Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Petrified Trees

On the way home from Grandma’s, we stopped to see the petrified trees. The trails are along the hills, with the revealed trees held captive for viewing. Each tree was labeled as to its breed, and they varied from small piles, like this ginkgo, to unite impressive sizes.
This collection is a couple miles off the highway. The view was lovely, and the hike was a pleasant way to break up a long drive.
Desert brush in bloom gave interesting hues and fragrance to the dried grass of the landscape. It’s been raining, which kept the pollen down. All in all, a lovely stop.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Kiddy Pool

When it’s a scorcher out there, it’s nice to dip in the local wading pool.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

What is in the Coop!?

The chickens are laying in the forest. We're out of eggs. Do you know how hard it is to bake anything with no eggs? Okay, those with egg allergies do, though we don't have that issue. I went from having a dozen and an half eggs per day to just one, two, or three on a good day. The egg count started dwindling about a month ago, and I expected it was the hens running off into the woods broody. Three, four weeks, no chicks. What's up? 

T.J. came in during his evening chores and announced there may be a raccoon in the coop. Raccoons eat the heads off chickens! And there had been one headless chicken recently. Ben went out to protect the chickens and came back in to tell me about his adventure. "Guess what was in the coop?" Since his arrival was preceded by a particular musky scent,  I easily surmised. Thankfully, the skunk hadn't sprayed the men, and a wash took off the lingering scent. However, the chickens perfumed the yard in a whole new way.

Skunks usually just eat eggs. The chickens don't like their routine interrupted, and lay elsewhere until they find the trespasser is a pacifist. However, if there are no eggs, then the skunk will happily munch a chicken head instead. The lost chicken last month was probably a meal for this malodorous intruder.

Now, we have a trap. In the evening, T.J. sets it up just inside the coop to catch anything entering through the chicken door. Our first victim?

Monday, July 3, 2017

Restoring a Roof

First heatwave of the summer coincides with a four day weekend. I'm carefully watching that all are drinking plants of water. Ben has taken down the garage roof. He has four consecutive days to focus on this task, and there is no rain in sight! Instead of a straight forward replacement, he's opted to repair. The tar paper needed replacement, so that cost can't be reduced. The metal roof, though, can be cleaned, puttied, and returned to the roof, then painted. This should give us another ten to fifteen years before replacing it. All told, the cost of replacing it, including adding plywood or replacing other wood as needed, would run at least seven grand. Repairing is maybe a quarter the cost.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Double the Hives

With the center hive (most likely) having cast a swarm, we split the remaining hives (the three on the left are the new hives).

The first hive (on the right in the photo) had several queen cells, and loads of drones! I think the queen must have been rolled or squished at some point with how much drone comb is in this hive. I still have a hard time spotting queens, so I'll have to go over every inch on Friday or Saturday when I check the splits for fresh queen cells.

The middle hive is light on bees, but heavy on bridge comb. I have an adapter between the two layers and the bees have filled the gap with comb. They are starting to work the lower hive body (8-frame medium), but in the future, I'll probably just use a medium nuc until they're ready to expand into a larger box, then switch altogether.

This is my first time splitting hives. I pulled four frames for each nuc (said /nuke/, short for nucleus hive), aiming to have a frame of nectar and/or honey and one or two of emerging brood to care for the new queen and make lots of wax for her to lay in once she's bred. I'm using mostly mediums, so I added a second five-frame hive body right away, and chose to feed them. Even with a bit of grass in the doorways to encourage the older bees to stay, most of them will probably return to their old hives when they go to work the fields.

Sunday, June 25, 2017


Way up there, maybe 50 or so feet from the ground, they landed. We had watched as they rose in a cyclone of wings ascending from the hive, then flew. I ran outside, searching, as I rounded the bee yard, I cupped my hands behind my ear to trace the sound better. And there they be! We tried what we had available, but the ladder was too short, no pole could reach, the tree frail - each smaller branch snapping easily in my grasp. How would it hold me up to climb another thirty feet? I gave up, defeated. 

