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Archive for the tag “beeyard”

A good grass year

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Everything is still green and juicy.  Can you see the bird dog on point?

It rained again last night.  We’ve been having an unusually wet July so far, and though I’d normally be complaining, I’m totally good with it this year.  After last year’s drought, and the year before not much wetter, not to mention our freaky, end-of-times heat wave this past April, it feels good, even soothing, to have what is essentially a normal weather year. And yes, it’s great for grass growing on my shade-challenged little hillside. Last year the grass was done by the end of June. Once solstice passes, the whole growth thing shifts. Everything seeds out and if there’s no water the grasses just go dormant. I don’t have the well capacity (or hose capacity!) to do much more than spot watering so these rains are welcome. The sheep are still getting plenty of graze considering the time of year and the flock size. To that end, I’m managing the sheep differently than in previous years, partly because of the number – I just don’t have the grazing capacity, given the aforementioned shade challenges, to run much more than 5-head. And until two days ago, I’ve been running 11. Now it’s down to 9 (my freezer will be full in a week) and that will ease the pressure. So I feed hay pretty much year round, just less of it when the grass is growing. I’m still making decisions with the flock, and hope to breed this fall – it’s been a few years since my last lambs – and I’m culling for both fleece quality and temperament. After Minnie’s twins turned out to be as friendly as two puppies (and have remained so, two years later, bringing their mother along), I discovered how delightful it can be to have easy, approachable sheep. And seriously, on this small setup it’s crazy to do otherwise. So the wild, untamable ones are slowly being weeded out. I still have a couple more out there, but one will likely stay until her natural end (sentimental, plus she’s an excellent mother who produces babies that are not as wild as her) and the other one, well, we’ll see.  After she lambs she may be easier, plus I culled her dam, and I’m hoping without that freak-out influence from her mother she’ll follow the lead of the rest of the flock and at least get close enough to nose-touch my outstretched hand.

The songbird season has also shifted since solstice, with babies seemingly everywhere. And the song is changing. The Swainson’s daytime song has decreased as nesting goes into full swing. It’s one thing to mark your territory with song, it’s another to attract potential predators with them, and setting females and then the hatchlings and nestlings are very vulnerable. Plus the territories are well established now as everyone’s nesting.  The evening song is still magical, though I’ll miss it when it ceases altogether in another few weeks. I can guess where certain species are in their nest cycles by their song: the black-headed grosbeak had been insistent and melodic the last week, so are probably on  nest/brood number two now); the robins are still melodic but slowing down, with probable nesting number three underway, for the last of the season before it’s time to bulk up for winter migrations. The tanagers and western wood peewees are intermittent as well. Everyone is too busy to sing, with all those mouths to feed. And here the rain is helpful too, as it keeps the insect populations bountiful as well, so feeding the babies is easier. The drought last year was hard on everyone, from grass to invertebrates to feathered and woolly residents.

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Still filled with song in the evenings.

I saw a fat baby robin fly after its parent down the driveway as I was leaving for work one morning. And the other day I came home to a juvenile crow hopping and poking around the driveway as my car followed it slowly up to the gate. It finally flew up to the gate rail, then up to a low cedar branch when I got out of the car. There weren’t any screaming parents around, or any other crows at all, which was odd, because although it was fully feathered, it shouldn’t have been alone. I wondered if maybe it got bonked by a car as it flew too low across the road, and maybe lay stunned long enough that the parents left it for dead. Even that would be odd – crows are excellent parents and don’t give up easily. I was bringing the yard waste and garbage bins up from the road, and he watched me nervously from his branch. I picked some thimble berries from along the driveway, and pulled a little bit of meat off the rotisserie chicken I’d just purchased at the grocery on the way home, and put these on top of the yard waste bin, close to where he was perched, and left him there to go up to the house and unload the groceries. An hour or so later I went down to check. He was gone, and the meat and berries still on the top of the bin (Farley was right there for the meat). I hope he found his way back to his crow family.

