Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A little bit of this and a little bit of that.

We've been spending so much time living and doing around here that I find it hard to sit down and write a proper post. I've been keeping close friends and family in the know on Facebook, but I need to take the time to document everything that has been happening around here. So I thought I'd go through each of our projects for an update.

:: The Barn
Our barn was cleaned out earlier in the Spring, as I mentioned in another post. During that time, we realized just how nasty the dairy goat pen kept getting. With the addition of the four kids this year, we just ran out of room quickly. With a little maneuvering, we opened up the space for them and nearly doubled their square-footage. Originally, there was an open pen that we kept all of our misc items in....the feed bins, hay cart, cat food for the barn cats etc. But, we were able to move some of the wood around and find new homes for those misc. items and give the goat the space that they need. I hope that soon we'll be able to get the siding done on the barn and get it painted - they we can move on with that. There are other projects involving the barn area - like putting an awning on the back for the animals when it is too sunny and building a hay bale holder etc. But, we're making it work for now.

:: Milking
We've decided it is finally time to start weaning the kids off of Mabel (and maybe Flora, but her udders seems so small, I'm not sure that she'll be worth the time to milk). I milked Mabel out for the first time tonight - we didn't get hardly any milk from her, but considering that the kids had been on her all day, I wasn't surprised. I believe that the plan is to keep the kids separate from from Mabel (and Flora?) at night by sliding a fence panel across their pen, now that they have that extra space to spread out. We'll start with morning milkings - that way she can build up all night, get milked out in the morning and be with the kids all day/evening. Hopefully they'll end up weaning themselves and we'll be able to get more milk.

:: Turkeys
Oh my hilarious, goofball turkeys...We heard SO many rumors about raising turkeys when we got them and I'm going to KNOCK ON WOOD when I say this - but so far, we've only really liked having them around. They aren't hard to take care of - food, water, grit and space. If we are going to be out and about doing yard work etc., we've just been letting the turkeys wander around the yard. They don't seem to want to run/fly away - the four of them typically stay together, constantly cooing and gobbling deciding which has the best rock/bug/blade of grass. They seem to get nervous if they are out and don't know where one of the humans is - if we go up on the porch, they'll make their way up, if we walk around back, next thing we know they are back there hunting and pecking. I believe that we have three males (both blue slates and one red bourbon) and the other red bourbon is a female (I think)...in all my infinite turkey wisdom. LOL But I've seen the three spread their wings, strutting around all bad-ass...and the one doesn't seem to do that. I don't know, I guess time will tell. The plan is keep a male/female breeding pair (hopefully the red and a blue) and have the others for Thanksgiving/Christmas, depending upon their size.

:: Chickens
Our chickens hatched seven weeks ago today - this means that D-day is nearly here for the meat birds. They are ginormous and plump, you can feel when you pick them up that your fingers sink into their tender meat. We've decided that Saturday (June 1) is THE day. We've invited people over, if they'd like to be a part of our learning experience. We've got a couple kill cones (inverted traffic cones), buckets to catch the blood - we'll need to sharpen our knives (or purchase a couple of other good butchering knives). I worry about this day. I know it needs to happen. I understand that this is why we purchased these birds. I think that it's important to go through this process. I won't MAKE the kids be there, but if they'd like to be there, I will let them. Death is a part of life.
We keep expanding their outside space - I don't feel as comfortable letting all of them wander the yard - as we do the turkeys. They move slower, the cats could likely get the one up on them - unlike the turkeys who like to temp cats and then fan out their feathers in a "FEAR ME" like fashion...and they do fear them. LOL This weekend - we built actual fence panels that we can add to as needed to make more space. I'm really happy with how they are turning out.

:: Mowing the lawn
This sounds like such a simple task, right? Well, except when you are on over an acre, your riding mower hits a rock and breaks and you are left with three mediocre push mowers...OH and haven't mowed the back yard yet this year. UGH. We've only mowed the front lawn once this year and it seems like the yard grew super fast with the rainy Spring we've been having. It's also hard to carve out so much time - with all of our other projects. We even debated hiring a landscape crew to come in and mow for us. But no, we just did it! We mowed the front, the sides, the back - we weeded a bunch of the back area (a MAJOR feat). The yard looks so nice now. We just have to keep it up.

:: Wildlife
While we were mowing, we actually came across a couple of neat things - the first was a salamander, it was so neat, I picked it up and let each of the kids hold it, until it dropped to the ground and scurried off. Then, while I was mowing the front, near the street, I saw a garter snake wiggling back and forth in front of me trying to get away from my mower. I yelled for Mark and he picked it up to show the kids - we all got to hold it (so cool!!!) - later, Mark found another garter snake, but this one wasn't as friendly. He didn't get held.
Drake also found a owl pellet out in the field - that kid must have hawk eyes, because I don't think I would have ever found something like that against a backdrop of field dirt. Soon we'll be dissecting it to see if we can determine what the owl ate. What a great learning experience that Drake has offered us. 

:: Shearing
Honestly, we should have already sheared our animals - well, at least right around Memorial Day, but it has been a hot couple of days (but thankfully a cool couple of nights) and I worried about our big wooly sheep. They haven't been sheared...ever, since they were babies last Spring. So they have a LOT of fiber on them - I often find them hanging in the shade or if it's real bad - they hang in the hallway of the barn, away from the sun. We've reached out to our shearer - but since we are small potatoes (and not much money) for them, we aren't the highest priority. He is currently in Kentucky and will be working us in once he is back in Ohio - hopefully that is REALLY soon. I'm anxious to see all of our animals sheared...the alpacas, angoras and sheep will all get done and we should be up to our ears in fiber to clean. That is SO exciting.

