Thursday, June 30, 2011

Safety First?

As I mentioned before, I won an Home Energy Audit from the Crunchy Chicken blog.  So I finally got it done last week.  I just received the actual report, which I will post in a few days once I get a chance to fully read it.

After following the guy along during the audit and asking a lot of questions, I found that there were a few things that needed to be done, and soon if we wanted to save some energy during the summer months.  So during my lunch break from work, I headed over to Home Depot to get some sealed (Air Tight) can light fixtures to replace the few that I have that back into the attic, that act like giant sieves.

The Good Wife and boys had gone to King's Dominion for the day, and were staying there all evening to catch the fireworks display.  It's not the 4th yet, but apparently they do it several times during the summer.  That meant that I had uninterrupted time to get a few jobs done around the house.  To the upper bedroom I went, with new can light fixtures in hand.

After playing around with the first one for a little bit, I was able to move the existing fixture out of the way so I could put in my "remodel" version, that allowed me to install it from the room side of the ceiling.  Everything went fairly well.  Then I had to do the next one, which was above the stairs going up to the room.

After a little thought, I figured I could use the extension ladder as a platform to stand on as it straddled the stairs.  Dragging the extension ladder all the way up to the base of the stairs, I found out that I couldn't get it around the corner and up the stairs.  It just wasn't going to fit.  After returning the extension ladder to the garage, I went back up to the bedroom to look at my situation and figure out a solution.

I had a step stool, and a six foot aluminum ladder.  There had to be some way to get up to that light.  A little rearranging of the ladder and stool and...

voila!  I had an aluminum ladder two steps down resting against a step stool that was straddling the top step.  I was able to climb three steps up on the aluminum ladder, my feet at the height of the step stool and get the job done.

From the bottom it looked a bit more ominous.  It worked pretty good and I only had one scare where I was leaning too far to the left, and the ladder made a pivot on that leg and let the right side swivel over and off the step.  A quick freeze play, and a gentle dismount from the ladder did the trick and I was back on solid ground.

The job was finished up with out any further event, and you can tell a noticeable difference in that room already, where there isn't the air pouring in or out through those can lights.  Now you can put your hand up to the light and there is no heat at all.  On the stair light, I even put in an LED bulb that was built into the trim.  It was pricey, but the boys leave that light on all the time.  Now I don't have to stress over it since it will be using so much less energy.

I don't recommend using a ladder in this manner, and if you do, you are doing so at your own risk.  It allowed me to finish the job when there was no one else at home, so I could get onto the next job...installing the new basketball hoop that we bought last Thanksgiving and still had in the garage.  It's not done yet, but will be this weekend!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Storms and Generators

Today was hot and humid. Which in Virginia this time of year means afternoon thunderstorms. And that is exactly what happened.

Arriving home from work, we ate supper as the clouds were starting to form. The Good Wife left shortly after to take Fenix, our incredibly perfect dog, to obedience class down at the Goochland community center. Fenix already passed the first round of obedience classes, but the Good Wife figured he needed to learn to walk on a leash better when we go for walks, so off they went to class. I was able to get on the lawn mower and outline around the house so Oldest Son would be able to finish the yard later. I stayed on the mower until a flash of lightning was so close it seemed bright as I was looking down at the ground, while I was mowing around the Good Wife's raised beds.

In the house, all the blinds were closed, as all the boys are afraid of storms. That may have to do with the tornado that came through after the Good Wife had assured them there are no tornados in Virginia before we moved.

We decided to play the Wii to get their minds off the storm. That worked for a little while until the lights flashed off, then on, then off, then partly on, off again, partially on again, and then finally off.  About one minute later we could hear the generator outside kick in.  And thirty seconds later, the lights were on! Along with the fridge, well pump, A/C and an assortment of other lights.

The household generator is not something that was paid much attention when I bought the house without the Good Wife seeing it, but that is another story. My family and I are just glad it is there and automatically does it's thing when it is needed.  Hopefully it won't be long until the electricity comes back on.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Bees versus Dogs

This isn't some sad story of a dog that got stung by a bunch of bees.  And this isn't a horror story of a pack of dogs digging into and destroying a bunch of bee hives.  No, this is a story about a beekeeper that is lucky he is raising bees instead of dogs.

