Counting down the days

I am counting down the days. To what you ask?   To a couple of things:  planting in the garden and the blooms of Spring flowers.  Why these two things?  Once we can plant in the garden, that means it’s closer to the time that we can eat from the garden and once there are blooms of Spring flowers, that means the bees are pretty safe and there is a great chance I will continue to have bees.  It’s the time when I get to do a sigh of relief that I don’t have to be cold anymore, I don’t have to worry that the bees are going to freeze or starve to death and I get giddy with the anticipation of watching the stuff we plant grow and produce.  It’s a new beginning every year for us, for nature and for my sanity. I will hold my breath for another couple of weeks because right this moment simply isn’t normal.  I am hoping that this isn’t just Mother Nature having a hot flash and it really is an early Spring.

That first paragraph up there?  I wrote that in February.  When it got hot.  In February.  It is now the end of March and I am finishing this post.  Since that paragraph, we had a ridiculous cold snap.  “They” say we always have a “killing frost”  between the 10th and 20th of March.  Guess what? March 11 came and brought the killing frost that lasted a week.  A week!  It was horrible.  It was cold.  I lost the blooms on at least 2 peach trees.  Then March 20th came and I was happy because that officially meant Spring.  It was lovely.  Mother Nature decided two days later that, she lost her mind and blasted us with cold weather again.  Enough already, lady!  So, now it’s March 28th and all is mostly well. The rains are here, the warmer weather is here.  Seems that MN has calmed herself or maybe found some hormone replacement therapy.

By this time of year,  I have already written a complete February blog post.  In addition, I feel like it’s been forever since we’ve done anything outside to benefit the homestead.  But it hasn’t been forever, since it is now the end of March and we have done stuff outside and I am just behind in telling you about it.  I refuse to junk this whole post that was 9 and 3/4 finished, so I will just add to it all the things that have happened since I started it.

The garden is completely presentable and I can look out the back door and smile instead of cringe.   We finished the retaining wall by drilling holes and putting in rebar (did you know you need a certain type of drill bit to drill through railroad ties?  THAT was a learning experience 3 bits later).   The soil looks so good freshly tilled.  It’s the little things that make me smile.  It’s kind of like how it is so satisfying the see the freshly vacuumed carpet lines?  You know what I am talking about, don’t try to deny it!  Anyway, the retaining wall is to help keep the soil from washing out of the garden and to build it up so there is less of a slope.  As for building the wall (yep, I went there),  the Hubs dug a little bit of a trench, we lined it with plastic to prevent any seepage of the preservatives of the wood into the garden and then we put in the ties three high.  The side pieces went in to help stabilize the wall and put a double layer in front of the asparagus since we couldn’t fit them behind it next to the fence.  Then the plastic was pulled up and stapled to the top after we put in the rebar.  The mushroom compost and topsoil was delivered and dumped in and the Hubs spread it in.  He has done an exceptional job with preparing the garden this year, mostly by himself!  Kudos to him!  We decided that the garden was plenty big, so we did not expand it this year.   While I was away gallivanting with a bunch of ladies from college this past weekend, the Hubs tilled,  raked and shoveled and spread all the good stuff in the garden and planted 3 types of carrots and radish.  We will add  beets, lettuce, yellow zucchini, sugar snap peas, corn, cucumbers, cauliflower, broccoli, lima beans, swiss chard and butternut squash.

We trimmed the orchard back the first of February I think (again, the problem with not finishing the darn post) which is always a love/hate process.  I love it because it makes the trees grow better and makes them happier, but I hate it because I always think it’s going to kill them because we (you know by now that when I say “I” I mean me and when I say “we” I mean the Hubs, right?) trim them back so much.  But it has always ended up well.  As I mentioned above, the peach trees bloomed in February a little and the beginning of March.  I still have one peach tree blooming and the pear and plum trees are blooming.  We finally have an orchard AND bees (I will get to the ladies below).

We (the Hubs) tried something new on the homestead: water kefir!  It’s a great probiotic and if made right tastes really good, especially carbonated!  We have tried grape, cherry, raspberry, orange and cinnamon/coconut milk.  I have put these in order of good to yucky.  Do you ever find that things smell better than they taste?  Coffee is one of those for me although I like it enough to drink one cup a day.  That is not true with the cinnamon/coconut milk kefir water.  It is NOT GOOD.  It is supposed to help with sugar cravings, but I can’t get past the taste.  So, I will have to find another way.  Or, I will just continue to eat sugar.  Probably the latter.  Definitely the latter.

