The Planting of Seeds…Both Farmers and Teachers

This is the time of year at the farm when we just don’t know how we will get everything done given that there are only 24 hours in a day and some of that needs to be restful. We are working in between the rain drops these days as we have continued to have our share of wet weather which makes it challenging to do everything we need to do in the fields.

In addition to all the leafy plants that are starting to thrive in the cool season plot, Dave has a nice assortment of peppers as well as eggplants planted. IMG_3467.JPGDespite the wet, the cuke seeds have germinated in their mounds to nearly 100% and their surrounding wire trellises are installed as well after a few repairs on the ones we stored in the barn from last year. IMG_3560.JPGThe potatoes are ready to bloom which the bees will enjoy. IMG_3468.JPG Best of all, the orchard trees seem to have done ‘okay’ despite that late winter cold snap. Plums are evident here…in various stages of coloration as some are still green and others are starting show their purple color.

IMG_3559IMG_3558Not a whole lot of peaches to brag about but one tree in particular has quite a few. Even more fun than that is to see the pears. Many people might be surprised that pears actually grow in an upside down fashion until their weight makes the branch bend downwards. IMG_3552.JPGHere is one that is farther along and has already started to color and is weighted down. IMG_3553.JPGThe apple trees are struggling with the weight of their fruit in this wet and windy environment and we continue to struggle as well to keep them all in an upright position! Besides staking, we will also cull apples from these trees to help them along.IMG_3555.JPGThe bees have cause for continued excitement as we decided we needed to add another hive stand to the apiary for the ease of a future expansion. The reason for this was that early last week I discovered, upon inspection, that one of our nucs had created 10-12 re-queening supercedure cells in its nest. Yikes! This means that it was not planning to swarm away but rather wanted to replace its queen with a new one and in doing so was covering its bets with multiple cells. The realization of this sent me into a bit of a panic since I could actually try to take advantage of the extra queen cells and do a split if I had all the equipment ready. With no space for additional hive boxes, I called upon farmer Dave to help me out. We devised a list of necessary hardware and he went off to procure the goods and that evening we made another 8 foot long hive stand to add to the apiary. IMG_3512.JPG After unloading the truck, we went about building the stand together…something every husband and wife should experience together as a project!  😉 IMG_3514.JPGOur plan for early the next morning was to temporarily seal off the second swarm colony in order to get it moved to the new stand without too much of a distraction. Once we had the new stand in place, (not an easy task given that it needed to be leveled in all directions!) I was ready to open up the nuc that was about to re-queen itself and add a secondary new nuc box to the new stand. Here I am getting ready to do this… IMG_1692.JPGBut wouldn’t you know, in less than 24 hours time, the bees had already liberated their queen cells and had started the process of deciding which one would prevail. It would not have been a good time to reorganize them at this point so I quickly closed them up and let nature take its course without my intervention. This colony will now need 3 weeks time before my next inspection to see if all is well and the new queen is producing as expected.

This was not the end of the day tho since with the new hive stand, my intention was to alleviate the crowding on the first stand. Moving colonies has to be done with great care though…the thought is that you can move them no more than two feet or else you must move them 2 miles. Our new stand was a bit more than two feet away so I moved one hive to a temporary location between the two stands (about an 18″ move) where it will remain for two weeks until I move it again, another 18″ to the new stand. In order to help the bees reorient with this slight adjustment (their brains are acutely mapped to their location) I put a branch in front of their opening so they would make note that something was different when they left the colony and could re-map for their return. Oh, my, how intriguing the bees can be! Here are the results of the move. UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_183e3.jpgI continue to build new bee equipment as fast as I can and am so glad I have the new workshop in the barn to help me with all the assembly and painting. IMG_3188.JPGI’m pleased to have a new jig to help with the frame assembly and the tools to make that all go smoother. This is the wiring jig after I’ve built the frame. IMG_3363.jpgNext is the crimper which is a clever tool that takes the straight wire and crimps it to cause tension, therefore tightening the slack. IMG_3364.JPG After the frame is built and wired, I add the wax foundation and embed the wire with a special tool called a star embedder. IMG_3410.JPGI find great satisfaction in building the bee equipment. It is a good thing though that we are getting so much help from Coulter as he as taken up the mantle at the farm. He loves digging so much that when we take him to the park he just wants to DIG! IMG_3372.JPGHe also helped out on storm clean up with his own broom. IMG_3495.JPGOf course he loves nothing better than blowing the dandelion seed heads! IMG_3535.JPGAs adorable as he is, Coulter can’t compete with his mom making the news today…She was quoted in this New York Times article that was written about one of her students. The back story to this was the student, when approached by the NYTimes for a story was told he could chose two of his teachers to be interviewed as part of the story…and he chose Kate as one of them! Such a cool young man…he chose wisely! The article made quite a splash as I found it in my print copy this morning!UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_1843f.jpg Much to do in the coming weeks as we are picking strawberries from the young plants and eyeing the blueberries which are starting to blush with some color already. We also celebrated our 38th wedding anniversary this weekend with breakfast on the screened porch. Ahh, a quiet moment together to reflect on the past year’s accomplishments…on to the next year!

