Construction · Gardening · Lazer Creek Apiary

Smoke on the Water (a.k.a. burning wet wood)

The last of the wood pile
The final big burn!

Two years after having our trees thinned, we are down to one pile of waste wood to burn.   With last week’s rain and the cold, we spent two frustrating days trying to get a fire started.  Even when we got it going yesterday, it never really flamed up much, but the coals were so hot by the end of the day that even last night’s heavy rain wasn’t enough to extinguish the fire completely.  It is still smouldering from the inside out this evening, much like a compost pile.     If we can get a burn permit tomorrow, we may be able to get rid of the last of the big logs without having to spend hours coaxing a fire back into the wet wood.

While tending the fire, I’ve been box-blading the deck, getting it leveled out and distributing the ashes from previous burn piles.   I also redirected some of the water that comes down the driveway and flows onto the deck on one side and used to flow into the woods on the other.  Over time, more water has been encroaching onto parts of the driveway, and driving up during a thunderstorm the other day provided us a good opportunity to see where we could make some quick modifications.   Hubby needs to show me how to adjust the box-blade so that I can create real ditches, but what I’ve done so far is at least a temporary solution!

I’ve been having fun on the tractor and am gaining confidence.  As I have to extend my leg to reach the gas pedal, the onset of knee pain and the onset of over-confidence have so far coincided, so I haven’t managed to get myself into any questionable situations so far.   Backing up remains problematic if I’m wearing my bi-focals instead of my safety glasses, but I’ve managed to auger two holes in the right places!   I did, however, hand the tractor back over the hubby for the final holes this evening as I was becoming increasingly cross-eyed.

Compost bins
Compost bins

Talking of cross-eyed, hubby’s nose and the post-hole diggers somehow collided at the end the day yesterday, but he does not have black eyes!    He, of course, wanted to keep working on the compost bin, but his nose wouldn’t let him.     He was able to get the corner posts set today and we’ll put the walls up tomorrow, weather permitting.   We’re going to use shipping pallets to form the walls for now.  We know they’ll rot over time, but as the garden plans are every-changing, this may not be the permanent location for the compost.    We’ll keep the tumbler bin up by the house for kitchen waste, but that will be just a drop in the bucket once we start gardening for real.

Composting helped us create a fertile garden in central South Carolina’s sand, and now it will help us do the same to middle Georgia’s clay!   After box-blading yesterday, we see that between what has decomposed in the log piles and the ashes from the fires, we now have some really nice soil to at least get some cover crops growing early spring.   I’ve thrown out pounds of grass and clover seed over the past year, but without breaking the packed clay surface,  very little was able to germinate.   I have a bag of buckwheat ready to sow — it’s a great early cover crop that also provides nectar.   Buckwheat honey is supposed to taste really good, but we don’t have enough acreage to provide enough nectar of any one kind to be able to give our claim our honey is from any single plant type.  Still, the bees liked the trial batch we planted in fall and that’s good enough for us.

Arriving back from grocery shopping during the thunderstorm gave us the incentive to move another project up the to-do list — the gate opener!   But that story will have to wait until the next blog because the sun is shining and it’s just too nice to stay indoors typing!

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Bees · Gardening · Lazer Creek Apiary · Pests - Bees

Many Happy Returns

If you read my blog from two weeks ago, you’ll know that at that time we did not have a single bee anywhere in our yard — not even on a feeder bucket.   Well, we left the bucket out and on Thursday we found a handful of bees feasting away.    There were a few more yesterday, and even more today.   All of the foragers are young bees, which supports our premise that the old field force was killed off.   The timing would be about right for nurse bees to have graduated to being foragers.

Another exciting thing about these bees is that there are some black bees mixed in with the regular Italians.   Black bees have a reputation of being aggressive, but they are also known to be resistant to varroa mites.   We would love to add some of those genetics to our bee colonies.   Black bee numbers were decimated in the early 1900s by tracheal mites, and some thought they had been completely wiped out, but researchers have found some in Europe and in the United States.     The ones on the bucket are certainly not aggressive as hubby and I have both coaxed some onto our hands to get a closer look.   Of course, that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be aggressive around their hive.   We plan to leave feeders out over winter even though we don’t have any active hives in our yard.   If we can support the local bee population, we are still achieving one of our goals.   If we attract another swarm — well, that would be icing on the cake!

While I was watching the bees and listening to their happy buzzing,  I noticed leaves on the Flame Azalea in our memory garden.  This particular azalea was planted in memory of my aunt as its vibrant colors just reminded me of her.   The plant is also a native plant, not a modern hybrid, and Aunt Joan was so very English in all the best ways.   I’m not saying she was old-fashioned, because she wasn’t.   She was an inspiration, multi-talented, and full of life.   I know the azalea is just a plant, but I felt a sense of loss  when it died.   While I still thought about Aunt Joan every time I looked at the bare twigs (I couldn’t bear to dig it up), that didn’t cheer me up much!    I am so happy to see new growth and am looking forward to next spring when it bursts into oranges, reds, and yellows again.

