Sunday, July 2, 2017

It's bee swarm season

It's the tail end of the honey bee swarm time of year; my hives have produced 4 swarms this year; this is the latest.  It's a big swarm; the origin hive was booming and I'm happy to see this queen doing so well.  Here's a video of what it looked like in the fruit tree the swarm chose

20170702_170425 from bruce king on Vimeo.
To capture the swarm you need a container of some sort.  In this case I had a couple of honey supers (bee boxes usually used to contain surplus honey produced by the hive), but you could use a cardboard box for transport purposes. 
What you want to do, the only thing you have to do, is capture the queen bee.  Every other bee will follow.  But I've actually never seen a queen bee in a swarm - there's just too many other bees surrounding her.  So I orient my box below the swarm, and then pull a couple of frames out of the box to give the bees some room, and then give a firm shake to the branch.  Most of the bees fall off the branch, and this next video is about 3 seconds after I shook the bees onto my capture box. 

20170702_170826 from bruce king on Vimeo.
My goal was to get most of the bees into the box, and I got a big part of them, but there are still a lot of bees outside the box.  So I carefully, gently, put a lid on the box to partially restrain the bees there - there's a big hole in the top of the lid and the bees can enter the bottom of the hive too, and then I watch the bees to see what they do. 
If I've captured the queen - if she's in the box - the entire swarm will go into the box without any further action on my part.  So this video is me watching the bees to see what they'll do

20170702_171836 from bruce king on Vimeo.

More bees are going in than coming out, and so I figure that I must have captured the queen.  Now I go away for a couple of hours to let the bees sort themselves out; I'll check the box around sunset; it'll be full of bees and any stragglers that haven't found the hive by then probably won't, so I'll cap the entrance and then move the new hive back to the bee yard. 

My standard hive is two deep supers on the bottom, with honey supers above.  I didn't have any deep supers ready, so I'll disrupt the hive once more when I move the bees from these honey supers to their new permanent home.  I'll probably take a comb of honey from another hive and give it to this hive so that they have plenty of food available, and I'll probably offer this hive new wax to build new, fresh comb with. 

Swarming will cause the bees to build new comb, and while building new comb does take time and energy - honey - having them build a new set of combs for this hive is a good practice.  Nice clean house for them to live in.  I'll provide flat sheets of wax that are stamped with hexagons. 

I don't expect any honey production from this hive this year, but I do expect them to produce enough honey and pollen to keep themselves in good shape this winter. 



Thursday, June 15, 2017

The really, really big barn project

When I purchased the property it came with some big barns; about 50,000 square feet of them.  The largest barn was set up to house 300 dairy cattle, but honestly I have never been impressed with it.

The big barn in 2013, Sean there for scale
The barn itself is 250'x100'x20' tall, and the tall sides mean that rain would blow in from every side, so much so that the outside 20' or so of the barn was basically never dry - I couldn't keep any animal there.  The previous owner of my farm froze 38 dairy cattle to death in this barn, which gives you an idea of how cold it could be, rain, snow or shine.

the other problems were that it had been built without any water supply - as in no water within 100 feet of any side of this barn, and the gates and setup were, well, odd.  To me, anyway.  Probably perfectly good for holding full-sized holsteins or jerseys, but certainly not very good for pigs, and not at all good for small pigs.

Over the next few years I did do some things that made the space work better for me but I kept having problems with wet, cold and generally not very welcoming conditions inside the barn.  For as much roof as this barn has it wasn't very dry anywhere.

So I finally bit the bullet and am putting sides and ends on this barn

The basic barn structure is there.  I had to add girts first, and then start putting up the siding.  To keep the barn useable without artificial light I designed in a 4' clear panel at the top of the walls, which I'm hoping will provide enough natural light inside that it can be used without artificial light if you choose.  I'll still put lights in there so that it can be fully lighted if need be, but prefer to have a natural light option.

This is honestly the largest building i've ever worked on.  I walked out a few hundred feet to get the picture above.  Notice the manlift and people a little to the left of center of that picture.
 My brother Bryan, my Nephew Dillan and his college roommate Alex are helping me with this project.  Extra money for the college guys.  No idea why Bryan is helping ;)

I grew up remodeling houses with my mother, and so my first jobs were all basically construction jobs, and I forget sometimes how foreign hand tools are to the xbox generation.  The first few days were teaching these kids how to use the tools and then watching them to make sure that they were being safe.  Harness and safety glasses.  I should probably get them helmets, too.  Making a list.

This is what the finished sidewall looks like.  the top 4' clear panels are attached; the building wasn't sided prior to this, and so I'm going to have to extend the roof a few inches to provide an overhang before I attach the gutters.  I'm waiting on the roof extension metal now; when it arrives we'll wrap up this side.

On the "you never know until you try" - the 4' clear panels do provide enough light inside the barn so that you don't need more light for most tasks.  that's nice to confirm.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Farm activity summary

 Out in the hayfield the alfalfa and orchard grass are responding well to the weather.  Lush growth and lots of it.   I never have the weather at this time of year to make grass hay, so I'll be turning the cows loose on it to graze it down a little.  Hay weather in a month or so.  The cows will enjoy this.

 When I planted the vinyard I put down some alfalfa seed between the rows with the idea of grazing it with some sort of animal.  I'm using piglets right now, and the mix is about right, so I'm moving 50 pigs down the rows and they're doing a pretty complete job.  Simple pen of hog panels attached with high-tensile coils.  they're pretty easy to move, and for this size pig are more than sufficient to contain them.
 The pigs are doing their part - in this case I'm grazing it down to bare earth, and planting buckwheat every time I move the pen.  The buckwheat is good for the soil, good for beneficial insects, and the pigs like it, and it competes well with the alfalfa.  Unlike the alfalfa it's an annual, so it'll go back to alfalfa mostly next year. 
If you look at the top of the photo here you can see the re-purposed calf shelter bedded with straw that I provide to the piglets for shelter.  Not pictured is the automatic water and the free-choice food.  They will remove vegetation even if they have all the food they can eat.  Pigs like a varied diet and they love to be on the ground and moving dirt.  So they till it up and weed it for me in one pass.

The final weeding for the grapes is to get the weeds that are in the row, between the vines.  I haven't figured out a way to do that with pigs, so I do it the old fashioned way - with a hoe and a book on tape.  Kinda routine, relaxing word.  good way to commune with the vinyard for a half hour a day.