Monday, April 19, 2010

Morel Hunting

This is my favorite time of year, for many reasons, but mostly because it's time to go morel hunting!  The past 3 years since the birth of my daughter it has been really hard for me to get out there and go and more often than not, we get skunked.  Finally this past Saturday we found some. 

Morel season doesn't last very long.  Maybe a month at best.  April 10th at the earliest we begin looking for the black morels (Morchella elata).  We used to have a great patch for those, but it has been bulldozed and is barely recognizable anymore and no longer productive.  The ones we like best though are the yellow or gray morels (M. esculenta and M. deliciosa).  When you see the may apples suddenly up, it is time to look for those.  There is also another variety common around here called the half-free morel, but it is thin and fragile and grows very randomly, not in large patches like the others do.  The half-frees we usually find midseason between the other two.

When we found these yellow morels on Saturday, they were a bit small, most with caps about 1 1/2" tall.  They are just getting started and this week will be the best time to find them. 

My brother is supposed to go out with me on Thursday.  My dad took us a couple of times to hunt them on my great-grandpa's farm when we were very young and I don't think my brother has been since.  A friend of his hunts morels and he told him that the hollow ones were poisonous and the solid ones were edible.  This is completely backwards, just so you know.  The solid ones, the false morels, are poisonous (Gyromitra esculenta, Verpa bohemica, and others).  Fortunately they are uncommon around here.  You can easily tell the difference because true morels are completely hollow from cap to stem.  False morels will be solid or their caps will connect to the stem at the peak of the cap, whereas in true morels the caps are connected to the stem at the base of the cap.  I told my brother he needs to reconsider some of his "friends".  LOL

I also told my brother that it is upon pain of death that I reveal my secret morel hunting patches to him.  Under no circumstances is he to tell anyone where we went or to take another human being, not even a girlfriend.  The location was revealed to me under the same terms by my father-in-law, but now that he has passed, I barely have anyone who will go with me.  My husband will go once or twice if he has time.  He loves to eat them, but he is not as dedicated to hunting them as I am.  There is a true saying that goes "anyone foolish enough to ask a morel hunter where they found them is probably also foolish enough to believe the answer".

This little morel was hiding in between a fiddlehead fern and the base of a tree.  I thought this was a neat shot.


We always find neat things out in these woods.  There are several old home sites with the foundations and remains of what was once a dwelling place.  It's hard to imagine someone living in these steep, nearly inaccessible woods.  You can still tell where the clearings were as they remain mostly grassy even today.  We've found old bottles, wrought iron bed frames (which my mother-in-law has used as a quaint trellis for a climbing rose), pieces of wooden and metal farm equipment and other discarded signs of human life.  One particularly enchanting spot has an open well, wild apple and pawpaw trees and a thick blanket of daffodils of several old varieties which have multiplied to cover a large area.  We've dug and taken home several starts of iris, peony and other hardy perennials.

Upon reaching the crest of a hill above a rocky spring I looked up and saw this unusual tree with its comical smirk.  Having once been part of a fence line, it had a barbed wire fu manchu mustache.  How cool is that?  : )


There are also piles and piles of mossy, weathered rocks everywhere you look.  I would love to haul them all home for use in my flower garden and for landscaping around the house.  Most were piled to the side either when fields were cleared or as logging roads pushed through.  The area was logged about 20 years ago.  Trees and brush come up through most of the old roads and the area is mostly inaccessible except by foot. 

It's a really neat place.  It feels so far away from civilization, although in truth it is maybe a 20 minute drive from my mother-in-law's house.  My father-in-law began exploring the area back in the 1980's.  When he would get off from work at the coal mines, he would come out here and hunt ginseng and morels.  Most of the land is still owned by the logging company today.  Very little of it is posted.  I love and look forward to the yearly ritual of coming out here and hiking the hills.

