Bees Dun R-U-N-N-O-F-T *

Well, we returned from a day’s outing yesterday to find that the bees had completed their cleaning of the removed combs:


So this morning, we went out to complete our bee housekeeping by putting the cleaned beeswax combs back into the more properly organised hive. Alas, we found that the bees were gone. Apparently they decided we were a danger to their continued existence.

Next time, we will be sure to set the hive up properly in the first place.

Bee Housekeeping

So, about six weeks ago we relocated our new beehive. At the time, we had proper frames in the lower super, so the bees would build orderly combs. Temporarily, we put an inner lid between the lower and upper supers, and put a sugar water feeder in the upper super so as to entice the bees to stay. We had intended to swap out the inner lid and upper super with a proper frame-filled super, but various events foiled those plans.

This morning we finally got to it.


Here I am in my make-shift beekeepers outfit: white (so they do not mistake me for a bear) long-sleeved sleep shirt tucked into light-colored dorm pants in turn tucked into long white socks. Topped with a proper veiled bee hat. Stylish, no? On the left is the super/queen excluder/super/inner lid/outer lid combo that I am going to add to the hive. (The queen excluder is to make sure that the topmost super has just honey — no brood — that we can harvest later on.)


As we expected, because we had not put an inner lid under it, the outer lid needed some leverage to unstick.


Worst fears realized; The bees had built their combs attached to the underside of lid.


We set the old lid near the hive opening so the bees could begin robbing the old combs and using the material in new combs. An hour later and they are going gangbusters. Hate to make them waste their time and energy like this, but what’re ya gonna do?

The Once and Future Tomato

What would life be without homegrown tomatoes? Well, not as good as otherwise! Last year was a bad one around here for tomato crops. Ours came in late; enough to eat, but we barely had enough left over to can 7 quarts, and none for frozen pizza/pasta sauce.

I am determined to have a good crop this year. Our frost date is late May, but we were getting into the 80’s in early April, so I went ahead and bought two 4-packs of plants at a local hardware/grocery store. I went with two heirloom beefsteak-style varieties: Mr. Stripey (1800’s, mid-Atlantic, low-acid, colorful red/yellow) and Mortgage Lifter (early 20th Century, West Virginia, big-n-meaty, pink/red).

The weather stayed pretty mild so at the end of April I prepped my tomato beds — two of our five 6′ x 6′ terraced beds. First, I dumped the last of the winter woodstove ashes:

Then I added several tractor bucket loads of goat shed compost on each bed, mixed, and leveled:

Then, for several weeks, the weather, especially at night, turned chilly. It is my understanding that if tomato plants are repeatedly exposed to temps below 50 their yield will suffer the entire season. So I waited. And waited. I bought some peat pots and re-potted the root-bound plants.

Finally, in late May (admittedly, our historical frost date, but weeks and weeks and weeks after prolonged spring/summer temps), I deemed the forecast suitable for transplanting; in the background you can see the goats enjoying the bolted collards that I cleaned out of the nearby beds. I planted 4 plants per 6’x 6′ bed with landscape fabric mulch:

A month later the plants are going gangbusters. I have tied a few plants with baling twine to encourage them to grow through the “tepees” I made with short sections of cattle panels:Tomato-2017-06-19

Honey Bees

10 days ago we had honey bees swarming in our front yard. Quite the sight!

They coalesced into a bowling-ball sized swarm in a boxwood next to our driveway.2017-May-bee-swarm

This is at least the 4th time this has happened over the years. We used to have them living in our bedroom wall and in 2006 we captured a swarm into a beehive. They did not stay around very long, though. We still have the hive components, so we decided to give it a go again.

The next morning the swarm was still in the boxwood. It was chilly and rainy so we knew they might not survive long — bees cannot fly in the rain and trying to stay warm in the rain would sap all their energy. We snipped the branch with the swarm and dropped it into the beehive we had set up in the driveway. Unfortunately, a clump of bees dropped offduring the transfer. The next morning the uncaptured bees had reswarmed so we repeated the drill and then had most of them in the beehive. We left them there for about a week; once it got warm and sunny they became, well, busy as bees, collecting nectar to centerd out their new home. Yesterday morning was quite cool, so we took advantage of the resulting bee lethargy to move the beehive to a more suitable location.

