years I was going through yet another bout of pneumonia. This year, it was just a sinus infection – but recovering from it took a month and a half. That month and a half is arguably the most important time for the gardens, as it took over May-June. If you get behind right there at the beginning of the real season, it’s likely you will never catch up, and indeed I did not. The plants I’d managed to transplant suffered, the plants I had yet to set out remained in their flats far too long, and the weeds absolutely strangled everything.
So as I looked at the gardens as I mowed today, despite that little voice telling me that yes, I could in fact get that next round of tomatoes planted and have them bear fruit as the calendar season closed out, I realized it simply was not going to happen.
Instead, what I’m going to do is just put the rest of the plants out of their misery and pull them for the compost heap (which, I might add, has a very thick layer of pine shavings and chicken poop on it now). And then: pull the weeds. Go to battle once more with the wisteria, which is well on its way to taking over the entirety of the east to northeastern corner of the front gardens. Take the metal sides off the rows and just have them as regular raised beds. Scoop all the rubber mulch out of the walkways in the gardens (and figure out what the hell to do with it all afterward). Lay down the commercial weedbarrier in the walkways, the same weedbarrier that covers the frames as they are right now, which is effective, although inevitably there will be weeds wherever there are holes in it, like where holes have been cut to do plantings or where the landscape staples puncture it. Get the cover crop seed in place so it can establish before we go into “winter” (I have half a row already germinated and really thick; the buckwheat came up first and has delightful little flowers on its tops.) Check all the grow light fixtures and toss the dead ones, order new ones.
There is more, of course. There is always more. There are still chickens to take care of (and one set to butcher around the first week of October) and bees to maintain. But when the list looks a bit overwhelming, I just take a deep breath and think: one step, then another. It can be done.
After a pretty heavy storm back in July, we got a nifty double rainbow at the ranch: sharp, full colors, courtesy of Mother Nature.
I had been doing really well both with the daily blog posts and with the writing toward the novel, but got derailed because (as usual) I shift a ton of energy to all the things that are on the todo list – which of course never ends – for the business. By the end of the day, between the chickens, bees, and work on the property/in the gardens, and the work work added on top of that, I’m usually falling asleep at my desk.
So, I have to rein in the “everything has to be checked off every day!” portion of the brain and divert that energy into writing. I’ve recruited one of my sisters to act as an accountability person for me, just to ask me if I got my writing done each day around her bedtime hour.
I keep having specific scenes for books other than the one I’m working on primarily, and ideas for other books come zipping into my brain all the time. I suppose this is a good problem to have, Focus. Focus. Focus. Get the first one done. Then you’ll know you can do it, and the next one should be easier in reducing that gut-wrenching worry about finishing something. Anything.
For two days this week, we had no rain. That’s both good and bad, as we were working on a couple of projects: my brother on the chickshaw that will hold the layer birds, and me on the chicken tractor for the meat birds. His was a much more complicated build than mine (and the finished product looks awesome, thanks, bro!).
I had an issue with a couple of the joints on the tractor, and I thought I was going to have to break those joints and redo them. Now, naturally when you create a PVC joint with cement, you want them to be there forever (or as close as forever you can get). And, if you do a search on how to break a cemented PVC joint, there are tons of people telling you it cannot be done – they say resign yourself to your fate and hacksaw the joint out and redo it completely because cement is forever.
These people have never heard of chemistry, I expect. Of course joints can be broken, just like (say) cemented bricks can be broken. For the latter, it’s just a matter of brute force with a hammer and chisel or (in larger settings) a jackhammer. For PVC, brute force is unlikely to work – but really, you just need to heat the joint in order to break the bond the chemical reaction creates when cement is applied to the PVC. If you have lots of toys, you can superheat a piece of metal that fits inside the joint, leave that in place for a minute or two, and then remove the metal and pull apart the joint. Or, you could just use a heatgun and aim it at the joint. As it happened, I did not have to redo any joints.
