Friday, March 15, 2013

New Additions

As winter wanes and spring begins, little by little, to offer hints of its pending arrival, we begin to get excited.  We have seedlings growing under lights, waiting for the danger of frost to pass.  And this week we had probably the most fun we've had all winter:  We went to Rural King and picked out twelve new chicks, two ducks and two turkeys.  We estimate that they are all between one and two weeks old.  For the next few weeks they will all live in the tub of our spare bathroom, under a heat lamp with a small box of sand and a stick for a perch.  Then, once the weather warms, we'll move them outdoors and begin to integrate them with the existing flock.

The "nursery"

On Friday evening we spent some time taking photos of each of the new birds.  We wanted to get good photos of all the young chicks.  We wish our friend (and professional photographer), Stacy, could have seen this circus!  Carefully open the bathroom door, to keep the Boston Terriers out.  (Note for future reference:  Boston Terriers do not regard chicks as cute and cuddly.  They see them as small, feathery snacks!) Catch a couple chicks.  Ease back out the door.  Get the chicks to the counter for the photo shoot.  Set chicks in towel-covered tray.  Quickly snap a photo.  Put wandering chick back in tray.  Snap another photo.  Repeat.  Return puzzled chicks to bathroom.  Get another pair and start the process over.

Some of the little chicks did sit quietly and were easy to photograph.

Then we brought out the turkeys.  They were not interested in posing.  They wanted to explore the new environment.

Mike's favorites are the ducks.  They had an agenda of their own.  Fresh out of the nursery, they were not interested in sitting still for a portrait.  

Yeah...we've got attitude!

These are "Indian Runner" ducks...and they wanted to run!

After a few minutes they settled down and agreed to pose.

At this point we don't know how many are hens (girls) and how many are roosters, toms and drakes.  So we've got some learning, and surprises, ahead.  Stay tuned for more adventures!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Bees!!! (Part 1)

I spent most of the morning yesterday with my new friend Jim, building our first bee hive.  Jim has been a bee keeper for over 35 years.  We met him at a party last fall and had an interesting conversation about bees, hives, getting stung...all the things he's probably been asked a thousand times.  Jim and his brother keep six hives near their family home in Crawfordsville, Indiana - about 90 miles away.  He offered to help us set up a hive, if we were ever interested.  I contacted him in December to say we were ready.  Jim ordered the basic supplies - the hive boxes, or "woodenware" as he calls it, where the bees will live - and the bees.  The boxes shipped within a week from a supplier in Kentucky.  They came as a kit with precut boards, nails, and instructions.

I met Jim at his house on Saturday morning and he showed me into his basement workshop.  Jim has also been a wood worker for many years.  His shop was neat, orderly and contained practically any hand or power tool you might need to build fine furniture.  He led me through the construction of the hive boxes, all the while giving me a tutorial on bees, bee keeping techniques, and metallurgy (his career before he retired).

The basic hive boxes.

We completed the four basic boxes in about an hour, then began on the frames.  Each box will have ten frames, suspended like hanging files.  The frames each hold a thin plastic sheet embossed with a honey comb pattern.  The bees will excrete wax to build the honey comb, following the pattern on the plastic sheets.  Then they'll get to work making honey.

Frames hanging in the hive box.
We assembled 6 or 8 of the frames for one of the boxes - enough for me to understand how to do it.  I brought the remaining pieces home and will work on them over the next couple of weeks.  Jim kept the boxes and will give them a coat of paint.  

Our bees will arrive in early May- shipped in a small cage via the US Postal Service!  We will be getting Russian bees.  According to Jim, bees were not native to North America.  The early settlers brought them over, most originally came from Italy.  Russian bees, he told me, were a more docile variety - good for the beginning bee keeper - though in his opinion, meaner bees make more honey.  

The queen bee will be in a separate container within the package of bees.  She will be accompanied by a few worker bees.  The container will be closed with a plug made of sugar, which the queen and the workers will eat to get out into the new hive.  There will be a period of acclimation to the new environment, but within a few days the new colony should be settled and working.  

We're looking forward to this new experience, though we're approaching it with some caution.  Mary is mildly allergic to bee stings, and I've had a lifelong fear of flying insects with stingers.  But we'll get the right equipment - the suits, gloves and veiled hats - and some tutoring from Jim.  I expect there will be some challenges.  (Why should this be different from anything else we've tried here at the farm?)  I expect we'll get stung a few times.  But in the end, I expect it will work out well.  The bees will do some useful work for us - pollinating the garden and the orchard, and they'll make honey, too.  For now, I'll stay focused on that sweet reward.  

Stay tuned...more to come!