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!The 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. No one enjoyed the swamp conditions more than little Coulter who found such joy exploring in his ‘construction site’ rain boots! I 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. The 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!!!Around 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! And the chickens love, love, love it all!In 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! We 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. Our 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. This 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. Here 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. The 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!