Wednesday, March 31, 2021

November Hill farm journal, 123

 This week we have scout bees checking out both our bait hives. Hegemone hive is bursting at the seams, and as soon as we get past the point of having cold nights (several nights this week we could be seeing temps at 29 degrees F!) I’m going to try doing a runaway split using Sam Comfort’s method of taking the brood box and base of Hegemone, moving it to where the Echo bait hive is now sitting, and move the Echo base to Hegemone’s current location with Hegemone’s top box. The idea is that the original Hegemone brood box contains the queen and she and nurse bees plus lots of eggs and brood will go to a new location. The old location will have some brood and resources - and a number of foragers will return to the new Echo hive we’ve placed there. The Echo hive will have to raise a new queen, and this gap in egg-laying will create what’s called a brood break, which is a good way to also create a varroa mite break. The runaway part is that you don’t get invasive - you simply move brood boxes and let the bees do their thing.

The main benefit is that with Hegemone thriving right now, we’ll avoid their natural swarm - or to be more precise, we will get to keep what would have been their swarm - and by doing that we’ll have two very good hives going into the nectar flow. Hegemone genetics are good by all measures we can make, so we want to keep them and build our apiary using their swarms as much as we can.

Artemis hive is still very small. I’m seeing a little bit of activity and we’ll see if they pick up as we move forward. 

The scout bees I’m seeing around the two bait hives are very light in color, so I’m thinking these are not any of our bees scouting. I’m hoping we’ll get to see a swarm move in.

Over the weekend I did a mild power-washing of our back deck. After a lot of consideration, mostly having to do with what I can tolerate in terms of work being done this spring, we decided to simply repair our existing deck and spruce things up a bit instead of having the entire thing redone. I ordered a few things from Lowe’s, did curbside pick-up, and here’s what I ended up with:

I have to admit that I’m a failure at power washing. It was obvious as I worked on it that if I really went at it, I could get the deck back to near original condition and then would need to treat it for best results. However, doing this in the few spots I tried it meant that a lot of dirt was flying onto the sliding glass doors and side of the house, and I would have needed to then clean THAT off, and I definitely did not want to end up having to treat the decking right now. It feels like everything sets off a series of domino chores needing to be done. I pulled back well short of that happening. 

Today we had some help taking care of an issue that’s been developing over the past year with a certain canine family member who methodically dug out a cave den beneath the deck steps that was 3x her size. This hole was holding water when it rains and generally just a big fat mess. 

This is where we got to addressing that today:

The muddy when wet clay beneath the deck is now covered with clean gravel, the cave den has been filled in, and we have a tidy grid panel to keep the dogs out. The panel to the far left is removable for accessing the dryer vent, and the deck railing and stair rail have been repaired so they are stable again. I’m going to plant something in front of the longer section of railing that will act as a rain garden type thing to help with run-off which has been happening since we bought the house. We’ve slowed it doing some other things but this should really make a difference. 

Once we get the rest of the deck underlay graveled and paneled, we’ll also have a cat door so they can go in and out. They like having space where the dogs can’t go, and this will do nicely for them. 

I really wanted the grid paneling to be black enamel, but it’s been out of stock at all the local (and beyond) sources for months and this project couldn’t wait. At some point we’ll redo the entire deck and when we do, we can make some upgrades. This will do for summer and fall and then we’ll see where we are. 

I’m grooming huge wads of fur off the equines this week, in particular, the pony, to the degree that I am getting his ACTH checked when the vet is here this month. He may be having PPID symptoms. The pastures are greening up quickly and we have all our materials to move to donkey and pony get fit boot camp. 

In other news, I received my second Covid shot today (it feels like today still but at this point it was yesterday). I have a sore arm and I woke up at 4 a.m. but other than that am not having other issues yet. 

We’re expecting rain/storms this afternoon/evening, a few days of much cooler weather, than more clearing and warm days beyond that, when I can move on to the garden beds that need to be prepped for spring!

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Welcome to the world, Baby Will

 This happened over the weekend and we are very very excited to meet this little poppet. Photo credit to his beautiful mama.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

November Hill farm journal, 122

We’re rolling along into spring here on November Hill. The maples have bloomed, redbuds are blooming, the red deadnettle is full of bees, and the dogwoods are preparing to pop out. In the garden beds, many things are leafing up and out, and I’ve started removing the winter foliage that we left for birds and insects. It’s time to start the weeding too, but I like to let the early flowering weeds stay since they do offer some pollen for native and honey bees.

