Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Potato Farmer

This year Whitney tried growing potatoes for the first time. She looked into it and chose two varieties: Yukon Gold and Norland Red. She got the seed potatos from our local feed store in May. Whitney cut the potatoes into cubes with a few eyes in each cube and she planted while we were still getting frost.

We learned that it is time to harvest when the tops die back, so tonight she decided to dig up the reds.

We're very happy with what we found and are glad to say the first potato harvest was a big success!

This is only part of the reds and the Yukons looked great too. We'll have to finish digging them soon. Now we need to learn how to best store them so that we can enjoy them as long as possible. Too bad, the potato tops are toxic for chickens so these greens did not get tossed into the run.

We're also getting very nice tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, beets and zucc's. The harvest season is upon us!
The cuc's and beets will get pickeled, and the tomatoes will go into salsa or get eaten fresh. The zucc's we like to grill, and make great chicken feed when they get too big. The carrots will stay fresh in the ground well into winter if mulched over.

The Colonel is turning out to be very social, and is our constant companion in the backyard. He is never far away, always ready for a hand out.

Of course one of the best things about growing a garden is sharing the bounty. This basket went to the neighbor to thank her for watching the place this weekend.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Hopper Hunters, Brood Boxes and River Rafters

Sitting in the backyard on a quiet Sunday afternoon. The chickens have taken a break from the heat to nap in the shade of the willow. Soon their lives will change as they will start laying within a few weeks, but for now they are our hopper hunters. Combating the destructive insects that eat our garden plants and fruit trees, the chickens run about chasing down the hoppers and snapping them up in a gulp. The young rooster we call Colonel Sanders crows occasionally, still trying out this new found talent. He seems to be calling to the rooster next door who answers with a confident crowing of his own.

Earlier today we added a new hive box to each of the bee hives, so they are now each two boxes high. The first (bottom) box will house the brood and the newly hatched bees as they build the colony. The second box will be critical for food storage as the bees have to store enough honey to make it through the winter. Now is the honey making season and they are frantically gathering nectar to build their stores. As our northern winter wears on, I will check the hive to make sure they are fairing well. When the stored honey starts to dwindle, I will feed the bees syrup to help them along. Winter starvation is a common way to loose your bees. If I am successful and the bees survive the winter, next summer we will add supers to each hive, so the bees will fill them with honey for us to harvest.

In the photo above you can see the brown capped brood cells, from which the next generations of workers will hatch. You can also see teh white capped honey cells, food stored for winter.

August is also time for one of our favorite summer pastimes, floating the river. The spring runoff lasted so long this year that we've only recently gotten out in the raft, but the wait was worth it. Here are a few shots of a float trip we took while my Dad was here, his first time down the Clark Fork.



Monday, August 8, 2011

Becoming Bee Keepers

We've now headed down the road of amateur Bee Keeping. As you know, this summer a swarm of honey bees invaded our house and set up shop in our ceiling. I built a bee vac and removed the bees, with the hope of establishing them in a hive. Despite my very clumsy handling of the bees, they accepted the new hive and have continued to thrive.

A few days after our first colony capturing adventure, we got a call about a honey bee swarm near a friend's house. Apparently we were now considered experienced in capturing bees (news travels fast in a small town). So after a little debate, we were headed out to capture a swarm for the second time. This swarm was on a fence post so there was no need for the bee vac. All we had to do was get the majority of the swarm in a box (queen included) and then wait for the workers to find her. It actually worked, and that night we were headed home with a bee swarm in a box. The only trouble was that we had no more hives, so Whitney ran over to the nearest bee supply place an hour away and got us outfitted with everything we needed for our new bee keeping endeavour.

As luck would have it, we had an experienced bee keeper coming to visit us. My Dad has been keeping bees for many years on his farm, and was more than happy to help us get started. Dad helped us put together our new hive boxes and was full of good advice about bees.

We got the new swarm established and with Dad's help have been able to keep them happy.

In this photo (above) my Dad shows Whitney how to move frames into a new hive box and inspect the frames.

While he was here, Dad showed us how to check the bees and tell the difference from brood comb and honey comb. He also helped us figure out what equipment and supplies we needed, and put together a plan to help the bees survive the winter. We even got to see one of our queens while he was were, a real thrill to new bee keepers.

As of this post, we have two hives with healthy colonies busily building brood and storing honey for the coming winter. Our plan will be to help them get strong this year, and hope for honey about a year from now.

Dad and I standing by our two busy hives enjoying the evening.