Monday, May 23, 2011

That must have hurt!

The chickens are doing well. Occasionally USPS puts out a VERY large egg, which literally splits at the seams. My latest concern with the girls is that every now and again USPS delivers an egg without a shell. I will increase the amount of oyster shell grit which supplies vital calcium to their diet. This should solve this problem. The end of May I will be getting two new baby chicks; a Barred Plymouth Rock and a Blue Andalusian. The chicks are going to be cared for by a neighbor and fellow chicken lover until they are old enough to join the big girls on Wyckoff St.

This was another rough winter for the bees which did not survive the extreme cold for long periods of time. My teacher lost 80% of his NYC hives. They are Italians after all and not accustomed to the cold weather. I have installed two new packages of bees which I had to order from California due to the high demand and lack of availability through my club. Imagine the UPS driver walking down the street with two buzzing boxes filled with 20,000 bees total. One idea I have to address the cold weather and its effect on the bees is to install a new queen in the fall from stronger stock; perhaps Russian, although they can be quite aggressive and prone to swarm in the warmer weather. I was able to process one-and-a-half pounds of bees wax which I hope to make into candles.

I hope that this summer I will have a chance to spend more time in the garden. Last fall I planted lettuce that has thrived this spring. After ten years it was time to rebuild a couple of raised beds in the "back forty". The new hen house, which is a palace, provided a good opportunity to redesign the center bed in a hexagonal design; think honey comb!

Happy Spring!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Fit for TWO Queens

The girls knew something was up when they were allowed free range in the garden AND their hen house started being dismantled. What was most exciting was the unearthing of creeping and crawling things for them. Then the real fun began. I had decided earlier in the spring that it was time to replace the old hen house and run with something more suited to their place in our life. I finally bit the bullet and purchased a "mini coop kit" from Horizon Structures. The kit arrived earlier in the week and I arranged with my friend Mike to put it together. With Mike's know-how it only took him three-and-a-half hours to assemble. I was nothing more than the gofer. I guess the description "mini" could be applied if the structure was on a larger "farm" than we have, but to us it looks gigantic. I plan on reworking the raised beds in the center of our "back 40" (feet, that is) to give more visual space. The beds are now more than 10 yrs old and the wood is starting to rot at the joints. It provides the perfect opportunity to redesign things. Call it a face lift for the garden. And who knows, there's lots of room for more hens . . .
Meanwhile, the bees with my help are getting ready for colder weather. They are being fed a thick sugar syrup with Honey-B-Healthy and Fumagilin-B to ward off Nosema. Also, soon I will place grease patties with wintergreen oil and trace mineral salts inside the hive to help them even further, through the colder months. It was a modest honey harvest, but sales were fast and furious for what there was.
I was able to enjoy bit of nature in the back yard after many weeks away. Every August we are visited by hummingbirds. Also, the monarchs are on their 3,000 mile trek to South America. This one met with an untimely death at the jaws of a preying mantis on our Bodelea. I look forward to more time in the garden next year.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Good Eats

On July 11th our dogs Buddy and Ellie were cited in a New York Post article by Jennifer Senator called "Doggone Gourmet." It's pretty close to how we feed our dogs daily. I owe the inspiration to Wende's cousin Tim, who introduced us to the BARF diet (bones and raw foods) with his labrador retriever ten years ago. Read the article
I am currently on my twice-a-year "liver cleanse" - three weeks of mostly fruits and vegetables. Our garden and the local greenmarkets are providing for us all. Just remember: you are what you eat.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

We've moved!

As you all realize by now I am not one to post a new blog entry every time the girls lay an egg. On the contrary, I'm lucky if I get around to a new post every six dozen. The biggest news is that after the winter's tragedy and loss of the bees on the roof, I have two new hives which are now located in our garden and a neighbor's garden three doors down. No longer do I have to make the climb up a vertical wrought iron ladder carrying deeps, mediums, frames, smoker and everything else needed to maintain a hive. The loss of the girlz over the winter was profound, but the two new colonies are thriving. I always wanted two hives to compare and contrast and they are living up to my expectations. The hive in our neighbor Jennifer's garden is growing quickly already well into the first medium. The hive in our garden is slower to draw out comb and I have only just put on the first medium. It could be that "Queen Jennifer" is more aggressive, but it could also be that that hive gets sun sooner in the morning. That said, it has not stopped the girlz in our garden from stinging the beekeeper. I now cover up completely even in the hot weather and wear latex gloves which is where they've been getting me. My acupuncturist, Adrienne (affectionately referred to as "the witch doctor") has been treating me for allergies to all things hive related, so I have not swelled up as in the past. The stings on the tips of fingers hurt like crazy, but the swelling doesn't travel past the first knuckle.
I am woefully behind with gardening, but the plants don't seem to mind. We are having the largest first crop of raspberries we've ever had. I've got to think it's the bees. I was also inspired by an article about a farmer in Maine whose tomatoes are planted like little soldiers no more that 8 inches apart with little-to-no foliage except at the top of the plants, but laden with fruit from the soil up. So far so good; lots of fruit with lots of trimming off of leaves and suckers and lots of support. The garlic has started to come in, all of which I planted last October. I'm trying something I saw in a gardening catalogue called potato bags which promise lots of potatoes in a small space. That's perfect for our "back forty" (feet, that is).

