Category Archives: Bees

The Birds and the Bees

First off, some sad news. The bees are gone. They were doing so wonderfully; they had filled three boxes full of comb, and had converted most of it to honey. The queen was clearly active; I could not belive how many bees were in that hive.

Incredibly, though, the hive went from bustling with bees to empty overnight. They did not swarm; there was no sign of any queen cells. I just went out to check on them, and all but a handful of bees were gone. It sounds like Colony Collapse Disorder.  Honeybees are now on the official endangered list, and I fully believe it’s because of how we are poisoning our world with pesticides and herbicides.  Every time I’m in the store, and I see someone buying a container of Roundup, I just feel so helpless and frustrated. Those ways of dealing with problems don’t work. The natural ways are so much better, and easier.

So now I have an empty hive. The only bright spot is that I now have an entire shelf of my freezer full of comb honey.

But in happier news, I have a bit of a Thanksgiving miracle to share. Yesterday, one of my snowflake bobwhite quails managed to escape the cage. She flew a considerable distance, into a nearby field that is densely overgrown with wild blackberries. If you’re familiar with the stickery, vindictive tangle that is a blackberry thicket, you’ll understand how certain I was that she was lost forever. After attempting and failing miserably at catching her, we gave up, bloodied and sore.

It was particularly sad, because she was my one remaining snowflake female, Bellatrix, who I was hoping to breed from next year.

The only hope I had was that she’d return home on her own. Her mate and her white bobwhite buddies were calling for her, and I could hear her answering. This morning, Thanksgiving morning, I went outside, and looked around, but didn’t see or hear her. It was just crossing my mind that she may not have even survived the night out there alone, when I heard this low bobwhite call, and she came sauntering out from underneath one of my garden plants!

I grabbed the net, and with my mother’s help, managed to corral and net her and return her to the pen. I think the quails were happy to be reunited. They gathered together, and talked in their little trilling voices, discussing her adventures. I was a little afraid she’d enjoyed her time in the wild, and was gathering together a revolt: “Next time the human opens the pen, everyone fly at her face! We can escape and live together in the blackberries! FREEDOM!!!!” But fortunately, when I opened the door the next time to scatter seed for them, all the quail except for her came running up to eat. Bellatrix went running away to hide in her nestbox, and wouldn’t come out to eat until the scary door to the outside was closed and locked. I guess she’s had enough freedom!

 

 

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June Garden Update

The strawberries are producing like crazy. And they have such lush leaves that birds really haven’t been bothering them.

Lots of other things are also coming into season: blueberries, raspberries, gooseberries, and currants! I need to pick enough gooseberries to make a small pie. I hear they make delectable pies! I need to can some currant jelly.  I also do local U-Pick, since my garden can’t produce everything I want to preserve. Last week a friend and I picked a few buckets of strawberries, and I canned some to make sauce with, and dried and vacuum-wrapped some more.

I really enjoy preserving food. Just the process of it is enjoyable. Partly I just love old-fashioned things, just the pure history of them. Like hand-spinning with a spindle. I’m getting better; this latest attempt at yarn looks actually legit!

And look! I made mitts! There is just something so satisfying about starting with wool, making your own yarn, then knitting a functional piece of clothing.

The bees (after two failed attempts at getting a hive started) are finally taking off. Their numbers have increased so much, and they have the first box full of comb, and are working on filling the second.  Maybe in the Spring I’ll actually get my first batch of honey!

The biggest news, however, is the ducks. Sadly, they are no longer part of our little farm. I gave them away to a lady with more property and a pond. While I loved seeing them patrolling the garden (and they definitely helped with the slugs and bugs) none of the coop methods I tried worked well enough for us. I really thought having gravel in the coop (and using the hose to spray the poop down through the gravel) would work, but it didn’t. The poop did not break up well enough, and the coop was still too stinky.  And honestly, chickens are SO much easier to keep.  So while I will deeply miss seeing the ducks wandering around, and I am sad to not have their eggs anymore, it’s been somewhat of a relief to have them gone.

Their coop is not going to waste, though! It’s had a move and an update – next time I’ll tell you what is moving in! (And what my plans are for the gravel-y place where it used to be!)

Bees, Quail, Fruit Trees, and Ducks

The peach trees are still doing fantastic. No leaf curl here!

And the peaches themselves are still growing!

The rest of the garden is looking great, too. I love this time of year.

The wood chip mulch makes everything so woodsy. And so far, it’s really helping with the soil. Although we’ve had some record scorchers, I haven’t had to water anything – other than a few things that I just put into the ground. When I pull back the chips to plant, the ground is dark and rich and full of earthworms!