I plan to go back out Thursday and/or Saturday of this week.  I hope to come back with a bagful of mushrooms!  It's always fun to go, even if you only find a few.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Apple Blossoms

This has been such a gorgeous spring, the prettiest I can recall.  I've really enjoyed all the blooms, both wild and cultivated.  The redbuds have been amazing and the dogwoods are just hitting their stride.  But the apple trees have been particularly intoxicating!  I don't know why my sinuses aren't bothering me yet this year with the very high pollen count.  Everything smells so sweet and wonderful! 

I had pruned this apple tree very heavily in February 2009 and it punished me with almost no bloom last year.  It really needed it though as it was choked up with a couple of very overgrown water sprouts in the center.  This year however, is another story.  I have never seen so much bloom on this tree in the few years I've been trying to give it the TLC it so badly needed.  My apple tree at home bloomed really well this year, but nothing like this.  It's really something to stand beneath it and just inhale as deeply as you can... 

The bees and other pollinators are hitting it really hard and I expect this will be an awesome year for apples.  I am going to give this tree some fertilizer spikes again.  They really helped me get larger apples from it a couple years ago.  I don't have any idea what the variety is, but this tree is my best source for pie apples and I hope to put many into the freezer this fall.

Close up of the same tree.

My one year old (since purchased) Bonnie Best put on an impressive show too for such a young tree.  I planted the remains of 4 trout caught last spring around the perimeter of the hole.  My father-in-law swore by that and he was a true greenthumb, so I will not argue with such wisdom!  What I like best about its blooms is that they have a deep saturation of pink to them.  This is supposed to be a blue-ribbon pie apple too.  I cannot wait to get fruit from this tree.  It takes a few years, so as a new homeowner it's smart to establish your fruit trees right away so you can enjoy them as soon as possible!   I have quite a long wish list of trees to acquire...  What a great way to invest $25!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Opening the Bees

Yesterday was a beautiful, warm day and one of the least windy we've had yet (it's always windy on our ridge).  My cranky and congested toddler was finally down for her nap, so my husband and I hurried to throw on our bee suits, gather up our gear and take our first opportunity to open up the bees.  My neighbors stopped their hammering on the shed they were building and came over to check out what on earth we were up to now.  They'd never seen anyone in a bee suit before.  It is quite a spectacle really.  :)  After briefly chatting, we headed over the hill to see the bees.

With everything bursting into bloom all at once, there has been much activity coming and going from the hive the past week or two.  I've been eagerly waiting for it to warm up enough so that I could check out what was going on inside the box.  It was much like opening Pandora's Box, because I inherited this entire started hive, knowing that it had been badly neglected and who knew what might be going on inside.  This was an escaped swarm and the gentleman I got them from was recovering from a broken hip at the time.  When he saw them going across the street and congregating high up in his neighbor's tree, he quickly threw together a bait box and set it up on the brushy hillside and the bees did finally decide to take residence. 

Nothing had been done to them since then (last spring), until I moved them out here last fall.  Not an ideal situation really.  And me being new to all this, with only two beekeeping books and countless hours of scouring the internet and watching instructional videos on YouTube, who could tell what I was getting myself into?  I consider my stubborness to be one of my best qualities!  Advisably not the best way to get started in beekeeping, but I am going to try to make this work anyway.

I was not quite as nervous as I thought I'd be.  Brandon stood by to help when needed and manned the camera for me.  Here I have lifted off the telescoping cover and pried loose the inner cover and am sending a couple puffs of smoke beneath it through the crack.

I waited a bit, then gently lifted it off. 

Right off the bat, horror!  A section of freeform comb pulled up with the cover.

 Now I feel sick.  The first thing I notice, along with the destruction of large pearly white larvae which have been torn from their capped cells is this solitary swarm cell (queen cell) sticking out like a sore thumb.  This means they're already thinking about swarming again.  Soon.

I pulled out the outermost frame to see what they were doing with it.  It's about a third full of capped honey.  They're already running out of room.  I should have swapped the two boxes sooner.  Bees start at the bottom and work their way up.  They would have moved up from the deep hive body (larger bottom box) during the winter, to eat the honey stored in the super above.  Now the brood nest is in this super, the center of which I just demolished by taking off the inner cover because of the absence of three center frames.  They hung their comb from the inner cover instead and it was cross connected to the frames on either side. 

