Saturday, May 29, 2021

Brown Bunny Potager, update

 I’ve done a few things in the potager this week. 

But first, we have our first tomato! 

This is the view from the veggie bed side of the garden, with a new bench and bird/bee bath. 

I added a butterfly cottage near the bronze fennel in case any butterflies need lodging. 

This is from behind the bench, obviously. I’m thinking of using a horse panel to make an archway structure for native coral honeysuckle, that the bench actually sits beneath. (Thank you, A and J, for the idea!)

I have one more thing to add, and today we got sweet pepper and eggplants to put in. The tomatoes and cucumbers are flowering and the basil is growing, so we’ll soon be ready for some summer salads. 

This has turned out to be a fun space on the farm. 

And a couple of shots of the new paint color on the house. If you look at the upper left corner here, you can see the old paint on the upstairs side against the new paint on the back and lower story. The old paint color likely faded quite a bit but it also had a pink undertone that I wasn’t fond of. We’re rid of that with the new gray. The sun was obscured and the sky was dark overhead in this photo, so the overall color is a bit darker than it really is.

This is the new color and a truer rendition thanks to the lighter sky.

Of course, in true domino fashion, now all I can see is the orange tone of the concrete foundation wall. I am already thinking of a new project for which I need a local stone mason.

It never ends! 

Friday, May 28, 2021

November Hill farm journal, 130

 A busy week here on November Hill. The painting began on Wednesday, on the back side of the house so we could get that “back” for the dogs as quickly as possible. However, there was significant wood repair to be done to window trim and fascia boards and this crew did a gorgeous job with that and caulking, so they just finished the painting up yesterday. It is gorgeous! The quality of their work is impressive, and I’m a picky person. 

Yesterday afternoon they moved to the cat tunnel side and are doing repair work and caulking there, and they started the first coat of paint. They should finish up that side of the house by the end of today. 

Of course, this is all meaning cats and dogs are much more restricted than usual and it’s been challenging but has also coincided with 90+ degree days, so keeping the dogs and cats in with dogs going out on leash for bathroom breaks hasn’t honestly been such a bad thing. 

In addition to the contracted work, the crew and foreman agreed that they can build additional ‘screen panels’ for the front porch railing sections so that when they remove the chicken wire that was previously stapled on to the actual porch rails to keep our cats in, they can paint and then screw these panels on so we can remove them as needed to freshen up the rails and banisters as needed. I’m really grateful that they’re willing to add this to their work. 

This company was very highly recommended. They’ve been in business 50+ years and are both local and a family effort, and the foreman and several of the crew members have worked for them for 20+ years. It’s a pleasure to deal with a business who treats their employees so well they stay with them for entire careers. 

Outside the umbrella of the painting being done, we had another big thing happening this week. On Tuesday morning my son alerted us to the sound of a cat meowing over and over and over again. The stray cat was in a tree adjacent to our property line, 40 feet up a tulip poplar tree, in clear distress. We tried for 36 hours to get the cat to come down, and on Wednesday evening we paid a man with a bucket lift on his truck to come and rescue the poor cat. He was in surprisingly good shape for having had no food/water for that long a time. We brought him in to our garage room which is nice and cool, set him up with a little food and water, a litter pan, and a comfy carrier, and took him to the vet yesterday to have him scanned for a microchip, which he didn’t have. The vet said he was around a year old, appeared to be neutered, and on the surface seemed healthy. We made an appointment for next week to get him tested for feline diseases, and brought him home again, and moved him to the camper so he could have more room to explore.

We put announcements on Facebook and NextDoor and last night the owners contacted me. They live close by, though not in our neighborhood, obviously, and it turns out a little girl whose 15-year cat died the day before this cat, who lived with her grandparents, disappeared. This cat was slated to go live with her at some point, but he was in our neighborhood, getting stuck up in what turns out more than one tree since Mother’s Day! She’s coming to get him after school today with her mom. A happy ending to a big cat adventure. I’m relieved because we were all struggling with the idea of trying to incorporate another cat into our currently stable animal family. 

The horses and donkeys are managing the stress of having a work crews adjacent to their barn, but between the heat, increase in yucky bugs, and the commotion, I know they’re ready to get back to quiet early summer days with the fans on and their breakfast tubs and hay. 

We have electrician work and HVAC replaced June 8-9 and then the front windows replaced June 14, and that is IT FOR BIG PROJECTS until the summer heat has ended officially in the fall. 

In honeybee news, we combined the queenless Artemis hive with our captured swarm Mnemosyne. We used a single sheet of newspaper to separate the two deep hive boxes, putting Artemis on top of Mnemosyne. The idea is the bees below will gradually chew through to the upper box and by that time the pheromones will be adjusted to so there won’t be any fighting. So far, so good. This is the first time we’ve combined a hive and we suited up but did not use smoke. The bees were all very gentle and cooperative. The hard work of this fell to my husband, who closed the entrances on Artemis and heroically carried the entire deep box with bees inside plus its stand down a hill, through a gate, and up a narrow and difficult path to where the Mnemosyne hive is. I’m glad this is done!

