I was once asked what a successful farm looks like. I responded, “A successful farm is a busy place even when the people aren’t there.”
While I wouldn’t say we’ve achieved that status yet, we are making strides in that direction. The night is lit here and there with fire flies. More than last year and more than the year before. (But not near as many as when I was a child chasing the critters in Mamaw Lizzie’s front yard in West Virginia.) There are toads and bugs and birds gallivanting about in greater variety and number than last year too.
For two weeks in early May, I was repeatedly dive bombed by Purple Martins. My neighbor has a martin house. We don’t and we’ve never had martins before. But because this group of migrant workers was so persistent, we considered installing a dormitory for them. But first, I had to know, would the martins eat my bees? Actually since bees normally forage no more than six feet off the ground and purple martins feed higher up, the birds really pose little danger to my bees. . . unless I’ve got queens out on mating flights. Doesn’t happen often, and when queens do go out, they are looking for drones. Drones congregate in certain areas sort of like a meat market waiting for the hot babes to come by. Once the queens are in the DCA (drone congregation area), the odds of a purple martin getting her drop considerably because of all the drones. So yes, beekeepers can be purple martin slumlords. So we put up a Martin Barn.
Initially, I thought we’d missed the migration, but no. An enterprising barn swallow gave herself the nickel tour and like any good realtor, she pounded the pavement for clients. It took less than a day for the first buyer to move in. And now, a week after the Martin Barn opened for business, some of the 16 apartments are occupied. (Hard to tell exactly how many.)
The bees too, have taken on tenants. Small hive beetles have put in an appearance in two of the hives. The Blue hive, the only one to survive the winter, never quite recovered from their early attempt to swarm, and my attempt at a split. I’ve reduced them down to two boxes. The top has a bit of brood and nectar. The bottom is pretty darn full of pollen and wax moths. I cut out as many of the moth larvae as I could find hoping that would give the bees a leg up and they could deal with it. But no. A week later, I just removed the whole bottom box and fed the frames with all the moth larvae to the chickens.
The beetle traps, I filled with water. It will be interesting to see how that works out. Last year, I used vegetable oil. I suspect the water will evaporate, but how quickly is the question. So all my hives are now sitting on pans of water. The pink hive, one of this spring’s packages, is still going gang busters and they are presently working a honey super. Sadly it’s the only hive in any shape to produce a surplus. Happily, that’s better than last year. Lavender and Orange are definitely making progress.
Then there was the unknown varmint that started munching on the younger flock. Whatever it is, it’s coming during the day, so I suspect a hawk or a fox. The Leghorns were the first to go, which favors the hawk hypothesis. Hard to believe because those ladies were fast. Wish I could put up a sign that says, “Please take what you want from the slackers in the elder flock. You’ll find them in the coop.”
Turns out I needn’t do that. The other day, this fellow showed up in the coop. My husband found him, just hanging out insisting he was a chicken.
In what I consider a stroke of brilliance and poetic justice, I made up a rule. (For those of you who don’t know my husband, he is well known for making up games and making up rules as he goes along.) My rule: “The one who finds a black snake in a place where it would cause trouble for the chickens is the one who has to relocate the snake.” Sounded fair to me. I moved the last snake.
So the hubby moved the snake down to the bottoms where the grass is tall and the chickens don’t lay their eggs. I sprinkled sulfur around the chicken doors to discourage him from returning. And thus far he hasn’t.
To put an end to the carnage in the younger flock, I moved the sad remnants into the coop. For the next week, they will be confined to the run, under the dense shade of the maples & honey locusts. Hopefully, hawk will cross us off his shopping lists when the supply dries up.
The produce side of my farm has quite literally taken over my life and chicken troubles mount while I struggle to keep the garden on schedule.
Honestly, it is my intent to move to invite the slackers to freezer camp and move the rest out to the big field where they can debug the piles of horse dung. But to do that, I have to find time to butcher about 25 (15 now) chickens. I have to buy posts to set up an electric fence to keep the horses out of the chicken tractors because horses will scratch their behinds on chicken tractors and destroy the tractors trying to get to the chicken feed because you know, I never feed them (rolls eyes). Poultry netting doesn’t carry enough charge to get a horse’s attention. And then there’s the daily pulling of chicken tractors and the daily eggs hunts.
Part of me says, “Would it really be so bad to be out of the chicken business?” They are, and always have been, a loss leader financially. They have figured out they can just walk through or fly over the poultry netting making them truly free range chickens, once I let them out of the coop/chicken tractor. Hard to keep chickens safe from terrestrial predators if they won’t stay behind their electric fence. And how long will it be before they discover they can fly over the garden fence and promptly destroy the one thing that is financially productive at the moment?
The other part says, “You’ve been feeding them your extra lettuce and that has worked wonders on the rate of lay. You’ve finally found a market for nearly all the eggs they produce (including the duck eggs – I manage to talk someone into trying them every week at market.) And there will be a time when eggs are just about the only thing coming off the farm. And they aren’t losing nearly as much money as they used to.”
I don’t know what I’m going to do about the chickens. I eat, sleep and breathe produce at the moment. Can’t think of anything else.
Until this evening. We were visitors ourselves at the neighbors tonight. They introduced us to their favorite sport – pickle ball. Sort of like table tennis on a court half the size of tennis court – played with paddles and sturdy whiffle balls. For about an hour and a half, I absolutely did not think about my farm. Marvelous!
And lastly, there was the visitor that shook the house the other night. Just 23 miles northwest of here, a 3.1 earthquake shook the ground, shortly before 10 pm. For us, it was just like one of those loud rumbles of thunder that is so powerful it rattles the house a bit. No damage. No pictures out of place. Nothing jumping out of cabinets. But yeah, it got our attention and like the 2011 Louisa earthquake, most of the energy from this quake seemed to propagate north and east. Thank you, large slab of granite under our farm! Still, that’s 3 earthquakes since we moved to Virginia in 14 years ago. Virginia earthquakes, well who knew?