Rosey the Riveter

Monday, January 27, 2014

Music to my Ears!

A few days ago, in the midst of our cold weather (in the teens for 3 nights in a row... a rarity in these parts), I went out to check on the bees and nearly had a heart attack.  There were tons of dead bees at the entrance.  When I brushed them off, more tumbled in their place.  All I could think was that we'd lost the Nuc... first of all, I've never over-wintered a Nuc before, and these guys didn't have nearly the stores of honey they should have had going into the fall.  I fed them sugar syrup (and, with the cold weather, straight sugar) in hopes of getting them through.  Not to mention, this is the first colony I've had on our property (our other hives are at a neighbors' place)... they are right on our deck, where I can watch them out the window while I do dishes. I am emotionally attached to these bees.  I did knock the side of the hive and was able to hear some buzzing, so I took that as a hopeful sign even though my heart had sunk at the grim prospect of losing the whole hive.

Today, I went out to check on the bees, since it's almost 50 degrees, the sun is shining, and there's no wind... in other words, perfect conditions for them to be out flying around.  And buzzing, they were!  All is right in my bee world... for now! 

Originally, the plan was to sell this hive in the spring, but if they prove to be such hardy beasts that they can make it through THIS winter without succumbing to the cold, or mites, or any other number of calamities facing our bee colonies, I will probably end up deciding NOT to sell them.  Because our original bees came from a wild swarm, and we were able to split them in their first year, these bees have good genetics.  There's a relatively new queen in there, and I've been very happy with what she's doing.  I like the idea of keeping a spare Nuc just in case something happens to one of our other hives.  I don't have any desire to spend the money on the boxes a third hive would require, so a Nuc is a great way to always have a spare queen.  When the colony threatens to outgrow the Nuc box, we can either add another box on top, or split it and make another Nuc to sell.  I have a feeling there is going to be a huge market for local bees this spring, as many of my fellow beekeepers are reporting significant losses already, and we haven't even gotten to February yet (which is, historically, a bad month for hive losses).

We are due for more snow and more cold temps tomorrow, so we're not out of the woods yet by any stretch of the imagination.  But there's still hope for this one!

Monday, January 20, 2014

A Walk Around the Homestead

It's been awhile since I posted about goings-on around here.  Today was such a beautiful day that I knew I had to take a walk around and post some pictures.
The bees in the Nuc are buzzing and bringing back pollen to beat the band.  As you can see, there were bees constantly coming and going.  The yellow blobs on the incoming bees are the pollen.  It's been unseasonably cold here, so I'm grateful that they have even survived the cold snap.  But the fact that they are bringing back pollen is another good sign.  Pollen is used to feed the brood.  If the queen hasn't started laying yet, she will soon.  I haven't actually been IN the hive to see what they are up to, as I don't want to disturb them.
The garden is all mulched!  I tried wood chips the year before last, and sadly neglected the mulching chore last year.  I didn't like the wood mulch, because it got in the way when I wanted to direct seed.  But it did help the weed situation.  So this year, I had Stephen shred all of our leaves with the mower and bagger.  Once I hoed and weeded the beds, I put the leaves on the garden.  This will help feed the soil and also block out the weeds.  Once this cold snap passes, I plan to have the soil tested so I can really know what I'm dealing with.  I should have done that when we first moved in!
There are some crocuses and a hyacinth that are blooming, so spring is on it's way!  The daffodils have started popping through, but they are a later variety so I don't expect to see them bloom for another month or so. 

Poor Extra Crispy is molting.  She looks absolutely horrible, and her tail feathers have fallen almost completely out.  You can see where her new feathers are popping through.  It looks painful, and it can be... she's one of our better layers, so I'll be happy when she's done molting.

Tomorrow, the cold weather moves in and we might even get some snow.  I'm going to take this opportunity to work on the garden plan, and drill some drainage holes in the containers I'll be using to start my seeds.  In another week and a half, I'll be headed to the Virginia Association for Biological Farming Conference with my dear friend Donna Rae.  I am so looking forward to the "Biodynamic Gardening and Beekeeping" Pre-Conference Workshop with Gunther Hauk, not to mention a whole slew of other workshops!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Homesteading Goals

Last year, I set some Homesteading Goals for myself.  I have to say, now that 2013 is drawing to a close, that overall I am happy with what I was able to achieve (with the exception of meal planning.  That will remain on the list!)  So, here we go with my top 5 Homesteading Goals for 2014.

1.  MEAL PLANNING.  My life is about to get hectic.  REAL hectic.  I've been accepted into the Master Gardener Program and will be attending 6 hours of classes a week, and then I owe 50 hours of volunteering.  Add to that my volunteering at the schools, teaching an after-school class once a week, and the onset of garden-season, and I am not going to have time to think straight.  So, I need to have a plan for dinners or we won't be eating.  More crockpot meals, more freezer meals, more planned left-overs.  I need to do it all.  And, as evidenced above, I need to keep my plan away from the kids.

2.  FOOD PRESERVATION.  This remains on the list, too, because I need to tweak some things.  More dehydrating (especially blueberries, cherries, and apple chunks), more low-sugar jams and jellies, and more using what I have already preserved (I have too many jars of stuff that I don't know what to do with.)  I can't believe I'm going to say this, but more tomato sauce.

3.  DECLUTTERING.  I have amassed a lot of stuff.  Much of it needs to stay (thousands of canning jars!) but a lot of it also needs to go.  I feel like my house is a perpetual mess because I'm always making/doing something in the kitchen (which won't change) but also because there's too much stuff in all the other rooms.  It is stressing me out, and I need to change that.  Also, as hard as it is for me to believe, in another year from now we'll be beginning the process of finding out where we move to next... and I'm pretty sure we'll be down-sizing no matter where we go.
4.  GARDENING.  Obviously, the Master Gardener training will help me be a better gardener.  But I still am not getting as much food out of ours as I'd like.  This was a bad year for carrots and peppers... and I want more snap peas.  And tomatoes, which I hope to do in containers (my friend Donna Rae swears by Juliets, so I'll be attempting those... from seed...)  I think I need to bite the bullet and rip out the overgrown rosemary and lavender plants that are taking up way too much space.  Lots to figure out.  I did manage to dry a lot of Stevia this year.  When ground up, however, I only got a few tablespoons!  And I need to get a better grip on companion planting.

5.  NEW SKILL.  I expect this will be a permanent fixture on my goals list.  It's important to keep learning.  I would absolutely love to learn how to either hook a rug or make a braided rug (I have an overabundance of thrift-store wool) but I've not been able to find a teacher near here.  I could be brave and attempt you-tube, but I'm not sure I'm that capable. 

Happy New Year from our Homestead to yours!