And then, it rained. A ton: just over an inch and a half in about half an hour. At the peak of the downpour, it was falling at a rate of over four inches an hour.
I had put a temporary tarp on the tractor, just to see how it would look It lost its tiedowns.
Einstein kept watch over things.
This morning, I went out to take a look at it, and found that Mother Nature yesterday called out all those people who claimed joints couldn’t be broken.
The design obviously needs a bit more support on the crossbars. The original design uses metal roofing panels on the back end, which lends a tad more structural support, but I can’t use that here, as then we’d have our own personal solar powered chicken roaster. But as to the joints: I found these two broken joints..
These are where the door to the front of the pen lies and the second crossbar, respectively.
Do you know how hard it is to get a section of PVC back in when the two ends are not easy to completely get to and when the entire section would need to be disassembled? I managed to get it back in place with (new) cement, then added a brace at the joint where the door sits on the first crossbar.
I hung up the waterer at the front of the pen, and the food at the rear, for two reasons: one, so the feed wouldn’t get wet – the feeder has an open top. Two, it’s to force them to get some exercise, versus just plopping down and spending the rest of their days parked in front of the food and water, were they together.
Then, it was time to separate the meats birds from the layers and toss them out into their new home. Mother Nature decided to join the party.
I had to hustle to beat the gigantic storm that was showing up on the radar, so I went to the brooder and captured the meaties, putting them into a bin for transport. For all their squawking when I was catching them, they calmed right down and settled nicely.
I put the birds, bin and all, into the tractor, then slowly tipped the bin to its side to give them access to the open ground. They were hesitant to leave the bin initially, but finally made their way out.
The storm was advancing, so I left the birds to figure things out (and hopefully, one of those things to figure out was to get out of the rain, since they are generally not terribly bright).
I went out after the first round of rain and only found a small pool of water on the tarp, so that’s promising. I also found them all piled into the bin, which I’d left in place on its side, and which I will leave there throughout their growth. I had to crawl into the back end of the tractor and toss some food into a trail to lead to the feeder. They hadn’t quite made it before the storm forced me back inside.
This is their first night out in the tractor on the grass. I’m restraining myself from popping out there with the flashlight to see how they are. Either the tractor is secure and they will be fine, or it is not, and something will get them (and I will learn a lesson from that). I’m hoping they’ll find the waterer. I’ve had the same type of waterer in the brooder (sitting on a brick versus hanging) since the end of their first week, and if they can’t keep that in their tiny brains, I’ll have to crawl in once more.
A work in progress for the meat birds. They do not range or scratch and peck well as they get older and heavier, and they are generally not fast enough to take cover when a predator appears. So, they get to hang out in their own private space. But they’ll be on fresh grass, have clean air and water, and will be mighty tasty when the time comes to process them.
The bottom of the build, looking from what will be the front to the back. This was a dry fit.
Then, a look at the back toward the front. There’s one more cross pipe that will go through the center of it.
Once everything was double checked and arranged, I moved on to the cement phase of the build. The left side and the front and back are glued in this view from the front.
And a look from the back – the right side and front and back are glued.
I also managed to drop the can of cement thanks to the issues with my left hand (fuck you, cancer!). Half of it is on the driveway now. At least I have plenty left to get the rest of the build done.
A work in progress that needs to get done quickly, because the meat birds are getting huge. All of them were a little skittish about the watermelon rinds I put in.
I know chickens are bird brains and not terribly smart, but they peck pretty much anything – just not tonight, i guess. All they did was walk on those rinds, pooping on them.
Tomorrow: onward with more mowing (did the beeyard today) and more assembly of the chicken tractor. If we get it done in the next couple of days, I’m going to kick the meat birds out of the brooder and into their nice, spacious, outdoors condo.
Don’t forget, space nerds: the Pleiads are peaking on the 12th, so look to the skies.