A brown creeper nested in the loose bark of a cedar tree along the driveway.  I couldn’t get a good shot of the parent bird coming in or out, but coming out the view was akin to someone trying to get into their skinny jeans, as she squeezed out of this impossibly small space to go get more insects for the babies.

And then there are my dark-eyed juncos, a.k.a. Oregon juncos. In early June I was trimming some overgrown salmonberry branches I’d cut from behind the fence line, walking over to dump them into the pasture for the sheep, when a bird suddenly flitted from underneath my feet. I looked to see a junco on the fence, tsking madly at me. I turned to where I’d just walked. Juncos are ground nesters, usually tucking their perfect little nest beneath a fern or hidden in a bit of weedy overgrowth.  But there was nothing nearby…or was there?  It was all grass, but I saw a larger tuft of grass and walked back and…sure enough. This seemed extreme, even for a junco. But really, what better camouflage then  “in plain sight.” The only problem with this, aside from the fact that I’d nearly flattened it walking to the fence, is it was perilously close to Pal’s flight path – he runs down the driveway multiple times a day at breakneck speed (Farley too, though he’s not as fast as he once was), in the grass just to the right of the driveway tracks. If he didn’t find the nest with his mad bird dog skillz, then surely he would trample it by accident. And the sheep run down there too, grazing on the grass and sometimes galloping and leaping and tossing their heads in sheepy exuberance, sometimes being rounded up by an exuberant Daisy. No one would see this nest in time. So I added this bit of attractiveness to the landscape – the junco kiddie corral. (click on the photos for captions)

Judging by their size and feathering, I figured them to be a few days old when I first found them. They fledge (leave the nest) in 14 days, so it wasn’t too long before they were gone, off with mom and dad to the safety of the pasture and woods, with their little calls a zippery sound that’s hard to describe; it almost sounds like tiny chains being dropped. The male kept watch, flying and singing his song, helping feed the kids and warning them of any dangers.

A week or so later another pair were up by the house, the male trilling loudly from the corner of the roof, boisterous and animated, and, with a little anthropomorphism thrown in, one could say proudly. And the female was nearby, letting me get remarkably close as she hopped around the driveway, picking up bits of dried grass and dog hair so she looked like she was sporting a bushy, 1880s-style mustache. She’d fly off furtively and disappear with her beakful of nesting material, but I knew it had to be close. I finally was able discover its location by watching from inside the house. The pair would land on the railing of the back porch frequently, setting the cats to chittering at the window in feline excitement. So I hid in the door of the closet to watch them and saw the female duck behind a tuft of grass at the bottom of my retaining wall. Voila!  I checked it for several days in a row – the sheep ate a large fern leaf that was providing much of the cover – dang. First it was just the nest, looking completed, but no sign of the pair, no scolding. Maybe they abandoned the site? The next day there was one single egg there. The following day, a second egg, and a day later, egg number three and then she was setting on them. Time to put up the Junco kiddie corral again. This one would have to protect against the chickens too. The first nest was further down the driveway than they usually wander this time of year (plenty to eat up by the house), but this nest is within a few feet of my back door and if the chickens found it the eggs, or hatchlings, would be quite the delicacy (the chickens love stuff like this and regularly eat the cats’ abandoned hunting trophies: shrews, mice, small voles).

The fence against the wall would deter all but the cats. I could add some netting over the top, to prevent the most obvious access (the wall is about 4 feet tall here), but the cats can squeeze through the bottom openings of the woven wire fence too. I could put up chicken wire around the bottom (and with all this construction, I worry about disturbing the juncos enough that they abandon the nest). So the solution is total cat confinement for the next few weeks. The female began setting on June 29, which means the babies will hatch around July 10th (nothing so far) or 11th, and they’ll be fledged by July 25 at the latest. Then the cats can start going out at night again. Maybe. In the meantime it’s a bit of a circus keeping them from darting out the door every time I open it. They begin to get stir crazy after a while. All my area rugs are bunched up in the mornings, as they attack them and chase each other around at night, batting found objects around (something clicky/draggy last night – have no idea what it was). I found their cat carrier pushed across the floor of the loft one morning – not sure who was doing what up there, but sometimes living with cats is like living with monkeys – they get into everything and everywhere, sometimes literally climbing the walls, but certainly the window screens and clawing up the furniture.