There was no way to get this apart without making a mess.  Had I gotten them early enough in the fall, this super would have probably been nothing but honey stores and I could have dealt with this better, removing the damaged comb and giving them a hive top feeder to make up for the loss.   Shoulda, coulda, woulda....but this is where I am now, so I gotta come up with a plan.  You won't read about this in the books, because assuming you have gone by the book you won't find yourself in this mess in the first place.

At this point, the bees were still very docile, which really surprised me since I just wrecked their home.  I decided I should go ahead and switch the positions of the deep hive body and the super.  As I reflect on it now, I think maybe that wasn't the right decision.  Maybe the bees could feel my nerves failing in light of uncertainty as to what to do next.  This was when they got really mad.  I am happy to report that my bee suit did its job.  No stings were received by either of us.

I had to lift everything anyways, because one of my main objectives for this visit was to take out the old, mouse-eaten bottom board and replace it with a new IPM (integrated pest management) bottom board.  I set the super gently on top of the telescoping cover on the ground and had my husband lift the deep hive body up so I could put the new bottom board underneath.  Then I put the super on top of the bottom board.  Because I lifted the super (my mistake), I ended up with a pile of damaged freeform comb on top of the hive body.  There were almost no bees working in the deep hive body, so it looked to be empty.  I am hoping they will move their activity back up into it now that the brood nest is below it.  I took an empty super and set it on top of this to encircle the large pile of damaged comb and brood and turned the inner cover so that the hanging comb would be accommodated by the remaining empty space.  There was a line of capped brood cells exposed, and they will die, but the majority of them were still capped and will hopefully emerge alright.  I feel sorry for the bees that they have to clean up this mess.

This photo shows a close-up of the damage to the nest.  Circled in red are the cells of capped brood.  Circled in green is the torn ridge of pearly white larvae exposed. 

I don't know where the queen was!  I was very careful not to squish anyone.  I will be lucky if she was working over in one of the other frames.  This frame had no eggs in it, just honey and large capped larvae.  She may not be in there at all.  I really needed to go through more frames and look for new eggs and wish now that I had.  Maybe that is why they are already making swarm cells (or because of the lack of upward room).  I could not hang around to do much inspection now that I had really angered them.  I felt it was best to get done and close it up for now.

So this is what I did get accomplished:  I replaced the old bottom board, switched the deep hive body and the super containing the brood nest, added an empty super to enclose the damaged comb, and put the inner cover and telescoping cover back on.  I forgot to put an entrance reducer at the opening.  I will run down there and do that here in a bit.

My goal is to convert this hive over to a top bar hive.  I will have to do some more studying and work on that next weekend.  By then I hope the bees have forgiven me!  I tossed and turned all last night, feeling bad about the destroyed brood and wondering what to do next...

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Fencing the Back 40

We finally got my woven wire fence up last Saturday (just now finding time to post about it).  My neighbor let us borrow his fence puller which really made a big difference, although we realized too late on one section of fence that we should have started at the opposite post to get a better pull.  I told my dad that I am a pro now, if he needs any help fixing/replacing the woven wire horse fencing at the farm.  LOL

I still need to fabricate a double gate for the entrance, but as far as the chickens are concerned, they are well contained.  I have a section of my PVC range pen blocking their exit for now, until I can get to it.  I also need to brace the posts connecting to the gate.

Here's the chickens enjoying their dog-resistant free-range area. 

Good fences make good neighbors and now I don't have to clobber any of mine (or their dogs)!  The peace of mind was well worth what I paid for it.  I got a very good deal on this 2"x4" knotted woven wire horse fencing at Tractor Supply.  I got 200 feet of it for $10 less than what I would have paid for 150 feet (3 fifty foot rolls) of inferior quality regular woven wire.  The knotted fencing will last forever and not rust.  This area will also double as a small paddock for a couple goats in the future.