Lazer Creek Apiary · Pests - General · Relaxing

Fall and yellow jackets

Fall 2017
Fall 2017

While temperatures remain above average, we only have to look at the spectacular fall colors (and occasionally grab a jacket in the morning) to know that winter is just around the corner.    Of course, everything in nature knows it too — including yellow jackets.

Beekeepers across southern Georgia have been reporting record numbers of yellow jackets this year, and we are no exception.   The infestation around our hives made it impossible to do any hive checks this weekend.   However, the screen entrance reducers that we added to the wooden reducers have made it possible for even the weaker hives to defend against the horrific number of pests vying for the resources our bees have worked so hard to store.   Hubby bent strips of screen into steps in a way that the bees enter from the sides through a square opening and then make their way to the wooden entrance in the middle.   I don’t feel like I’m explaining it well, but I’ll get a picture once the yellow jackets die back.    We did very quickly check the candy board on one of the hives and the bees have eaten about half the sugar we put on two weeks ago — or is it three?   We know that next time we make candy boards we will put wax paper on top of the screen so that the sugar has time to harden.   The sugar that fell through has assuredly attracted some of the invaders!

Lavender
Lavender

As neither checking the weak hive nor doing any work close to the apiary was an option, I weeded the lavender garden and threw out a little more buckwheat seed.   It’s probably too late for the seed to do much, but who knows when these warm temperatures will end?   Bees are foraging on the buckwheat planted in front of the RV, so the possibility of blocking new weeds, adding nitrogen into the soil, and providing bee food is too tempting to resist.

I let my lavender plants in the city grow until they became very straggly and woody.   Then, when I pruned them back, two of them didn’t survive.   I don’t want to make that mistake again, so I, somewhat reluctantly, trimmed lavender and rosemary plants today and now have a good harvest to hang in the well house to dry.   To say that my last attempt to make lavender oil was unsuccessful would be an understatement — baby oil with coconut oil makes an awful base — so I’m looking forward to a second attempt.   However, I did successfully use mineral oil to make a batch of lemon grass oil, which I then used to make beeswax furniture polish, so that’s what I’ll try with at least some of this lavender.    Hmmmm – maybe I should re-read the book I have about making products with lavender before I decide….

So, as we are rapidly approaching the time to make the commute back to city life, I am happy to report that I have blisters instead of eye strain and a relaxed mind and body that find it impossible to feel any stress.    We got to spend a wonderful evening with family yesterday.  We got to hear about our neighbors’ road trip. Maggie got to spend time with all of her doggy friends.  The lavender garden looks like a garden again.   There are a whole lot of things that didn’t go as planned this weekend, but somehow when we’re here, plans feel less important.   Life is good and getting better all the time!

 

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Canning · Cooking · Farmers · Lazer Creek Apiary · Pests - General

Hunter-gatherers

Yesterday, I temporarily deferred my equal rights ideologies and stepped back (way back) into a hunter-gatherer role,  trailing along behind the man of the house, picking berries while he did the manly task!

There are so many beautiful ripe blackberries on our property, but they are so hard to get to.  At the best of times, wild blackberries demand a blood sacrifice,  so I am always weighing the pain-versus-gain factor.   Since my last blackberry harvest, BIL sent us a picture of a timber rattle snake up under one of his blueberry bushes, edging back into some wild blackberries, so that made me even more cautious.

Blackberries
Wild Blackberries

Then, hubby came along and cleared a strip along one of the really good blackberry patches with the bush hog, giving me much easier access — still not  pain free, but easier.  By following in his wake, I was able to harvest 1 1/2 quarts of beautiful, juicy blackberries which I then washed, boiled, and froze so that I can turn them into jam when we’re back in the city.    As a few family members need to avoid seeds and the rest of us don’t really enjoy picking seeds out of our teeth, I’ll strain them and then press the rest of the juice out of them before adding apples and making blackberry-apple jam.  I cheated last year and bought frozen blackberries for a trial batch, but that jam was good enough to make me want to harvest what nature has provided for us here.