R.I.P. Buttercup

Nj6ZZV2sSP+2vXosKu437w_thumb_18006Today started out with the sad shock of going out at dawn to open up for the chicks and finding that one of our Easter Egger hens, Buttercup, lay dead on the drop board. Oh my! She was in perfect condition, not bloody or attacked in any way but it was still a frightful shock to find her this way as she had been perfectly healthy the night before when I closed up the coop. It appeared as if she had been up on the roost and suddenly keeled over and died.

So very sad, but I gently removed her still warm body to my workshop so that I could attend to the rest of the flock after alerting Dave that I might need his help. My mind was all a flutter, trying to think of what could have happened to her.  There is something called Sudden Death Syndrome in chickens that is associated with things such as heart attacks or being egg bound so I knew this could have been a possibility.

Buttercup was a hen that had already been thru a lot in her mere 46 weeks. She seemed to carry a lot of stress and agitation (part of her breed description?) and was a bit of an outsider in the flock. If you recall, she was isolated at several points for her own good to recover from various ailments, including a recent broken beak. But I had just begun to think that she was finding her way among the flock and comfortable in her own skin. She was eating well and laying beautiful blue eggs on a regular basis. Here she is crowding out a Rhode Island Red for a spot in a nest!UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_17e4eI decided that I really wanted to know the reason for her demise and started looking for locations that would do an aviary necropsy which is the equivalent of an autopsy, only done on an animal. My search came up with the Missouri Department of Agriculture (2 locations – one in Jefferson City and the other in Springfield) and the Veterinary Diagnostic Lab at the Missouri University College of Veterinary Medicine.  I called all three locations and settled on taking her to the lab at the Vet school in Columbia where we had taken Farley years ago for his terrible back.

Dave immediately volunteered to drive the 2 hours each way to deliver her to the lab in the cooler package we had put her in for the best preservation. He took with him the submission form found on line that I had filled out with her history. He was greeted kindly at the lab and handed her over to the pathologist on call. IMG_3458.JPGAround 4pm I received a call back from the doctor who examined her today and he told me that she had died of a ruptured liver, something that could have happened with an injury or just a thin spot in the membrane. He went on to tell me that she was otherwise in good health with a lovely, shiny plumage. He said she was starting to show weight gain and that I should watch for the diet of my birds now that summer was upon us and they did not have to expend as much energy trying to stay warm. Weight gain could also affect the liver so he took time to explain his preferences for dietary supplements and I was all ears for his suggestions. He also told me he found no parasites but had done a fecal float test and was awaiting those results which would be available tomorrow. This would be an indication of worms which, if found, I would treat the entire flock for but he doubted he would find this. I agreed with him that we would now be satisfied with the cause of death and the myriad of additional tests for bacteria, etc. would not be necessary. He will send a final report within days.

Yes, it has been a sad day in the Sauerhoff chicken coop but I can’t help but be incredibly  impressed with the swift and personal response I have had from the veterinary community. If only the same could be said about our nation’s medical care system!

RIP, Buttercup…you were a good egg…xoxo

A Massive Flood of Water and Bees!

Well, we survived another one hundred year flood, this time, just a mere 17 months after the last one! Go figure! Thank you to those of you from out of town who have been inquiring as to our situation…despite the horrific news reports, we were safe and sound…just pretty darn wet! We were inundated with between 11-12 inches of rain in about as many days and the fields turned into rivers…washing away a multitude of newly planted seeds! Arg!IMG_3220.JPGThe swale that runs from south to north before it veers east into our neighbor’s culvert was a strong presence and made us feel as if we should get our fishing poles out and bait our hooks. IMG_3217.JPGNo one enjoyed the swamp conditions more than little Coulter who found such joy exploring in his ‘construction site’ rain boots! UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_18244.jpgI must back up a bit tho to share some of the fun we had before the endless rain spoiled our progress. We managed to get the potatoes planted in mid April (only about a month late) and despite the soggy ground, they have nearly all sprouted and are happily soaking  up the current sunshine! The panorama photo of planting day makes for a funky image but we got 190 starts of Pontiac Red and Yukon Gold potatoes planted. The promise is for approximately 10 pounds of potatoes per plant but we have never quite gotten that much but we are hoping for the best. UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_1811eThe next best piece of news is that the deer fencing project is finally completed and we are now (hopefully) secured in the back section of the farm which includes the precious orchard. No one could be happier than Farmer Dave who celebrated with Coulter as the last pieces were put into place.  Yay!!!IMG_3011.JPGAround this same time I began a new partnership with our locally owned grocery store, Schnucks. In an effort to satisfy the need for fresh greens for our chickens, I recently cornered the produce man at our local store as he was obviously trimming away the less viable parts of the lettuces and such to discard them. I boldly asked him what they do with all those ‘goodies’ and he told me that they compost them.