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One of my favorite field guides.  My ex-mother-in-law gave it to me many years ago, and I reference it often this time of year.

 

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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.

 

Just dogs

So for all my enthusiasm about classes and events presenting themselves this year, I’m a little topped out these days.  Well, maybe more than a little.  Recently, I’ve been as up and down emotionally as during any of Cutter’s bad spells (I miss him so, sometimes always), and it’s all of my own doing, mostly.  There’s no law that says just because a cool class comes across your radar that you have to sign up for it, yet it seems I didn’t get the memo.  Between extracurricular classes and the daily grind of chores – critters, housework, yardwork, etc., I’m in need of a vacation!  There’s no question that this girl likes and needs her down time to recharge and refresh and reconnect, but lately it seems that if/when I do have that time it’s only tinged with guilt and shoulds.  Yuck.  

April has been busy, with two classes (one online where I haven’t started week one’s assignment and week four is coming right up…sigh) and coaching on Monday nights (and two weekends booked with classes as well).  The class that isn’t online has left me in tears twice now (week two and week four), yet it’s probably the most important one of all.  It’s my obedience class with Miss Daisy, who tries so hard but for whom self control is a major challenge.  Maybe it’s the fact that she’s a girl with an agenda raised by bird dogs, or maybe (more likely) it’s the fact that of all the Rottweilers I’ve owned in the past nearly-thirty years, she’s the one I’ve probably been the most lax with, and she’s the one who really needed more from the get-go, with her history (shelter adoption/ spent her first 9 months in a kennel run with her dam and siblings) and temperament.  She’s turning my crank, and mirroring back to me all my foibles and “too much” recently, and we’re quite the pair.

Let me stop right here and say she’s a sweet, sweet dog, who absolutely loves people, unlike my darling Wil, my beloved, my heart, who was barely civil to me, never mind people he didn’t know (and of course I loved him to distraction) but he was nothing if not obedient.  And maybe that’s where I erred.  Having seen what “total control” does to a dog with a soft heart (never cruel, but always “in control”), over two decades later I just let Daisy be Daisy, and she’s exactly the wrong dog with whom I should have had this lackadaisical approach.  I could have sawed Wil’s leg off and he would barely have protested.  Yet a “tip them” nail trim with Daisy has me wondering if I need to muzzle her next time.  It’s crazy when I think of the dichotomy.  

There is only one other dog in the obedience class, a galooping young Great Dane puppy of six or eight months, all legs and awkward angles.  He easily outshines Daisy in every way, obedient and calm, responsive and smart (she’s extremely smart, too, but you can’t really tell in class).  As I watched him the other night, after Daisy bashed me in the chin with her hard head for the second time (thought my jaw was dislocated for a moment), I felt more despair and frustration with my enthusiastic girl.  I don’t even attempt half of the exercises in class, because she’s so barely under control as it is.  About midway through the class I felt her control slipping, and the last 30 minutes was just a series of admonishments and jerking her no-pull harness with little result as she lunged and whined in excitement.  

