A little rain must fall. Or, in Florida, as you plan your getaway from wherever you’re from, quite bit of rain, every day. Welcome to Florida, visitor.
Nah, it wasn’t. That was late Friday night into Saturday morning. Saturday’s low was forecast to be 27F; we wound up with 26.7F officially by my weather station. This morning just before 1 AM I headed out to make the rounds to open the taps to keep water flowing in the pipes and keep the motor at the well turning on and off to fill the aerator tank as the taps drained some of the water out. I also covered the well bladder, as you’re not supposed to allow it to freeze. It was very windy, but I crated a cover over the wellhead, bladder, and motor, to trap the little heat given off by the motor as it cycled on and off throughout the remainder of the morning. And then: bedtime, finally.
This morning, I headed back out into the still frigid (for us) cold as the temp had ticked up to around 34F. While I don’t particularly like the freezing weather, I do love the patterns of ice formed by water from the taps and also the standing water from the big rain, which had sheeted into thin layers on the plastic we’re using to solarize some of the frames and keep the weeds down.
There would be some images here, but once again, my satellite ISP is croaking, as if the signals between the dish and the satellite are being hampered by the freeze. They’ve been tolerable enough, but as of the first of the year, they have descended into a pit of suck. Images to come in this space…
Tonight was much different than last night. This evening, the temp fell off a cliff after 7PM, so I went out and got the taps running, recovered the wellhead with the things that had blown off in the very cold wind blowing around, and took a few pictures of the broccoli plants starting to frost over. Those are on the other camera, rather than my phone camera, so I’ll have to unload those.
By 7:30, it was already 30F and as I type this, it is 27F. On the upside, I will get to go to bed earlier tonight (maybe) than last night/this morning. I’m working on a cup of tea – Sleepytime Echinacea Complete, which I highly recommend. Even though Celestial Seasoning’s original Sleepytime tea holds a place in my heart, I’ve decided this one is even better. Their Cinnamon Apple Spice tea is also fantastic, if you’re a tea person. No, they’re not paying me to say this – they could if they liked, though, or they could stock me up on the Sleepytime Complete, which no one around here seems to sell and which I have to order online. I just saw on their page they have a Caramel Apple Dream tea, too! Note to self: track it down to try it. Ditto for the Watermelon Lime Zinger. That looks interesting, and I do like some of their other zinger teas. I bet it would be a good on ice (even though I prefer my flavored/caffeine free teas hot versus cold). I did also try their Tension Tamer tea – there’s a lot of stress in my life at the moment, after all – but one of the ingredients and my decidedly annoying as hell guts did not get along, so I’m shipping that off to my little bro.
Our forecasts out here in the boonies, in the winters, are horribly off. In summer, we can simply count on the high temperature being higher than what they say and be done. It’s summer. It’s hot. It doesn’t really matter if the high is forecast to be 94F and it turns out to be 100F, relatively speaking. In winter – what passes for “winter” here – we do count on it being cooler than the forecast, but the measure of cooler-ness varies wildly. That matters, greatly.
Sunday: the forecast was for the low 40s (all temps are F, for those of you in C lands). Here at the ranch, actual overnight low: 31. Half the tomatoes and peppers took hits.
Monday and Tuesday forecasts were for 34F and 37F, respectively. I had decided on Sunday that I was not going to go through the routine of covering any of the second round of plants, because (frankly) it is exhausting, and I actually did not have the things I needed to do it. But, me being me, with my tilting at windmills and all (corn!), Monday morning I decided that I would, in fact, cover them.
The big orange supply store. Two trips. Lots of plastic sheeting. Lots of cursing from me because my body, post-cancer, is not the same body it was – fuck you, cancer! But, with a bit of help from my mom, I got the peppers (40′), broccoli/cauliflower (32′), and one 50′ row of tomatoes covered. The other two row of tomatoes (one 50′, one 32′) were left to their devices, as I was exhausted, having run through all the calories I’d taken in. Since I can’t eat like a normal person any longer, my daily intake is pretty damned small. After Monday’s dusk work to get covers in place, I came in, laid down on the dog bed with the puppy, and promptly fell asleep for an hour.
Actual temps at the ranch overnight Monday and Tuesday: 31F and 29.8F.
I don’t mind that the forecasts are off, but I would love for them to be in the same general vicinity.
As it stands, most of the peppers are unlikely to make it, along with most of the tomatoes – many of both plantings had fruit set on them. The broccoli and cauliflower don’t seem to have minded any of it – there were about a dozen plants that wouldn’t fit in the main rows I had designated, and these were not covered. They’re fine.
In addition, I lost one hive to the freeze. I knew this would happen, as the weather well into October was unsettled, and we still had 90 degree days. There simply were not enough bees in the hive when the weather started to slide, and I had no more bees to give them to populate the box. I looked in it yesterday, and found the queen and her tiny clump of bees frozen on a patch of honey on one of the frames. There are two other hives that are iffy: the late swarm I caught from someone else’s beeyard that clustered in mine, and another one that simply does not have enough bees. A third is on the edge – I killed a ton of yellowjackets trying to rob out that hive, and reduced their entrance to the smallest possible to make things easier to defend with a light load of bees.
Overall, the sum of it pissed me off and made me terribly sad at the same time, and I started beating myself up for not being better at taking care of both of these things. We generally hold ourselves to higher standards than we do other people, and I think I probably do this to an even higher degree than most – it’s a “perfectionist/you can never fail or have a setback” mindset that I’m working on (not very successfully – ironic).
It’s all a work in progress. I have to remind myself that I am, too.
As in cold snapping.
Yesterday and today, we’ve had a taste of what passes for winter here. Not by the forecast, no. That was more spring- or fall-like, with the forecast in the low 50s overnight. Last night the low bottomed out at 38.8F at the ranch. Not ideal, especially since in the past two weeks I’ve made up some nuc boxes for the bees, and had made no real preparation for them for cold temperatures because the forecast seemed to be rather mild. Now, I’m dreading what I’ll find out there a bit later as it warms up and I head to the beeyard to check them. Worse, I also had several new queens out there, and if they’re goners, that’s going to be a shame.
On the plus side of things, at least it didn’t freeze. We are trying to sneak a second harvest in, and if the temp had dropped further and zapped the tomato and pepper plants I have out there, it would have just added to the overall disappointment at not mentally adjusting the forecast lower – which is something I do during the winter, as we are in the boonies and our lows are always lower (and highs, in the summer, generally higher) than the forecast. I usually don’t have to start that until the time changes – have I mentioned lately how much I don’t like the “fall back” routine? I hate it. But, the weather has been weird all year, and I suppose adjusting my expectations will have to be a year round thing instead of a seasonal one.
Here, have a video of a honeybee emerging from a cell. The bees are booming, with the queens still laying non-stop and filling frames. This temporary dip in the weather may slow them down, but we’re going right back to 80F degree days, according to the forecast, so we’ll be anywhere between 76-86F by my estimate, and that will probably get them going again at a higher rate.
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.
You don’t see things like that every day. Keep an eye on the lights to the left and right of the tree, too.