With the weekends jam packed, we spend most afternoons working on various things around the farm. New plants, new chickens, new bees, new paint (which still needs to go on the old house)…..the list of chores is never ending, but we still find time to have a little bit of fun.
Some New Friends
This past weekend, we brought home some new friends—thousands of them to be exact. We traveled up to Moravian Falls, NC, to Brushy Mountain Bee Farm to adopt two nucs of bees. Nucs (short for nucleus colonies) are like starter-kits for beehives. Each nuc has several frames of brood, honey, pollen, lots and lots of bees, and, most importantly, a fully functional queen bee. You simply move the frames over from the portable nuc box into your hive and hope you don’t crush the queen in so doing. So far, our bees seem pretty happy, and as an official beekeeper, with all total a week of beekeeping experience, here are a few of my sage observations on bees and beekeeping:
1) There are lots of newcomers to beekeeping, like me. At Brushy Mountain, over half of the people who attended the nuc installation class were new to beekeeping (of course, experienced beekeepers would probably skip the class). It was also interesting to notice the diversity of the class, at least in terms of men and women, young and old. Some attendees were wearing flip-flops and shorts, some Carharts and boots, some capris and ankle bracelets; most of us, though, were wearing veils.
2) Bees are heavy. Okay, one bee doesn’t weigh very much, but moving thousands of bees crawling all over honey-soaked frames in a wooden box can give your back a workout.
3) Finding the queen bee in the hive is like finding Waldo in a Where’s Waldo Book, only more difficult because the queen bee is always moving.
4) It doesn’t take bees long to get to work. Within an hour or so, foraging bees were returning to the hive with their back legs loaded down with bright orange pollen. I think they were gathering pollen and nectar from some nearby Chinese Privet bushes, though it’s hard to track a flying bee because they zoom around so quickly.
6) It’s a new age in beekeeping. Apparently, in years gone by, beekeeping (or keeping bees alive) was a lot simpler. Now, a variety of pests target honeybees. Emptying the nuc box, I noticed one of those pests, a small hive beetle, scurrying around in the bottom of the box. The little beetle looked innocent enough, but I know its larvae can cause major mayhem. The varroa mite (a.k.a. Varroa destructor) is by far the most worrisome pest for hobby beekeepers. It spreads all sorts of honeybee diseases and gorges on bee larvae. A few days after installing the hives, I checked for varroa mites. The hive had a few, but nothing to be too concerned about at this point. Most hobby beekeepers haven’t had much problem with Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), which has made lots of headlines in recent years. This seems to be a problem prone to larger, commercial bee operations. In any event, a lot of new pests are making beekeeping much more challenging. To keep the pests in check, I’m going to avoid using synthetic pesticides and try several more natural methods. Wish me luck.
Ugh, the weather these days. In Shelby, March was one of the warmest on record. People have been cutting grass for over a month, planting gardens (some of which already have corn stalks a foot high), and sneezing their heads off because everything is blooming early. Still, I didn’t take the bait. I diligently looked up the average last frost date for Shelby, April 14, and planned months ago to set out my young heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, and peppers a few days after that. And so I did.
Now, on the morning of April 24, 2012, we set a new record low for all April 24s in recorded meteorological history: 34° F. This previous record was held by April 24, 1893.
The official temperature is taken five feet above the ground, and since cold air sinks, the temperature at ground level is colder, say, 32° F. Of course, at 32 ° F frost forms and sure enough patchy frost covered the ground this morning. I didn’t want one of those patches to settle on and kill my plants, so last night the garden looked like an army of misfit boxes and flower pots in ranks across the field, protecting the plants. As far as I can tell, my plants came out unscathed, but my truck didn’t, as I put a small but deep scratch on it when I was backing up in the dark to return from the garden. Ugh.
On a brighter note, meteorologists are forecasting a cooler summer for the southeast because of El Nino.
Now Spring Has Clad The Grove In Green
Now spring has clad the grove in green,
And strew’d the lea wi’ flowers;
The furrow’d, waving corn is seen
Rejoice in fostering showers
– Robert Burns
Spring is always full of new things and the most vibrant shades of green. Despite the sniffles, sneezes, and itchies…..this spring is particularly exciting. There are lots of new things taking place and growing up around the farm – there’s never a dull moment and always plenty to do.
We are adding three new chicks to our flock this year.
Dangerfield – Golden Cuckoo Marans
Quigley – Easter Egger
We’ve got over 200 new blubs of garlic growing in the garden….plus over 200 onions….and at least 100 carrots.
Not to mention all of the new tomatoes, squash, watermelons, and peppers at the house waiting for their day to move to the big garden.
New leaves on the apple trees.
And the house….waiting for new paint.
Last week, we started our garden indoors with onions, lavender, and rosemary. Both lavender and rosemary take almost a month to germinate, so starting them early is a necessity if they’re going to be ready for planting by April 12, the date of the average last frost. To start them, I’m using little two inch pots made of strips of newspaper. I made them with this wooden pot maker: http://www.amazon.com/PotMaker%C2%AE-The-Original-Pot-Maker/dp/B00062ZNXQ Once I got the hang of using it, the pot maker worked really well.
Although onions germinate quickly, they need an extra-long growing season, often five months or more, so giving them a head start indoors can ensure plenty of time to develop from seeds to scallions to nice, respectable onions. This year, we’re planting Red Creole Onions, an heirloom variety well-suited for the South. I was surprised to learn that the South’s most popular onion, the Vidalia Onion, is actually a hybrid, not an heirloom. Although Vidalia Onions taste great, I wouldn’t be able to save seed from year to year if I grew them.
For starting the onions, I used plastic cell trays, and out of 72 seeds planted, 68 germinated. I should also give kudos to my red wigglers. They’ve been working hard all fall and winter eating vegetable scraps, and I now have enough worm castings to fertilize my seedlings in a few weeks once dampening off is no longer a threat. Dampening off happens when new seedlings shrivel up due to various fungi. To prevent this, gardeners use sterile soil media to start seeds. This sterile soil media lacks any nutritional value for plants, so gardeners often water with a weak liquid fertilizer or compost tea to meet the seedlings’ nutritional needs. In a few weeks, I’ll use a compost tea made from worm castings—that is, my own natural MiracleGro 😉