Wednesday, March 29, 2017

First Spring Hive Check

Temperatures, our spring break trip, rain, you name it... it's all added up to a lot of time between my last hive check and now.

On Sunday we got a major hail storm, and last night it rained (with more hail, though much smaller in size), so I wasn't feeling very optimistic about getting out there again soon... but then the clouds parted and the sun shone down on my bee yard, and I knew the time was now!

My strategy for this hive check was to move from South Hive up to North Hive (saving the hive I believed to be the strongest- and hottest- for last), and I didn't smoke them in the beginning because I was afraid their food stores might be getting light.

South Hive:

When I lifted the outer lid, bees were bursting through the opening of the inner lid. Their population is positively exploding right now, and although I didn't lay eyes on the queen I found lots of brood of all sizes along with a beautiful spectrum of pollen and lots of stored nectar.

I had to dig down into the bottom deep to find brood, though, and in the process I broke up a lot of burr comb. They did NOT like that, so I had to eventually light the smoker (though after seeing how well they were doing I felt OK about lighting it up). I came back later and added a queen excluder and another super, because every frame was drawn out and almost filled with either nectar, honey, pollen, or brood, and I don't want them to start feeling cramped and swarm away!

Middle Hive:

My single-deep cutout hive (aka Middle Hive) is not doing as well as it's neighbors. It seems they lost their queen over the winter for some reason. I found a lowered population with lots of stored honey, nectar, and pollen, but no brood at all save for a handful of bulbous drone brood.

I did, however, find a queen cell (that I almost obliterated lifting the frame out of the box!!) so at least the girls realized they were in trouble and were able to take steps to save themselves before it was too late. I'm going to keep an eye on them and let them do their thing... for now.

North Hive:

By the time I got to North Hive (which was by far my strongest hive last year), I had the smoker going, which I definitely needed because I found them to be just as strong as South Hive. However they had significantly diminished food stores, so I'll be feeding them for the next week or so- especially if we keep getting rain!

I mean, look at all that brood! Way to go, girls! And as I was closing up the last hive, Her Highness herself made an appearance, and actually climbed up onto my finger before descending back into the darkness and safety of her hive.

Overall I feel pretty good about the status of things on this side of winter, however one shadow fell on my hive vibes:

I totally found a varroa mite on one of the drone larvae that fell out of all that burr comb I was cutting out of South Hive. I peeled every larvae out of that burr comb and inspected it, and only found the one mite (out of 20-25 larvae), which you could kinda guesstimate would make that hive's infestation about 4-5% (which I know I know isn't a tried-and-true measure, but it's not totally off base).

I haven't treated for varroa at all, and I kinda don't want to... I heard a speaker in one of my bee meetings talk about allowing nature to take her course, and leave the strongest bees standing when it comes to varroa mites (makes sense to me). He argued that when varroa first hit American bee yards in the early '80s and started wiping entire colonies out, people freaked (understandably so) and started intervening, which stopped the bees from being forced to adapt to the new threat, but which also forced the mites to adapt to the methods of human intervention. He also argued that all chemical interventions to date have now done more harm than good, because it arrested bees in their progress of adapting to the threat, but it boosted the mites into "super mite" status because it was the mites forced to adapt to the poisons, instead of the bees forced to adapt to the mites.

He concluded by stating he believed if people would just get out of the way, the bees would find a way to deal with the mites on their own. His case was made (for me) by his own bee yard- over 25 hives that haven't been treated for varroa in over 12 years.

Although I found a mite on a drone larvae, I'm not freaking out yet- by all other accounts my bees seem strong and healthy, and I like the idea of aiding the adaptation of the honeybee instead of the adaptation of varroa destructor.

So I intervene by feeding, adding space, and relieving them of some of their honey at opportune moments... and then I let them do their thing.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Starting Over

On the second or third day of our cruise, I got a sad e-mail from the friend house sitting for us. Apparently some kind of predator had found a way to gain access to our chickens, and had wiped them all out. All of them............ except Chicken Joe.

That jerk! He had one job. ONE JOB!


Once home, I walked the entire perimeter of the chicken coop and run, and could find no obvious place where something had gotten in... but there were lots and lots of feathers. At this point I'm thinking it had to be something that could get over a 5' welded-wire fence and get back over it carrying an 8-10lb chicken, several times... a dog? A coyote? One of the big raccoons we saw on the trail cams eating the corn in the pig trap? Or could it have been a hawk? I'll probably never know.

But I had to develop a plan to fix this catastrophe and get things back to normal, because my yard was so weirdly quiet without my chicken girls talking to me.

Step one: find Joe a new home (done- a sweet farmin' couple came and got him this weekend... they said they had 60 chickens out in a pasture that had recently lost their rooster, and they needed a replacement... I choose to believe that's actually what they wanted him for).

Step two: clean and fortify the coop and run. I spent about two hours yesterday raking out all the hay from the nesting boxes, roosting house, and run, scrubbing everything down, and hosing it all out. Today I'm going to go spray it all with chlorine bleach, and this week I'm going to work on some fortifications. We'll also be building a guillotine-style door on a pulley so we can close them up at night without having to actually go in to the coop.

Step three: get new peeps.

