This is less a blog, and more a quick post to share an interesting article about the bees that keep a hive warm in winter. As most of the country is in the middle of this long cold-spell, I’m sure that most of us who are beekeepers are concerned about our hives. We placed candy boards on every hive before we returned to the city, and I hope they add a layer of insulation as well as food. Still, I worry….. and we won’t know how well each hive pulled through until it’s warm enough for bees to fly again.
There are some new-to-me facts in this article, such as why it’s not a bad thing when a queen leaves some cells empty when laying eggs. Enjoy!
When we drove to our land for the first time, we were discouraged after having spent a day looking at clear-cut plots that had been misrepresented on marketing sites. It was hot, and we were tired. Then we stepped out of our car and a wonderful, cool breeze wafted up from the spring-fed creek. I was dealing with a pinched nerve in my neck and lots of accompanying shoulder pain, so I stayed at the car and hubby went for a walk down to the creek. The breeze never stopped and it was just so peaceful. Cool and peaceful. We came back later with BIL (my brother-in-law) and this time I joined them for a walk. The creek was (and still is) incredible and the pines give way to hardwoods as you approach the creek. I was in love! Then came the part of the walk with the brambles, and the love-hate relationship began!
I love the land even more now that we are 18 months into making it our retirement home, but my love-hate for all things thorny continues! I love the plethora of wild blackberries, but I hate the thorns. Even the dead stems from previous years have thorns; sometimes they seem to be worse than the ones on the live plants. The blackberries are growing even better now that we have had the trees thinned and they get more light. Thankfully we can see the canopies of the pine trees growing too, so there’ll be more shade in a year or two and maybe the blackberries will become manageable! From what I read a few nights ago, they are pretty much indestructible, so manageable is all I’m aiming for right now!
Another even thornier plant that loves to wrap itself around my ankles is sensitive briar (Mimosa pudica). It’s called that because its leaves fold up when touched. They are so delicate looking and the flowers are beautiful, but the thorns are anything but delicate. Regardless of how I feel about how insensitive this plant can be to my skin, bees of all kinds love it. I saw honey and bumble bees with full pollen sacs on the flowers yesterday. The plant is considered invasive, so I feel less guilty about weed-eating a bunch of it today!
I love being surrounded by all this greenery, but it’s another love-hate relationship for reasons besides thorny things. Hubby cleared a beautiful trail down to the creek last fall, but the trail disappeared into a field of weeds taller than I am in just a few weeks this spring! I just spent over an hour weed-eating my way back to the spring. From that point on, we’re in hardwoods and the weeds and thorns are minimal. The work was well worth it as the dog had so much fun playing in the creek and I had so much fun watching her! Of course, the water is so cold that it’s always a pleasant break from the heat of the day to just sit close to it. I cut the trail a little wider than last time — not that that will make a difference because most of the weeds will grow back up and only a few vines will encroach from the sides. Still, the image of the huge rattlesnake we saw our first November here remains with me, and I do like being able to see what’s on either side of a trail we’re walking!
My last love-hate is Georgia clay! It’s so hard to dig into — it can be like concrete when it’s dry. Then when it rains, it’s a gooey mess that sticks to your boots until it pulls them off your feet. When we dug the trenches for the water lines, some parts of the clay smelled like dirty baby diapers. BUT, unlike the pure sand we have at the house in the city, when I water the soil here, it stays damp for a while. Most of the cuttings I’ve brought down here are doing so much better than their parent plants. Both sand and clay can become good growing soil with enough organic matter mixed in, which is one of the reasons we’re avid composters. Still, all the country songs about Georgia clay make me smile, so I know that I really do love this patch of clay and granite despite all the pink stains that clay leaves in socks and on floors!
Nothing is perfect, but there is also good in just about everything. I’m bruised and scratched after my week of working out here, but I am so at peace. When it’s too hot to work, I read for pleasure (Where Men Win Glory by Jon Krakauer or Ladies Night by Mary Kay Andrews, depending on my mood at the time) or I take a nap. I’ve checked 18 bee hives and worn the blades off the weed-eater. Despite my love-hate relationship with some elements of the farm, I love everything about actually living here!
