Saturday, May 28, 2011

No Eggs, No Brood, No Queen!

Yesterday's visit to the beehive has taught me to expect the unexpected when it comes to these bees.  It seems they require more babysitting than a toddler!

I went down there with the plan to do an inspection, swap out some ratty old equipment for new stuff, place a grease patty and hopefully add a honey super.

They'd been a little quiet lately, not much activity visible from outside the hive.  A couple thumps on the side would produce a reassuring hum, so I tried not to worry about it too much.  On days that I can't get anyone to watch Ava, all I can do is thump 'em! 

We've had so much rain this spring.  Maybe 10 decent days out of the past 2 months or so.  They say not to work your bees after a thunderstorm because they'll be mean, but reflecting on that now, I wish I'd taken my chances.  The last inspection I got to do was 6 weeks ago.  Far too long to leave them alone.

I knew that they had tons of honey left over from winter, so I didn't worry about feeding them through those long weeks when they weren't able to fly.  They missed the dandelions, the apple and peach blossoms, half of the blackberry blossoms and sadly all of the black locust and most other tree flowerings.  It finally quit raining long enough for them to hit the nearby tulip poplars.  Most of the pollen I found inside looked to be tulip poplar.

Lots of yellow pollen, lots of stored nectar.  Old supercedure cell on the left center.

I expected there to be a very poor brood build up.

However, I did not expect there to be NO QUEEN.  No sign of her anywhere!  No tiny eggs, no capped or open larvae.  Nothing!  No evidence of laying workers either though...

Lots of empty cells.  No brood!

So, I looked everything over very well.  I don't believe there is any scary disease in the hive.  I saw just a couple of ants on the lid, no hive beetles, one propolis entombed wax moth... The workers looked pretty good.  No K-wing to indicate a heavy mite load, although I'll do a count now too.  Being that there is no brood, that should mess up the life cycle of the mites anyway.

She's just gone.  I did find a couple empty supercedure cells and two swarm cells that had been there awhile.  They superceded last year anyway, but I removed those.  These were in the other deep and they were very old (and empty.) 

The bottom deep was completely empty and I took advantage of that to remove it and get rid of some very messy and wild comb.  The upper deep was packed full of pollen and nectar, the two end frames being completely full of last year's honey and all other frames having varying amounts of old honey all contained in the back third of the frame.  When I do get a queen in there, they'll be ready for her.

Typical of all 10 frames, lots of stored food, no evidence of the queen.

Since there aren't any laying workers, I am going to give them a couple days and inspect again, just in case they have a virgin queen and she hasn't gotten started yet.  If still queenless, I will have to call a lady from my bee association and see if I can buy a queen from her pronto.

Between the rain, and now this, it isn't looking like I'll get to harvest any honey this year.  :(  I really need a second hive to work with.  If I could borrow some brood, I could have them back up and running very soon.

Thursday, May 26, 2011


Our evening of strawberry picking was cut short by a creepy, fast moving thunderstorm that rolled in on us.  This picture shows the dark clouds swallowing up the pretty sunset.

The strong winds and short bursts of showers came and went all day today.

I am feeling very far behind with my outside chores, especially the gardening.  The rain has kept me out of the dirt for two months now, except for one dry weekend the Saturday before last.  What little I did get planted that day was promptly eaten by groundhogs.  Very discouraging!

But I recall now that it wasn't until Memorial Day a couple of years ago that my husband and I worked until after dark, hurrying to get everything planted all in one day.  With a dry spell finally slated for next week, it looks like we'll be having another such planting party this year.

My poor little seedlings want out of their pots!

Saturday, May 21, 2011


While we are on the topic of backyard varmints, I just wanted to share with you this funny YouTube video my husband found this evening.

I can't remember the last time I laughed so hard!

This is an old one, from 2007, so I apologize if you've already seen it.  I hadn't!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Stalking the Whistle-Pig

ground hog Pictures, Images and Photos

It ate all the flowering tops off of my snow peas!  GRRRRRR...

Is there anything better than a fresh snow pea munched straight from the garden?  I'll never know this year... Being that the snow peas were one of only two early spring crops that I managed to get planted in between all of the constant rain, I was extra perturbed!  We were only a couple weeks off from enjoying their crunchy sweetness.

I wrongly accused the chickens, even though they had left them alone all this time.  I still have two renegade hens that keep escaping, but for now they're all on lock up.

As I sent my husband off to work yesterday, I spotted, as it turns out, a big, furry blob lumbering back toward what was left of my pea patch. 