This location is not ideal, a bit close to the road, but it gets morning sun to wake the bees up but by afternoon the maple tree shades it to help prevent overheating.

We are not too stupid, though, so despite the coolth we did use a smoker when we opened the hive to put in a sugar-water feeder. Upon moving a hive you are supposed to keep the bees confined for several days, but today is forecast to be 90° and we don’t want them overheating, so we opened it up this morning. Hopefully they will not get too confused at their new location.

Addition Solar Heating Update

Well, it’s been 3 weeks since we got our solar water heating system up and running in our new addition. First off, it definitely works — Yay! But it is also definitely a complicated setup.

I have been testing and tweaking the various controller settings. The system manual, as so many are, is very poorly written. Here is a fine example, as no doubt translated from the original Chinese:

If hot water in tank isn’t used for long time, then the capacity that solar system absorbs solar energy reduces, when tank temperature rises to its preset maximal temperature, solar circuit pump is ceased compulsively even the temperature difference is satisfied. then when more solar irradiation shines in, as a result collector temperature will rise continuously, temperature of collector maybe rise up to the evaporated temperature of heat fluid, this phenomenon names collector – overheat, it should be avoided.

And I have, indeed, and as I suspected, had this “phenomenon” happen. With the recent warm and sunny weather, the heat wasn’t going on. The big 211 gallon tank reached it’s max (145°F) by noontime so the pump “ceased compulsively” and the collectors overheated — I saw it at 303°F; that’s why it uses stainless steel pipe, not pex — and the 50/50 glycol/water mix evaporated into the pressure tank as designed. This is OK once in a while, but having it happen on a regular basis causes the fluid to acidify over time. So, yes, “it should be avoided”.

Bumping the tank max up to 160°F helped a little, but not enough. I could go up 175°F, but that would not likely solve the problem and is also a bit too close to the 180°F rating of the pex piping. After sorting through the various system settings and the creative prose in the manual, I have settled on a solution of using the “BYPR Bypass function (high temperature)” to trigger a solenoid valve to dump hot water when the collectors are near overheating until the system cools down a bit. We are fortunately blessed with an over-abundance of well water, and we put in an extra conduit running down to the spring house during construction so we can use that for the cool-down dump. I ordered the parts I need — the last ones are arriving today — this includes the solenoid valve and another mixing valve (since I really do not want to run 160+°F into my floor). Meanwhile, I have been manually dumping hot water, as well as running the heat on whatever cool nights I can. We have some cool and rainy weather coming in a couple of days, that will be a good time for me to drain the big tank and readjust the plumbing with the new parts. I am using SharkBite push-to-fit connectors, which are a breeze to remove and reposition, so it should go pretty smoothly (he says, inviting the wrath of the easily-irked Gods of Plumbing).

Here is the updated system schematic; not really all that complicated, right? Right?


Click to embiggen [Updated 20 May2017 to reflect final as-built]

2017 Goat Kids On Rock [Video]

This year’s kidding started three weeks ago, and within five days we had a good crop of seven little ones. We thought we were done, but somewhere along the way another one sneaked in because now we have eight. On Tuesday (so the kids here are 1½ to 2½ weeks old) they were all having a great time playing on a big rock, doing their best to answer the question “How many goat kids can fit on a rock?” The answer: “Not quite all of them!” Part way though you can see two of them run over to mamma for a nosh, but mamma does not agree that now is the time for that.



Goat Kids, 2017 Edition

Kidding was easy this year, five goats produced seven kids over four days.


Four of the kids, gathered in the southern portico of the goat shed, where they are confined with their mommas for a few days to facilitate bonding. (Some of the more headstrong moms tend to wander off with the herd, leaving their newborns wanting and wandering.)


Brain (♫ a goat they called Brain! ♪) letting hers nurse.


The three remaining kids frolicking in the sun.

Peeps ‘n’ Pups


Ok, so they are not really pups any more (but, hey, alliteration!), nevertheless our two dogs Roy and Bersheba both like to participate in the barn chores.

Peeps 2015


Our new chicken peeps arrived 10 days ago — 15 Dark Brahma pullets and 2 cockerels. In the past we’ve had Light Brahmas. We hope that the darker color will make them harder for predators (especially hawks) to spot in the field.

Winter’s Last Gasp?

We got 6½ inches of snow last Thursday, followed by an arctic blast, and then, finally some unseasonable warmth. Today is a typical cool and rainy March day. We are certainly ready for Spring.


