Mo Bloggin'

A little o' this, a little o' that

Archive for the category “The Bees”

Autumn excitement

20161018_084137I can’t believe it’s almost the end of October already. The falling leaves and bare branches, cold temperatures and fall rains all seem premature somehow. Every year I am virtually dragged into fall kicking and screaming, not ready to give up summer. But alas, it is here.  The autumn months are beautiful, no question, with the leaves turning and all the fall harvests and ripenings, but after just a few weeks of rain I’m already dreading the three or four months of rain yet to come. I need to make peace with this.

Earlier this month we had a visitor to the farm. I’d run out on Saturday to do my usual weekend errands. I came back home and pulled up the driveway to the gate. I saw one of the sheep run across my field of vision as I got out of the car to open the gate. They normally get excited when I come home and run up to the upper pasture gate as I drive up the hill. But intuition told me something was up and I immediately worried about loose dogs (not my own, which were inside the house). 20161005_172937

I opened the gate and walked over toward the pasture quickly. The sheep were all bunched together, moving, except for that black one up by the…  OMG. That’s not a sheep! A black bear had come to visit! I clapped my hands loudly and walked toward the bear (in the pasture with the sheep, but not really after the sheep, as far as I could tell). “Go on, bear!” I hollered at it. He moved down the hill away from me, toward the NE corner of the pasture, then sat down to chew on his foot (maybe he stepped on a thistle?). He knew I was there, but wasn’t nearly as concerned about my presence as I would have liked.  He went over the pasture fence and headed up the hill toward the chicken coop – and the beehive. I got in the car and drove up the hill quickly. The car driving up scared him a little, and he moved to the edge of the yard to where the grass meets the woods. I got out and walked towards him, clapping my hands again, and telling him to go on (the dogs heard me from inside the house and started barking). He looked at me for a long moment then moved off into the woods, loping to the fence and off the property. Then I went inside and let the dogs out to reinforce the message.

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Sorry for the blurry exposure – I was a wee bit excited.  The sheep in the foreground (Minnie, I think) is looking at me to fix this situation.

It was pretty exciting to see a bear like that. I’ve had them come through before (though it’s been a few years) and generally at this same time of year August/September, but in those other instances I just heard them (moving through the brush) or, my first year here, seeing the aftermath (tipped over the empty garbage bin, got into my bird feeder, got into my chicken feed – I no longer feed the birds and keep the chicken feed locked in the garage). This was the real deal, and in broad daylight on a Saturday afternoon. Wow!

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A few feathers is all that was left of a good sized rooster.  A stealthy bobcat strike. 

The next day I was out working in the yard and the chickens were out. When I went to check on their feed and water later in the afternoon I saw we were down by one. The rooster obviously got got – a few feathers and a little blood and evidently the work of a bobcat. I found a feather or two by the back fence line, but it was clean and quiet, just like a cat. Dang.

On Monday night I was sitting in my living room, up late and working on an editing job, and heard the chickens squawking. I heard a thump and went to look out the window at the coop. I didn’t see anything in the porch light, but figured maybe it was the bobcat again so I let the dogs out. The barking excitement told me they were doing their job. After a bit Farley and Daisy came in at my call. Pal didn’t. He sometimes will stay out running around for 30 minutes, but considering the activity recently, I started to worry. I called him and got nothing. So I got a flashlight and went out, Daisy and Farley happy to come out for more 2 a.m. fun. I saw a white streak run by in the dark but when I called him he didn’t come, which is unusual for Pal, as he has a pretty good recall. At least he was okay.  The chickens seemed to be fine – a little shaken up and a couple off the roosts, and I shut the coop door and propped it with the fence post (it doesn’t close all the way).  Meanwhile Daisy had taken up barking maniacally at the foot of a maple tree near coop, like a coonhound with a treed coon. I went over and shined the flashlight up the trunk, but I already knew what I’d find, judging by the noise. The bear was back. He looked down on us from a rather flimsy looking branch about 30 feet up, clacking his teeth and bawling every once in a while (the best way to describe the noise – not a growl and not a roar, more like a moaned complaint). I had to physically haul Daisy off to the house. Farley came with us, and Pal now, too. I watched/listened from the bathroom window and after about 20 minutes I could hear branches cracking as the bear lowered himself to the ground and ran off over the fence. I felt bad for the bruin, as he was obviously scared, but hoped that the hazing by the dogs would convince him to move on and that human dwellings weren’t good places to hang out.

There were a couple of hens loose in the morning, so I herded them back into the coop. A quick head count told me we were down one.  I don’t think it was the bear, but more likely the bobcat, come to take advantage of the birds being loose. I left for work. And that afternoon I pulled up the driveway see this.

He was back. He was about 15 yards away and stood watching me. I got out of the car and took few steps in his direction, clapping my hands loudly. (Cue chorus of barking from inside the house.) He thought about it for a few seconds, then turned and left. I kept clapping and yelling. Then, when I was sure he was over the fence, I let the hounds out.  Wee!  So much fun!

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Muddy paw marks on top of the gate.  Smelly fly trap to the upper right, and a tipped over water trough just on the other side of the fence. 

Then I went around the property to see what he’d been up to. I’d left the sheep in their pen that day, and from what I can tell, he was maybe IN the pen with them. Or maybe just climbing the gate (I could see muddy paws had been up on the top of the 5 foot gate) and also the other side of the pen. As near as I could tell he was after the smelly fly trap still hanging out there (smells like a dead thing rotting) from the summer. He’d bitten at it but didn’t take it all the way down. The sheep seemed fine – weren’t even breathing hard by the time I got home. And of course there’s this.

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Nice.  But there was no honey in this hive, and no stinging bees either. 

It’s the dead hive, with the live hive full of (angry) bees…and honey, right next to it, still intact. I wondered if I maybe interrupted him when I pulled up. Other than that it was just the fence that was taking a beating with all these visits.

I decided to stay home the next day to keep an eye on the place. I was able to work remotely from home, and keep watch while I did so. The bear came back around noon, from what I could tell by the chickens and sheep behavior, but I don’t think he came on the property then. (I let the dogs out to reinforce things.) Then, about 2:30 he was back.  I saw the chickens go quiet and bunch up again. I got up to look out the front window to see the sheep in the pasture all looking intently towards the north/east property line. I went out (without the dogs at first) and clapped my hands.  I heard him move off, and went to let the dogs out again.  So. Much. Excitement. And I fixed the crunched fence sections for the fourth time.

Again, I hoped this hazing (especially the two tries without any reward) would make him decide to move on. He didn’t seem to want apples. And thankfully he didn’t seem to want the chickens or sheep. I think he was young and inexperienced at being on his own, but hopefully heading towards the foothills and a safe place to den for the winter. We haven’t seen him since that day, three weeks ago now, and I hope he’s safe.

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Gratuitous cuteness: Pal on his 7th birthday last Friday.  He was worried that this unusual attention (me trying to get a nice photo of him on his birthday) might mean something like a nail trim or a bath. Love this little guy!  (Excuse the fugly tape on the chair – it’s a lost cause, but I try to deter the cats from shredding it more by putting double-sided tape on it.)

 

 

No birdz allowed – lung stuff part deux

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Another glorious Pacific Northwest summer is winding to an end. They are always too short.

Continued from previous post:
So I left the specialist’s office that day in March with a couple prescriptions – one for oxygen at home, and one for steroids (prednisone) – both of which I’d used a year earlier, and both of which I didn’t want to do, although they help immensely. I knew the oxygen use would be short-lived, as once the prednisone kicked in and inflammation was neutralized, I no longer needed it. While its benefit is huge in that 10 – 14 day time frame, I just didn’t want to deal with it (both the admittance that I needed it nor the growling, hissing activity of the oxygen concentrator, not to mention the medical rental of the machine, although this experience/company was MUCH better than last year’s). And, after all was said and done, I spent over $630 on the rental (insurance only covers so much)  for the 10 days of use, because the doctor wouldn’t okay its return until she saw me again…in May. I would have done better to purchase one of my own at that cost!

