Wednesday, January 28, 2015

0 for 2: Another Deadout

Well, this winter hasn't been any better than last for the bees.  I lost the first hive in December and the other hive to that cold snap at the beginning of January. 

I'm so bummed.

I did a post mortem to find out what the problem was.    There was almost a gallon of sugar and honeyballs on the tops of the frames when I opened it up, so that wasn't the problem.   I took all the sugar off and am saving it for this summer in the freezer. 

When I looked at the cluster in the frames, this is what I saw.  [top pic].    That is the cluster.    The entire cluster.  Fist sized.  There just weren't enough bees to keep the cluster warm at sub zero temps. 

In November I went to a bee conference and attended a Q&A where I described my colonies and asked the advice of the state bee experts on whether I should combine the hives or winter them separately.   I had already decided that I needed to combine.   The experts said that they'd winter them separately, as nucs.  I figured they knew way more than I did, so I didn't combine.   That is the last time I follow the advice from the state experts instead of following my gut.   I lost both hives.     The only fix for small colonies in the fall is to combine them.   If they get huge in the spring, you can always split them.  

I took the bottom boards out to see what was what.   You can see on this board right where the cluster was.  Those three gold streaks are where the bees were hanging out and getting into their stores.

I looked carefully at the debris to see if anything popped out at me. 
This is a section of the debris.  I found a lot more varroa mites than I expected. 

I did a 24 hour mite board check in the fall and both hives had mite counts well below problem levels.   I'm not sure where all these mites came from - though this is 3 months worth of mites.

I've noted where some of the varroa are. There are many more varroa in the pic that I didn't indicate.  Can you see them?  If you blow the pic up, you can see many more.

Here's a larger section.   Blow it up and look for those little regular ovals.    There are a lot them here.

Conclusions -
Cause of loss:   Small colony size aggravated by mite load.
Lessons learned:
  • Combine small hives in fall.  Period. 
  • Don't believe everything the 'experts' tell you.
Since I want to treat as little as possible, I don't want to treat for mites every year, so the jury is still out on how I handle mites next year.

I have two 3# packages coming in April from Kelley Bee in Kentucky.  I got their Russians.   I've heard they do well here.  In addition, I met a guy who is going to have nucs this year.   He said I could get one.   If I go into winter 2015-16 with 4 hives, maybe I can get some to make it until spring.   

Goals for 2015.   Get the blasted bees through the winter!   Get a decent honey harvest.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Walnut Tree

We cut down two walnut trees a few weeks ago.   This is what one looked like the afternoon it was cut.  

No doubt from that center that this is walnut. 

Over time, the wood oxidizes and the whole cut surface goes pretty brown.  

Notice how wet it looks.   Trees draw sap down from the twigs, not up from the roots.   The stump didn't release sap at all, but all the logs did. 

Friday, January 23, 2015

Even More Handspun Yarn

This is some of my favorite yarn of all this year.  I made the first skein and loved it so much I spun a bunch more.  Not my normal colors, but so so pretty in person.   It has a delicate sparkle but reads as pretty neutral from a distance.  Like a frosty field.

This is a 3 ply yarn.  The first single is straight gray alpaca.  The second is a strand of superwash tencel yarn spun from a roving I got from Yarn Barn in Kansas, in a very subtle grayed-rainbow colorway.  The third is a silk single spun from my own hand dyed silk in Deep Woods.   The singles were all spun pretty fine, so the final yarn is just barely a sock/sport weight yarn.   This stuff is definitely going into a handwoven shawl. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Hackberry Bark

We've been cutting down a few trees around the house.   This is the bark from a hackberry tree.  

I could look at it all day long.  Click the pic for a larger view.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Early Garden Tasks: Saving Milk Jugs

It's time to start thinking about the garden.  In January, I start saving all of my milk jugs so I can use them to start seeds in at the end of February.    You can save any size jug.   I like the gallon ones because they hold more seeds, but I've used 1/2 gallon and quart sized ones, too - especially for starting onions. 

Just rinse the jugs out well and toss them in a box until you're ready to cut them up for seed starters.  You don't need to save the lids.

