Saturday, March 28, 2015

Taking the Bee Inventory

I am finally getting around to taking a pretty complete inventory of my bee stuff. I really should have done this weeks ago but well ya know.  All the growth in the bee yards will take place between April and late June, maybe a bit into July so I envision taking several breaks from routine farm type projects to catch up on building more bee boxes as Spring progresses.

I need to inventory all the brood chambers, surplus supers, frames (both medium and large) how many are already built out with comb, how many I can put together, drone frames, feeders, traps, smoker material, jars, nuc boxes.

Pollen traps, inner covers, outter covers, top entrance covers, telescoping tops, bottom boards, entrance reducers.... I think that covers it all. Bet I forgot something though.

I had my second oldest hive die out last Summer. Never have figured out what happened to it but I am pretty sure the queen met an untimely death and they couldn't replace her. The hive was booming early in the year and just dwindled to nothing during September. Not a high mite count of any fungus or anything int he hive I could find. I hate losing a hive but it happens. I would say I average about a 10 to 15% loss per year.

All is not lost though. The hardest part of keeping a hive alive is the build up as they get enough comb built to keep the amount of stores they need and make it through their first Winter. When an old hive dies out the remaining frames are simply a gold mine for any new splits or swarms I capture.  By giving a new swarm even five frames of drawn out comb I can literally give them a head start equal to a month or more of resources they won't need to collect. An old hive such as Plymouth colony that dies out yields 20 drawn out brood frames and 10 surplus frames ready to be put to use. I also put a frame in my swarm traps as the bees will go to work on the drawn comb. It not only makes the trap that much more appealing to a swarm but it also makes transferring them to a new hive that much easier as well.

Here are my hanging traps. I also use some Nuc boxes and t-post stands for traps. I will be placing the new traps in about a week or so. Damn I forgot to check and see how much Lemon grass oil I have on hand.

Stuff stuck everywhere. These are some surplus supers I need to put together and paint. Looks like I am a bit short on unassembled brood chambers too.

Looks like about 15 or so sheets of plastic foundation. Not sure why I stuck em up there. I use plastic foundation for the most part because it is immune to pest damage and works quite well if you coat it heavily in wax before putting it in the hive. The girls will often ignore plastic foundation and frames but with a heavy coating of melted beeswax they love em.

Looks as if the only real work I need to do is making a couple of screened bottom boards and some covers with top entrances. If I can get three of each done I should have enough supplies to cover up to seven swarms or splits. I also have that other hive I lost over the Winter that will yield up some more resources. I am also short on drone frames.

Always something.

Keep Prepping Everyone!!!!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Lean Times

Seems to me one of the most important survival traits we inherited from our Northern Hemisphere ancestors is the ability to identify, anticipate and prepare for lean periods. While weather used to dictate those periods more than anything else I think it is also important to note how much the government and religion has grown in power so much that they too become a factor.

For instance religion seems to be one of those things that boosts us out of lean periods for holidays like Christmas. In some cases it's a trade off like now when beef and pork take a hit around here but you can't hardly find a fish to save your life. The government however seems to only be a drag on the economy.

For about a month each Spring I hit my lean period where I pretty much don't work a day. The last half of March and first half of April and it's pretty obvious why. There is a much shorter dry period in late August during back to school time but this pre-tax day lull can be downright scary if you don't know it's coming. One reason I like the early false Spring to hit in Mid to late March is that it gives me a perfect opportunity to get stuff done without being called out for work.

I have learned to stock up for this period a little more. If I am in the middle of a junk clearing project I leave the metal to be hauled off for early April for a bit of extra cash and if I plan on unloading any extra items I have laying around now is the time to list em. After tax day, about the time swarms start up, things get progressively busier until July of course.

This year the tax pressure seems to be worse than ever. Even my Dad is complaining about his taxes this year and I have never heard him do that before. He lives a pretty austere, below the radar life himself and has always followed the rule of having the government take more out so he doesn't have to pay. I don't agree with his philosophy on that score but it says something that he is getting hit hard by taxes this year.

On the bright side the hand spinners started showing up yesterday and I sold three fleeces already. Another good reason to schedule shearing for this time of year I guess.

Keep Prepping Everyone!!!!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Put Em in their Place

You might remember this picture from my Shearing Day post. This guy is number 65. He was born last May so is almost a year old now. He's actually pretty small for a sheep his age and honestly has no redeeming qualities except for his first year Black wool that he ruined when he escaped into the cockle burrs. So in other words he was only good for market or slaughter.

You are probably asking yourself why then he is still around and being sheared? A fair question. The answer is he was very friendly and managed to charm my wife. She would spend hours out petting him and trained him to kinda lead and begged to let him stay. So my Mother and my Wife conspired against me to allow him to become a pet against my better judgement.

About a month ago I was feeding the remaining yearlings when out of the blue something slammed into my thigh.  Not hard enough to knock me down but enough it gave me a nudge and I was off balance for a few seconds. Guess who it was?

