Country Living Series

Friday, December 9, 2016

Buttoning up the bees

We finally got around to moving the beehive.

Those who have been following our beekeeping efforts might remember we lost our hive last year because we wrapped it up too tightly with insulating foam board.

The condensation built up and killed our poor girls.

We started over with two nucs last spring. During the summer, the hives were savagely attacked by yellow jackets.

One hive died, but we moved the second hive to a new location and it survived. (See the queen in the middle of the circle of bees, lower center?)

But now winter is upon us. We needed to move the hive into a more sheltered location. We're gun-shy about wrapping the hive with insulation after last winter's disaster, so we figured if we move the hive to a sheltered spot, the bees might make it.

But first Don had a project he wanted to make: bee candy. This is essentially hardened sugar paste the bees can snack on all winter, packed into a tray (called a candyboard) that fits at the top of the hive, with a center hole the bees can climb through to reach it. (Instructions and review can be found here and here.)

The reason he decided on bee candy is because we aren't confident the bees have sufficient honey to see them through the winter. Critical honey-making time was lost while fighting off the yellow jackets last summer, and even though we fed them syrup all summer long (and they had wildflowers as well), we wanted to give them a boost.

Here's the dampened sugar:

Don spread the paste in the tray...

...and rolled it flat.

The paste had to dry for a day. Meanwhile, we moved the bees. We took the precaution of plugging the opening to the wasp guard with a cotton ball, though it was unnecessary since the bees weren't budging from inside the hive.

We strapped the hive to the stand...

...then used the tractor's forks to lift the hive.

We settled the hive in one of the barn bays. Here it's protected from the prevailing wind.

The next day, when the sugar paste was dry, we opened the hive top. Lots of bees on top, a (hopefully) good sign.

We settled the tray of sugar paste over the frames. Right away, some of the bees started crawling through the hole onto the sugar.

And that was that. We replaced the lid over the sugar tray, and left the bees alone to settle in.

We'll be ordering more nucs for spring. If, God willing, this hive makes it through the winter, that will give us three hives for next summer. If the hive doesn't make it, we'll have two fresh nucs.

Live and learn. That's what I'm figuring out with bees: live and learn.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Links of a chain

The one thing I’ve learned about homesteading is that it’s hard, frustrating, prone to failure, and in all ways challenging – until it’s not.

Once all the kinks are ironed out, once the necessary infrastructure is in place and time-tested to fix any problems (fences, anyone?), once the deer are kept out of the garden, once we've made every mistake in the book and then applied what we learned, etc. etc. etc. – then things get easier … and more productive.

I once noted that when things start producing on a homestead, they really start producing. Last summer we didn’t get a nice bowlful of strawberries, we got 160 lbs of them.

We routinely get 1000 lbs of beef back from the butchers.

Our refrigerator is often overflowing with ten dozen eggs and (when I’m milking) gallons and gallons of milk. Corn, garlic, blueberries, onions, potatoes, raspberries, tomatoes, even wheat can be embarrassingly abundant.

I think this encompasses much of what we’ve tried to achieve on our homestead, especially when raising our girls: an understanding of the chain of events, from beginning to end, for many things. Birth and death, planting and harvesting, shortages and abundance.

We also wanted them to see the work that goes into all these things.

Last week on my WND column, a reader made the following comment: “Some time ago, I came to the realization that, living on a farm, a shortage is that there being no more to be had. A shortage in a city is that you do not have the money to buy more. This artificial view of reality is what makes the progressive possible. Progressives have a view of reality that starts somewhere in the middle and they do not believe in the existence of the beginning of that chain. Things come from nowhere, take no work to produce, and exist in quantities where there would be enough for everybody if wealth was evenly distributed.”

I found this to be a fascinating, and accurate, analysis. When things are viewed from the middle and the beginning of the chain isn’t visible, then it’s too easy to reach an entirely wrong conclusion. It’s the old “snapshot” problem: If you see a snapshot of something, it’s easy to assume it represents an unfixed and eternal reality. But the viewer never sees what went into the snapshot. They never see the work and sacrifices. They only conclude it’s “unfair” when someone has something they want.

As an example: Over the years I’ve written dozens and dozens of articles on starting a home craft business. I’ve fended off endless misconceptions about the amount of work and effort that goes into a successful endeavor. A persistent problem is people who want instant success in their business efforts. They see the “snapshot” of a successful home business, and conclude that starting a home craft business is a breeze. Eh, how hard can it be?

What they fail to see is all the background that went into that snapshot. They never saw the years of toil and struggle, the times when we had no income, the customers who ditched paying us, the tools that broke down, the long long long long hours, the sawdust caked with sweat to our skin, the shows where we sold virtually nothing, and all the other tribulations that go into building a business.

Yes, many people see the “snapshot” – but don’t want to put in the work necessary to make that snapshot a reality.

(Incidentally, this is why I have absolutely no envy of rich entrepreneurs. I know what went into achieving their wealth. They’ve earned it.)

It’s the same thing with a homestead. Visitors might see the “snapshot” of our barn, garden, herd of cows, and flock of chickens – and assume it’s always been this way.

They assume we’ve never experienced failures or setbacks. They assume the garden always produced. They assume the livestock always behaved and stayed within their fences. They assume it was all done without any blood, sweat, and tears. (“Blood, sweat, and tears” is a cliché, but a very truthful one. We’ve excreted all three, many times.)