To the chickens’ great sorrow and lamentation, I blocked them out of the east section of the side yard.  The plan next year, is to turn this part of the yard into a colony setup for meat rabbits. Right now, I’m growing a few excess squash and other things that the chickens would rip apart.

The strawberries are loaded with green berries, and see the little apple espalier in the corner? I love espaliers! So much fun!

And this year? I think the bees are going to make it! The queen is laying up a storm, and they are so self-suffient that they completely ignored the sugar water feeder I set up for them. Once I realized I was only feeding ants and hornets, I took it down.

Also, don’t you love the little waterer I set up for them? It’s a giraffe footstool (formerly inside the house until I got tired of it) with a shallow bowl on top. I’m glad I thought to do this, rather than just donate the footstool!

The newest trees, two little plums, are so cute.  I did a count the other day, and I have TWENTY-FOUR fruit trees in my backyard. And this is not counting the bushes, like the gooseberries and blueberries.  Grow a Little Fruit Tree changed my gardening life!

One of these plums is actually a plum/cherry hybrid, so I’m really hoping it fruits before too terribly long. I’m quite anxious to taste them!

The three new ducks are all grown up now, and they are all three boys! Since I wanted a drake, and only intended to keep one anyway, it doesn’t mess up MY plans, but the friend I was planning to give the extras away too already has a male and needed females. So I have two cute little guys up on Freecycle as we speak. Anyone out there want some ducks?

The one I’m keeping, I’ve named Montgomery.

Maisie, Millie, and Montgomery!  See the new pea gravel bedding inside their coop? They like it, and so do I. Much easier to just wash the poop away with the hose set to ‘jet’.

Oh, and look! My teeny tiny little mulberry tree is producing mulberries this year! I’m so excited, because I’ve never even tasted a mulberry, but folks say they are wonderful.

The most exiting news, however, is what’s currently in my incubator. While I am still absolutely keeping my coturnix quail, I’m branching out to bobwhites! I found a seller with Snowflake and pure white bobwhite quail eggs, and of the 12 I put in the incubator, 11 are currently developing into chicks. When they had only been four days in the incubator, I candled them, and was able to see their tiny hearts beating! Such an incredible experience!

Snowflake bobwhites are gorgeous.

bobwhiteAnd the whites are so floofy!

bobwhite2

If you’re interested, I do recommend this seller. His eggs were wonderfully packaged, and although how they are treated by the post office is out of his hands, I’m impressed with getting 11 out of 12 to develop. Sounds like he raises his birds really well, too!

 

Kefir, Chickens, and Garden Pics

Chickens love kefir.  I do too, but I always have more than I can drink, myself, so I started giving the extra to the chooks.  It’s so fun to watch them cluster around the bowl and just drink like graceful little ballerinas.

Plus, two of my girls have always had an issue with poopy butts. It doesn’t seem to be a health issue; they’ve been tested for parasites, and they show no other signs of ill-health. But once they got on kefir, that problem started clearing right up!

In other news, the newest package of bees has been installed in the hive, and (fingers crossed) this time they will thrive. So far, they are doing better than the previous attempts, and are refusing to eat any of the sugar water I’m putting out for them. That’s a good sign, I think; they must be finding plenty of natural food on their own.

The strawberry bed is thriving, with tons of blossoms.

I bought a couple of plastic owls, and have posted them on guard wherever I have seedlings that might be eaten by birds. Usually, I have to put screens over my sunflower and millet seedlings, and sometimes my peas. The birds just eat them out of the ground, otherwise. With the owls watching over them, I haven’t needed to do screens. I can see why the birds are frightened of them; I’ve come face to face with them a few times, and been startled myself. They are really quite realistic!

Roses are blooming already.

And surprise! This year, instead of chickadees in my bird house, I have bumblebees! So cool.

But perhaps coolest of all is the peach trees.

I just planted these last Spring, and never thought I’d get blooms, much less fruit. But here we are, with little green fuzzies!

It’s still too soon to tell how many will develop into actual fruit, but so far it’s encouraging!

Garden Update

This will be a quick one, folks, because I’m exhausted.  I spent a good share of today shoveling pea gravel, mostly for underneath the ducks’ kiddie pool.  After it’s done, I’ll show you pics.

The ducks are almost entirely gown up now.  They still have a bit of baby fluff on their necks, and their voices are still in the process of changing to quacks.  Maisie has her quack down pat, and she can really sound demanding!  Millie is either a little more laid-back, or just hasn’t figured out her Human-Do-My-Bidding-Now voice.

They are having free-range time in the backyard garden now, and are so enjoying themselves!

So far they haven’t caused any real damage, just slightly squashed one lettuce.

Oh, and they are making an inventory of all the ornamental pools of water in my garden.  Including dog bowls.

The new chicks are doing great.

Freddie.

Charlotte.

And Edith.