When the Dane puppy was distracted on a recall exercise (toys placed in his path to proof him) I laughed at his cute response.  You could almost hear his “Gawrsh! A ball!” as he stopped to pick it up on his way back to his mistress.  It was adorable, with his gangly legs and bar towel-sized ears flopping.  I realized when I laughed that I’d “oopsed” and said aloud “that’s so cute” as his owner put him back in a stay for the next try.  I received a mild admonishment from her “It’s not cute” and understood my faux pas.  I realize that he’ll be a huge dog, and it’s important to get control early, but that gangly little guy (who’s taller than Daisy right now) will likely be dead in eight years, if one goes by breed life span statistics, and it just seems like that adorable essence of him is what makes living with dogs so pleasurable.  For me.  And I wonder now that maybe I’m not cut out for this–for a dog or breed of Daisy’s kind of determination–anymore.  I’ve become so soft in my “old age,” knowing how little time we have with these bright beings, and how I want to enjoy them and let them enjoy life to the fullest (yes, it’s a contradiction at times, I know).  So yeah, I had a sniffle in the parking lot as we left, for my own mistakes with Daisy (can’t tell you how many times I’ve laughed at her adorable misbehavior, though I’ve tried to stifle it…) and for the long road ahead in trying to reel her in without crushing her.  

Yes, Daisy is a handful and a half, and I’m kicking myself for not continuing with classes last fall, when we finished puppy class as one of the best pupils.  The timing wasn’t right for me, or so I thought, and in the meantime she’s grown to a young teenager, sweet yet willful, and reactive with little self control (the bird dog influence?).  I’m beyond thankful that I have such a nice temperament to work with (i.e., non-aggressive) but she’s not going to make it easy, either.  She’s all “me me me” and her only dark side is her propensity to bully Farley (who’s nobody’s dog except mine, and that’s part of the problem). 

And ah, my sweet Farley-foo.  I am so utterly in love with this dog!  We just celebrated our sixth anniversary together (it was April 14, 2006, that he came to live with me, a shelter rescue by my friend Asya) and I can hardly believe my free spirited little sprite is now the old man of the family (Pal is 2 ½ – so easy and sweet that I don’t write about him!, Daisy is 1 ½) at age…? Eight?  I pray it’s not more than that, as I want him with me for as long as possible, but the longer I have him the more likely it is that he’s older than I thought at the beginning, when I estimated him at nine months to a year (and a part of me knowing I was kidding myself even then).  He was probably at least two when I got him, so eight years old now is doable.  His eyes are getting a little cloudy, and I think his muzzle has a bit of sugar dusting in the brown fur, but he’s still spunky and playful, and freaking adorable.  

Alas, however, he did manage to develop a condition that has seemingly added to his age.  I mentioned it a couple of months ago, when we were still in the diagnosis stage.  After the visit to the veterinary dermatologist it was confirmed, he has symmetrical lupoid onychodystrophy, or SLO (cause who can pronounce that last word?!).  What that means is he has an autoimmune disease (likely) that causes his nails/claws to lift up and come off.  It’s rather painful for him, and though there’s treatment (he’s on doxycycline and niacinimide, and pain meds as needed) there are no guarantees.  His nails are growing back irregularly, brittle and gnarled looking, but the quicks are exposed and painful and his favorite game (ball or toy thrown) often leaves him limping.  I’m hoping we get to some sort of remission with it, but it’s a lifelong thing ahead of us.  Yes, it’s a cakewalk compared to Cutter’s epilepsy, but it still sucks big time.  Sucks for him and, honestly, sucks for me, to have a special needs dog yet again.  I was feeling sorry for myself when he was first diagnosed.  I joined the Yahoo support group for people with SLO dogs and was going to whine, then corresponded with a woman with a Rottweiler with SLO (turns out it’s one of the more common breeds that get the condition…and I’d never heard of it in almost 30 years with Rottweilers!) and her other Rottweiler has epilepsy.  Oh.  I think if this had happened while Cutter was alive (and I was also dealing with Dinah’s urinary incontinence and extreme fears of loud noises) I would have run screaming… 

So yeah, I’m a bit topped out these days.  No more classes for me for a while (though there is that felting class in a couple of weeks….reeeally want to sign up).  I’m going to concentrate on getting my website rebuilt, and getting my garden planted.  We’re having a normal to dry April (hallelujah!) and I’m looking forward to more KALE!!!  In the meantime, I pick up my new bees today – Earth Day, so fitting!  I can now call it the beeyard!

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