Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Bees are a-Buzzin'

Update on my bees I got this fall:  They are alive and well! 

We had one of the hardest winters I've seen since I was a kid and I really worried that I hadn't done enough to get them ready for winter, having gotten them so late (October).  After every long stretch of bitter cold, I would go down and knock on the box and put my ear to it, listening to the reassuring hum.

I went down and sat with them for a bit today (a most gorgeous day it is) and watched to see if they were bringing back any pollen yet.  You can actually sit quite close to the hive, off to the side and out of their flight path.  They take no notice of you if you're not waving your arms or banging on their box.  No pollen yet, but soon!  My curly willows, lilac and the maple trees will be blooming any day now. 

They were mostly coming out to take their orientation flights, circling 10 feet or so above the hive.  Some zipped off over the hill, getting water from the neighbor's pond I'm sure.  No signs of nosema.  They seem to be strong in numbers (hard to tell from the still image, but there was much action coming and going from the hive).  After what I have read this winter, I believe the chewed up old hive body and bottom board were to their benefit, providing good ventilation.  Beekeeping for Dummies says that poor ventilation will make them sick quicker than anything. 

I will be opening them up very soon!  It's so windy today, but warm at least.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Homemade Deer Repellant

I had to deworm my chickens this week, so following the recommended 14 day withdrawal period for the Ivermectin Pour-on, I have to toss 2 weeks worth of eggs (about 112 eggs).  What to do with all these eggs?  I hate to just waste them.  I can't feed them to the chickens because it would put the medicine back into their systems.  I can't feed them to the dogs, because the dogs are already on heartworm preventative medication and they probably shouldn't have the extra (or it may lead to the development of parasitic resistance).  They do give Ivermectin to children in third world countries, but I really don't think I want to try it.  I am pretty sure I don't have worms anyway!

Well, my Mom told me about this recipe from WSAZ's John Marra (WV ag extension agent who answers calls for gardening questions on air).  I was able to find the video clip online.  He goes a little more in depth than I will here.

The recipe is as follows:

  • 1 egg

  • 1/2 cup milk

  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil

  • 1 tbsp liquid dish soap

Combine all and mix well.  Pour into a one gallon container and dilute with water to equal one gallon.  Let this nasty mix sit outside for at least 3 days and get even nastier.  Shake well and use a pump sprayer or watering can to apply it to the plants you want to protect.  The dish soap helps to break the surface tension of the water so the concoction will cling to your plants better.  It won't hurt your plants and won't need to be reapplied until you've had some significant rain.  MUCH cheaper than Liquid Fence and every bit as repugnant!

It is the egg that is so effective in Liquid Fence, the main active ingredient.  Well, I can either make 112 gallons, which actually might come in handy now that the deer have discovered my strawberry patch last fall.  Or maybe I'll try to double/triple up on the egg in a few batches and see if I can bear to stroll through my backyard following its application.  HA!

Oh, if you are interested, here is the off-label use of cattle pour-on Ivermectin for deworming chickens, as per advice I have gotten from the chicken experts on BYC.  It is preferrably done in late fall after they've taken a break from laying, but a few of mine were showing a little droopiness and I figured I'd better just do it.  I have previously only dewormed/medicated my chickens on a case by case, as needed basis, but maybe now that my flock is bigger I should be taking a more prophylactic approach.

Pour-on "Ivermec" is readily attainable from your feed dealer or farm store and comes in liquid form.  Using a 10 mL syringe (no needle, of course), apply about 5 good drops to the skin on the back of each bird's neck.  Be sure to lift the feathers and get it right down on the skin.  This dosage is for standard breed chickens.  Use a little more or less depending on the size of your bird.  Banty's will need less.  I must admit though, I probably applied more like 1/2 mL to each bird once all was said and done, they squirmed so much.  That's pretty close.  Ivermectin is a very common and safe dewormer as long as you don't totally overdo it.  It will not only control internal parasites, but mites, fleas and ticks too.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Early salad greens

Before my spring sown lettuce has even sprouted, I am already enjoying fresh salads from the garden this week thanks to the use of a row cover.  I planted this mesculun mix last spring and let it go to seed and linger.  By November I had so many little lettuce volunteers, I hated to let the frost get them so I decided to make a row cover using arches made from 1/2" PVC pipe anchored to the ground with 18" rebar stakes, then covered it with some 6 mil clear plastic I had laying around and weighed it down with rocks. 

Despite two months of freezing temperatures and constant heavy snow cover, my little lettuce babies made it!  One week of nice, mild, spring weather and they have tripled in size and are ready to pick.  I am definitely going to do this again next fall and maybe even put a little effort into it.  I'd like to have a raised bed just for spring lettuce with better soil quality and no weeds for the lettuce to compete with.  Perhaps I'll even toss in a little spinach to go with it.

After seven years of marriage, I have been able to train my husband's taste buds to actually enjoy salad.  He says he really likes these greens and that they are much sweeter and crunchier than usual.  Oh, I have a new favorite salad dressing that goes just perfect with them.  Ken's Steak House Raspberry Walnut Vinegrette -- it's so good you can't even tell it's lite!  You can really taste the walnut in it too.  I like a little shredded sharp cheddar and either sunflower seeds, walnuts or almonds on it. 