A few weeks after my visit we got the antigen tests back. And while most everything was in range (they test for a variety of typically encountered organisms) there were a couple of molds that were moderately out of range (high) and two others that I just didn’t expect: pigeon droppings, and pigeon feathers and proteins. Which, of course, means all avian. (I’d tested negative for bird allergies last year.) The doctor knew I had chickens (we’d discussed them with the sheep) and she flatly said I had to get rid of them. I was dismayed, not really understanding if they were outside why I had to get rid of them. I live on acreage. There are birds EVERYwhere. And geez, I’ve been keeping chickens pretty much my whole life (a continuous flock since 1981). But what she didn’t know, and I of course then shared with her, is that I also had a couple of parakeets in the house. And these two, I realized, I would definitely have to place. Dang.

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Of course these results, combined with the review/reassessment of my prior tests and procedures/pathology (done elsewhere) by the UW pathologists, confirmed the rediagnosis from sarcoidosis to hypersensitivity pneumonitis. The doctor was very clear that I had to get the birds out, and once they were out, a deep cleaning of the house (wall washing, floors, furniture, etc.) that I was NOT, under any circumstances (even with my fancy respirator mask) to do myself.  Okay, but… “Have some friends come over to do this for you.”  Um, no. I would hire someone before I asked my friends to do a deep clean on my house.

The first thing I did was take the parakeets, Hugh and Cate, to the vet. I was going to give them away, probably via a Craigslist ad, but wanted to be sure they were healthy before I did so.  Hugh was dealing with some kind of mite or lice infestation – not horrible, but his feathers had looked a little rough for the past 8 months or so (I’d treated with mite control, using the vet’s recommended protocol, to no discernable improvement). Cate looked fine, so maybe there was something else going on with Hugh?  Sure enough, lab work showed he had some elevated kidney values, moving towards gout (who knew?). And here is where my angels helped me out. As the vet relayed the information about Hugh’s bloodwork and recommended treatment (and expense – I’d already spent over $200 for their checkup and lab tests) – fluids once a day for a week, retest blood work and re-evaluate treatment – I was simultaneously trying to digest the information and figure out what to do. She knew of my health situation, as I’d explained it to her/the clinic when I brought Hugh and Cate in for the exam, and then she very kindly and graciously offered me a solution. If I wanted to, I could sign Hugh over to the clinic, releasing ownership and entrusting his care and eventual adoption placement to them. I hesitated, thinking of Hugh – while he wasn’t a bird I’d handled regularly I still felt affection for him and of course responsible for his well-being. I’d had him for 8 years and he was a cheerful, beautiful little guy. But I knew the treatment he needed was outside my ability at that point, and I didn’t want to place him with the hope that whoever adopted him would do the right thing with his care (nor was it fair to place a sick bird with anyone). What was best for him was to sign him over to a place where he could get the care he needed. I brought him in a week or so later. The vet, Dr. Carter, gave me a hug as I signed the papers and said goodbye. I mostly held it together until I got in the car to leave, and then had to dig around in my glove box for a tissue to wipe the tears away so I could see to drive home.

For Cate, now alone, an equally miraculous solution occurred. She and Hugh weren’t bonded, and in separating them she actually seemed happier. They never fought, but they never seemed to hit it off (I’d had her about 3 or 4 years). The weekend after I placed Hugh with the vet, I went to a local spring fair with a friend who also raises Shetland sheep. It was a great chance for her and I to catch up on the drive down, and go see the sheep and fleeces, and booths from sheep farmers and wool vendors, plus chat with other sheep people we both knew. She asked about my health update as we drove back home that day, and I gave her the whole long story of the new doctor and findings all the way to the need to place the parakeets. As I yakked away, she began texting a coworker whose son was an animal lover and had recently said he wanted a parakeet. I didn’t even notice she was texting until she told me about this possible home being available. The coworker texted back that they had already gotten a parakeet, but said they would think about taking Cate too.  From the description, it sounded like a wonderful home, and I sent photos of Cate along with a description of her personality. It turns out the boy, aged 10 or 12, had wanted an all yellow parakeet, and was thrilled to see Cate was exactly what he was looking for. “It’s kismet,” he told his mother, who contacted my friend to let her know they’d take Cate. The boy renamed her Mango, which I just love.

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The badly placed kiwi vine (here when I moved in) once again trying to take over the front porch. I’ve lopped off nearly as much as you see here. I need to transplant him. I call him Groot.

So my house was parakeet-less for the first time in 10 years or more, and it was eerily quiet. But I knew it was for the best and it seemed miraculous that both birds were placed almost effortlessly into situations that were perfect for them. I cleaned up the area they’d been in, vacuuming well and wiping down the wall and windowsill where I’d kept the cage, and of course moving the cage out to the garage (and hosing it down outside first). Next on the agenda was testing my environment for toxins in the form of molds and bacteria.

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The plum tree was laden with its ping pong ball plums this year, the branches groaning under the weight.  The dogs and the sheep have been enjoying them.

I contacted one of the companies on the list the clinic had sent me. The fellow there, Payam Fallah, was a wealth of information, and we discussed my antigen test results and the animals I have here. Like my doctor, he too was a dog lover, which felt good.  Both of them not only understood the dog connection, they both confirmed that dogs/cats rarely are an issue in these cases. Payam also has a tortoise (I’d shared that my menagerie includes a box turtle), and we had a good discussion about our mutual love of animals. Again, this was reassuring – I didn’t want my animals to be automatic targets for removal because of an overall dislike of animals by the professionals I was dealing with.  He sent me sterile swabs/kits for me to take samples in my house. He told me that taking swabs in my detached garage – where I store the sheep’s hay (and the mold inherent therein, which I believe to be one of the major factors in the original manifestation of this health issue) – is pointless, as there are so many molds in the environment/outdoors. Okay…

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My sheep maintenance in my fancy new “deck chair” (sheep restraining tool) wasn’t as easy as I’d hoped.  The Shetlands are squirmy, and Trixie, above, probably the worst of the lot.

So I took four samples: one in the bathroom, one in the bedroom, one in my office, and one in the main room of living room/kitchen/“dining” (my house is tiny; this last area, at roughly 500 square feet, encompasses half of it).  A week later he emailed me the results.  Which basically said my little house was fine.  The highest mold readings were in the bathroom (duh), but a) the mold count wasn’t astronomical and b) the molds were not the ones that showed up on my antigen tests. The bedroom, where I was most concerned (for the crawlspace underneath), had a big fat doughnut for results. Which was good. Despite the fact that I sleep in a pile with the dogs (and a brave feline or two) every night, and the crawlspace was an unknown quantity (can’t access), absolutely nothing showed on the swab I took from a wall sconce above my pillow. Thankyoujesus.

I still want to do a swab in the garage, and maybe I still will (have one left, and spreading out the cost is a good thing too – out of pocket, it’s $40 each swab to see if anything grows). But the house is fine.

Now to figure out the chickens…

Rain and reflections

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Watching the rain fall.

It’s been raining all day today and it’s wonderful. I can’t even believe I am saying that, but it’s funny how weather excesses or extremes, especially out of season excesses, can make you long for the opposite, and even make you anxious.

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Wet bee yard; the package bees (left hive) are still out flying – I love how gnarly they are!

