Category Archives: Bees

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!

Dreaming of Green

It’s always right after Christmas that I start hungering to be out in my garden.  The seed and livestock catalogs start arriving, and I find myself browsing Pinterest and placing seed orders.

Yesterday, I ordered the second one-year-old pear tree I’m going to train as an espalier.  The one I planted last year is doing splendidly.  This one is a variety called “Seckel”, and the fruit are tiny, tiny little pears with a sweet flavor.  So sweet, they are often called “sugar pears”.

pear_seckel2I have also tracked down a local supplier of honeybees, and ordered a replacement package and queen for this Spring.  At least I’ll be able to ensure that the queen is alive and all is well with the bees before I take them home, so hopefully they will survive this time around.  I loved having the bees around last summer.

Two of the major projects this Spring will be building a greenhouse and a duck coop.  I will be getting three little Indian Runner ducklings.  I’m really looking forward to the arrival of the ducks, because if there is anything cuter than ducklings, I can’t think what it might be.

ducklings

The greenhouse was originally going to be a really small one, just barely large enough to stand inside of, but I’ve reshuffled some plans, and found a location where I can have a larger one.  Like this, sort of:
greenhouseI’m hoping to keep one of the quail colonies inside it year round, if I can get the temperature regulated enough to not to cook them during the summer.  Having birds in the greenhouse will help control aphids and other pests.

The Chickens are helping with the pre-gardening.  I released them out into the garden yesterday for a little judicious slug-egg hunting, and they took to the job with great zeal.

Besides dreaming of gardening, I’m also seriously into holiday planning.  I just bought this gorgeous handmade hemp hat for wearing in Egypt.  I’d been looking for a durable, packable, awesome hat for months now, and as soon as I saw this one, I knew it was the one.

travelhat

Dexter is about 5 months old now, and completely wonderful…except when he’s being completely naughty.  He’s so gorgeous.  I love him to bits.

Quail and Bee Update

The replacement queen bee came today, and hurray!  She and her attendants were very much alive.

She has to have a few worker bees with her all the time, because she literally would starve to death without someone to feed her.  Even if the food were right beside her, she wouldn’t eat on her own.

Here’s another shot.  It’s hard to see her with all those workers getting in the way, but she’s the big bee on the left.

One the right side of the queen cage, there is a big plug of candy.  That is what keeps the queen from escaping the cage too early.  The worker bees in my hive don’t know her yet, and they might kill her, if I just dumped her into the hive.  But by the time they manage to eat through the candy, her pheromones will have spread through the hive, and she’ll be the undisputed queen of all.

Here’s a video I took of the install:

And a short follow-up:

The bees were very eager to get to her.  They were even crowding into the back side of the hive, where the rear of the queen cage was visible.  They couldn’t see her from that side, but they were trying to chew through the wood to release her!  I could actually hear them chewing!

I’m not sure how long it will take before she’s free, but I would guess not more than a day or so.  I’ll be checking on their progress tomorrow.

I tried to get a shot of the new comb they have made inside the hive, but it’s super hard with all the reflections off the glass.

This one was the best of the lot.  If you look right at the bottom of the swarm of bees, you can just see something white sticking out.  That’s the bottom bit of the comb!  I wish you could see it better – it’s so pretty.  Bees are true artists.

The “baby” quail are now fully adult, being a few days over six weeks.  Loki is free in the coop with them, and they are all getting along splendidly – even with six males.  The young boys (all FIVE of them) are too young to be worrying themselves over females just yet.  They just want to run and jump and roll in the dirt.  I’ll let them all hang out until I see signs of trouble brewing, and then it’ll be time for quail dinner.

I did end up with three girls, and actually, I like their coloring better than the boys, so that’s nice.  Let me show you.

Here’s a boy:

Notice the almost entire lack of spots.  This one actually has a few more spots than some; a few are almost entirely cream and gold.  Also notice how dark and thick the brown is around the back of the neck.  I can sex them just by their heads, with this variety.

Another shot, showing the chest:

Here’s a girl:

Notice how many more spots she has.  And this one is my “light female” – one of the others is much darker.  She almost looks like a leopard.  I don’t have any pictures of her, because she persisted in hiding in the nest box.   See her head;  she has very pretty and distinctive markings around her cheek.

Quail are funny creatures.  When they are little babies, they are super sweet and tame, then when they grow up, they suddenly become very wild.  They don’t want anything to do with me, and run from me like they never saw a human before!  Then, they become tame again, as they realize I’m the one who brings them treats.  Two of the little girls have figured this out.  They come right up to me, stretch themselves up as high as they can, and stare me down until I offer them millet in my hand.  Today, one of the girls actually climbed right up into my hand to eat!  It’s a good thing I get to keep the girls; it would be hard to process and eat such trusting little sweeties!

Bee Update!

The bees are doing great – although they are still waiting for their replacement queen.  Hopefully she will arrive this week.  They busy cleaning out their new hive (I had to dump all the bees that died during shipment into the hive with the live bees, and they have been taking the corpses out and dumping them away from the hive.), drawing wax comb, and pollinating my garden.  Since it’s so early in the season, I haven’t see any other honeybees in the yard yet, so whenever I see a bee, I know it’s one of mine.

They are extremely interesting.  I like to sit a couple of feet from the hive and just watch them come and go.  They don’t appear to mind me being around the hive, which is lovely.

It’s nice timing for them, because our old apple tree is fully in bloom.

I’m also happy that my grapes are just beginning to leaf out.

And the currants have young fruit.

