Archive for April, 2010

Whirlwind

Like our land in spring, life is moving so fast that it’s sometimes hard to keep up.  The oak leaves are beginning to tint the branches with green. The lilacs are showing their potential, hinting at what is to come. Grass is growing at an incredible rate. We even had a tulip pop up out of nowhere!

The garden is coming to life. We painted the inside of the fence and, weather permitting, will finish the outside this weekend. We need to get that protective coat of paint on so we can secure some hardware cloth to the inside. We’ve seen plenty of rabbits hopping around, and I don’t want our seedlings to become anyone’s dinner anytime soon. We’ve also laid down a thick layer of road gravel along the pathways inside the fence to discourage grass, gophers, and other things that would like access to our garden boxes. Along the outside of the fence we’ve planted all sorts of bee-friendly flowers, laid down mulch, and installed a drip irrigation system. As far as the garden itself, all of the beds have the properly amended soil and drip irrigation lines put in. But we’ve only put kale seedlings into the groud so far (with straw as mulch so it will compost well when we’re done with it). We’re in the midst of hardening off our onions and leeks–which essentially means putting them outside during the day and in the greenhouse at night to get them used to the cold. But we have plenty other things to get into the ground in the next few weeks. The last potential day of frost (May 15) is approaching fast, and I can’t wait.

All in all, things are going really well. The bees are settling in–I’ll have an update on that soon. But the hive looks healthy and active.  The bees are calm and I love seeing them dive in and out of the hive every day. The fruit trees are blossoming, and our berry canes are looking great. I’m learning how much exercise a push mower can provide! There’s always something to do around the homestead, and often we end our weekends exhausted, sore, and satisfied.

As far as school–you can probably guess that it is keeping me pretty busy. But the class itself is amazing; it’s one of those classes that requires you to pick your jaw up off the floor on your way out. I’m blown away by some of the insights that I learn. The work is hard, but manageable. I’m glad that I only took one class this quarter. I feel like trying to balance school, housework, and working the land is a constant juggling act. But things are beginning to come together, and I can see it happening.

Back to my strong cup of coffee, cleaning rag, and homemade all-purpose cleaner. It’s supposed to rain today, so I’m off the hook for my yard duties!

Bees

The bees arrived on Friday via Next Day UPS.  The delivery man brought the buzzing box carefully to me, smiled and said, “This is so cool!”

We received what is called–in the world of beekeepers, at least–a 3 lb package. Such a package includes both the queen and the 10,000+ bees needed to start your own hive. The queen comes in her own little box with a screen on it, and the bees in the larger box cluster around her and around a can of feed that is included for the journey.

The instructions told us to spray the bees with water to rehydrate them and then to spray them with a little sugar water (through the screens) to calm and nourish them. It worked like a charm. Then, we were supposed to put the box in a cool, shaded, ventilated place until the following evening. The bees needed this time to get used to each other and to get used to their new queen–a queen whom they had likely never met before.

The best time to hive a package of bees is in the evening–they will be calmer and will settle into the hive a little easier. So we spent Saturday doing chores on the homestead (installing a new drip irrigation system, to be exact) and waited for the sun to get a little lower in the sky. We prepared sugar syrup for their feed, got all of our supplies prepped and ready, and reviewed the instructions. When dusk came, we were ready.

It was time to gear up. For maximum protection, I put on jeans and tucked them into thick, high boots (this is the only time you’ll see me tuck jeans into boots). I put on one of Rob’s white dress shirts and buttoned it to the very top. I put on the protective veil that looks ridiculous but actually proved to be quite helpful. Finally, I put on my gloves, which have hands made of leather and  thick cloth which extends past my elbow. There is elastic that holds the gloves’ “sleeves” tight to your arm so that no bees can crawl into your gloves. You have to cover any crawl-able space when you’re working with bees, and we took every precaution.

Then came the fun part. We lit the smoker, doused the bees one last time with sugar water, and thumped the box hard so that all the bees would fall away from the feeder can and queen box. We extracted the can and put it to the side. Then, we got the queen box, carefully pulled the cork that held her inside and replaced it with a marshmallow (the bees will eat through this to free her over the next couple of days). We put the queen box inside the hive, and then we poured the rest of the bees in, using smoke as we went to help them remain calm. It was an extraordinary sight, and both of us laughed later as we confided to each other that our hearts were pounding. Once the bees were in, we quickly reassembled all of the other parts of the hive–the wax foundations, the top feeder, and the hive top–and stood back to watch.

