Tag Archives: beekeeping

Processing Quail, Plus Bee and Garden Update

A few weeks ago, I processed the four extra male quail.  While I had previously helped clean (and then ate) two of my quail from a previous hatch, this was the first time I had done the entire process all by myself…including the kill.

It was a weird thing.  I’ve spent about 40 years raising animals, and nursing them back to health when injured.  I did kill a wild mouse once that was caught in a trap, but that was only time I’ve ever deliberately killed an animal.  The hardest part of the whole process was simply the before: picking the quail up, soothing it so it wouldn’t struggle at the wrong time, then deliberately thinking: Yes.  I’m doing this.  It just went so counter to all my instincts.

The actual physical moment of doing was shockingly easy and simple.  (I used the scissors method, because I felt it seemed the quickest and the most humane.)  Afterward, holding the lifeless body as it convulsed and bled out was not fun, but not nearly so traumatic as I thought.  I knew it was dead, so  it wasn’t like holding a ‘dying animal’.  I don’t think I could ever use the throat slitting method on a critter – I couldn’t stand the long several minutes waiting for it to die.

Afterward, I did feel bad, but not to the extent that I wouldn’t process more animals.  If I’m going to eat meat (and I am), it feels so much better to have control over how the animals lives, and how it dies.  It makes me sick to read and see how the animals in factories are raised and killed.  I don’t want to support that industry, that sort of torture and inhumanity.  I also don’t want to eat that sort of polluted food.  I don’t agree with or support PETA as an organization, but this video does a good job of showing what goes on in those factories.

Quail, however, are not going to be a meat animal for me – unless I have a few extra males that I have to dispose of in the future.  Four adult quail made enough meat for one meal.  I don’t like that ratio of death.  With a standard sized chicken or duck, I can get up  to four meals from one death.  Maybe more with a rabbit.

The other thing I don’t like with quail is how many tiny little bones they have.  They are seriously like fish bones!  I tried to be super careful with my de-boning, and I still missed a few.  And the taste of the meat is not my favorite, either.  I wouldn’t call the flavor ‘gamey’ precisely, but it’s quite different from chicken, and nowhere near as fantastic as duck.  Quail just aren’t worth it, as meat animals, in my opinion.

However, I do adore them as garden companion animals – and they will be even more helpful once I get the rotating garden bed/quail cage set up and operational.  And I like the eggs; I’m getting into the habit of throwing a few quail eggs into whatever dish I am making.  I can’t ever see myself not wanting quail as part of my little homestead.

And now on to happier things.  Here are some photos from last week in the garden.

The foxglove and roses are in full swing.

The two tomatoes in the grow bags seem to be winning the contest, as far as growth and health are concerned.  That could also be because they were the last I put out, when the weather had finally turned to a proper Spring.  In front there is a Black Japanese Trifele tomato.  This is my first time growing it, and so far, it’s brilliant.

Look at the flowers!  They are HUGE.

Below is a shot of one of the straw bales.  I poked several squash seeds down into them a few weeks back, and now they are coming up nicely!

Below is one of my potato patches.  Potatoes are in the innermost square, and beets are around the outside.  I keep piling on more straw as the potatoes grow.  Adding more is on my list of things to do this weekend….

Because I’m not using the cold frames for anything, I decided to try growing summer squash in them…with the lids left raised, so the vines can tumble out.  So far they appear to like it.  This morning, they were already a good four times larger than this.

When I was inspecting the front yard garden this afternoon, I surprised a wee wild bunny doing an inspection of her own.  I didn’t see that she’d damaged anything – other than trampling down one sunflower and snapping its stem. That was hardly her fault, though – it happened when I surprised her and she was frantically trying to get away from me.  I may have to put some bunny-proofing out there if she becomes a regular visitor, though!

And the bees…sadly the bees are going to be a failed experiment this year.  I think too many bad things happened to them (difficult long trip through the mail, dead queen, wet weather) and their numbers are dwindling rapidly.  Bees only live for a few weeks, so when starting a new hive, they really need to get off to a fast start – they need that next generation or the colony will die of old age.  Right now we’re down to fewer than 100 workers bees.  I suspect as well that something is up with the new queen.  Either she was not accepted, or she died, or something.  The brood that has been laid seems to be all drones (males).  This can happen if a hive goes too long without a queen.  One of the worker bees decides to become a queen, but unlike a true queen, a worker is only capable of laying drone eggs.

