Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Digging in the Hives

I went to a bee club meeting last night and talked with Randy, the man from whom I purchased my hives.  After my hive inspection a few weeks ago, I felt uncertain about disturbing my hives.  The inspector told me things were great and I should just leave them alone.  The less I messed with things, the better.

Randy disagreed.  He told me that in order to learn about bees I need to get into my hives.  How would I know when something was wrong if I didn't know what right looks like?  Randy had a good point. 

Today was sunny and hot with a light breeze.  Not enough to keep me cool in my suit but enough to give me a cooling breath every now and again.  The hive closest to the barn was busy as usual, not as busy as the one on the right but definitely active.  Bees were flying steadily on the flight path and several bees were visible at the hive opening.  I smoked the front of the hive and took off the outer cover.  There were about a dozen bees on the inner lid.  The spider that I'd seen inside the outer cover and killed during my two previous inspections were gone. 

Upon opening the inner cover I could see a build up of propolis on all parts of the hive frame.  The bees were active but not too disturbed by my presence.  I began by separating and pulling frames from the left side of the box as I stood behind the beehive.  Each of the frames showed some wax being drawn out.  Toward the middle of the hive there was a majority of capped honey cells.  After inspecting each frame in the top box I separated the top box from the bottom and placed the top box to the side. 

The bottom box was much busier than the top.  I began again by separating and pulling frames from the left side of the box standing behind the box.  Again inspected both sides of each frame and then returned them carefully to the box.  On several of the frames the bees had eaten the wax.  There was a brood pattern visible on most of the frames, I saw the larvae cells on a few frames and saw a few hatching bees but I didn't see any egg cells.   I also didn't see any drones or drone cells.  I did see the queen.  I closed up the left hive and then moved to the right hive.

The right hive was much more active on the outside than the left hive had been.  There were several dozen bees clustered in the bottom right corner as well as a steady stream of bees moving in and out of the hive.  I opened the outer cover to find a busier hive from the top as well.  No sign of the spider was found.  The wax in the top brood box was drawn out.  There didn't seem to be as much honey stored in this hive.  I did spot several drones in the top box.  In the bottom brood box there was a heavy brood pattern with a number of drone cells and more drones.  One cell looked especially large but since it was in the center of the frame and round not oblong or dangling, I decided it must be a larger drone cell. Again, I saw capped honey cells and capped brood cells.  I saw larvae but I didn't see eggs.  I did not see the queen in this box.  After pulling and inspecting each frame I replaced the box and lids. 

Next time I go to the hive I'll be taking paper and pen to record what I see on each frame.  I'll also be looking even more carefully for eggs.  Despite the heat, I enjoyed my time in the hives.  I enjoy the bees and find them absolutely fascinating.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

A Thankful Heart

I found myself telling Rob this week that while I wouldn't have made this choice, a farm, a rural life, I am thankful for where we are and what we are doing.  This time last year, our life now would not even have crossed my imagination.  If I'd gone to a carnival fortune teller and she'd told me that she saw one hundred chickens in my future I would have laughed at her craziness and called myself a sucker for wasting my money.  Yet, here I am with one hundred ten chickens and a cow.  Don't forget the cow.

While we live near a city that we lived in five years ago, because of our new location, many of our old activities are out of easy driving distance.  For me, forty five minutes is too far to drive for daily activities.  Especially when you multiply the activities times four.  We've are part of two 4H groups and we have orthodontist, sports and church within twenty minutes.  Of all the transitions, church has been the most challenging.

Our old church is a forty five minute drive.  We debated about returning there as members but the drive and the desire to become part of this community led us to try some congregations closer to home.  We've always been Presbyterian so we started there.  Several of the towns near us have small Presbyterian churches.  The one closest to us has services that begin at 8:45 on Sunday morning.  We put that church at the bottom of our list for potential churches.

I don't know about  your house but at my house spiritual warfare is at it's strongest on Sunday morning.  Tempers run short, outfits don't feel right, one shoe is always missing and no matter how early we get up we always seem to be running late.  If you've experienced a Sunday morning like ours you can understand why 8:45 is not appealing.

We visited two other churches near our home.  The congregations were warm and welcoming but our children more than doubled the youth of the church.  Not really what we wanted.  Definitely not what our children were desiring.  After skipping many Sundays and returning to our old church several times despite the drive, we decided that getting up early one Sunday was a sacrifice we needed to make.

Incredibly, we arrived at church early.  The congregation was small and welcoming but the best thing was the number of children.  A congregation of twenty adults had ten children, not including ours.  The kids loved the children's church time.  When they were served donuts all of them were hooked.  The four mile drive  was a bonus.  There has been a congregation in Watertown since the early 1800s. We've been attending the Watertown Presbyterian Church regularly now.  It feels good to join that community of believers.  It feels like a part of this life and this place.  It's certainly not what we would ever have expected or chosen before but now it fits.

