Monday, February 27, 2017

Porch steps, complete! And a break from the to-do list, also complete!

Two coats of French Gray milk paint on the front steps, check, last weekend. They need a few weeks to cure and then I'll put a final coating of tung oil on for good measure. 

I had to close my eyes to the porch step rails for now. Until I get the wild muscadine, honeysuckle, trumpet vine, and holly bushes cut back (all the way back in the case of the vines), there is no point in working on porch rails or the trellis that borders the bottom of the porch. 

I need a heavy duty hedge trimmer and some digging muscle for the work under the porch, which is where all those vines are rooted. This chore is such a dreaded one it isn't even officially written on the list!

Today's post serves as a reminder to me that the to-do list is there because it needs to be, as an organizational tool, but Life and Family is the Main Event and it's not made up of checking things off the to-do list.

This weekend we had a wonderful time with my mom who stayed with us three nights. We ate and watched season 1 of Parenthood and went to my favorite restaurant Ashten's for an early birthday dinner. I tried on new riding helmets and have to go back to make the final pick (my head got so sensitized I couldn't really figure out which of the final two fit the best). We had a fabulous weekend in which no chores from my master to-do list got done and THAT IS OKAY! In fact, it's necessary. The chores, like the vines, would take over if allowed. 

If you, like me, are often driven by your to-do list, kick it to the curb for a long weekend and enjoy time with your family. It's time you won't regret. The chores will be there waiting when you get back to the list. 

Monday, February 20, 2017

beekeeping tales, 2

I'm in the middle of bee school and between what I'm reading, learning in class, and researching on my own I am now feeling totally overwhelmed.

Which I think is pretty normal coming into a new subject.

The good news: one of the best sources of nectar in our geographic location is tulip poplar and November Hill could have easily been named Tulip Poplar Hill. So that's a good thing! I've also located several sources of "nucs" that will be available ranging from the last week of March on through the last week of April depending which apiary I buy from. Two of the sources have nucs from hives that will have recently returned from California where they have been busy pollinating almond orchards and other crops. The downside as far as I can determine through reading is that bees who are transported across the country may well be stressed to the point that their life spans are decreased which probably also means they are generally weaker. The other source has hives that have come from local bees captured and recovered from homes, inside walls, in feral swarms, and then put to work. These bees are untreated, which means they have a natural resistance to varroa mites and other pests and diseases, and they also are bees that have made it through winters harsher than ours, but it also means their genetics are not clearly known, so there's a chance there could be Africanized bloodlines in the mix. The beekeeper for these hives does eradicate the queens that produce aggressive bees so it shouldn't be a huge issue. 

My overwhelm is mostly due to my own tendency to want to know EVERYthing in advance, compounded by all the choices I'm having to make. Where to get the bees, where to put the hives, what kind of beekeeping suit to buy, etc. etc. I know a lot but right now it's all "book" knowledge and the only way to make it practical is to get the bees and get rolling. As with anything, you have to take it one day at a time and remember that you can access the info when you need it. 

I'm still excited. But I have to actively remind myself to turn off the part of my brain that is chugging forward with all this information.

I would like to have a treatment-free apiary because I think that is best for the bees over the long term as well as easier on the beekeeper once I get them going. In the short term it may mean losing a fair number of bees. We will see.

Today I found a huge bee forum online where I could easily spend hours a day reading and learning even more - I have resisted the call and am going to focus on bee school and the books I have for now! 

Friday, February 17, 2017

November Hill farm journal, 27

The front bed is lovely even without my having gotten to it yet!

I noticed earlier this week that there's (36 hours after rain) greening in some areas of the pasture. The daffodils are in full bloom now and the purple crocuses are a bright and beautiful spot in a still muted winter landscape. All over the farm birds are singing and chirping and calling. Equines are shedding. Signs of spring, though it is early and entirely possible we will have more cold weather here, even snowfall. But with another very warm weekend unfolding I decided it's time to pack the rest of the Christmas stuff away, which means the trees and their white lights.

It's also the time of year when I've mostly won the battle of the fallen leaves. There are a few large areas which will hopefully be mulched with the mower but I've done a lot of raking and layering into compost piles and in another month or so will have a lot of rich black compost to rake out. 

I'm inching along with projects. I got word this week that the barn roof and shelter construction should start the end of next week. I need to take the before photos this weekend, and order the weathervane.

As usual, my own projects are snowballing. I still have some work to finish up on the porch, haven't gotten to the flower bed work yet, and it's now nearing time for beekeeping preparation if I am to get bees this spring. The vegetable garden beds need clearing and prepping. The hay tent that has been unused this winter was ripped to shreds by a very hard wind last week and now needs replacing. 

