2017-04-09

Minor Disasters and Optimism

Finally warmed up and dried out enough that I could get out and check the hives.  The Italians are doing great!  The Carnie's took a late beating due to defective feeder buckets which leaked and soaked the inside of the hives.  Both survived with much reduced populations for starting out this year.  That is a major setback, but not catastrophic.  I think they will survive.  Both hives have queens which are laying eggs and being cared for.  There is activity outside the hives with bees bringing in pollen which is really important in the spring, as it provides the needed protein to maintain all that activity.  So this will be a rebuilding season for these two hives as compared to a production season.  That is fine, ...one lives and learns.

Looking forward, I have four new hives all set up and ready to receive shipments of new bees.  We are taking a new approach this time around.  The new bees will be coming in what are called 'nucs'.  Instead of a little cage with three pounds of bees and a jar of sugar water, these bees come in what looks like a small hive made of cardboard.  They come on established frames on which the queen has already been laying eggs.  On simply transfers the frames from the nucs to the hives, adds some empty frames and lets the bees do what bees do well.  A much better starting point.  And the cost is minimally more.  I am optimistic about this approach to purchasing bees.  So that accounts for three of the new hives that have been placed in the apiary.

The fourth hive will be a walk-away split.  The hive of Italians which is heavily populated will have half of its brood frames removed and placed in the last of the new hives along with some frames of capped honey and some of the worker bees.  The queen will stay with the existing hive.  Once the worker bees in the new hive realize they are without a queen, they will make one.  That process takes about four weeks.  There is an option to buy a queen to place in the new hive, but I think it makes more sense to have the hive generate its own queen.  There is less chance of rejection, and the new queen will mate with drones that have been reared and have acclimated to the local surroundings.  Better genetics I think.

Anyway, this has been yet another learning experience.  I expect there will be more...

Loaded with pollen and resting in the sun for a bit...

Apiary expansion.  Last years hives are white.  The new hives are natural wood.  

video

2017-04-06

Early April Farm Trip

Arrived at the Farm Sunday evening.  It has been cold and rainy, so I did one day of inside work putting together hive components (see previous post).  Tuesday and Wednesday were cold, windy and wet, and I simply did not have the energy to get out in it.  I slept most of both days and nights. Am probably still a bit weak from last Wednesday chemo blast.

Today, however, was sunny and very windy.  I have some panels on some building that I am going to have to re-screw on.  Damn wind is brutal!  I now have all the hive deeps assembled and and the wood treated.  All that is left of assembly work is five supers, which I don't need right now, and a lot of frames.  This work can wait as I won't need the supers or the frames until nectar flow comes on strong.

The assembled parts are now loaded on my work trailer behind the 686.  Had to get some sixteen foot posts off the trailer first.  Good thing my renter was around, I can't even come close to handling those posts. Justin seemed glad to help out and I appreciate it.

My next door neighbor to the East called this afternoon to ask if he could spread dry pasture fertilizer on the pasture that we rent to him. That is fine of course. Taking care of those pastures is part of the deal and I know I can count on Tim to do that. After all, it benefits his cattle as much as it does my pasture. The pasture is already greening up a bit, and seeing that feels good.  The cold rainy weather is good for something....


2017-04-04

Getting Ready - More Bees

My March check of the bees was encouraging.  All three hives survived the winter.  The Italians are very strong and I think they might swarm this spring due to their heavy population.  Thus, I/we decided to expand the apiary.  I ordered four more full hives, and some spare frames for honey.

Today is asembly day.  I ordered the hives in kit form and un-painted and did the same with all but thirty or so frames.  This saves a fair amount of money and the assembly is not hard.  This also allows me the option of using screws instead of nails to put the hive body parts together.  Screws make a world of difference in both overall strength as well as assembly ease.  Screws take longer to put in, but they do the squaring of the parts for you.  Everything pulls together tightly, and as mentioned, square.

Another advantage is that unpainted wood leaves me with the option of treatment.  I found a product called ECO which is non-toxic and is supposed to last a lifetime.  It comes in powder form, so one simply mixes with water and then sprays it on the outer surfaces of the hive.  I like the natural wood look that I end up with.  Our first three hives were primed and painted white like most hives are.  They seem to be holding up fine after one winter.  But I thought I would try this ECO product.  It may be useful for other projects on the farm and around the house.

So, assmbly day:  Batteries for the chordless drill all charged up, the ocrrect bit to match the screws I am using (exterior 1 3/4 inch), and all the shipping containers have been checked for completeness.  All good to start.  I had to futz around a bit to get my work area arranged just right.  But once that was done, the process went quickly.  I have only done hive body parts thus far, but am nearly done.  Next will be assebling frames.

That will be more delicate work.

In the mean time, I have the radio tuned to NPR, the heater on in the workshop, am sitting next to the window doing my work.  It feels good to do this work.  As simple as it is, I feel I have accomplished something each time a deep or a super is completed and the wood treated.  A good feeling...

