Archive for May, 2010

Those Darn Broody Hens!

May 31, 2010

I have a broody hen in the chicken house.

Every year it’s the same story.

Spring arrives and her maternal clock begins to tick.  She becomes a little more ornery and starts hoarding all the eggs.  She puffs herself up, filling the favorite nesting box, and screeches at the other hens who are trying to get into the box to lay their eggs.

And I debate…

Do I let her try it again this year?  Will she stay on the eggs the entire 21 days?  If she successfully hatches these eggs, where will I put her and the chicks?

I relented and she’s sitting.  She’s been sitting for almost 21 days.

It used to be that it was very common to have hens that wanted to sit for 21 days and raise chicks.  There’s been so much genetic altering that it’s rare to find broody hens these days.   Our society has demanded a more efficient hen and a hen who’s out of commission for almost a month is not efficient.

It’s fascinating to watch our hen.  The patience to sit for that long in a 1’ x 1’ space, not caring about food and water but totally focused on keeping those eggs warm at an even 90º is amazing to me.  We do hand feed and water her.  It really begins to take a toll on them physically – their comb becomes pale and droopy, a sure sign that they’re not getting what they need.

Probably the biggest nuisance is the fact that other hens do squeeze in with her to lay their eggs.

And  my broody hen gladly accepts the new eggs, tucking them under her feathers to incubate.

So, now I have a lot of eggs, all at different stages of maturation.  I have no idea how many were original eggs and have been under her for 21 days.  Guess we’ll see.

Today, May 31, is day 21.  We’re excited to see if any hatch.  The new pen is ready where we’ll move mom and chicks.  I’m curious to know – if we move out the new chicks, will she keep sitting until some of the others hatch?  Would she go to day 25 or so?

Ahh, homesteading…curious minds want to know!

To follow the daily report on our broody hen, link to our Lazy B Farm page on Facebook:  http://www.facebook.com/pages/Statham-GA/Lazy-B-Farm/53765456482?sid=05f1e80ff846bd0c85ebdd0661a32557&ref=s

This happened several years ago here at the farm.  Hopefully we’ll see this sight again today 🙂

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In the Beginning – Part 3

May 31, 2010

Catherine Anne was born to us on May 13, 1988, 2 and half years after we’d been married.  The awe of motherhood took me by surprise.

My pregnancy had been rather uneventful…until the end.

I went in for my check up, two weeks before my due date, and had gained 16 pounds in one week.  I was so swollen and puffy.  When the doctor checked the reflex in my knee, I kicked him involuntarily!

I was told to go directly to the hospital.  I was appalled.  This was not on the schedule and I wasn’t ready to bring home a baby yet.  I’d been working on crafts and I still needed to clean up that area.  My bag wasn’t packed and mentally I wasn’t quite ready for delivery.  I begged the doctor to let me go home first and then go to the hospital.  He finally relented. I cleaned the house under Dave’s watchful eye and then we went to the hospital.

I had toxemia and the only cure was to get this baby out.  They tried pitocin   without success.  Nothing was working.  Finally I was prepped for a c-section.  I was devastated!  This wasn’t covered in the prenatal class we’d taken.

I remember when they lifted our baby into the air and announced it was a girl.  A girl?  I was so sure we were having a boy.  Not sure why I thought that since I’d never had a baby before and certainly had no idea about the differences in the way each sex carried.

Catherine was so precious, so tiny and so dependent.  I’d made the decision to nurse our baby and as soon as she was born, they laid her on my chest.  Amazing…

Because Catherine was early, she had a low bilirubin count and had to be under lights in our home.  I became engorged because she was so lethargic and didn’t really want to nurse.  The hospital sent over a breast-feeding consultant.  She was incredibly knowledgeable and patient.  She explained how the body worked and how beneficial breast milk was for the baby – not just for nutrition but for other aspects of the baby’s health.  For instance, she told me that if Catherine ever got a cold, don’t use the saline solution that most doctors would prescribe, instead, squirt breast milk up her nose.  She explained that the breast milk was just the right temperature and wouldn’t be as offensive as the saline water; the milk was sweet and would feel good hitting the back of the throat, unlike the saline; breast milk could be absorbed by the lung if it happened to go down the wrong tube – the saline solution in the lung could cause pneumonia;  breast milk had all my antibodies for fighting a cold – the saline solution had none.  Unbelievable!!  As I listened and put into practice the advice and wisdom this nurse shared,  my sphere of thinking began to expand.  Breast milk and nursing were created by our Creator.  What else could our bodies do because of the way they were created?  I began to question a lot of the practices society called acceptable.