Without much hope, I thought that if the azalea could come back, maybe the Japanese Maple would too.    Now this tree marks the resting place of our daughter’s cat, so it doesn’t have quite the emotional connection for me that the other plants in the memory garden have, but when it died, I felt like I’d let our daughter down.   The last thing she needs to see when she walks over there is a dead twig!   Lo and behold — new buds and one new leaf.

The idea of a memory garden started when a co-worker gave me tulip bulbs to plant in memory of my father.   Tulips do not typically regenerate in the heat and the sandy soil of central South Carolina, but these tulips have returned every year.   I enjoy seeing perennials pop back up every year anyway, but that joy takes on a different facet when it is combined with happy memories of those who were so loved so much.

The memory garden will be hard to leave behind when we finally move to the farm full time, but we are trying to root cuttings from all the shrubs to take with us.   If that fails, we’ll buy new shrubs of the same kind to put in the memory garden we have already started down there.    That garden already has English blue-bells and daffodils planted in it.  It’s going to take some time to convince the summer weeds to stay out of there, but we’ll win that battle!    My parents, Aunt Joan, and hubby’s parents all loved gardening.   What better way to remember them all than to dig in the soil and create something beautiful?

 

Canning · Gardening

Unexpected Figs

My husband and I were raised by a generation that admonished us to eat everything on our plate and never let food go to waste.  We somewhat reluctantly shelled peas, cut beans, picked gooseberries and pulled endless weeds from the time we could help until we left home.  It was therefore somewhat of a relief when the 17 degree frost killed the flowers on our fig tree this year.   I had visions of staying guilt-free at the farm and not having to think about the number of figs going to waste.

We had always wondered about the little figs that appeared shortly after the first leaves — and sometimes before.   I did a little research after the frost and found out that what look like figs are actually inverted flowers.   It seems odd to me that a flower and the fruit look pretty much the same, but it clearly works for the tree — aside from the fact that it is dependent on a specific species of wasp for pollination.  But no flowers equals no figs and that meant a summer without  chopping, boiling, stirring and canning figs every 3 days or so!

Figs
Figs

Then, lo and behold, a couple of weeks ago the fig tree erupted with twice as many figs as in years past!   I don’t know whether having more leaves before producing flowers inspired the tree to pop out so many or whether it’s just saying thank-you for the Miracle Grow.  Either way, I’ll be making fig jam again this year.   On a positive note, I get to experiment with even more recipes.

Our biggest yield last year was 15 pounds in one picking.   Now, I was picking about 3 pounds every day when we were in the city and the 15 pounds were a week’s growth after a farm trip.  That much maxed out my big jam saucepan.   At the farm today,  I was so happy to see our three new fig trees recovering from the frost and the drought, but I’m also wondering about our level of insanity in planting 3 trees!   I may need to get that 6-burner stove I’d been considering for the new house.

For now, I’m going to stop worrying about the figs in my future and go harvest wild blackberries!   I don’t think I’ve tried fig and blackberry jam yet, but I know that fig and apple jam is one of my favorites!

Blackberries
Blackberries

I’ll have to boil them and then freeze them here and then take them back to the city to turn into jam, but that much I can handle on my little RV stove!   Let me check to see if it’s stopped raining so that I can start picking…..

Bees · Gardening

Bee Successful

That’s a message I try to communicate to my students all year, but this morning I am congratulating hubby and I on our success with bees this year.

comb
Comb with nectar

 

The bees we rescued last week are doing quite well, as are a few of their buddies.   When we took the comb out of the floor cavity, we separated comb with brood from comb with just honey, so we ended up with quite a bit of honey and nectar in the brood-tote.   Sunday evening, we put the brood tote in the greenhouse so that we could open the lid to let the bees out without having bees drown once it started raining.  Even after 4 full days, there is still a lot of nectar in that comb.   The bees are mobbing this buffet of ready-made food!

Comb
Comb to be cleaned up

I took the comb from the top, which has been almost completely cleaned up, and put in on our garden cart.   (Ignore the date on the picture — we had to resort back to our old camera and I forget the set the date!)   The bees now have access from above and below and can continue pulling honey and nectar out to store in their own hives.   There are still some cleaning up the tote in the greenhouse — as long as nothing starts to smell bad, we’ll let them retrieve what they can and then melt the wax down.

The hives we created from the rescued bees are also doing well.   I still didn’t see the queen this morning, but we had one NUC from a previous split that had 12 queen cells!   We were able to put a frame of brood with a queen cell into two of the rescue NUCs and still leave 8 cells in their “home” NUC.   I’d love to cut some of those cells out and create more splits, but we need to move some NUCs to out yards or the farm first.   The third NUC from the rescue is a little weak, so we’ll hold off on putting a queen cell in there.  They may move to one of the other, more viable, hives.  If not, we’ll help them along with some more brood from elsewhere next weekend.

