Experience is a brutal teacher. But you learn, my God, do you learn.

-C.S. Lewis

Stream In January

Stream In January

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Chicken Poop Realized!

My granddaughter has mastered the English language quite well for a 2 year old, but she cannot say coop. So in more than one way, I have chicken poop - 12 new chicks doing what babies do and a new home under construction for them. My babies are 2 days old. We picked them up early yesterday morning from my local farm store. They were born Sunday. The yellow girls are Golden Comet, the darker striped are Araucana. I hope they are all female and the Comets probably are, but it's not quite so easy to tell the sex of the Araucana. so I may have a rooster in the bunch. I joked with my friend at the store that if I ended up with 12 roosters they are all coming back. They'll stay in the brooder (homemade) for the next 3 to 4 weeks and then head out to the new chicken yard. I should have eggs by late summer - some large brown from the Comets and green, blue and pink from the Araucanas. Being a little camera shy!
To say that we've been busy for the past month would be an understatement. As soon as the weather started to warm and the snow all melted, we started clearing a good portion of land at the top of the garden and at the bottom. The bee hives and the big compost boxes have been moved. The "chicken poop" and yard is under construction in the lower part of the photo. I've gained a tremendous amount of space for planting and adding more hives. Topbar is the next project. Bees should start swarming by the end of the month and my good friend, Kelley, is going to catch a swarm for me if I don't have one myself. I also called the pest control service in town and they will call me if anyone calls for swarm removal.

I don't usually like to cut trees, but much of what has been taken out was overgrown and dead. There were no large trees cut; only broken pines, dead hemlock, mountain laurel and rhododendron. All of the longer pieces of laurel and rhodos will be used for beans to climb on, to enclose planting areas and to make roosts and ladders in the chicken yard and coop. The larger wood is firewood. Still lots and lots of work to do, but already my garden is showing signs of being a real beauty this year. Oldtimers kept saying the snow would make for prettier plants this spring and so far they aren't wrong.
As I look across the space I now have available I'm beginning to see an area for the goats I've always wanted. My husband says, empahtically, "No Way!" But he said that about the chickens, too :)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

One last time, I hope.

The Old Farmer's Almanac forecasted a blizzard for this coming weekend. They missed the date, but not the event. Snow started falling around 1:00am Tuesday morning and continued until 5:00pm. Snow totalled over a foot. We were fortunate to have been spared the howling winds that usually accompany a blizzard. I hope this is the end of it. We have had over 4' of snow in WNC this winter. Combined with the 100" of rain that fell last year, our ground water levels should be in excellent shape for the coming spring and summer. I stepped out with camera and noticed a strange lump on the back deck. That lump turned out to be Ansley, our border collie/chow mix. Ansley spends a lot of time in the house, but loves to be outside in the snow. Even as I snapped pictures, she was content to sleep in the snow. There was about 6" of snow at 11:30.

This is what the back deck and garden looked like at 3:30. That's a foot of snow on the small table.

We shoveled out today. Even though this was a heavy snow, a good bit of it has melted today. The temps have warmed to the upper 30's and the wind has picked up a bit to blow most snow off the trees. Looks like spring could be on the way for the weekend. Highs my reach close to 60!!!!! Bees will be buzzing. Speaking of bees......

Ora bees are looking good. Walter bees were bringing in pollen last year in February, but I've seen no sign of pollen this year as most everything has been buried in snow since December. On warm days, Ora bees are taking heavy sugar syrup and Mega-Bee pollen. Unfortunately, I'm hearing of heavy losses of bees in the mountains this year due to starvation. I lost my Walter hive in mid-January.

Our Smoky Mountain Beekeepers Assoc. is hosting a Beginner Bee School on Saturday. Robert Brewer, from Hiawassee, Georgia, will be our speaker. We are expecting about 80 participants.
I'll post pictures from the event next week.

