My Goal Today

My goal today is to keep on the sunny side of life while sitting in the shade (or better yet, in the pool)

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Stay cool my friends

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Tomato Woes

Every year I look forward to vine-ripened tomatoes.

Starting in the fall, I carefully save seeds from my heirloom tomatoes, plant them in February in my greenhouse, and baby them until it’s warm enough to plant.

I also start saving my eggshells in the winter so I can throw a handful in each hole when I plant in the ground.

Much to my dismay, this year’s first crop of tomatoes have looked like this.

tomato blossom end rot

This is called blossom end rot.  It’s caused by a few things happening in the soil and nature.

*Lack of calcium in the soil (which is why I always throw a handful of eggshells in each hole) Liquid calcium products are also available in garden sections and can be a quick fix for this problem.  I decided not to do this as I think it was due to the next 2 problems.

*Either really wet or really dry soil.  Mulching helps balance this out but unfortunately I didn’t get around to it this year. We did have some extreme wet conditions in early spring followed by dry spells and then days of rain again.  When tomato plants grow quickly due to rain and then set fruit when it’s dry, blossom end rot visits your tomatoes.

*Too much nitrogen.  This is not usually a problem for me as my garden is almost always lacking nitrogen.  I know this because I send soil samples to be tested almost every year. (this is a free service for me through our county extension office).  I try to combat this by planting a cover crop in the fall and tilling it in the spring.  This year, though, I cleaned out my chicken coop and tossed all the old shavings on the garden.  Chicken litter is used routinely on pastures in my area for fertilizer and  I’m thinking I might have overdone it.  Oops. You know the old saying, if a little is good, a lot must be better?   I guess I had that mentality that day.

*pH too high or low, and also high salt content of the soil can also be a factor in rot. Again, a soil test can give you all of these answers.  I prefer to send in a sample to be tested, but I’ve also seen kits at garden supply stores that can give you this info as well.

All is not lost though.  The tomatoes with blossom end rot went to the chickens and my tomato plants are almost 5 ft. tall and loaded with fruit.

tomato plants

The tomato jungle

Here’s hoping my days of blossom end rot are over and I can enjoy a juicy tomato soon.

Hope your gardens are growing well!

Brenda

Posted in Arkansas, Farm life, Garden, Vegetables | Tagged , , , , , , | 10 Comments

The Gardens at Moss Mountain

As one would expect from P. Allen Smith’s  Moss Mountain Farm, his gardens were absolutely incredible.  Mr. Smith led the garden tour and I’m sure he was telling everyone about all the different species and wonderful tidbits about each plant.

P. Allen Smith's Moss Mountain Farm

Me?  I started out in the front of the line and somehow ended up being the last, lone straggler of the bunch.

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But, as an avid gardener, I was not about to rush through this tour (even though it was 95 degrees).  Each way I looked, there was a different combination, structure or venue that caught my eye.

After you make your way through the vegetable garden, you enter a beautiful wedding venue surrounded by roses.

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The flower gardens around the house have a natural backdrop of the Arkansas River.

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After the garden tour, Mr. Smith led us to Poultryville.

Poultryville can be seen from the main house

P. Allen Smith's Moss Mountain Farm from Poultryville

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and houses an extensive collection of heritage poultry.

The poultry houses were just as impressive as the poultry.

Once again, I found myself hanging back admiring the different breeds only to look up and see the rest of the tour yards away.

Not wanting to be labeled a chicken stalker, I quickly caught up with the group in time to see his famous daffodil hill.

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In the spring, over 200,000 daffodils pop up in this meadow to welcome spring.  What a sight that must be!

I appreciate Mr. Smith hosting the Farm2Home event for bloggers and farmers and I hope to attend next year as well.  Maybe next time I can stay with the group and learn some gardening secrets to pass along.

Not making any promises, though.

Brenda

 

 

 

Posted in Arkansas blogger, Chickens, Flowers, Garden | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Moss Mountain Farm

This week I had the privilege to participate in the Farm2Home event held at P. Allen Smith’s Moss Mountain Farm.