Hegemone 1 swarmed on - gosh - I’m not sure what day it was without looking at my calendar. It seems that their swarm and return to their hive a couple of weeks ago was a practice swarm in advance of the real thing this week. My son was again the one who saw it, and videoed it, and this time they flew up and away from November Hill toward the 100-acre Wood behind us. May they be happy and thrive in their new bee tree home! 

The bees that stayed behind look very busy and presumably have a new queen in process. We’re keeping an eye on them but so far they look great.

Hegemone 2 is doing some bearding in this heat, which makes me think their population is such that we may need to split them sometime soon. Ditto with Echo, who are bearding a LOT, and I’m sure we need to split them. We’re trying to wait for a cooler day to do that. 

So, overall, we came out of winter with two hives and after these splits we’ll be up to six. I have just enough equipment to contain all these girls and that’s going to be it for this season. If we have more swarms that I can capture, I have two nuc boxes to put them in, but otherwise, whoa! The apiary is full and I think we have more than we can handle on our hands for this year!

The vegetable garden and potager are great. I meant to take some photos - I have installed a bench to sit on and a butterfly house, and I have a new bird house to put up once I have time to get it out there. The 5-lb. very easy to use electric weedeater I bought has made it so easy for me to keep the grassy part of the potager trimmed back. I like having the grass in there, mixed in with clover which the bees love, but it does add another maintenance chore to keep it trimmed. 

Rafer Johnson had a little bit of hard swelling below one eye last night and he absolutely refused my offer of a cool compress but was perfectly willing to take a little dose of Banamine and a peppermint. This morning it’s back to normal, thankfully. I realized I don’t have my usual tube of Terramycin, so this was a reminder to order some for my kit. 

Today my house helper sent us a beautiful cake for Memorial Day, and we’re going to enjoy it on Sunday (the painters are working tomorrow AND on Memorial Day Monday) for what will be a nice day of relaxation in this very busy week. 

And, finally, we’re getting a very welcome break from this heat starting tomorrow, and hopefully some rain late in the day to water everything. If Sunday ends up being gray with drizzle it will be icing on the cake!

Saturday, May 22, 2021

November Hill farm journal, 129

 We’ve rocketed from early spring temps (60s/40s) to early summer temps (90s/60s) and whoa, I was not ready for this shift. Thankfully the mornings are still cool enough that I (and the herd) get some comfort time before the heat builds through the days.

My farm helper got us mostly caught up this week on mowing and weeding tasks, and mulched remaining pollinator beds for me. I weeded the veggie beds and tied up the fast-growing tomatoes and cucumbers. The bronze fennel from last year has come back beautifully, and the caterpillars will be happy about that when they arrive.

This week the house was power-washed in advance of the painting to begin Tuesday morning. There was a bit of a mess the day they came to do the cleaning, arriving an hour and a half late and at the last moment I learned they were planning to use bleach even though I had made it clear that was not okay on our farm, so they scrambled valiantly and got Simple Green. They were here until 7 p.m. because of the mix-ups with start time and materials, and that wasn’t great in terms of animal feeding routines, but we managed.

Here’s a before shot of the house:

In the midst of this our window replacement for three upstairs windows was put on the schedule for Monday, then taken off again by the company. I’m ready for all this stuff to be behind us, but I do understand that jobs can take longer than planned and we have to accommodate that. So we’re now having Monday “off” from work and then will plunge into the week of exterior repairs, caulking, first coat of paint being sprayed on, second coat being brushed on, and all the trim being done. The power washing shot stuff onto my pollinator bed plants in one area, and honestly I did have a bit of a shrieking moment when I saw it (thankfully after they left), but there’s not much to be done. I’ll say it again - ready to be beyond this!

Yesterday on top of this the internet went wonky so we had the technician out to look at it. He fixed it and said if it goes wonky again, it’s probably time (after 26 years) to run a new line from the box on the street to our house. The existing line runs up the fence line through the front pasture and then arcs to the house, and to have this done means one of those ditch witch machines coming through the entire front pasture. We discussed a plan to bring a line outside the front fence parallel to the gravel lane, then come along the side of the driveway up to the house. This will be simple and outside the pasture area, but once it gets to the garage area it’s got to get to the side of the house which means driveway or flower bed. Ugh. Anyway, we’re not quite there yet, so I’m putting that on the back burner for now.

