To Bee or Not To Bee

Is no longer the question.

I picked up my bees yesterday afternoon at the Bee Farm.

Did I wear my beesuit?

No.

There were two trucks ahead of me and people were getting stung right and left.

Yikes.

Then it’s my turn.  I backed up the truck and reluctantly got out.  I am wearing a t-shirt, jeans, ball cap and hair in a pony tail.

What the heck was I thinking?

Did you know bees like pony tails?  They seemed to hone in on it immediately.   I yanked my hat off and started the “there’s a bee in my hair” dance.  After a few minutes, and thankfully no stings, Mr. Bee Man suggested I get in the truck and he would talk to me through the window (rolled up, of course).

Great idea.  I got my instructions and headed down the road.

Looking in the rear view mirror, I saw Mr. Bee Man laughing with his helper.  At least they had enough composure not to imitate me until I was out of sight.

Thank God, no one else was there.

Now I’m thinking, “what in the world have I gotten myself into?”

When I got home, I put my bee suit on, took a deep breath, and approached the hives.  The entrance was blocked with wire so no bees were buzzing around.

Yippy.

My hives are called starter hives.  The contain a nucleus colony of bees.  A nucleus, or nuc, only has 3000-5000 bees.  (A regular hive could contain up to 60,000 bees)  I can tell you this.  When I was carrying the hive to it’s stand, the buzz of those bees sounded like there were 100,000.

bees

With both hives in place and standing to the side of the hive, I removed the wire screen.

Bees poured out.

I won’t lie.  The sights and sounds were somewhat unnerving.

Trying to stay calm, I slowly walked away.

I think it was then that I took a breath.

I did it.

Without the dance.

That’s not all I needed to do, though.  Bees need food and lots of it.

The feeders that you see on the outside of the hives contain sugar water.

bees

The ratio for spring bees is 1:1.  1 cup of water to 1 cup of sugar so 1 gallon of water gets about 5 lbs. of sugar.

By this evening, they had gone through about 1/2 gallon of the sugar water.

Al was kind enough to take photos of me feeding the bees.  He was thankful for the telephoto lens.

bees

bees

bees

bees

At this rate, I will be feeding every day until more blooms appear.

Practice makes perfect!

Brenda

 

 

Posted in Arkansas, Bees, Farm life, Garden | Tagged , , | 24 Comments

What in the World is a Chicken Tractor

Those were my Dad’s exact words when I told him how I was going to raise my meat chickens.

When I showed him some pictures of different “models”, he said, “Well, I probably have all the stuff to make one.”

“You’re hired!”

And that’s how I roped him into helping me.

First of all, we had to find something to use for the frame.  As we drove by one of the barns, he noticed this metal shipping crate.

chicken tractor2

It was 4 ft. tall, 8 ft. long and VERY heavy.  Too heavy to pull around a pasture. “But not if I cut it half,” he said.

So that’s what he did.

Then he added some old lawnmower wheels to one end so I would be able to pull it easier.  (He didn’t need any help pulling it–he’s just 77!)

chicken tractor3

If you can tell, the side on the left and the top and back had no metal support.  He found some scrap wood to brace those sides and added some leftover chicken wire around all the sides.  The floor of the tractor is completely open as it will sit on the ground.

On half of the tractor (sides, top and back) he screwed on scrap aluminum pieces.  Aluminum reflects heat so this will shield the chickens from the heat of the sun, along with the rain.

Here is the finished product.  He did not have to buy one thing to make it–he even found some unused paint to paint it for me!

chicken tractor

An old screen window was hinged to the top and a handle was added  so I would be able to feed and water without lifting the entire structure.  It also has a small lock to keep it closed (which might need to be reinforced when the time comes.)

chicken tractor

The wheels were also tweaked and made to be adjustable.  A small bar was welded nearby so I would have something to lift it by while adjusting.

chicken tractor

A handle bar was added to the front so I would be able to pull it easier.

chicken tractor

And a “hitch” was added if I ever needed to use a chain to drag it with our ATV.

chicken tractor

And my favorite part of all?

 

He added a custom license plate!

chicken tractor

I do believe he’s thought of everything!

Good job, Dad!

I owe you a chicken.

 

 

 

Posted in Arkansas, Chickens, Farm life, Garden, Home | Tagged , | 18 Comments

One More Step To Growing My Own Food

For years, we have raised our own beef for food.

Last year, I bought chickens to give me eggs.

In a couple of weeks, my bees will arrive.