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P. Allen Smith is an author and television host based out of Arkansas.  His shows include Garden Home, Garden to Table, and Garden Style. He is passionate about promoting organic gardening, local foods and preserving heritage breeds of poultry.  Mr. Smith was gracious enough to host a group of Arkansas bloggers and local farmers to his 650 acre estate this week in an effort to promote Arkansas Grown and Arkansas Made products. The event also included a tour of Smith’s home, gardens, and his famous Poultryville which houses several heritage breeds of chickens, ducks and turkeys.

The Garden Home Retreat, as it is known by his followers,  was built less than ten years ago, but was designed to look as if it was built in the 1840’s.   This Greek-Revival style home is actually red brick on the outside but covered in a lime wash to distress the appearance.  Smith states that his best compliment is when people ask him when he did the renovation.

The massive 300-year old oak in the front yard is definitely a focal point of the estate

P. Allen Smith's Moss Mountain Garden Home Retreat

and was our meeting point for the events of the day.

P. Allen Smith's Moss Mountain Garden Home Retreat

As we entered the massive tall doors of the home, we were greeted by Duncan our tour guide.

P. Allen Smith's Moss Mountain Garden Home Retreat

The living area and formal dining area happily share a space.

P. Allen Smith's Moss Mountain Garden Home Retreat

Smith is also an artist and one of his paintings depicting his home state of Tennessee is displayed in this area P. Allen Smith's Moss Mountain Garden Home Retreat

as well as an antique sugar cabinet.  Back when sugar was scarce, these cabinets were locked and guarded by the mistress of the house.  It is also believed that she kept her best  whiskey in the cabinet, too.  This, of course, is speculation, but who would blame her for a nip now and then.

P. Allen Smith's Moss Mountain Garden Home Retreat

One feature of the house is the Rumford fireplace

P. Allen Smith's Moss Mountain Garden Home Retreat

These tall, narrow, fireplaces were designed in the 1790’s to make the best use of fireplace heat.  The shallow angles of the wall, deflect heat more efficiently than larger square fireplaces we see today.

The dining room table was set with a variety of books

P. Allen Smith's Moss Mountain Garden Home Retreat

and led us into the kitchen.

And what a kitchen it is (and hard to photograph with so many people in it)

P. Allen Smith's Moss Mountain Garden Home Retreat

P. Allen Smith's Moss Mountain Garden Home Retreat

P. Allen Smith's Moss Mountain Garden Home Retreat

view from the kitchen window

Next to the kitchen, is a small dining area

P. Allen Smith's Moss Mountain Garden Home Retreat

which also leads out to the screened porch sitting and dining area

P. Allen Smith's Moss Mountain Garden Home Retreat

P. Allen Smith's Moss Mountain Garden Home Retreat

P. Allen Smith's Moss Mountain Garden Home Retreat

P. Allen Smith's Moss Mountain Garden Home Retreat

The upstairs houses the bedrooms

P. Allen Smith's Moss Mountain Garden Home Retreat

P. Allen Smith's Moss Mountain Garden Home Retreat

and their beautiful antiques, but my favorite sleeping area was the screened sleeping porch

P. Allen Smith's Moss Mountain Garden Home Retreat

complete with a copper bathtub

P. Allen Smith's Moss Mountain Garden Home Retreat

P. Allen Smith's Moss Mountain Garden Home Retreat

and breathtaking views of the Arkansas River

P. Allen Smith's Moss Mountain Garden Home Retreat

sorry about the screen effect

The third floor accommodates the nieces and nephews of Mr. Smith. Up the narrow staircase,

P. Allen Smith's Moss Mountain Garden Home Retreat

is a retreat any child would love.

P. Allen Smith's Moss Mountain Garden Home Retreat

P. Allen Smith's Moss Mountain Garden Home Retreat

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P. Allen Smith's Moss Mountain Garden Home Retreat

And, as the daughter of an electrician, I always notice the light fixtures.