If you said 65 you win a cookie from Sandy. Email her for delivery :)

He was wanting his neck scratched and his ears petted because after he got my attention he started rubbing his head against my hand. YA it's cute in a little 45 pound yearling but wait until he gets to be two or three years old. Also the pet sheep are always the ones who cause issues like Sandwich...

This is a younger Sandwich with her patented "Wasn't me" look. Ya ya I know it was other sheep.

Anyway I couldn't wait to get that little whether into the shearing pen as my first victim. I turned his head around and put him on the board and sheared him with glee.

Know what? He still comes up to me wanting his ears and neck scratched but no head butting at all now. I think he learned that wrestling with the big hairless monkey was no fun.

Keep Prepping Everyone!!!!


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Buzzing Trees

Looks like the dry false Spring is officially over now and I made less than dismal progress on the fence and pasture project. We been getting rains off and on for the last few days and the weather forecast doesn't seem to think the frequent rains are going to stop. They say March is "in like a lion out like a lamb" but my experience around here seems to usually be the opposite at least as far as storms go.

If this is the official start of the rainy season I am going to be far behind before I can get out and do much now.

Up until today I have been worried a bit though because although it has been relatively warm by my reckoning the professional weather guys, my wife, and the local flora don't seem to agree with me and nothing has really been blooming. I think I actually lost a hive although I haven't been down there today to verify it. The other day it appeared to have died out and been robbed of all remaining stores by it's neighbors but I didn't have my hive tool or veil to open it up and be sure.

Bee keepers don't call it harsh March without a reason. The stores are getting low and nothing is really producing yet and a few days locked inside the hive can cause the girls to starve. With all the rain I been too lazy to walk back there and see but I need to add that to the list for tomorrow if I can.

This morning however when the sun broke out for a bit and it warmed a little the Boxelder trees around the place became alive with buzzing. The bees were working the blooms heavily. If you look closely at the top picture you can see a little spec which is a forager moving from bloom to bloom. As I figure it we are about a week behind the blooming dates of last year now. Hopefully this will mean we won't lose some fruit blooms to frost this year.

Later this afternoon before it started raining AGAIN, I actually saw my first Red Winged Blackbird which is another herald of Spring around here. Although the signs are all here now it is suppose to cool off again tomorrow and maybe a bit of snow by Saturday.

Looks like the crazy rainy Springtime flip flop weather is back once again. The ground may not dry now until June.

Keep Prepping Everyone!!!!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The 500 Dollar Tiller Gamble

So I bought this tiller. I should point out it was against my better judgement a little bit though. I have researched old 3 point tillers enough to know that when you get down to the category 1 and 0 tillers that are switchable you can run into some weirdness. The real issue are those old super garden tractors from the 70's and 80's. I am sure they were some great little utility tractors but they came out with all kinds of off the wall specs for their attachments.

For instance some of them required 2000 RPMs on the PTO, some of them 1000 and the John Deere 400 was something like 880 or so. Some of them actually spun in reverse from traditional tractors too. Yet despite this some of those old John Deere 400+ versions used some pretty healthy tillers weighing in at 300 pounds or more, which this tiller easily achieves.

This tiller had no identification plates or anything on it except some parts ordering number that comes up a big nothing when I search. It's been repainted at least once in John Deere green with a white primer under it but I cannot detect any plates or stickers that have been painted over. It closely resembles the John Deere 35 and 48 super garden tractor tillers but the gearbox shroud is different and the safety shrouds are missing along with the welded on guide for them if that was the case. Also all those old tillers had 8 tine wheels with thinner tines while this one has 7 with thick tines and the adjustable hookup point is slightly different.

If this is a 70 or 80's model JD tiller for the super garden tractors it is of a different variety than the ones I can find pictures of. It also closely resembles a Ford 105 tiller too which came in either category 1 or 0 configuration but otherwise fits the bill at 540 RPM off the PTO.

I know the tiller does in fact spin properly and not in reverse but I still need to go purchase a proper PTO shaft since this tiller is old enough that it uses the square shaft instead of the wanckle version. I will also need to put the universal joint section together myself.

Bottom line is I may have purchased a tiller I cannot use. So far it has passed all the tests but the gear ratio one. I took my dad with me and he is convinced this tiller is a 540 under 20 HP version for the compact tractors that came out in the 90's up until today. If that's the case then it will work well on either the 8N or 861. I don't share his conviction on the subject but when the seller pushed the price down to under $400.00 I decided it might just be worth the gamble.  I can put together a PTO shaft for under $100.00 and see if the gear ratio is right. If not I am out the money unless I can resell it. If it works however I saved myself about $500.00 easy since used tillers are rarer than hen's teeth and new ones are $1600.00 even for the cheap models.

Not that I want to be overly cheap in my attachments but 1500+ for something I will use once a year is an expense I would rather skip if I can.

Sometimes you just have to roll the dice. If I can get this to work I will be bragging about it for years. If it fails I may have some garden tractor tiller parts embedded into the back of my head from too much torque.

