Category Archives: Honey Bees

November at Living Land

The early winter weather that arrived in November justified my hurried working pace this fall. I’d like to claim an ability to feel the storms coming… but, to be honest, I’m pretty sure that I rush around every autumn. Some years I feel silly for it, but not this one.

The harsh month with some serious cold, very little sun, and snow and ice cut short some of the outdoor work I’d hoped to accomplish and made what had to be wrapped up challenging. Here’s the story…

Our Work in November

Outside

Our first priority this month was bringing in the wood we expect to need for the winter. There was also more splitting and stacking to be done. We didn’t quite finish that before the snow made it too tricky to continue.

Garden Under Snow

I didn’t spend much time in the garden. We did create a few new beds and refreshed some of the older ones with seaweed, manure and our moldy hay. I can pick that work up again in the spring.

In many permaculture designs and zone maps I see the garden placed close to the house with animals farther away. This time of year I give thanks that I didn’t follow that pattern. I might only enter the garden a half dozen times between November and March. On the other hand, the animals need the same care now as they did in the peak of summer. Bringing them food and water, opening and closing gates and doors, milking the goats.

In fact, we spent even more time with the goats in November since that is our targeted breeding window. I observed them carefully, attempting to discern who was in heat and pair her with the right buck at the right time. This is not so easy. My first goal was to breed Honey, who didn’t get pregnant last year despite our efforts. She spent much of this month living with Marley just in case I was missing the signs. I put Luna in with them as well when she seemed interested. All of this reshuffling of the herd agitates the girls, who complain about it often.

Stinky Buck, Riding in the Car

Later in the month, we brought home our buck named Pan, who spent a couple of years with fellow goat keepers for their breeding program. Driving around with a stinky buck in the car is not one of my favorite things, but we did it! He has caused a great sensation here. For some reason, the girls find him appealing to the point of jumping fences to reach him. He also smashed through 17 gauge fencing and broke a few gates to reach them. He is only supposed to be servicing one of my does, Cocoa, this year but he may have over-achieved. Time will tell, coupled with the detailed notes in my Goat Sex Journal. (Pan Romances Lily – November 2018)

Pan Romancing Lily

He is an impressive guy, now four years old, with a long beard, gorgeous horns, and emanating a true stench. As far as his personality, he has actually mellowed some. When he was last here at about 2 years old, I was concerned he might be interested in challenging us humans, not just the other goats. He never did anything aggressive – it was more how he was eyeing me at times. But that seems not to have developed after all and he’s quite sweet in disposition now. I was afraid that putting him and our other buck together would be potentially dangerous for them, but in one of his escapes they ended up together for most of a day and no violence ensued, to my great relief. There was a lot of snorting, peeing and flehmening, but even less horn locking than the girls do with each other as a matter of course.

Which reminds me of another job that Steve has been hard at work at, even in the snow: fencing fixes and upgrades. Thanks to Pan, he knew exactly the weak spots in the system.

Most of our animals share our lack of enthusiasm for this early winter: the goats and chickens don’t like stepping on snow and the cats have given up on going outside to hunt. Even our cold-hardy ducks spent a few of the really

Winterized Bee Hive

cold, windy days in their coop!

We also shoveled out chicken and goat bedding, hopefully for the last time until spring since we use the deep litter method. I am still harvesting leeks every few days and we did harvest and process two goats. I finished winterizing the bee hives, with help from some beekeeping students.

Inside

We have been baking and cooking more elaborately. Given our large amounts of stored pumpkins, we have made a lot of pies. Forget dessert, we think they made a fine breakfast – milk, eggs, squash, a little honey… sounds like a good start to the day to me!

I processed goat fat, and started to clean the dry beans.

I started to catch up on correspondence, get back to writing stories and plan for the new year for Seacoast Permaculture.

We also voted and have spent time reading and thinking about the results. One thing I can say I was pleased about was the increase in the diversity of people elected to office. Understanding the importance of diversity in nature leads me to believe diversity in our human-created systems is a positive step.

November’s Harvest

Leeks for Winter Harvesting

We brought in 3/43 kale, 63 (37#) leeks, 1# celery, 1# brussel sprouts, 1/8# spinach, and 1/4# broccoli from the garden. No eggs at all, 6 gallons of milk (milking just two does now), 62# of meat and 8 pints of high quality rendered lard.

I collected 6 5-gallon buckets of seaweed which the goats have been eating right up (Goats Eating Seaweed).

