Monday, April 29, 2013

On the Excitement of Installing Package Bees into Hives

Chelle was kind enough to get me my veil, smoker, gloves and hive tool for Christmas this last year and I've been reading everything that I can ever since.  I built my own hives (not works of art but serviceable) and covers, fenced in a spot up the hill where there would be plenty of sun.  I watched every Youtube video I could find on beekeeping for top bar hives, went to a talk at the library and attended a meeting of the Olympia Beekeepers Association.  But, in many ways like fishing, nothing prepares you like doing it.

The bees look very small in their package on the way home from Tarboo Valley Bees.  Scarlet talks to them and we spray them with sugar water from time to time to keep them calm and they sit on the front porch while I install the hives and wait for the weather to warm up.  After a beautiful warm and sunny week the weekend turns cold on us and the bees don't really care for the cold.

So the time comes and I take the bees up the hill with two mason jar feeders and my smoker.  I have my veil and gloves on, start the smoker and give the bees a couple puffs.  The drone of their buzzing goes up a few notes and notches in the volume department.  That's when my heart starts.  I take one package to the hive on the right (since named "Sweet Combs" by Scarlet) and remove the can of sugar water.  Some bees invariably fly out of the package.  I then carefully move over the queen cage and pull it up and start brushing bees off of the queen cage with my gloved hands.  The gloves are a bit too big but I'm kind of grateful for that at this point.  My heart is hammering but I'm telling myself to go slow, breathe through my nose and be calm.

I hang the queen between bars four and five and then turn my attention to the rest of the bees.  I try to just set the package into the hive but it doesn't really fit so I do what I've seen on Youtube and wack the package firmly against the ground, lift it over the hive, turn it over and start dumping bees into the hive.  Now they are flying everywhere and I'm trying to get the top of the hive closed without squishing them.  I'm anxious and excited.  As small as they look in their package now they seem huge, buzzing around and hanging from their wings in the air that's threatening rain.

I put the cover on the hive and go over to the second hive (Named "Honey House" by Olivia) and with a little more confidence go through the same procedure but upon taking the queen cage out I'm saddened to see that the poor girl is dead.  This gets my attention not the least of which because I've heard that a queenless colony is often grumpy so again my heart gets beating.  I stay calm though, shake the package into the hive and close up shop.  Later that day I would retrieve a new queen who we would keep under a cardboard box, in her cage with attending bees, in the kitchen.  The next day I went back up the hill and took out the old queen cage (which I put back in on the advice of the folks I bought her from) and replaced it with the new queen.  Everything went pretty smooth so I felt pretty happy with myself and closed up shop and then remembered what I forgot.

That is, to take the cork out of the new queen's cage so that when they eat the candy they can get her out.  At this point I'm glad I still have smoke in the smoker and dive back in again.  The bees weren't so happy this time though and though I tried to move quickly by the end of it they were dive bombing my helmet and telling me that they were unhappy.  I got things closed back up after fighting with the cork to get it out and sighed with relief a bit walking down the hill.  I had accidentally squished some bees in my haste and know that I can't do that again, you don't want to accidentally kill any bees and especially not the queen.

I learned a few things from all of this.  First, make sure you go up the hill to work the bees with a plan.  They have enough patience for you to work with them if you're confident, focused and soft of working WITH them.  If you make a mistake they are liable to get a little testy.  Second, I didn't get stung so they are as docile as I have heard, at least for now.  It's very very hard to describe the sense of anxiety associated with the thought of being stung.  I'd almost rather it just happened and got over with.  At the same time though after going through hell to get to WA from CA you can tell that they welcome your presence and help.  If anything they have been very very patient with me at the start of this adventure.  Here's to hoping that continues!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Today's Take & Seeds Started Indoors - 4/27/13

The first three flats of veggies that I started on the seedling heat mats (tomatoes/tomatillos, peas and lettuces/kale) have graduated off of the mats and are now under the grow lights without any supplemental heat.

In their place on the mats I just started one flat each of German Chamomile, Calendula and Minnesota Midget Melons (cantaloupes). The melons are a big experiment. We've never had much luck with the traditionally Southern, sun-loving crops like melons and peppers, but decided to gamble a whole three bucks on this short-season variety. They're supposed to take just 70 days from seed to fruit, and I figure that if folks in Minnesota can get these badboys to grow, I stand a decent enough chance at having at least a few make it.

As for the flowers - those are primarily for tea and soapmaking. I hope that they both make it, but I'm especially excited about the Calendula. Orange is my absolute favorite color for flowers. I challenge you to look out on a patch of verdant, colorful veggies, surrounded by sunny orange flowers and not feel happy. Can't be done. ;)

On a completely separate note, today was the day that we said goodbye to sweet misses Hop & Hope, Chardonnay's two "big girls".