The reason I say that is because I went to inspect my bee hives Sunday afternoon, and the hive top feeders on all three of them were empty!  I don't know how long they were empty, it could have been most of the week, but they were empty on Sunday when I checked.  I had intended to check on Wednesday, and even had the sugar water made up and ready to go, but I never got to them as I got busy with everything else.  Then Thursday and Friday passed.  Saturday came and went, and then it was finally Sunday, and it needed to get done.

That boils down to losing precious time for the bees to be drawing out comb for their hives.  Time lost, comb lost, possibly the fate of the hive over the winter months.  This may seem dramatic, but I feel that I have let my bees down to some extent.

My two original hives are doing great and filling out the frames on their second deep hive body.  The third hive at Possum's garden is doing really good and will be ready for another hive body any day.  I want to make sure they are all ready and able to make it through the winter.

So Sunday afternoon I made a trip to Wal-Mart (I really hate that place, but it is the best place to find 25 pound bags of sugar.  Maybe I should check Costco.) and picked up three 25 pound bags of sugar so I won't have any excuses to not make the sugar water.  Then when I got home, I started up a batch, and made three batches, each about two gallons.  This way, each hive top feeder will get a full two gallon dose and will definitely be able to make it through a week before I can get back to them.

The hive at Possum's garden will get the second hive body before I fill up the hive top feeder, since it is difficult to take off the feeder when it is full of sugar water.  But then the hives should be good for a solid week before I can get back to them and do a proper inspection.

I'm just glad that I am raising bees that can forage and fend for themselves if need be, because if I was raising dogs, they would have either starved to death or run away to find an owner that will take care of them.  Here is my commitment to take better care of my bees from here on out.

EGGS!!...kind of.

We had our first two eggs the other day.  Unfortunately they were from the guineas and one was crushed.  They almost slipped past me without noticing as I was putting some food into the guinea ghetto coop.

Since all the chickens and guineas have been free ranging during the day, their poop has gotten bigger and bigger, almost comparable to something a Canadian goose might leave in a public park.  Not to delve into the subject in full detail, but they have been very dark colored, almost black with a nice white round cap on them.  It almost looks like a bunch of small ping pong balls in the bottom of the ghetto coop.

As I was putting some food into their coop the other evening, there it was.

You can understand now how I almost missed it.  It was tiny, not much bigger than the size of some of the poop.  There I go again, referring back to the excrement of the guineas.  As I looked further into the coop I saw another egg, but this one had been crushed and dripped down through the mesh.

It also was pretty small in size, and the shell looked pretty thin.  I'm guessing the guinea laid the egg while it was on the roost and then when it hopped off the roost in the morning, it landed on this egg and crushed it.  Either that or the guineas are just so big and lumbering that as it was walking around in the ghetto coop it just stepped on it, and since the shell was so thin, it just crushed.

I recovered the one good egg and thought about putting it into the chicken condo to see if one of the chickens would sit on it and hatch the egg.  I put it into one of the nesting boxes and the barred rock chicken that was in the condo at the time walked straight over to the egg and gave it a good peck with her beak!

Not wanting the sole surviving egg to get pecked to death and become dinner for the barred rock, although it would seem like sweet justice for all the harassing the guinea gang has given the chickens, I quickly grabbed the egg out of the chicken condo.

After taking some straw and making a nice nest of sorts in the guinea ghetto coop, I placed the egg gently on the nest in hopes that the guineas would figure it out and start to lay their future eggs in the guinea ghetto coop so they would be protected from the elements and any possible predators.

And there the egg has laid.  I check every evening and every morning now, but no more eggs.  After the attack, we weren't sure if we had two male guineas, or a male and female.  With that question now answered, it only leaves the question, "Will there be more?"

Friday, June 24, 2011

More Bees

A couple weeks ago after inspecting my two bee hives, a gentleman that people call Possum, came up to me and asked if I could put some bees by his garden.   After sending out an e-mail to my bee club, the Huguenot Beekeepers Association, I got a reply from a lady selling a nuc.

Last week I went and picked it up in Rice, VA and placed it next to Possum's garden.  I haven't gotten a picture of this hive or a picture of Possum's garden to show you.  Every time I go to check this hive, I end up talking with Possum for some time and forget to take my pictures.  This weekend I will try to remember.

Overall the hives have been doing really good.  I have a second hive body on the first two hives and will probably be able to put a second hive body on the Possum hive this weekend if they keep growing and filling up the frames with comb.

The above picture was from last weekend when I added some extra syrup to the hive top feeders.  This hive seems to be the most robust, filling out the frames the fastest of any of my hives.  Of course, I only have three hives to compare, and I have only officially been a beekeeper for about five weeks, so my judgement and evaluation may not hold much weight.  Regardless, this sure is a fun hobby.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Guinea Attack!