The bees began to settle in, realize where the entrance and exit was located, and started to acclimate. By yesterday, there were the expected hive guards at the entrance, various bees flying around checking out the area, and an unmistakable living quality about our little hive. It’s extraordinary to watch the various stages of activity throughout the day. In the morning, as the sun begins to hit the hive (if at all possible, hives should face southeast so that it faces the rising sun), the hive begins to wake up. Activity begins. And as the day progresses, the bees go out to explore, find the food and water sources, and learn to recognize the pheromone scent of their hive. Then, as the daylight wanes, the activity slows. By the time it is dark enough to stop farm chores for the day, the bees have settled in for the night. Only a few stand guard at the hive’s entrance, and the hive’s buzz has reduced to a low, comforting hum. It’s beautiful.

In a week, we’ll go back and check on the hive’s progress–to make sure the queen is healthy and that she is laying eggs.

It’s official. We are beekeepers.

Whew!

The bees are coming, and we’re ready for them.

We spent the weekend putting the finishing touches on the hives and creating some wind-breaks that won’t blow over in our sometimes 75-mph gusts.  We painted the hive a light yellow. The paint is necessary to seal the wood, but it has to be a light color. Dark colors will absorb summer heat, and that’s not good for the bees–they work very hard to keep the hive at a perfect 95 degrees.  Thus, a lighter color makes that job a little easier for the workers who spend their days regulating temperature in the hive.

We’ve added a top feeder, instead of a front-entry feeder (makes it harder for the nectar-substitute to be stolen by other insects/animals). We also added a queen excluder, so the queen won’t be able to get into the super that will have the honey frames (you don’t want eggs in your honey!).  The bees are set to arrive Friday, and we’re waiting with great anticipation.

Also, we’ve finally got a few answers about our poor Sugar, who is still not feeling very well:

Turns out she has a little protozoa infection. We’re going to get medicine for her in the next few days (unfortunately the vet who finally figured it out is 2 hours away in LA), and she will hopefully be as good as new in a week or so.

Finally, I’m immersed in one of the best and hardest classes of my life. I’m translating more Greek and thinking more critically than ever before. My professor is notorious for being an enormously hard grader–so I’m needing to constantly remind myself that I am there to learn, not get letters in a grade book.  But the class has re-awakened that seminary fire in me, and I’m grateful. It makes the commute a little more bearable!

Our seedlings should be in the ground in the next few days or so. I’ll keep you posted.

New Schedule

It’s been a little tough getting used to our new schedule, but hopefully everything will begin to fall into place. Last week was my first week back at school, but with the added 2 1/2 hour commute each way (well, 2 1/2 hours in the morning, 2 hours in the afternoon). I’m doing my best to juggle schoolwork and homestead responsibilities–so far, so good. I’m thankful that I love spending my time with both activities, which helps.

I’m only taking one class this quarter, which means I spend double the amount of time in the car to go to and from schodol than I actually do in class! But this class will be one of the best classes I’ve taken yet. It’s entitled “Exegetical Method and Practice” and is taught by one of the best in the field of New Testament, Dr. Joel Green. Basically, in this class take everything we learned in our year of studying Biblical (also called Koine) Greek and find out how to responsibly apply that knowledge when actually translating the Bible. This takes into account the cultural and historical aspects of Biblical texts, the dialogue of the contemporary culture with such a text, the ways in which to interpret a text based on a genre of a particular Biblical book, and so on. I’m proud to say that I just finished translating my first-ever entire book within the Bible: Paul’s letter to Philemon. Okay, okay, so it’s only 25 verses…still, I’m proud. And those 25 verses took over 5 hours to translate. It’s not as simple as translating from, say, French to English–there is deep nuance to the text, with the added challenge of the inability to talk to any of the original writers about their intent, their inferences, and their overall purpose. In any case, it will prove to be a very, very exciting class.

On the homestead, the weather up here keeps us on our toes. It was in the 70s last week, and this morning we had snow. The threat of frost until mid-May makes planning our garden very difficult. However, we do have a few things started indoors: eggplant, kale, lavendar, rosemary. Hopefully in the years to come we’ll get some UV lights to help us start our seedlings so we can time our planting perfectly. We also hope to finish off the greenhouse before next winter, which will also help extend our growing season. But for now, we work with what we have. My biggest concerns right now include having enough warm days to paint the garden fence so we can put in our last gopher barrier; getting the beehive ready for the arrival of our ladies on April 16th; getting a proper wind barrier for our beehive (and, in truth, our garden as well); figuring out our watering system; and finally, saving enough money to fence the property. I’d love to have chickens this summer, but if it’s not in the cards, then I’ll just have to be patient. We want to do this the right way.

On a final note, prayers for our little Sugar would be greatly appreciated. We’re going on over a month with a very strange gastro-intestinal problem that doesn’t seem to be abating. The vets are baffled, and I’m worried that it might progress to something worse if she doesn’t get some relief soon. 

That’s it from the cold, windy homestead for now.