We went in to play a game. I wandered out between turns, pondering. At one point, I thought the garden had too many bees flying over it, but I wasn't at liberty to check at the time. I finally ventured to get another tool from the shop and saw it.

A cluster of bees working their way into the hive. Upon inspection, there were dead bees on the ground. The swarm had decided to take over the garden hive. I hazard the guess that this hive may also have swarmed and the weakened condition left them an easy mark for the larger group of bees. They all filed in by nightfall.

Lawn Workers

I've seen lawn crews working to sculpt a perfect lawn everywhere I've lived. My boys aren't the fastest, nor do they strive for that perfectly even turf. But, I appreciate the efforts, and they get paid in food. They do even better in the forested areas!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Grass flowers

Most people have heard of hay fever. It's that sneezy reaction some people get to grass pollen. We're in the height of the season right now. My oldest can hardly go outside without misery, and he's my best farmhand!

One thing that was difficult to see where we used to live is the variety of flowers that grasses have. The beauty of living in a wilder place!

We had a wet spring, so everything is in bloom. The bees are happy, but those like my oldest son will be miserable for a few more weeks.

Monday, May 1, 2017

April Showers Bring May Flowers

Remember that old adage? Today, May first, I saw the first dandelions of 2017. The trees in town had started blooming this past week, but here we are still waiting with bated breath for the buds to burst. The first dandelions mean the nectar flow for the honeybees will be starting in the next few weeks. We have had only a day or two close to sixty degrees Fahrenheit, but starting Wednesday the sixties and even seventies will not be unheard of!

Friday, April 28, 2017

The Theatre!

This week has been devoted to the art of the musical. When we moved here, I checked the local website for child friendly activities. Missoula Children's Theater (MCT) is a traveling group that puts on performances throughout the U.S. and several other areas (countries, bases, etc). Basically, audition is Monday afternoon, and rehearsals are everyday. Friday is dress rehearsal, and Saturday is a final run through and two performances. It's a lot at once, but great fun, and great memories. The auditions are open to everyone age 5-18, both public and home schooled. On their website, you can search for a performance in your own area.

This year's musical, in our town, is Gulliver's Travels (in Space). MissA is an "assistant director" and is helping the other children learn their lines, songs, dances, and can help put makeup on before the performance, keep the kids focused and help cue. MissB, MissC, MisterA, and MissD are in the play. They're having a blast!

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Last Goatling for the Year

Each night, Tommy has been closing Megan into the birthing stall. In the morning, I milk the other two does before letting her out. She likes to peek over the stall wall and ask for some grain. Pregnancy and lactation (making milk) are a big drain on a body, so I give her a small amount to get her used to it again.

As we were getting ready to head out for the afternoon, the children started yelling to spread the good news: Megan has a kid! This is the last of our three does, and it was nice if them to spread out the births a bit, and even better that we could be home to check on all of them right away after the births.

Mark is adorable, with his dam's floppy ears, and lots of color from his sire.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Top Feeder for Nucs

I pulled the feeder off the hive to see better how it works. Bees are notorious for drowning themselves, so I put sticks I the syrup so they can land on those and not have to swim. They're terrible swimmers.

The bees crawl up inside the feeder, then down the ladder created by the screening, slurp up the sugar syrup, then crawl back into the hive and use the feed to help make comb or feed the bees. The white/gray stuff on the screen is wax that the bees deposited. In my experience, the bees close up all screening on the top of the hive. These ones may also be making comb because of the size of the gap to get into the feeder.

"Bee space" needs only be about 3/8-inch or they start building. This is close to three inches, so I'm pretty sure they'll just build comb up here. Other than this issue, I really like this feeder.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Helped Release Kids' Queens

MissB and MisterA each grabbed a box of frames, just in case, and headed to the apiary. Neither of the hives needed more equipment, but I want them to learn to be prepared.

