Thursday, June 28, 2012

Oh So Sweet!

Yes, we got our very first honey from our own bees!  It was not really planned, but we have a nice 1/2 pint of Straightfork honey.  

Last Thursday, the county bee inspector came to inspect my hives.  This is done to check to see that there are no infectious diseases within the hive that can be transferred to other bees.  The inspector recommends ways to solve any problem he might find.   I was really looking forward to having someone who was knowledgeable get into my hives with me to see what was what.

I learned a lot.  First we got into the top bar hive, or hive #1, that we started with last year.  Dave, the inspector, had never seen a TBH (top bar hive) before and he was very interested in it.  Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how you look at it) we managed to break a comb, as they are very heavy and only attached at the top.  This is how I managed to procure our first honey.  In the photo to the left, the broken comb is laying on my table.  The yellow areas are honey that the bees have covered with wax caps.  They do that once the honey is at the proper sugar/water ratio.  They know when that is.  The orangey brown cells in the comb have pollen stored in them. And right in the center there are a few cells (a dozen) that contain "brood" or baby bees.  To the right is a cross section of the comb and you can see the honey and a few cells of pollen.

To extract the honey, I cut the wax caps off the parts of the comb that had honey and put them in a sieve over a plastic container and placed a glass mixing bowl over the whole thing and let it sit out on the sunny deck in 90+ degree heat.  It worked quite well.

But before I did all this we verified that the queen was in the top bar hive (we saw her) and we scraped out some of the ants that I am having a problem with in there.  We did all this over a 10 minute period of time and used NO smoke on these bees.  They are so gentle.  I was wearing my bee jacket, but Dave wears only a hat and veil and his regular t-shirt.  No stings.  No threats.  Very calm hive.

Once we closed up the TBH, we moved over to hive #2, the new one I started this year.  We did go ahead and smoke this hive as I have been shown some aggressive behavior by these bees when I have not used smoke.  If you recall from last week's post, I had put my 3rd box on the hive less than a week prior to this inspection.  We were amazed to see that the bees had drawn out (or made) comb on almost all the frames in that short period of time.  There were beautiful frames of capped honey in the second box also.  I asked Dave when he thought I should add another box and he suggested I do it by the end of the weekend.  I wish I had remembered to take my camera up with us, but I was not expecting Dave to arrive when he did and I just forgot it.  So the hives passed inspection and are thriving.  All good news.

That was Thursday.  Saturday I was busy all day with our fund raiser for the Humane Society (which went very well), so it was Sunday morning when I lit my smoker and put on my bee jacket and took my 4th box full of frames up to #2.  Here is the hive with the 4 boxes on it.  All the bees are down in the frist 3 boxes and you can see the 10 frames.  

Before I put the 4ht box on top, I pulled a couple frames out of box #3 to see how they were doing.  

You can see the golden honey in the center of the lovely new white comb that the bees have made in only a week.  Hopefully, this whole comb will be full of honey and all capped off next time I look.  

Each time I go into the hives I learn a little more, especially with an experienced beekeeper, and my confidence grows.  These are fascinating creatures.

And yes, it has been hot.  Though we did have a couple of cool days early this week, it is back up into the 90's today and for the next few days.   The creek has completely dried up, except where Rowdy is swimming at the top.  There is a spring you can see coming out from under a rock in a perfectly dry place and beyond that spring is lovely cool fresh water.  It is up to my upper thighs in depth in one nice shady spot (yes, I was in it on Sunday!).  But closer to the house, this is how it looks.  I just love this section of the creek.  It looks like someone came along an placed huge pavers down.  Isn't that cool?

There was a very large poplar tree that came down in our hayfield last week and Sam worked on getting it cut up and hauled out of the field on Sunday.  The tree actually took down a smaller maple tree with it when it came down.  It was on the bank of the creek and it appears that too much soil was washed away by the creek to support the tree's root system anymore.  The huge logs will be sawed up into boards on Sam's sawmill and the rest will become firewood in the fall.

It was all our little tractor could do to haul these huge logs home.  This was the smaller one.  

On the fibery front, I finished the shawlette I was knitting from my hand-dyed millspun alpaca.  I think it came out pretty.  Love the colors.

So now I am working on a pair of socks and a mystery knit along (KAL).  The mystery KAL is fun because it is a whole group of knitters knitting the same thing and we only get pieces of the pattern at a time.  Of course there is a discussion board about it on where pictures and comments can be shared.  

