My brother hates them, but I love them. They are very interesting and usually misunderstood little things. I remember my first experience beekeeping down here was at Rose Creek Farm, when the farmer there told me about the hive he had in the barn loft, and that “them bees won’t sting you if you get into their honey.” I think this is only partially true. I definitely got stung when I took the lid off, but only a few times (which I attribute to the speed at which I ran across the hay loft and jumped out of the barn like a little girl). But another time, I was sorting out some honey and honeycomb, and by the end of it I had bees up to my elbows on my arms, just trying to get to the honey. In that case we were just people and bugs, trying to get some honey; no stings necessary. The thing to remember is that they won’t bother you unless you start messing with their home.

We work with a beekeeper here who is able to give us lots of help and share his knowledge about everything. In what is one of my favorite jobs here, we have been able to extract hives from hollow tree trunks, travel trailers, old barns, and well-houses. The idea is to get the bees from their old home to their new home (your hive box) with minimal loss and maximum retention of their honey stores, brood and comb. The way we have found to work best is to wire a frame on one side, cut out the comb and lay it onto the frame, and wire the other side so the bee’s old comb is wired vertically  in a frame, which you then put in the hive box.

Sometimes the bees are friendly and sometimes they are not. It depends very much on the personality of the hive, the weather, the time of year, and what you do. Some hives we have captured, I didn’t even use a bee suit for part of the time; but some hives were so upset they managed to get INSIDE Rocky and I’s bee suits. That is not very pleasant since your choices are either one bee on the inside, or take of your suit and have all the bees on the inside.

The hardest part so far has been finding the queen in the hive, because without her, the bees will not stay in the box. I’ll explain about that a little later. Occasionally, usually in the Spring or Summer, a hive of bees will swarm, which means a split in the hive due to a lack of room. The existing queen will take half the bees and zoom over to some tree or something and wait while their scouts find a suitable location for a new hive. Meanwhile, the old hive will raise a new queen in place of the one that left, and go on just like before.

A swarm of bees, roughly the size of a football.

 

So there it is. A swarm of bees on one of our very own peach trees. Was it from one of our hives? Who knows.  Today was so warm (85) that it probably inspired the little guys to make a break a for it. You have an undetermined amount of time to catch them, it could be minutes or hours – never more than a day – so I rushed inside to get a hive box and my suit and managed to catch them before they flew away. Basically what happened between these two pictures is that I picked up the swarm and put it in the box; very, very uncomplicated. Sometimes it helps to spray them with sugar water, which discourages flying.

Into the box they go.

 

The important thing to make sure of is that the queen is in the hive. It helps to know a few things. First, whenever you see that mob of bees, the queen is consistently working her way towards the center, so if you have to guess, that’s where she’ll be. Secondly, once the swarm is disturbed (and this applies to removing an old hive from something like a tree) most of the bee’s #1 priority will be to find the queen. To help them, bees that know where she is will stand facing her and fan her aroma out, making her presence known. It looks like this, and it is a thing that makes a beekeeper very happy to see.

 

 

Fanning away from the queen.

It kinda looks like they’re doing little handstands. It’s surprising how strong the smell and breeze is from their little wings. you can smell it fairly easily if you’re close. So that means I got ’em, and now the hope is that they will love the hive so much they will never want to leave. Another useful thing to know is that bees will always prefer to walk rather than fly to their destination, presuming it’s fairly close. So in this case I allowed a bridge between the tree and the hive so the rest of them could walk down.

 

They'll find it.

 

So there you have it. One new hive of bees, $100 just sitting on a branch. Good times with the bees.