I had a greater respect for my body and its functions, wanting constantly to know more.  I also wanted Catherine to have a good start to life.  Food became a point of focus, especially for her.  I started to make my own baby food, grinding up the vegetables that we had eaten and also the meat.  I’d freeze the pureed food in ice trays for easy portion sizes.  Of course at this point in my life, I was satisfied with the fact that I was using frozen vegetables from the store, organic hadn’t even crossed my mind!

Of course, Dave was the first to introduce chocolate to all of our babies!

I’m a bit of a rebel at heart and when we started the regular doctor visits, I’m afraid this aspect of my personality really began to show up.  I questioned the pediatricians constantly, wanting to know “why.”  Doctors aren’t real fond of people like me.  I went to one pediatrician in Seattle who came highly recommended.  It wasn’t long before I was in search of another doctor.

I was uncomfortable with all the shots that were “required.”  For pete’s sake, I’d lived through mumps and some of the other illnesses they were vaccinating for.  I wanted to know why she had to have these shots and was it my choice to say yes or no to their administration?  My biggest battle was over the polio shot.  I’d started reading about vaccinations – pros and cons.  I read an article about the polio vaccine, the difference between the dead virus and the live virus.  I wanted the dead virus one.  Well, they had to special order that one.  I didn’t care and I stood firm on my decision.

I’d read that the live virus polio had the potential to re-infect a person who might be changing the baby’s diaper, especially someone whose immunity might be compromised or an older person whose vaccination was no longer viable.  I wasn’t willing to take that risk.  The dead virus was much safer and still effective.

Interestingly, a couple of years after I’d made this decision to have my children vaccinated with the dead virus of polio, they took the live virus off the market and the only one available was the dead virus vaccination for polio.  What triggered this decision by the higher ups??  An increase in the cases of polio, a medical condition that had almost been eradicated.  Hmmmm, wonder where people were getting it?  Baby diapers perhaps?   …just a thought.

Until I had children and was responsible for another life, I’d never really questioned much about lifestyle and what I was eating.  I really believe this is when my interest in homesteading began in earnest.  I’ve always been interested in that era, the pioneers and how they lived.  Now I wanted to know how to live that lifestyle in today’s society.

My steps were slow but the ever increasing brood came quickly.

Dave was in ministry with a pastor’s salary.  When I was pregnant with number 4, we made a major decision.  Dave was going to start his own recording studio and we were going out on our own.  No more regular income, and no insurance.  Major changes came our way…

Beneficial Bugs for the Garden

May 31, 2010

I’m often asked how I manage the “pests” in my garden. You know, the Squash Bug, Aphids, etc.,  those nuisances that seem to devour a garden overnight.

And, trying to stay “organic” in the process is quite a feat.

I’m learning.  What I’ve learned most recently is that there is quite an army out there that will help you fight the bad guys, you just need to provide a haven for them to hide and reproduce.

The first means of attack against those pests is to provide a barrier of flowers.

Flowers are host plants to many beneficials and their showy, colorful petals are like neon signs to the bugs you want to have in your garden.  I didn’t know this until I took the Master Gardening class.  Fortunately for me and my vegetable garden, I love flowers and had surrounded the outside of my garden with flower gardens.  I plant mostly perrenials because I’m a bit of a lazy gardener and don’t want to hassle with replanting annuals every year.  I do plant some- pansies and petunias, but everything else is on it’s own for survival!

