Friday, April 27, 2012

Bee’ing a Little More Self Sufficient

We enjoy our lives here in the country, and the special place we’ve created on our little three acres of sand.    As far as we can, we like to be self-sufficient, providing as much as possible for our own needs.  The garden has a lot to do with that, and each time we open a quart of our delicious tomato juice, or use some of our frozen blueberries in a pie, we smile and feel grateful for what we’ve been able to grow on this old place in Northern Indiana.

We’ve had bees here three different times in the past, and they always got too fragile and died off, or absconded, as they did last year.   The old place just isn’t the same without bees to pollinate the garden, so Jim did a lot of research, and built a whole new type of hive, from plans he found on the net.  It’s called a top bar hive, and has a whole different way of functioning from most standard hives.  This one is made with bars across the top of a space that the bees use to create their own hive base and hang brood and comb from, making it more like the bees make for themselves in nature.  This one is really intended not to harvest honey and comb from, but to establish a more natural base for the bees to build their home base and forage out to pollinate a big area. Since pollination is our main goal, this kind of hive made more sense to us.

So we ordered bees and Jim went to pick them up two days ago, installing them into the hive and hoping they make it a home they’ll love for years.    It’s a fascinating process, picking up bees you’ve ordered.

They come in a wooden screened box, 10,000 active, buzzing bees, clustered in the center of the box, around the queen, who is stoppered in with a sugar plug.   You take them home, open the box, pull out the can of sugar that the bees have been feeding on, and hang the queen carefully in the center of the hive.

Her Highness is in a little wooden cage, fenced in with solid sugar and a cork.   Once you put her in the middle of the hive, you unceremoniously dump the 3 pounds or so of live bees in with her and they set to work, eating the sugar to free her to get to work, raising future generations of bees.   The bees are quite placid at this point, all concerned about taking care of the queen, the future of the hive, and they’ll seldom sting, but set to work building comb for her to lay her eggs in, as soon as they set her loose. 

These pictures show the scene as Jim went out this morning to check how everything was going.   The little white strip holds the queen cage, and you can see the bees, clustered around as he pulled the cage out to make sure she’d been freed.   You can see the cluster of bees inside the hive, and the guards on the bars above. 
The hive is right at the side of the garden, and hopefully the whole area will benefit from these hard workers.   The pictures show what’s up and going at this time.

So far we have Buttercrunch Lettuce, starting to curl into heads, interplanted with onions that we’re already starting to harvest for green onions.    We also have cabbages, doing very well, and loose leaf green and red lettuce, spinach, collards, kale, peas reaching for the fences, and strawberries, just bursting with blooms.   It’s going to be a very good garden year, and it should do much better with our little beneficial guardians pollinating it.

And last but also very important, Jim found morels this week, right in our own yard!   Just 5, but they were so very delicious!    Oh, boy, nothing else quite like those wonderful morels.   

Just two weeks until we pick up our chicks, then we’ll bee really complete—Hooray!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

It's Always Something!

It figures. Just when we let our guard down and relax, we got invaded tonight!

We'd had a full work day here on the old homestead. Jim pulled out all the tomato plants from the greenhouse and carefully planted them in the garden. Yeah, we know it's early, but they were growing too tall for their little pots and needed to be outside to stretch. So he planted them and we have buckets nearby to protect them from the mean cruel world that might freeze their little rootlets yet.

I planted lots of beans and weeded most of the beds, and wore myself to a frazzle. After a hot bath to soak the knots out of the old muscles and restore myself to a mostly erect posture, we settled into a delicious potroast supper cooked by our resident chef, Jim. It was so delicious, that we then retired to our comfy chairs, wine glasses in hand, for a long slow discussion of what we still need to plant. The wine was so good tonight, and went so well with the cheese and black walnut banana bread, that we just had to open a second bottle. After all, we were already home, and not driving anywhere so.....

We had just agreed on replanting moon and stars watermelon and cucumber seeds by planting in the greenhouse, and okra by direct seeding in the garden, (important decisions, you know) when Jim saw the invader! There, just outside the window, was an adolescent raccoon, black robber's mask in place, shimmying down the river birch tree right outside the window!

Jim jumped up and ran outside to chase off that pesky raccoon, while I ran for the camera, and came out just in time to see him standing under the pine by the end of the clothesline, looking up into the tree and yelling at the raccoon. I should say, at this point, that we have had so much damage caused around here by raccoons, that we are justifiably reluctant to have them hanging around, but the sight of him, mostly tipsy on good wine, yelling at a raccoon, was just so funny, I had to get a picture of it. Here it is, blurry, but pretty good, nevertheless. I'm not really sure if Jim was blurry, or it was the dark and the action, but it's not bad for the conditions.
The raccoon was huddled in a tangle of branches, way up in the tree, and it was a test of the telephoto lens on the camera to get anything.
But isn't it cute? Pesky, but cute. Spooky eyes! Life sure is exciting out here in the boonies, and pretty funny some days too.