Spring means grass, right? And for people with easy keeper equines it is a mixed blessing. This year Rafer Johnson is carrying more weight than he needs to, and honestly, so is the pony. Redford was gelded later than the norm and either because of that or because he just has different genes, he doesn’t tend to pack on the pounds. Even he has a little bit right now! So, I made the hard decision to put all three of them in grazing muzzles and ordered the new Thinline “Flexible Fillies” ones with padded halters to secure them. These are softer and lighter in weight than the old basket muzzles, and they offer much more “breathing” room. I am sure they won’t be popular with the donka boys or the pony, but my hope is they’ll be the least worst alternative to endless calories.

I also ordered supplies to create a track area in the back pasture that will connect to the riding arena. When the herd is turned out to the front, the littles will wear their muzzles. But when they’re turned out to the back, the littles can have the arena plus a track that will run most of the perimeter of the back pasture, with two areas that widen out for a lot of room for puttering around. They won’t need their muzzles on when they’re turned out in the track area. 

My plan is to do a full-on boot camp with them this spring, on through summer, and into fall, in hopes that I can turn things around with the weight gain and they can handle late fall - early spring normally. We’ll see. The good thing is that Keil Bay and Cody will be right in the midst of the track so no one will feel isolated or separated. And when they’re in during the heat, the paddocks are both minimal in grass so they won’t have to wear muzzles for that time either. 

Right now out the window the donkeys are playing their donkey-go-round game, which reveals their dexterity and burns a lot of calories I’m sure, so I’m happy to see them in such good spirits. Imagine how much better Rafer Johnson will feel when he can run like his namesake!

Keil Bay is having some minor symptoms this week. We had the roof replaced, then the next week we had the arborist do some tree work, and we also had a rain/storm event (that thankfully did not really hit us the way it could have) - all these things combined created some stress on the farm and it’s during these times that I see Keil sticking a hind leg out. He’s in super spirits though, and his chiropractor did some big adjustments last weekend, and she said she thinks he’s doing well and that I shouldn’t get too upset by the leg thing. He’s stable and he really does seem happy, so we’ll keep doing what we’re doing and celebrate his 32nd birthday next month!

Speaking of birthdays, Cody just had his 18th. How in the world is he that many years old? He remains the handsome, easy-going, sweetheart he’s always been. And honestly, he could use some riding, so maybe that will be our adventure this spring. Happy birthday, Cody! 

In other news, we have put up a bait hive in Poplar Folly. And it has scout bees checking it out! Maybe we’ll get a wild swarm to move in. I’m eagerly checking it daily. For some reason, I can’t get any photos to load right now, so I’ll add a few in a new post later.

Hegemone hive is bursting at the seams and I’m going to try something called a “runaway split” to see if I can get a new hive going from this very robust one. Their genetics seem perfect and I want to expand them in my apiary.

Artemis hive - a puzzle. They were not as strong as Hegemone from the start, but they made it through the winter. They are just not very active, and the next warm/dry day we’re going to go into the brood box and see what’s happening. I’d like to seem them build out and get stronger and I may try to move a frame of brood from Hegemone into Artemis - I’d love to get them to accept a queen cell from Hegemone if I find any. All this is more manipulative than I really want to be with the hives, but while I’m learning about beekeeping I’m going to push myself to experiment some and see how things go. 

Generally, we’re taking a little break from home repairs. I’m getting a quote today for exterior painting, and since that will at least be quiet and I can keep the herd in the back, we’ll move forward with that when we can get on their schedule. 

Writing news: I learned yesterday in a pure piece of random whim, that my short story Trauma Tattoo was honorably mentioned in Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year, volume ten. This happened in 2017 and I just learned of it yesterday! I’m truly honored, as she is the queen of horror anthologies (horror being an umbrella category that includes science fiction, fantasy, and speculative fiction, which is what Trauma Tattoo is). My stories in this vein are more Twilight Zone than pure horror, and I’m really happy I found out that TT got some notice the year it was published. 

Writing weekend is coming up, so I’ll be putting in some writing time and getting on the track again after a busy month.

On the Covid front, my immediate family is almost totally 1/2 vaccinated. I get my second shot next week. This feels like progress, and I’m grateful for the leadership that made the roll-out happen. To be clear, that is Biden/Harris and our governor Roy Cooper. 

I trust spring is starting to peek its way into many of your farms, yards, and windows. It’s good to be where we are this year, isn’t it?