All other recent splits have evidence of a queen (new brood), but I didn’t see a queen in any of them.   I was moving quickly through them and may have missed the queens or the queens may be out mating again.   These are queens that have hatched within the last week, so we’re very happy to see brood.  I guess I’ll have to set up new hive benches at the farm as well as check those bees so that we have somewhere to put them all!   A neighbor wants us to place some hives in his sunflower plot, so maybe I’ll wait until hubby makes it down to the farm to set up bee benches!

Something else that made me happy this morning was the sight of my asparagus plants!   I have no idea where I’m going to plant them at the farm yet, but I think I may just drop them in between the sprinklers.  We know we won’t be tilling the soil there and I don’t know that we’ll get the actual garden set up this summer with everything else we need to do.    We won’t be able to harvest asparagus for at least two years, so I want to get them in the ground somewhere this year!

asparagus
asparagus from seed

 

Who knew that asparagus looks like little pine trees when it’s not in the grocery store?   Apparently the plants can end up 5 feet tall!   Maybe I’ll plant them behind the lavender and use them as a screen to block the view from the road!

Gardening

Arbor Day aids my procratination

Trees and shrubs – protected from the dog with milk crates!

As it was already 97 degrees in the greenhouse by 9:00 a.m. this morning, I decided to move our trees that are awaiting planting to their outside spot under the sprinklers.  All too often, I forget to open the greenhouse windows in the morning, so the poor plants end up baking — now that we’re back to dark mornings, that’s been more of a problem this past week.

So, I managed to put off grading for an hour or so while I played with plants, potted the blue-berry bush I bought yesterday, and started some trays of tomatoes and peppers.  I honestly planned to get comfortable and grade after that, but when I took the trash out I found a box of trees from Arbor Day on the front step.    We didn’t receive our entire order, but there was enough planting to do for me to postpone grading another hour.   Then I ate lunch.  Now I’m blogging!

Yes, it’s that time of the year when it’s hard to stay indoors.   It’s neither too hot nor too cold outside.  It seems that every day another variety of daffodil blooms in my garden.   The bees are buzzing contentedly and the grumpy ones are 270 miles away at the farm!   I do love teaching, but it’s also the time of year when I am just tired of reading essays!   Spring break is late this year, and most of our spring days-off became inclement weather make-up days for the third year in a row.  Students are ready for spring break.  Teachers are ready for spring break.  We are knee-deep in state mandated standardized testing, and I just want to take the dog for a long walk.

But enough complaining.   The trees and shrubs we received so far this year from Arbor Day have really good root systems, unlike some of what was shipped last year.    The Catalpa and Red Maple trees are a good height and I actually had enough potting soil at home to plant them all.   The arrival of this box is a reminder to grab another bag of potting soil next time we’re at Lowe’s, and my Lemon Grass and Mandevilla  both survived winter in the greenhouse.  The Mandevilla is even blooming already.  The two varieties of Chocolate Vine on the arbor are filling the yard with a jasmine-like scent, and spring break is only three weeks away.  As always, life is good.

Canning · Gardening

Lavender and figs

Fig jam

We had planned to take it easy last night, but the fig tree had other ideas!   We arrived home shortly after 4:00 p.m. after driving through a thunderstorm only to find our sub-division bone dry and a fig tree weighed down with beautiful, ripe figs.  We picked 15 pounds of figs in about 20 minutes, and our restful evening turned into making jam until 9:30 p.m..  I quickly loaded the dishwasher with jars to sterilize, and got to chopping and stirring.   Hubby measured the sugar and we loaded everything into the new 18 quart pot.  It is only logical that it takes a whole lot longer to bring that much jam to a boil than my normal 2 – 3 pounds of figs, but it turned out well in the end.  Well, it turned it okay — I underestimated the number of jars I needed, so we have plastic containers of jam in the fridge for our consumption.   We ran out of jam by Christmas last year; I don’t think that will be a problem this year.    I am going to attempt fig jelly with the next batch, which will probably be tomorrow. My mom wouldn’t have been able to eat the jam with all the seeds, so I want to experiment with some seed-free varieties.

Nuc with lid feeders and robbing screen

While I was finishing up the jam, hubby installed a robbing screen on the front of the new Nuc with the found queen and topped off the Mason-jar lid feeders.  As we are in a dearth, we don’t have fresh brood in other hives to strengthen this hive, and they don’t currently have enough bees to defend against being robbed by bees from other hives.  We like lid feeders and top feeders because we can be certain we are feeding our bees and not every bee in a three mile radius.  Bringing in “guest” bees invites robbing when feeder buckets become empty and the guests start looking around for free snacks around them.