I also plant flowers in and among my vegetable plants.  Marigolds have the notorious reputation of being a repellent against certain pests.  Nasturtiums also are not of favorite of some bugs.

Of course, there are also those flowers that are favorites of some bugs but I’d rather they eat the flowers than devour my vegetables!

Next, become an expert of your beneficial bugs.  Most people know what a Lady Bug looks like but do you know what the larvae looks like?  The larva actually will consume more aphids than the adult beetle.  How about a Lacewing?  Can you spot their eggs on the underside of a leaf?  The eggs look like little balloons suspended in the air on a straight piece of string – it’s quite amazing to see.  A Praying Mantis is familiar to most but could you identify the egg sac in the fall?  It might be confused with a blight or fungus on a branch.  Did you know that those pesky wasps that fly around are actually extremely helpful against those pests in the garden?

Paper Wasp - eating a cabbage caterpillar from my broccoli!

A key to all of this is patience.  Those beneficials take time to build up, but once they start to inhabit your garden, they are a force to be reckoned with.  I rarely spray or powder anything anymore.  I’ve also begun to teach my children what the good bugs look like so they’re careful not to kill them.

Wheel Bug nymph - loves to eat soft bodied "food" like aphids

Learning the beneficials in my garden this year is my new project.  With my camera and the Audubon book of insects and spiders as my reference, we’re making some good head way.

Like this one –

The Long-legged Fly. They're tiny but everywhere. They eat soft bodied insects.

And did you know that Dragon Flies are voracious mosquito eaters??

Know what these are?  My chickens love them – they’re grubs.  The larva stage of beetles.

Now it’s true, at this stage it’s difficult to tell what type of beetles these will grow up to be but for the most part, beetles are very beneficial.  Except those obnoxious Japanese Beetles – squish ’em!!!

And of course, we have a great respect on our farm for spiders.  We even feed them!

Black Widows have to be one of my favorites.  They eat A LOT of bad bugs, they’re shy and timid, and I think they’re beautiful.  I teach the kids to be respectful of them, don’t mess with them unnecessarily because they can sting.

Most people are aware of these guys.  Right now we have lots of babies hopping around the garden.  They’re so fast when they’re little – remind me of human toddlers 🙂

Praying Mantis - about 3/4" long

I must admit I’m really enjoying this project.  Any apprehensions I have about certain bugs are quickly overcome.  To take their picture, I have to set my camera on “macro” and you can’t use telephoto.  The camera has to be directly on top of my subject!  I was a tad nervous about photographing the Paper Wasp but the book said they were fairly docile.  Talk about trusting what you read!  The wasp was fine with the camera and actually stayed quite still while I took several shots.

The other aspect of this project – observance.  I look at my garden a little differently, more thoroughly when I’m checking my plants.

Bugs – they’re fascinating!!

Hauling Hay

May 27, 2010

I’ve heard stories about haying season – loading hay bales from the field and then stacking them in the barn.  Those stories always sounded so nostalgic, so “romantic.”  Yeah, they also wrote about how hard the work was, how itchy and scratchy the hay was, how hot it was outside – so earthy.

When my friend mentioned that she was going to haul some hay to her farm from her family’s farm and that she was doing it by herself, I thought, I should offer to help.  I’ve always wanted to know what it was like to haul hay and I love new experiences.  She readily accepted my offer – that should have been my first clue…

When we arrived, the field was full of square bales and dotted with a round bale here and there.  I was assigned the job of “driver.”  That meant I had to drive very slowly with this 16′ trailer behind me through the field.

I watched my side mirrors intently trying to figure out when to slow the truck so my friend’s nephew could pick up a bale and throw it onto the trailer.  I didn’t want him to have to walk very far, especially since those bales weighed a lot, about  70 – 80 pounds each.

And then, to add to my stress, I had to figure out how to advance from a stopped position smoothly so I didn’t throw my friend off the back as she was climbing up and down this ever increasing pile of hay.

The bales had to be moved into a straight line for the truck to pass by – making it easier to load onto the trailer.

Thankfully it was about 6pm and the heat of the day was subsiding.