P. Allen Smith's Moss Mountain Garden Home Retreat

P. Allen Smith's Moss Mountain Garden Home Retreat

If you think this was spectacular, wait until you see the gardens.

Brenda

 

 

 

Posted in Arkansas, Arkansas blogger, Garden, Home, travel | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

I Need An Intervention

Since we last talked, I have acquired 2 more swarms.  Someone gave my name to Animal Control Services in a nearby town and they called one afternoon with a swarm of bees in a stack of pallets.

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Fortunately, this one was three feet off the ground

 

Dad and I boxed them up and took them to his house.  Thankfully, he already had an empty hive ready and we placed them inside and let them settle down. This cluster would have been so easy to spray and kill and I’m very grateful that this thoughtful company chose to call and have them removed instead.

The second swarm came from the same yard our first swarm came from.

Let me back up a bit.  After the first swarm, my dad and I decided to build some swarm traps to place around our farms.  I got the idea from a local beekeeping group and felt like our properties would be a great place to try them out.

Swarm trap place in a tree to entice ferral swarms of bees.

swarm trap

Now, before you start thinking that I’m a bee stealer, rest assured they are not used to catch other people’s bees.  (I’m not that far gone, yet)

Swarm traps are used to catch feral or wild bee swarms that are most likely swarming from a nearby tree.

We made our swarm trap from a deep super with a top and bottom piece of OSB  (not the best choice but all we had) on the top and bottom.

It has a hanger board nailed to the back so it can hang in a tree.  That’s really all you need to do unless my dad is helping with the building process.

As we were putting it together, Dad thought that instead of screwing the top completely down, we should make a hinged top.  He said he thought he had a bucket of hinges somewhere in the barn (I mean who doesn’t?) and sure enough after an hour of hunting, he found them.

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this make perfect sense if you know my dad

He put the hinges on and then decided we needed handles for the sides.  And, you guessed it, he thought he had a bucket of handles somewhere so we started the hunt again until we found some.  He put those on and then saw that the screws went through to the inside.  No problem, he said, I’ve got a grinder somewhere and I’ll just grind those off.  So we hunted and hunted until we found the grinder.

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The hole in the front is 1-1/2″ diameter.  It was supposed to be 1-1/4″ diameter but he looked and looked for that size drill bit but couldn’t find it (are you seeing a pattern here?)so we did a little larger.

Entrance to the swarm trap.

Some sort of wire is attached on the inside to keep birds out of the box.  I used tie wire for mine and dad used a little piece of chicken wire for his.  That’s all I did for mine.  Dad, of course, had to one-up me and make a porch on the outside of his.  The wire is so he can close the porch floor over the hole for transport.  I do believe he’s thought of everything and,once again, found all of our supplies in his barn.

Inside the box, we placed 5 frames we would normally use for a regular hive.  4 of the frames were empty and one had old brood comb on it.  At the very back of the box, I taped a Ziploc bag that was filled with a cotton ball with 4-5 drops of lemongrass oil on it and a drinking straw.  I zipped up the bag and left the end of the straw sticking out.  I got a Q-tip and placed 2-3 drops of lemongrass oil on it and rubbed it around the entrance.

As we were making the traps, the guy that called me about the first swarm told me he had another swarm fly through his yard.  Although they didn’t land there, I thought his yard might be a good place to place a trap.  He agreed and we placed one in his backyard.    A couple of weeks later, he called  with a possible swarm and I went to check it out.

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we have a winner!

It was a good size swarm (you’re only seeing half of it in this picture) and was placed in a hive already set up in my bee yard and gives us a grand total of 6 hives.  I proclaimed that I was finished and was in the process of taking all of our traps down when a friend told me she had bought a Flow Hive in January.  She didn’t have any bees yet so I asked if I caught another swarm would she want it.  She really didn’t have time to work with bees so asked me if I wanted to try out this new contraption.