If you've been reading this blog for any amount of time, you know that the guineas have been the evil fowl in our attempt at animal husbandry. After one of the guineas was suspect in the killing of one of our Buff Orpington chickens, my compassion level for the guineas has waned. The only reason they have continued to be tolerated is only because I dislike ticks a whole lot more. Much more!

I had planned a couple weeks ago to write a post about the guineas and particularly their social order in the guinea gang. As the gang roams our property, the leader of the gang will usually be on the lookout for any mischievous activity or innocent chickens they can harass. Most of the guineas are oblivious to what is happening, filling their bellies, hopefully on ticks.

Until the leader of the gang sounds the signal while standing tall.

Then they all let loose with their farm yard siren. Surprisingly none of the neighbors have made any comments or complained, but in their defense, we have some really great neighbors.

Last week I was pretty upset with the guineas about the gang style murder of my Buff Orpington. Yes, I am assuming guilt without full evidence, but sometimes that has to happen in the country when no one was around to witness the dastardly deed. I decided to leave them out all day, even though the Good Wife was taking the kids to King's Dominion amusement park all day and I was going to meet them there after work and I knew it would be late before I got home. They had already been free ranging all day for a few weeks, and they always came back to the coops to roost at the end of the day.

We didn't get back home until 10:30 pm and I went down to the coop right away. I looked in and there were only two chickens inside!   I had a flashlight and looked around.  There were two more up on the coop, so I reached up and grabbed them and put them into the coop.  Another was found up on the top of the rail of the run.  After a little coaxing, I was able to reach her and get her into the coop.  I couldn't find the other two chickens or any of the guineas.

I walked the perimeter of the yard at the edge of the woods, hoping to find them under the brush or up in the trees, hoping they had enough natural instinct to go somewhere safe. After searching in the dark for what seemed a long time, I closed up the coop and left the run open, in case any decided to come home in the middle of the night.

Come morning I was eager to find my runaways. Looking out the window from my bedroom I saw the two runaway chickens walking around the coop, along with a couple guineas! They were safe...or so I thought.

As I headed down to the coop, I noticed a lot of feathers in the yard. They were all guinea feathers. This wasn't good.

Feathers everywhere. I started following the clumps of feathers. Obviously they had fought and ran, fought and ran, fought and ran.

There must have been 15 small clumps of feathers all over the property.  After following clumps of feathers around the yard and through the pasture, I finally found one of the feather sources.

It was sad to see one of the guineas dead. I was mad at them, but I didn't want to see them die, and especially suffer as it appeared this one did. I never found the other three guineas. I like to think that the gang leader had a turf war to the end, defending his gang, and the other three guineas were chased out of town and are now free roaming on someone else's property. Unfortunately that probably isn't the case, although the other three are still MIA.

So now, if you are keeping count, we are down to seven chickens and only two guineas.  I know one of them is a male, but I'm not sure about the other.  It is hard to tell the difference, and these last two don't make much noise any more.  They also seem to be hanging around closer to the house, and definitely get back to the coop before sunset.

These last two guineas better be hungry, because we still have a lot of ticks around.  And so far it seems like a lot of work with minimal reward from the guineas.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Dust Bath for the Birds

The chickens and guineas definitely love to take dust baths, although they each have their own preferred method.  The chickens are my little ladies, and they appreciate the work I put in for them.  They appreciate the dust bath sand box that I made for them a little while back.  They take turns, and sometimes together they pile into the box and flop around, until they are nice and coated.  When it is warm they even lay in there for awhile.  I think the sand feels cool to them.

The guineas on the other hand, don't seem to appreciate my efforts.  Instead of using the area I provided, they have proceeded to go outside the run, and dig a couple holes in the dirt for themselves.  They have slowly dug them out until they are nice shallow scoops in the ground.  They proceed to flop and flutter around in those holes until they are fully coated in dirt.

After getting coated, they walk around for a little bit like that, and then they shake off like a dog, shaking all the dust off them.  A large cloud of dust, something that Pig-Pen from Charlie Brown would be proud of.