While the stack on the trailer was increasing, there was a little bit of time for a short rest.  I’m telling you, this kid was impressive.  He was throwing these bales like it was no big deal.

There’s a trick, that I’m still working on, for getting those bales up that high.  While holding that 70# bale by the strings, you’re supposed to bump it hard with your knee to send it up onto the pile.  It’s so much easier to write than it is to actually do it!

Talk about being fit – I don’t think there’s any gym that could simulate the kind of work that was going on in this hay field.

And finally, the trailer was full.  I’ll admit, only a few of those bales are the ones I attempted to throw.  When I was relieved from my position as driver, most of the work had been done.

80 bales were stacked on this trailer.  This would be our job later – my friend and I would unload and stack the hay at her farm.

While we were stacking the square bales, they were hauling round bales from the upper field.

Timing is crucial with haying.  The hay has to be cut at a certain time, let dry for a certain amount of time, and baled at a certain time.  If any of that timing is off, you could lose your entire year’s worth of hay.

The forecast predicted rain for the next day so everyone was hustling to get the hay in the barn.

This truck (driven by a 17 year old) was stacked with 14 round bales, each weighing approximately 900 pounds.

14 x 900= 12,600  – a little over 6 tons of hay on this one load.  They’d put up over 100 round bales already.

After the trailer was full, my friend’s father came down with the bale wagon – a fascinating piece of machinery.

All the bales left in the field had to be turned on their sides and lined up.

The machine would scoop up the bale and put it on a conveyor belt.  The bale would be pushed onto a platform.

When the platform was full, it would lift those bales and push them against the stack.

So much easier than throwing them by hand onto the truck and then stacking them!

At capacity, this bale wagon could hold 64 bales of hay.

This is the barn where all that hay was going…

Time to unload the hay…

If the opening to the barn was taller, the truck would be driven inside and the whole stack unloaded at once, with the help of hydraulics.

And each stack of hay would be pushed against the previous stack.

But since that wasn’t possible, the stack of 64 bales had to be taken down manually.

Once all the bales were on the ground…

They were carried by hand into the barn and stacked in the stalls.

There’s a method to stacking, especially if it’s new hay.  It’s imperative that there’s space between each bale to allow for air flow.  Otherwise the heat produced by the bales could combust and start a fire.

After we unloaded and stacked those 64 bales of hay, it was time to head back to my friend’s farm to unload the 80 bales on the back of the trailer.

We didn’t finish till 10 pm.  For as hard as this work was, there was a real sense of satisfaction to see those bales all stacked and in place for winter.

Yes, it’s probably the hardest work for the longest amount of time that I’d done with farming.  And yes, I was tired and full of hay and my hands hurt…

But I loved it.

I’m thinking, though, that next time, I’ll share this experience with my children 🙂

After all, I certainly don’t want to be selfish with such a nostalgic, romantic opportunity!

Beneficial Insect: Wheel Bug

May 25, 2010

One of my favorite classes during my Master Gardener classes, was the lecture on bugs.  It was absolutely fascinating and I would love to take more classes because I know we just barely skimmed the surface.

I realized that the insect population in the garden has a direct correlation to the success of my garden.  If the “bad” bugs are overtaking my garden, I’m not going to see much in the way of produce. BUT, if the “good” bugs or beneficial bugs are ruling the garden, then I will see a lot of fruit for my efforts.

In actuality, there are more beneficial bugs than bad bugs.  We just recognize the bad bugs more often because of the damage they cause.

I’ve decided to focus on the beneficials for this summer, trying to learn which ones to “keep” and which ones I should try to get rid of.  Granted, if I have a good amount of the beneficials, then they will take care of the bad bugs.

I’ve seen this critter a lot the last few days while I’m in the garden.  It’s the nymph (baby) of a Wheel Bug – which is part of the Assassin Bug group.  Okay, that word alone, assassin, should be helpful in knowing this is one you want to keep around.  I took these shots of this nymph – it was on my broccoli plant.  They’re not plant specific – they will go where there is food.  Obviously, something was eating my broccoli leaves and that’s all this Wheel Bug nymph needed to know!

