Nancy and Helen’s Bee-Wild-ering Adventure

I have lots and lots to share about what I’ve been up to the last couple of weeks but before I get into all that fun stuff, I thought I’d start out with an incredible bee adventure from yesterday. Dave and I started out our Saturday morning with some early farm chores – ones we can do quietly while the dew dries off the plants – while anticipating stopping in at the Saint Louis Fine Print, Rare Book & Paper Arts Fair in advance of the rest of our planned farm activities. I have a modest collection of antique prints and was looking forward to stopping by this local, annual show to see what some of my favorite vendors would have to offer when I got a call from Jurgen’s wife, Helen. They had just received word that one of the local parks needed help with a swarm of bees and wanted us to help remedy the situation. Jurgen was out of town so Helen called me to see if I would be interested in helping her capture the swarm and relocate it elsewhere. I asked Dave if he minded the interruption in our plans and he kindly allowed me to instantly switch gears. So I donned my bee suit and loaded the truck with all the equipment I could think of (ladders, loppers, saws, etc.) and ran off with Helen to Stacey Park in Olivette, Missouri.

Wouldn’t you know, this is a park where the Olivette baseball practices and games take place for the local grades schools and as luck would have it, this was Team Picture Day, so the entire park was filled to the brim with youngsters and their families, all eager to get their turn in front of the cameras! We found the bee swarm on the lower branch of a small dogwood tree which was ideal, but the location of the tree with the swarm was within a couple of feet of the photo queue! Yikes.

Helen and I wished we had the Ghost Buster movie music ( ) blaring from the truck as we slowly pulled into place and geared up in our bee equipment. Here is what the swarm looked like with little uniformed baseball team groups patiently waiting in the background. I was amazed at how close they wanted to view the swarm. IMG_7770Helen and I assessed the situation and decided to put towels down on the grown below the nuc box that we had at the ready (with frames of drawn comb, of course) to shake the bees into once we lopped off the branch of the tree. The bees are rather docile at this point since they are protecting their queen while they work on a new home in which to live and prosper.IMG_7772We had all hands on deck and moved quickly so there are not too many photos of what happened next. We got the majority of the bees into the nuc box and went back for another, smaller branch of clustered bees as well and drove very slowly off with the captured swarm to install these bees at the Ermel bee yard. IMG_7780Whew, job well done! I saved the tree branch that the bees had been clinging to for Helen to take to her third grade students since the bees had already begun forming wax combs on the branches and leaves which was fascinating! Can you see the beginning of the comb? And the deposits of wax on the branches for future combs? IMG_7781Our satisfaction was short lived as we decided to work on the nuc box and install it into a larger hive box at Ermel’s beeyard and found that the bees swarmed AGAIN!!! This time to a nearby honeysuckle stand! Ugh! IMG_7785Back I went with ladders and loppers to attack this re-swarmed, determined group of bees! Helen and I had our hands full since this time the swarm was about 10 feet off the ground and in the thick of a vibrant honeysuckle stand. We chopped away at the unaffected branches in order to get the ladder closer to the swarm. It took several tense hours and two frustrating tries, but I think we managed to capture most of the swarm of bees into a box and back into the Ermel hive boxes. We hope we managed to capture this second swarm and its new queen and keep them for a future colony!

Between the swarm crises yesterday, we managed to pop over to the print fair and add to our collection. While I dealt with the swarm issue, Dave continued to plant cool season seeds and prepare for the tomato, pepper and eggplant patches. That meant that it was time to buckle down today and get some additional field work and other planting done. I weeded in the strawberry patch all morning. The plants look good and are full of promising fruit but I do plan to in-fill with additional new plants  tomorrow that will be productive for next year.

We also decided, due to time constraints, to put the grapes into the already prepared back terrace beds. It is starting to get a little late to add these bare root specimens to the planting agenda this year if it meant preparing a brand new bed. I suggested using the terrace bed in hopes of getting these into the ground this year with the idea of transplanting them if we wanted to move them in the future. First we soaked the 6 bare root grape plants in a tub that we filled with water. IMG_0004 Grapes actually do well in sub par soil with a great range of acceptable ph, being viable anywhere between 6.0 and 7.5, so we did very little preparation other than digging the holes and popping in the plants. Easier said than done since we found many old tree roots as well as old (not hot!) electrical wire to patiently cull out with our wire cutters. IMG_0009Farley found the whole experience delightful as he just wanted to be in the sunshine and enjoy the day lying next to the hose! IMG_7792Although they don’t look like much yet, here is one of the six grape plants…we will report on progress as we see them greening up! IMG_0008You all must have figured out by now that I’m now back from California where I was so pleased to spend some time getting to meet our adorable grandson, Coulter Allen Ward! IMG_7646I could blog here endlessly about him as he grows and treats us with the future joys of his small life. For now, just a few words and a couple of photos. He is an easy baby who has a healthy appetite but also already sleeps for long stretches.  IMG_7703His parents could not be more happy with this little one… IMG_7697even tho they are leaving this view from their terrace when they move to Saint Louis…sorry, no beaches or citrus orchards here!IMG_7716 Here is Cal, ready to take in his new surroundings in Saint Louis…particularly at Seven Oaks Farm. Love and kisses from Nana and Gramps!IMG_0002



A Post Holiday Greeting and News of Bees and Trees

Post-Holiday Greetings and Happy 50th Birthday to my sister, Julie!