Who I am 85% sure is a rooster.  Sigh.  Her comb is bigger, her feet are HUGE, and she’s much more aggressive.  Remember I said I can never get an Ameraucana in my flock because I always choose the one rooster among the bunch of supposedly sexed female chicks?  I said I wasn’t going to pick one out because of this unfortunate penchant, but when I got to the feed store, I saw this one and just fell in love.  Such puffy cheeks!  Such an owl-like face!  I told the clerk I wanted this chick…oh, and one of the others, a lighter colored one.

So at least the lighter-colored one (Freddie) that the clerk picked out is looking like a girl.  I should hire myself out as a rooster-finder, for folks that actually want one!

I finally got the sign I designed and free-hand painted up.

I  have one more sign for the chicken coop mostly done, and then I need to make two more: one for the ducks (Duckingham Palace) and another Out of Eden sign for the backyard.

My veggies are coming along well.  This is my cabbage/runner bean bed.  The picture is about a week old; the beans are almost as tall as I am now.

And the snap peas are even taller than me.  They must be close to 6′, and producing peas like crazy.

I don’t seem to have a picture, but the tomatoes in the greenhouse are a couple feet tall, and setting teeny tiny little fruit.  Outside, I have a few tomatoes that actually ripening cherry tomatoes!  I think I’ll be eating my first tomato this weekend.  So exciting.

The roses are blooming like mad right now.  This is one of my current favorites.  Belle Isis.

And the bees are out foraging.

The Big Spring Projects are (thankfully) winding down now.  Which is good, because I’ll be leaving for Iceland, England, and Egypt in about three months.  I’ve been too busy to even really think about it, and of course, once I get back, it’ll be time to start seriously planning the Big Spring Projects of 2016.  Right now, it looks like we’ll be adding meat rabbits, and possibly a stock tank of Tilapia!  I keep getting drawn to books on aquaponics, and finally I realized I don’t really want to raise plants with fish, but I do want the fish!  Fresh fish, right from the backyard!  How awesome would that be?

And even cooler, it turns out that species of Tilapia that is best suited for my area is also the same fish from the Sea of Galilea – which means I’d be raising the same fish that Jesus and the disciples fished and ate.  I love connections to history like this.

Ducks, Bees, and Growing Things

The garden is growing really well.  This is probably my favorite time of year among the ornamentals.  Notice the new greenhouse – still a work in progress, but slowly getting built.  Everything in it should grow extremely well, after I made a blood sacrifice Monday while working on it.  Yes, my knife slipped, and I made a nasty cut on my knuckle.  I could probably have gotten a stitch or two, but since I don’t care about scarring, I didn’t bother going in.  It’s healing nicely, but it’s awkward working outside without the use of my left forefinger!  Not to mention typing.

I’m hoping we get the greenhouse finished soon, because I have three cold frames and some indoor growlights bursting at the seams with little tomatoes, squashes, and melons!  The melons and a few of the tomatoes will go into the greenhouse and stay there; the rest just need a bigger place to grow while they wait for warmer weather.

My potatoes-in-trash-cans are growing nicely.

And I have itty bitty apples on the columnar trees I planted.  First apples!  Squee!

The grapes have TONS of fruit on them.  It’s going to be a bumper year.  I just put the vines in last year, so this is the first year for fruit.

The strawberries are also going to town, setting fruit.  Especially the alpines.

Something new I just started is growing duckweed.  All you need is water and sun, and it reproduces like mad.  It’s terrifically good for ducks – and other poultry.  I want to add it regularly to the duck pond once it gets going, and also skim some off for the quail.

The bees are so cool.  I love sitting right next to the hive and watching them going about their business.  They fly around me and investigate me, but are not aggressive at all.  I try to spend a few minutes with them every day.  They say bees can recognize humans, and I’m trying to make them realize that I mean them no harm.

And the ducklings are beside themselves with excitement!

They have officially moved outside into their Big Duck pen!  I still have their Ecoglow Brooder out with them for a heat source, but they didn’t even get under it once all day.

They are such sweet little girls.

And tomorrow we are picking up Josie’s new babies at the feed store.  She’s been very patiently waiting for them, growling whenever I disturb her in the nestbox.

I’ll try to get a video of the moment of first introduction.  It’s such a magic moment.

 

Bees and Ducklings are Here!!!

Friday was an eventful day.  Not only did we pick up our three sexed Fawn and White Indian Runner ducklings, but we got the call that our package of honeybees was also ready!

First there was some bad news though – one of the first things I always do in the morning is check email and facebook.  One of the very first things to pop up on facebook was a story about a horrible accident on the nearby freeway involving a semi tipping over while delivering Belleville Bees.  I ordered my bees through Belleville, and I was so sure that this accident was involving the delivery of the package bees!  Would I be getting bees at all this year?  It was a moment of great disappointment, as I’d been looking forward to having bees again for nearly a year.