Of course the other side of the hunter-gatherer equation is the hunter.   I guess hubby was hunting undergrowth when he cleared those paths for me, but his other hunting chores yesterday involved getting rid of the critters that have been bugging me!   We discovered that the yellow jackets at the gate had actually moved into the gate through a drain hole, so it’s no surprise that they became irritable when we rattled the chain against their home.  They are now in an afterlife of some kind.   We avoid using pesticides whenever possible, but we can’t have yellow jackets attacking guests or us at the gate.   His other accomplishment led to one more restless night followed by a good night’s sleep as two field mice have now been evicted from under the kitchen sink.   There’s a huge hole cut into the back of the cabinet, and we thoroughly spray-foamed that, but that didn’t stop them.  There’s another hole cut in the side of the cabinet to let the drain pipe go through.  We’re hesitant to put spray foam in there because we don’t want it on the back of the oven, but we’ll seal it up with aluminum foil after we’re sure there are no more mice romping around in the walls.    We’re generally believers in the if-you-kill-it-eat-it philosophy, but I draw the line at making mouse and yellow-jacket casserole.  (Actually, I draw the line well before that — there’s still too much suburb in me to eat possum or squirrel, although I did LOVE the dove hubby hunted last fall.)

Tractor delivery
Our new tractor

Even though I spent much of the day taking on more-than-usual traditional female tasks, I did start the day having fun on our new Kubota tractor!   I have been hesitant to bush hog on borrowed tractors, even though BIL and our neighbor have shown more confidence in my abilities than I’ve believed myself to have, but I quite quickly became comfortable on relatively flat land knowing that if I damaged something, it would be something I was paying for!    I even found it easier to back the tractor up than to back my car up because I can see where I’m going so much better.   However, that became tricky after a while because of my on-going neck discomfort (I can’t call it pain right now) and my bi-focals.   While bi-focals are great for many things, they don’t work well for looking back over one’s shoulder or for checking bee hives.   I have an eye appointment next week and will probably get a pair of long-distance glasses and a pair with which I can see bee frames.    I’m not sure how I’ll juggle three different pairs of glasses — maybe the eye doctor will have a better suggestion!

Our other exciting 15 minutes yesterday was when we had to combat a waterfall running down the inside of the RV door!   Hubby made adjustments to the strike plate for the door latch and that kept the rain out, but in the time that took, the torrent filled a casserole dish and soaked a bunch of towels. (I wish I had a picture to post, but we were both a little too occupied to grab a camera!) It’s times like these that make me glad I brought every old towel that we had at the house here.  Sure, they take up space, but sometimes they come in handy.   We started today with a trip to the laundromat and that led to reorganizing towel storage — what better time to do it than when every towel in the house has just been washed?

It’s a beautiful sunny day,  the trails we cut last year are now trails again, and we can see the stakes for the house-site again.     Life is good on the farm!

 

Construction · Pests - General

Filling in trenches!

 

First trench
Case backhoe

A few weeks ago, hubby dug the trenches for our water lines.  The piece of equipment he wanted wasn’t available, so he got the Terramite backhoe way in the back of the picture to the left.  It managed to dig out the packed clay, but stumps defeated it.   Our wonderful neighbor, BH, came over and offered us the use of something a little bigger.   Hubby had lots of fun digging with this one and managed to get over 400 feet of trenching done in two days. We finally have the right water pipes, have them installed, pressure tested for leaks, marked well, and we are ready to fill in the holes.  The first thing we tackled was the break in the driveway as we either had to carry everything over the trench or take the long way around with the four wheeler — which I won’t drive cross-country!    I’m still getting used to it and have only reached a maximum speed of 7 m.p.h. on the driveway so far.

Water line inside a sleeve
Pipes clearly marked

BH suggested that we feed our water and power line to the well through a larger piece of PVC pipe in order to protect it some from the pressure of us driving across the section that runs under the driveway.  Most of the damage he sees to underground pipes stems from rocks abrading the plastic and that is more likely to happen under a heavily traveled area.  Other suggestions that he made were to wrap the pipe in caution tape and tie wrap the electric line so that it stays under the pipe.   That way, if we forget where the lines are and start digging, the first thing we’ll hit is the water and that’s only if we don’t notice the caution tape.   The next step was to rake soil around and under the pipes so that when we backfill the trenches, the pipes are supported and the soil immediately around them is clear of rocks.  That was my main job today, and I only got a short run finished.  Guess what I’ll be doing tomorrow?

Back to the driveway….

Hubby rented a soil compactor so that the driveway remains stable over the long haul.  Haul is a good word as we pretty much had to haul the darn thing up the trench and sometimes give it a helping hand on the downhill run too!   That’s why I’m back at the RV typing instead of still digging and raking out in the 97 degree weather with the men.  (8 hours of that was enough.)  It was an interesting and tedious experience, but I know that section of driveway isn’t going anywhere.