For us here in the PNW, rain in November is relentless and pummels the house and the property. It’s often a little frightening at times for this Chicken Little, as the water sluices down the hillside, the ground turns to muck, and the river in the valley nearby overflows its banks (making the commute home from work worrisome).  As I listened to the music of the rain on the roof this morning I was reflecting at how in November, December, or January, I actually get a little scared when it rains this hard and steadily for hours. It’s not sweet music then, but an ominous wintertime soundtrack.  Today it was calming and comforting.

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Gorgeous blue sky on the last mile of my evening commute home.

If you’ve followed my blog for long, you know that I adore the sun and blue sky.  I realize more and more that I want to see more sky, more openness.  I love the trees, but it gets so claustrophobic sometimes, and especially at this time of year (I’ve spoken of this before), when the jungle-like growth begins to feel like it’s closing in.  And all winter long the constant rain and dark, cloudy skies, combined with the short daylight hours, feels oppressive and beyond dismal, day after day. The weather almost becomes the enemy, something to be fought and/or feared.

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Soggy with rain, the pool refilling with rainwater after last week’s heat.

Now we’ve had a spring unlike any I can remember, with drought-like conditions and record-breaking heat (90+ degrees in April – where the hell am I, anyway?).  This after a previous year of record-breaking weather patterns (2015’s dry spring and summer and record-breaking summer temps, followed by the wettest winter on record) and again I get anxious.  What does this mean for me, my animals, my bees, my planet? So you can see why the rain and cool temps—typical weather for a northwest May (and something to grumble about in a normal year)—was soothing today.

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Rain all day long, yet I’m totally okay with it.

The rain slowed later in the day and I let the sheep out to graze.  I assured them the rain was a good thing for the grass and browse they love, but still they wanted out. Noisy C-Kerry led the chorus of:  “We don’t care if we get wet, we’re sheep!  Just let us out!” The trees and under story are heavy with the rain, and branches are low to the ground with the weight of water. There was even a downed maple branch over the lower fence.  They are enjoying the heck out of it all, pruning and munching on the delicious green growth they love.

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Shearing day last week; one of these is not like the others.

I watch them and am reminded how much I love them. Well, maybe not so much when they’re gobbling up my hops vines, comfrey, or horseradish plants, or the beautiful woodland ferns and other plants (my wonderful Devil’s club!) out back, or peeling the bark off my fruit trees. I’ve learned to monitor them better, but still like to let them out to keep the grass mowed around the house, stretch the feed bill, and ease the pressure on their pasture.  And I reflected on them and my relationship to them—to all my animals—and not only what they mean to me, but what do I mean to them? How do they see me? (A few of the flock must see me with a scythe and hooded robe, judging by how they react to me every. single. time. they see me. Maybe there are hallucinogens in the hay I feed?)

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Eloise at the top of the corner post in the chicken run.

I am reflecting on all of this after reading a blog post by a fellow blogger, also a woman, also a farmer (though she, lucky girl, is able to do it full time).  Like many bloggers (can you believe I’ve been blogging for over 7 years now?) I like to follow other bloggers, especially those who are doing things similar to me: solo homesteaders like Belle Manor Farms and Morris Brook Farm, sheep raisers like Canfield Farm, just a few miles away, beekeepers, nature lovers and wildlife advocates. I’ve been following Celi and her Kitchens Garden blog for at least 4 years now, maybe longer, and I find it a delightful day-to-day account of what she’s doing. Sometimes the animals take center stage, sometimes the hard work of farming, sometimes the garden harvest and cooking of same, and sometimes we go on vacation with her (there are over 5,000 people who follow her blog – !!) – all this with great photos of her farm (by “Camera House” – even her camera has a name and entity – I love this woman!), her animals (spring babies!) and scenery on her travels.  She posts every single day, for which I am very envious, and she has copious numbers of commenters (the Fellowship), which she calls the Lounge of Commenters.  Isn’t that delightful?

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Salal blossoms.

At any rate, Celi had a wonderful post the other day.  Sometimes she just riffs on a thought and it can be profound, with observations as keen and insightful as any philosopher’s, as this one was. It was called A Chair of My Own.

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A recent bee convention over some old honeycomb I had. I got several species of bumblebee, as well as the honey bees and even a yellowjacket or two.

Many of the comments added to the conversation and further enlightenment, as they often do.  And I reflected on my own situation, with my own self-imposed cage(s), and then on to my own animals and their habits. How DO the sheep see me? Little Trixie and her brother Mungo seem to love me, with Mungo especially coming at a run and staying with me for as long as I’ll scratch his chin, even when the rest of the flock has run off to the ecstasy of release to fresh grass.  It warms my heart that the two of them, and their mother sometimes, would rather be with me than with the other sheep. Is it intentional? Do they know that this will keep them from the freezer permanently? Those feral ones who behave as if I’m coming with a noose when I’m just bringing them dinner…well, they are creating their own reality, as I will be reviewing this year’s shearing and making some decisions based on their fleeces (my freezer is almost empty and I’m beginning to really enjoy mutton).  And just that has me reeling with recognition.  I struggle with my own choices in life (mostly related to job/income) and how my perception of things colors my reality: the fear/s that keep me where I am, instead of where I want to go, who I want to be and what I want to accomplish before this gig is up.

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The bird dogs covering the driveway action: squirrels at one end, cars and motorcycles at the other, and croaking (teasing) ravens overhead.

And what do the dogs think of me, and our life here?  Or of the dog park of their life on the farm, but confining in its own way as well.  I think they know the oasis they provide for me (I tell them, and thank them, often), and hopefully know how profoundly grateful I am to them for keeping me afloat emotionally, mentally, and every other way there is.  I cannot repay them for all they give me, which is why I am so “lenient” on them with regards to making them behave. I sing to them as I make them dinner, or when I come home to their unbridled joy at seeing me (and me them!).  I make up the songs as I go, usually sung to an old, well-known tune, and I know it makes them happy when I sing (because they know I sing when I’m happy).  I also know they love it when I laugh, and I see how hard they work to keep me happy and laughing.  I joke that they have me very well trained (when I buy 10 boxes of biscuits at a time the clerks always ask me about it; we go through at least 3 (1-pound) boxes a week here).  But who am I to these creatures that mean so much to me?  Is it as profound to them as it is to me? I think of each of them and how they came to me, the obstacles they overcame to reach me, or for me to find them.  Is it just me, or is this as profound for everyone here?  I think of finding my first sheep, the serendipity around all of it…though I think it’s more than just chance, or coincidence.  Do they think that too?  How about you, and the animals in your life?

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Gratuitous cuteness: the old guy, traipsing into the house with his swamp legs after a dip in the swampy little pond-ette on a hot spring evening.

Bees please

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Honeybee swarm; about the size of a football.

One Wednesday afternoon a couple of weeks ago, as I was crunching through a gnarly document at work and trying to get things buttoned up for a planned couple days off work, a coworker who knows I keep bees sent me an IM asking if I knew anyone who could come get a bee swarm at her brother’s house. Um, yeah! I quickly responded: ME! She sent me a photo and details: her brother lived a couple towns over, about 15 miles from my home, and the swarm was only 6 feet off the ground, according to her SIL. I had been planning to stay late and work on the document from hell, but even if I stayed four more hours, it wouldn’t make much difference with this doc.  So I left at 5:30 and rushed home to get my bee gear.