Below is a quick video I took to show them in their dust baths.  I never seemed to have a camera with me when they shook off, so you will just have to imagine Pig-Pen, but with a beak and feathers.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Guineas Versus Chickens - The Feud Continues

It was a rather frustrating and sad day today.  This morning middle son came to me after letting the chickens and guineas out of the run to free range, and said one of the Buff Orpington chickens was still laying in the coop.  He thought that maybe it was going to lay an egg.  We went down there to take a look and it wasn't good.  I noticed a little bit of blood on the her side, and then I noticed some more blood in the corner of the coop.  Not wanting to alarm middle son, that fact wasn't pointed out.

The guineas have been chasing after the chickens at times, but usually at night when it is time to close up the run, the chickens and guineas are on their roosts in the guinea ghetto together.  For some reason, the chickens haven't been going into the condo.  I suspect that one of the guineas got mad at the chicken for some reason, and picked on it a little too much.

After getting a pair of gloves, I put the chicken into the chicken condo so she could rest without anyone bothering her.  We placed one of the watering dishes next to her, but we could tell something wasn't right.

Already being late for work, I had to leave.  I got a few phone updates from oldest son during the day that the chicken was moving from place to place in the coop, but he hadn't seen it standing up.

On the way home, I received a final call.  It appeared that the chicken was dead.  It was in a corner of the chicken condo and wasn't moving.  Upon arriving at home, a garbage bag was in hand and we and headed down to the coop.  All three boys followed along.  No time like the present to learn a lesson of life and death.

The chicken was definitely dead, as it's head was twisted around and it wasn't moving.  Picking it up by the leg, it was already stiff.  I guess no fried chicken from that bird.  The good wife had worked the night before, so I don't think she was up to plucking and processing the chicken anyways.  I would have no idea what to do to process the chicken, but the good wife had seen it done growing up in Morocco.  Not that she could have done it, but that is another discussion.

Youngest son wanted to bury the chicken by Stripeless.  The others voted not to bury the chicken, as we hadn't given it a name, other than Buffy, and that was a general term for both of the Buff Orpingtons.

The two Buff Orpingtons at a younger age.

I'm getting really tired of the bullying that the guineas dish out to the chickens.  It is time for them to earn their keep.  The point of having the guineas is to reduce the bug population, and particularly the ticks.  They have been wandering over to the neighbors across the road, and we have been herding them back.  Now they are on their own.  We will let them out in the morning and if they come back at dusk, they will have a place to roost.  If they don't come back, so be it.  Our investment is in the chickens, and we need to make sure they are taken care of and not in a constant state of harassment.

In case you are keeping track, we are now down to 7 chickens and 6 guineas.  We could really use some good news on the poultry front.  How about an egg soon?  That would be good news.

Garden Update

The good wife has been working hard on our garden.  Other than scheduling the neighbor to come and rototill the area where we were planning to have the garden, or helping the good wife transport buckets of decomposed horse manure from a friend's horse farm, or pound a few stakes into the ground on either end of the garden to string some twine between for the peas to grow on, I haven't really done anything to the garden.

I have mowed the lawn around the garden, and a few times gone the wrong direction so the grass clippings went into the garden, rather than away from the garden.  That has caused a lot of new grass to start growing in the garden.  So I guess I have done something, but I don't think that counts as useful.

We have the four raised beds, and the strawberries are doing great in there.  Every day it is a treat to walk by the garden and pick a few nice berries for a snack.  The good wife also has lettuce type items in one, some basil and other herbs in another, some mint in a third and the strawberries in the fourth.  I'm sure there are a lot of other items in there, but I can't remember.

The "in-ground" garden has a couple rows of peas, a row of cucumbers, as we eat a lot of cucumbers.  The boys love them sliced and dipped in ranch dressing as an addition to their lunches.  Then there is the obligatory tomatoes, more herbs, watermelon, bell peppers, yellow peppers and a square of corn.  The corn is in the back right section in the above picture.  It is growing nicely.

You can see in the above picture all the extra grass I am helping to grow in the garden between the rows of peas and cucumbers.  I do what I can!  We have some cardboard boxes still left over from moving and the good wife is planning to cut them into strips and place it between the rows of peas and cucumbers.  It will make for a nice pathway and decompose right into the ground.  This fall or next spring we will be able to mix in right into the ground.

I'll be sure to keep you updated as we start to partake of the bounty that has started to grow in our garden.  So far it is just the strawberries, although we did have some fresh basil from the garden on our grill pizza last week.  That was a nice addition to the pizza.  When we are using our own tomatoes for our pizza, then it will be perfect!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Second Hive Inspection

This week went by slowly, partly because I was so anxious for Saturday to arrive.  My next hive inspection was scheduled for Saturday morning, between 10am and noon, so a lot of the bees would be out foraging and the hive would be nice and calm.  They seemed a little anxious the last time I was there in the later afternoon, so I thought I would try the morning to see how it went.