So much of our new life is unexpected and delightful.  And for all the unexpected blessings my heart is truly thankful.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Possibilities: Vineyard and Winery

Our intention yesterday was to scope out a nearby farmers market and visit a local winery.  We made it to the sight of the market but no one was there.  I'm not sure when it's opened and we couldn't find hours posted so I'll have to do research on that.  It's not very encouraging to live in farm country and not have a certain, central location to buy all the produce that we can see growing as we drive around the area. 

We had better luck at the winery.  Wine Tree Vineyards in Vienna, WV provided us some delicious wine to bring home and new information to consider.  The tasting room at the winery is housed in the front of a restored farm house.  Upon pulling up to Wine Tree only the signs let you know you aren't in someone's fron yard.  Thankfully, the signs are clear and welcoming.  We had no trouble making our way to the front porch and into the tasting room. 

The vineyard at Wine Tree produces quite a few varieties of grapes on seven acres of mountain top land.  In West Virginia, law requires that the vineyard products 25% of it's own grapes.  The other grapes can be purchased off site with a preference given to West Virginia grapes.  In this area, there are no other vineyards so Wine Tree Vineyards purchase their grapes from Pennsylvania.  While we hadn't worn the right shoes to hike up the the vineyards we do plan to make another trip to see those. 

The wine at Wine Tree was as pleasant at the hosts.  We split the tasting duties.  Rob sampled the reds while I tried the whites.  We were both pleasantly surprised to find the winery had a number of drier wines.  Our experience with local wineries was that they lean toward the sweet or fruity which neither of us care for.  Wine Tree has two wines that are award winning on a national level.  Both were excellent.  We left the winery with a couple bottles of each plus a few to drink now. 

Our vineyard dream is still under construction.  This fall and winter will provide us time to learn more.  In the spring we'll plant our first vines.  After that, maybe Wine Tree will be buying their grapes from us.  We also realized that turning our front two rooms into a farm store or destination is a definite possibility.  It gives us lots to mull over as we enjoy a glass of Wine Tree wine on our farm.

Chickens: Phase 2

Our group of 100 cockrels is now four weeks old.  Yesterday, we spent several hours fashioning a chicken tractor for them.  The tractor is designed to house the chickens safely while giving them the opportunity to range on grass.  The idea is to create safe, affordable housing and cut the cost of chicken feed.  We are all for this because last week the boys ate almost 100 lbs of feed.  If they continue at that rate for the next eight weeks, I doubt we would break even on the chicken project.

Building the chicken tractor proved managable.  In less than three hours we had a completed pen.  Rob looked at several examples in books and online and we discussed how it would be used and the plans for moving it.  He hasn't done the research that I have and it helped me to explain it so we could both clarify what we were trying to accomplish.  We fashioned the tractor out of 12' x 2" boards.  The measurements of the entire pen is 12'x10'x2'.   It took eleven boards to create the entire tractor.  We used 48" chicken wire to cover the top and a portion of the sides and 24" chicken wire to complete the job.  Three panels of fiberglass roof cover the remainder of the top.  Other materials used were wood screws and endless staples.

Moving the boys was a little more challenging.  We tried to box them but they wouldn't stay put so we ended up carrying them out two at a time.  Thankfully there were four of us for the job.  We were all pleasantly surprised to discover we still have all 100 chicks.  It's hard to count them when they are in the the brooder.

We plan to keep the chickens in the tractor, moving it daily, until they are ready to harvest.  We hope that will be in about ten weeks.  The boys are all Rhode Island Reds so their finished weight should be between six and eight pounds.  

This batch is really just an experiment to see if we can do this.  We'll know better after harvest when we can figure our total cost including time involved for harvest.  If this is profitable and not totally repuslive to us, we'll make plans to  increase our operation for next spring.  As a small farm, we can process up to 1000 chickens without needing to deal with inspections.  I figure in a summer we can probably raise and harvest between 600 and 800 birds.  We'd need at least three more chicken tractors but it could be done.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Cool Clear Water

Living in the modern world I really don't understand what it's like to do without water.  I always enjoy the luxury of turning a handle and receiving safe water whenever I like.  Water is something I never give undue consideration because it is always readily available.

When we purchased the farm one of the concerns we faced was the lack of city water or well.  All the water on our farm is supplied by a spring.  Our cistern stores 2200 gallons of water but a family of six plus animals makes quick work of that water supply.  We were told when we purchased the home that the spring water was brought to the house through plastic pipe that had been laid within the last ten years.  Evidently, this was less than accurate.

Last week we ran out of water.  The spring was running fully but the cistern was empty.  Being new to the world of cisterns we'd failed to check it and were unaware that there was a problem until the problem became a crisis.  There's never a convenient time to run out of water but Thursday night seemed to be especially inconvenient.  Thankfully, neighbors came to the rescue and supplied us with the water we needed while we took measures to find and solve the problem.

Within a week Rob located and solved the problem and the water is flowing again.  We have plans to store more water for our animals in a location separate from the house cistern.  While we don't anticipate losing water again, we want to be sure we are managing our water properly for ourselves and our livestock.

I found myself wondering several times this week what it would be like if I couldn't get water with a phone call.  How did/do people without the resources manage when water is short? I find myself saying prayers of thanksgiving for every drop that comes through the pipes to help our entire farm flourish.