MisterA's hive (the far one in the photo) has a nuc feeder on top; one of those pans with a cage to hold the bees out of the syrup - I'll do a closeup in another post. The rest of the hives have a box with a feeder tucked into it. The close two have inverted jars of syrup, which they gobble down fast! I hope their not just leaking! The last feeder is more like an inverted tube cake pan with a passage in the center for the bees. I have one on my big hive, too.

The new beekeepers were a little intimidated with the tiny cork in the queen cage. I had them smoke their hives and open them up, but they asked me to swap the marshmallow in for the cork. Now, we'll wait at least a week to check for ba-bees: eggs, larva, maybe even capped brood. Actually, it's supposed to rain all next week, from what I can tell, so it may be more like ten days.

MisterA's hive is bearding... I'm not sure that's a good sign at this point. They have absolutely no comb built. We had used a stick to cover most of the entry, but I think it wasn't in well enough and the other hives may have been robbing them. I cut some entrance reducers, and we'll see how it goes. I only had two inner covers, I think the top entrance is easier on the bees in my area. If it is moisture, maybe I should make up some moisture quilts for over the feeders. A short frame with a cloth bottom that can be filled with shavings or some other absorbent material will allow the moisture out without making more places for the bees to defend.

(The other hive has been removed and the bees allowed to choose one of the other hives to join because I thought my big hive may have gone queenless, and she's been moved).

MissB's bees are on  the right. You can see the top entrance in the inner covers on both these hives. We had a stick in front of MissB's lower entrance originally, too, but exchanged it for an entrance reducer. The bottom board is the short way up, so we'll have to flip it to fit the reducer in properly. 

The Italians (in the left hive) seem a bit more aggressive than the rest of my bees. The rest are Carniolans. They bump against me and fly up in my face more than the others. The Italians are reputed to build up faster, sometimes to their own demise, and store more honey per capita  than the other breeds. The Carniolans are recommended for the north because they seem to only lay as much brood as they can care for, so are slower to build up, which helps conserve stores as well.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Swamp Lanterns in Bloom

MissB excitedly told me she found a mushroom tree. Sure enough, there was a birch covered in shelves of fungi.

MissB and I continued our walk through the woods to see the creek in the swamp. Speckles was happy to run and hop through the marshy flattened grasses. That grass grows five or six feet high in the summer, then is weighted down by the snows. That makes the swamp hard to explore in the warm months.

I've been checking each week for when the Swamp Lanterns would bloom, and finally they are glowing! <I>Lysichiton americanus</I> is the skunk cabbage of the western U.S.A. The eastern version is  maroon in color and the plant is said to give off a chemical which warms the soil, allowing it to grow sooner than most other plants. The yellow version does not create its own heat. Our honey bees can use the swamp lanterns as an early pollen source while waiting for the nectar flow. The deer and bears eat it, too!

There is a patch of creeping mahonia in the old skid trail. <I>Mahonia repens</I> is the short version of Oregon grape. I had just enough from the patch by the back drive to make a tiny jar of jam the first summer we were here. See the flower buds starting to form? They'll be bright yellow soon, then develop into blue colored elongated berries with no crown (that circle on blueberries).

I've read that all berries with a crown are edible, but one has to be sure to identify crownless berries, as many are poisonous, especially the red ones. We also have inedible white berries in the woods that the wildlife can eat.

We also came across HealsAll, <I>Prunella vulgaris</I>, but it isn't yet in flower.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Baby Beeks

MissB and MisterA have decided to try beekeeping this year. MissB is nearly 13 years old and very excited about the idea of queenrearing. MasterA is 8 years old and likes the idea of encouraging the bees to make him honey.

I ordered a package to supplement the hive that survived from last year. But, last month I wasn't sure if the overwintered bees' queen had made it through, so I ordered an extra. That place had lower prices on packages, so I ordered two more. This worked out well for the children to have their own colonies, and I still had my second hive. Plus, it turns out the queen is laying in the old hive, so I could take a scoop of bees out of each of the three packages to start the spare queen.