Plans for the coming season in the garden have been slow to fulfill this winter due to the bad weather and heavy snowfalls, but include a new shed for my tools and "stuff". (Mark and Steve are way ahead of me and I'm envious.) We're going to move the big compost boxes and make room for 3 more hives - 2 of which I hope will be TopBar Hives. G has already cleared the area where the hives will be located. I'm doing this to take advantage of a little more sunlight on the hives.

I've gotten involved in the Community Garden in Sylva after taking last summer off. I'll post more about that as things progress, but I'm delighted to be back there even though the distance is about 23 miles from the house. I hope to get there on Sunday and start mulching my plot. I already feel like I'm behind.

Think Spring!!! Oh, and I forgot about the chickens. Like I don't have anything else to do, I've been reading about chickens all winter and we're planning for a chicken coop that may be part of the shed. Haven't quite worked out the details or the area. I've been told about Golden Comet chickens that are quite good layers and I also want chicks that lay green eggs. Can't remember the name there, but have a friend who has these girls. The eggs are not large, but the yolks are creamy, golden yellow. Very good. Hope to start with a dozen chicks in mid-March. I've got a lot to do!!!!

Check out my good friends, Kelley and Quintin's, new website for another great view of rural life in WNC. www.balltownbeefarm.com

Friday, February 19, 2010

I think the snow got the message...

This is the first Friday in ages that snow is not falling in Western North Carolina. Temps warmed into the high 30's yesterday and the bees were flying. Today promises to be even warmer and the weekend looks absolutely tropical with highs in the 50's!!!! The bees should be quite active and I may even get a peek inside the hive. I've ordered Mega-Bee and will start feeding as soon as it arrives. If the warming trend continues, the forager bees should start to bring in small amounts of pollen. Alders will be blooming down by the stream. Red maple will be the next to bloom. Winter is long from being over, but with the sunshine yesterday folks around here were in a much better mood.

Monday, February 15, 2010

A World of White

Snow fell lightly all day Sunday, but by late evening had quit. My husband remarked as we were headed to bed that maybe the predicted 3 - 5 inches was going to miss us this time. He was wrong...

Saturday, February 13, 2010

If it's Friday, it must be snowing in WNC....

Since December 16, we have recorded over 30" of snow and ice at our house in Cashiers, NC.

Yesterday as the snow had been falling for 2 hours. The limb came down after last week's snow and ice.

The birds are looking for shelter everywhere they can find it. Even this house with the frozen entrance has birds roosting inside. This is the favorite chickadee box in the summer. The funny little black-capped birds usually nest 3 times here.

The shimmering ice on the trees is beautiful, making the area look like a fairyland.

Digging out. G making paths up the driveway so the Forerunner can get out. Thank goodness for husbands and 4-wheel drive!

The deck this morning. There is a small table in front of the bench in the center of the picture. It stands about 18" tall. That's about the depth of snow all over the yard where it has accumulated over the past few weeks. The snow on the table is the 5" that fell yesterday.
I posted this proverb from Guinea in January last year. I think it bears repeating.
"No matter how long the winter, spring is sure to follow."

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Another Winter Storm...and more on the way!

The snow started falling at 1:00, Friday afternoon. By 5:00, this is what the garden and yard looked like.

After 10" of snow had fallen on Friday night, the ice started to fall. This is what Saturday looked like. The tree limbs started to snap and thousands in the area were without power. Many still are. We were lucky. No power outages, but this is a long way from over. Temps tonight will be single digits. The birds are hungry!

Sunday morning - the sun is shining but the trees are heavily laden with ice. All around we can hear the sound of limbs breaking as the ice from the upper limbs falls on the lower ones. More wintry weather is predicted for Tuesday and then for Thursday and Friday.
I won't speculate on the fate of the bees in my Ora hive. The garden gate is frozen solid and I don't know when I'll be able to get to the hives. This has been a very difficult winter.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Death of Walter Gives Life to Ora

