The best of intentions have been waylaid once again. Life has a way of happening – time marches on and all that – and before you know it an entire month passes by. There’s no question that the month of May into June is a busy one in the Northern hemisphere, and especially if you’re at all outdoorsy or garden-minded. And here in the Seattle area, it’s almost like living in the tropics (well, except for the cool temps) – the vegetative growth this time of year is just phenomenal. The jungle-like growth peaks in late June (solstice) and from here on out it will slow down as the flowers and seed pods begin to form, just as much going on but not quite so frenetic feeling as the juicy spring growth.
This is, of course, a long winded entrance to saying that I can’t believe it’s been over a month since my last post here! Despite my best intentions to stay more current and conversational with frequent short posts, I’m once again playing catch up here on interests, doings and updates. A lot can happen in a month, and here are some of the things I’ve been up to (I’ll probably miss more than I’ll report on!).
The weather continues to be a major player, with most of May being unseasonably cold, and plenty of the wet stuff too. June followed suit, and while it is a skooch warmer, it’s been rainy and cool for much of the month. The bees are hanging in there. I had a scare a couple of weeks ago where I thought I’d lost my queen, but things seem to be okay. I did an inspection were I saw no larvae at all (compared to my jam packed frames of mid-May). A more thorough inspection (like, every single frame) the next day showed a handful of small larvae on one (just one!) frame. The rest of the frames that had comb (only about 50 percent of the frames have comb built so far) were capped cells, with some burr comb that looked like supersedure (queen) cells. I also saw a large number of dead drones on the stoop below the landing – obviously there’d been a good sized hatch at some point.
The frames all felt lighter than they did just a few weeks earlier, but at the advice of another beekeeper I waited and did another inspection a week later (rather than run out to purchase a new queen to introduce). He felt that perhaps the lack of larvae was just the fact that the queen had nowhere to lay eggs – yet. As a new hive this year, the bees have been working around the clock to build comb, as well as tend brood, collect pollen and nectar and all the other myriad things they do to keep the hive going. On my next inspection I found more larvae and even eggs (normally hard to see) in many open cells. The capped brood had hatched and there was now room for more laying. More hatch means more bees to build more comb and collect more nectar, etc. The collecting nectar part has been a little weak, due to the previously mentioned wet, cold weather. The bees can handle one or the other, somewhat, but the combination keeps them in the hive and grounded.
A chance conversation yesterday with another beekeeper at the local hardware store (I knew one of the employees there had hives, but hadn’t run into him before) made me realize that my bees were hungry. I took out the feeder back in May when they were going great guns (lots of brood and lots of honey being made), but the ensuing wet weather, large hatch, and lack of available nectar had them surviving on the honey stores they’d just begun to make. The light bulb came on as he talked – my frames were so light…no wonder! I put a pint of sugar water out there yesterday evening and it was drained by midday today. I checked to be sure it hadn’t just leaked out (nope) and filled it up again. This weekend has been very wet, though today it’s been merely overcast, not raining. As long as they’re draining it like this, I will continue to feed them. We’re a couple weeks out from blackberry blooming – the annual nectar bonanza for bees in this area – and by then I’ll hopefully have plenty of healthy bees ready to maximize the abundance and store enough honey to see them through the winter months.
The garden is coming along slowly too. I finally got all the compost spread and planted some seeds a few weeks back. When I planted what seeds I had, I realized how gi-normous the garden plot is (~765 sq. ft); while I’ve had larger vegetable gardens before (I’m thinking of the Jack-and-the Beanstalk bounty of when I lived along the Issaquah Creek – fertile bottomland where you basically just dropped a seed and stood back), but this one is my first with ‘just me’ and exclusively for veggies. Most of my gardening in the past decade or so has been medicinal herbs and edible landscaping beds versus a true vegetable garden plot. I have it about half planted now, and need to get a few more things in the ground before it gets too late. I have some stuff for fall planting, too, so there’s time, but with solstice just a day away, it feels more urgent. And of course there’s the maintenance of weeding and pest control. Slugs have been dining on my lettuce sprouts, as well as my pumpkin and green bean seedlings. I go out at night with a flashlight and collect the offenders, then feed them to the ducks the next day.
The critters are all doing well – the sheep are happy on their green pasture and plenty of browse. The pasture needs mowing right now, as they tend to ignore all the seed heads in favor of tender sprouts and leafy browse (the mowing is scheduled for next Saturday). I let them out to graze the rest of the property too, though they usually end up on the front lawn. The littlest sheep, Pebbles, is especially goatlike in her foraging. I see her standing on her hind legs trying to get up to low hanging branches of the maples and fruit trees. She loves any pruning trimmings, and of all of them seems happiest with the variety of browse to graze. My friend Susan came by a few weeks ago and loaded up Bo and Curly, the two horned boys. She’s the one who kept them for me last summer until I got my pasture fenced. It’s a win-win for us both – she gets her steep pastures mowed and my pasture isn’t overgrazed. And the other three – Pebbles, Cinnamon, and Conan (Coco) – aren’t bullied by the two more aggressive ones. When they come back from their summer mowing job it’s likely that one or both will go to the butcher. Bo can be a jerk – butting the others over food as well as the fence, gate, wall, etc. After a couple months in the confinement area (during the winter they are off the pasture to prevent overgrazing) he starts making moves at me too, which will earn him a trip to the freezer this year. Since he’s super aggressive with the dogs, they can have the last laugh dining on him all winter.
The ducklings have been growing and thriving – they’ve been out in the chicken tractor for several weeks now and are loving it – a fresh patch of grass every day or so, and a pan of water to swim and play in. They are beginning to look like ducks, feathering out and are even growing wings now. Chicks grow wings pretty much immediately – within the first week or so they have feathered out wings and usually tail feathers too, even while the rest is just fuzz. Ducklings’ wings are just useless stubbies until about four or five weeks, when they start to grow longer and even grow wing feathers. Right now they have juvenile plumage, which means that they all look like females. They are all still mostly peeping, but every once in a while I hear a quack, so I know there’s for sure at least one female in the bunch (male ducks don’t (can’t) quack). They continue to be very wary of me, but the dogs don’t faze them. Pal loves to point on them, when he’s not pointing on the chickens or hunting moles (he’s a champion mole hunter – at least two so far! – he’s lucky I don’t mind the pits he digs on his hunts.