It was quickly obvious, though, that these were hives being delivered to pollinate a field.  What a horrible, horrible accident.  I heard there were 3.7 million honeybees on that semi, and while beekeepers were able to rescue some, many more were either crushed in the accident, or killed on purpose by the firefighters spraying foam.

Our package was fine, though, and was SO MUCH MORE HEALTHY than the package we bought last year, which arrived with a dead queen and more than an inch of dead bees on the bottom of the box.  This one had only a few dead bees.

Last time, we got Italians.  This time, we were swayed into getting New World Carniolans by a local beekeeper, who thinks they are the best for my area.

Hiving a new package of bees is an exhilarating experience!  Even though you are literally touching bees, having them crawl on you, and buzzing all around you, it never feels frightening.  It’s just one of the most awesome, incredible feelings!  Neither one of us were stung, and even though we were just wearing jackets with veils and rubber dish-washing gloves rather than a full suit, we never felt like we were in danger of being stung.  It’s just so, so cool.

Our hive is a Warre hive, and one of the nice things about this particular one (made by Sweet Valley Hives) is the queen release ring system they have.  Instead of hanging the queen cage down inside the hive, you just slot it into the side of the hive. In this picture, you can see the bees crawling around this slot, checking things out.  The white tab you see is part of the queen cage – it’s the hanging strip.

When it’s time to see if the worker bees have accepted her and freed her from the cage, it’s as simple as pulling the cage out of the side and looking!  Today, I did just this – not wearing any protection at all, not even gloves – and the queen has been freed!

The bees have already also made a large section of comb, and today I saw about five bees coming into the hive with pollen.  Unlike last year, I think this lot of bees are off to a great start.

I made a quick little video right after we hived the package of bees.  The audio isn’t very good, but you can see all the bees flying around us.

After we picked up the bees, we went to Valley Farm Center for the ducklings.  They are one of the few places that offer special orders of breeds, and also sexed ducklings.

Sadly, the ducklings must have been exposed to something nasty, because just a couple hours after we brought them home, one of them started having trouble walking and was staggering around.  Within another hour, she died in my hand as I was holding her.  Mom did some googling, and found out that the symptoms and rapid onset and death matched exactly Duck Viral Hepatitis, which is highly contageous among waterfowl, and has a 90% mortality rate.  I called Valley Farm Center, and learned some of the other ducklings that came in with ours were sick/dying.  Terrifed we were going to lose all three, I sterilized the brooder box, and everything in it.  I don’t know if that did the trick, but it’s now past the 48 hour incubation time for DVH, and the other two ducklings are in perfect health.  I think they are going to be ok.  Whew.

We named them Millie and Maisie.  Maisie (surprise, surprise!) turned out to be a crested Indian Runner.  I’m happy about that, because I love crested ducks!  You can just see her little topknot in this pic:

They are both so cute.  I really think there is nothing on earth more adorable than a duckling!

Look! Here is Millie asleep in my hand!

In garden news, we finally demolished the falling-down, rotting shed in the chicken yard.  I should have gotten pictures of its decrepid state, but I forgot.  Here’s a picture of the new space I have to work with.  I’m still planning what to do, but I think it will involve another grape trellis.

There beyond the make-shift fence, is the bee yard.

I planted some pasture mix beyond the hive, which is starting to green out now.  When it’s more mature, I’ll let the chickens in for a  short time every few days to get some green forage in them.  The trash cans are my container potatoes, the bed at the bottom is seeded with millet for the quail, and there’s comfry, kale, and blackberries as well.

All of the fruiting trees and vines are doing REALLY well.  The hardy kiwis are covered in buds, which is so exciting.

The fuzzy kiwi is growing well, but because we only planted it last year, I don’t think we’re going to get fruit.  The fuzzy green-and-red leaves are beautiful, though.  It still kind of blows my mind that growing kiwi is even possible here in the Pacific NW.  It just seems like such a tropical fruit.

Also fun is the “Tiny Tim” tomatoes I have growing in the kitchen window.  This is a mini variety that does well in lower light, and only gets about a foot high.  We have little green tomatoes already!

Oh, and do you remember when I said we weren’t getting a greenhouse this year?  Yeah, I need to stop saying things like that.  A while back, I said I’d built my last quail coop…since then, I’ve built another.  A little one just for the extra girls.  I need to get pictures up for you.

And now, after I said no greenhouse…we’re building one.  From a kit, though, not from scratch.  Mom found this company called Solexx, and their product sounds perfect for us.  The kit is arriving tomorrow, so this weekend, we’ll be putting it together.  I have all kinds of little melons and tomatoes started just to put in it!