How could I resist?  So I put the traps back up, got out my screw gun and began to put together the hive.  Here is the finished results.

 

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Flow Hive as seen on Facebook

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Side panel can be removed

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to see bees at work

 

So, once again, I’m on the lookout for more bees.

I’ll keep you posted,

Brenda

Posted in Arkansas, Bees, Farm life, Garden | Tagged , , , , , | 16 Comments

Making of a Queen

So how do bees make a queen?

In my last post, I talked about splitting my big hive to make a smaller hive.  When I did the split, I left the queen in the big hive and now need the bees I selected for the split hive to make another queen.  Sounds simple enough.

So, how do they decide who gets to wear the crown?   Do they  pick the most popular bee in the hive and make her queen?  Do they have a contest to see which bee brings in the most pollen or honey?  Is there a screening committee to review all interested applicants?

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pick me! pick me!

 

No, that would be too easy.

Bees are very complex creatures that have their own special methods of making a queen.

If you remember, I made a special point to get freshly laid eggs from the queen in the mother hive.  These eggs begin to hatch in three days.  At this time, nurse bees feed all larvae (hatched eggs)  with a special, rich food called royal jelly.  It is at this time, they can decide which larvae will be a worker bee or queen.  If the larvae is chosen to be a worker bee, the royal jelly is cut off and they are fed pollen and honey.  If they decide the larvae will be a queen, royal jelly is fed continually.

Royal jelly is secreted from the glands of the worker bees.  It has been referred to as bee milk and is packed full of protein and sugars.  When worker bees are denied this food, their ovaries shrivel up and they will not be able to lays eggs.  When a future queen is fed royal jelly, she will grow twice the size of a worker bee which is why the cells for queen bees are easy to spot.

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worker bee capped cells on left/ 3 capped queen cells in center

I had 6 queen cells in my split hive but the hive only needs 1 queen.  When the first queen emerges, she quickly makes her way to the other queen cells, opens them up, and stings the forming queens to kill them.  If two queens emerge simultaneously, they will fight until one is dead.  Being a Queen is serious business!

After she has taken care of her competition, she prepares to take her mating flight.  Virgin queens do not mate with the drones in her hive.  Instead, she will leave her hive and fly 30 or more feet in the air and mate with drones from another colony.   When she arrives at this mating area, she will emit a pheromone or smell that attracts the drones to mate with her.  She may have to make more than one mating flight but will eventually mate with as many as 20 drones.  When she is finished mating, hopefully she will return to the hive and take on the role of Queen Bee.   I say hopefully because a number of things could happen while she is out of the hive. She could get caught in bad weather and not be able to find her way home, be killed by the weather, or even eaten by a bird.

But, one thing is for sure.  The fate of the hive depends on her return.

And, if she makes it back to the hive, she will begin to lay eggs.  A young queen can lay up to 2000 eggs A DAY.   That’s a lot of baby bees!

So there you have it.  The condensed version of how a bee makes a queen.

Pretty amazing creatures.

bees 3/12/15

Brenda

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Bees, Farm life, Garden | Tagged , , | 12 Comments

Bee Stuff

The warm(ish) winter and spring have really jump started the bee hives.

I went into winter with 2 hives.  Both hives had ample honey stores and were strong going into winter but one didn’t survive.  I’m not sure why.  Many experienced beekeepers in the area lost hives this winter so I wasn’t alone.  Most blamed the mild winter (which I enjoyed) but can lead to all kinds of issues in the bee world.

So I was left with one hive.  A very strong hive with the queen laying tons of eggs and a hive full of workers to back her up.   So I decided to split this hive and make a new one.

When you split a hive, part of the bees from the “mother” hive will be put into another hive body so they can begin to make a new queen.  All you need for the new hive is fresh eggs, larvae, capped brood, bees (not the queen), pollen, and honey.  Very intimidating for a beekeeper who’s only read about it.