I will admit that I used to kill these off as soon as I saw them because I thought they were killing my squash plants.  Then I learned I was wrong during class.  The babies are easy to identify because of their bright colored back-end and when they first emerge, there are bunches of them!

The adults are not so pretty, in fact, to me they look a bit prehistoric.

Instead of reinventing the wheel (no pun intended), I have cut and pasted what someone else has already written about this bug.  The one fact to note – these beneficials do bite humans (actually it’s a pierce and suck) and apparently it’s pretty painful.  If that bite hurts us, think what it does to their enemy!

Once you see a Wheel Bug, you won’t forget it. Not only is the Wheel Bug the largest member of assassin bugs, their bizarre appearance will likely take you back. Adult Wheel Bugs are dark and robust with a grayish-black or brownish-black body. They have membranous wings and long front legs that extend in jerky motions.

Wheel Bugs are camouflaged and very shy, hiding whenever possible. They move and fly slowly. During flight, Wheel Bugs have been compared to an ultra-light plane or large grasshopper as they produce a loud buzzing sound.

The head of the Wheel Bug is very narrow with a stout, rigid, 3-segmented beak and large, multiple eyes serving the bug well as it looks for its prey. Wheel Bugs possess two long, slender jointed antennae that constantly move, waving around slowly, testing the air.

Females lay between 40-200 tiny, brown, bottle-shaped eggs in a cluster on a small shrub or tree twig. Egg masses resemble honeycombs. (At this point, the female dies, for the Wheel Bug has only one generation per year.) These eggs overwinter, cemented together by a gummy substance that may protect them from foul weather, parasites and predators.

Each fertile egg hatches the following spring into 1/8 inch long wingless red and black nymphs with long legs. They disperse onto surrounding trees and shrubs hunting for prey—aphids and caterpillars are particular favorites. Homeowners may see these nymphs on various trees or landscape shrubs. Nymphs undergo five molts and metamorphose into an adult by summer’s end.

Wheel Bugs are voracious predators, preying upon a wide variety of soft-bodied insects, “ambushing them with the accuracy of an assassin.” They are a valuable predator in forests and shade trees because Wheel Bugs dine on the hairy caterpillars that are defoliators.

When a Wheel Bug encounters its prey, it slowly lunges forward using its enlarged front legs to seize and hold its victims. Next, the Wheel Bug plunges its hypodermic-like beak into some soft body part. The Wheel Bug’s saliva contains an enzyme-laden, paralytic substance that immobilizes the prey within 30 seconds, dissolving their insides, and proceeds to drain all of the prey’s bodily fluids. End of pesky prey.

Because of the Wheel Bug’s appearance, it may seem a dangerous insect. Wheel Bugs are not aggressive and will avoid contact at all costs. However, if handled, the Wheel Bug can inflict a painful bite (technically, Wheel Bugs and other types of assassin bugs do not “bite”—pierce is a more accurate term since they have needle-like sucking/piercing mouthparts). Their “bite” has been described as a “sensation lasting several minutes” or “ten times worse than a hornet sting.” The site may take weeks or months to heal.

Regardless, when in the garden or orchard, one should always wear long-sleeved shirts and hats when working. If a bug lands on you, brush it off gently. If you are bitten, cleanse the area with soap and water and some relief may be obtained by using lotions containing menthol, phenol or camphor.

Because most of their prey are considered harmful insects, Wheel Bugs are considered beneficial insects in the garden and wooded areas, as they reduce the numbers of some troublesome insects. Wheel Bugs should be considered one of many valuable allies.

“Beneficials in the Garden”  by Candice Hawkinson


Now that you know this is a good guy, look at this last picture.  This little Wheel Bug nymph is headed for lunch 🙂


Beekeeping: Logging Progress and Cleaning

May 24, 2010

Well, I’ve been challenged and I love a challenge.  I started with 2 hives this spring and I’m now up to 10 hives.  A lot has happened with them this spring…too much for me to remember.