I declared war.  My Bright-and-Shining-Farmer decided it was time I learned to shoot his 4/10 and was going to give me a quick lesson today, but the whistle-pig (ground hog) showed up right after dinner, along with two more little ones, so I sent him out in the rain after it.

Ground hogs are sneaky and very alert.  The slightest movement sends them ducking for cover.

He peeked around the corner, she peeked back and BAM -- it was all over. 

You can see my mowed down peas on their bamboo trellis in the foreground.

There is always something living under that corner of my chicken barn.  There's been several opossums dispatched from there.  Then the barn kitties moved in.  I liked having the barn kitties living there.  I could spill chicken feed on the floor and nothing would touch it.  Then the barn kitties mysteriously disappeared and another opossum moved in.  It was quickly evicted.  So now there are are still two more little ground hogs under there.

I think I may as well just invest in a trap.

Update:  5/24/11 - We got another one last night and there are still two more small ones out there.  They've knocked off almost everything I planted two weeks ago except for the peppers, which they don't like for some reason.  I thought the cutworms were getting my tomatoes, so I dusted them and the groundhogs still ate them anyway!!  This has been a very frustrating year for gardening.

So that is what's going on here this week.  Go see what everybody else is up to over at the Barn Hop on Homestead Revival!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Recycled Crayons, with Glitter!

This is a little off topic from what I usually blog about, but we were so tickled with the results of this little project that I just had to pass it on.  I know many of you have young children in the home or grandchildren who will love this idea.  It made for a great rainy day project!

All moms know how crayons tend to multiply and turn up in the darnedest places (like in the dryer--with a full load of whites!)  While most young children seem to take immense pleasure from breaking their crayons to bits and peeling off the papers, seldom do they want to color with them again afterward. 

I've been finding little bits of crayons under the table, in the cracks of the recliner, inside of random drawers, here and there.  Usually I just toss them in the trash.  They'll never find their way back to the crayon box again anyway.  Then this morning, I saw the directions for recycled crayons on a blog...someplace!  I went back later and couldn't remember where I found it.  (If it was your blog, let me know and I'll link back to you!)

This is so easy and so ingenious.  My nearly-four-year-old daughter even enjoyed the task of removing the paper peels.  She really had fun sorting them by color group.  Then sorting them into the mini-muffin pan was the best part.

Pick an old muffin pan if you can, large or mini, because you might end up with crayon residue on it and it will have to be dedicated to crafts after that.  Lining the holes with cupcake liners would work too and probably preserve your pan, especially if you don't fill them too full.  You'll need to spray the holes with a vegetable oil spray before proceeding.

Take your crayons and break them into smaller bits and sort them into the holes in eye-pleasing color combinations.  You really can't go too wrong with this.  Pink and brown made a nice combination.  Black, grey and white went well together.  I really loved all the blues and greens together too.

Now here is the fun part.  This I came up with myself.  I took body glitter; the very fine, powdery kind you can use on your face and sprinkled it liberally over the crayons after they were sorted into the muffin holes.  I'd say I dumped in maybe 1/4th a teaspoon of glitter into each hole.  Give the pan a good tap and a shake to distribute the glitter.

We used Wet N' Wild Mega Sparkle body glitter.

Sprinkle generously for lots of bling!

Place the pan into your oven, preheated to 275 degrees and give the crayons about 10 minutes to melt.  Carefully pull it out and set it in a safe place.  There'll be no mercy if you splash it onto your carpet or someplace else you don't want it, that's for sure.

If you like, you can take a toothpick or wooden skewer and give it a little swirl while it's still liquid. Don't get too carried away or you'll loose all the neat swirls.

They don't take very long to set.  Maybe 15 minutes tops.  I put mine into the fridge after they cooled a little to speed the process.  We were very excited to get to coloring with them. 

Once they were set, they popped out of the muffin pan very easily!

We spent well over an hour or two coloring with them and once Ava was done with that, she also enjoyed stacking them into castles for awhile.

They color really well and you never know what color you'll get as you go.  The glitter adheres to the paper nicely.

I think these would make wonderful party favors for a child's birthday party.  I have some silicone fossil molds here somewhere and I think I might make some up as freebies for my summer Creation Club kids.  These will also be nice to carry a couple in my purse for a handy distraction when needed.  No more fuzzy, broken crayons lost at the bottom of my purse.  These are too big to lose!

Ava and her Nana spent most of the afternoon coloring.

These sure helped to brighten up an otherwise dreary day.  Today was so cold and cloudy, it felt more like February than May.

