Saturday, March 29, 2014

Buzz, Buzz, Installing Bees

When we first got bees several years ago, we ordered and installed two colonies.  One of them left after two days!  Everybody, gone!  We didn't replace them and since then we've been flying solo with one hive. 

Well, one hive is great, but when an ice storm comes along and a fallen limb blows apart the only one you have, you decide a second hive might not be such a bad thing.  Though this scene looked bad and we questioned whether they would survive, there was still a cluster in one of the hive boxes, so I assumed the queen was still alive.  We put everything back together, fed them sugar water for a few days and watched and waited.  I checked them after a week or so, and I saw capped brood, which means babies on the way and a laying queen, pollen and the start of honey.  As of today, they are working like gangbusters bringing in pollen and nectar.

I picked up and installed my second colony today.

When you order a package of bees, this is what you get. This is 3 pounds of bees. The small rectangular box beside it is called the queen cage, and it holds the queen as well as a few of her attendants.

Here is a close-up of the queen cage.  The white end is actually candy, and this is what she and her attendants eat while trapped in her cage.

The end of the queen cage with the candy is capped with a small cork. The cork is removed to give the new bees access to the candy. They will eat their way through the candy to release the queen. Once the cork is removed, the queen box is suspended in the hive body where the bees will be installed. She is still protected by her cage, but she will be able to send out pheromones to establish herself as queen. At this point, she is not their queen, but by the time they get through the candy and release her, she should have sent out enough pheromones to establish herself as their new queen.

This is where the bees are going to be dumped. It's a hive body with 10 frames.

The blue push pin is holding the queen cage in place. The top is pried off the package of bees and you basically shake them out of the package into the hive. Most of them come out in a large mass and they proceed to work their way down into the hive body.

After you've shaken out as many bees as possible, the package is placed in front of the hive to encourage the rest of the bees to migrate into the hive body.

Finish with a nice container of sugar water to feed them since they don't have any honey or pollen collected yet.  Let's hope this one stays put!

Happy beekeeping,


Friday, March 28, 2014

Meet Novalee!

In the span of 14 months, we had to put down all three of our cats.  Anyone who has ever had to do that knows it is heart-wrenchingly painful.  For us, we had barely gotten over one when we had to turn around and do it again. 

In November 2012, we sadly lost our 18 year old cat, Lucy.  She was me personified in a cat.  She was my kitty soul mate. 

In August 2013, we lost our outdoor cat, OP2.  She came to us as a stray.  Nate said he used to see her going in and out of the trashcans on the street looking for food.  We had her for about 6 years.  She was an excellent mouser! 

In January, we lost our 19 year old cat, Onyx.  She was as sweet and unassuming as any cat could be, the complete opposite of Lucy.  She was Nate's girl. 

For 20 years we have had a least one cat in our lives. 

The house was terribly lonely after Onyx, and the pull of having feline companionship was strong.  So, I started surfing  This went on for at least a month, and one cat kept grabbing my attention.

This past weekend, we welcomed her home.  Her name is Novalee, and she is estimated to be a little over 1 year old.  She is every bit the love bug, and to me, she is beautiful.  It has been so long since we've had a rambunctious playful young cat in our house.  We are enjoying every minute watching her play and act a fool.  Based on her personality and physical characteristics, I believe she is part Maine Coon, which is my favorite breed.

So, without further adieu, meet Novalee.  As you can see, she has made herself right at home.

Happy homesteading,


Monday, March 24, 2014

Ever Evolving

It seems like it has been forever and a day since I last posted.  We've had some major projects happening here so I've been busier than a one-armed paper hanger lately.  If I've said it once, I've said it one thousand times.  I am always looking for ways to make my space more efficient.  Therefore, I am always assessing whether a project done in the past works for me today, especially as I expand, and how a project on my to-do list will make things run a little more smoothly.  Late winter to early spring seems to be our time for big projects.  I don't have too much going in the garden and it's not 100 degrees outside.

So, here is a run-down of this year's projects.

The GA Henitentiary came down.  The run portion was in prime growing territory, and since I made the decision a few years ago to move all of the animals to the back half of the yard, having animal housing here just didn't make sense anymore.  Plus the termites were having a field day with it, and it was only a matter of time before it came down on its own. 

In its place went a new 10x12 greenhouse.  Doing this opened up the bed where the run used to be and also freed up my smaller greenhouse, which is actually in the animal yard, for feed storage.  This greenhouse was almost grounds for divorce at our house!  Ha, ha!  It will have to last forever because Nate will NEVER construct one for me again. 

