Saturday, April 28, 2012

Garden Expansion

Due to the growing  interest in our produce, and our own plans on expanding, we decided to add a couple more raised beds this year.

The double layered bed (right in the pic above) will be for potatoes this year, while the other one is partly shaded and will hold lettuce, spinach, peas, and cabbage. All of the concrete blocks for the double layer bed came to us free from family (thanks again Kathy and Gary!) and we bought the blocks for the other bed today. We decided to go with blocks this time rather than lumber mainly because we got a lot of them given to us, but also it's nice to know they'll never rot.  In the beds we layered pine shavings, compost, potting soil, sand and some of our native soil. We had planned on putting a layer of newpaper down first as a weed mat, but our source was out today. Whit is excited to start planting tomorrow and getting the cool crops of spring going ASAP!
Also today, we made a great connection concerning the honey bees. We were at a local nursery and found a friend and neighbor working there. After talking for a bit, we found that they had plans to plant 6 acres of blueberries at the site and were looking for honey bees to pollinate the bushes. He said they were having a very hard time finding bees and was very happy to hear that we had some. It is way too early to make any predictions, but I will definintely be looking into what I need to do to put some of my girls out there to both help thier berry crop and provide us with pure Blueberry Honey!! I can hardly wait :-).
And finally tonight, Asparagus!
This little cutting (there is more on the way) is so exciting because not only is it the garden's first crop of the spring, but it is the first cutting ever from our asparagus patch! Whit started these plants from seed three years ago, and they have been growing roots and becoming established ever since. Now with the flush of spring the plants are sending up their finally harvestable shoots and we are happily eating them. Straight from garden to steamer, there is nothing in the world like fresh asparagus!
Until next time.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Spring is Go Time!


Lately around here it feels like somebody waved a green flag and we're off and running. Between the additional bees, the 5 new chicks, the veggie starts in the greenhouse, Whit's crafts, and the rest of the yard work, it's go time. We hit 85 degrees last weekend and just like that the spring came alive, the grass is growing, the trees are blooming, and the Asparagus is growing inches per day! 
First up the bees: in the last post I told you that I went to WA and brought home two five frame nuc hives. Since then the bees have really taken off! The fruit trees are blooming and the dandelions are up. All of a sudden the world is custom made for honey bees. They arrived with lots of brood, which means they were ready to hatch a new generation of workers. Within days of the installation the population exploded. I checked them tonight and they have just about filled the first box with honey and are nearly ready for box number two. Our original hive is doing great too, and is in nearly the same shape as the new ones. We've been cleaning up, disinfecting and repainting used boxes to get them ready for the upcoming season. One of the new hives was even building swarm cells, meaning they are intending to raise new queens and reproduce. That is a sign they are in high gear and I need to be very actively watching them and ready to stack up boxes to keep them busy.
Next up, the new chicks! Whit brought home five newly hatched Silver Laced Wyandottes from the feed store today! The little peepers are all healthy and doing good in the brood box. These little ones will brood for a month in the house, be moved to their own living quarters in 6 weeks and then join the flock later this summer. By late fall or early winter they should be fully integrated into the flock and laying. Until then it's a lot of fun having chicks again and the dogs are very curious about the noisy box on the hearth. They have to be kept seperate from the other hens while they are young, soon I'll fix up a dog kennel for them, and build a small chicken tractor so they can get out in the grass. The rest of the hens are doing very well and really happy about all the green grass and bugs in the yard.
Next: Veggie starts! This year we are very lucky in that one of our friends is working at a greenhouse starting plants. She's been bringing us starts that are left over after they re-pot so we have a very nice assortment of veggies in the greenhouse. I'm proud to see the greenhouse working so nicely and will definitely post some pictures when I get a chance. This weekend, one of our pressing to do's is prepping the garden beds that will hold the lettuce, broccoli, spinach, beets, carrots, onions, peas and potatoes.  Already we've had several friends asking if they can buy our produce this summer! We're pretty excited, but it's going to be a lot of work.
Finally the crafts. Whit's earrings and hair clips have been such a success, she's decided to sign up for a locally made craft fair in Missoula. Now she's working hard to build up her inventory so that we can take pictures and provide them to the fair in her application (it is a juried show). That event will be in late June and she is hoping she gets chosen. 
I know it was brief, but that's what we've been up to. Spring is both a very exciting and overwhelming time of year. There is so much to do, but it's all fun and great to see our little farm taking off.
Hope you are all doing well, and I'll try to post more pictures real soon.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Bringing Home the Bees

After losing our smaller hive in February, we decided to go ahead and order some bees. They were sold out, but I got on the waiting list and we got a call last week saying there would be bees available.  Saturday I drove over to Washington and picked up our new girls.  The nucs come in cardboard boxes with a brand new queen, five frames of brood, and many, many worker bees.
The drive went well, aside from the dozen or so girls that got loose and buzzed around inside the car while I drove home.
Our first introduction to the new girls, pretty exciting, and loud!
And here is one of our new queens! This little beauty is bred to lay 2000+ eggs a day and has been chosen for her superior traits and quality. She determines the genetics of the whole hive, so it's important that she is  the best queen she can be. The new queens come housed in a cage, with a bit of tape over the candy plug. When the bees are installed, the tape is pulled off exposing the candy and allowing the workers to release the queen. By that time the workers will have accepted the queen and will be ready to go to work.