We went a totally different route than when we got our first flock- we got our peeps from a different place, that gets their peeps from a reputable hatchery, and we got a variety of birds so we'll be able to tell them apart! We now have 2 speckled sussex pullets, 1 buckeye pullet, 1 cuckoo maran pullet, 1 golden sexlink pullet, 2 welsummer pullets, 2 golden-laced wyandotte pullets, and 3 random grab-bag-style "assorted rare" pullets (one with feathers on her feet!). Starting over with twelve in all.

The kids have almost all of them named already, and they're loving being able to name them and know which ones are which! We've got Ursula and Yzma, Ginger, Turmeric, Margery, Penny, Beauty, and Queenie. The last unnamed four all look the same right now (they're the welsummers and speckled sussex girls), and at this point we're not sure how to tell who's been named of those girls and who's still nameless. They've decided 'Ruby' and 'Libby' are contenders once they figure out how to tell who's who. They went to school this morning debating the last two names.

One thing's undebatable, though- our Chicken Friends sure do love those babies!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017


 Yesterday morning, bright and early, I headed out to procure the next phase of my planting plan: transplants (would ya look at all that pollen on my car?!). I bought tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and perennial herbs. I felt like a kid in a candy store walking up and down the aisles of sprouted babies, all of them with such potential! For a moment, I contemplated coming home with one of everything, but let's be realistic here... I only have two tomato trellises... and also that would just be gluttonous... right? Right?!

I spent the rest of the morning and all of the early afternoon- right up until school pickup- planting, mulching, hoeing and watering. The garden is definitely my happy place, and as things take shape out there I find it harder and harder to give indoor things their just attention. It's just so good to be back out in the sun and soil!

 ...and I'm not the only one who thinks so, either! Next up: green bean planting with the kiddos!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Spring at Last!

Despite the fact that this past winter has been our warmest on record and we had only one day with frozen precipitation, it has felt like the longest, brownest winter ever... either that or I've just been more impatient than usual for everything to wake back up! Now Spring is officially here, and there are no more excuses for all that dullness! We welcomed the first day of Spring last night with sidewalk chalk, sunny special drinks, dinner from the grill, and lots of outdoor play. Everyone agreed- it felt different somehow from the day before... like a page was turned and everything was fresh.

Our grass is greening, our flowers are blooming, our bees are foraging, and I'm headed back outside!

Happy Vernal Equinox!

Monday, March 20, 2017

Spring Break 2017

Warning: photo-heavy post. 

This past Christmas my hubby's grandmother gifted us a big family vacation the week of spring break. At that time it seemed so abstract and far away... and now it's past. By far the longest, most involved trip we've made as a family, we went on a Disney cruise y'all... and lived to tell the tale.

Day one was a whirlwind of travel, but we made it to port with time to spare, boarded around lunchtime, explored, had some special drinks, and saw the first of several amazing shows. (There was a Carnival cruise ship next to us in port that left about 20 minutes ahead of us and apparently narrowly missed running over some jet skiers who had fallen off their jet ski in the bay!)

The first two full days were at sea, and were actually kinda chilly, but that did not deter the kids from being in the pool for hours... and oh my gosh the sugar! Only Disney would think of cramming a bunch of families into a finite space and making sugar available at every turn. My kiddos count this amenity as one of the best parts of the trip- ahem- and will probably be recovering from their indulgences for at least the next week. Yikes.

Our first port of call, Tortola, was very pretty... but that breeze was still chilly! I couldn't make myself go into the sea past my ankles, but of course the kids were immune to the shock of the water and swam like little fishes. We were back on board in time for kid naps and a grown-up cocktail hour.

 Next we visited St. Thomas and their coral reef/aquarium center. Most of the animals at the center were part of a rehabilitation and release program, which I thought was really cool, and all of their exhibits were fed by fresh ocean water piped in directly from the sea. The stingrays were awesome. Back on board we all got to be pirates and finish the day with a fireworks show.

After that was Star Wars day at sea, which started out with a cold front and a very gray morning, plus breakfast in bed and an early ship mystery to solve. Then we changed into our "costumes" (Star Wars t-shirts basically) and spent the rest of the day chasing Storm Troopers and other characters for photo ops...

...and wrapped up with an adults-only Champagne tasting...

...lots of light saber "fights..."

 ...and another fireworks show. Our last port-of-call was Disney's private island, Castaway Cay (fun fact, it used to be a drug cartel's island, with a runway for their drug planes).

 By far the prettiest beach, I once again couldn't stand to venture into the water past my ankles, because oh my goodneseseses that water was so cold! I don't understand how the kiddos and the grandparents did it. So. Cold.

Once back aboard the ship, everyone had a hot shower and a good rest, and to celebrate our last night Mama and Daddy had a fancy dinner... right after the last live show, which was excellent.

When it was time to go back home, our disembarkation moved like a well-oiled machine, and despite a slight flight delay we made it home without much ado.

Overall I'd say this was a great trip, though 7 days was pretty much our max at this point I think. There is a lot of business to take care of now that we're back home, but we have a huge stack of mementos and even more photos than what I've shared here (if you can believe it), so I think I'll be planning a scrapbook for the kiddos soon. One thing is for sure, though: my kids think this was the best Christmas present ever.

 Thanks, Nanny!