Thursday, March 11, 2010

It was a winter of extremes

The bad news is: my girlz, the bees, did not survive the winter. On a recent sunny, warm, pre-spring day I opened the hive to check on their condition. There was a small cluster of bees around one of the top bars, all dead. After looking further I found another small cluster in another part of the hive, also dead and random bees throughout the hive, all dead. I had feared this having gone up to the roof earlier in the month on a warm day and seeing no activity outside the hive opening. It's hard to express how I felt. After all, they're just bees, but I felt as if I had let the girlz down. I spoke to my beekeeping teacher and he said it sounded as if the bees had broken cluster on a warm day and couldn't regroup to cluster when the temperatures dropped. There was nothing I could have done, but I knew what I had to do now. I got all the necessary tools including my IPod and began to disassemble the hive. I was listening to the Bach "St. Matthew Passion" as I took out frame by frame and brushed off the dead bees. The top "super" was filled unused honey. I set those frames aside to take downstairs later. The two "deeps" were picture perfect; honey in the corners of the frames and pollen too, unused. There was no indication of foul play; no disease and no intruders. There was some wax moth on the bottom board, but that's normal, and there was none on the frames.
The good news is: because the frames were in great shape I can use them for a new colony as is. The frames are already drawn out and come with honey and pollen to give the new girlz a great start when they're hived. Also, I will be able to extract all the honey that was not touched in the top "super" to the tune of some 30 lbs. Now that's what I call an early harvest! I have ordered two new boxes o' bees with the idea of starting another hive to be placed in the garden. The climate on the roof is so extreme I'm thinking a hive on the ground might have an easier time of it. In a week or two we should find out whether our efforts to legalize beekeeping in NYC succeeded. This would be a big step towards making our city and lives greener.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Is it fall already?

The new beekeeper, or should I say "newbie keeper", has so many experiences the first year of the hive's operation. From the thrill of installing the bees, to the glee of the first harvest, to the fear of the oncoming cold and closing up the hive for the winter. We've been quite lucky with the weather so far with warm temperatures, so I delayed truly closing up the hive until today. I have been feeding the girlz; first with medicated sugar syrup to ward off nosema, a kind of disentery, but in bees, and then with something called Honey-B-Healthy, which promotes a healthy immune system. I've also made "grease patties" including crisco, LOTS of sugar, honey, trace mineral salts and wintergreen oil to prevent tracheal mites which can devastate a hive. I've wrapped the hive in tar paper to maximize heat absorption and retention, and loaded the top of the inner cover with sugar should they need extra stores during the cold months. There's adequate ventilation so that moisture will not accumulate, and so now it's up to them. For those who have had the pleasure of their honey, my girlz do a great job and I feel quite protective of them.
The garden continues to bear tomatoes, just some cherries at this point, but I've planted fall greens of bok choi, kale, chinese cabbage, spinach and lettuce. This is all done in a cold frame setup and should take us through the spring with fresh greens. This past week we've had a visit from a large praying mantis which seems to enjoy sunning itself on the east wall in the back. They are very good for gardens and I consider them good luck. Now, if only the cat would stop thinking of it as a toy!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

A harvest like no other

I was away most of the summer "up the river" at the Bard Music Festival.
First I sang in Meyerbeer's opera "Les Huguenots"
after which the

Bard Music Festival was all about "Wagner and his World". In between weeks with four inch stiletto heels as a Catholic noblewoman I came home to check on the garden and the menagerie. Wende held down the fort very well; feeding and watering as instructed. Around about the end of July I harvested 30lbs of honey from the hive on my roof. Given the fact that the hive was started the day after Easter, this is miraculous. There's no guarantee that there will be a harvest the first year of a hive and there needs to be enough honey for the girlz to hold them through the winter. All in all I'm exceedingly pleased, and look forward to next year and more honey and learning about bees.