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Summer Solstice

Nothing makes Rowdy happier than a nice big stick.  He was unable, however to pick up the big one that fell in the yard last night.
Yes, today is the first day of summer, longest day of the year as far as hours of daylight go.  The sad part is that now the days will start to get shorter.  But it will be a while before we really notice that.  Right now, we are eating our dinner at about 8:30 pm, sometimes later.  We don't get out for our dog walk until 7  or 7:30 because it is too doggone hot before then, so by the time we get back, it is usually time to feed the animals and then think about our meal.  I do really enjoy the summer evenings.
This has been a "jam-packed" week.  I did make a second batch of raspberry jam this week.  It is so pretty in the jars.  I may make a third batch because the berries are plentiful this year.  It is always nice to have on hand and so yummy.

Sunday was father's day, so I made Sam a nice big deep dish wild raspberry pie.  It was wonderful.  Topped it with some Graeter's chocolate chip ice cream and the dark chocolate in that ice cream was absolutely heavenly with the raspberries.  If you are not an Ohio person and don't know Graeter's ice cream, you are missing out on a treat.  The chocolate chips can be hunks.  As kids,  mom would get us Graeter's cones at the mall we went to near Cincinnati and we would see who got the biggest piece of chocolate in their cone.  

 I must have over loaded my pie crust because the edge actually fell off in the oven.  I've never had that happen before.

There is some bad news on the farm this week.  Both chickens who were attacked by the dog 2 weeks ago have died.  I am so surprised because I really thought they were doing well, but the one disappeared on Saturday and the other died during the night on Sunday after I carried her to the coop.  She smelled very strongly of infection, so I think that they must both have succumbed to some underlying infection caused by having so many feathers yanked out.  Very sad.  I am down to 8 chickens from the 18 I started with just a year ago.  I suppose when you allow chickens to be cage free that is one of the downsides.  So egg production has really gone down.

Other sad news is that our old dog, Ginger, is once again suffering from severe urinary tract problems and this time the vet thinks he can feel thickening in the bladder near where it empties into the urethra, indicating tumors.  We went through all the tests 9 months ago with no conclusions and she improved with antibiotics, so we are doing the antibiotics again in hopes of making her more comfortable for a while.  I have clipped her rear to keep her cleaner and to be able to see what is going on.  She is a very old dog.  She has been with us for 4 1/2 years and has been a pleasure to have.  She still goes along on our walks if she catches us leaving, though she now lags way behind and is very sore when we get home.  We always imagine that she must have been a real fireball when she was a young dog.  She was still very active when she came here and has really only slowed down in the last year or so and we do try to sneak off without her when we can since the walks are hard on her physically.  She just adores Sam and tolerates me.  Smart cookie.

apiary after weed-eating!
So, maybe I will lighten things up a bit.  Friday evening, I learned that bees are not appreciative of having the weeds removed from around their hives with noisy weed-eaters.  I figured I would wait until it was about dusk when it was a little cooler and I would put on my bee jacket (very hot) and go up and quickly get rid of the weeds around our 2 hives.  Well, it did not take long to stir up the hive!  I had taken an old rug up to the hive a few days earlier to put in front of the hive once the weeds were gone to keep more weeds from growing.  Unfortunately, I managed to catch a corner of the rug with the string in the trimmer and I had a wound up unraveled mess.  This was after aggravating a hive full of bees and I quickly retreated to the truck to try to unwind the rug string from the weed eater.  One very persistent bee  followed me  back to the truck and buzzed angrily around my head (bee jacket!) for several minutes.  Very annoying.  I had to wait until she gave up because if I tried to get in the truck she would follow me and Rowdy was wisely sitting in the truck.  It did not seem fair to him to get into the truck with my angry little friend determined to sting something.  With his summer haircut, Rowdy has little protection from stingers.  So this was a fail.  But, since one reason I was clearing out the weeds was to make it easier to work around the hives and I needed to put a third box on the hive anyway, I decided I would do everything all at once.  The next morning, while it was still cool I started my smoker, gathered my equipment including a box full of frames and my weed-eater, donned my bee jacket, left my sidekick Rowdy at home and went to work.  Before I even started the weed eater, I smoked the hive.  Things went rather smoothly after that.  

 As you can see, the third box is added, the weeds are gone and I have moved the rug into place in front of the hive to keep weeds from growing up in front of the entrance.  I actually got into both hives to see how they were doing and got some photos of busy bees returning to the hive with bright yellow pollen on their legs.  Can you see it in the photo below?  There is a lot of clover in bloom right now, so the bees seem happy.

Tomorrow our county bee inspector is coming to inspect the hives.  This is done on a yearly basis to assess hives for diseases and parasites.  Since I am so new at this I am anxious for any input he can give me and hopefully I will be able to get some pictures while he is here.  It will depend on what else I might need to be doing with my hands at the time.