And, as if the greenhouse wasn't a big enough chore, it was followed by another whopper.  What was originally my rabbitry and then storage was converted to a four stall barn.  This was my major expansion project for this year giving me greater versatility in animal housing.  The raccoons had figured out that the lattice was easily ripped off and they were helping themselves to the feed, removing the lids from the containers, and making a huge mess in the process. I was limited by the henitentiary because I could only grow-out one rabbit litter at a time.  Now I can breed more than one rabbit at once and not worry about grow-out space.  Plus, it gives me the option for separating animals when needed.  The really fun part of this was digging out all of the stalls to a foot depth, in the Georgia clay mud I might add, laying down chicken wire and stapling it around the perimeter and then back filling with mulch.  The mulch has been wonderful for providing drainage.  Because of the density of the clay and the high water table of this area, it was always muddy.  I've noticed a huge difference now after a big rain storm.  The chicken wire serves two purposes, to keep predators from digging in and baby bunnies from digging out.  By the way, a stackable organizer from the Dollar Tree flipped sideways and screwed to the wall makes an excellent hay feeder.

Since I lost my feed storage area, my old 6x8 greenhouse became my feed storage shed.  Nate finished the shelving for it, and it is perfect.  It sits in deep shade during the summer so with the ventilation windows and the door open during the day, I'm not too concerned about the feed getting too hot.

And, here are a few photos of the animal yard as it is today.  The rabbits are to the right.  My feed storage is above that.  The chicken coop is just behind the barn.  I'm digging it!

Happy homesteading,


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Difference Between Ducks and Chickens

What is the difference between ducks and chickens in an ice storm?

The ducks are in the stream having a blast.  "Sleet, ice, schmice!  This water feels great!"

The chickens are in the coop demanding to see their labor representative.  "We told you during the last storm that this weather would not be tolerated!"
So, before I lose electricity, which is bound to happen when we get ice, I'll sign off.
Happy homesteading,

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Street Value

In Georgia today, pigs are flying and Hell has frozen over because, yes folks, we have snow.  Monday was a high of 68 and two days later, this.

The chickens and ducks were like, "WTF?  We live in Georgia, not Rhode Island.  This was not part of our labor contract.  Please remove whatever this is immediately, or we're contacting our union reps!"

But, have you any idea what the street value is?  It's pure snow! 

Oh, and did I mention the best part?  Two paid days off from work!

Hey, Mama Pea, this snow thing, you might be on to something!

Happy homesteading,


Saturday, November 30, 2013

They're Just Ducky!

Now that the ducks are out of quarantine and in the animal yard, they have access to the stream that runs across the back of my lot.  I've enjoyed watching them work their way up and down, sticking their bills and sometimes their heads deep into the water looking for good stuff.

Since the stream is not that deep, I wanted to give them a way to submerge themselves if they have the need, so Nate rigged up this fabulous duck pond off the back of the chicken coop  The pond will be fed with water from a rain barrel.  I designed it so the overflow from the rain barrel will fill the pond and then I can save the collected water for periods when it doesn't rain.



We had some rain a few days ago, but not enough to fill the pond itself or the rain barrel, so I'm still waiting on the opportunity to dunk the ducks and let them know it's there.  Hopefully they will take to it like a duck to water.  Ha, ha!  I couldn't resist.

I'm looking forward to spring and the first clutch of duck eggs and potential ducklings.

Happy homesteading,


Monday, November 11, 2013

Chirp Chirp, not Quack Quack

Be afraid!  Be very afraid!  I'm burning up the blog world with two posts in a month!  Ha, ha!

We've introduced Muscovy ducks to the homestead.  I first learned about this breed of duck at a friend's farm a month or so ago, and then crossed paths with them again at another friend's farm.  Both of these experiences put a nugget of interest in my brain, and as luck would have it, I came across some for sale this weekend at a local livestock event in the colorings I wanted.

Here and here are a few articles on the breed that touch on all the reasons I find them suitable for my backyard homestead.

They are considered quackless.  They do make a chirp-type noise that is very quiet.  Sometimes it sounds to me like water dripping into a pool.  My chickens are loud enough, so I didn't want to add more noise coming from my backyard.

They don't need a pond to flourish.  I have some ideas to incorporate some type of landscaping pond in the glorified ditch/creek bed that runs at the back of my lot.  In the meantime I'm going to rustle up a kiddie pool to keep them happy. 

They tend to be very broody and are good at hatching their own eggs.  I like for nature to takes its own course, and less involvement required of me is just peachy!

Their meat is said to be very much like beef, very lean and non-greasy.  They are not the breed to have for rendering duck fat, but I have read you can render a small amount of fat from them.  I love adding another meat dimension to the homestead. 

They are good foragers and excellent at bug control, particularly mosquitoes, which is also hunky dory by me.  We have a terrible time with mosquitoes, so I hope they can help control our mosquito population next year.          

They don't require care much different than a chicken, so I feel like I can incorporate them into the flow of things without too many changes to our routine.  Though in my observations this weekend they are unlike chickens in that I notice they move as one.  Whenever I would approach the run they would move away from me in one unit, very unlike chickens who would have scattered, every chicken for itself.

One of the features that attracted me to these particular ducks at the event was the coloring.  I love the fawn and chocolate colors!


Anyone out there have experiences with this breed that you would like to share?

Happy homesteading,