We’ll start over again next Spring.  I found a guy who naturally raises bees (no chemicals or pesticides used in his hives).  His bees come from Oregon (so they will be used to my climate) and he delivers to my area.  Unlike the bees I ordered this year, his bees will arrive within one day.  I wish I could have gotten them from him this year, but we started so late that he was sold out.

Well.  At least we know we love having a hive, and really enjoy the bees!


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!

My Beehive is Here!

It’s a Warre hive, made by Sweet Valley Hives, and it’s gorgeous.  Beautiful workmanship!

It arrived in two very large boxes.

From the ground up, here’s all the pieces and how they fit together. If you want to understand what everything is, here’s a great video by the maker.

The base:

The first two boxes:

Each box has top bars for the bees to make honeycomb on.  This box has an added insert of a “queen ring”.  See the little rectangle plug on the left? When my bees arrive, the queen will be in a separate box, just that size.  I’ll take the plug out, and insert the queen’s box.  Once the bees accept her as queen, they will release her into the hive, and I can put the plug back in place.  It’s a brilliant little system that Sweet Valley Hives invented, and makes releasing the queen much simpler.

The boxes are made from cedar, and the bars are coated in a thin layer of wax; combined, the boxes smell so nice!

Each box also has a glass window in the side.  With a Warre hive, the only time you open the hive is when you harvest the honey, so it’s great to have a way of checking up on what the bees are doing.

There are three boxes in total, then a screen to collect propolis.

On top of the screen is a quilt box, which will be filled with shavings.  Sweet Valley Hives even included a bag of shavings!  This quilt box helps regulate temperature, plus keeps moisture out of the hive.  The latter is especially important in my climate.

Lastly, there is a very well ventilated roof.

We have to finish building the stone base, but we couldn’t resist sitting the hive in the place where it will eventually sit.

Right next door to the chickens.  Antoinette doesn’t appear to even notice the new housing development going up!

I may have to put a divider up to redirect the bees out of the chicken yard, if there’s a problem, but I’ll wait and see.  The chickens know all about bees and hornets, and give them a wide berth. When Josie was fostering her little chicks, one of the chicks found a dead hornet laying the ground.  It started to peck at it, and Josie galloped over at her top speed, screaming.  She grabbed that hornet away from her chicks and threw it as far as she could.  And then gave them a really long, animated lecture on the dangers of stinging insects, telling them in no uncertain terms they were NEVER to touch one again.  It was quite entertaining to watch!

Garden/Quail Plans for 2014

I mentioned briefly in my last gardening post that I am seriously considering getting a honeybee hive for the garden.  “Seriously considering” has now pretty much become a certainty.  I’ve been researching like mad (one favorite book is The Thinking Beekeeper, by Christy Hemenway) and now I really, really want bees.  I always was mildly interested, but freaked out about bees swarming me and stinging me.  Since then, I’ve been stung three times (each time was completely my own fault) and it’s not a big deal, getting stung.  I’m clearly not allergic, and there was really no swelling or pain involved.  Plus, in my research, I’ve discovered that if you handle the bees correctly and kindly, you have little or no risk of being stung.  Most beekeepers say they are stung around 3 times a year – and always it was their own fault.  They were careless, and squished a bee, or something like that.  Most beekeepers recommend wearing a net around the face, but almost all don’t even bother wearing a suit, and actually say wearing gloves is not a good thing.  It makes you clumsier in handling the hives, and clumsy is what’s likely to get you stung.  Bees (at least the domestic variety I would get) are simply not aggressive.

I mean, look at this guy!

This is the type of hive I will get.  It’s a natural type of hive (called a top bar), and it allows the bees to do their own thing, thus cutting way down on problems within the hive.  Animals should always be allowed to do their own thing, as much as possible.  Man may think they know how to manage nature, but God’s plan is always best.  Just look what we’ve done to the bees!  This whole colony collapse/disappearing bee thing – that was ALL man’s fault.  They created it, with their poisons and interference.  My entire philosophy in keeping animals is to figure out what they like best, then figure out how to make it work for both of us.

Honey beekeeping isn’t in the cards for at least another year, though.  In the meantime, I’m getting mason bees.