Bill has mentioned the need to keep track by logging each hive’s activities – how old is the queen, how much honey did they produce, when did they swarm, etc.  I’ve heard him say this, but never really did anything about it.

Until now.

I took 3 of my hives to another friend’s farm because they needed to be at least 3 miles away when I split them.  We were talking the other day and I referred to the hive closest to the house.  She said, “Oh, you mean #3?”

“#3?”

“Yes, the one furthest from the house is #1 and then #2 and the one closest to the house is #3.”

“Okay.”

“Well, the one closest to the house…”

“#3.  It would make it easier if you would refer to them by their number.”

“Okay, well, I need to check to see if #3 needs another super.”

You see, she works in the veterinary world, in research, and documenting and logging are a HUGE part of her work.  She thinks in “numbers and systems” and so it automatically transferred to the beehives I put on her farm.

As she watched me struggling trying to keep all the information straight – which hives needed more supers and were they mediums or shallows?  Which hives had new queens and which had old queens and how old were they?  She asked me if I’d thought of putting all the hives on a number system and keeping track of them that way.

Honestly, with only 2 or 3 hives, it hadn’t really been necessary but now, with 10, it was apparent my current “system” wasn’t working!

So I took the challenge and gave each of the hives a number.  That number will go into a notebook and I’ll write the history of that hive and then chart its progress.

To give myself a good start – I cleaned up the bee yard too.

I mowed and hand weeded under the stands.  I love having carpet in front of the hives – it cuts down on the weeds at the front door and keeps me from having to get really close to the hives with the mower.

Before…

After…

I try not to run the weed whacker near the bees and I mowed in the early morning around 8:30 or so before they started flying.  No one was agitated with the sound of the mower and I was really close to some of the hives.

I put down new carpet by this set and will finish when I find more carpet!

My friend put out a tarp for the new hives I brought over and staked the tarp into the ground.  It’s very neat and tidy – I like that look!

Now with clean yards and a new numbering system to keep track of my hives, I’m feeling a little more competent as a beekeeper 🙂

Beekeeping: Can You Find…

May 24, 2010

I was checking frames for brood.  And right before my eyes was the queen!

Can you find her in this picture?  The queen bee has a much longer body than the worker bees.  She doesn’t have the stripes, just a black tip on the end of her body.

If you found this in one of your trees, can you tell me what it means?

For the answer, see below and let me know if you guessed correctly.

I was walking through my orchard looking at the fruit and leaves.  I just happened to see this sight in the branches.

One of my hives had swarmed and I missed it.  Can you guess now??

This is the tree where the swarm hung before they found another home.  All the white you see is wax.  Those girls are so programmed to create a home, they started building comb on a leaf!  Talk about the inability to “chill”  … and I thought I was a work-aholic 🙂

Kennesaw Mountain Nat’l Park

May 21, 2010

To end the girls school year with their tutor, we decided to plan an historical field trip.  Michelle, their tutor, chose Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park.  She tutors the girls in history and science.

It took about an hour and a half to get there from the farm.

Getting to the park  reinforced my opinions about commuting – and it wasn’t even rush hour!  316 to 85 to 285 to 75 to the park.  Kennesaw Mountain is beautiful and was salve for this tired traveler.

Michelle had put together some worksheets for the girls.  In the museum, they had to identify pictures, find dates along the time line, and place in order some of the events of the Civil War.

Lolo came with us and commented about the richness of the history in the South.  The Northwest just doesn’t have this kind of history.

“Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park commemorates the 1864 Atlanta Campaign.  Begin at the visitor center.  Here you will find information, a short film, exhibits, and a bookstore.”  That’s exactly what we did!

After taxing our brains a bit trying to answer the worksheets from Michelle, we decided it was time for lunch.

They had a beautiful picnic area under tall pine trees.

After lunch – the hike up to the top of the mountain.

“The park trails offer short walks and long hikes.  Starting at the visitor center, the round trip distances are two miles, six miles, 11 miles, and 17 miles.  All trails require moderately steep climbing.”  This last statement is absolutely true!