Well, well, well…I was pretty darned motivated to acquire those greens before they went into the compost pile! I was told the best way to do this was to go on the store’s website and “apply” for the waste product. In other words, the store carefully tracks what goes in and what goes out. Okay, I could deal with this and I was delighted to fill out the lengthy forms that gave them an idea of how I would be using the disposables at hand. The best news came days later…we were approved to receive their compost material and now I have a wonderful relationship with the produce department at my local Schnucks store! A big thanks to all but especially to Chris who really looks out for me and my chickens! I now am dragging home glorious boxes like this (weighing 15-20 pounds) several times a week to feed to our flock! UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_17fad.jpgAnd the chickens love, love, love it all!IMG_3146 2.JPGIn addition to all the fun of endless rain, we have had our own little flood of bees! Of course the spring is a very busy time for beekeeping but as I hinted in one of the last blog posts, Dave and I have bee-come the bee whisperers!

We picked up 2 nucleus boxes of bees on Saturday, April 22nd that we had pre-ordered from the bee club I where I am a member, Eastern Missouri Beekeepers Association. Although it was a rainy day, we managed to get the bees settled when we had a break in the weather. Later that same day, our neighbor across the lane called to say that she had a swarm of bees in her yard, and she wondered if I could come take a look. Hmmm. I assured her I would, but I first went out to our hives to make sure that they had not swarmed away…they had not.

So I went to investigate what was going on at her house and sure enough, she had a nice, large swarm of bees within reach without tall ladders! I quickly stepped up my pace since swarms can move on to the next location rather quickly and I didn’t want this one to get away. I had two nuc boxes in the our truck at the ready as well as loppers to cut the pine branch where the bees had gathered. Dave joined me in his bee suit so that we could work together. Here we are inspecting the situation. Believe, me, we did much more than just point to the swarm! IMG_0549.jpgWe gathered the mass of bees into two nuc boxes and brought them both into the bee yard and set them in place with some food and some drawn comb. A little background here: Bees swarm when they need to expand and reproduce beyond the colony where they had been living. They do this in the early spring, ‘eloping’ with a new or sometimes an existing queen to find new digs. When they decide to leave, they do so by equipping themselves with as much ‘luggage’ as they can carry in order to quickly begin building their next home. Think of it as every bee in the swarm grabbing a handful of nails, bricks, 2x4s and extra food for the trip. So, bees that have swarmed are FULL of honey and want to immediately start building out the wax needed to make their new home.  IMG_3170.JPGOur best attempt at keeping them (I’ve read one has a 50-50 chance at it) was to provide them with the best space to make their new home. So, I gave them a box full of wax frames and some food which is the quart jar of sugar syrup in the photo. By the next morning they had settled into just one of the nuc boxes and I was able to transfer them into a full, ten frame deep box. UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_181ac.jpgThis swarm did decide to stay at the farm and as of today has proven to be one of my strongest hives. It is already putting capped honey into the honey supers and I am thrilled. Here is the apiary after adding the swarm which is on the far left.

But two weeks after we caught this first swarm, the same neighbor called again and said she had another swarm in her yard! Yikes…although we were eager to help out with capturing this additional swarm, our bee yard had become quite populous at this point and we needed to find extra space AND equipment to accommodate this second swarm. Say no more…despite the massive flooding, we drove around (and around!) to find more bee equipment, stumbling here and there as you can see in this photo of a virtual dead end of closed roads due to high water. jW+FZStGRA6XGihQXiUsJw_thumb_182c6.jpgHere is the second swarm in one of the nuc boxes we used to capture it with the small holly branch it was hanging on sitting on top.  IMG_3279.JPGThe best thing about this second swarm is the video I took of the bees alerting their swarm buddies as to which location to chose once in our bee yard.

This is perhaps, my very favorite video which is backed up by the following article on swarm behaviors and how bees communicate with each other…I love the fact that they dance! Fascinating if you ask me! Here is a wonderful article on how bees find their new home!

So, now you have a small window into my life as a beekeeper but things don’t end there. I am branching out and have begun to participate in two exciting new studies on bees. The first is called the Sentinel Apiary Program which is run from the University of Maryland and uses our bee club’s demonstration hives at the Danforth Plant Science Center as part of the sampling. In a nutshell, I am a volunteer beekeeper in the program where we collect wide ranging data about the bees in the apiary once a month and send it all back to the scientists on the other end to analyze.

In a separate but very important program, I am now participating in the HiveScience tracking program that the EPA is doing  as a brand new experiment. In essence, I am volunteering to track one of my hives throughout the year and send them data via an app they created. They will send me sampling kits that I will return to them to verify  results of the hive in terms of diseases and an analysis of the honey they produce. Very cool! I’m excited, once again, to have a chance to be a citizen scientist!

I am continuing to build more bee equipment – boxes, frames, etc. – to accommodate the increase in our apiary. More on that later!

We had a lot of fun hosting Coulter’s 2nd birthday party here at the farm. Although it happened to fall on one of the rainiest days, we entertained a fun group of friends and all had lot of fun! IMG_3211.JPG