Tuesday, March 09, 2021

November Hill farm journal, 121

 We’re in the middle of a wonderful dry and sunshiny but not too hot ten day stretch here on November Hill. Spring is definitely in the works, with daffodils in bloom, many trees starting to bud, bees bringing in pollen, a pony shedding like mad, and some greening beginning to happen in the pastures.

In the midst of this, though we also had three nights with temps in the twenties. Ice in waters outside and some blanketing to keep the Big Bay warm. I think tonight we shift to warmer temps and it will be good to try and get sheets and blankets clean during this warmer, dry spell.

We’ve had a bit of a spring cleaning thing going on last week and this. Last week I finally got the estimate done for the upstairs windows that face out to the front of the house. The big picture window was original to the build, so 26 years old this year, and its seal has failed. The French casement window I wanted to replace it came in at $30k, to which I said, um, no thank you, so we found something similar to that but not nearly as pricy. I’m going with wood inside and aluminum clad out so we don’t have to deal with the outer frames of the windows succumbing to the elements, and the picture window plus the smaller windows on either side will be casement windows that open out instead of the double hung existing ones. More useful to us, attractive, but not the arched French version I’ve been ogling for a few years.

I got a bee in my bonnet and redid the arrangement of things on the kitchen counter. I’ve created a coffee/tea/toast area where everything is gathered nicely for ease of use. Of course this meant finding a place for the things I displaced, and in the end I’m going to have to re-organize a few cupboards, but it’s pushed me to clear out some unused things, which is always a good thing to do periodically.

Our hall closet has become a nightmare of coats, duffel bags, hats, gloves, leashes and dog gear, so I ordered a few fun fabric bins and a wall hanging fabric thing with pockets to try and bring some order and pleasant aesthetics to this very small closet. The storage stuff is lovely and sitting on the dining room table because when I open the closet to begin this reordering, I am just overwhelmed with the thought of actually doing it. I’ll wait for the day I get the bee in my bonnet for the closet and it will go much more quickly!

Yesterday and today our roof is being replaced. I’ve lived through a re-roofing in other houses (rentals in my younger days) but never with five indoor cats and three dogs. Yesterday started pretty well. I kept the dogs quiet with chewies, put Clementine’s “suitical” on when she got nervous, and we watched the entire season of This Farming Life on BritBox. Thankfully the cats came downstairs and found places to curl up for the day, and until two workers came in the back yard unexpectedly and without permission all was well. After a conversation with the owner, we regrouped and made a better plan for today. Right now all is calm and not too noisy. The cats are in their spots, the dogs have chewies, and we’re watching the old PBS series Old Creatures Great and Small. For some reason having the TV on with animal shows seems to make things better. And running the washer, dryer, and several fans also has helped mute the sounds. 

The roof was also the original one, so it’s lived a good life. I’m excited to see the new one - not the black shingles we had, but a mix of grays that I think will look nice.

The horses are happy in the back pasture, Keil is doing well, and even with all the extra stuff going on, I managed to get the arena harrowed when it was still damp enough to harrow easily and well. Today is hay day, so the hay room is being tidied out and new hay coming in. Yesterday my new garret chair arrived and is sitting strapped to its pallet in the garage - it never fails that things sort of pile up to create a three-ring circus effect here, but I guess it’s good to get it all over with at once.

After today we’re taking a break from invasive projects for a bit. There are a few more things on the agenda but we need some quiet days to recuperate first.

For the first time in months, one of the tasks for today is to WATER the bayberries and winterberries! I’m so relieved to be drying out, I don’t even mind this.

In other plant news, our Meyer lemon tree suddenly burst out with blossoms - at least 15 total, and the little lemon that came from the first bloom (the only bloom at that point) is now turning yellow. It’s still tiny but on its way. I’m not sure what has prompted this growth spurt, but I’m happy to imagine a little tree full of lemons in another 9 months or so.

We’ll be putting our bait hive up in a tree in the next week or so in hopes of catching a honey bee swarm. I’m eager to see if this works for us - it will be a first and a big experiment in learning how to replace any hives that do not make it through the winter. This year we need to replace one, and I’d be happy to get two, so we end up with four going into next year.

I have no photos to share today but will have for the next post! 

Thursday, March 04, 2021

Redford’s official birthday portraits

 I have to preface this to say that these are raw photos from my daughter and not the finished photos they will be when she processes them digitally, but she is so busy with her semester courses I am too impatient to wait and share the final products.

A few days after Redford’s 13th birthday, she put these in our “fam chat” text and I shrieked with delight. She always captures the spirit and the essence of each living creature she photographs, and this is so so so Redford.