4.5.2014 Suddenly Spring, Chicken and Chipper Troubles, New Bees and the Momma Hen

Eleven days ago, we had another dusting of snow and three days later, I was on my front porch literally watching my farm turn greener by the minute.  Now the grass needs mowing.  God turned up the volume.

Shiro Plum and the green grass grows all around . . .

Shiro Plum and the green grass grows all around . . .

The roosters have gone bonkers.  For the last two months, Hootie, the youngest roo has been charging any human bold enough to get near his girls.  Last week, Stupid and Mannerless decided to move in with the younger flock where he stomped on Hootie, teaching the young man some manners.  In the process, Stupid and Mannerless learned some new moves, went back to the elder flock and pummeled Thundermuffin who has been top rooster for a long while now.  The regal and majestic Thundermuffin is now bloodied and tailless and living in solitary while he recovers.

Not so regal anymore.  Thundermuffin lost two points off his comb to frost over the winter and now this indignity!

Not so regal anymore. Thundermuffin lost two points off his comb to frost over the winter and now this indignity!

Stupid and Mannerless is enjoying top rooster honors in the elder flock.  And without, adult supervision, Hootie has gone back to his evil ways dominating the younger flock and declaring war on all humans.  We’ll be inviting him to dinner soon.  Very soon.  He’s drawn blood.

The hens meanwhile, after a flush of eggs in February, have tailed off in their production and the elder flock of nearly 30 one to three year old hens have quit laying entirely.  The younger flock is still laying very well, when I can find the eggs.  They literally walk through the poultry net and go adventuring every day.  They really need to go out to the big pasture, but two things are stopping me from making the move.  First:  March came in like a lion and true to form on this farm, so did April.  The winds are still too blustery to put chicken tractors out in the open.  Second:  There is no time in my schedule right now.  So until then, I get this:

Do you have any idea how many places there are to hide 13 eggs on a 19 acre farm?  12 of these eggs come from the Leghorns, one of which has gone missing.  The lone brown egg was set down by a Red Sex Link.  We call them the DLF's (Dear Little Friends for they are friendly so much so they will leave their enclosure and come to visit.

Do you have any idea how many places there are to hide 13 eggs on a 19 acre farm? 12 of these eggs come from the Leghorns, one of which has gone missing. The lone brown egg was set down by a Red Sex Link. We call them the DLF’s (Dear Little Friends for they are friendly so much so they will leave their enclosure and come to visit.

I found that stash by accident when I got out the chipper to shred the rose trimmings.  Now the chipper/shredder is a piece of equipment that we bought before we moved to the farm, before we knew much about such things.  We still don’t know much about such things but we have learned that this chipper/shredder has a few serious design flaws.  One: it forces you to work in a bent over position, kind of like old-fashioned hoeing.  It’s hard on the back.  Two:  the output must be shot into a bag attached to the outlet chute.  This forces you to turn off the machine frequently to empty the bag just about the time you are really getting into a rhythm.  And three: the most serious problem is the genius who designed the thing put the very hot exhaust (with the warning signs “Hot! Don’t touch!”) right next to the PLASTIC fuel tank.

So, um, yeah.  The exhaust melted the fuel tank.  My husband installed an aluminum heat shield and then attached a heat sink from an old computer and somehow mended the fuel tank with some JB Weld.  And then he gave me permission to give it away for free.

We will soon be testing a larger chipper that runs off the PTO on the tractor.  It’s an awkward piece of equipment but it’s supposed to be a real beast.

The sudden surge in interest in wood chips comes as we pay good money for wood chips by the truck load to use as mulch around the new trees and shrubs in the hedgerows, orchards, and berry patches.  (I’ve begged chippings from the local tree companies, but we are so out of the way, our farm isn’t a convenient drop point.) We’re buying in wood chips and we’ve got lots of brush that we’ve cleared off the fence lines.  Our little shredder would take care of a lot of it, but we’d end up burning quite a bit too.

The new hedgerow is coming right along.  I really have no master plan for it other than just planting things as they come available.  It’s going to be a chaotic sort of place, I’m afraid.  But already the trees and shrubs are putting on leaves.  The clover seed I put down is germinating.  The only thing that has yet to put it an appearance is the asparagus.

Which is a puzzle.  I thought asparagus was a March thing.  But no asparagus, anywhere.  Not in my established bed.  Not the wild stuff that grows in the fencerow.  Not at my neighbor’s farm.  But looking back at my blog from last year, my asparagus popped up about the same time as my apple trees blossomed.  Last year, that happened in mid-April, but last year was a very strange year – warm winter cold spring.  But if the apple blossom signals the beginning of asparagus season, that means we are a go for asparagus.  The apple trees just began to bloom. (a few over-achieving plums are nearly done) Asparagus coming soon!

Speaking of fruit tree blossoms, I stopped by the Shiro plum to see if the bees were working the flowers.  Nope.  Not really.  All sorts of buzzy things on the plum blossoms, but not the honey bees.  No.  They were prying open the peach blossoms.  Peach nectar must be some darn good hooch.

The big news of the week though is new bees.  After confirming two weeks ago that I had lost two of my hives, I contacted a local bee pusher and inquired about the possibility of getting two packages of bees.  In spite being dreadfully late with the order, it just so happened he was heading down to Georgia to pick up a load and yes, he could get two packages for me.

The queen cage.  A newly mated queen sequestered away in a little box inside the box of bees.  Queen cages are how beekeepers introduce a new queen to a colony of bees.  The workers can smell her and bring her offerings while they get used to her, but the workers can't harm her.  One end of the cage is plugged by a piece of marshmallow.  By the time the bees eat through it, they will (hopefully) accept her as their queen.

The queen cage. A newly mated queen sequestered away in a little box inside the box of bees. Queen cages are how beekeepers introduce a new queen to a colony of bees. The workers can smell her and bring her offerings while they get used to her, but the workers can’t harm her. One end of the cage is plugged by a piece of marshmallow. By the time the bees eat through it, they will (hopefully) accept her as their queen.

They arrived today around two o’clock.  I sprayed them with water and left them in the barn until around 5:30.  Then they got doused with sugar water and dumped into their new home.  All in all, they took it rather well.

Just dump them out.  It really is that easy.  Notice however, I am wearing gloves in both pictures.  I wasn't when I started and paid for that lapse in judgement.  Only one sting.  And oh, yeah.  The photographer got stung once and so did the dog.  Humans and dog and bees all recovering from their trauma nicely.

Just dump them out. It really is that easy. Notice however, I am wearing gloves in both pictures. I wasn’t when I started and paid for that lapse in judgement. Only one sting. And oh, yeah. The photographer got stung once and so did the dog. Humans and dog and bees all recovering from their trauma nicely.

4.6.2014   Update

While working in the garden today, the duly appointed spokesbee came by to complain vociferously about the new neighbors.  I feigned ignorance.  It wouldn’t do for the bees to figure out that I am the same person in the white suit that breaks into their home, tears things up and pisses them off once a week.

Also today, Squatch was being bullied by two of the DLF’s.  She came running to me and hid under my arm until the DLF’s were done disparaging her parentage and found something more interesting to do.  I guess I am officially a chicken mamma.  To bolster Squatch’s confidence, I put her up on the work table in the barn and let her do the record keeping while I dropped some comfrey leaves in water on the theory that they will sprout roots.  Squatch is a good secretary.  She didn’t poop on the books, not even once.squatch and comfreyI shared this post at The Backyard Farming Connection Hop

 


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