While I was working, my neighbor Ricky stopped in to ask to borrow the pallet forks that I have for the skid loader.  He knows he can take them any time he needs, but he asks anyway.  We shot the shit for a half hour or so while his rather quiet son-in-law, Mo, listened patiently.  Ricky offered to let me use his tractor on the grain drill this spring, being that the grain drill (also mine) will be hooked up and ready to go.  I will probably take him up on that if for no other reason than to get to operate his tractor.  Ricky has newer equipment and he cares for it.  It is a pleasure to operate when one gets the chance.  And he is right, it will be all set up and ready to go, so there it not much sense in unhooking and hauling and .... well, you get the picture.

And that is part of what I like so much here on the Farm:  Folks don't stop by often, but they do stop by.  And they always take the time to jaw a bit.  The price of corn, beans, and beef....taxes...a little politics...a little gossip.  It is a method of connecting, of showing we care.  Like  driving to town and everyone waves, even if they don't know you.

And now I better get back to it.  I have plenty left to do before Thursday when it warms up and dries out and I can can back to the North East corner of the farm where the apiary is.  I prefer not to leave ruts all over the place which is what will happen if I go out there when it is wet.  I hate ruts in my fields and waterways!  They make for a rough ride and worse yet, lead to erosion.  Best to wait for a dry day.  There is plenty to do.....

2017-03-15

Early March - 2017

A warm day, orer 60 degrees F.  And a lot of wind, steady 10-15 with 25mph gusts. Bees were a bit agitated, but active and appearing healthy.  Gave the West hive a fresh pail of sugar syrup.  Had to wait a while to work with the Italian in the East hive as they were defensive and very active.

April will be interesting.  I need to order one more hive and four more supers for this year.  I will be splitting the Italians (West hive), and need something for the new colony.  The additional supers will be needed sooner or later no matter what.  Looks like some investment is in order.

Overall, I am pleased with the way the three hives have come through the winter. We will see how this all progresses this summer.  I have to kill off the three acres of CRP planting right in front of where the hives sit and replant with the appropriate mix.  There was a mix-up last year and the wrong seed was planted.  So I have to redo that planting this spring.  Not only is it expensive, but to kill off the previously planted stuff, I am going to have to use roundup.  I hate using that shit!  However, a good neighbour has offered to do the spraying for me and is aware of how carefully this will have to be done.

I will be spending some time on the tractor this spring.  I will need to double-disk the three acres after the burn-down, then plant the new seed, then cul-de-pak to ensure good seed-to-soil contact.  At $400.00/acre, this seed has to grow!  Am looking forward to seeing all the flowering plants though...

2017-02-20

Checking Bees - February 2017

Very warm temperatures for February!  Had 56 degrees F on 2/16/17.  I went out around noon to check to see how the girls held up through the winter.  I had expected the weak hive not to make it.  It was short on food stores, though I had transferred some honey from the two stronger hives and fed them sugar water in the late fall.  None-the-less, there is a strong cluster on the south side of the upper deep, and lots of activity on the warm day.

My other two hives are both strong at this point.  Italians in the east hive are very active, very strong, and a bit aggressive.  I think I would like to try splitting this hive this spring.  I would like to try it without getting a queen, letting them generate their own.  It takes longer that way, but that should not be a problem assuming some decent weather. The four week turn should still give plenty of time for the new hive to build some population and generate some food stores.

I did give the weak West hive a bucket of sugar water, as freezing temps are not expected for the next ten days or so.  And I am pretty sure they will finish that off in that time based on their previous consumption rate.

My insulation scheme seems to have worked out fairly well.  I put the entrance reducer at the bottom at the smallest opening, and then left a gap between the front of the hive all the way up to the top of the second deep by attaching the insulation to the front edge of the bottom board and to the top of the upper deep.  I cut a one inch opening about ten inches up from the bottom board on the leeward side of the hive, providing an entrance to the gap between the insulation and the front of the hive.  This seems to be working quite well based on the cleanly-ness of the hives and the activity around the exit. Will have to check that out more closely in mid-April when the insulation will come off.

I will be back to check at the end of February to see how all is progressing.

Below is a short video I made of the three hives.

video

2016-09-20

Handling honey ... and other stuff

I think I had better learn to make a sugar cake or two.  My Italians are still making honey and I have left lots for them for the winter months.  Some I took over to the stronger Carni hive.  The Italians are as robust as ever, with honey, pollen, and plenty of brood.

The stronger of the two Carni hives seems solid.  Bottom deep still has lots of brood, both capped and new.  Second deep has maybe 60 pounds of honey along with some brood in the center frames.  Lots of activity still, clearly building comb and filling it with honey,, though not nearly as agressively as the Italians.