As soon as we arrived at the farm on Friday, the hummingbirds started chattering and darting around the almost empty feeder. We originally thought there was one pair nesting close to our RV, but there are far more than that. We so enjoyed watching their antics just a few steps away from our porch that I bought two more feeders on Saturday. We put them out as soon as we returned home, but the hummingbirds were clearly distrustful of the new feeders Saturday evening. I hoped to see hummingbirds on every feeder Sunday morning, but our bees renamed them bee feeders! I guess hummingbird syrup is just as sweet as sugar water! It didn’t matter to the bees that they have their very own 5 gallon bucket of sugar water just around the corner from the hives or that they were uninvited guests at the RV. I initially thought there was a mosquito in the RV when I was making coffee, but it turned out to be the bees we could hear buzzing around outside talking about these new red, plastic flowers that appeared overnight! They then moved right in and chased the hummingbirds away. However, they were unable to reach the nectar in one feeder once all the spilled sugar water was gone, so they eventually moved away and left that one for the birds.
However, they very quickly took ownership of the new feeder with a flat top. Not only did they clean up leaking syrup from a gap between the lid and the top, they were able to stick their probosces through the holes and drink to their hearts’ content. They were still their guzzling away when we left at lunchtime. Luckily for the hummingbirds, no bees or wasps were interested in the 99 cent feeder, so the birds ended up with two feeders to fight over. And fight they did. I’ve always wondered how hummingbirds survive when they seem to spend more time being territorial than drinking. There are four perches on the original feeder — why can’t they just get along and hang out together?
The bees in the city and at the farm continue their feeding frenzy on the buckets and manage to drink 5 gallons of sugar water a day. It’s amazing to see; I equate it to scenes of mall doors opening on Black Friday. A year ago I would have found it terrifying to watch, but now I know they are more interested in food than in me and the biggest danger comes from standing in the flight path of a highly focused bee! The bees are also bringing back more pollen than a couple of weeks ago and the queens are laying eggs again in both locations. The first Goldenrod flowers opened at the farm over the weekend, so the bees will soon have plenty of natural food. I haven’t seen any Goldenrod around here yet, but it can’t be far behind.
Why do we feed bees? Well, they would normally just stop reproducing at times like this when resources are scarce, and we are trying to increase our bee numbers before the final strong pollen and nectar flow occurs in fall. We were able to move two hives from 5 frame Nucs to 10 frame hives on Saturday, and did the same to two growing hives at one of our outyards one (very hot) day last week. If we can move into this time that resources are available with newly founded hives, they will have time to store supplies to get them through most of the winter. They more they can store, the less we have to feed them over winter, and the more food they have in December, the faster our bee numbers will grow in spring. Our focus so far has been in growing the number of bees. In spring, we’ll focus on bee growth in some locations and honey in others.
Many years ago, a friend from Seattle came to visit while South Carolina was in the middle of a drought. We went out to Congaree Swamp and got caught in a downpour, and he simply could not understand my ecstatic dance as the rain cooled the 100 degree day and provided much needed water to our state. It continued to pour for hours, the parking lot at the baseball park flooded, and still I was happy. Now, I would also not have understood when I lived in Germany or England, but, like Seattle, rain is more common in both of those places than sunshine, which is what makes all the scenic photos and postcards so lush and green!
The area of Georgia where our farm is located has been edging into a drought, and working on weed-eating and finishing the water lines has been hot, sweaty work the past few days. The good thing is that the fig trees and Goldenrain trees are hanging in there, presumably pushing their roots down into the Georgia clay, which will help them in the long run. Still, the daylilies are a little brown and two of the Goldenraintrees were a little
The “redneck living room”
droopy, but this afternoon it started to rain. We bought a bench and a beach umbrella a couple of days ago, and when the rain started we sat in what I have dubbed the redneck living room and listened to the rain fall in our woods and on the umbrella. We stayed there until the rain soaked through our jeans and just enjoyed the sounds of the rain and the birds. Once our jeans were so wet that we couldn’t bend our legs, we decided to head back to the RV where we have continued to listen to the rain for the past 4 hours.