On Wednesday, after I discovered that my Walter hive had died, I spent a short time inspecting the frames in the shallow super. Two frames on each side were partially filled and capped with sourwood honey. The remaing 6 frames were pretty much empty except for the headfirst bodies of dead bees. There was also a small cluster of dead bees toward the front center. The day was fairly mild and there were a few days flying outside Ora. I had some sugar syrup made up and put the boardman feeder on the top of the hive. The bees were taking some of the food, but the day cooled quickly and most bees disappeared back inside. Thursday was a different story! I started inspecting the brood box in Walter about 11:30 and shortly after many, many bees started pouring out of Ora. My compost boxes sit right next to the hives and I close the hinged tops and the boxes make a great work table. I had removed the frames containing the sourwood and it didn't take the girls long to find the golden honey. They were also going crazy in the boardman. The picture above shows lots of bees flying and also a mass of bees on the bottom entrance. Below, I moved 1 of the frames of honey to the open top of Walter so I could continue working on the other frames. (These were some of the first frames I had ever built and I needed to add nails to the bottoms as some were coming apart from the weight of the honey they had once contained.) There were bees everywhere!

Above and below, bees eating that golden sourwood. Since the girls were paying very little attention to me, I used my hive tool and scraped away some of the cappings to make their work a little easier. I didn't get a picture, but after I removed the cappings, this frame was black with bees.

Below, bees are taking advantage of every drop of honey they can find - wax cappings, nail that I used to scrape the hive tool and even the hive tool, although the photo missed the one that was feeding there.

Friday was another beautiful day and I spent much of the late morning working with Ora. I gave the bees another quart of sugar syrup and also opened the rest of the capped sourwood. I left the brood box and the super open and the girls spent lots of time cleaning out all the honey and stored pollen they could find. I feel encouraged about this colony of bees but winter is a long way from being over in the mountains and I won't stop worrying soon.

I'm sad over the loss of Walter. I've questioned things I did or didn't do. I've talked to friends, got the Ross Conrad book out and started reading, again. I appreciate the encouraging comments here and by email. Beekeepers truly are a fraternity of friends and I'm proud to be part of that group even though we never agree on anything. I'll post next on what I didn't find in Walter and what I think may have happened.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Death In The Beeyard

Walter is dead. There is no other way to put it. Everyone knows much of the US has been in a deep freeze for the past few weeks. There was a major snowfall here on December 16 and a lot of that snow is still on the ground. I was able to check on my bees on December 27 and posted that I could hear activity in Ora and, on that day, there were many bees outside of Walter. I was able to feed that hive for a couple of days before the really cold weather set in. I was encouraged that both hives were showing activity and good signs of life. I had not seen any bees since December 29. Our temps have barely been out of the 20's and many days not above the teens and morning lows have ranged between 3 and 9.

Our temps finally warmed to the upper 40's today and by midday I could see bees out flying. I headed for the garden and before I even got to the hives I was a bit concerned. I could see many bees flying out of Ora but none around Walter. I immediately removed the entrance reducer on Walter and sadly saw many, many dead bees on the screened bottom board. I rapped on the side and could hear no sound from inside. Having decided that the hive was probably dead, I went ahead and opened it. Sadly, all the bees inside were dead. Quite simply, they had starved to death.

Walter had been a strong hive going into fall and there was a full, shallow super of honey that I thought, along with the honey in the brood box, would suffice for the time the bees were clustered during the cold weather. I took out most of the frames in the shallow and most all the honey was gone. The obvious sign of starvation was the many bees headfirst in the empty cells. Tomorrow, as the temps rise even more, I will take the rest of the hive apart and look for any other signs of why the hive might have failed. I think they just ate themselves to death. Even though Ora still feels quite heavy, I will feed for the next few days if the bees will take the sugar syrup.

Walter was named for my grandfather who has been my inspiration to garden and keep bees. My grandfather was a wonderful, but stubborn man. He didn't like to fail and his granddaughter is much like him. I consider it a good, strong quality. I'm still very much a beginner beekeeper and I have so much to learn. I'll continue to ask questions, attend bee schools, read, read and read. I will not give up my organic practices because I don't think these bees were sick. I will rethink how I go into winter next year. There will be another colony of bees in Walter.

I posted the picture at the top to remind myself why I keep bees. My garden wouldn't be the same without them. Spring will come.