The weaker of the two Carni hives is ....well.. still weak.  The good news is that a new queen seems to have been established in spite of the fact that I did not get a brood frame moved from the stronger Carni hive until about three weeks ago.  There is a lot of uncapped brood and some capped now as well.  But population is very low, and activity at the front of the hive is low.  Not much honey in this hive at all.  No way they are going to make it though the winter without some TLC, food and maybe some added heat.  Even with all that it is going to be touch and go.  I may have to consider moving the hive to a more protected spot for the winter, though I don't really want to do that.

Lots of learing to do yet.....

________________________

On another note: I harvested some of the honey from the Italian supers.  They produced three full supers plus this summer.  Having decided that bees are a joy to work with and having the resources for the bees to forage from, we decided to ''just do it' and bought a little equipment.  A five gallon stainless stock tank with a stand and clamped cover.  And a six frame centrifuge, motor driven.  This is really nice food grade equipment.  I am pleased with the construction, ease of assembly, and quality of materials used.  And really pleased we invested this way just for the saving on cleanup alone.  Food grade equipment is worth the investment.



Handling of honey, frames, and wax is a thing that, I at least, need to do to understand.  One can watch all the video and read all the books, but the bottom line is that it is a hands on experience, and until one gets hands on, one does not really know.  That is true about beekeeping in general of course.  That is what makes it cool.

There are lots of little things to notice:  How the honey flows, what difference just a few degrees of ambient temperature makes in the way the honey flows, the way the wax can be handled, how the tools used interact with the surfaces of the wooden frames.

The wax is an interesting substance which I have yet a lot to learn about.  It is not like paraphine.  Bees wax tends to clump quickly as it cools, into small nugets.  Its malliability is very dependent on a pretty narrow temperature range it seems.  That said, it is a really cool substance.

Harvest was basically comb to jar.  The only 'filtering' I did was through a piece of cheese cloth to hold back a few of the cell tops that end up floating around.  And yet this honey is amaingly clear and light.  The flavor is of course sweet, but not cloyingly so.  There is a tangyness to it.  The abundance of variety of food resources for the bees on the farm is far more than I  had ever noticed before.  I have wondered what might contribute to this particular flavor, but then decided I don't really care.

One often sees honey for sale which is labeled 'clover honey', or some other particular food source is advertised.  I dont' buy into that.  I have specialty honey from various places, both domestic and international.  There is clearly a difference between vaious types from various places.  But where our bees are, there is no monoculture of pollinator food sources.  It is a constant blend.  White clover, red clover, golden rod, queen annes lace, blackberry, wild strawberry, plum, wild apple, maple, walnut, hickory, basswood, thistles, dandilion, and on and on and on.  I had no idea how many different plants were growing on our farm until we installed the bees this spring.  Now, as I drive around on the farm, doing one chore or another, I notice these different plants.  I can't name most of them, but throughout the season, there are a lot of them!

At any rate, the honey tastes great!  

2016-09-12

Experimenting with Harvest... and other things..

September scrambles in like always.  Suddenly here with cooler nights, strong south breezes and hot afternoons.  The bees behavior changes.  The Carniolans are suddenly very defensive.  The Italians are now mellow.  I have worked ever since establishing the hives in April without more than wearing a pair of gloves and only been stung four times.  Two weeks ago I received six stings just for being in proximity to the Carni's.  That said, increasing the use of the smoker seems to work well now.  I have taken to using a half suit too now.

The weak hive is ...well still weak.  I had transferred a frame of brood from the stronger Carni hive to see if a new queen might result.  I am not seeing what I would expect.  The hive has been given a pollen patty and a bucket of sugar water just to help them along, but I suspect it is an effort that will not return much.  I thought I spotted a queen when I checked a week ago, but still see no new brood.  I have to wonder if it is too late for the queen to be properly mated at this time of year...

The other Carni hive is doing well.  I have a super sitting on it and there is comb being drawn.  Population seems strong and the deeps are full of both honey and brood.  I think this hive will make it just fine if winter is not too brutal.  I intend to provide a sugar cake come October just to ensure there is enough food for the winter.  I need to make that sugar cake soon.  I have not done that before, so it will be another learning experience.

The Italians are very strong!  This has been the case since establishing the hive.  The population is heavy, the bee very active.  They have completely filled two supers and have lots of brood and honey in the deeps.
___________________________________________________________________________

I have harvested six frames of from the Italians thus far.  Talk about a lot of honey!  And the flavour is incredible!  I did not have any harvesting equipment, so just sort of winged it with what I had.  I am glad that I did.  Learning to handle the product the hard way leads to what I think of as a 'feeling' for the honey, the wax, the frames.