MissB and I drove on Saturday, April 15, to pick up all our bees. It was beautiful and sunny! We picked up the first package and watched the beekeeper shake in his package for the demonstration. Then, we drove to the other pickup location and I pocketed the queen and took the packages. He told us to feed the bees, so I told him I planned to spray them with sugar syrup and install the packages the next day. However, it was so sunny and we were only an hour from home, so MissB and I tried to make it home before the rains hit. I'm glad we did.

The closer we got to home, the cloudier the skies were. We had planned to pick up pavers while we were out and just get the bees hived on Sunday, since it was forecast to be sunny and warm. At home, we moved bricks from the apple tree to support the hives, then in a light sprinkle, we set up the hive bodies. The rain cleared and the bees were put in their new homes. The way we put them in, though, was different that the example we'd seen earlier.

There are many ways to hive a swarm or package of bees. The two main ways shown around here are to either shake them in, like we'd seen that day, or to set the package box in the brood box (10-frame deep hive body) and let the bees migrate themselves. Either way, you pull out the queen cage first and set it between two frames. The issue with the first is that it can be rough on the bees, and there is a theory that bees abscond (leave) more frequently from this method. The issue with the second is that the bees might like their nice warm package box and not go to the queen, leaving her to die from cold, and they may make comb in the box which will be taken out, so they have to start over comb building. To keep the queen safe in this method, the package box can be tipped over the queen so a ball of bees will fall onto her. This is still gentler than shaking, and ensures the queen had her needed warmth.

My plan was to start the packages as nucleus colonies (nucs, pronounced nukes). I plan to move to using 8-frame medium boxes instead of deeps, as a 10-frame deep brood box that gets filled with honey can weigh close to 90 pounds. We have some deep and some medium nuc boxes. I had us each set the floor of the hive on the bricks, then a deep nuc box, then spray the bees and set the package inside that. The bees were immediately out of the wind, so the sugar spray wouldn't chill them, and we could manage the top of the box easily. The top box was next to the hive, so after the syrup can that comes in the package was pulled up, the queen could be affixed between top bars and set immediately over the package of bees. If you've ever seen a package, you'll know that the bees are usually forming a swarm ball at the top of the box. Because of this tendency to move upwards, I hoped the bees would move up out of the package to the queen cage. Next goes on the inner cover, the feeder, fill feeder, and cover with the lid. All done.

I did place the extra queen in a medium 10-frame hive body (which will be able to go back to the big hive once everything is transferred later in the week), and gave her about a cup of each of the three packages. This hive has the same type of feeder as the big hive, and the bees are happy to stay in and start building comb.

Sunday afternoon, we were able to get back in the hives and pull out the packages. It was so easy, we didn't have to disturb the bees much at all! I picked up the upper hive body, MissB or MisterA took off the lower hive body, set the package in front of the hive, and I set the box of bees back onto the hive floor. There was less than a quarter cup of bees in any package box, and they migrated into the hive by the end of the day. No shaking beyond the initial one to easily pull the queen cage, and that's not always that necessary when the bees are sprayed so they don't fly much and there's plenty of room to work the frames together since the package is already safe and sound.

It's supposed to rain Monday and Tuesday, so the queens will be checked and probably released on Wednesday. The extra queen may take a few more days to be accepted and able to be released, but we'll see how she's doing. The bees did not appear to be balling her (angrily pressing the cage), so I'm hoping she's accepted and ready to start laying on Wednesday.