Male-mason-bee1-300x279They don’t produce honey, but they are incredible pollinators – better than honeybees.  And, while honeybees aren’t native to the US (they were brought over from Europe by the pilgrims) mason bees are native.  We need to encourage these little guys to stick around in our gardens!  I’ve purchased a mason bee house, and in February, I’ll be able to purchase the bees themselves from my local nursery.

Along the theme of figuring out what animals want, 2014 is going to be the year of the quail.  When I was first researching these guys, there was very little quality information available.  Much of what there was either contradicted itself, or was patently, obviously wrong.  “Quail like to live in small wire cages”.  “Quail won’t hatch/raise their own young”.

My quail are so charming to watch as they disprove these “experts” and teach me about how quail actually want to live.  One thing I have discovered (to my sorrow) is that you can’t keep two males together in the same pen.  It doesn’t matter if there is plenty of room and plenty of females.  During breeding season, they will fight, and/or pick on each other.  So…I now have two colonies of quail.  One is living in the original coop (Peabody and his girls) and one is living in the former Bachelor Pad (Cinna and his girls.)  I also have a spare male who is living on a temporary basis inside a old rabbit cage placed inside the larger coop.  He can see/interact with the other quail, but when they get testy, they can’t hurt each other.  This spare is my only blonde male (Loki) so in a few weeks I’ll be building yet another coop for him, and hatching out some more blonde females to put with him.  This male is particularly sweet (not to mention gorgeous), which is why I’m keeping him instead of eating him.

Then, we should be set, quail-wise.  Although I have some schemes involving raised beds combined with quail that I may put into practice this year.

In the actual garden, I will be doing some much-needed revamping of old flower beds, and adding to the vegetable gardens.  The new in-progress front yard vegetable garden is going to get its fence installed as soon as the weather clears enough to work.  It will be made of 4′ bamboo, and should look very pretty.  Once that’s up, I can start building the actual beds.  Over the winter, I’ve killed a good share of the grass by piling cardboard and mulch on top of it.  I’ll do a bunch of progress pics for you once we begin working on it.

Also…I have ordered a good share of my vegetable seeds!  I wanted a bunch of heirloom/unusual seeds, ones I can’t get locally.  This year I ordered from Annie’s Heirloom Seeds:

Barese Swiss Chard – I love chard, and this one is cool because it’s intended for use as baby greens.  It’s ready to eat in only 28 days!

While Albino Beet – beets themselves are ok if eaten when they are super young, but it’s the greens I particularly adore.  I’m curious how white beets compare to the other varieties.

Violet of Sicily Cauliflower – a purple cauliflower that turns green when cooked.  I have bad luck growing cauliflower; bugs always seem to hone in like crazy on them, but growing vegetables in unusual colors often disguises vegetables from the bugs that commonly prey on them.  It worked like a charm with my red cabbage last year.  We’ll see whether it works with cauliflower.  Plus, it’s just gorgeous!


And finally, Paris Market Carrot.  It’s cute and bite-sized.

I have also ordered seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co.  I love their philosophy; how can I not be drawn in by a seed company that quotes from the Founding Fathers and Ron Paul in their catalog?

From them, I’m getting ton of squash, lettuce, beans, and other common vegetables – in uncommon varieties.  Particularly the beans.  I’ve discovered it’s so much nicer to grow red, purple, and yellow beans than green ones.  First of all – they are SO much easier to keep picked, because you can actually see them amongst the green leaves.  Second, they look so gorgeous growing together.  Third, they turn green when cooked, so you won’t weird out any picky family members.  What I’m really excited about from Baker Seeds is the Blacktail Mountail Watermelon.  It’s been specifically bred to do fantastically well in my short season.  After my success with the Yellow Doll Watermelon last year, I’m eager to see how this one does.

Oh, and I also ordered my seed potatoes.  Two varieties: German Butterball and Kennebec.  I’ve never tried to grow potatoes before, so we’ll see.  I’m attempting two different methods: growing them in cloth “grow bags” and in trash cans.  I simply don’t have room for the traditional in-the-ground method.

And in other news, now that it’s 2014, I can finally say “I’m going to England/Scotland next year!”  It seems like it’s approaching so quickly.  A lot of the things I want to do (meat rabbits, beekeeping, etc) are being pushed back until I return.  I know I’m not going to want to be in the middle of some grand new venture right when it’s time to go.

The next few years are going to be wonderful.