I put my 6-foot ladder in the car, a cardboard box, some duct tape, some bungie cords, baling twine, a hive box and lid (in case I could just dump them directly in), some lemongrass oil, my bee veil, and my Rottweiler (Daisy wasn’t about to be left behind!). I got there just as it was getting dark, and went back to look. It was a nice size cluster – not too large – and only about 6 feet up on a branch I could easily snip with my pruners. No need for most of the stuff I’d brought, but that’s okay. I didn’t even suit up; I just positioned the cardboard box under the swarm, and snipped. Done. I should have suited up. I got dinged in the nose, and a few very angry bees flew around me as I got the lid on the box and started taping. It seemed they were finding a hole out, so I kept going with the duct tape until finally they were secure. I’m sure my coworker’s brother thought I was a little nuts as I taped and taped and taped and taped. They were bees, not wolverines. The nose sting wasn’t too horrible, but as I drove home I could feel that one must have gotten me on the ear, too. Ah well.

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Installing the swarm into the hive box.

It was after dark when I got home, so I left them in the box for the night, on top of the hay bales in the garage. In the morning (thankfully I’d already planned to take the day off!) I got everything set up and dumped them in. (This time I did put my bee veil/jacket on.)  It wasn’t as easy as a bee package install, but went pretty well nonetheless. The branch I’d snipped went into the hive box with them (they were still clustered on it) and I put everything back together as soon as I got the bulk of them secured into the hive. Then it was time to sit back and wait, with fingers crossed that they liked the hive and would stay.

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Now for everyone to settle down and figure out where to go (and hopefully Queenie’s inside the hive!).

Later that afternoon the sun was out and they looked happy, flying in and out and getting acquainted with their surroundings. And three days later, it looked like they planned to stay and were setting up house! I was thrilled! After five years of beekeeping, I feel like a real beekeeper now, having caught my first swarm. It had to be the easiest swarm catch on record but you just never know.

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Package bees on their way home with me.

This past Wednesday I picked up my package bees. I’d ordered them before I’d heard about the swarm, and briefly thought about cancelling the order to save money, and to avoid contributing to the practice of buying package bees (I saw a YouTube video once of how they are packaged, and it’s brutal), but I really want two hives going, and with any luck this year is the year I’ll learn how to split a hive, and not be so dependent on buying bees from others who raise them.

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Just about ready to open it up and get them installed.  There are a LOT of bees in there – probably the largest package of bees I’ve ever gotten.

I got the package after work, so it was 7 p.m. before I got things ready for them. I half thought of waiting until the next day to install, but decided to go ahead with it. The sooner they’re in a hive the better for them. I put on my bee jacket (with netted hat or veil to protect my head (face and eyes!) from bee stings), even though package bees are notoriously docile (so are swarms – ha!) and dumped them in the hive. I got these bees from a local hardware store only a mile and a half from my house (so no half hour drive with 15,000 bees in the car with me) and when I talked to the owner, himself a beekeeper, he said they would be 4 pound packages.  I figured he meant 3 pound, which is the norm, and indeed, my receipt when I paid for them said “3# package bees,” but I have to say, there were a LOT of bees in that box.  Maybe it was because they were obviously so much healthier than last year’s package, which, frankly, was half dead when I got it (and had an unusual amount of fully dead bees in there).  This year it seemed like the cage was magic, I kept pouring them out and it seemed like they just never stopped. It was wonderful!  Finally, as civil twilight moved into nautical twilight, I had all of them out of there that I could get out, and the queen in her cage attached to a frame inside the hive. There were a few small clusters still hanging onto the inside of the box, so I just put the box on top of the hive for the night.  They were still there in the morning, but by the time I got home from work that night, the cage was empty (and not a single dead bee to be seen!).

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They settled immediately and seemed to know they were home.

The first couple of days after installation were chilly and wet, but they were still out flying more than I expected.  I let the queen out of her cage the second night and she is beautiful. I’d waited, due to last year’s fiasco. I was never sure what happened, but on my first inspection of that hive, a week or so after installation, I saw queen cells. Meaning, the bees were already replacing the queen that came with them. Not good. I’d done the old “candy plug” in the queen cage when I installed that one, replacing the cork with a piece of marshmallow. The theory is that by the time the bees eat through the candy, they’re bonded with the queen. The plug had fallen out before I finished installing them, so she was loose immediately. Which, frankly, shouldn’t be a problem. The bees love their queen. My guess is she was one of the half dead bees in that package (probably due to overheating – hundreds of packages are hauled up from California in a trailer, and it was hot that week…).  She obviously lived long enough to lay some eggs, and the hive replaced her as soon as they could. But that put us back another month, with regard to the new queen maturing to a laying queen, and then we headed into a drought summer, which made for some hard work to find flowers and nectar. A lot of area beekeepers had bad losses this year. When I realized my hive was dead in early spring (and I’m pretty sure they were probably dead by December) there was a shockingly small amount of honey left in the hive. It hadn’t been robbed, either.

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“Are you my mama?”  I’d released the queen inside the hive, but these guys wouldn’t give up the cage, where her scent still lingered.

I plan to take better care of these hives, monitoring better and getting the hives better protected.  I’ve taken steps towards the second – I’ve moved the bee yard to the garden area (fallow again this year) and closer to the house.  I also have them up off the ground.  They’re temporarily set up on top of dog crates (truly the Swiss Army knife of dog equipment) and I’m trying to figure out how I’ll set them up permanently – benches, picnic table, bee barn…I’ll be doing some Google searches on this topic to see what will work (and that I am capable of building by myself) and get something together in the next month or so.

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My little bee  yard amongst the nettles and on makeshift hive stands.  It will be a lot cuter in another month or two.

I tend to be somewhat lackadaisical about regular inspections. It’s so disruptive to the bees, and I hate opening up their house just so I can see if they have brood and honey stores. But maybe if I’d done so with last year’s hive, I’d have realized they didn’t have much in the way of honey stores. I don’t know that feeding them would have helped, as it was a challenged hive from the beginning, but I only did about three abbreviated inspections in total, which isn’t enough.

20160430_113959This past weekend the weather was picture perfect, warm and sunny and true bee weather.  And both hives are loving it.  The swarm hive is doing well; they are making a lot of honey already and while it seems like they aren’t drawing out much comb, I have to remember how small they were to start. This was obvious when I got the package bees, which had probably four times the number of bees to start (and the package bees are guzzling the sugar syrup I’m giving them – a quart a day compared to the swarm hive’s half pint or so).  The swarm hive is healthy, and even if I haven’t seen the queen (I rarely do) I see larvae, and they are doing what they should be doing.  Happy bees = happy beekeeper.

 

Giving thanks

IMG_20151108_163736Again with the blog-break! Oy! Seriously, there’s always a reason (excuse?), and though I’ve written several posts that haven’t made it here yet, whether due to time or health or time or mood or time, my hope is to get more regular in the coming new year. I was working on a post recently that, while important, was bringing me down a bit. That one is regarding an an issue I still need to come to terms with, and will likely continue working on the draft for a future post, but I found that it was clogging the works and not serving me well with regard to getting something out.

So instead I’m turning my thoughts to things that make me happy. On top of the winter solstice holidays (Yule, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, Eid al-Fitr, St.Lucia Day, or whatever your celebration) going on, we in the U.S. recently celebrated our Thanksgiving holiday, held the fourth Thursday in November. It’s one of my favorite holidays, though it’s slowly being swallowed by the juggernaut of an ever expanding Christmas season, and aside from the myth we were fed as schoolchildren about the origins of the holiday, I choose to celebrate it in the exact interpretation of its name, giving thanks. So in the spirit of Thanksgiving, and of the winter solstice (the return of the light – hallelujah, indeed!) and the coming turn to a new calendar year, here are just a few of the things I give thanks for daily:

Look out, 2016!

Hello, Fall

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Leaves covering the sidewalk on a recent walk with Daisy.

