Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Honeybees Building Their First Comb

The honeybees build the comb, fill it will honey, and then cap each comb with wax, which comes from a gland on their belly.

Here I am installing the second colony.  Wore my bee suit right from the get go this time.  Live it, Learn it!

Monday, April 25, 2011

And Another One!

Alice, the bigger of the two Barred Rocks, decided to it was time for her to start laying as well.  What a wonderful surprise.  I was still just getting used to the idea of collecting four a day, when BAM!, there are five a day now.  Love all the delicious little eggs and so grateful to my chickens for providing them for us.

Dereliction of my duties

With everything going on here on our little homestead, I have accidentally dropped the ball on a major component of our life here, the compost.  I haven't been adding the kitchen scraps to the build pile the way I should be.  I've been throwing the used coffee grinds down the drain, knowing they should go in the compost bucket I leave in the kitchen.  I've allowed the compost bin, which compiles the weekly kitchen scraps out on the back deck, to grow into some funky science project and now has an ecosystem of it's own going on.  Either way, I have fallen down on the compost duties, and need to pick it up.  So, today I am heading down to the local grocery store that gives me their "bad" produce and cuttings, over to a few coffee joints to collect some coffee grinds, and I am going to come home and pump that build pile with more nitrogen than it's seen in a while.  Good thing Taylor and I did a bunch of yard work last week, because I have the "brown" material to match the "green".  Sorry compost, it won't happen again.

Honeybees, Honeybees, Honeybees!

I picked up the second colony of honeybees yesterday and installed them into the other hive box.  The installation process went much more smoothly this time around, although I still made a bone-head mistake, which I can't even mention yet, still too embarrassed.  But the bees are in and I will go into the box tomorrow to remove the queen's cage and take out the box that the bees came in originally. 
I was able to take my first peek into colony #1's box, and they are making comb like crazy.  I need to read up on comb location, because they are making comb on the box cover, on the underside, and I'm not sure if that is going to be a problem down the line.  Picture of the comb to come.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Oh Yes, Another Layer!

Stella, our other Red Star, layed her first little brown egg yesterday.  Again, I felt like a proud mom and was super excited.  But of course, like the sage farmer I am (ha ha ha), I knew she was going to lay this week or next.  I noticed about a week or so ago that she started walking differently, almost as if she was getting her hips, but not in a human way, in a chicken way.  She also started sleeping in the nest box a few times, so I knew it was coming.  And yesterday, she did it, and the little egg is so adorable and small.  I'm so proud, and stoked that I will be collecting four eggs a day.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Taylor and his favorite chicken, Big Spoon

Baptism by Fire

Mission: To pick up and transport 10,000 honeybees from Sebastopol to Novato and install them into their hive box.  I felt up to the task, confident from the classes I had taken and books I had read, all which I believed had prepared me for this process.  I got the bees home and placed them in a shady, cool spot to calm them down;  I was going to wait until around dusk to move them in because with the sun setting, they would know that they needed to settle down in the hive for the night. 
Look how happy I was, little did I know I was about to agitate 10,000 bees.

The plastic bag on the side of the hive box was all of the tools that I needed to install the bees: rubber band to attach the queen's cage to the side of a tray, a screw to unscrew the cork that contained the queen, and a marshmallow to plug the hole to the queen's cage.
The time had come to move the box down to the hive box site and start the installation process.  The very nice bee man up at Bee Kind had told me over and over that I wouldn't need to suit up in my bee suit, as the bees were not aggressive due to the fact that they didn't have a home to defend.  So, as I walked the bees down, I forewent putting on my suit.  Looking back now, I think that was mostly my ego, boy did I learn a quick lesson. 
All is going well so far, as I am about to remove the can of syrup and release the queen's cage.  After doing that, the plan was to attach her to the side of one of the tray's with a rubber band.
When I took the can of syrup out, I opened up the hole and many of the bees started crawling out.  When I tried to slide out the queen's cage, I couldn't get it out and the bees quickly moved over to my hand.  I instinctually pulled my hand away and made just enough bees nervous that they started flying all around me.  At this point, Taylor stepped in at a different angle and was able to remove the queen, getting stung a couple times on his hand during the process.  He used the screw and unscrewed the cork and replaced that cork with the marshmallow, still containing the queen.  We did this because after the queen is place in the box along with the 10,000 other honeybees, they will eat the marshmallow away and free her in anywhere between 8-16 hours. 
Notice at this point, my hair is now up and the expression on my face reads, "Now I mean business!"
So there I was, having been stung on the chest and having three or four bees stuck in my hair, fully panicing.  Oh yeah, didn't I mention, for some strange reason, I left my hair down during the beginning of this, again, another lesson learned.
It was at this point that I had also been stung on the top of head and Taylor suggested that maybe I go get my bee suit on.  I took his advice.
Now I was ready to go!
I proceeded, with much more confidence, to take out the can of syrup, place the box of bees in the empty space in the hive box, and cover the whole thing up.  I then took my trusty hive tool, and banged out some bigger holes in the syrup can for the bees to eat it up faster.
Banging out more holes for the bees to eat up the syrup easier.