We chose the two mile to the top….

“An overlook near the summit offers a panoramic view of the northern Georgia terrain, where Sherman’s and Johnston’s armies struggled in the late spring and summer of 1864.  Modern Atlanta dominates the southern skyline.”

The view was gorgeous!  The hike was worth it – thank goodness the weather wasn’t humid and most of the trail was in the shade.

Saw these flowers along the trail.  Haven’t identified them yet…

A short, moderately steep trail leads to the mountain top.  Along the way are exhibit and gun emplacements dug by the Confederate canoneers to command the Western and Atlantic Railroad.”

We discussed how tough it would have been to haul those canons up this mountain.

Did they haul them up with horses?  Human strength?

However it was, their strategy worked and the Confederates won this particular battle.

It was time to start back down the trail…

I wondered if the men saw these same flowers when they were setting up their gun emplacements.

We commented on the trees which were probably alive during the battle.  Michelle was telling us how wood wasn’t harvested in certain areas near battlefields because the shrapnel in the wood would ruin the saw blades.

While looking at the trees,  Squish spotted this grey squirrel who was bringing nesting material into the hollow of this tree.  Not too busy to stop for a photo op though!

We were back on the road by 3p and beat the rush hour traffic.  It was a great day and we learned quite a bit.

Definitely a fabulous way to end the school year!

Kayaking with the Kids

May 17, 2010

I gave Dave 2 kayaks for our anniversary last November.  Probably not the best month to do this activity since the water’s so cold – so we didn’t.  Nor did we use them in December, January, February or March….

Dave had a 10 day trip to Arizona in April and when he’s away, I try to find something fun for the kids to do.  First thing I thought of – KAYAKS!  First I asked Dave if he would mind if we used his present before he got a chance to use it – it’s a big family, this isn’t such an unusual request.

I asked a friend of mine, who also kayaks, if she would like to come and help me teach the kids how to kayak.  She said sure and I planned the day.

She met us at the local park.  That meant Michael and I had to load the kayaks in the back of the truck by ourselves, with straps and bungee cords.  Let’s just say, we made it to the park with both kayaks 🙂

First things first.  Before we sent the kids out in the kayaks, they had to have a few land lessons.

Paddling is fairly important so we started with that technique…

Squish needed a little more “hands on” instruction.

“Look Mom!!  Synchronized paddling!”

Mae Mae was a fast learner…

Okay – enough instruction.  Into the water with you!

Nothing like getting your feet wet….literally!

Of course the boy took to the water like a duck.  He was off in the middle of the water before we could get a life jacket on the next person.

“No son, we’re not going to learn how to roll the kayak today!”

We invented “Kindergarten Kayaking” for Squish.  I tethered the boat so she couldn’t get too far away from me.

Then we put her on a longer line, letting her go a little further.

Hmmm – sounds a lot like parenting!

Then my friend got in another kayak with the line, and they went out into the middle of the water.  When Squish could paddle a complete circle around her boat, it was time to let her go….

She did us proud!!  Squish was paddling like a pro and for the most part, she went in a fairly straight line 🙂

Megan received on the water training…

And before long, she and I were out in the middle of the lake!

This gentleman and his dog came down to the water’s edge where we were.  Apparently, the two of them go kayaking almost every evening.  The dog loves it and has her own cushion to sit on in the kayak.  It was so cute!

We all had a great time and the kids did really well learning the basic skills for kayaking.  The exuberance over this new sport has made me think I just might need another kayak!  There’s something about being that close to the water, the quiet and serenity.  And of course, the added benefit of an upper body work out.  I highly recommend at least trying this sport, you just never know what “kayaking kid” lies within.

Before we knew it, it was time to load up and head out…if my kids have it their way, we’ll be back next week!

Why Do Honey Bees Swarm?

May 13, 2010

This year has been crazy in our area for the honey bees.  This month alone I’ve had more swarms than ever before and some of my hives have split twice.  Truly, this is one of those seasons when man may try to calculate all the right answers but in reality, they’re only good guesses.  We are forced to submit to the fact that we don’t know all the how’s and why’s of the bee world.