So, water kefir.  What the heck is it?  Water kefir is water with kefir in it.  You’re welcome.  No, really, it kinda of is that. You have different kinds of kefir to make different things.  You can use milk kefir to make cheese (which I will try) and you can use water kefir to make kefir water.  It’s a cultured beverage that is sweet and can be bottled to develop soda-like carbonation.  So the Hubs is hoping to replace his daily soda with this.  Basically kefir grains are used to ferment the water and create a probiotic beverage that you can keep flat or carbonate.   Kefir grains aren’t actually grain grains.  They are symbiotic grains of bacteria and yeast that ferment a specific liquid – in this case, a sugar-water-fruit liquid.  Once they are ready to use, they are plump little translucent balls about the size of a pea.  You feed the kefir grains with sugar-water and then make different drinks from the liquid  left when you strain out the kefir grains. Adding the fruit or fruit juice will create a second fermentation as sugars from the flavoring feed the bacteria, producing more gases and resulting in carbonation!  You can add fruit juice, dried fruit or even fresh fruit or a fresh fruit reduction.  You put the kefir grains in more sugar-water once you have gotten your water kefir, and they continue to reproduce and which gives you an endless supply of kefir grains and to make more water kefir!

BEES!  We have them!  The horizontal hive is moving along at a slower pace than the other hive, but still there. The regular hive went nuts.  Just plain crazy!  In a good way.  I put out sugar-water to mimic a nectar flow which spurs queenie to lay more as the food is outside the hive.  I  put some pollen patties on the hives for protein. They will mix this (or natural pollen)  with the sugar-water or honey to feed the new babies.  The regular hive went so nuts and was so strong that I split it last week.  I took one brood box and left it with brood and honey and bees and added an empty brood box on top so queen bee has more room to lay eggs, at the pond.  I took the second brood box that had some brood and honey and bees and moved it up to the orchard and added a second brood box that was empty to give the queen room to lay in that one.  Why did I do this?  If mama bee doesn’t feel like she has enough room to lay, she leaves and takes half the hive with her.  This leaving thing is called a swarm. So, to hopefully discourage her from doing this and keeping her home, I gave her more room.

Splitting a hive also means that one of the hives doesn’t have a queen.  As these ladies are self-sufficient, they will (hopefully) just make one from a few of the babies that are in the queenless hive.  All babies are initially fed a substance secreted from the worker bee called royal jelly.  Eventually, worker bees stop the jelly and just feed honey and pollen (called bee bread) and the babies grow up to be workers. If they determine the existing queen is lazy, sick or she leaves with half the hive, they can create a new one by continuing the royal jelly exclusively if the babies are young enough.  If there are no new eggs or larvae and only capped brood, too late!  They are also super-duper smart and don’t put all of the royal jelly in one basket-they feed several larvae just the jelly and make more than one queen. The first one to hatch (after 15-16 days from when the egg is laid) kills the ones that haven’t.  If more than one hatches at once…that’s when you get the celebrity death match and hopefully one prevails.  Once a queen hatches and survives, she goes on her mating flight and then she can start laying.  So, I have to wait a bit longer (probably another 10 days) to check both the hives to make I have two queenright hives (if not, I will have to buy a queen either from someone local that raises queens or from the interwebs). Yes and No.  Yes, the worker bees are female and can lay eggs (and you can tell if they are laying because they lay multiple eggs in one cell rather than one per cell like a queen).  No, they can’t lay an egg and make a queen because although worker bees can lay eggs, the eggs won’t be fertilized as only the queen mates.  Unfertilized eggs laid produce male bees (drones) and they won’t mate with their sisters.  I have an idea of which hive doesn’t have a queen (Pond hive) because they are acting very aggressive and moody right now.  Keep your figures crossed, say a little prayer, stand on your head…whatever you feel the need to do!!

If you didn’t know, the Yellow Dog turned 11 last month!

Oh and we sold 23 chickens.  They were too old to eat and they weren’t producing more than they ate, so they went. The guy said he wanted to breed them, so there you go.  The remaining 16 ladies are killing it!  13-16 a day and eating far less.  That, my friends, is a win-win.

Happy Spring!


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