Friday, January 16, 2015

More Handspun Yarn

I spin during shows, but never end up with much, so I end up with a collection of smaller bobbins of yarn in pretty colors.   This winter I pulled them out and started pairing them up.   I love this combination [It looks better in person].  So cheery and fun.

It's a 3 ply yarn.   The first single was spun from a hand dyed alpaca batt in turquoise with lots of sparkles.   The second was a lime green alpaca batt with lots of sparkles.   The third was spun off a hand dyed silk roving in bright colors. 

It has a good weight to it because of the alpaca, but it's a sport weight yarn.   I'm trying to decide what to do with it.   Maybe a cheery shawl?  

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Thinking about Maple Syrup Season

It's time to start thinking about maple syrup season so that you've got your stuff prepared and you're ready to go in February when the sap starts flowing.

Here's a link to how we tap our trees and where we get our supplies.  Maple tapping is  growing in popularity again and you may be able to find supplies at your local farm store or hardware store.  Ask around.  

Here's how we manage the fire on boiling day.

Here's more about the maple syrup itself.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Installing Windows

We brought some of our new windows home during the holidays.   We went with a stock size so we could afford to get bigger windows.   These are 36x60.   Lots of light!

The trick was how to install these very heavy windows in the 2nd story without dropping one or doing physical damage to any of us.

You have to install windows from the outside of the house so that you can seal them up tight against
the elements.

This means installation happens from a ladder.  But there's no way that even a strong guy can safely carry a big window up a tall ladder, swing it around, caulk the opening and install the window.    Without hurting something.

So Eric devised another plan, using two extension ladders, one in front of the other.

He set up a smaller ladder between the big ladder and the house.   He'll climb up the ladder with the yellow rope, which is set at a proper, safe distance from the house.  

The shorter red ladder is for holding the window.  At the top of that ladder, Eric put a Pivit Ladder Leveling tool.   That gave him a place to park the window until we got the rough opening caulked and ready to go.  

It worked this way:

1.  The girls and I carried the window to the rough opening.  Eric climbed the ladder.

2.  It took all three of us girls to lift the window, tilt it and get it through the rough opening, where Eric caught it and parked it on the Pivit, leaning against the house.  Claire and I held onto the window the whole time.

3.  Eric caulked around the sides and top and passed the caulk gun in to me, and I caulked the bottom of the opening.

4. Eric lifted the window into the opening, centered it and Claire and I pulled it into place. 

5. Eric nailed it into place. 

6. We cleaned  the smeared caulk off the windows with mineral spirits.   Installation is messy.

We installed 6 windows over that weekend.   Only 5 more to go and 3 of those are much smaller.  

Friday, January 9, 2015

Deep Blue Handspun Yarn

This is the next batch of this winter's handspun yarn.    I love this deep blue hand dyed superwash wool.  

It's a 3 ply - my favorite - in two different colors.  I start with fine singles so the finished yarn is a sport weight and not too heavy.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Winter Garden Soil Amendment

I miss the garden in the winter and whenever the weather is warm enough to work comfortably, I'm out there fiddling with things.  

And thinking.  

Sometimes I just walk around and look and think.  

In between the thinking, I do what I can to improve the soil.  It's my favorite winter chore.

We have clay here.  Lots and lots of clay.   It's great for brambles, but not tomatoes. 

So I built raised beds [see above link] and every now and then we toss some extra organic material in there.   We use a lot of straw mulch, leaves, chicken dirt and sand to break up that clay.  

This is the rhubarb and pea bed.   I can't move the rhubarb to rotate the bed, so I just make sure to put lots of sand and leaves and chicken dirt in it.  It makes for happy rhubarb.   And peas.   And turnips.  I grew some fabulous turnips in this bed last year.    We just dumped a whole lot of leaves in there.   I can hear the rhubarb smiling already. 

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Cold Frame Greens

I love my cold frames.    We have several and 2 are still going strong, full of greens.    This is the cold frame I made by putting an old glass door over the end of the sweet potato bed.   It took all of 3 minutes.

Then I planted radishes and arugula.    I heart arugula.  

 It's all very happy in there.