:: Bees
Oh, these bees. Right from the start there was the one hive that was doing significantly better than the other. The one on the left is our "bad hive" and the one on our right is the "good hive" - The good hive was going gangbusters - nice and strong, a healthy laying queen, filling out the brooder box - so much that we had to add another brooder box on top. They immediately took to the new box and started to build out. Unfortunately, the other hive...was queenless. :-( According to the leader of our beekeeping association, it appeared that our hive started to collapse a couple of weeks before we got it, queenless and very little brood and they sent it along anyway. Meaning that 50% of my hives were done. Since there wasn't even enough brood to make a new queen, the colony was getting ready to fully collapse. Don Popp, a local large scale beekeeper, came over to our house and helped us out. He brought us a new queen and five frames of brood and comb. The worry with that situation is that the existing bees would try to kill the new queen. We went out to take a look at her and to put another brood box on top (since, in theory, this hive should be much stronger and ready to spread their wings) - we found her, doing her thing, waddling around from frame to frame, alive and well. We went ahead and put the second brood box on and figured that they will fill it out when they need to. I'll be checking on them this week though, because their activity level seems much lower than that of the "good hive" - I think that this hive is just going to need more love than the other. For example, this morning, when I took Cora out to the bus, the "good hive" had a ton of bees flying around it and landing/taking off on the landing pad...and the "bad hive" had two. Grr...these hives...we're learning about this whole beekeeping thing...I hate to overthink all of it, but want to see good results, and want to take good care of the bees.

As you can see, we've got a lot going on. Below I'm posting a picture of our "good hive" and a picture of one of our turkeys...because that's where much of our focus has been lately. :-)

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

"Workin' for a Livin"

Oh! What is that? That bright light...it's hurting my eyes...It's the light at the end of our tunnel! On Friday, during a field trip with his class, Mark was offered a job! He is, if everything goes as planned, a Second Grade Teacher!!!! I'm so proud, excited, relieved, breathing easier, planning for our future and in love with my husband. We've had a tough road, Mark and I. We are madly in love, but it seems life likes to throw giant road blocks at us to see how we handle things. We've sent eachother through college, later in life, while raising five kids etc...after Mark's graduation, we weren't exactly sure where we'd end up and his career went on hold for a year, after that - the teaching careers just were extremely hard to come by. He's been working as a substitute and even going back to his previous employer to work temporarily this summer - to help support our family...but FINALLY, he will be working a full-time job, getting full-time pay, to add to my full-time pay and we'll finally be able to relax a bit. We'll be able to pay bills, complete projects and have money left over for saving and extras (...and maybe a vacation!?!?)...This is so incredible!!


Mark will be officially starting in the Fall. I love you, Mark!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Fresh Egg's Farm...Population 35,062

Well, it appears that, for now, the gang is all here. We've had our honeybees here for just over a week and they seem to be settling well. One hive is doing significantly better than the other. It does make me worried that we may have lost the queen in the one that isn't doing so well. Twice we've taken the frames out of the hives, one by one, searching for her and cleaning as we go - today we even took photos of the frames and some of the bees to show what we are seeing - I'll share those below. Just because we haven't seen her, doesn't mean that she isn't there - it just means that we haven't spotted her, that said, I don't notice much of a brood pattern either. Unfortunately we aren't going to be able to go to our beekeeping meeting this Thurs because we are going to Drake's concert (which is VERY fortunate) - so I think that to ease my mind, I'll write an email to our association leader and see if he has any input. If any of you keep bees and have any suggestions, that would be wonderful.
As first time beekeepers, everything is new to us. That said, this looks strange. Rather than each cell being individually capped, There is like a blanket of capping material.
Same frame as above - notice that lighter colored bee?? I don't know if that is normal or not...could it be a baby bee?

Same hive, different frame...notice anything? If you are a beekeeper, you'll likely notice that there isn't much brood (babies) - just a few scattered capped cells. AND there aren't many bees. I mean, there is a decent amount, it's just not loaded with bees (like some of the other frames from our other hive). I feel like this hive needs some help...I'm just not sure how to give it the boost that it needs. This is a question for our beekeeping veterans.
As we got closer to the center of the hive we saw more and more bees...but still did not compare to the other hive.

Here is a frame, from the same hive - more brood is on there, more bees too. Hopefully it just needs to build itself up a bit.

I love this picture - you can see capped cells, bees working and feeding the larva, see the white larva in there? Future honey makers...LOVE

Here is a picture from the second hive that is doing SO much better. The queen is in here...do you spot her? Hint :: she is golden in color...longer and thinner than the others...on the right of the picture, half way between the top and bottom.

Now, this is what I'm talking about! Look at all those bees. COVERING the frame. Go bees go!

It might be hard to tell, but this hive has already started to build out the cells on the frames we put in there. Love it. So strong.
Look at all of those bees, covering one of the frames that we put in there.

Hmmmm not sure if this photo does this justice - but you can see lots of different colors - yellows, oranges...so neat.
So the bees are kinda a big deal around here...but they just kinda do their thing. We check on them (and get stung by them...ouch! I got a stung on my head and Mark got one on his arm last time and another on his leg today)...but we let them be, unless they are in need of intervention. Hopefully, the hive that doesn't seem to be doing well will get stronger and we'll just reap the benefits of eating their honey.
There are still SO many other awesome things happening around here. Blossoms and gobbles...Spring is good.
Here is our first strawberry blossom - unfortunately, we needed to pull the blossoms off today, since these are new plants, we aren't supposed to let them grow until after June 1st. We are strawberry blossom killers.

...and with that, I'll leave you with a photo of our turkeys - Well, we now know that at least one of them is a Tom-turkey. Look at him strutting around, feathers all ruffled...and he gobbles REALLY loud. I love having them here...but look forward to eating them.