I seem to have taken my annual blogging hiatus. A full three months this time. In past years it was due to a busy time with garden harvesting but no such excuse this time, since I didn’t grow a garden. We had a super hot and dry summer, so it would have been a great year to grow a veggie garden (aside from the near constant watering it would have required). The divas like tomatoes (which I won’t even plant anymore) or heat-loving melons would have been happy this year. We still had our nighttime temperature drop, due to the maritime influences of Puget Sound, which made me happy. Not only for the fact that it helped to cool down the house every night, but also for easing the unsettling effect caused by the unusual, extended heat and near-daily temperature records being broken. It was like baseball stats by August: the most days over XX degrees, most consecutive days over XX degrees, highest temp ever on XX date, least rainfall ever for XX time period, etcetera, etcetera. The local weather guru doesn’t/won’t blame global warming or climate change, even though we had all these records falling like autumn leaves. It was some blob of high pressure out on the Pacific Ocean that was causing this unusually long pattern of heat, and the meteorologists were all calling it The Blob. I wonder why that blob formed and why it stayed so long. Wouldn’t that be climate change? Hmm.

The last, luscious days of an incredible summer.

The last, luscious days of an incredible summer.

Suffice it to say I enjoyed the heck out of the summer heat. It was delicious and warm day after day, and weekends were wonderful, languid days enjoying the sunshine. I didn’t get much done (it was too hot! Ha!), including any blog posts, but relaxing and enjoying it was plenty. Now that fall is here, and even though it’s been mild so far (not too chilly, not too much rain yet) I’m already missing the sun and the heat. The past weekend was overcast but not too cool. My personal barometer is if the bees are out and flying, then it’s not too chilly.

A few of my favorite things on a mild fall morning. The bees, Pal (watching the pasture for any wandering pheasant), and the sheep grazing among (and on) the fallen leaves.

A few of my favorite things on a mild fall morning. The bees, Pal (watching the pasture for any wandering pheasant), and the sheep grazing among (and on) the fallen leaves.

So I worked outside some, filling the yard waste bin but not having the energy to work in the sheep shed like I should have. I am nearly done with the clean out of the shed and pen. Only another 10 wheelbarrow loads of mucky hay on the pen-side of the feeder (exposed to rain and weather), but the shed itself is done. That was a HUGE job, as I’d leaned heavily (too heavily) on the deep litter method through last winter during my bout of poor health. It was nearly 14 inches deep in some areas, and though the sheep were never standing in muck because I kept adding thick layers of straw bedding, it compacted to a thick, hard block of anaerobic manure/straw. It was like cutting peat to get through it, though I imagine peat is softer (but I could be wrong).

One of many. And believe me, it's much heavier than it looks.

One of many. And believe me, it’s much heavier than it looks.

 

Hard labor, but the results are great!

Hard labor, but the results are great!

I’ve been keeping the sheep on the pasture until I could finish it, but put them in the pen when the weather report sounds like we’ll get a fair amount of rain in the next 12 hours. They’re fine in the rain, but there’s no shelter in the pasture now that the leaves are mostly off the maples, and I feel bad for them. Plus I’m seeing what seems to be some sort of wool rot on Mungo, probably due to rain (though we haven’t had that much). It’s a bummer because he has one of the nicest fleeces out there, but right now the stuff along his back is gone (I pulled it off by the handful). The rest of the fleece seems okay, and his skin is fine (no sores) but we’ll see.

Gratuitous cuteness: My saucy little Pebbles, a favorite in the flock.

Gratuitous cuteness: My saucy little Pebbles, a favorite in the flock.

{Summa summa summa time*}

Two of 20 or 30 mature Big Leaf Maples; these are in the sheep pasture.

Two of 30 or so mature big leaf maples on the property; these are in the sheep pasture.

So those trees I was grumbling about back in April? Yeah, I’m full of gratitude for them right now. In a spring and summer of weird weather in North America, the Pacific Northwest has been unusually hot and dry since early May. We normally have a pretty soggy spring, with June usually being gray, if not wet, and June Gloom, or Juneuary being common descriptors for the wet, and often cold, weather. This year, though, summer arrived a full month early and has been setting records all the way. We’ve been roasting since June, and I’m enjoying the heck out of it. And, yes, the shade from the trees has been welcome. My roast chicken fetish has suffered a bit (hard to muster the resolve to fire up the oven to 400 degrees for 90 minutes—the house is like a little hot box from about 4 p.m. on), but I’m still chowing on the watermelons.

Sheep at dusk.

Sheep at dusk.

The beasts are doing well in the heat, what with plenty of shade to hang out in. And even if I didn’t have too much shade (per my lament for grass growing back in April), the property is dried up and the grass has turned brown due to lack of moisture. I’ve been watering some, but it’s a battle lost long ago (the paradox being that within two weeks of no rain, the ground is dried up and rock hard) and I mostly do it to help cool the place in the evenings. I have to be careful with the watering so I don’t run the well tank dry. I accidentally do this a few times every year and it freaks me out every time. The first time I did it, the first summer I was here, I thought the well had run dry (or the pump had broken down) and was cobbling together a plan before I called the well repair guy to come take a look (it was late on a Sunday night). I turned off the faucet to the sprinkler I had going (mostly to cool things off rather than water the dead grass) and within 15 minutes the water was running in the house again. Lesson learned. I’ve done it a few times since, and it’s always a 3-second panic before I remember. Now I set a timer for watering; I time the watering AND the recharging period, so I’m not overtaxing the system.

Bees drinking from the pond. It's perfect for them; with all the slop and vege growing in it, they can drink safe from drowning.

Bees drinking from the pond. It’s perfect for them; with all the slop and vege growing in it, they can drink safe from drowning.

I keep the little slop pond filled; it’s the main source of water for my bees, and of course the dogs’ constant slopping in there to cool off. Pal will lie down and roll to his side to get good and wet, then go roll in ecstasy in the pile of hog fuel. Nice. I also keep a little kiddie pool scrubbed and filled for the dogs (basically a giant water bowl for them, 031the chickens, and the sheep—you’d think it was the only water around for miles, given its popularity as a trough). I stepped in when it was clean and full recently and yelped with the cold. It was obvious that this water was fresh from the subterranean Snoqualmie Valley.

A recent day trip took me to the San Juan Islands.  This is Mount Baker seen from the ferry on the way home.

A recent day trip took me to the San Juan Islands. This is Mount Baker seen from the ferry on the way home, and had me feeling blessed to live in such a paradise.

Not much is getting done in the way of chores – too hot for housework is one of my favorite excuses – but thankfully, being in a maritime climate, it does cool down at night. I open the doors and windows, and employ a fan, and by midnight or so, the house has cooled nicely. I’m leaving the back door open all night (with a baby gate to keep the dogs in—otherwise they would be out barking at snipes all night long), and do the same with the chicken coop, so the hens have a chance to cool down. But for the most part all the critters are doing well. The sheep stay in the shade, and drink plenty of water, and the chickens take dust baths in the hot sun and go through gallons of water. The dogs and cats lay around all day, for the most part. The Setter boys being a skootch more active than Daisy, who just lounges in one of her many dirt pits. Pal runs after birds, and Farley insists I throw his ball for him, though he paces himself with regards to returning it for another toss.

Eloise complaining about her captivity from my office (behind glass paneled door).

Eloise complaining about her captivity from my office (behind glass paneled door).