I had three helpers this time, oldest son, middle son and a friend's daughter that was at our house when the inspection time arrived.  Since I only had one extra jacket and veil, they all took turns coming up to the hive and "helping" me.

The entrance reducer was still in the hives from the original installation, so I needed to get that removed.  The bees were doing really well and the hive appeared really strong, but what do I know.  I have only had bees for two weeks!  If you click on the picture above and see the full version, you can see the one bee heading into the hive with its legs full of orange pollen.

I wasn't in such a hurry this time as the bees seemed really calm and it was a nice day, being a little cooler out.  After looking through all the frames on the first hive, I couldn't find the queen.  As was mentioned before, it isn't so important to actually see the queen as it is to see evidence of the queen.   There were lots of eggs and larva in cells, so she had been there in the last four days and done her work. That was nice to see.

As you can see from the above picture, the hives are doing well.  There are lots of bees, lots of capped brood (baby bees) and lots of honey and pollen throughout.  It was nice to see capped brood and eggs/larva in the new foundation.  Not sure if that really means anything, but it was nice as I felt it was a sign that the bees have accepted the home I have provided for them and were making themselves at home.

The second hive we were able to spot the queen.  She was busy doing her thing.  Right when I saw her, she disappeared.  There happened to be a small hole in the foundation and she went from one side of the frame to the other.  I had to flip the frame to find her again.  Seeing the queen gives a calm to the beekeeper.  Even though you can see evidence of the queen, you like to actually see her moving around on a frame.

The second hive had a minor problem.  The hive top feeder was empty.  When I added syrup to the hives last week, I didn't add near as much to the second hive because it didn't look like they had used that much.  Well they went into turbo mode this past week and cleaned the hive top feeder out.  That was kind of disappointing because I let them down and didn't give them the food they needed.  Luckily I still had some left from my last inspection so I put it all in this feeder after cleaning out the ants.  In case I didn't mention it, I had a lot of ants at the top of this hive.  They had gone up on the outside of the hive and up into the top of the hive top feeder.

I'm going to have to make some more syrup early this week and get it into both hives to make sure they have enough syrup to help them build out the comb.  Another hive body was added to each hive since they were more than 70% built up on the frames in the existing hive body.  I didn't want them to have a reason to leave, even if I hadn't done my duty and kept their feeder filled up.

Once I was done and my three helpers all had a chance to see the bees up close, it was time to close it all up and let them continue on.  As I was taking off my jacket a gentleman in a pickup drove up and stopped.  He got out and came around to talk to me.  He introduced himself as Floyd, but his friends call him Possum.  He proceeded to tell me about his garden and asked if I would keep some bees at his garden.  He has three acres that he gardens and has just about everything you can imagine planted there. He asked us to follow him to his house so he could show us his garden.  If this had been Phoenix, I would have politely declined and went on my way, but not in rural Virginia.

After driving a couple miles down the road we pulled into his place.  A small home with a couple small gardens.  He talked to us for a little bit, then we walked through a row of trees and saw the real garden.  It was 3 acres of garden!  A small pond on the other side of the trees, and a field of hay behind that.  Then he invited us into his house and gave us a jar of homemade salsa, that was incredible!  He also gave us a bag of chips to try the salsa.  He gave each of the kids a candy bar and a drink of lemonade.

During our short visit we got most of the story on Possum.  Six kids, over ten grandchildren, retired for 19 years from DuPont, wife died in 2000, got rid of the Buick station wagon and got a Monte Carlo.  After the quick life story, it was time to go.  I got his phone number and address.  He lives in Bumpass, VA.  Yes, that is really the name of the town.  He sent us on our way with the jar of salsa and a bag of chips.

By the end of the day, we had eaten almost the entire quart of salsa.  It was that good.  Now I am looking for another hive that I can put by his garden.  I don't want to move the hives I have now since I don't want to make it more difficult for me since I am just starting.  Ideally, I would get another hive or two and put it out at his garden.  An e-mail has been sent to my bee club to see if anyone would be willing to part with a hive or nuc or package of bees.  If nothing else, I will order a package online and try that method of starting a bee hive.

This bee keeping hobby sure keeps getting more and more interesting.  And you never know who or what you will stumble across out in rural Virginia.  Maybe even a Possum.