It has been very dry and rather hot weather-wise.  The alpacas are staying in front of the fans or in the shade for the most part.  Yesterday and today and I believe tomorrow,  we have temps in the 90's and then I think it will cool down a little for the weekend.  We really need some rain.  We have been watering the garden on a daily basis, but everything else needs water. 

On the fiber front, I finished the knitting on my dog and cat satchel for the fundraiser this weekend, but am still struggling with the lining.  A seamstress I am not.  I worked on it for quite a while yesterday and then had to take a break from it.  The bag looks nice.  It has the flap on front with the dog and cat pattern and paw prints on the strap and on a pocket under the flap.

The fabric I got for the lining was not exactly what I wanted, but close.  It has multicolored paw prints on it and I was hoping for white with black prints.  But, our JoAnn's is pretty small.  It will be fine.

I am also working on a shawlette.  I knitted this pattern a couple months ago and sent the resulting shawl to my cousin, who is going through a hard time right now.  I loved the pattern and it is quick and uses a small skein of yarn and so was perfect for a small skein of my own mill-spun alpaca that I had hand-dyed.  It was the end of the run of the yarn, so was a smaller skein than all the rest at only 260 yards.  I think this will be so pretty!
This photo does not do it justice.  The colors are much prettier.


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Reunion Weekend

Rowdy has "Treed" a squirrel!
While it was a busy week as usual, I don't have a lot to write about.  I spent so much time preparing to have 5 of my high school friends in for the weekend that not much else got done.

I will start off by updating you on the chickens that were attacked by a stray dog last week.  There was one I was quite sure was not going to make it.  She was favoring one leg quite a bit and spent 2 nights sleeping on the floor of the chicken coop.  Chickens invariably fly up onto a place to roost off the ground at night, so seeing her flat in a corner was a concern.  She did not leave the coop for 2 days.  The attack was Monday, and by Thursday, she was coming outside and was back up on the roost for the night.    Here she is just this morning.  You can see where her tail is all white and that is because she has none of her outer tail feathers left, just the white downy under-feathers.  There is also a patch on her breast.   She is still limping, but it is almost imperceptible now.  I have to say I am amazed at how resilient these birds are!  Another one of the "girls" is also missing a large number of tail feathers, but that was the extent of her injury.  There is so little actual bird under all those feathers,  I think it is kind of a defense.  Many predators will get a mouthful of feathers and nothing else.  So the chicken news is good.

On Friday, 5 of my friends from high school arrived for the weekend.  I went to school over near Cincinnati, and they all still live in that general area.  I lost track of several over the years and we reunited last year on Facebook and tried to get together at the farm last year, but it is hard to get 6 people together when they have jobs and families and other obligations.  But we did it this year!  It was great.  The weather was perfect.  We had so much catching up to do that we did not do much else besides talk (and eat).

Here I am on Friday evening with the atlas out showing them exactly where they are after their 4 hour drive across Ohio.  

We did manage to get up to the pond, but briefly.  As I said, most of the time was spent catching up.   And eating.     It was just perfect deck weather.

And we  all got together for a couple pictures on Sunday morning before everyone left.  Hopefully one of those will be sent to our alumni magazine.  Not much is ever in there from us "older" graduates anymore!

Anne & Ellen, I hope you don't mind that I borrowed some of your photos from Facebook. 

I would not hesitate to have everyone here again.  It was so much fun learning what old friends have been up to for 30 years.

There are 4 of us in the photo to the right.   Senior year in high school.  I'm the one sitting on the floor.

I have sent in my booth space fee to be a vendor at the Mid-Ohio Fiber Fair in Newark Ohio in August.   Until then, there is nothing really major coming up.  

I am still plugging away on the dog and cat satchel for our Basket Bingo Fundraiser which is  a week and a half away.  I WILL get it done.  It is somewhat tedious, though.  I had originally planned on making myself one after this one, but those plans are on hold.  Indefinitely.  We shall wait and see.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Shearing is Finished for Another Year!

Late evening hayfield in June

We have been enjoying a nice break in the heat this week.  As you may recall from last week's post, we sheared several alpacas in 95 degree heat.  Well this week, we finished up the last 11 alpacas in temperatures that were 20 degrees lower.  What a difference!  It has been in the 70's during the day and has dropped as low as 46 degrees at night here in the holler.  But that is all about to end soon.  It's summertime!