But all this work on our homestead is to avoid what another reader commented about the snapshot generation: that “Life and Reality are mere abstractions: food comes from Wal-Mart, money from some Sugar Daddy/the State, and Good and Truth are mere social constructs.”

We never wanted to live an abstract life. Our girls grew up knowing food does not come from Wal-Mart, money does not come from a sugar daddy or from the state; and good and truth are not mere social constructs.

There’s an old saying: “The harder I work, the luckier I get.” But luck, as everyone knows, implies someone didn’t do anything to achieve whatever they got. In other words, luck implies a present situation had nothing to do with past sacrifices.

With the exception of exceptional situations such as winning the lottery, most “lucky” people aren’t lucky. They’re stubborn, they’re determined, they’re (sometimes) desperate, but they’re seldom lucky. They’ve made stupid mistakes and embarrassing decisions, learned from those errors, then applied what they learned to future endeavors which then succeeded. This is what’s known as the Formula for Success.

I guess you might say this is why we homestead. We like seeing every link of that chain, from beginning to end.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Unwelcome visitor

A couple of weeks ago, I noticed a dead chicken in the driveway area. This isn't an unknown situation -- once in awhile, a bird just seems to keel over for whatever reason -- so I made ready to pick her up and put her in the trash.

Except she had no head. And no neck. It was just a headless, neckless carcass lying there.

Even more unusual, there was no blood and no feathers.

Don and I were stumped. What kind of predator would take the head and neck, but leave the body? And why was there no sign of a struggle -- scattered feathers, etc. -- anywhere nearby?

We concluded it must have been a hawk or something that swooped down, snatched the chicken by the head, and then the body fell off mid-air. Didn't seem overly likely, but we had no other explanation.

Fast forward about a week. We were doing some cleanup in the driveway area before some anticipated snow moved in. Among our tasks was to remove a large tarp that was jammed near a unit of 2x6s. We pulled the tarp flat, folded it up, and put it away.

A short time later, a flash of white caught my eye. I turned and gaped: it was a weasel, skirting the edge of the driveway area -- from the pile of 2x6s, across the length of the barn, over the compost pile, and ... underneath the new chicken coop expansion Don recently finished.

The weasel was carrying something in its mouth, probably a mouse. It dashed under the chicken coop. I was disappointed because I couldn't get any photos, it was moving so fast.

Then it emerged from under the coop, mouseless. This time I had my camera ready.

Half the photos I took were blurs, or showed the tiny creature in a full-out dash. He traced his path back around the perimeter of the driveway area, toward the pile of 2x6s.

The chickens cackled with alarm as the weasel moved among them, but they dwarfed him in size so I wasn't worried.

He moved across the front of the barn, on his way back to the stack of 2x6s. Evidently we had disturbed his home when we moved the tarp, and he felt compelled to move to a new location ... underneath the chicken coop.

Here he is, momentarily stopping behind a unit of OSB we have in the barn...

...and dashing out once again.

He soon returned, this time carrying something even larger in his mouth: a vole. Clearly he was moving his cache of reserved dinners to his new home ... under the chicken coop.

He conveniently paused and let me snatch some clearer shots of him.

Then he dashed off again, carrying the vole to his new home ... under the chicken coop.

He put the vole under the coop, then peaked out at the corner.

Then he made another dash past the chickens, circling the driveway once more.

At first we were enchanted by this new visitor. I mean, he's so cuuuuute! Couldn't you just pinch his little cheek?

The fact that he was apparently taking up housekeeping directly under the chicken coop concerned us a bit since we have three young chicks from our "October surprise," which would fall easy prey to a predator. However we weren't unduly alarmed by the weasel's presence, even if he was ... right underneath the coop.

That is, until we mentioned the weasel to a more knowledgeable neighbor. Immediately this neighbor started clanging alarm bells and telling horror stories about the devastation weasels can wreak on chicken flocks.

A small amount of internet research confirmed his fears. I knew weasels were voracious predators, but never realized they would attack something as comparatively large as a chicken.

So -- cute or not, time to get rid of a weasel.

Don did some research on weasel traps, then took a trip to the hardware store and came home with six rat traps. These aren't mousetraps. These are big vicious rat traps.

Then he constructed boxes with a sliding lid, large enough to fit two traps.

The boxes have holes at either end. Apparently weasels won't enter a box unless they can see an escape route on the other side. The purpose of the box, incidentally, is to prevent the rat traps from catching a curious chicken.

When the boxes were complete...

...we baited them with bits of meat.

We placed the traps in three strategic locations, including inside the chicken coop expansion.

So did we catch the weasel? No. We saw it dashing hither and yon for a couple more days, but we've seen nothing for the past two weeks. Maybe the little predator decided the area was teeming with too much activity, and departed for quieter hunting grounds.

So was the weasel responsible for our mysterious headless chicken? I have no idea. It seems impossible for such a small creature -- even a fierce predator, like a weasel -- to have the sheer strength necessary to rip a head and neck from a chicken's body.

But we'll never know. Meantime, we'll keep those traps handy. We might need them again.

Learning to use a can opener

Here's my WND column for this weekend entitled "Hey Millennials! Learn to use a can opener!"

Be sure to watch the videos. You've probably seen the hilarious one at the bottom already; but the top video is ... well, sad.