Not Much Sun, But a Beautiful Full Moon in November

We made 175 kwh from the PV solar panels. One of our least productive months since their installation. Wow, we miss the sun!

We found sources for more hay to re-fill the barn. We were able to bring home about two dozen bags of raked leaves from town. We usually bring in a lot more than that, but there was so little dry weather and wet leaves don’t work well for our uses.

The updated list of food from previous seasons that we continue to eat from is now very long and includes: winter squash, carrots, beets, parsnips, potatoes, garlic, honey, canned peaches and blueberries, dried kale, beans and peaches. In the freezer we have: eggplant, broccoli, string beans, salsa, pesto, cheese, various kinds of berries, chicken, duck and goat meat.

Looking Ahead

I hope to complete a few more projects to wrap up the season, like goat breeding, bean cleaning and wood stacking. A summary of this year’s garden would help me in planning for next year. And the seed and plant catalogs have arrived so it is time to assess and choose! I especially look forward to the coming of the winter solstice to mark the growing of the light and maybe even a sunnier year ahead.

Witch Hazel – One of a very few November Blooms

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August At Living Land

August brought us mostly July weather, kicking our plants into high production, but slowing us down. Hot, sticky, uncomfortable – I’d still take it over an ice storm any day! Regular, sometimes torrential, rains brought us out of the latest drought completely. Amazing plant growth, the song of crickets and cicadas, and the crowing of a few too many roosters marked the month for me.

Our Work in August

August can be overwhelming with so much to do. It usually coincides with milder weather which helps, but not this time. We just can’t move as fast when it’s 90F and humid. But, we kept on, and a lot did get done, with harvesting and food preservation taking center stage.

Plants

The Garden In August

Upkeep continued in the gardens. Tasks like trimming tomato suckers, thinning root veggies, keeping the beans on the trellises, and redirecting winter squash creeping over other crops. Planting for fall harvests of greens, radishes, and beans plus more cover crops.

And, picking! Here in our gardens, beans, summer and winter squash have been coming in strong, along with cucumbers, tomatoes, basil, radishes, greens and more. I’ll give you exact numbers in the harvest section coming up.

Canning Peaches

The big question is always how to stretch this bounty into the colder months. Some crops store well with simple methods, others need more investment. The kitchen and I were occupied often with freezing, lacto-fermenting (using our own salt this year!), dehydrating, and canning. The weather made those last two harder and I put off what I could for when the heat subsides.

Dragonfly Eating a Cabbageworm Moth

A few pest problems did catch up with us in August: imported cabbageworms and rodents. This year I didn’t cover my brassica crops to guard against the moths. It was partly out of curiosity… and I did discover that the worms really proliferate later in the season. They definitely preferred some plants (collards) and areas (too shady) over others, which I’m noting and thinking on for future planning. Next year, I will add row cover again for a break from picking them off, which does get tedious. The rodents are harder to address. To some extent there are larger cycles that I don’t control that make for better and worse years. There have even been articles about this year’s

So Many Squirrels!

squirrel population explosion and resulting problems on roads. Our cats help with their hunting, but squirrels are too much for them. I see how those little terrier dogs can be valuable, but we’ll stick with cats for now.

We continued with weed management in the fields, particularly keeping an eye on wild lettuce and thistle from which one flower can yield tens if not hundreds of plants.

Animals

We had regular upkeep and tending of our critters, especially keeping their water access constant in the heat. Hay came in mid-month. We don’t make our own, but get it locally. It was a big job just to pick up and unload the two hundred bales we could cram into our various outbuildings. All our reorganizing paid off by allowing us to store that much – about 50 more than we’d thought we could fit. What a relief it is to have a good crop put up for the coming year!

The bees aren’t having a great year. There seems to be a nectar shortage, noted by many beekeepers in the Seacoast. I have great new queens and busy bees, but without more food access they are limited in raising brood and are not able to store for the winter. They were also exhibiting robbing behavior when I inspected, which again pointed to not enough food. Mid-month I decided to start feeding them sugar syrup. I just didn’t feel I could count on a great fall flow to make up for the poor season. The good news is that the last time I opened them up, I could distinctly smell Japanese knotweed nectar. I know that knotweed is a plant that causes some problems and I promise I haven’t planted it, but I have to be honest: it is a huge boon to the bees. Good or bad, black or white, one or the other are dichotomies that don’t hold up that well in nature. Life is complicated!