Now, Sunday, and we have gotten a few things done. Husband mucked and removed all leaves and fallen branches from the arena, and I have scraped, sanded, and put two coats of French gray milk paint on the front porch steps. Only issue was one ant bite and I didn't realize until after starting to paint that I should have put Christmas trees away first! But that's okay, I will enjoy the white lights for another week. 

It's a lovely day and I'm calling it a wrap with chores. Time to hang out with Bear and work on our homework. 

Monday, February 13, 2017

Winter landscape from a different porch

I had a lovely long weekend at Porches where I restructured the opening 20 pages of my novel and also enjoyed the company of a friend from high school who is also a writer. I think the sheer number of stories we told over meals held the space for the work which was in some ways difficult but oh so much fun once I dug into it. I came home with the new 20-page opening and a wonderful reconnection. Already looking at doing this again.

As usual Porches Writing Retreat was amazing. The above sunset over the little church off the upper porch is just one nourishing scene I witnessed. It is so beautiful there and so quiet. (Not in the kitchen at breakfast and dinner though! But we were the only writers there so we didn't even have to close the kitchen doors.)

Thursday, February 09, 2017

a word for the farm, a word for the world today
Feb. 09, 2017

muckrakeAudio Pronunciation
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1. to search for and expose real or alleged corruption, scandal, or the like, especially in politics.
There will continue to be room, of course, for some kinds of traditional, thoroughly sourced reporting: exclusives, certainly. Investigations, certainly. that's something extra. Yahoo isn't in a position to muckrake.
-- Mitchell Stephens, "Beyond the News," Columbia Journalism Review, January/February 2007

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

First beekeeping decision: package or nuc?

I'm well into beekeeping school now, with so much yet to learn, but I'm starting to have enough information to think about proceeding. I know I can buy the parts for the hive itself and put them together properly, but will likely purchase the frames already assembled with wax. I have a good idea what I'll use to paint the exterior of the hives (I'm going with milk paint and possibly tung oil once I do some more research on that) and where I'll put the first two hives. 

Next week we'll be learning to use the smoker, so I'm getting one so I can practice. Thankfully I have a spot in the front pasture that will be an endless supply of pine straw, which is the fuel of choice around here.

The options for starting out with bees are these: buy packages, buy nucs (short for nucleus), or buy an entire hive.

My understanding from what I have read and learned thus far is this. Packages are small cages holding about 3 pounds of worker bees. There's a tiny cage suspended inside the larger package which holds the queen. When you get the bees home you remove the queen, put her (still in her tiny cage) into your empty hive, then open up the "package" of worker bees and gently shake them into the hive around the queen. If all goes well the workers begin to feed the queen, chew through the queen candy sealing one end of her cage, and let her out. 

Nucs are 5 intact frames of worker bees with a queen. The frames have cells with eggs, larvae, pupae, pollen, honey, etc. In other words, the nuc is the "nucleus" of a working hive. Everything is already in process. You bring the nuc home, put the frames in your empty hive, and off you go. 

An entire hive is exactly that. All the parts of the hive, full of bees and comb and honey, usually purchased from someone who is either downsizing or getting out of bees altogether.

Each of these has pros and cons. Buying an entire hive assumes you know enough to go into that hive before purchase and check for mites and any signs of poor health. I'm not quite at that point yet, so I've ruled this option out.

Initially I was thinking in terms of packages, because they're slightly less expensive and seem to be more readily available. But then I learned that bee packages are made up by people going from hive to hive, shaking some bees into the package cage, and then putting a separately bred queen with this newly-created colony. My first reaction: given what I've learned about bees and their biology, along with their social aspects, isn't this a recipe for disaster? It's convenient for the beekeepers selling packages, and for anyone buying packages, but apparently there are some losses in transport, frequent queen deaths due to worker bees stinging her to death, and sometimes other casualties of the process.

I like the idea that a nuc is a group from an actual working hive. The worker bees are the actual daughters of the queen. They are already a team and have achieved frames with all they need to survive. In my mind, they're family. That's all it took for me to determine that nucs are what I want to start with.

Now the hard part is finding nucs! Who knew how far in advance one has to put in orders! I have leads on a couple of options but may have to wait to get started. In any case, I've made my decision and I'm (almost) ready to go. Meanwhile I have to get two hives purchased, assembled, treated and painted, and set up. And it looks like it's going to soon be time to purchase the coveted beekeeping suit I found online. More details as the process unfolds! 

Thursday, February 02, 2017

sometimes, when I'm overwhelmed...

the best thing to do is take Bear Corgi for a walk and look up:

First sunset of February, 2017, November Hill.