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!
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.
And the whites are so floofy!
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!
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.
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!
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.
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!