I’m really happy to report that all my southern bayberries are growing, as are the winterberry hollies, and the shade bed plants are also doing well. They seem to be having growth spurts this spring. The Gray’s sedge, eastern columbine, and mountain mint I transplanted to the other side of the front walkway are doing great as well. My next small project in that area will be to find a flat planter to move the pitcher plants into so I can control the moisture better. I have a spot ready for it and they will be happier in the new home.

The two pollinator beds I added last year are doing well too. In the fall I’ll add more variety of things to these beds. 

Not all my elderberry live stakes have survived, but some have and are doing quite well. This week past I discovered a volunteer elderberry in the front field. They are mildly toxic to horses but generally not palatable to them, so I’m pondering if I need to remove it, fence it off (which could be part of a small area that will also help with rainwater run off as it’s own one of the steeper slopes in the front), or just leave it as it is. 

So far they are not touching it at all. 

We also did a poison ivy removal chore this week. My farm helper doesn’t react to it, so he took a bag and the gloves I insisted he wear and pulled it all up for me. I used to do this with a vengeance and a good riddance but have since learned that poison ivy is a native that is beneficial to bees and other pollinators, and that there’s a theory that the poison ivy in the trees of our forests here are at least partially responsible for the spring nectar flow that our bees so depend on coming out of winter. The current recommendation is to remove only that which poses a direct exposure threat and to leave it in the naturalized/wooded areas. We removed it from our backyard (!), the beds, and the wooded edge of our front area where the dogs run, and in Poplar Folly where we and the dogs spend time. 

Our attic HVAC is set to be replaced on June 9, the electrical work will be done the two days prior to that, and you can bet that when we close the gate on the last of the work being done this spring, I am going to celebrate and settle in for some peace and quiet the rest of the summer. 

I have some small projects to work on and that’s it.

I’m looking forward to saddle fittings and the possibility of getting Cody and me into riding shape again, and you know, I think Keil Bay might enjoy ponying along for some walking time. It would never work with the pony and any other horse, but Keil and Cody are already joined at the hip, so I may as well use that to keep us all going. It’s worth a try to see if it’s fun. If not, we just won’t do it again. :)

I can’t believe we’re rolling toward June. I feel like April and May have shot past and here we are facing summer already. 

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

A Message From Clementine, To Me

 Yesterday I put a new package of premium dog chews in our “treat” cupboard, in advance of giving them out to the hounds when I went to do barn chores. I put the package away, closed the door, and went about my morning. 

A little while later I came through the kitchen to find this:

Hmmm. I’m super proud of Clem that she simply opened the door and waited for me to see it, when it’s true that she could easily reach the package and rip into them herself. She’s growing up!

Still, it wasn’t yet time for me to go to the barn, so I closed the cupboard and went on with my household chores. A little while later:

Just in case you forgot, she says. 

I didn’t. When it was time, I handed out the chews and headed to the barn. What a good girl you are, Clementina Ballerina Ladybird. 

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Arcadia update

 So, the day after Hegemone 1 swarmed, they seem to have gone back into their hive boxes. I have been researching this, trying to figure out what is going on. Apparently, sometimes they do a practice swarm, but if that was the case, they probably would have done the real swarm yesterday, and they did not.

I also read that sometimes when a virgin queen goes on her mating flight, the workers come out and fly with her, sometimes forming a swarm until she returns. It’s possible this was the case, but with so many bees in that hive it’s hard for me to imagine they didn’t have the original Hegemone queen when we did the split back in April. 

In any case, they are back in the hive as of yesterday afternoon. I checked all the hives to see how things were going. Mnemosyne, the bait hive now in new/permanent location, is busy. Hegemone 2 is busy and booming. Hegemone 1 busy and booming. Echo is busy. Artemis is still super slow but I do still see a little activity and I know the hive is full of bees. 

In a continuation of drama though, the tree where the bait hive was until we moved it had two black snakes lounging in the place where the hive had been, with about 15 bees buzzing about! It was enough like a rain forest jungle that I called the dogs to me and we left Poplar Folly!

Here’s to spring and all the stuff happening on the farm. :)

Friday, May 14, 2021

November Hill farm journal, 128

 We’re having some drama on the farm this week. First, Cody came in Wednesday morning with a left front leg looking elephantine, so we had the vet out. Skin infection! Never seen this in all these years with horses. He got a very well-done leg wrap, antibiotics, anti-inflammatory, and thankfully Thursday morning the leg was about 65% better when we removed the wrap. By today when the vet came for acupuncture on Keil Bay and the Mystic kit-meow, Cody was about 90% better. So, we’ll keep rolling with his meds and I’m grateful this has resolved so quickly for him.

Good drama with the Big Handsome Bay: he is off all NSAIDs, had a great chiro adjustment last week, a great hoof trim yesterday, a great acupuncture today, and is now doing his big swinging panther walk again for the first time since last October. I am so happy I contacted a saddle fitter today to come and adjust his saddle JUST IN CASE there may be good days ahead to do some walking together in the arena. I also scheduled a saddle trial for a new dressage saddle for Cody. He can use the work, I can too, and we need a well-fitting saddle just for us. 