This post is part of "Get Your Craft On" at Today's Creative Blog.
Lots of good ideas there, go check 'em out!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

What Doesn't Kill Them Makes Them Stronger

My sun room is empty.  I don't have to remember to plug in the lights in the morning and unplug them at night.  I feel a little bit like I have an empty nest!
I won this water resistant power strip on a giveaway over at The Cheap Vegetable Gardener two weeks ago and it came very quickly in the mail.  I look forward to using it on next year's seedlings.  Ava likes to "help" water things, so this will allow me be a little less nervous about it!

Yea!  I won something!

I have eight flats of seedlings currently going through the hardening off process, waiting to be planted...maybe this week...if the rain ever stops enough to till the garden.

Unfortunately these brassicas will have to be tossed on the compost pile.  I will have to try for a fall crop instead.

I'm afraid my cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower seedlings are a loss.  They were supposed to go in the ground over a month ago.  They are looking rather lanky and I'm sure they are root-bound by now.  Soon they will bolt.  They've missed the prime opportunity to grow during the cooler spring weather.  I am really bummed out by this, since they were the nicest brassicas I've ever grown, now that I have my grow lights set up to my satisfaction.  :(

A repurposed countertop and multiple fluorescent shop lights on adjustable chains
make it easy to provide seedlings with sufficient lighting.

Other than snow peas and onions, I was completely unable to get any of my cool weather crops in this year because of the relentless rain.  Next year I plan to have several raised beds ready and waiting for spring.  I will not be thwarted again!  Ha.

The dahlias are starting to look a little floppy too, but I will be putting them into their own flower bed this week and hope they will take off quickly.  We've had a couple of dry, sunny days and the soil in that bed should be ready for me to work it with the shovel.

Lots of dahlias, a few different varieties.

Today I'll work on potting up the tomatoes into larger containers.  I like to move them into cottage cheese containers filled with potting soil for their last couple of weeks.  Our last frost date has passed today, so they can go in very soon.  I deliberately started them two weeks later this year and the timing was much better.  They haven't had to sit around too long.  More rain is in the forecast, so My-Bright-and-Shining-Farmer will have to be ready for the first opportunity to till the garden.

I always plant a bunch of tomatoes.  Is there such a thing as too many?

I always have more tomato plants left over than I can manage to give away to my family and friends, so I think I will put the extras into my yard sale.  They are almost all O/P heirlooms.  If I can make a few bucks off of them, that will cover my seed starting expenses for this year.

The several varieties of peppers I planted are still plugging along.  I lost half of them very early on by accidentally leaving those that were late to germinate in direct sunlight and I cooked them.  The first half which escaped disaster have reached a very nice size now, but those that I replanted are maybe a third of their size.  I guess they'll just have to catch up as best as they can because I'll go ahead stick them in the garden with the others here soon, weather permitting.

Several varieties of peppers in the back, snapdragons in the front.

Something new for me this year are the fancy ruffled snapdragons I started from seed.  Let me tell you, there is no smaller and more frustrating seed to start than those of the snapdragon!  I really had a hard time thinning them out.  These are the tall cutting variety of snapdragon, so I'm sure they will be worth the bother.  :)

Eggplants, ground cherries and scallions finish out the rest of the bunch.  Last year was my first time growing eggplants and I found that I really like them.  Their firm texture makes a nice substitute for mushrooms in my homemade spaghetti sauce.  Yummy!

Eggplants and tomatoes waiting to be potted up.
Scallions (bunching onions) do better thickly seeded.  I'll separate them into little clumps to plant.

I've finally gotten very good at starting seeds in flats, but the hardening off process is the tricky part.  You need to expose them to wind, nighttime temperatures and sunlight a little at a time until they become accustomed to living outdoors.  It can be perilous at times and all your weeks of hard work and careful attentiveness can be lost in a couple of hours if you forget to water them soon enough or a freak thunderstorm comes by and pummels them.  So far so good... I'm trying to be very diligent and stay on top of these things this year.  ;)

I'll leave you with this poem that I heard last Sunday evening at church.  I really liked it and honestly, isn't it true -- what doesn't kill us makes us stronger.  That may be the case for seedlings some extent!  But as for people, God can always use our trials to make us stronger, wiser and more useful for Him.  (2 Cor. 4:17)

by Douglas Malloch

The tree that never had to fight
For sun and sky and air and light,
But stood out in the open plain
And always got its share of rain,
Never became a forest king
But lived and died a scrubby thing.

The man who never had to toil
To gain and farm his patch of soil,
Who never had to win his share
Of sun and sky and light and air,
Never became a manly man
But lived and died as he began.

Good timber does not grow with ease:
The stronger wind, the stronger trees;
The further sky, the greater length;
The more the storm, the more the strength.
By sun and cold, by rain and snow,
In trees and men good timbers grow.