There is a stainless steel sink in the milk house that the frames fit perfectly across.  Dumb luck there! A large lasagna pan below the suspended frames catches everything.  I took used a regular serrated knife to de-cap the cells.  Heating the knife really did not make that much difference, so after the first frame done with a hot knife, I stopped heating.  Just cutting slowly and evenly using the top and bottom rail of the frame gave very nice results.  There were very few low cells, and those were pierced with the tip of the knife.  I warmed the honey with a hair dryer which made if flow just fine.  My intent was to leave as much was on the frames as possible.  That did not work out so well.  I eventually took the wax and the honey.  Until the centrifuge shows up, that is what I will do.  The result from the first two frames was a bit more than a quart of honey.  Considering these are shallow frames, I think that is pretty impressive.  I use cheese cloth across the top of the quart jar and let the honey run through it.  The cheese cloth captured wax chunks just fine and I ended up with really nice looking honey!  So that was my initial experiment.  I played around more than is described here, trying a few things, but the process boiled down as stated.

Realizing that I had more than enough honey to leave for all three hives, I took twelve more frames. My wife has decided she likes this honey bee stuff and convinced me that we should expand to 20 hive next year.  She also decided that a centrifuge would be a good idea.  So a six frame, motor powered centrifuge is on its way.  There was a mix-up on the order, so it had not arrived yet when I needed it for the 12 frames.  I chose to do a bit more experimenting by hand with another 4 frames.  This time, I simply de-capped the cells, warmed them a bit with the hair dryer, and used a spatula to 'cut' the whole cell assembly right off the plastic foundation.  Two or three passes and the frame was clean and the was and honey were in the lasagna pan.

Tilting the lasagna pan and gently moving the wax to the high side, then letting the honey drain to the low side works very nicely.  I used the spatula to press the was a bit, releasing as much honey as possible and simply waited a half hour.  I then poured the honey through the cheese cloth into waiting jars.  Works great!  I am hanging onto the wax for future use making queen cells and whatever else might be handy.

The centrifuge will arrive this week and I will test it out with the remaining eight frames that I have.

The bottom line:  We have some really nice honey which the family is very pleased with.  There is at least a 100 lbs left for each of the hives this winter.  I have a big job coming up - building more hives and learning about splitting, grafting, and otherwise propagating.  I have no intention of spending thousands of dollars to expand this little operation.   Hive building will be a nice winter wood working project which will hopefully yield some hives, nucs and a few variations of frames that I want to play around with.

More than enough!  This is really raw honey.  Filtered only through some cheese cloth.  It is really, really good!

Experimenting with Harvest... and other things..

September scrambles in like always.  Suddenly here with cooler nights, strong south breezes and hot afternoons.  The bees behavior changes.  The Carniolans are suddenly very defensive.  The Italians are now mellow.  I have worked ever since establishing the hives in April without more than wearing a pair of gloves and only been stung four times.  Two weeks ago I received six stings just for being in proximity to the Carni's.  That said, increasing the use of the smoker seems to work well now.  I have taken to using a half suit too now.

The weak hive is ...well still weak.  I had transferred a frame of brood from the stronger Carni hive to see if a new queen might result.  I am not seeing what I would expect.  The hive has been given a pollen patty and a bucket of sugar water just to help them along, but I suspect it is an effort that will not return much.  I thought I spotted a queen when I checked a week ago, but still see no new brood.  I have to wonder if it is too late for the queen to be properly mated at this time of year...

The other Carni hive is doing well.  I have a super sitting on it and there is comb being drawn.  Population seems strong and the deeps are full of both honey and brood.  I think this hive will make it just fine if winter is not too brutal.  I intend to provide a sugar cake come October just to ensure there is enough food for the winter.  I need to make that sugar cake soon.  I have not done that before, so it will be another learning experience.

The Italians are very strong!  This has been the case since establishing the hive.  The population is heavy, the bee very active.  They have completely filled two supers and have lots of brood and honey in the deeps.
___________________________________________________________________________

I have harvested six frames of from the Italians thus far.  Talk about a lot of honey!  And the flavour is incredible!  I did not have any harvesting equipment, so just sort of winged it with what I had.  I am glad that I did.  Learning to handle the product the hard way leads to what I think of as a 'feeling' for the honey, the wax, the frames.

There is a stainless steel sink in the milk house that the frames fit perfectly across.  Dumb luck there! A large lasagna pan below the suspended frames catches everything.  I took used a regular serrated knife to de-cap the cells.  Heating the knife really did not make that much difference, so after the first frame done with a hot knife, I stopped heating.  Just cutting slowly and evenly using the top and bottom rail of the frame gave very nice results.  There were very few low cells, and those were pierced with the tip of the knife.  I warmed the honey with a hair dryer which made if flow just fine.  My intent was to leave as much was on the frames as possible.  That did not work out so well.  I eventually took the wax and the honey.  Until the centrifuge shows up, that is what I will do.  The result from the first two frames was a bit more than a quart of honey.  Considering these are shallow frames, I think that is pretty impressive.  I use cheese cloth across the top of the quart jar and let the honey run through it.  The cheese cloth captured wax chunks just fine and I ended up with really nice looking honey!  So that was my initial experiment.  I played around more than is described here, trying a few things, but the process boiled down as stated.

Realizing that I had more than enough honey to leave for all three hives, I took twelve more frames. My wife has decided she likes this honey bee stuff and convinced me that we should expand to 20 hive next year.  She also decided that a centrifuge would be a good idea.  So a six frame, motor powered centrifuge is on its way.  There was a mix-up on the order, so it had not arrived yet when I needed it for the 12 frames.  I chose to do a bit more experimenting by hand with another 4 frames.  This time, I simply de-capped the cells, warmed them a bit with the hair dryer, and used a spatula to 'cut' the whole cell assembly right off the plastic foundation.  Two or three passes and the frame was clean and the was and honey were in the lasagna pan.

Tilting the lasagna pan and gently moving the wax to the high side, then letting the honey drain to the low side works very nicely.  I used the spatula to press the was a bit, releasing as much honey as possible and simply waited a half hour.  I then poured the honey through the cheese cloth into waiting jars.  Works great!  I am hanging onto the wax for future use making queen cells and whatever else might be handy.

The centrifuge will arrive this week and I will test it out with the remaining eight frames that I have.

The bottom line:  We have some really nice honey which the family is very pleased with.  There is at least a 100 lbs left for each of the hives this winter.  I have a big job coming up - building more hives and learning about splitting, grafting, and otherwise propagating.  I have no intention of spending thousands of dollars to expand this little operation.   Hive building will be a nice winter wood working project which will hopefully yield some hives, nucs and a few variations of frames that I want to play around with.

More than enough!  This is really raw honey.  Filtered only through some cheese cloth.  It is really, really good!

2016-08-08

Weakening Hives and Missing Brood.... August 1st

I was at the Farm for a few days about two weeks ago.  I had done a check on the hives on a hot July day and found myself a bit concerned about the West hive.  No new brood.

Both Carniolan hives seems to be rather lackluster.  The center hive was still working on brood and honey in the second deep.  No work what-so-ever on the super I had place two weeks before.  Looking at the center hive today, I see very little change.  Both deeps are full just like two weeks ago, though there is some room in the outer frames of the second deep.  But this is a serious down-trend from the progress that I have seen prior to July.  I had removed the supers from both Carniolan hives last trip down.  My thought was that there was no sense having them there if the bees were busy trying to build population.




The West hive is really concerning.  I hope to look for the queen this evening while it is cooler.  I am afraid that I won't find one, which is what I am suspecting based on my short visit this morning.  Not sure what I should do about that....

The center hive still has some brood that I can see, but very little.  Some of the brood cells are capped low in the cell, and other do not look right.  There are drone cells down at the bottom of a couple of the frames, but as many as before.  Honey cells are capped and look normal surrounding the brood cells on the frames.  So I am unsure about this hive too, though not nearly so much as the West hive.

The East hive (Italians) is going amazingly well.  One super is 100% full, up from 80% full when I last visited.  A second super that I put on ten days ago when I last visited, is 50% - 60% full.  I took the supers intended for the Carniolans and put them on the East hive.  Might as well I figure.  The full super must weigh at least 50lbs.  I put a single full frame of honey from the full super into each of the empty supers and an empty frame from the empty supers into the full super.  Not sure what I am doing there, but the thought is that the familiar comb and honey in the empty supers will encourage work in them.  Maybe just wishful thinking...  All that said: The East hive now has two completely full deeps topped by two empty supers(other than the full frames from the previously filled super and subsequently topped by the full super(minus the two frames I moved into the lower empty supers).  This hive is really going well!

Now to head back out and see if I can figure out what has the Carniolans slowed down....

Working on honey!

A good looking frame...

East hive of Italians



Center hive of Carni's

2016-07-05

A quick check...

The West Hive
The bees are making various stages of progress... The Carnolians in the West hive are doing ok, still well behind those in the center hive though.  I, for the life of me, simply do not know why.  That being said, there is brood and some honey in the second deep on three frames.  And some honey cells being filled as well.
These dead bees are from a raiding raccoon or skunk.  Will need to put a nail board in front of the hive.  I found scat in front of the next hive over that has also been being raided.  
Other than this hive is slower than the others to populate, I have no other real reason to worry.

The Center Hive
This hive of Carnolians is much more rigorous!  The center five frames in the second deep are almost completely full with some work on comb draw on the outer frames as well.  Population is solid.  There is lots of brood and a good amount of honey, both capped and to be capped around the brood.  I am guessing that by the end of July, this hive will be working on putting stores in the super.  