Liberty & Hope, February 2012

Hop & Barley, February 2011

The girls went together, to a wonderful little family in a home on some acreage. They will provide companionship, entertainment, weed eating services and delicious fresh milk, hopefully for many years to come. 

The gals' leaving us means that we have just two more kids who will be moving on before too much longer, leaving us with our new, lean and mean herd - Blue, Chardonnay, one of Chardy's doelings who is not yet named, Sidney, Sophie and Buckley. We were hoping to sell Buckley, but we've had no interest yet. Maybe in the Fall?

This Spring has been a real doozy, full of goat-centric drama, so as much as we'll miss the sweet faces of our babies that have moved on, we are also pretty relieved to have scaled the herd (and the feed costs) back to a manageable number.

As if all that weren't enough excitement for a single day on the farm, today is also the day that we finally picked up our honeybees!

We now have two hives of Italian honeybees in our waaaaay back forty. Upon installing the bees in their hives, Bill discovered that one of the queens (you get one per colony) had died. Not good. 

We were fortunate that the folks who sold us our bees are good, honest people who stand behind the critters they sell, and had no qualms at all about giving us a replacement queen, which Bill picked up this evening and will install in the morning. The reason that the queen died is unclear, but it isn't a super uncommon occurrence, so we're not going to sweat it. 

So - minus two goats, plus 40,000 (give or take) honeybees and plus three flats sewn of future fruits and flowers. That, my friends, is one heck of a productive day in these parts. Time for farmer Chelle to kick back with a well-earned (in my humble opinion) bowl of ice cream and a Netflix. ;)


Meet the newest residents of the Hollow, 40,000 honeybees. :)

We're installing them in their hives now. The rain is not ideal, but we're hopeful that we've made the transition as easy as possible for them. As soon as the weather clears, these gals had better get busy visiting our fruit trees!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Critter Update - 4/20/13

Today four baby goats went to new homes! Both of Sophie's kids, Sidney's boy and Hope/Liberty's (I can't keep them straight) girl. The folks who took the goaties brought us a few chicks too. We now have six Light Brahma/Americauna chicks being fostered by our silver-laced cochin, Lacy.

Since kid-fest '13 began, we've sold 1 doe in milk and six babies so far. Hop & Liberty are on hold for another family, pending Hop's little guy's successful weaning, and one little wether and one little doeling are earmarked for one of the hub's co-workers, who will be trading us turkeys for the two kids.

Since Sid & Soph are still well in-milk, we'll start our much-anticipated milking tonight. Chardonnay, who was the last to deliver, is still nursing her twins for another few weeks, but will eventually also be a milker for us this year.

I can't wait to make cheese, soap and cajeta again with our milk, and I'm sure the pigs are looking forward to having a belly full of milk-soaked bread and pastries each evening for dinner too.

Besides the joy that is the influx of milk made available to us by weaning off and selling a few babies, I also  very much appreciate the reduced feed and hay bill, and the lessened impact on our pasture. At our fertility/baby boom peak, we had 20+ goats on this little piece of property, which is waaaaay more than it could sustain. We're grateful to the babies for bringing their Mamas into milk for us, but we don't plan on keeping more than one this year. It'll be one of Chardy's babies, who are so identical that I can't tell one from the other. Pictures forthcoming!

Friday, April 12, 2013

First (Late) Veggie Starts of 2013

What can I say? The fact that anything got started at all is pretty close to miraculous at this point. ;)

Germinating away on the seedling heat mats -

*One flat of mixed greens - Mervielle d'Quatre Saisons lettuce, Buttercrunch lettuce, Cimmaron lettuce and Russian Red kale

*One flat of assorted tomatoes/tomatillos - Tomatillos Verde, Black Cherry tomatoes, Roman Speckled Paste, Silvery Fir Tree

*One flat of peas - 12 of Mammoth Melting. 12 of Lincoln Homesteader.

...and that's it, so far. I'll have to start a lot more inside if we don't get a break in the rain soon. Urggg...

Update 4/15/13 - Peas & greens are starting to pop up! We only spotted one lonely little tomatillo sprout so far though,. Hopefully we'll see more sprouts tomorrow, and by this weekend we'll be able to move them off the seedling heat mats and put them under the lights. Yay for homegrown! :)

Monday, April 1, 2013

February/March Crafting Totals

Knits -

Fingerless Mitts - 2.5 pair ($18/ea)
Bike Helmet Earmuffs - 3 pair ($15/ea)
Dishcloths - 5 ($4/ea)
Small Baskets - 2 ($5/ea)

Total - $120

I missed my goal of $5 per day by kind of a lot, but considering that most of the last half of February I was zonked out from knee surgery, I suppose it's not really all that bad.

The Easter bunny brought me a few cute skeins of yarn, so we'll have to see what those end up telling me that they want to be. ;)