I put a big piece of plastic over it and tucked it in with bricks to keep the wind from blowing it off. 

Starting the middle of February, it'll be light enough to start planting our spring greens.   I'm kind of excited for buttercrunch lettuce and radishes. 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy New Year!

Thanks so much for being here!   I hope your 2015 begins with a lovely surprise and turns out to be as wonderful as you imagine.  

We've got big plans for this year.   At the top of my list is a stairway that goes from the first floor to the new second floor - on the inside of the house.   Right now we're using a ladder - from the outside of the back of the house [and over the mudroom roof] and it's rather hard to move big things up that way.  

In the grand tradition of the blog, here is a New Year sonnet.   Because every new year should start with some bad poetry.     Don't you think?  [Others  sonnets are here.]

Sonnet #5
A quiet silken winter day of ice
And snow. So still. Devoid of any burst
Of movement, any fluttered wing. Twice
A liar is a frosty day. The first:
A blanket, spun of fallen snow. But one
most frigid, stilling life into a deep
Eternal sleep. The second: winter sun.
The harlot star does not her promise keep
To warm and nurture life. She offers nothing
But an icy, blinding glare. Or shrouds
Entire behind the mourning drap’ry swathing
Sky. Yet ice will melt. Below the clouds
Sleeps deep, not dead, with expectation rife,
Yes, there, beneath, inside, at last, still, - Life.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Late December Bees

Here are the bees all skirted up for the winter.  I used leftover Typar from our many lumber deliveries lately.  And you can't see the plywood wind break on the right [north] side but that seems to have keep things a little more sheltered in that area this year.

Unfortunately,  the right hive has died already.   They weren't well in the fall and they quickly succumbed to the very cold spell we had in November and at the beginning of this month. 

The left hive is still OK.   Here is one chilly bee who came out one cloudy afternoon when it got up in the higher 40s. 

Here's hoping the hive lasts the winter.

If it doesn't, I'll be sad, but I'm covered.   I already ordered 2 packages [3 lbs each] from Kelly Bee for the spring.   I went with the unmarked Russian queens.   I've heard they're great and even lasted through last winter in this area. 

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Winter Jams

This is the time of year we're really hitting the jam cupboard.    During the holidays, mostly I use the jams with cheese.    With the wide variety of frozen fruit available in the grocery stores, you can probably make one of these pretty easily. [You can use canned fruit, too!]

Here are some of our favorites.

Chocolate Jams are great over ice cream, pound cake, yogurt, cheese cake, brownies, etc.  

Marmalades are fabulous over all of the above, plus as a meat glaze - ham, chicken, pork chops.  Put some in a crockpot with some of those frozen meatballs for a fabulous appetizer.  Here is everything you need to know about making marmalade   Now is citrus season, so you've got a great excuse to try something new, like blood oranges!

Pears are still easy to find and this  Pear Ginger Jam is to die for.   You can make it with either fresh pears that you cook until soft or canned pears.   

This jam is great on yogurt!  Or, try it with a cheese plate.  I love it with manchego or brie.   Mmmmm.

Savory jams are lovely with cheese trays.   I love this Onion Bacon Garlic Jam with sliced apples or pears and gouda.  [Or swiss,  or manchego,  or a fresh mozzarella...]  Don't skimp on the bacon.  Add as much as you want.

All those jams are fabulous, but my all time favorite is this Peach Chutney.  I eat it on apples and pears.  On meat. On sandwiches.  With a spoon, by itself.  On cream cheese.  On any other cheese, especially brie.

In a baked brie - To. Die. For.  And it's easy.  Pour jam on a brie. Wrap the brie in a puff pastry and bake on 475 until golden.  Serve warm.

Note:  Most any jam is good in a baked brie:  Raspberry, Apricot, Cherry, Marmalade, etc...

I hope I've inspired you to make a little jam this holiday season.  Let me know if you try some.  Have a wonderful week!

For more jam recipes as easy as these, check out my ebook on the sidebar.  A Simple Jar of Jam: 180+ recipes & variations for jam using low sugar pectin.  Every purchase goes a long way toward supporting the blog.   Thank you!

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