Friday, my meat chickens arrived.

chicken

I ordered my chicks from Nelson’s Hardware Store in Cave Springs, AR.  Tim, the owner, is a former high school classmate and all around good guy.  His daughter, Simonee, also works at the store and helped me coordinate the order.  You’re probably wondering why I ordered from a hardware store instead of directly from the hatchery.  It was for convenience, price, and because I wanted to see Tim and his store.

When you order from a hatchery, the chicks are sent via postal service to your local post office.  When they arrive, you get a call to come and get them.  Our little post office is only open a few hours in the morning, so that would not work for me.  Tim let me come at my convenience, he got a better price than I would’ve gotten and I enjoyed seeing him and his store (which is a lot more than just hardware!)

The chicks are one day old when they are shipped.  They ship them with no food or water because newborn chicks can live up to three days living on the yolk they absorbed before hatching.

I had my brooder (home for baby chicks) ready before I got them home.  You can buy a brooder box with all the fixin’s, but I just made one from a water tub we weren’t using.  I’ve seen people use large cardboard boxes, kiddie swimming pools, and old aquariums.  I have 25 chicks, so I think they will enjoy having the extra space.

chicken

The brooder is in the barn, out of the wind and cold, and covered so no cats will be able to jump in.  And believe me, they’ve been looking.

I placed some pine shavings on the bottom of the tub and placed 2 heat lamps, 2 feeder troughs and 2 waterers in the tub.

meat chicks, chicken

chicken

Annie is making sure everything is just right.

chicks, chicken

chicken, annie

chicken, annie

The chicks had already been eating and drinking at Tim’s, so they knew what to do when I put them in the brooder.  Otherwise, they have to be shown food and water making sure they learn how to eat and drink.  They usually get it, but sometimes there will be one or two that are a little slow.  This will be their home for the next 2-3 weeks.

I chose to raise Cornish Cross due to the fact that they are bred to be quick growers (they will be ready to process in 8 weeks).  This is the breed of chicken you find in the supermarkets.   I have been told there is a difference in taste (meaning they will have a taste!) and I’m sure there will be because, in 2-3 weeks, they will move to a chicken tractor out in the pasture– complete with green grass, GMO-free feed, fresh water and sunshine.

chicken

Cornish Cross chicks

For now, though, they just need to eat and grow.

Brenda

 

 

 

Posted in Arkansas, Chickens, Farm life, Garden, Home | Tagged , , , | 9 Comments

Beware the Urge to Plant

The days are getting longer and warmer.

sunset

The grass is getting greener and the ground is warming up.

green pastures

And I’m ready to play in the dirt and plant my garden!

While it’s ok to plant cold season crops like broccoli, lettuce, and spinach now, it’s still too cold to plant tomatoes and peppers in the ground.

I was at a local big box store a few days ago and couldn’t believe how many people were buying tomato plants.  Yesterday, as I was visiting my local Farmer’s Co-op I noticed the same phenomenon.  I asked the guy that checked me out why they sold tomato plants so early.  He said people start asking for them in March and if they don’t get them early, they will go somewhere else to buy them.  “Do they know it’s too early to plant them?”, I asked.  He laughed and said, “Yes, but the urge to have to have the first tomato of the season is too strong for some people.”

He’s right.

My dad has always had a garden.  He knows better than to plant early, yet one year he planted 80 tomato plants the first of April.  I reminded him that our last freeze date is April 15th.  I also reminded him that when we grew tomatoes commercially, they did not even give us the plants until May 15th.

He planted them anyway.  We had a freeze.  They all died except 3.  He bought more and replanted.

I think we all know the moral to this story.

So, for those of us in NW Arkansas, the last average freeze date is April 15th.  I always wait and plant my warm season veggies (tomatoes, peppers, corn, squash, okra) the end of April/first of May.  (If you remember last year, we had a very rare snow May 3rd).

By waiting (and I know it’s hard), you allow the ground to warm, too.  Plopping a tomato in the cold ground may make you feel better, but cold soil could slow down the growth later on.  Studies have shown that tomatoes planted early typically produced tomatoes the same time as those planted late.  Same goes for peppers.

Seeds may not germinate in cold soil, either.  Corn and okra, for example, like warm soil too.  You might get lucky and have some germinate early, but most likely they will sit in the ground and rot and, well, that’s just not right.

So, around mid-April, start keeping an eye on the weather and extended forecasts.  Be patient. Warmer weather will happen this month!

Brenda

p.s  my meat chicks arrived yesterday! Stay tuned….

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in arkansas weather, Chickens, Farm life, Garden, Home, Vegetables | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

You Don’t Have To Plant A Garden To Eat Home Grown Food

I can’t imagine a summer without a garden.

Garden 9-29-12

Fresh tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, and lettuce just a few steps from my door.  And, even though every year it seems I am fighting either the weather or some bug or critter (usually all three),  it’s something I love to do.