I picked a day that I could spend some time looking through the hive.  This particular hive has 3 deep supers.  That adds up to 30 frames of bees with each frame having 2 sides.  I knew I was going to be there a while.  I took out each frame and looked for the queen (which I had found and marked in a previous inspection).  When I found a frame with  pollen, honey, larvae, capped brood and no queen, I placed it in a nuc box (a small 5-frame box).

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different colors of pollen on the left and capped brood on the right

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pollen on foundation

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different flowers make up the different colors of pollen

I was fortunate enough to find the frame with the queen (in the very last box I checked, of course)  and watched her for several minutes.  After I saw her lay several eggs, I gently put her on a different frame and  put the frame she was on in the nuc box.  This assures me that the eggs will be young enough for the workers to begin the makings of a new queen.  Since I knew the queen was in the  bottom box, I went back to the middle box that was sitting beside the hive and took out the remaining frames I needed for the split.  Be sure and have extra, empty frames handy to replace the ones you take out.

I strapped and secured the box and took it to my dads house 3 miles away.   The books will tell you if you move a hive less than 2 miles away from the original hive, they will return to the original hive so I was not worried about the distance.   He had a hive set up and ready and we placed the 5 frames in the center of the hive body and put 5 empty frames around the bees.

It will take some time for the hive to realize they don’t have a queen and begin to prepare to make a new one.  We checked the hive last week (10 days since the split) and it looks like they are making a queen cell.  I will keep you updated on the progress.

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emergency queen cell

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queen cells are much larger than capped brood

Since the big hive I did my split from was so strong, I decided to split it again.

The reason I’m so anxious to split it again, is because it has been going gangbusters since I got it 3 years ago and I want to keep the genetics of this hive going in my bee yard.

Except this split will stay in my bee yard.

Right next to the mother hive.

Not like the book suggests.

I’m such a rebel.

Here’s what I did.

I went through the hive again (this was a week after I did the split for my dad), and took out the appropriate frames.  I found the queen once again and was able to watch her lay eggs so that was the most important frame needed for fresh eggs.

I set up an empty hive next to the mother hive and placed 5 frames of eggs, larvae, capped brood, bees (no queen), honey and pollen inside.  Then I added 5 empty frames that had old brood comb on them.  Old brood comb is foundation that has had beeswax built up for the queen to lay her eggs.

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The area in the center of the above photo does not have brood comb built up yet.  This is the foundation that is put in the frame and is the starting point for the bees to build it up.  You can see the advantage to already having the foundation built up (or drawn out) for the queen to lay her eggs.  That’s a lot of work to do so, by adding these frames already drawn out, the bees can skip this step and begin the process of storing pollen, taking care of  young eggs and larvae, and preparing for a new queen.

I was fortunate to have several frames already built up, but here is one that was not.  The white is beeswax in the process of being drawn out.

After I placed the 5 empty frames and the 5 frames from the mother hive, I put my entrance reducer on.  Instead of being open, I had tacked wire around the openings so they would not be able to leave.

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entrance reducer with wire attached

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I was told to leave the hive like this for 3 days.  After the third day, I removed the wire and placed a limb with leaves in front of the entrance.

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The purpose of this is to make the bees re-orient themselves when they leave the hive.  Supposedly, after 3 days of being sequestered in a hive, that is long enough for the bees to forget about the mother hive and accept this new hive as their home.

Today, 10 days later, I opened this hive.  Can you see the queen cells?

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Here’s another look without the bees.

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I counted 6 queen cells in this hive.  Here’s another one that the bees are working on capping (covering) so the larvae will pupate.

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Queen cell in the process of being capped off

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Same queen cell

I am very excited about this but there are a lot more things that need to happen before these splits are deemed a success.

I’ll keep you posted.

Brenda

I am linking with Our Simple Life blog hop this week.                                                http://oursimplelife-sc.com/simple-homestead-blog-hop-50/

 

 

 

 

Posted in Arkansas, Bees, Farm life, Garden | Tagged , , , , , , | 16 Comments