And there you have it, bee installation at it's....well, not easiest, but it's done, and they're all in there!
After it was over, I was so relieved to have gotten through it with only about five or six stings.  Taylor and I went upstairs after this and watched the Giants play, all the while, feeling a bit strange from the combination of bee venom, endorphins and adrenaline all pumping through our system.  After everything subsided, I felt exhausted, but much more confident, as I have to do this all over again on Easter Sunday.  Needless to say, I will be wearing my bee suit this time.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Container Garden

Taylor started bringing home these empty plastic containers that his restaurant gets it's canola oil in.  We decided to use them for all the starts that we couldn't fit in the garden.  We started with all the different tomato plant varieties we had starting, then I planted the "mystery" starts.  I accidentally forgot to label the seeds that I planted in the starters and we had no idea what was coming up.  So I planted them the other day, and unfortunately, it took the chickens all of two days to come up onto the deck and scratch through the top soil of compost looking for worms.  Now I will never now what any of those starts were, as the chickens destroyed them.  The picture is a nice memory of what it looked like before the carnage.  It's okay though, I planted some new seeds a few days ago and will use these bins for those starts when they are ready to be transplanted.  I will also be using some of the extra fencing I have in the garage to fashion out a restricted and safe area for the plants, away from my resourceful birds.
The tomatoes are in the forefront of the picture, next to the container of garlic that we planted almost 8 months ago.  The mystery starts were along the railing, but they are no more.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Our Healthy Chickens...and Jasper

Big Spoon, the head of the flock.  If you are wondering if she was posing for me, she fully was!

Soupy, cruising along, in all of her big-girl beauty.

Juniper and Stella, almost always attached at the hip.  That little black head in the background is Jasper, our faithful feline protector.

Isabeau, Sweet Pea and Alice, they are their own little clique. 

Sunday, April 10, 2011

April Showers Bring May Flowers

Well, our little farm is chuggin' along and doing very well.  The chickens are growing right in front of my eyes each and every day.  The seven of them are eating about ten pounds of the food we give them every week, and that is on top of all of the goodies they get when they are foraging around the property all day long. 

The chickens favorite thing to do these days is to stand on top of the compost pile and scratch and hunt for earthworms.  I have a whole colony of earthworms that live in my compost due to the end of my vermiculture experiment.  When I tried to keep earthworms as a way to compost my kitchen scraps and harvest their castings for my garden, I realized that I was taking away the "green" matter that my composting system needed.  Plus, I think that people who use worm bins are using earthworms to compost, maybe, because they don't have the space and "brown" matter, like yard waste and grass clippings, it takes to sustain the two to three cubic yards of compost we are managing.  So, I let the four pounds of worms free in my garden and compost piles.  There are thousands of worms living there now, helping to break down the kitchen scraps and leaving their castings behind, enriching my compost that much more.  They are good for my compost, and apparently, my chickens as well.  But I read that the healthiest chickens are those that have a varied diet, so there you go.

Taylor and I set up the honeybee hive boxes today.  I will picking the first colony up next Saturday and then installing the package bees into one of the boxes.  I will pick up the second colony on the following weekend.  I have all my gear and I am going to the library tomorrow to check out  The Backyard Beekeeper as yet another point of reference.

Pictures to come!  You won't believe how big the chickens have gotten!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Planting Day!

We planted about 85% of our starts today on this shiny, warm Sunday afternoon.  It felt so wonderful to get my hands dirty and work with Taylor in the garden.  We had already planted the Silver Queen corn about a week and a half ago, and luckily, it made it through the torrential downpour.  Next to the corn is a row of beets, that unfortunately, I don't think made it through the pseudo-typhoon last week.  After that are four bean poles that we made out of some extra stakes we found under the house, and what will grow up those are three different types of pole beans.  Then comes the carrots, then the two different types of lettuce, and ending off with two different types of chard.  I am feeling very optimistic about this year's harvest, and I even said a little prayer/incantation/whatever over the dirt before we planted.  Here's to the vegetables!!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Support your local CSA

CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture.  When you buy from your local farmers, it means that you are part of the solution; the solution to create healthy food in a way that allows the animal to enjoy a healthy lifestyle, the environment to thrive, and our families to nourish themselves in the process.  We are lucky to have so many local farms in the Bay Area  to support. Check out some of these farms and remember, support your local farmer!