Many people get very enthusiastic about gardening in the spring.  Planting a garden is no big deal.  Maintaining a garden is a whole different matter.  It’s very easy to get discouraged when squash bugs invade your veggies overnight or when raccoons harvest your corn the night before your planned picking date.  There’s the spring storms that bring wind, hail and tornadoes.  Summer brings heat, humidity, and drought.  And, it’s a well-known fact that weeds grow 3 feet overnight.

I can understand why people give up.

Thankfully, we live in an area that supports many Farmer’s Markets.  These growers are dedicated to bringing fresh food to your table.  I love that I can talk to these gardeners face to face and discuss the varieties they grow, along with their gardening methods and techniques.

Not only are there fruits and veggies, there are farmers that grow their own beef, chicken and pork to sell at the market.

Bakers will bring their baked goods.

Artists will bring their art.

And musicians will bring their music.

It’s a wonderful thing and a great beginning to spring.

The Fayetteville Farmer’s Market will begin this weekend.  Approximately 60 vendors will set up around the historic square this year. The weather looks to be beautiful and a great day to kick off this award-winning market.

I also wanted to let you know about another way to receive fresh food from a local source. Northwest Arkansas Local Harvest is part of a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)group that offers either a weekly delivery of seasonal produce to your door (for Fayetteville residents) or on a scheduled pick up date for those outside the city limits.  Most CSA’s are dedicated to providing naturally grown food without the use of pesticides, herbicides, and synthetic fertilizers.  To learn more about this CSA, check out their website.  To see a list of local food sources in Northwest Arkansas, check out the NWA Local Food Guide.

CSA’s are located all over the United States.  To find one near you, go to Local Harvest.org and search for your area.  I think it’s great to support small farm efforts to bring us fresh, chemical free food.  Gardening is hard work and I so appreciate these people who dedicate themselves to providing us with a healthy option for food.

If you find a farm/CSA you like, let people know!

Image

 

Posted in Arkansas, Family, Garden, Vegetables | Tagged , , , | 12 Comments

We Are Late For Our Haircuts

This time last year, I already had my roses pruned, ornamental grasses cut, and hydrangeas and butterfly bushes trimmed.

Not this year.  Nature has had her own schedule this winter and she’s really wanting it to hang on.

This weekend (hopefully), the trimmers are coming out of hibernation. Here’s a flashback of last year which will basically be a repeat for this year.

http://theblondegardener.com/2013/02/19/give-a-gal-some-pruners-and-stand-back/

Posted in Arkansas, Garden, Pruning | Tagged , , , | 9 Comments

Attracting Swallowtail Butterflies

Last fall, I showed you a glimpse of the monarch butterflies life cycle.

monarch chysalis

I also want to show you another caterpillar I had in my flowerbeds.

The spicebush swallowtail butterfly will lay its eggs on a spicebush tree (Lindera benzoin)

spicebush

spicebush-early spring

spicebush

or sassafras tree.

I have 4 spicebush in various flowerbeds and this seems to be their favorite choice for laying their eggs.

A tell-tale sign you have had a spicebush caterpillar on your tree is this

spicebush

The caterpillar will excrete a silk-like material on the leaf which causes the leaf to fold up.

spicebush

This is their protection from birds, spiders and dragonflies to name a few.

When the caterpillars are very small, their protection is to look like bird poop.

spicebush

spicebush

As they grow, they begin to develop large “eye spots” which is supposed to frighten predators.

spicebush spicebush

This past summer, I had a huge number of swallowtail caterpillars.  Many on the spicebush (Spicebush swallowtail) but also a large number on my bronze fennel and Rue (Eastern swallowtail)

swallowtail on rue

swallowtail caterpillar on rue

How many do you see?

swallowtails on rue

I collected many of the caterpillars and placed them in my large aquarium to form their chrysalis and overwinter.

swallowtail chrysalis

swallowtail

munching on parsley

Unlike monarchs, swallowtails will survive the winter in their cozy chrysalis.

swallowtail caterpillar

preparing to form chrysalis

swallowtail chrysalis

swallowtail chrysalis

Amazingly, I have 93 swallowtails that are overwintering in the aquarium.  As the temperatures begin to rise, they will gradually emerge and begin their life cycle.

Which means spring is close!

In the meantime, if you are wanting to attract swallowtails to your garden this year, you can plant a variety of host plants for them.  Parsley, dill, fennel, the herb rue, queen anne’s lace along with the spicebush have been favorites in my garden.

Just remember, if you plant them, they will come!

Brenda

Posted in Arkansas, Butterflies, Flowers, Garden, Home | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments