Lazer Creek Apiary

Come on baby, light my fire.

I know I’m showing my age with my recent music references, but it doesn’t bother me to let people know I’d be retiring next year if I still lived in England!

Bonfire at the future house site
Bonfire at the future house site

We were both so tired last night that we didn’t think to check the propane tanks.   Even the luke-warm air flowing from the vents didn’t clue me in, so we awoke this morning to a chilly camper.   Thank goodness for electric blankets and the electric radiator.    Hubby got up to make coffee and found we also had no water.  Thank goodness for the Brita pitcher in the refrigerator.    Now heat and water are both restored and we’re planning ahead for colder temperatures tonight.   I’m also keeping an eye on temperatures in the city as I may need to go back to make sure pipes don’t freeze at the house, although we have everything well insulated there.  Still, it’s a concern when we’re a few hours away.

Again, I have to concede that hubby was right when it came to spending money on a new furnace.  Not only is this one more efficient, it is quieter than the old one.  Never mind that hubby was correct in his assumption that the electric radiator would be insufficient once winter arrived and the old furnace stopped working Thanksgiving weekend.  That’s also the weekend someone hit my car at Starbucks and the washing machine had a violent-sounding death.   The new furnace is better; the new washing machine is bigger and better; and the repair shop detailed my car inside after repairing the front fender, so the interior of the car looks and smells better than it has in years!   Now that Maggie travels better, maybe it will stay that way — I can deal with clay, but I can do without dog barf in the cup holders!

Cold as it is this morning, both fires still had hot coals, so I was able to get the one by the future house site going again very quickly.   As we’ve been bush-hogging more land, we’ve been adding to the burn pile up here, and even though I doubt it’s raising the temperature much outside, it looks warmer out there.  Still, it’s a good morning to stay inside and get some more grading done.

Hubby is building shelves for the 20 foot shipping container.   We had to take everything out to slide the back shelf in yesterday.  Surprise, surprise — everything that was on the floor except for some wood and the old couch from the camper fits onto the new shelf, with space to spare.   We’ll be able to start moving some things from the house down here now.   Hubby is also going to build a base for the old scissor couch.   While I hope we never have to ride out a tornado in the shipping container, I’d rather have a semi-comfortable seat if we do need to!   That was the main reason for putting the container up here and it does give us peace of mind.   Apparently this part of Georgia had a record number of “weather events” in 2017.

Along with the less pleasant surprises of no heat and no water, we had the pleasant surprise of a visit from our real estate agent, Kent Morris, this morning.   He specializes in land sales and is the best real estate agent we’ve done business with in decades!  We hope we can find someone like him when we sell our house in the city.

2017 is drawing to a close, and it’s been another good year.  True, we haven’t won the lottery or found that elusive gold nugget on the land, but we have our health and we have this land.   Our health is better because we have this land.   Life is good and we’re looking forward to see what 2018 brings.


City Life · Construction · Lazer Creek Apiary · Products and Vendors · Supplemental Feeding

A Mule for Christmas (and other distractions from grading).

During a job interview many years ago,  I was asked whether I’d rather be an art critic or an artist.  I’ve never figured out what that had to do with being a computer programmer, but I do finally know the answer — I want to be an artist — or at least be creative!   I only spent 90 minutes grading this morning before the urge to empty the compost pot became the most important thing in my life, and that led to seeing a bee flying, which led to visiting the bee yard, which led to taking pictures, which led me back to the computer and this blog!   To grade, one must be a critic, and I find it hard to “criticize” according the criteria on a rubric.  Yes, I agree that it’s a fair way to grade, and, yes, students knew what the expectations were for their oral exam, but the happy feelings that blue skies and sunshine evoke makes it hard to give a student a failing grade!   Never mind that my dominant learning style is hands-on activity, my second most dominant is visual, and my least dominant is listening — and here I sit with 17.5 hours of oral exams to listen to.   I should not have procrastinated, and I probably shouldn’t be blogging, but just like every other year I’ll get through it somehow.

Feeding pollen and sugar to bees
Feeding pollen and sugar to bees

It’s only 48 degrees out this morning, but the bees are foraging and we want them to have as much stored as possible going into the predicted 20 degree nights next week, so it wasn’t just procrastination that led me down to the bee yard.  Cold as it is, there were so many bees on the pollen feeder station that I couldn’t get to the trays and had to scatter the pollen-sugar mix where the bees can get to it but the dog can’t.   (Maggie climbed a stack of shipping pallets to get to a pollen tray yesterday — you’d think we didn’t feed her sometimes!)   I so enjoy standing there listening to the sound of happy bees, especially on a day as beautiful as today.   We are just so lucky to have this little piece of heaven to call our own.

Work boots

What does any of this have to do with a mule?   Not much, but our Christmas present to each other this year was a Mighty Mule gate opener.   Well, it was hubby’s Christmas to me, and my gift was to graciously concede that it is money well spent!    Even on a good day, having to get out of the car and walk across the gravel to unlock the gate becomes tedious.   If I’m wearing anything other than my trusty work boots, the likelihood of a twisted ankle increases with the height of the heel.   Rain makes the process even less fun.  Last week’s thunderstorm actually made it somewhat hilarious.   If we do end up moving here before retirement, we need to somehow be able to get out of the gate in all weather still looking presentable enough to show up at work.

It took hubby a while to install the gate opener, partly because of the instructions,  partly because of all the adjustments and settings, and partly because the dog and I were hibernating in the camper instead of helping for much of the time.   By the end of the day on Christmas Day, he had everything working, but then spent most of the next day trying to get it to work right!   The gate opens fine, and even closes after 30 seconds.  The problem was that it randomly re-opened.   That doesn’t offer much security and is likely to run the battery down.   I searched the Internet for answers on our way to the family dinner and found that many people have problems with the wand that detects when a car pulls up to the gate to leave.   Hubby spoke with tech support and tried many things, but the final solution was along the lines of Hotel California — guests who have the code can check in any time they like, but they can never leave!   The wand is going back for a refund and hubby will research other solutions.

Maggie - exhausted
Maggie – exhausted

Well, it’s time to listen to at least a couple more exams — 7 down, 30 to go!   It makes me want to curl up with the dog and just take a nap.




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!

Lazer Creek Apiary · Relaxing · Supplemental Feeding

Looking back, looking forward

Christmas 2017
Christmas 2017

As I sat here last night knitting and watching a western that is older than I, it was impossible to not think back to doing the same thing throughout my teenage years.   True, instead of being dad’s channel-changer, we now have a remote and don’t have to take the two steps to the T.V.  We also had 9 channels, instead of the 3 we both grew up with.   And we got to choose what we watched — something that rarely happened when grown-ups were home and the one-and-only T.V. was in the living room.  Watching a wildlife episode of NOVA afterwards just reinforced the feeling of stepping back in time.   It’s a good feeling.

The deja-vu continues this morning as the fog and drizzle feel very English, although the pine trees do not.  My cousin and I have been reminiscing about our big family Christmases, and he has promised to send me pictures of my uncle in his apiary.   I never knew he kept bees.   I remember the mushroom cellar, wood working shop, the kitchen renovation that took years to complete (I think of him every time I look at our abundance of almost-finish projects!), the incredible garden, and the many other ever-changing interests that made him such an amazing person, but I don’t remember bees.  It’s nice to feel connected to him in one more way.

Talking of apiaries, our hives are all thriving.  I peeked in two of the small hives yesterday and both have a little sugar left on the candy boards.  I doubt the bigger hives have any, but we are less worried about their ability to provide for themselves.   The forecast is for temperatures in the high 60s until Christmas, so I’m debating putting one feeder bucket out and then refilling candy boards for the hives that have them.   I’ll try lifting the hives to assess how much honey they have left, but will only take lids off long enough to swap out candy boards.  I’ll also put a trial tray of pollen substitute and powdered sugar out.  The bees either flock to it or ignore it, so I’ll just dump one cup onto a tray that is protected from the rain.

Now that the great basement debate is over, we look forward to starting the foundation for our house in 2018.   Ideally we’d finish it and start framing, but I don’t want to set myself up for disappointment if we don’t get that far!   There are so very many things that impact what we can accomplish here, but we are overall very happy with our progress.   We hope to finish burning the wood piles over winter break, doing some tractor work on the deck and starting some raised beds that may or may not become hoop houses.   This year’s batch of magnolia seeds are germinating in the greenhouse in the city and I’ll have a new round of lavender, rosemary, and shrub cuttings to plant by spring break.   That reminds me — I have a bag of daffodil bulbs from the Tractor Supply clearance shelf to get in the ground, so I should stop blogging and get to work.

Lazer Creek Apiary · Relaxing

Giving Thanks


It seems appropriate that we purchased the farm a few days before Thanksgiving because we have an annual reminder to take stock of our progress and be consciously thankful about all of our blessings.   Simply sitting around a campfire and enjoying the peaceful sounds of nature instead of having city sounds encroach into our house and lives at all times of day and night is wonderful.   Lying in bed and watching daybreak without feeling the need to jump up and start working is even better.   It’s not that we don’t have plenty of things to do here, we just have a different mindset once we leave I-20 and start our drive through the country to the farm.

Of necessity, I put groceries away when I arrived yesterday, but once the perishable goods were safely stored, I put my boots on and took a quick walk around.   It was only 60 degrees, but there was a steady stream of bees in and out of every hive.  Some bees even had huge bags of dark orange pollen.   While there are still some yellow-jackets and flies, they are fewer in number, although the traps don’t seem to have contributed much to the reduction.  Still, we’re thankful that we can step into the bee yard without having to suit up and even more thankful that the entrance reducers are keeping the invaders out.  Best of all is that the bees are doing well.

We have decided to move the hives to a sunnier spot over winter break as we have one corner of the present apiary where hive beetles just thrive.   I may start leveling out some of the ground where the hives will go this weekend.   That brings me to another thing to be thankful for: the tractor.   We have the best neighbors and family who have loaned us equipment over the two years we have owned this land.  We would not be where we are without them.  However, being able to buy our own tractor has been a game-changer because we have unlimited time to use it when we’re here.   Our neighbor is always willing to let us borrow equipment for as long as we like, but we don’t like to take advantage of his generosity.   While we still have some of his tractor implements over here, we are not getting in the way of him being able to bush-hog or do all of the other things a tractor helps with.

Sitting here with an old computer that is trying to run a month’s worth of updates over a cell-phone hot spot makes me thankful that we get away from technology (to an extent) while we’re here.   While our computers at home and at work are faster, they do have a tendency to run updates any time we’re in a hurry to get something done!    I spend so much time looking at computer screens that I could no longer read student essays on the computer after the first hour last week and this.   Last night was the first night in a long time that my left eye did not throb with eyestrain.   While a new pair of bi-focals would probably help alleviate that problem, looking at trees solves it!   I’m too much of a geek to ever abandon technology completely, but too much time in front of a computer is not physically or mentally healthy.

That said, it’s time to put on some boots and head outside.   It’s a beautiful, sunny day and temperatures are just right for doing manual labor.   The dog is so clearly having fun that we can’t help but smile to see her cavorting about.   I honestly don’t know what we’d do without the stress relief that the farm provides, or the friends and family that it brings us closer to, or the dreams for the future that become more tangible when we just stop and make plans.    I hope all of you have a relaxing and stress-free Thanksgiving holiday and that life is as good to you as it is to us.


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!


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!


Lazer Creek Apiary · Products and Vendors · Supplemental Feeding

Preparing for Winter

Enlgish Hive
English Hive – October 22, 2017

It’s only 62 degrees this morning, but bees in the English hive are already out foraging.  It’s no wonder that these bees are well set up for the cold weather that is just around the corner;  of all our hives, they have the most honey stored.    This is our go-to hive for requeening because the colony has always been friendly, the queens have always been great producers, the bees are hygienic,  and the bees are the first out the door to forage.

At the other end of the spectrum, we have a hive that has no stored resources despite all the goldenrod that surrounds the apiary.   Our records show that they haven’t stored any resources since we brought them back from the sunflower patch — and they had nothing then.    If I’d been able to find the queen yesterday, I’d have combined them with another weak but productive hive.  Those guys have increased their numbers by a full frame of bees and they have nectar and bee bread stored.   I can’t risk combining them without eliminating the lazy-genetics queen, so they have two weeks to pick up their game!   We put a candy board on the hive yesterday (and reduced the entrance down to a single bee width), so maybe that will help them.   Maybe it will make them more dependent on us.

We’ve also had to do our part in the preparation.  Our varroa mite treatments were interrupted by the two hurricanes that passed close by, but we treated the last hives yesterday.   We used Api Life VAR for most of the hives simply because it dissipates and doesn’t have to be removed.    We used ApiVar for the last two hives simply because we still had some; we will need to remove the strips after 42 days.   We’ve had good results with both products in the past and we do try to rotate treatment methods to prevent mite resistance.

A non-chemical way to break the mite cycle occurs when we requeen because the brood cycle is interrupted.   Of course, this is not a method we can take at this time of year.   Not treating for mites risks loss of the colony, so to us that is simply not an option.   Many experts consider varroa mites to be the main factor in winter colony losses.

The other steps we taken to set our bees up for success are reduction the entrance sizes to help each hive better defend against robbing, removal of queen excluders, and removal of superfluous supers and brood boxes.   As temperatures drop, we need to minimize the volume that bees need to keep warm.   The queen is not going to lay large amounts of eggs at this time of year, so we only need to allow for enough space to store the last resources naturally available out there.   Queen excluders need to be removed because the bees may cluster above the excluder, leaving the queen cold and alone and likely to die.   While she’s not laying much right now, they’ll need her in spring!  As for robbing — it’s not just other bees that rob.   We found a yellow jacket inside one hive yesterday and I blogged about the European Hornets that decimated hives a few weeks ago.

The final thing we’re still battling is small hive beetle infestation.   Some hives have almost none, while other hives are mind-mindbogglingly full.   Naturally, the hives with the most nectar are most attractive to the beetles, so they got extra beetle blasters yesterday.   Two of our hives are always the most problematic, so we’ll relocate those hives in spring to see if that makes a difference.   Both have been requeened. Both used to be mean and are now calmer.   Mean or calm made no difference in beetle numbers, so we suspect it’s location.  Still, the other two hives on the stand have minimal beetle populations, so it’s going to be trial and error to figure out what’s going on with them.

Well, I want to get outside and enjoy another couple of hours among the trees before heading back to the city.   We’ve finished all the crucial tasks, so now it’s time to just relax and enjoy — and tire the dog out before sticking her in the car for the 5 hour commute!