But, we do have some substantial information that may be helpful to beekeepers at this time of year.  If nothing else, it may help you make a good guess!

In the beekeeping business, spring is the notorious time of year for hives to swarm.  Approximately half the hive of worker bees, along with the queen, leave the hive and look for new housing.  I found this swarm hanging from one of the branches of a nectarine tree in the orchard.

Why is it that bees swarm at all?  Is it because they grow tired of their dwelling place or that they never liked it all ?  Do they hear the call of nature and heed to the voice?  Perhaps they think the grass and flowers are better on the other side of the fence, or yard, or field.

Actually, it’s none of these.

To understand swarming we need to understand honey bee biology. Honey bees live in a colony and are eusocial (the highest social order).  This means that the bees do not see themselves as individuals.  This can easily be demonstrated by observing a colony of honey bees that run low of food.  The bees do not divide into groups to fight over the food, nor will you see a group separate from the rest trying to preserve the queen.  No, eusocial insects will continue to divide out the food till it is gone and together they will all die.  It is the colony as a whole that is considered the actual organism.  In short, honey bees define synergy.

With the above in mind, a queen bee can lay thousands of eggs a day. However, a colony does not see this as reproducing.  Since the colony is, the actual “organism” it is the act of actually producing another colony that’s considered reproducing.

Bees live for two purposes: to reproduce themselves (produce a new colony) and to store honey in order to provide food during the winter months.

In GA, in the Piedmont area, our nectar flow starts in late February, early March.  The incoming nectar signals the queen to start laying eggs – lots of them!  At peak time, the queen will lay up to 2,000 eggs a day.

That means that 21 days later, 2,000 new bees emerge to join the work force.  In a week’s time, approximately 14,000 bees are added to the hive.  It doesn’t take long for those living quarters in the hive to get a little cramped.  During the day, they’re not all home at once.  Thousands of bees are out foraging, coming back to the hive full of nectar and pollen.

But from dusk to dawn, everyone is home!

There are multiple factors that can give a colony the urge to divide.  One of the most common is when there isn’t any room left for the queen to lay new eggs.  This can be either she has already filled all the available cells with eggs or the workers have filled most of the cells with large amounts of nectar.

Once the living situation is full to capacity, someone signals that it’s time to split – literally.

Before half the hive leaves, they’re careful to make sure that there is plenty of brood to keep the hive functioning properly until another queen is raised.

They leave several queen cells in the hopes that one will emerge, live through the maiden flight, successfully mate in mid-air with a drone (male bee), and will return home safely to start her egg-laying calling in life.

For some time before the bees leave the hive, they run the original queen around so she will lose weight and be able to fly.  When the queen is in “egg laying” mode, she is too large to fly.

On the appointed day, and only the bees know, half  the hive of worker bees, along with the queen, fly out from the hive to a nearby branch. .  A swarm of honey bees can range in size from 4 to 5 thousand to 20 to 30 thousand.  Immediately after leaving the hive the swarm will gather often on a tree limb. They hang together here in a cluster, their little legs hanging on to one another.

The queen is somewhere in that ball of bees, being protected by the worker bees.  Often she is on the outer edges of the swarm.  Without the queen in the new hive, their future looks bleak.  They need her to sustain the workforce needed in the new hive.

The scout bees are flying about looking for a suitable cavity to call home.

When bees swarm, they are at their most docile state as a whole.  They have no place to call home and no protection and no hive to protect.  They’re eager to find some place to go.

That’s why finding a swarm hanging in a tree is so wonderful!  Those bees are incredibly grateful when someone is able to provide a space for them, preferably one with wax foundation – even better if it’s pulled comb!

Once the queen is inside, all those thousands of bees become obedient little soldiers and march into the new hive with their little tails straight up in the air.

It’s an amazing sight.

These honey bees have accomplished their purpose – to reproduce themselves and to make honey.  And the cycle will begin again in this new hive.