Bee drama: my husband heroically moved the bait hive box with bees inside from the tree to its new location last night. This morning, in an unrelated event, Hegemone 1 swarmed and my son captured it on video. I would share it but there were some choice words being said as he watched this huge huge huge number of bees swirling through the air from the hive to the top of an adjacent tree where they still were last time I checked. It was quite a sight. 

They’re way too high up to consider capturing, so this is my gift to the feral bee world. I hope they find a good place to live. They have super genetics!

This creates a brood break for the remaining Hegemone 1 colony which should effectively lower any varroa mite counts, and I’m now officially on the Tom Seeley method of beekeeping, which is one deep brood box plus one medium super for honey plus letting these swarms happen as the bees see fit. 

And for the grand finale of November Hill drama, a pair of black snakes right below our honeybee watering stations, mating. So long, copperheads that may want to move in! We have a slither of black snakes coming soon!

Thursday, May 06, 2021

November Hill farm journal, 127

 This week we had one near-90 degree day and Hegemone 1 did this:

It’s called bearding, and honey bees do it (generally) when they are trying to cool the hive to keep the brood at the right temperature. On this hot/humid day these girls removed themselves and their body heat so the bees left inside could maintain the proper environment for brood health. I continue to be amazed at the innate knowledge honey bees possess. It’s fascinating to watch them. 

On Saturday we got our new nuc, which was a bit of a drama because the nuc had opened up and there was a cloud of a hundred of more bees outside the nuc when my husband went to pick it up. There’s no way to get them back inside, so he had to cover the nuc with a tarp and bring them home. I hope the workers left behind integrated with another colony. We set the nuc on top of the waiting Echo hive box, opened their entrance the rest of the way, and left them be until yesterday when we installed them into their permanent home. I hope they settle in and get to work during the peak of our tulip poplar nectar flow!

Also, in an exciting turn of events, we had a swarm move into our bait hive last Thursday! This is possibly the most exciting bee event I’ve been party to thus far, though I didn’t actually see the swarm move in. We’ve left them to settle in. The bait hive in our case is actually an 8-frame deep hive box, so we won’t have to move them out of there, but will simply take the box down and put it in its permanent location when we think they’re ready. Which is in itself a guessing game!

I just remembered I need to buy a hive stand to put them on. This colony is named Mnemosyne, who was the goddess of Memory. Once we get them set up, that should be it for the big stuff this spring and summer seasons. Artemis is still going, not exactly strong, but they seem to be hanging in there. If the Echo nuc thrives the way I’ve been told they will, we plan to take frames of eggs and brood and nurse bees and move them to Artemis to help get them fully on track. We’ll see how that goes.

In other news, we’re gradually managing the outside projects that always get ahead of us this time of year. I’ve mowed the buttercups in the pastures once, and my husband mowed the grass paddock yesterday. Our weed-eater suddenly needed work, so it’s in the shop and I have a very lightweight electric one that I plan to use for my own small chores. Hopefully on Friday we’ll get the weed-eating done and the annual poison ivy removal done.

Our way-back fencing is about 90% complete. There’s one small section that was confusing and we’ve had to figure it out on the fly, but that will be completed Tuesday and we can check that whole thing off our list. 

Our upstairs front window replacement scheduled for yesterday was canceled at the last minute by the company, and is now rescheduled for May 17th. We’re on the list for top to bottom exterior painting and the HVAC guy is coming today to look at our 26-year old attic unit that will get replaced. Once these three tasks are done, I am calling it a done deal for home repair projects for the season. 

In the gardens:

I’ve planted three oakleaf hydrangeas, two new mountain mints, additional white wood aster, and we’ve put in tomatoes, basil, and cucumbers in the potager. We still have two wild plum trees and a persimmon tree to add to Poplar Folly and then I’m calling myself on adding anything else to the gardens until fall. (Even as I type this I realize I will probably break this pledge, so don’t be surprised when I do so!)

Everything is coming up beautifully and I’m very happy with the progress of my native plant transformation. 

Another thing I’m happy with is my gradual but effective process of getting the garage storage back in control. By sending a few things to the Habitat store or the dump each week I’ve managed to get things back in shape down there. My joke is that we have a general store in our garage, and it’s like taking inventory when I start clearing stuff out. 

I’ve also completed one closet update in the house. There’s another closet 50% done. And I am not sure I can take on the bedroom closet right now. I may save that for July when it’s too hot to do anything else. 

Oh, and one very fun announcement:

My prose poem Journey won third place in the NC Jung Society poetry contest! I’m super excited about it and happy to be included in the list of winners.