Planted cuttings

We had a busy weekend at the farm.  Hubby improved and adjusted the leveling of the RV, and I planted cuttings and seedlings.   I had no idea that I had 16 lavender cuttings and only two rosemary plants until I started digging holes.   I know I had more rosemary when I gave a tray to one of my fellow teachers, so I must have lost some the week the sprinklers didn’t work well at the house.   I stopped counting mint plants as I placed them around the RV.   Their roots will help with our erosion problem and their strong scent is supposed to deter snakes!   I also had some Columbine seedlings that were doing amazingly well in the heat of summer and some Echinacea seedlings that don’t seem to have grown at all in the past two months.

In addition, we planted four gardenia cuttings, five butterfly bush cuttings, and seven Goldenraintrees.  Our Goldenraintree at home is close to blooming, and it is a rich nectar source for bees, which is why we want plenty at the farm even though they can be invasive in the South.  (Seed germination rates are lower in cooler regions.)

This afternoon we need to go pick up some woodware (hive bodies etc.) we purchased from a retired beekeeper and then go to both outyards to refill feeders, add a super to one hive, and check on a queen in another hive.  We’d marked one hive as a deadout when we were trying to finish inspections right before dark one evening, but found a handful of bees and a queen still alive in the robbed-out and wax-moth infested mess the next day.   We pulled some brood and nectar from our strongest hive in that yard to help get that hive going again, but the queen flew off in the transfer.   (I actually caught her in my hands, but then she flew off again when I opened my hands to see what I’d caught.)   We hope she made her way back home and is enjoying the top feeder.   With hives in four locations, we really needed a better way of tracking inspections and our apiary to-do list.   We tried a few apps, and Hivetool Mobile is working well for us as data syncs across devices, so hubby and I both have access to records.   Inspections go a lot quicker when one of us checks frames and the other updates Hivetool.   Hivetool also allows us to move a hive from one location to another while retaining history.  Apiary Book is another good app, but data is limited to one device — it would work very well for an apiary in which only one person is entering data.   In between everything else, I need to number hive bottom boards to make tracking new hives easier as we assemble them.  Our quick growth has led to us being less organized about things like that than we would like, so we’re eating that elephant on bite at a time!   Of course I’ve added a second elephant and am trying to write an apiary centered inventory program using Visual Basic in my spare time!

I’ve joked about needing to go back to work so that I don’t have to work so hard, but I’m loving every minute of it.   On the other hand, my students did very well on the IB exam and I am excited about teaching a new crew in a few weeks.  Concentrating on non-education activities this summer has revived my love of teaching, and we’ll start heading into a quieter garden and hive time soon.   Our home-on-wheels is set up for relaxing get-aways throughout the school year.   Life is good!

Gardening

Daylillies galore!

We were so excited to fill the bed of the truck with daylillies that I split last fall, a couple of magnolia seedlings, and six golden raintrees that were all jammed into one pot.   However, after  digging the fifth hole in the packed Georgia clay, “How exciting” turned to “What were you thinking?”   I dug a couple more holes by hand while waiting for hubby to return from Tractor Supply and then had him use the auger to turn the soil for the remaining plants.   I guess I could have used the tractor myself, but I haven’t been on it since November and I’ve never used the auger, so I wasn’t comfortable experimenting without supervision and the encouragement that hubby and BIL always provide.
I ended up planting over 40 plants, some of which you can see here, and all were doing well on Wednesday when I last saw them.  I’m sitting here typing at 2:00 a.m. hoping that the storm that woke me up hasn’t washed them all down to the creek!
Hubby installed fence pickets and H-braces on Wednesday while I shopped and then wandered around the woods looking for cedar and dogwood trees to save.  Some had been knocked over during the tree thinning while others were covered in vines.  Now, I love Carolina Jessamine, but I love dogwoods more.  Then there are the spiny vines that not even their own mother could love — they just have to go regardless of what they are!   They’ve been tangling themselves around my feet, snagging my boot laces, and scratching me for long enough and I’ve declared all-out war on them.
So here we are, almost at the end of the week with few things from our list completed, but still so much accomplished.  We now have kitchen cabinets where the table in the RV used to be with a newly-polyurethaned counter-top/shelf on top of them.  (Finally we have somewhere to store food and miscellaneous kitchen stuff.)
Yesterday was hubby’s bee-check day, and I stuck around BIL’s farm, hung out with the dog and graded essays.  Back in South Carolina, our new bees and our old hives are thriving, and our trees from Arbor Day are sprouting leaves.    Of course, with the memory of the 40+ plants planted this week, I don’t even want to think about the 43 trees from Arbor Day, the 25+ golden raintree seedlings, or the 15 magnolia seedlings that will all have to be dug in this fall — at least not until the memory of just how hard the soil is here fades a little!