Woodford faucet

The outdoor water faucets hubby installed drain when you turn them off, releasing the water back into the soil and preventing the faucets from freezing.   They are available in a variety of lengths so that they can be buried deeper in colder regions.  The ones we have are buried two feet in the ground.   The base is surrounded by drainage rock so that water can drain easily, and hubby covered the exit with fabric to prevent dirt and roots from entering.   We have other faucets at intervals along the long run of pipe so that we can attach drip irrigation lines eventually, but the main water sources for the RV and the workshop are these very robust ones.  (The drip irrigation faucets will be low to the ground and easy to cover in winter.)   Another of BH’s suggestions for these long runs of pipe was to install telescoping repair couplings at intervals to enable expansion and contraction without the pipes having to bend.  This afternoon pipe that was straight in the morning was significantly bowed by 3:00 p.m. and the installation of couplings like these took care of that.

We also installed a spin down water filter on the main water line coming from the well.   (I’m not sure if it’s the same brand as the one in the link.)

Spin down water filter

This style was the third filter we tried on the irrigation well at our house after having non-stop problems with sprinklers not shutting off and other zones not turning on. The more traditional filters clogged too easily with the fine sediment, but this one worked perfectly.   It also doesn’t require any additional purchases, like replacement filters.  When it becomes clogged, simply turn the handle and it flushes out.  We had to do this multiple times a day for the first month we had the irrigation well, but only flush it a few times a year since we had a heavy rain flow that apparently flushed out the water table.   We have a bucket with gravel underneath it as water rushing out onto bare ground created a muddy mess, but we have been very happy with the system.

When hubby rented the soil compactor from Taylor-Foster Hardware, he also rented an Outback Brush Cutter for me.    My first hour with it was a little hair-raising as I felt like it was in control and was intent on dragging me into the woods!    After that, I simply slowed it down to a pace at which a snail could have easily passed me and then I didn’t stop until it ran out of gas.   It did a great job clearing brambles and other weeds.   I’d planned to use it along our fence line today, but never made it out of the trenches  until I made my escape to the air-conditioning.  (I’m preparing to teach a unit of World War I poetry, so thoughts of trench warfare are always hovering around somewhere in my brain.)    The brush cutter certainly did a better job than the weedeater and in less time.  Each one puts a different muscle group to work, so maybe I need both after we find gold and can afford a $5,000 piece of equipment!

Until we find that gold, we’ll definitely keep renting equipment and shopping for supplies at Taylor-Foster in Manchester, GA.   The people there are always so friendly and helpful and they have an amazing selection of supplies for a small town store.  They also have an ice-cream freezer right next to the checkout counter, and you won’t find that at the big box stores.   We bought plumbing parts yesterday and then bought strawberry shortcake ice cream bars for lunch!

The bees continue to do well here and are bringing in lots of pollen.  The city bees abandoned my lavender for Echinacea while we were away.  I spotted 5 different bee varieties on the Echinacea and Pholx in just a couple of minutes.   The bees are happy.  We are happy.   Life is good!

 

Bees on Echinacea, July 2016
Nature · Pests - General

Lady bird, lady bird, fly away home.

 

Your house is on fire and your children are gone,
All except one,
And her name is Ann,
And she hid under the baking pan.

 

Lady birds (lady bugs to Americans) have long been known as beneficial insects that eat aphids, pine  beetles, and other annoying pests.  Each lady bug eats thousands of aphids, so I have often thought about buying some to protect our rose bushes without the use of chemicals.   Young Harris College is working in conjunction with the USDA Forest Service and the Georgia Forestry Commission to save hemlock trees from the Hemlock Wooly Adelgid by distributing lady bugs, one of HWA’s few natural predators.   Clemson University recommends using them to treat scale on oak trees.

I tried to keep all of these benefits in mind as we installed our gate last weekend, but it’s hard to think of lady bugs in a totally positive light when working in a swarm of them!   For one thing, they bite.  It seems that the more yellow they are, the more they bite.   And, as you can read on Garden Insects, “[w]hen disturbed, they may secrete an odorous, distasteful fluid out of their joints to discourage enemies.”   I ended up with many bites and smears of the “distasteful fluid” any place they could access.

  • Tip 1:  don’t wear a v-neck t-shirt as they appear to be curious little critters who are less likely to find their way under a higher neckline.
  • Tip 2:  be short.  Now, I don’t have enough evidence to conclusively say this is a benefit, but both my husband and BIL ended up with dis-taste-ful lady bugs in their mouths a few times while I did not.  Maybe the ladybugs are misandristic, but I like to think my height (or lack thereof) gave me an advantage that balanced out the v-neck disadvantage.
  • Tip 3:  stay in the shade as much as possible as they love the heat of the sun, especially on a November morning.

If they are protecting our trees from pine beetles, I will come to love them again, …..just as soon as these bites stop itching!