Unfortunately, I left the cover off after I finished picking my last salad and the chickens straightway mowed my little patch down.  They like salad too.  It will grow back soon enough, but I just don't think it will taste as good after it's had chicken feet all over it.  :/  Chickens are worse than deer in the garden.

Tomorrow I am taking part of my tax return and going to the feed store to buy some fencing.  (This was already the plan, even before the chickens ate my salad.)  I am going to fence the back forty to contain my free ranging layer flock and pasture my next batch of broilers for fall.  I hope to put a dairy goat back there soon too.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Mud, lots of mud

I exited the chicken coop today with a basket containing 9 eggs.  That's been about their average lately for the 13 girls I currently have as we are pressing forward into Spring and the days are getting a little longer.  Well, I forgot to turn off the light, so I turned back in a hurry, misstepped, and wiped out in the mud.  Somehow 4 eggs survived the fall.  Definitely one of my more graceful spills of late.  I did not hurt myself.  And there was no one around to witness it, so I didn't even hurt my pride.  What is it about suddenly landing on your backside that it takes a few seconds of sitting there in the mud before your brain can fully process what just happened?  My first concern was for the eggs.

Well, add that to my list of mud holes that need patched up this summer.  I don't know how you can live on the top of a ridgeline and have all the drainage problems that we have, but any small depression in the yard really collects the rainwater.

We have a pretty thick layer of red clay in the soil strata here in this region of West Virginia.  It has taken the addition of many truckloads of manure, compost and other organic matter to get my garden plot to where it drains well.  It still could use more.  A little rain here and there doesn't cause much problem, but this has been a very wet winter.  Last spring was very wet too and most of my cool weather crops suffered from having wet feet.

Hauling truckloads of wood to the back of the house where we have a walk-out basement did a lot of damage to the yard this winter as you can see from the picture below.  Between the deep snow and all the mud, we got hung up a couple of times.  I have plans to remedy this though and this summer we will be making that a priority.  I can tell now by looking (from off to the side) that the area circled in red there is just a bit higher than the rest of the graded area.

This house was built in 1942 and did not have a basement originally.  My neighbor, Charlie, owned the house at one time and told us how he put steel I-beams under the house and jacked it up off of the foundation in order to dig the basement.  He built one nicest and most functional basements I've ever seen.  It stays very dry and has none of that musty smell that often accompanies a full basement.  He put in several access points to the septic system, a gray water system and lots of drains to take water away from the house.  However the grade is off at that one point and the small hillsides created by the excavation all drain back into one spot.

We asked Charlie to come over once and show us where all the lines are, but it's been so long ago he can't quite remember.  He said he thought there was a septic or drain line running right down the middle of our mud mess area.  I have partially mapped out the septic lines, based on the position of the septic tank and the leech field.  There are depressions in the yard and this photo with the yellow line shows where I think the line comes out of the tank and goes to the distributer.  It's unfortunate that the septic system takes up so much of my yard.  I would plant all kinds of things (trees mostly) in that area if I could.  The leach field is over the hill just beyond the chicken barn and the two apple trees in the distance and takes up about 25% of our acre.  I've got my bees down there and I can pasture my chickens and pen one or two goats, so that is not entirely wasted space.

Drainage problems, ex.2

It is my bet that the drain line runs down the center (where the tire tracks are).  Rainwater and gray water go into it.  The clean-out has at least two pipes converging into it from left and right and is positioned just outside the basement door in the center of the concrete pad.  It gets plugged up with mud a lot.  That leads into another home improvement project I'll be chronicling on here later this summer...


Anyway, here is my vision for the seasonal mud hole in my backyard... I am going to do a little exploratory digging with the shovel to find out exactly where any pipes are.  We talked about grading out that little hump (circled in red), but because of the parallel hillsides, I doubt that would be enough to do the trick.  I think what I am going to have to do is rent a ditch witch and put in a long french drain at the lowest point that will slope enough to carry all the water on down over the hill.  I can test the runoff with the water hose and once it's going where I want it, fill in with coarse gravel.  Then what I want to do is make this area more pleasing to the eye with a little functional landscaping.  I will probably put down landscape fabric first and cover that with about 4 inches of sand over the whole area.  Pillaging my dad's farm and my mother-in-law's stream bed I hope to collect enough flat rocks to make a wide path which will taper down and split.  One fork will follow along my well beaten path to the chicken barn and the other fork will lead to a circular stone fire pit (also in the works for this summer).  The fire pit will be located just beyond the end of the yellow line drawn in the second picture.  Once I have the paver rocks down, I will go back and fill between them with a prettier gravel.  I don't know what they're called--name/number, but my husband does.  He says it's #57 landscape gravel.  Ok then!  :D

From there, I want to put in my grape arbors on either side of the wide rock path and also work in some stone-bordered perennial flower beds.  Something low maintenance, but pretty, like day lilies and iris.

This rock path has to be sturdy enough and wide enough to back the truck in there with loads of firewood.  What do you think?  Any suggestions/comments will be much appreciated!