I did add a medium super to the big hive a few days ago. They haven't yet begun to make comb in it. I may switch one frame out with a started frame from the nucs to encourage the bees to build in that hive body. They seemed to have fewer bees than before, so I hope that was because the foragers were out on such a nice day, and not because they decided to swarm after being cooped up for so long from the rains! I am feeding all the bees currently. Only the swamp lanterns are in bloom, so, between those and the pine and birch forest, the bees can only retrieve pollen. Once the dandelions are in bloom, the nectar flow is considered to have started and I can super the bees to see if they'll make honey. In my area, bees are said to need two full brood boxes (10-frame deeps) weighing close to 150 pounds to make it through the winter. With the 8-frame mediums, I plan to have a three box brood area (where they raise baby bees), and they may need two boxes full of honey for winter. Any excess beyond those will be for my family to harvest.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Orchard cages

The previous owners had a small orchard of six trees, two apple, two pear, and two cherry, plus a plum tree by the house. That gives us cherries in early summer, then plums in late summer, and the apples and bears in autumn.

Expanding on this, and to test what grows here, we acquired a variety of year or two old trees, mostly grafted on semi-dwarf stock. To protect them, we made some cages that we can sink hopefully 6 inches into the ground to keep out voles, and they can minimizes chewing from the geese, goats and deer.

To make each cage, cut a length of 1/2" hardware cloth as close to the wire as possible:

I then trim the stabby pieces off with the next wire, to minimize mess and possible hazard if ingested (the dog likes to lick the shop floor):

Then, I use a tool for assembling rabbit cages to hold the edges together:

See the shape of the linking piece? The straight end goes up against the double pronged side of the pliers, and the curve of the J-shape goes into the single pronged side:

Now, I hold the edges together and make sure that both are inside the curve of the linking piece:


 Until the pliers are all the way closed, and you'll have the first of many links to seam the cage:

I repeated this about every ten squares, which might have been fine every fifteen or twenty.
Then, it was out to the orchard! I set the cage around the freshly planted tree to see where it needed to be dug in, the pulled it off and cut the soil with the shovel:

I used my hand to press the soil partly out of the way, placed the cage and twisted it into place:

Watering it in helps settle the soil again. My trees may still need a support to help them grow straight, but they're pretty protected from most winds here, so I'll watch for a need later in summer. I might add posts to strap them to in the autumn so the snows don't bend them next winter. If I do, I'll probably place three posts equally around the trees, then tie a strap to each pole. Each strap will pass around the tree and tie back to the pole it started from. These should not be tight, as it's not good to cut into the tree trunk.

We're supposed to be a zone 6 by the minimum temperature, but our freeze dates put us in a zone 5. I'm hoping the persimmon and nectarine might fruit occasionally here.

First Set of Twins

The past couple days, Caramel has been separating herself more and more. Yesterday, she took to the unused coop and didn't want company. I fed and brought water to her there because I knew she was likely in labor.

After planting some trees in the orchard, I went in to take care of the baby. While starting to get the children ready for bed, I heard a ruckus outside. Listening at the back door, I could hear Megan, our third doe, calling loudly. The baby was passed to MissB and out I went! Ben and MissA weren't far behind.

Tommy was doing his evening chores and excitedly told me there were twins. I had placed some birthing things in the goat barn, so I swung by and grabbed the towels then went in to see Caramel. I've been asking her the last few days if she was going to have a marshmallow soon, and sure enough the first kid was mostly white like she is. The second kid is mostly brown. So, when MissA asked what their names were, Ben answered, "Marshmallow and Fudge."

She went on with more contractions. I expected the placenta, but sadly there was a third kid that didn't make it. She had bagged up and seemed to have contractions when Natasha was in labor, so I think that is when it passed. Sometimes these things just happen, if possible I prefer to prevent issues as possible. After the false labor, I started looking more into dietary needs. Our area is known to be selenium depleted, copper poor, and iron rich (the soil is red from it). I'll have to have a soil analysis done to verify our soil's profile. Copper and selenium are necessary for proper growth in goats, though. We keep free choice minerals available to them, but it may not be enough. Pregnancy is a huge drain on the system. We're grateful for the two she has.