I guess I am grateful that I didn’t try to grow my apiary this year. A few years ago I was trying an expansion project when we got hit with that intense drought and I ended up buying more sugar for those dozen colonies than I had over all my previous years of beekeeping combined.

Our Animals Deserve a Good Life

A difficult task this month was harvesting the young boy goat. For those of us who didn’t learn that skill when we were young, it is a tough part of farming to get used to and honestly makes me wonder if I can keep doing it some years. But then I see a film like “Eating Animals” which Seacoast Permaculture partnered with The Music Hall to show in late August. It looked at the cruelty and negative environmental and human health impacts inherent in modern, industrial animal keeping for meat, eggs and dairy. Truly, deeply upsetting. Death is the kindest thing that happens to these creatures. I think only people who care about animals and find it hard to take their lives should raise them, and this strengthens my resolve to keep at it. It’s a good reminder as we move into our season for harvest of meat, and probably a good topic to write about more often.

August’s Harvest

Elderberries

Here’s what I brought in from the gardens this month: 79.25# yellow summer squash, 12.75# zucchini, 47# string beans, 16# cucumbers, 6.75# kale & collards, 75 radishes, .75# celery, 1# broccoli, 9.25# tomatoes, 5# basil, 2 leeks, 2 carrots, 190# long pie pumpkins, 1# delicata winter squash, 22# peaches, 1.75# elderberries, and 5# clove currants. There were also grapes and raspberries, but they didn’t make it as far as the kitchen for weighing!

Our Own Peaches!

I brought home from local sources 23# of blueberries, 11 5-gallon buckets of gleaned apples (wild in public places) for the goats (I got tired of weighing them so started measuring them by bucketload), and enough peaches to can about 50 quarts.

From the animals we received 181 chicken eggs, 105 duck eggs, 10.9 gallons of milk, and 16# of meat.

We only made 421 kwh from the PV solar panels because there was a problem with our inverter resulting in the system being off for a week. There were a lot of cloudy days as well. Even though the days are getting noticeably shorter now, I think September will still be a better month.

What we are still eating from previous years: honey, canned peaches, blueberries and strawberry jelly, dried kale and beans, frozen eggplant, pesto, and salsa.

Looking Ahead

Pinto Bean Plants Flourishing

Given the current forecast for an abnormally hot month, I expect to bring in a lot of produce and be working to preserve it. We have tremendous winter squash vines that I hope will set a lot of fruit – it’s hard to tell under the dense foliage – and the tallest sunflowers I have ever grown. I expect I’ll have to compete with the squirrels for those. When it gets cooler I can get back to canning and we can work on harvesting meat.

It’s also time to start paying more attention to larger world issues with elections and other excitement coming up… so, yes, I expect it to be busy but I still plan to enjoy the warmth and the sun and the sounds of summer all month long.

Monarch In The Garden

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April at Living Land

The chilly, dark April makes our entrance into May all the more welcome!

Nanking Cherry In Bloom

The weather has slowed down the start of serious gardening. It really feels more like the end of March. Both outdoor work and early harvests are behind schedule. There has still been plenty to do, however, and plants have been slowly appearing, some even blooming.

 

Our Work in April

We tackled some indoor projects this month, with mixed results.

First, seed starting. I have been unhappy buying seed starting mixes. They generally have ingredients that I don’t feel good about using – such as peat and mined products like vermiculite – and come in a plastic bag. I feel like I ought to be able to make my own here. I have been growing amazing soil in our gardens, why not make this? Well, I guess I need to do a lot more research before I get it right. Last year I added worm castings from my indoor bin to a commercial mix. About ¼ castings. This meant I needed to use less of the mix. It went well. This year I did about half and half, and have not had good results, although I’m not sure it’s because of the amount of worm castings. Germination was mediocre, then the plants just aren’t growing straight and strong, and there was some yellowing of the leaves. There could be other reasons for the problems. For instance, I suspect I may have over-watered them early on. Still, I am going to have to rethink my soil mix for next season. All that said, I do have some seedlings growing well: lettuce, tomatoes, kale, broccoli, and eggplant.

Radish, Carrots & Lettuce Emerging from Seed in the Hoophouse

I directly planted into our hoophouse beds: lettuce, radishes, and carrots. These were slow to come up with so little sun and warmth, but look great now.