The East Hive
The Italians are, as usual, more sensitive to being disturbed.  I had to stop several times to let them settle down as they got upset with me and start dive-bombing my face and crawling around on my hands in an agitated way.  No stings though.  This hive is booming!  The second deep is about 70% full of brood and honey, and comb draw is taking place in the super as well.  I almost left the queen separator in on this one, but decided to pull it out for now.  I hope the queen stays below and does not start brood in the super.  I guess time will tell.  There is one odd thing, and one concerning thing that I noted while inspecting this hive.
The odd thing is that these ladies seem to take off on their own architectural design when it comes to drawing comb now and again.  I took a photo of that:
Not sure what the motivation is for these wax constructs.  Clearly some is brood(that to the left) and the other had nothing in it at all.  Just comb that got drawn out in that way.  Anyone see this as a regular thing?  Is it a noted behavior of Italians?

The concerning thing is some of the dark cells that I found on a few of the frames.  Not sure what I am seeing and am a bit nervous about it.  This is not apparent in either of the other two hives.
Some of these dark cells look like infant mortality of some kind.  I hope not.  Anyone give me a hint of what that might be?
Overall, the bees are doing well.  Lots of activity, good population growth, good honey stores showing up in the deeps.  I removed the queen separators for now to encourage comb draw in the super on each hive.  I am not quite sure when it is appropriate to put the excluders in, but will play that by ear I guess.
________________________________________________________________________________
Now back to the electrical system on the IH 1066.  Never an end to repair and maintenance on a farm... 

2016-06-28

CRP Frist Mowing and An Evening Bee Check

Mowing....

One of the things that is not made particularly clear when one moves their land into the Conservation Reserve Program(CRP) is that the first 2-3 year are 'establishment' years.  What that means is that until the native grasses and various other perennials that get planted are 'established', one is expected to go out and mow down the cover crop (oats in this case) and weeds that may get ahead of the new planting.

I am a bit late on getting this done for a number of reasons, some contractual, some weather related, some equipment related...you know... farming stuff. As a result, we have very mature oats that has to be knocked down now!  With 153 acres to take care of and rather geriatric machinery to work with, this takes time.  I am using an IH 1066 110 horsepower turbo-charged diesel tractor along with an 18 foot wide bat-wing mower to get this done.  Because of the age of the mower, I have to go slow.  I run the at about 4.5 mph and 1800 rpm.  I want to cut the oats down, but not end up with a lot of debris laying on top of the intended planting.

The oats, the tractor, and the mower...
Taking a break to check the bees... thought a shot of me with the 1066 was kind of fun....


It was a bit of a challenging day.  First of all, I am tripping on dexamethazone, a cortico-steroid which is part of my ongoing treatment.  I take it Sunday nights and am buzzing until Wednesday morning....like drinking 15 pots of coffee in pill form.  At any rate, that means that 2 hrs of sleep on Monday night made for a slow start on Tuesday morning.  I got myself motivated by 09:30, ran up town to get a new hydraulic hose made up for the mower, got a tank of gas and then headed back to the farm to get the mower put back together and do the preventative maintenance on the tractor and mower.  By the time all that was done it was 12:30.  So I started mowing at that point, took a short break to eat at 17:00 and then back to mowing until 21:45.  However....

Bees...
I stopped back by the three bee hives on the far North side of the Farm around 19:30 to see how the girls were doing.  I did a reasonable examination of the each hive, though I did not go into the bottom deep.  At this point I really don't want to do to much disturbing of the first year establishment process.  That being said, it is also important to me to watch and understand the process the bees undertake when establishing themselves in a new home.  So I don't hesitate to take off the upper super, the queen excluder and pull a few frames from the second deep.

Layout similar to our hives.  We are using shallow supers on top.  They are just a little less tall...


All three hives look damn good!  The weakest hive (East-most) has new brood in the second deep, though only on three frames at this point.  There is good population growth, though not outstanding at this point.  The bees look healthy and are active.  There is some capped honey as well on the the three frames which is a good sign.

The center hive is strong.  There is both brood and capped honey as well as quite a few drone cells in the second deep.  The center five frames are about 40% filled at this point, and the population is great!  Bees were all over the second brood chamber(deep).  They are all very active.  An encouraging hive to say the least!

The Eastern most hive is an Italian hive.  The bees are a little bit darker in color and, while not aggressive, much more easily disturbed.  I finally got a sting when I made a large movement a bit to fast for their comfort.  No big deal, but the top knuckle on my ring finger is darn sore right now!  :-)  That aside, this is most certainly the strongest hive!  Both deeps are heavily populated and the second brood deep is already 70% in use.  Brood and honey galore...

I noticed that both the center and East hive had sign of animals having visited recently.  No damage that I can tell, but the gravel in front of the hive has been pushed around and the under-lying landscape cloth exposed a bit.  Will have to keep an eye on that.

Note the various stages of larvae development that you can see at the bottom of some of the uncapped cells.   This a shot taken with my cell phone camera at close range.  The worker bees are busy caring for and the brood as well as working on drawing and capping the comb on this frame.  Note too the coloration difference, with some of the bees lighter in color than others.  I believe the lighter colored ones are younger.  (not certain about that , but the two at the bottom of the phone are clearly smaller and less developed I think.