The old coop was a good place to choose to birth. It's in the electric fence, so they're somewhat protected from predators (mountain lion and coyote have been seen and heard in the area). It is starting to come apart, but the side blocking prevailing winds is still sturdy. She should be able to stay there for her maternity week. With all the rain, she'll want to stay inside, and this gives them plenty of room... she is the biggest of our goats!

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Tractor Pull

We live in a low area with soil like an old creek bed. The back 40 (a managed wildlife area, not our property) is practically a swamp. The seasonal creeks drain north into a managed manmade lake -fowl breeding area- which then drains into a river that flows up into Canada.

The spring has been very wet. We feel quite blessed that our house is on a slight rise and our animals are also not bogged down. One of the neighbors has had water in their crawl space! The road, though, is a mud crawl. My van stuck in one of the deep areas the week before last. After that, Ben said no more tractor pull, and we've been parking before the mud and walking the distance.

It's a good thing he's strong. 😋

Monday, March 27, 2017

MediOkra Pond

We are having a very wet spring. The last two years have been very dry, and this year is more normal, perhaps on the too wet side. The water table is very high! Our road is a spongy mud bog. The front yard is our lowest point  of the developed part of our property, and it's under a foot or more of water. I think it may be closer to two feet at the deeper parts, but I haven't taken a boat onto the pond to try sounding the depth.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Goat in labor?

While mucking out the goat barn, someone pointed out Natasha bagging up (her udder has taken shape, filling out). Suddenly, we had to not only muck out the barn, but adapt it for maternity care. We purchased a buck last fall, and it looks like it "took" sooner than we realized. You can see in the photo, the brown goat is very intently concentrating. Natasha is a Nubian Pygmy cross, hence her short stature.

During a long night napping on and off in the barn, Natasha delivered a healthy little doeling, Natalie.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Stretching Wings

The bees are stretching their wings!

We have had bees since 2015. Our first goal was to be able to overwinter the hive(s). This is the first promising spring. I think the wet spring killed our bees the first year, so as soon as I could (sunny day, close to 50°F), I turned the top into a sugar feeder. I opened the hive, removed the inner cover, set a box on, and placed newspaper in it. The next step was to pour in sugar which should act as insulation and absorption, plus back up supplies, if needed. Covers back on, and let the bees warm up again!

Greenhouse from Chicken Tractor

About a dozen chickens overwintered in a chicken tractor. They were given a new bag of shavings every two to three weeks to keep them dry and act as the "brown" material for the compost which their droppings eventually become. Once the snow was low enough, we finished digging the tractor out, plus the space next to it. A second tractor was set up, but this time as a greenhouse, and the original, with resident chickens, moved next door. Ben turned over the manure pile. We'll add some from the goat house and let this heat up. It'll be topped with garden soil and I should be able to grow hothouse veggies, like tomatoes (I know they're a fruit!) and cucumbers. First, we'll also try greens.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Bee-sy Day

The bees took their first cleansing flight! Did you know that bees do their best to never excrete waste in their home? All summer it's easy: fly out every day, unless it's rainy, and business is done. In the winter, though, they can't fly everyday. In fact, where I live they can't fly from about Thanksgiving until around St. Patrick's Day. Instead, they snuggle together and taking turns in the comb to compact the whole colony into the smallest ball of as many bees as they can get together. This cluster keeps the queen warm and safe inside it so they can wait through the cold months to begin to rebuild their colony (a colony is a group of bees, a hive is the structure in which they live).

Last year, it was unseasonably warm and they were out around Valentine's Day - most of the ground cover snow was gone by the end of February. This year, the snow is nearly gone finally, but it is a whole month later!

That's droppings from the north end of a south facing bee.

The snow around their hive gets spotted with it, too. It's rather chilly still for them to fly much, so sadly some of the bees don't make it back to the colony, and tiny bodies also litter the snow.

This little gal has picked a warm spot in the sunshine to clean herself after her first flight of the year.