This is what makes the nuc so special. There are five frames of brood like this ready to hatch and go to work right away. With a swarm or package of bees you have to wait for the queen to lay eggs, and for the brood to mature before you get any new bees. That time lag sets the nuc ahead by a month.
And here is an installed nuc! The five frames are full, and the queen is secure in her cage in between the frames. All that's left is to feed them a gallon of syrup each and then leave them alone for a week to release the queen and get to work. In a few weeks they will have filled the rest of these frames and will be ready for a second box to be added.
So here's our "bee yard" today. The original hive on the left, with the two new ones on the right. By the way, the original hive, the one that was vacuumed out of the eaves last summer, is still going strong and appears to be happy and healthy. The yard has a audible hum now and the bee activity is very noticeable. Just in time too, since today I noticed the dandelions are blooming! Ordinarily this may not have been that exciting but now I just imagine how happy the flowers will make my bees.
Our other big news: we were very lucky and have recently been given unwanted bee boxes and equipment from two different people. So the next adventure is cleaning and prepping hand-me-down boxes and frames so that we are ready for the nectar flow. Bring it on! 
Until next time. KJ

Saturday, April 14, 2012

It's good to be back

It's been a rough couple of weeks. Whitney and I have been very busy lately, and so have been neglecting the blog. For that I am sorry, but you'll be glad to know we are back and intending to pick up blogging again. Last month, Whit's Grandfather passed away.  Without him, Whit's family needed to reevaluate her Grandmother's home and care, so it was decided to move her up to Oregon to live with Whit's parents. To complicate that transition, we learned that Whit's Mom had fibroid tumors that would require surgery, and her Dad needed his knees looked at. Whit and I decided to fly to Arizona to pack up the last of her Grandmother's things and haul them up, and take the oppurtunity to visit my Family in CA. Things there have been bumpy too, since we learned last month that my sister April has breast cancer. Take a moment if you would and stop by her blog to say hi. I Heart My Life April continues to be an inspiration to all of us with her positive attitude and unstopable spirit. This trip allowed us to help Whit's family and see mine, a win win, if it hadn't come right in the middle of hectic, get-er-done times at work due to my boss's broken leg. But family comes first so we went.
That set the stage for our 1350 mile treck in a 17 foot UHAUL pulling a 1972 Ford F100. It actually went pretty well, except for nearly losing / killing Whit's Grandmother's cat in Phoenix. We'll just say that next time we travel with a cat, we won't be trying to walk him near a car wash that's between a highway and a canal. Of course it didn't help that he had never been on a leash, or in a kennel, or in a car before! But I managed to drag him out of the crack he got stuck in, and we got back on the road. By the way, Blackie the cat made a full recovery and by Friday evening was purring and happy in his new home.
After that (and a short time lost in Riverside, CA), we were motoring along at a steady 55 mph and 8 - 10 mpg.
Along the way we got to see my brother's place in Coarsegold CA, (near Yosemite) and admire all the work he's been doing there. Then we stopped at my Dad's where I grew up, and spent a wonderful day playing with our Niece Nia. Later we traveled to Santa Cruz and saw Joey and April, and had a very good dinner with the Stearns family. It was really good to see April and hear first hand how the Chemo is treating her and how well the Care Calender is working. Thanks SO MUCH to all of you that have contributed and if anyone is interested please Email Whitney for info: After all that we left the Santa Cruz area and after a brief but very enjoyable visit with family in Redding, made it to Ashland, Or with all the cargo including Blackie the cat intact. A day in Ashland unloading the truck and visiting and then we were flying home to Montana. Much of the drive was very pretty, and while we were very glad to be able to help out and see everybody, the pace of the trip was exhausting. and I have to say, it is good to be home. 
Today I went and got our new bees! After I learned that one of our hives had died, I tried to order more but was told that they were all sold out. Friday before last, on our way to the airport heading out of town, we got a call and learned that there were bees available if we wanted them. The only trick was getting them which involved a 3.5 hour one way drive today, the day after we got home from our week-long adventure. So, while Whitney planted seeds and got the green house in shape, I brought home two very active nuc hives.  Nuc or Nucleus hives are made up of one brand new mated queen, 5 frames of brood (bee larvae), and a good number (15,000 or so) of workers. This is one way to start a new hive and I am told works very well. The advantage of buying a nuc rather than a package of bees, is the brood. Since the queen will take a week or so to adjust and start laying, the brood that hatches will be up and working 3 to 4 weeks sooner than if we had to wait for the queen. That month will be key in our honey harvest this fall, since we need the hives to be humming at capacity when the spring blooms come on. That's the whole game, have the bees ready before the blooms hit so there is no wasted time. Hope it works! More on that soon, including pictures of Whit and I installing the bees. For now, know that the bees and I made it home safe and sound despite a few getting loose and buzzing around inside the car while I drove home!