Yes, shearing is done.  We had planned to start early on Saturday and finish up all 11 we had left to do, but mother nature intervened with rain all day on Friday.  Mostly it was nice steady rain, but there were a few times that it came down in torrents.  Between that and the cool weather, we had soaking wet alpacas on Saturday morning.  We could not really complain about the rain as it is beneficial for the garden and the pastures and hayfields, but we just can't shear wet alpacas.  It is an exercise in futility.  So we occupied ourselves with other things and around 2 pm we decided the 'pacas were dry enough to do some shearing.  By the time we got through 7, we were ready to quit.
Alpacas do not go meekly to the shearing table.  They are not the world's  brightest creatures and seem convinced that anytime someone gets hands on them they are going to the BBQ.  Not as a guest.  So some put up a good fight.  Sam and I are capable of handling just about anything they can dish out, but not always without injury.  I made it most of the way through shearing season without any spectacular bruises until Saturday.  You can see where the toenail scraped down my leg and the bruise spread.  Now, 5 days later, it is even more colorful.  The one who did this also kicked me in the shoulder.  

7 on Saturday left 4 for Sunday.  We did start fairly early on Sunday (after a brunch of blueberry pancakes) as we were eager to finish up and get to work on fence replacement.  We had to tear down the old fencing, replace any posts that were broken, clear away any heavy brush and weeds along the fence and then roll out and nail up the new fence.  By 6 pm we were about done in.  But, we have lots of nice new fencing up.  It is not quite finished, but as I said, we were all in.

The old fence is still laying in rolls in these photos, waiting to go to the dump.  We got almost a whole 330' roll of fencing put up.   Not a bad day's work.

In other news around the farm, we have managed to reduce our alpaca herd by about 25% in the last 3 weeks or so.  I have sold off my young males as well as one of my boarder's herds and a couple females of my own.  Going from 50 alpacas down to the current population of 35 is wonderful.  My work load seems to be so much less.  I have 3 more females sold and would like to sell my other boarder's herd by fall since I have several crias coming and would like to be under 40 for the winter.  That means less hay will need to be in the barn and less work over the winter.  Ideally, I would like to have 25 or less alpacas for fiber production, and of course I have 3 or 4 alpacas here who have been with me for 12 or 13 years who can just live out their lives here.

 Here is one of those girls standing in the doorway to the shed.  That's Peg.  I've had her since 1999.  She is due this fall with maybe her 10th cria and then she will probably retire from production.  I REALLY want a female from her this year as we lost her 2010 female cria.  

We also had a stray dog attack on our chickens on Monday.  It is a dog I have had some problems with before, but his owners had moved farther away last year and he had not been around for some time.  I chased him off when I realized he was chasing my chickens, but he came back later when I wasn't at the house and he did some damage.  I did not see most of the chickens until much later in the day as they went into hiding, but there were numerous piles of feathers in the yard and barn lot.  At dusk, the last poor chick limped home to the coop, missing 50% of her feathers and trying not to put too much weight on one leg.  Another hen had also lost a lot of tail and butt feathers and one or two others had a few feathers missing.  I have been really worried about the more seriously injured chick and have been afraid she would be dead every time I have gone to the coop, but she is  hanging in there.  Hasn't left the coop in 2 days, but she was even up on the roost last night, instead of sprawled on the floor like she was Monday and Tuesday night.  Time will tell.  She seems determined to pull through.

I have been feverishly cleaning the guest house of a winter's worth of bugs and dust this week.  I have 5 "girls" who I went to high school with coming in tomorrow for a reunion weekend on the farm.  I am looking forward to it.  I went to high school in the Cincinnati area, which is on the other side of the state and I have lived in New York and Indiana and Columbus and over here in Monroe County since graduating 30+ years ago and I had not really kept up with these friends over the years.  But believe it or not, Facebook allowed me to get in touch with them, and several of us met for dinner last summer and this weekend has been in the works ever since.  It is hard for 6 people to find a couple days together that will work for everyone.  But it looks like it is going to happen! 

As for fibery stuff, not much has been going on.  My studio is piled with bags of fleece waiting to be skirted.  Ugh.  It is hard on the back. But I'll get to it after this weekend.  I am still knitting the dog/cat satchel for our fundraiser which is 2 weeks away.  I'll get it done.  Almost there.  In the meantime, I knitted an afghan square for a swap I got into through   This is the second of 4 12" X 12" squares I have to knit and send to a recipient.  I will in return receive 4 squares from other participants.  My first square went to a lady in England in April and this one needs to go out this month.  It is going to a knitter in California.  It's all secret, so while I know who I am knitting for, I have no idea who is knitting a square for me.  It's kind of fun.  We all include other "goodies" in the packages and post photos of what we got on the forum.  

I'll end with a couple photos I took on a late evening walk last night.