In case anyone is interested our dog is in the pet hospital. They think she has a blood clot in her bladder and for the price it has cost so far we could have bought two tillers. She had lost so much blood they talked about a doggy transfusion but decided against it. This one is going to cost but the Mrs. would never give up on her beloved pets and that is her right. So far I have only lost 2 shirts and a blanket transporting her to the vet and the emergency hospital 40 miles away so I can't really complain since she is a sweet dog.

Keep Prepping Everyone!!!

Be Right Back

Be Right Back. Minor Pet Emergency that requires an early trip to the Vet this morning. Nothing too serious I hope.

More later.

Keep Prepping Everyone!!!

Monday, March 23, 2015

My House!!!

I didn't take the entire day off yesterday. Just after lunchtime I got to feeling a bit less beat up and went out looking for something to do. As usual around here I didn't have to look very hard. I climbed up into the hay loft and started cleaning some of the old loose hay out. I got two pickup loads hauled away and burned on the garden spot before the wind picked up and I decided to stop.

I get really nervous starting outside fires around here and if the wind is blowing harder than about 5 MPH I simply won't burn anything. However out here on the edge of the plains it is pretty common for it to be a perfect day to burn one minute and super windy an hour (or less) later. So I only got about half the loft cleaned before I was once again looking for another project to work on.

While standing there keeping an eye on the old hay burn I noticed about three or four pair of Bluebirds flitting around. They were checking out the old house locations and generally not happy because the cats have chased em out or away from their old nesting boxes. Some of them have fallen into disrepair as well. I know shame on me but I just haven't had time to think about the Bluebirds nor really the money to go buy new houses for them.

This is where having your Mother in her little retirement mini-house complete with her little porch she loves comes in handy. She had been gone all day off doing who knows what which as I have mentioned before I think was one reason she made this move so she could come and go as she pleases answering to no one. Anyway I had kinda wished she was around while burning the old hay because I could have had her watch it while I got another load rather than standing there myself wasting time watching dried up grass burn. She showed up after the hay was all burned off of course.

She had noticed the Bluebirds earlier that morning herself and had went out to buy a new nesting box for them. So now I had another thing to work on.

I decided to put this house up on an old Mulberry tree I had trimmed out last year and decided to keep. It's still within the hunting range of the cats but is also in the middle of the sheep pens between the dry lot for the ewes and Frazier's pen. While the cats will roam through there they don't stay long because the sheep start following them so I am hoping this will offer the nesting Bluebirds some protection.

This morning there were three pair of Bluebirds fighting over the new house. I really like to keep a couple pair of them around because they are super efficient at cutworm control in the garden.  They will position themselves on the poles and trellis in the garden and grab worm after worm all day long and when the cats ran em off last year I noticed right off let me tell you.

After I got done feeding this morning mom and I watched the three couples fight over who was going to get to move into the new house and last I heard she was talking about how we needed another few houses. I am betting when I get back later today she I will have to find a spot for another two Bluebird houses or so.

Anyway I am off to look at a used three point tiller this morning so I might have a "new" toy come afternoon. Hopefully the Bluebirds will have the house issue settled by the time I return.

Keep Prepping Everyone!!!!!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Sunday Reading - Sheep are happy and I learned a few things

Despite the amount of work it still is for me I must say I learned quite a bit besides getting a bit more shearing practice in. One major thing being that the two Rambouillet ewes we have tend to have hoof problems more than the other breeds. I got to trim their hooves down under expert supervision and while all the various little problem spots etc are a bit confusing when it comes to shearing, learning to trim the hooves was pretty straight forward. I had also made the comment that I didn't understand why my Mother had been so keen on picking up the two Rambouillet ewes although they are pretty good breeders. Our shearer's wife then showed me how their particular coloring was somewhat uncommon and sought after. Apparently that particular shade of champagne/tan is popular with the hand spinner types.

The big ram that everyone around here is always so afraid of losses almost all his intimidation factor after being sheared. Poor guy is really not that big when you take that huge fleece off him. Maybe it's just me but he also losses some of his confidence with that fleece as well and turns into a real pussycat after it's done.

This morning was a scene of happiness and contentment too. To us 45 degree mornings maybe a bit cool but to those poor sheep under all that wool it was like laying in front of a furnace on a hot July day. This time of year the poor ewes were always locked up in the barn to do nothing but lay around until all the lambs were born but now that I am concentrating on the livestock portion of the farm and opened up a little dry lot for them they are in heaven. They have enough room to run a bit, jump around as much as their preggo bellies allow, can nap in the sun or shade depending on their current needs and poke fun at the rams through the fence.

The birthing stalls are open, prepped and ready so when one knows it's time she goes and picks her stall and does the deed. We have to go and check every hour or so for new arrivals but most of the ewes have the routine down now. They just seem very pleased to have a bit more space added to the waiting area of the maternity ward.

Now that I have the sheep all squared away for lambing season it's time to get back on the fence and pay a bit more attention to the bee yard situation.

Bu not today. It's beautiful outside and I should get some work done but I really need to take it easy and rest up a bit.

Keep Prepping Everyone!!!!