 

 

 

 

DIY Incubator (we’ll let you know if it works)

April is also a great month to incubate eggs (many people start earlier, but then have a bigger struggle keeping the brooder warm enough).  However, the egg turning function on our incubator stopped working properly last year. The problem with these machines is that they sell cheap, small, plastic, flimsy models or large, expensive ones. We couldn’t find one in between. So, Steve set about making one for us.  I’ll share a picture with you now, and if it actually works then I’ll tell you more about it!

I kept up with salt-making whenever we had the wood stove going. Right now there’s a half-dehydrated batch waiting to be finished to wrap up the season. That’s the beauty of the salt – timing is not critical. Drying fruit or vegetables or meat can’t take too much time or non-beneficial microbes can take over. But this is filtered, concentrated salt water – what’s going to grow in there? (If you do have an answer I’m missing, let me know!)

Moving outdoors…

My new bee packages came on April 8. I installed them promptly, in close to freezing, windy weather. I have never hived a package when it was so cold. This was also the first time my packages came in “bee buses” so I had to figure out how to use those. I didn’t find them easier than the wood ones, and afterwards had a lot of plastic I had to send to the land fill. I’m not a fan.

Rhubarb Coming Up, Well-Mulched with Goat Bedding

We cleaned out the barns and coops. We use the deep litter method, so this happens seasonally rather than as a weekly chore. It does make it a big job when the time comes around. All that material – manure and bedding – we use in our gardens and orchards. From the goats we have a lot of bedding hay, with the little goat poop pellets and urine mixed in. It makes a great top-dressed mulch around the fruit trees and some perennials. Poultry manure is higher in nitrogen, a bit messier and can smell, so I either use that in creating new garden beds or put it into the compost to break down some before going to the garden.

Steve is still repairing and adjusting the fencing systems. There have been reports of black bear predation of both bee hives and goats locally, so keeping the electric functioning well has been necessary.

The Peas Are Coming Up!

He has also returned to finishing construction of our newer outbuildings, getting them set up for shuffling of the goats into the new configuration. We moved the boys to their new area which they took in stride. I expected some bleating and running around, but they just slowly checked out every inch of it, then took advantage of the small trees in there to rub in between their horns. The girls’ new area should be ready soon. It has to also have my milking area, so is a lot more complicated. We plan to have it done in time for Lily’s kids to be born there.

Spring is my favorite time for building new soil for garden beds through sheet mulching. We harvested all our compost, plus brought in cardboard, manure, seaweed, coffee grounds and wood chips to continue the process. I have had great success with this technique and love to teach it to people. I have a soil building class scheduled for May 26 here at Living Land which still has plenty of room for more students.

Early spring is also a great time to weed. With all the mulching I do, I don’t have that many weeds, but some sneak through and are easy to spot and pull in their early days.

Off-farm in April, I continued teaching and hosting educational events. I was invited to talk about permaculture for beekeepers to the Winnipesaukee Beekeepers, which I really enjoyed. Through Seacoast Permaculture I helped bring Dr. Fred Wiseman to Portsmouth to discuss his important work and wonderful new book: Seven Sisters and the Heritage Food Systems of the Wabanaki People and of the Chesapeake Bay Region (2018) .

Harvest

We brought in 252 chicken eggs, 72 duck eggs, and 5.7 gallons of milk and made 2 more quarts of salt.

Stinging Nettles – the most nutritious spring green!

From the gardens we’ve enjoyed nettles, chives, savory and sage. While we can see the rhubarb, it’s not big enough to take yet. Any day now!

To prepare for the new bees, I cleaned out the hives that had died and found there was plenty of honey left. I put aside enough to get the new bees started and then extracted about 40 pounds for us. I’d rather have had the living bees, but that much honey eases the loss.

Last year’s bounty is down to garlic, canned fruit and jam, dried beans, dehydrated kale, popcorn, and some lacto-fermented pickles in the fridge. There’s still frozen food that I’ve been forgetting to mention: blueberries, eggplant, beans, broccoli, cauliflower, basil pesto, salsa, and chevre cheese.

This year’s cold April weather kept the leaves off the trees, but brought us few sunny days. We made 574 kwh from the PV solar panels, which did cover our needs but was less than we expected.  We are now back in to the part of the year when we are making enough power for our needs and should start putting some in our electric company account for the winter.

Looking Ahead to May

We’ll be welcoming new kids here with Lily expecting in early to mid May. She sure is looking ready! We hope for chicks and maybe getting some duck eggs started. And planting – lots and lots of planting.

We will also be getting ready for an Open Homestead Day in early June that all of you are welcome to attend. Happy Spring!

Jostaberry Leaf Opening

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