View from the air Sunday. As you can see, the siding is just about done on the addition. The insulation sub is supposed to be here this week to to finish spraying, batting, and blowing. Then next week, now that the bitter cold has broken, the rest of the wallboard will go up. Then on to chimney cleaning and sealing, and wallboard mudding. In the lower left you can see the trails that the goats have made in the snow going down to the spring run for water. Their shed is in the upper left.


The goat shed compound. From left to right: the Airlock (has gates to/from the Dairy Paddock, the Lower Driveway, and the Southern Portico); the Southern Portico (used variously for goat feeding, penning up new moms with their kids, penning up lactating goats overnight away from their kids for morning milking, and locking up Bersheba when she has dug out until we can fill the latest hole); the Main Shed; and the Northern Portico (The driveway half is for storing square hay bales and dog food, the Paddock side is the dog feeding station.) Behind the shed you can see the top half of the Apothedairy/Barn/Garage.

Goats Kids 2015, Early Edition: Two More


Two more goat kids in past several days. Since kidding is early we are very grateful that it has been relatively mild weather.


Goats Kids 2015, Early Edition Rounds One and Two

For unknown reasons.

For unknown reasons, our rutting season started early this year, so our 2015 crop of kids has already begun. Here are the first two, one born this morning (the tawny one in the back) and the other a couple of days ago. Both first-time moms seem to be doing OK — we have them locked ion the southern portico of the loafing shed with their kids to encourage the bonding process.

The kids are under the attentive watch of our sole remaining chicken — the rest were killed in a series of fox attacks in the early fall, and this one decided to move out of the hen house down in the obviously dangerous meadow paddock up to the loafing shed with the the goats and the dogs. She lets the goats kids play with her … well at least she tolerates it much better than when our dog Bersheba “plays” with her.

Escape Artist

[Optional musical accompaniment to this post]

There is no construction news, things have been on a hiatus as the footers cure and we await engineering of the ICF concrete floor. I have used the time to refine and adjust my design drawings.

bershebaMeanwhile, our dog Bersheba is a sweet dog, always eager to help us around the farm. Her very favorite way to help keep us busy is to show us weaknesses in our fencing. Every. Single. Weakness.

She loves to dig under the fence. Anywhere the ground is a little soft or a little low, and she is off to the races. The tractor comes in handy — I keep blocking her escape routes with rocks and shale.

Side Garden Terracing

Side_Garden_TerraceWell, we finally dealt with the 3 pallets of concrete block that have been sitting the side yard since November. Early last autumn while we were getting the gardens ready for winter, we started brainstorming on a better way to user our side garden area. It was a long, sloped garden that always seemed to get away from us over the course of the growing season. We decided to break it up into a series of level lots by terracing. We looked at several more attractive options, but the cost seemed out of whack, so went went with our tried-and-true dry-stacked grey concrete blocks (aka “cinder blocks” or CMUs), capped with red concrete pavers. We (somewhat optimistically) went ahead and ordered the blocks in November, hoping that we would get our usual periods of decent weather in December and January, but that did not happen.

We just got the plots done over last weekend, and I spent Monday hauling compost from the compost into them, and moving piles of compost-to-be (aka cleaning out the goat shed.) Compost_PilesWe have a system that works well for us. In the picture to the right you see that I ended the day with two compost piles, the darker one on the left and the lighter one on the right. The lighter one is the bedding that I pushed out of the goat shed — a year’s worth of uneaten hay and goat berries. This started composting in place, giving the goats underfloor heating all winter. It has now been stirred, and the goats (and dogs) will play on it and trample it down. Next spring (or maybe in the fall, depending on conditions) I will move it over to the side for a second round of stirring and trampling — the dark pile you see is last year’s cleanout. The previous second-year pile is what I just put on the new garden plots.

This coming weekend I am going to plant the 12 tomato plants I bought a month ago and have been nursing in little pots, hardening them off. I will get them in the ground this weekend (only a few days our May 15th frost date), using my new and improved cattle panel trellising system.

Freeze-Thaw Damage

freeze_thawAll of the snows we’ve had all winter kept the ground pretty saturated. Combined with the periodic bitter cold snaps, frost heave was inevitable. This portion of our front stone wall will need some TLC after spring mud season ends (before which this relentless winter needs to end!)