The only problem, honestly, has been the cats. The two youngsters, and especially Madeline, are quite the hunters, and keeping them inside once I open the doors to cool the house requires locking them in my office. For the entire night. That’s not really that big of a deal (Eloise would argue otherwise, and has shredded paperwork I’ve left on my desk), but it does require some management. Now that the birds are no longer singing (sniff – I miss my Swainson’s seranades in the evenings), and the nesting season winding up, I’ve relented and let them outside. Madeline is impossible to get back inside, as her feral nature takes over once she crosses the threshold. She stays out all night, and sometimes for a full 24 or 36 hours. I find dead mice scattered around in the morning (the chickens love these) and a dead bat recently, too. This saddened me even as it gave me the willies. It was a tiny little thing, no bigger than the tip of my thumb, with tiny needles for teeth. And this afternoon I found a dead towhee in the front yard, which upset me nearly to tears, and I cursed myself for not locking Madeleine up permanently. When it rains at night she’ll come in readily, but in that case it will be another month. I will hopefully get her inside tonight (we’re coming up on 36 hours out now) and am locking her up in a dog crate if I have to.

Happy hive.

Happy hive.

The bees are happy, and I’m pleased with the front-of-hive activity I’m seeing. I opened it up for an inspection a few weekends ago and was pleased to see plenty of brood in the few frames I looked at. The bees were very docile—unusually so—and I kept it very brief. As soon as I saw the brood, I pretty much stopped. I’m always so paranoid about squishing the queen by accident, and it was hot, so I just plopped on another hive box so they could build up, and will wait for a cooler day to do a more thorough inspection. I want to do a split – start a new hive by moving some frames of brood into a new hive, but am squeamish about it. I don’t trust that they’ll figure out how to make a queen, so will probably buy a queen to put in there. If I do it. I’ll have to feed all winter too, with it being so late in the season (and the drought taking its toll on flowering plants of all kinds). We shall see.

*Summertime

Gratuitous cuteness: Daisy relaxing in one of her more elaborate dirt pits.  Happy dog.

Gratuitous cuteness: Daisy relaxing in one of her more elaborate dirt pits, dug into the hillside. Happy dog. Heart her!

This and that {in which your intrepid blogger rambles a bit}

Golden evening

Golden evening

I have been enjoying down time lately. I manage to get the minimum done, but mostly it’s rest and restore as much as possible. Today was textbook in that regard so my to do list has only the shallowest of dents in it. I pretty much add more to it than I remove. I’m okay with that. I managed to fritter away three whole days over Memorial Day weekend, and really, three days is nothing when it comes to the time needed for renewing/refreshing.  I’m still dealing with the health stuff, and trying to concentrate on research, make a plan, take steps, but the rest is needed and the down time very much so. A time to disconnect and just float, mentally. And to reconnect, too.

The property is in full jungle mode now, and though I hate to say it, we could use some rain. It’s been overcast a lot, but nothing in the way of precipitation. It’s not been too chilly, as sometimes happens with the clouds, but warm enough to putter around outside with just a vest, and if I’m puttering with my pole pruner, the vest is too warm. I’ve been having a good time with my pruner, and feel like maybe someday I’ll be ready for a real chainsaw. I like cutting down all the weedy overgrowth in the trees, opening up the sky a bit. The need for a chipper is still acute, but I can live with the piles of brush for now. And the need for a few trees to come down (anything bigger than 6 inches in diameter is a bit too large for my pruner) is also acute. It would make all the difference here. The county restriction is no more than 5000 board feet a year without a permit (meaning, if you want to do some serious clear cutting, you need to get a permit from the county to do so). I’m good with that, as 5000 board feet is enough to give me an idea of what I want to do. I’ve targeted some trees to start, and will hopefully get them down this year. Then, after getting a feel for the property after this initial thinning, I’ll know better where/what to do next year. That’s the plan, anyway.

The farmstead.

The farmstead.

I’m enjoying time reconnecting with the property, though. I sometimes get frustrated with everything – the trees, the chores, the lack of grass/pasture, the chores, and the road noise.  But when I take the time to sit with it, I realize I love this little place, and that the flaws aren’t really flaws (well, the road noise sometimes is frustrating) but character. I know the sheep like it here, and much better than they would a flat expanse of pasture, and the hillside keeps them fit.  To see them moving around the property, a beautiful little collection of gray, brown, black, and buff sheep colors, or watching them graze the pasture, their sheepy pleasure and contentment is a balm to the soul. The hens dust bathing under the cedars, or scratching for bugs in the fallow garden, is perennially entertaining, and satisfying to know they’re doing what they were born to do while they provide me with eggs. Or to watch Pal running the perimeter; or Farley trotting down the hill from a foray to the back somewhere; or Daisy slumbering in the middle of the driveway – it makes me happy.  I didn’t really purchase this place with any of them in mind or for them; it was for me, and what I needed, but their enjoyment of it makes it whole.  It’s integral to all of us, and the joy I receive at their enjoyment of the property, their happiness, fills me up.

I awoke at dawn on to the cacophony of birdsong that defines spring. It was like a concert, and wonderful in that it wasn’t underscored, or drowned out, is often the case, by the Indy 500 soundtrack that is so prevalent here. I know I’m sensitive to noise, and that the road noise here isn’t as bad as some, but it’s annoying nonetheless. Oddly, though, this weekend hasn’t been too bad. No packs of motorcycles to speak of, and the morning chorus of diesel pickup trucks grinding by the house has been minimal. Weekday mornings it starts up around 4:30, reaching a crescendo around 6:30 or so. My thought is always – where these people all going so early, and what hellish time to they wake up to do so (and they must go to bed before the sun sets…so weird)? It’s so odd to me, these uber-morning people, who are on a schedule almost the opposite of mine. It even makes me a little angry, which is weird, I know. But why do they insist on getting up so early; before the sun, and going to bed before the sun. What is the point? Right now the sun is rising shortly after 5 a.m., and sets just before 9 p.m.

Installation.

Installation.


I should go out and do an inspection of my beehive, but just did so last week, so will wait.  I don’t like bugging them too much, but I’m on pins and needles with it right now.  I installed a package on April 29, and on the first inspection, 10 days after installing, I saw only a small amount of brood, and the presence of some queen cells.  WTH?  This means the queen that came with my package was weak enough that the hive saw the need to replace her immediately. I didn’t look at her closely when I installed the package, but assume she was alive in her little cage. I inspected again, two weeks later (one week ago) and found NO brood whatsoever.  I didn’t see a queen, but the bees were fairly active and bringing in honey. They were also a little peeved at my opening up the hive and I got two stings right through my leather gloves (!!). I like that they were angry, because that means they feel there’s something to protect.  No brood, but hopefully a baby queen ready to start laying. I looked at a chart for queen development and if the queen larvae I saw on May 10 was 4 – 8 days old, she wouldn’t start laying until about now anyway.  Fingers crossed she got out and found a DCA, mated and returned safely.

Community dust bath.

Community dust bath.

I’m reading a book now called Morning Light, by Barbara Drake. It’s a nice little rambling memoir of life in the Oregon countryside. The subtitle is “Wildflowers, Night Skies, and Other Ordinary Joys of Oregon Country Life,” and is a series of essays on the various topics. She lives in an area near to where I was looking back in ’08 and ’09 (and am still interested in), and provides some insight into things I would (or may) have to deal with, including water issues (wells, etc.). And the oaks. I’ve only read a small portion of the book so far, but am enjoying it and her insights. She’s someone I could enjoy a cup of coffee with, and a like mind. And makes me realize how much I really have here.  There is so much to savor in the little moments.

It’s dusk now as I write this, and I’m enjoying the evening birdsong. The Swainson’s thrush and Robins, and the grosbeak and little twitterers. There’s a Swainson’s thrush singing his flute song deep in the maples behind the house, and another doing his “whiit” over in the trees by the sheep shed. I love listening to them close out the day. The sun has set, and the sky is going from a deep blue to purple-gray, with pale peach brush strokes fading out.

Gratuitous cuteness: Daisy after she took a dust bath too.

Gratuitous cuteness: Daisy after she took a dust bath too.

Lambs!