One other thing I noticed today is that the soil around the figs was still damp this morning from the water I put on them yesterday. That made schlepping a watering can and milk jug of water 300 or so yards worthwhile! We’re used to dealing with South Carolina sand that feels bone dry an hour after the sprinklers run. It’s no wonder that the daylilies here look better than the ones in Columbia that get watered 3 times a week.
There is more rain forecast for the next few days, and I am still thankful after seeing the corn and the hay fields so very dry around here. I’m enjoying reading The Lords of Discipline by Pat Conroy again and we both needed a relaxing afternoon. Now, if it rains for two weeks straight again, like it did over winter break, I’ll be back to complaining, but for now the sound of rain is a good thing.
Sometimes you just have to stop what you are doing and gaze at the stars — or, in this case, at the full moon. We have been incredibly frustrated over the constant rain and the subsequent delay in our projects, especially when Weather Bug keeps telling us that there is a zero percent chance of precipitation while we are listening to thunder and watching sheets of rain increasing the size of the puddles all around the property.
One night, I ran outside at 1:30 a.m. to put rolls of insulation back in the cabin during one of those “zero percent” downpours. Needless to say, I was tired and cranky the next mornings and thinking of an early night for most of the day. But my brother-in-law (BIL) headed outside to enjoy the warm evening after supper and shortly thereafter came back in to tell us about the incredible full moon and the clarity of the stars. The view of the night sky always amazes me out here away from city lights, and that night was spectacular. I didn’t need a flashlight as I wandered about the property trying to capture the magic of the night with a camera. Up until this moment, I didn’t even think about the creep-crawlies that may have been running around my feet or dangling from trees. (BIL’s story that he told earlier this evening about a huge spider dangling from the brim his cowboy hat one time is probably what made me think about such things now, at 4:00 a.m. Thank’s BIL!)
There was something magical about the intensity of the full moon and the clarity of a plethora of stars that night that I couldn’t capture on film. The peace and awe felt is in no way diminished by the limitations of my camera and the time I spent out there that night will sustain me through the second half of the school year. Sometimes we have to stop to gaze at stars when things get in the way of our goals and sometimes we have to stop and gaze back at memories of starry nights when responsibilities feel overwhelming. I will hold on to the memory of an incredible night-time walk in the woods to get me through those stressful times.
When we arrived at my brother-in-laws (BIL) on Sunday, we drove over to our land and the creek was the lowest we have ever seen it. By yesterday afternoon, the sandbars that reached half way across were completely covered. We drove out to the road that runs to the north of our property and the water there was moving at about the speed of the Nantahala River down by the outdoor center.
It continued to rain heavily all night and we’ve been intermittantly under tornado watches. As we reach every time point that the forecast claimed the rain would end, the forecast changes.
By lunch time today, the creek was higher and moving really quickly. We were going to walk over to the spring that runs between where we plan to build the house and where we plan to have the garden, but the rain started coming down by the bucket-full again and our phones reported lightning strikes .3 miles away. We really want to see what the spring looks like with this kind of rain, and we want to see what the creek looks like at the back of the property, but not enough to walk in a downpour and risk being struck by lightening.
The other things that the rain has delayed are getting BILs hot water heater installed and working on our RV. We got a great deal on an RV that had been used as a hunting cabin, but it does have some leaks. That’s one good thing about this rain — we think we know where ALL the leaks are now. At some point, someone adding paneling over the original wall and put in new flooring, but that person didn’t actually fix the leak or tear out any of the damaged wood. Right now, the entire RV is covered with a tarp (Tractor Supply has a great selection of huge tarps) and we have most of the bedroom gutted. We’re confident that we can get a waterproof and mold-free room fairly quickly — so long as this rain actually stops at some point.
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!