There is no real work going on in the supers yet.  Younger worker bees seem to hang out there, perhaps as a sort of guard duty to ensure other insects don't move in?  The do apply propolis to the interior of the hive, sealing up any cracks, so maybe it is just the advance crew making sure the house is in order.  At any rate, none of the three hives have any real work being done in the supers yet, which is fine with me.  I would rather have them working on building population and ensuring they have food stores for this winter.  It is not all that important that they be producing honey that can be harvested right now.

Winding down....

At the end of the day, a lot got done. I am damn sore from being jounced around in the tractor for 8.5 hours.  But the bee check at the end of the day was like a boost for tomorrow.  ...mowed 61 acres today, only 75 more acres to go. If I can get a couple of hours of sleep tonight, maybe I can get most of it done tomorrow while I come off the dexamethazone high.  That would give me a bit of time on Thursday to get a few other things done that need doing - and maybe time for another visit to the hives....

Work near the top of the frame.  The bees don't bother one much. They land on various expose body parts and clothing, check things out, then lose interest and go back to work. They are amazingly tolerant assuming one does not move fast. I have to pretend that I am working in low gravity, like on the moon or something similar.  Dong so seems to work to avoid provoking a defense on their part, and prevent stings on my part...
 


2016-06-12

A Tour of the Farm...and a Day Remembered.

A hot, humid day following a night with thunderstorms and wind.  Everything was too wet this morning to do much of anything.  However, by noon the 90+ degree heat had dried things enough to get on with the day.

I started with cleaning up some of the little garden I put in: Scrapped a couple of rows where the seeds did not germinate and planted onions and a few hills of beans to fill in the space.  Spread some straw between the pop-corn and lettuce.  Hill-ed the potatoes.  That brought on some serious sweat.  I was soaked in just a half hour.

Ate some lunch.   Then set the sprayer up on the 4-wheeler and mixed up 4 gallons of vineger, salt, and dish soap.  Spent the next hour hand a half spraying thistles and other weeds in spots.  Was impressed by the coverage I got.  Sure enough, an hour after I started the weeds were already wilting. Should set them back if not kill them.  Some of them are mature, and thus likely not to die off completely.  Will see what they look like tomorrow.

After flushing the sprayer and cooling off for a few minutes, I took the camera and got on the 4-wheeler and headed back to see what the bees were up to in their now expanded hives.  I took the West  hive apart all the way down to the bottom deep.  The bottom deep certainly had most of the population still working on closing cells.  But bridge comb had already been established between the bottom deep and the new second deep that had been added just yesterday.  The middle frames of the second deep already had sign of comb being drawn out too.  The super sitting on top had a few workers sort of wandering about, but no real work being done.  I get the impressions they are there just to make certain nothing else moves into the territory.  I put the hive back together after taking a few shots with the camera.  It was still hot out and the bees were easily provoked, so minimal messing around was done by me, and movement was very slow and careful.

The Center hive and the East hive I left alone for the most part.  Checked the entrances, which had 20 to 25 bees sitting on them.  Took a few more photos of various things I found interesting, double checked to ensure that everything was back in place and called it good.

And then a bit of a tour..

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Taking it real slow, I rode into the main pasture to the West of the apiary.  Decided to check out my two Hickory trees.  There are certainly plenty of young nuts on the stems, all about the size of a dime.  The North wild apple is not showing anything yet this year.  The mature mulberry trees are loaded, but no ripening yet.  The younger mulberry trees actually have some ripening fruit on them.  The plums are very scarce this year.  Am not sure what is going on with them.  I suppose that it is possible that being on the line fence, they get a lot of over-spray from the neighbors.  There was hay on that line fence field last year, and there is corn this year.  That means that a heavy dose of glyphosate was applied to burn off the hay prior to corn planting.  The plums may have taken a beating from that.

Continuing across the road to the South side, I kicked up a nice size deer back in the South East corner.  There is plenty of deer sign back in that area.  The big elderberry patch got sprayed hard last year and the year before and there is very little of it left.  Makes me kind of angry.  However, the South line fence has a few gooseberry plants that are loaded.  I hope to be able to get to them before the birds do when they ripen.  My guess is they will be ready in about 10 to 15 days, maybe sooner. I noticed some new blackberry patches and the blackberries are also loaded this year.  We have received rain just at the right times.  The rest of the South part of the farm looks pretty good.  The waterway grasses are very strong and full of pollen, which is good for bees and other pollinators. Overall, the South side looks good.

Speaking of rain:  We are still 16 inches short over the last two years.  We need a good steady rain every 10 days or so to get caught back up.  Now that the El Nino is dissipating, one can hope that temperatures and rainfall get back to close to average.  The pond behind the barn is 2 feet low.  That pond is a bell weather of overall soil moisture and water table level: When it is low, one can bet that we need moisture.