Cleaned and fresh straw spread - ready for lambing!

Cleaned and fresh straw spread – ready for lambing!

April was a bit of a blur” said a blogger I follow. I concur, wholeheartedly. She goes on to say “I thought I’d dig through my photos and figure out what I’ve been doing for the last month that so profoundly curbed my writing activity.” I could add March into that, but it wasn’t the blur that April was. And going through a few photos quickly reveals what created the blur. And here were a few nights where the red wine was getting a workout.

In my post of December 17, I mentioned taking Colin the ram home, and hoping he was able to connect in a meaningful way with all my ewes. Shearing day for everyone was March 1, and tipping the girls to shear them it looked like at least three were expecting (based on udder development). As the days of March progressed it was obvious Cinnamon and her daughter Lorna would be first. Both were huge, and I joked that it looked like Cinnamon was expecting triplets.

Mother and daughter, each carrying triplets.

Mother and daughter, each carrying triplets.

Late in the month I could see udder development on Pebbles and Nona too. Minnie seemed to be the only holdout, though a decent view (she was somewhat coy) like a probably with her too.

On April 7 I came home from work on a mild afternoon to find the bees quite active and when I let the girls out to browse,

Cinnamon immediately separated herself out and went to the far corner of the pasture, under the maple and cedar cover, an area I’ve dubbed coyote corner, as it’s where I’ve seen the critters trotting by the property. Great. My feral ewe is loose and ready to lamb. I kept an eye on her into the evening, using the MacArthurs (my name for my giant antique binoculars that look like they may have been in use on the USS Missouri) to watch her from the pasture gate. Behind me the bees buzzed though the hive activity was decreased from when I first got home.  Then I noticed a cluster of bees in the grass. When I peered closer, I could see it was eight or ten workers with a queen. Aha! The hive had obviously swarmed that day and this was the new baby queen. I looked up and around nearby to see if I could spot a swarm cluster anywhere but didn’t see anything. It was likely this queen was a young virgin who’d come out for her maiden flight and hadn’t gone back into the hive yet. Something else to watch over as the dusk gathered.

Just an hour old and strong and healthy.

Just an hour old and strong and healthy.

When it got too dark to see Cinnamon from the gate–pawing the ground, then lying down, then getting up and pawing the ground some more–I put the other ewes back in the shed, brought the dogs inside and fed them, and then went out with a flashlight to check on her. Her eyes glowed in the flashlight beam. And then another pair of eyes glowed below her. I heard a tiny baa and as I got closer I saw not one, not two, but three brand new lambs, still wet and just barely on their feet. Wee! I ran back up the hill to get a laundry basket and some towels. I got back to them and put the lambs in the basket to Cinnamon’s head butting protest, and walked back up to the sheep shed, babies crying and trying to clamber out of the basket, mama baaing and following close behind. Lambing season had begun with a bang!  Two ewes and a ram lamb, all good healthy weights and strong. It was chilly that night and I turned the heat lamp on for them in the shed. Cinnamon is an amazing mother and cares for all three like the champ she is. They’re a month old now and growing fast.

It turns out Pebbles was next, with twin boys presented on a Wednesday morning, nine days after Cinnamon’s triplets. She was in labor when I went out to check on them before work that morning and I was in a bit of a panic. I HAD to be at the office that morning, with a hard copy edit I’d done overnight due that morning. I felt pretty confident that Pebbles would be okay, but it was still hard to leave her and head into the office.  I dropped off my edit, loaded some documents onto my computer desktop at work and headed back home to work on them from home. When I got home Pebbles was fine, and her two boys where half dry already.

Then the real drama began. I checked on all the girls (and new babies) at about midnight that night, as I always do, and it looked

Lorna and her babies.

Lorna and her babies.

like Lorna was revving up for birth (pawing at ground, making “nests”). A side note here – about three weeks prior, Lorna suddenly looked like she’d swallowed a bowling ball. She was still huge, but her belly had dropped on the left, and gotten so huge that movement of her rear leg was impinged. She looked uncomfortable, but not suffering. I posted a note to my sheep group, and called the vet too. My description didn’t raise any red flags (though a couple people asked about bloat, since the rumen is on the left). The vet said to be sure and feed her grain, since they need the extra energy and calcium. I kept an eye on her, and since she seemed okay, I just figured it was a spectacularly bad carry. It wasn’t. I’ll save the entire story for another post, but Lorna also had triplets. I had to pull each one, and unfortunately waited too long in my ignorance and lost the third one, a nice looking ram lamb. Dang. Given Lorna’s condition it’s probably for the best that she only has two to care for (a ewe and a ram lamb).  She’s a fantastic mother, though, just like her own mother (Cinnamon).

After the drama of Lorna’s all night delivery I was spent. It took me two days to recover. It took poor Lorna a few days longer, but she’s doing okay now. It was touch and go for a bit, and most of my recovery was from stress (not a sleepless night) from worrying about her. I called the vet and picked up some injections (antibiotics and B vitamins) and then called again on Saturday to make an appointment for the vet to come out and check her.

Nona and her brand new twins.

Nona and her brand new twins.

I left for dog class on that Saturday morning (Nosework training for the first time in 4 months for Daisy and Farley), having checked on everyone and all was well. Lorna was still not 100%, but she’d at least eaten the fresh browse I’d harvested for her the day before. When I got home 4 hours later the herd had increased by two. Nona, Lorna’s twin sister, had twins! They were still wet, probably about 30 minutes old, and are a black ram and ewe.  That left only Minnie, Pebbles’ daughter, to go. Though I knew she was carrying (udder development), due to her small size I figured she just had one lamb in there. She’s a petite ewe; I don’t want to say it’s her only redeeming value, but she’s not my favorite ewe. Nor is she anyone else’s favorite. I’d put her in the maternity pen with the other ewes and the butt-fests ensued.  Lorna was sequestered in the side pen, but it had been a week and she had recovered enough, and her lambs were big enough for them to go in with the others.  So I pulled Minnie into the side pen and let Lorna go into the maternity ward with her herdmates (not to self: before you breed again, you MUST get more stalls built). Minnie’s small stature is a big plus for me, but personality-wise she’s been a pill (and I’m not so keen on her wool either, black and almost no crimp). If she was going to lamb anytime soon it was definitely only one, but keeping her in the side pen was best, since she seems to cause such rancor with the other ewes. There was a window of two weeks, so she could get bigger.

Five days later I was up and getting ready for work when Daisy got very excited, leaping on

Minnie and her twins.  Lambing season comes to an end.

Minnie and her twins. Lambing season comes to an end.

the sofa to look outside. The Setter boys weren’t on board, so I knew it wasn’t anyone visiting the property, but Daisy was definitely worked up. I let her out and saw her run right to the sheep pen. Ruh-roh. Then I heard the loud baaaaaing. I put on my jacket and went out to find Minnie flat on her side bawling for all she was worth. Shit! I could see something poking out of her, but had no idea if it was the right thing (front legs and nose, like a diver).  I ran back in the house and changed into my jeans, got a few exam gloves (figured I’d have to pull the lamb). I went back out, gloved up and lubed up, and didn’t have to go too far to realize the lamb was in perfect position. Still she bellowed. When he was a little further out I pulled, to assist her in expelling him. A little black ram lamb (he seemed large at the time). I toweled him off as she licked his little face. There was junk hanging from her rear that didn’t look like afterbirth, and OMG, after a short time, number two was out. So it really is true – black is slimming.  No WAY did she look like she had been carrying two lambs.  The second one was a ewe lamb, vigorous and healthy, and a miniature of her sire, like so many of her half siblings. Colin is of a color pattern called gulmoget by the Shetlanders that NASSA says is uncommon, and Colin seems to be on a one ram mission to change that statistic.