We have been swamped during the past month with activities on all fronts including some travel for both of us ‘hither and yon’!  The house is all quiet now – the holiday visitors dearly welcomed but now departed – leaving us with a refrigerator chocked full of overly rich leftovers from days of cooking and celebrating! So I am now finding some moments to sit and reflect on the status of the farm over the past few weeks before the New Year is upon us.

I left off at the end of the last posting with the promise of a visit from my newest acquaintances – and future bee mentors – J&H (as I will refer to them in postings). They visited the farm on a bright, sunny, afternoon several weeks ago and took a little tour of the orchard, berry patches and fields. It is always interesting to introduce our property and its intended purpose to new visitors and get their reactions. Wouldn’t you know, beekeepers ask questions of a new ilk. In admiring the European Hornbeams (allée trees – Carpinus betulus), they immediately asked, “what type of tree is this, and more importantly, does it FLOWER?!”  Oh dear, I wish I could have said definitely ‘yes’ (I think I actually said ‘no’ at the time) but the flower is so small and inconspicuous that one never really thinks of this as a flowering tree. But, research confirms that it does have tiny white flowers in early spring which we will surely take note of this year and hope that the future bees find them too! Our visitors surveyed the landscape looking for elevation, screening, water sources, noise/motion interference and much more, I’m sure. I believe their greatest source of excitement came from learning that we don’t use herbicides or pesticides in our farming practice. (See links below.)

So after a nice visit, it was decided that J&H would initially introduce their hives to the farm next spring and mentor me in the art or science (which is it?) of beekeeping.  This way, I will be learning from someone who has prior experience with the nuances of apiary science instead of starting out with the trial and error method which can be not only costly but discouraging. J&H say that there is plenty of room for me (and/or all of us for that matter) to add many more hives here in the future, but this will be a wonderful way to get started. I am very, very excited about every aspect of this adventure but mostly for the future benefits of the orchard pollination. I have been keenly following international news of bees and will begin to attend the local beekeepers’ association meetings (there are currently 3 groups in our area) as well. I have added a category to the blog for beekeeping news! Here are some links related to the current plight of bees.

We have also been busy removing the fence posts left behind after our most recent fence project. We were not excited about the prospect of digging out these posts and our reticence was not unfounded. Dave dug and dug and finally engaged the brute force of the tractor to aid in nudging some of the posts from their spots. Please imagine this: what appeared to be four foot tall fence posts actually had and additional three feet buried and set in concrete. The resulting landscape when all posts were removed and holes filled, was quite satisfying to admire, but the effort was tremendous since many of the 4″ wide posts were also filled with concrete as well.IMG_5085

The fence post removal chores were completed in a relative warm weather snap which was unlike that in which we were planting more trees. The last of the Trident Maples were finally planted on one very cold day but Dave and I also attempted to replace some of the failed Green Giant Arborvitae that did not survive the trials of last year’s summer drought and heat. We ordered these trees to be dug from a tree farm associated with a local nursery. We picked up 6 large, balled specimens the day before a winter storm was to arrive here. We drove them directly to the back, eastern fence line and got to work immediately with a joint effort since the temps were dropping steadily and a light rain was turning into spits of sleet. IMG_5093

If we have learned nothing more, we have certainly figured out how to bundle up and work in multiple layers of warm clothing!IMG_5094

We were hurrying to get these planted before the predictions of more rainfall but the slight spits ceased as soon as we were done with the plantings so Dave hustled out with a bucket brigade of water (our orchard spigots are all tied to the irrigation system and so were unavailable for use at this point) in order to insure that the new trees were nestled in properly until our next rainfall. We look forward to the promise of up to 3 feet of growth per year on these trees!

Since then, we did get a measurable snowfall which produced at least .75 inches of liquid precipitation, according to our measurements. Image 5

Fans of Seven Oaks Farm continue to amaze us with fun gifts. Our friend, Kathy Bussmann gladly played elf this year and delivered an assortment of items…a bee embroidered bag (spot on!) a new soup ladle (after I borrowed two from her earlier this fall) and a riotous book on the 50 uses for Kale (must see photo!) Goodness knows, we still have kale in the refrigerators since it produces so long into the winter and keeps so well!IMG_5105

Our friend, Mule, recently returned some of our glass jars along with a wonderful collection of recipes from the Cooking Light magazine called the Pick Fresh Cookbook. I really like how this is organized in sections by the produce item so it is easy to see which recipes are options for a particular veggie!IMG_5107

We continue to do battle with the deer and their growing annoyance and boldness in our area, but I had to use some humor for our latest example of XMAS decor. IMG_5030

Our little Farley continues to have a great ability to heal. He had three broken teeth extracted recently and has rebounded nicely. Here he is with his mini kerchief from the vet while gingerly noshing on scrambled eggs (on my good dishes, no doubt!)IMG_5032

Here is the enlarged ‘bed’ that we made for him so that he could snuggle up with us on the couch without making a mess!IMG_5031

While trying to keep him quiet, I managed some more knitting, producing socks for Kate & IMG_5097 Peter. IMG_5027

In the meantime, here is my nephew, Jack, in the Cross Country Ski hat that I knitted him. Image 2

So as I get ready to push the “publish post” button, Dave brought in the mail, and along with it, the first batch of seed catalogs for 2014!  And to think that we are still harvesting carrots (which we served for XMAS eve dinner) and some last bits of the hardy cold season crops, bringing us to a total harvest (so far) in 2013 of 1,652.81 pounds!