Where thickest lies the forest growth,
We find the patriarchs of both.
And they hold counsel with the stars
Whose broken branches show the scars
Of many winds and much of strife.
This is the common law of life.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Numbers Are In...

Rosemary and Honey BBQ Baked Chicken

I am often asked if I actually come out ahead by raising our own chickens for meat.  This was the third year we've done these Cornish Cross meat birds and it was certainly the best year I've had to date as I have figured out a few things along the way and streamlined my management practices significantly. 

There are still a few things I'd like to improve.  Buying my feed in bulk from the local grain mill instead of Tractor Supply is one of them.  I kept meticulous records with this batch and now I know exactly how much feed it takes to raise them to harvesting weight.

We processed the second half of our Cornish Cross meat birds on the Saturday before last and I spent part of last week cutting up chicken and packing it for the freezer.  My freezer is full!  I don't know if I can get anything else in there for awhile.

I didn't take live weights on the birds as I raised them, although those numbers would have been useful.  I'll have to buy a proper scale if I plan to do that in the future. 

I did carefully record the dressed weight.  After tinkering around in MS Excel, the numbers are in -- I do save a lot of money by raising my own chicken AND I get a high quality, pasture-raised meat, free of medications, processed cleanly and humanely.

(Click to see larger version.)

You hear a lot about high bird losses with Cornish Cross; that they are prone to leg problems, heart problems and necrosis in the breast meat from the heavy weight of the birds.  I have experienced very little health problems with mine, other than random deaths when they are under two weeks old.  I have had a "gimpy" or two in each flock, but those seem to have been from injuries rather than overfeeding and all but two have recovered and gone on to make good weights.

I believe a 12 hours on/12 hours off feeding schedule is the best thing you can do to prevent health problems.  They also require a thick, soft layer of bedding as chicks and a very high protein ration to help them build strong legs.

I start mine out on 24% turkey chick feed and finish them off their last two weeks on regular 20% chick feed.  I had to buy a few bags of 16% layer crumbles this time around when TSC was out of the chick starter, but it worked out well.

My shipment of 40 chicks came on February 28th this year and this worked out much better than raising them to harvest weight in the hot days of May.  The heat is very hard on them.  They much prefer the cooler spring weather (although the incessant rain was not a plus.)  Less heat stress on the bird equals better feed conversion.  This also helped to get them done and out of the way before things get too busy in the garden!

One thing I've noted about Cornish Cross is that they are not likely to eat treats or forage unless they are really hungry.  This is another benefit of feeding them 12 hours on/12 hours off.  They'll usually pick around at the clover, grass, bugs, etc. as they wait for their feeders to be returned to them.

I turned my birds out into their tractor at about 4 weeks of age.  The design of my PVC chicken tractor is something else I hope to improve next year.  The current tractor is too cumbersome for me to move by myself.  I also learned the hard way not to secure the tarp too tightly across the top.

I meant to get a picture of my husband plucking chickens.  He has really got it down to a science now.  I timed him and he can pluck a chicken in 3.5 minutes.  That has to be some kind of record!  :D  We had considered building a whiz-bang chicken plucker, but now I don't think that will be necessary.  It would probably take us longer to get one built than it would to just pluck the chickens in the first place.  Ha.

My husband does the "deed", scalds, plucks and removes the feet for me.  I do the evisceration and clean them up and pack them into the chill tank.  Between the both of us, assembly line style, we can process one bird every 13 minutes.  Well, that is if we are focused and getting down to business.  I've found that talking slows us down considerably.

This has been the first year that my daughter has really been aware of what was going on.  She took it very well and even ate chicken livers that same night!  She was interested in these Cornish Cross when they were chicks, but they became increasingly less appealing to her as they got bigger. bottom line after plugging in all the numbers -- I put up 171 pounds of chicken and I got my meat at $1.77 a pound.  I forgot to check at the grocery store last night to see what whole cut-up chicken was going for there. 

Some folks we know from church sell pastured Cornish Cross chickens at the farmer's market.  The numbers I compared mine with was their pricing from last year.  I will be interested to see what their price is this year, as the cost of feed continues to climb.  I remember buying my chicken feed for about $8 for a 50# bag three years ago.

I still have chicken stock to can and I didn't price the organ meats.  We like the livers and the dog gets the rest for treats.  I didn't factor the price of bedding into the cost of my meat because I get added value out of all the manure they produce for my garden.

All in all, it was a good year.  I have a year's supply of the tastiest chicken in my freezer and now I can move on to other things.

Take a minute to visit some of these other interesting homesteading blogs!