My new vegetable garden in the front yard is struggling a bit, because I have been invaded by root maggots.  It’s really bad; I’ve never had enough maggots before to even notice them.  I’ve lost several of my cabbage and kale seedlings, as well as several onions.  To combat this, I sprayed the garden tonight with beneficial nematodes.  I’ve never used them before, but they are supposed to work wonders against critters like cutworms and root maggots.  I hope so!  It would be lovely to have this problem solved, especially since I’m not willing to use any chemicals.

Second Day with the Bees

I was a little worried this morning, because all the bees were clumped together inside the hive and not moving.  But I think it was just too cool for them to be out and about, because now the sun’s out and it’s warm, the bees are busy flying around and exploring their new home.

They really are gentle bees.  I can walk right up to the hive, and open the observation window in the back, and the bees aren’t bothered.  They do come up and buzz around me, and often one or two will land on my shirt and walk around, but they are clearly not being aggressive.  Hopefully this will continue to be the case, once the new queen arrives, and they start raising brood.

Here’s a video I made of today’s activity:

The bees are so cool.  I’m going to name the queen/hive, so any suggestions?  A front-runner right now is Queen Mab!

The Honeybees are Here!

It took them a full seven days to arrive, which was somewhat worrisome, but the worker bees arrived in great shape.

It was really odd; they came in a wooden box, open on two sides with metal mesh!  You could totally see the bees!  I can only wonder what my mail deliverer thought of this delivery!

We installed the bees into the hive without any trouble.  The bees were flying all around us, but neither of us were frightened at all.  It was fun!  And they were very nice bees…we didn’t get a single sting.  I was too busy to take video, but here’s a video from someone else, showing you the process.

It all went very smoothly – except for one thing.  When I took the queen box out of the package, she was dead.

This is not a good thing, but it’s not a complete tragedy.  I called Charlie, my bee seller, and he is going to ship me out a replacement queen ASAP.  He said the bees will be fine without a queen for a short time; they will get to work building comb and honey.  And he says when I put the new queen in, I’ll get to experience something a lot of people never get to see: how happy the bees are to meet their new queen.  He said they make a special noise and dance, and it’s really quite something!  So I’ll keep you updated on that.  In the meantime, here’s hoping the worker bees are happy in their new hive and settle in and start making honey!

 

Almost a Tragedy (and a warning!)

Today seven of the eight quail chicks almost died.  Let me tell you the story.

I woke up about an hour earlier than I normally do, and it’s so fortunate that I really had to use the bathroom…and then, that I decided it wasn’t really worth going back to bed.  Instead, I came into the living room and checked on the chicks.

Seven of them (all but one) were laying stretched out on their sides, limp and completely cold.  They apparently had left the warmth of the Brinsea Ecoglow Brooder (as they frequently do during the daytime), and had wandered to the opposite end of the brooder box, where they had been unable to find their way back in the dim light.  Two of them were feebly opening and closing their beaks; the rest looked completely dead.  I thought it was probably too late to save any of them.  They were so cold.  They almost felt like they’d been in the fridge.

I picked them up and put them under the Brinsea Brooder, then found the old heat lamp I’d used for the previous hatchlings, and held that over them instead.  It was a more intense, focused heat, which was, I thought, the only thing that might save some of them.  And it worked.  After about five minutes, a couple of them started to move slightly.  I began to hope I’d be able to save at least one.

By ten minutes, all but one was starting to showing signs of recovery.  I was so sure that one of them was gone, though.  It was completely still and cold; no signs of life whatever.  If you’ve ever held a dead bird, you know what dead feels like; this one felt dead.  But you should never assume a creature that “died” of cold is actually dead, until you warm it up completely.

A few minutes after the rest were starting to move around, the “dead” chick opened its eyes and looked at me.

All seven survived, and tonight, they are all running around as if nothing ever happened.  Quail chicks look fragile, but they are surprisingly resilient.  Still, if I hadn’t drank so much water before I went to bed, or if I’d gotten up even a few minutes later…I know I would have only one chick left.  Miracles do happen.

Lesson learned.  From now on out, I’m leaving the overhead light on in the living room so the quail have enough light find their way back to the Brooder if they decide to go Crazy Quail Adventuring in the middle of the night.

And that eighth chick who had enough sense to stay under the Brooder?  If she’s a girl, I should name her Athena, after the Greek goddess of wisdom!

Besides rescue quail, I did a little work in the garden.  I’m in the process of making a small water garden inside one of my flower beds, out of a plastic tub.

The tub is sunken into the raised bed (I will eventually bury the front of the tub as well.)  It will be lined around the edge with bricks.

Inside are two concrete cinder blocks, to raise ledges for the plantings to sit on.

The holes in the cinder blocks will be nice hiding holes for future fish.

I also swung by the local nursery and picked up two more gooseberries.  One Black Velvet, and another of the Captivator gooseberries that I planted one of last year.  We got about four berries from it, and they were SO good.  An absolutely wonderful sweet flavor, right off the bush!  I knew I had to at least one more of this variety.  I also got a Petite Negri fig, which I will grow in a pot, and something I’d never heard of: an Apple Rose.

It is a very old type of rose that is grown for its large, flavorful hips.  They actually had it in the edible fruit area of the nursery, rather than with the other roses.

rosa-canina-hip

The garden is really starting to wake up.  Everything is greening out, and several types of early flowers are blooming.  I put my mason bees out, so hopefully they’ll come successfully out of their cocoons soon.  Oh!  And I saw my first bee today; a bumblebee.  I was so happy to see her buzzing around.  She appeared to be on a mission; I suspect she was a scout out searching for a new place to build a hive.  Hopefully her and her sisters will choose someplace very close to my garden, if not inside it.  I adore bumblebees.

In other bee news, Mom painted the new honeybee hive, and it’s out in the garden on its new stand awaiting its new residents!