I returned from my little tour sweaty, tired, covered in pollen.  My damn back hurt bad even though I was wearing my brace.  That said, it was good to see the farm, see the plants growing, the brown thrush and the kill-deer, and other birds doing their thing.  We have a good crop of rabbits this year, and sign of a badger over on the South side.  The Farm is already inviting the rest of nature to move on in now that we are not beating it to death with sprays and fertilizers.  it will be good to watch what all shows up on this bit of land now... now that we are not treating it like a production line in a factory.  I have hope for this land...


2016-06-11

Evolution

There is a transformation taking place.  A change.  It is just beginning, and one would be hard pressed to recognize anthing at all is different.  In fact, from an outside perspective....you know, like driving by a place you have driven by countless times before and noticed was there, but really had no vested interest in engaging any thought about....  from that outside perspective, the change might as well not exist.

The Farm has the same number of acres that it has had since probate was completed. There are a few more tillable acres (about 20 ) that we tore up on the south side.  There is the new well and septic which we were forced to install both by law and by necessity.  Some equipment is new or improved. These are changes, however they are changes that take place as a regular course of business.

But it is the same place, the same layout of fields...  .  It is The Farm.  Isn't it?

In many ways, yes, it is.  But something is changing, and while the outside observer will not see it, it is fundamental, and gut wrenching....   It is the way we think about The Farm that has, and continues to, change.  The decision to cease operating in the conventional manner of commodities production won't make much difference to anyone who does not directly work on The Farm.  No one really gives a damn about 153 acres of tillable land unless they plan on buying it.  In the grand scheme of today's agricultural business model, the 234 acres total is something akin to a hobby farm.

Of course my neighbors care, after all, they are neighbors.  We talk of plans, of hopes, of shitty prices and a volatile market driven by money hounds who don't give a damn about the long term impacts their market manipulations have on us.  We agree in principle, but differ in our visions of implementation.  But we are neighbors, and we care.  So my neighbors will watch and hope for us to do well on our venture.  And they will be glad if we do, and shake their heads sadly if we don't...

The changes began long ago, as all changes do.  After all, evolution is an ongoing process.   I wont' delve deeply into the history here, but suffice it to say that the prosperous little dairy farm eventually became a beef and commodity operation, and subsequently exclusively conventional commodities only.  Which is where we, the next generation, took over.  And we did reasonably well.  In an environment where Big Ag gets the attention, a small farm that survives is doing well.  But a small farm sustains itself by remaining stable.  By setting aside enough for hard years during the good years.  A small operation balances on a very thin line between outside influence and self-reliance.  That is not a business model that flies these days....

So how does one think about this evolutionary challenge to the small family agricultural operation? Some simply sell to one of the bigger operations.  A couple of years ago, 10,000 acres in Grant County, which was made up of a number of family farms, got swallowed up by a large European bank.  The houses and buildings have been demolished. Of course a bank does not really need to worry about amortization.  They are just looking to dump money into something that will probably hold value.  Thus, they don't really worry much about purchase price either: they can out-bid pretty much anyone other than another financial institution.  That prices us real people right out of buying land, and raises our taxes, as the assessed value is influenced by the prices paid by the large institution, which gets tax breaks of course.  $79 million dollars, and many small farms were swallowed into a factory operation.

That is disturbing on a number of levels.  One of them is community.  Farming has in the past been a community experience, a community activity, a community interest.  When land disappears into the corporate void, that community dissipates.  The land becomes a distant thing to the community.  It beomes -- 'that land'-- ...no longer 'our land'.  That sense of 'ours' disappears.  And that is not good for the people, nor for the land.

We are evolving into entities that are dependent on systems which are so much larger than ourselves as individuals, as communities of families with a vested interest in ourselves and our local surroundings, that we are becoming rootless.  We are resources that can be moved about by simply making the act of staying where our roots are, and have been, is made non-viable.

To have the freedom to pick up and move is one of the greatest assets this country of ours has to offer. That freedom, however, has been corrupted in the most clever of ways.  Our choice in our way of life is reduced, not because it is the best thing to do, but because that choice is in the way of larger forces. And those larger forces apply a unique logic to their methods and goals:  They say "You have the ultimate freedoms!  You can move anywhere you want, do any job you want to do, buy any product you wish to buy!"  And they say it with a straight face, while reducing the choices available.  They simply buy the choices.

Evolution is a scary thing.  We don't know enough to be able to predict its path nor its outcome.  We can only look around us, see and interpret  to the best of our ability, and then hope luck is on our side. I sincerely hope that the Farm is one of those things that evolution pays little attention to.  Like the cockroach: Too small to mess with.  And ultimately hope that in time, the dinosaurs we call 'institutions'  die off, leaving behind a better people, a wiser people.  I hope the Farm is there in some healthy, productive form to be a part of that.

I do have hope....