Pebbles and her twin ram lambs.

Pebbles and her twin ram lambs.

So here are the final stats: out of 5 ewes I got 12 lambs (more than I expected in my “5 sets of twins” dreams of last December).  Out of those 12 lambs 7 were ram lambs (with 6 surviving) and 5 ewe lambs.  And of those 7 ram lambs, 3 are solid black, one is moorit (brown), one is black gulmoget with a white flecked face (called smirslet), and one is…gulmoget for now, but has blaget markings and will likely lighten to a gray or cream color as he ages. Of the 5 ewes, 2 are black, 2 are black gulmoget (one is kind of a tricolor), and one is moorit gulmoget.  This last one (actually the first one – she’s Cinnamon’s baby) is a definite keeper, and already has a name, suggested by a friend that came to visit: Nutmeg. A perfect name for her color, pattern, and family.

So what I have here, even with the stress and not entirely positive outcome, is an embarrassment of riches. Especially as I watch them now, racing around in a pack of lambs, circling the house at a full gallop once, twice, three times, sweeping by as their mothers graze greedily on the fresh spring grass. The first few times I let them all out I was glad that a) I live in a rural area (and barnyard noises aren’t something to complain about) and b) I don’t have neighbors that live that close. The constant baaing by the mothers trying to locate their babies, and the babies crying to locate their mothers after they’d strayed too far –was a cacophony of sheepy bleating. Not quite music to my ears (to be honest, the cries of the babies – any babies – upsets me nearly as much as it does their mothers). Now that they’re all a little older, the routine is more relaxed and the babies get to know the property, it’s not nearly as noisy.

So my little herd is up to 20 now. I can hardly believe I have 20 head of sheep here. So fulfilling yet it makes me yearn for more (land!). I’ll be deciding who stays and who goes in the coming weeks and months, since I really can’t keep more than a dozen head on this property, but for now I’m just enjoying these little bouncing embodiments of spring, just as Mother Nature overflows with the riches of green growth and renewal that flood the senses in this most wonderful of seasons.

Heat wave!

Eloise with a shrew.

Eloise with a shrew in the grass.

It was a sweltering hot day here in the PNW, our third in a row (with another week to come) and a total treat!  At midday today pretty much everything (except humans, judging by the road noise) was down for an afternoon siesta.  The cats ran out the door the first chance they got this morning; I try to keep them in, but they are enamored of the out-of-doors, and Madeline and Eloise seem to be dedicated to slowly working their way through the shrew population.  I’ve discovered shrews are a little dopey when it comes to self-preservation, and when trapped they tend to roll over and kick instead of squirming and running away.  It’s kind of cute, as they are fat and covered with a plush mole-like fur, but it’s not going to improve the population count, seeing as they aren’t much bigger than a quarter (25 cent piece).  But even the cats are quiet now, all of them finding a shady spot to snooze the day away.  Blackcap sleeps in the pot of thyme on the deck, underneath the now-full canopy of wisteria.  The half of the pot that’s not completely shaded by the wisteria vine is overflowing with blooming thyme, and though I planted chives in the other half, they either failed to sprout or Blackcap’s habits crushed them as they sprouted.  I’ll have to look for another spot for chives (front garden, after I fence it off from all the critters).

I made an omelette for breakfast this morning, though it turned into a frittata by the time I got done chopping vegetables.  It was delicious and

I didn't share, though Farley lobbied hard.

I didn’t share, though Farley lobbied hard.

filling and was basically all I ate all day.  It’s too hot to cook, anyway, so it worked out fine.  A lot of the veggies were locally grown, as the produce is coming in fast and thick now at the farmers market.  It makes me feel bad that I’m so behind in my gardening.  My pathetic, half planted garden is just sprouting, and I still haven’t planted my dozen or so squash plants in my squash patch (mostly pumpkin, but also zucchini, delicata (I get so tired of Word auto-correcting that word to ‘delicate’), some gourds and butternut).  I planted some more potatoes late this evening, once the sun dipped behind the trees, and also repaired the damage from the @#!%&*ing! sheep.  Pebbles and her goaty children (there was a time when I seriously wondered if Pebbles was a pygora goat and if I’d been duped by the person who sold her to me), Minnie and Fergus, leaped over the fence while I was inside the house for a short time and managed to prune two rows of bean seedlings and a bunch of my onion transplants, not to mention all the volunteer borage plants.  They

Pebbles (on right) with Fergus as a lamb.

Pebbles (on right) with Fergus as a lamb.

trampled my beet spouts and ran through my sprouting lettuce patch too.  And of course did a number on the fencing as they ran to get out (who knows how they got in, whether jumping or scrambling over).  It frustrates the heck out of me as now all free-roam privileges are on hold.  If they are out I will literally have to sit guard at the garden patch, and I don’t really have time for that.

If I were a morning person I could have gotten a lot more done out there if  I’d started before 10:00 a.m. today, before the sun got high enough to create serious heat.  But I’m not.  Instead I brewed some tea and read a novel on the deck.  It was a perfect morning for it and I was able to finish the book – The Blessings of the Animals by Katrina Kittle.  It would probably be called ‘women’s fiction’ (but not chick lit or romance) if you wanted to fit it with a label or genre, and I enjoyed it immensely.  It’s not often you read a novel that really gets the animals right (behaviors), and rarer still that the animals play a meaningful role in the lives of the humans (unless the book is about this issue precisely).  This was a novel about human characters and their sometimes messy lives and relationships, and, without saying it, how the animals make our lives better.  The title is the most overt, and pretty much the only, declaration of this throughout the book.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.  It’s the second novel I’ve read recently that has a female veterinarian as the lead character.  The previous book, while enjoyable, was more of a chick lit book than this one.

At any rate, it was a lovely way to spend a sunny summer Sunday morning.  My eyeballs hurt afterward, though.  It’s the same kind of ache I used to get as a kid, when me and my little brother would wake up early on Saturday mornings to watch Saturday morning cartoons for a few hours.  Our eyes would be fixed on the screen for so long that rotating them to look to the side or up would hurt, as the little eye muscles cramped in place.  Evidently reading isn’t much exercise for the eye muscles either.  Ow.

(Baby?) Queen with attendants outside the hive.

Bee mystery: (Baby?) Queen with attendants outside the hive.

The bees were wild in the sun and heat, flying out in great spirals all day, and somehow not colliding even though there are so many that they look like they could use a tiny air traffic controller out there.  An inspection would be a good idea, but that makes me wilt just thinking about it.  It was way too hot to suit up in a bee jacket and veil, and to put on a full pair of pants instead of shorts.  Since the Warre hive is the one that I really need to figure out, it’s all a moot point anyway, because I can’t get in there without totally destroying things (comb is attached to sides of hive, so there’s no way to lift out a bar of comb to inspect it without breaking everything apart).  As I left for a grocery store run this afternoon I noticed a little cluster of bees on the back corner of the hive.  I went out to look and it was a queen, kind of plump, with a dozen or so attendants.  By the time I got home from the grocery an hour or so later, they were all gone.  Into the hive, hopefully!  She was just sitting there; I thought for a minute that maybe she came out because it was so hot in the hive (haha!), but the most likely scenario is that the hive swarmed at some point in the past few days when I wasn’t home, and this was perhaps a young queen readying for a maiden flight.  The only reason I think this is most likely is because of that plumpness – most adult queens I’ve seen are sleeker, more slender than this one looked, so I’m guessing she was newly hatched.  Also, there have been a ton of drones in the hive (peeking in the observation windows) recently as well as hundreds dead and dying drones around the hive.  The hive was very testy today, so I wasn’t able to look in the window at all.  We’ll see what the coming days tell us.

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