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I just remembered I had a lonely farming blog. If anyone is still checking this thing, thanks! And here you go. Let’s just swing back into this…

Fast-forwarding an entire year, we have baby goats here once again. I’m still working at this farm in Texas, R&C Dairy, and even though it’s coming up on my second year it seems like I’m doing things again for the first time; so much to keep track of and remember. But some things come back easily, like discerning when the goats get that look in their eyes that tells you they’re about to kid, which is always good to know. Things went extra smoothly this year with all the kids, no complaints and only a few long nights :)

 

On the side of things, the gardening is going spectacularly well. We’ve stepped up what we put in last year, not necessarily in quantity (although 11,000 instead of 8,000 strawberries for the u-pick this year!), bu I suppose in the knowledge we have and the lessons we learned, utilizing technologies like irrigation, plastic mulch, and different equipment. Also composted manure, that seems to be a big hit. In addition to the strawberries we’ll be growing tomatoes, watermelons, cantaloupes, okra, black-eyed peas, peppers, lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, carrots… there’s a bunch more. It’s been a particularly dry winter and spring, which is a far cry from last year and not as good for the garden. It just means we have to get a head start on all the irrigation that will need to happen during the Texas summer (which I cannot wait for and will soak up as much of it as I can, since it will be my last one for a while).

I’ll try and be more frequent here, my phone had broken and I was without pictures, and what’s the point of a farming blog without pictures, really. But we’re back in business now.

 

Danny

 

 

Well it’s summer again, and it’s been almost a year since I moved down here and started this whole farming ordeal. This was one of my goals when I started thinking about how my time down here should work; I didn’t think (and it turned out to be the case) that I could get  a fair judgment of what was going on with only a few weeks or months of work on a farm. By staying a whole year or longer, you get a much larger  perspective on the cycle of things and the place certain events have in the year; it’s one thing, for instance, to pick up the strawberries and plant them and know they will eventually need harvested and plowed up, but it’s another thing to actually be the one helping do those things. That firsthand experience is extremely valuable.

The dynamics of a farm vary so much depending on seasons that it’s almost like 4 separate experiences. Different jobs are delegated to different times of the year just as you would do in your year. Paying taxes, mowing the lawn, shoveling snow, it’s like that but on a much bigger scale. Something I’ve come to realize is just how much work there actually is and how much there is to remember; it’s like instead of living and managing day by day, or week by week, you’re going year by year. These farmers have a lot on their plate.

On top of the usual dairy fare, this summer has brought a LOT of gardening. We got a little carried away with ourselves last spring and planted… well let’s just say we planted enough. So far we’ve planted, harvested, and plowed under potatoes, onions, green beans, carrots, beets, strawberries, broccoli, cabbage, and other greens. Our squash, cucumbers, rhubarb, okra, peas, watermelons, cantaloupes, blackberries, raspberries, peaches, plums, tomatoes, peppers, *deep breath, and a few more are still making or are almost ready. Our blackberries, in particular, have been doing spectacular. It’s only their first year (which is supposed to be a very barren year for them) and we mowed them down a little lower than we probably should have, but despite all that they’re doing good. And delicious. They make a good reward after hoeing the 300 ft rows.

Another exciting new development this summer has been our new storefront. Rocky and I worked on it all winter; framing, insulating, running electricity and everything after dark under the lights, and Carol redid the whole inside so that it looks legitimate instead of how we finished it to look like. Which was like a box. We sell pretty much all of our produce out of the store as well as the dairy products (milk, cheese, yogurt, keifer, etc.), so it’s another place that demands our attention, but it can be nice to interact with all the people who come to shop.

Empty baskets after a busy day

And last but not least, our kids are getting older but not wiser. It’s a never-ending job dealing with them, but I don’t really mind it. I suppose if the novelty ever wears off I may be of a different opinion but for now i think they’re pretty neat.

Other than that it has been hot, it has been dry, and I had to buy new boots because my other ones got a hole in them. That pretty much sums it all up :)

Not the people kind, but the goat kind! And lots of them…

At one time we had about 30 running around, sometimes with 6 or 7 does kidding at once, and we still have about 15 left to go.

It was a fairly intense process for the first week or two, when the wave of babies came. There was a lot to prepare for, getting pens ready for the mamas, getting the baby pen ready, getting the automatic milker ready and warming up bottles, keeping a watch out for any goats that might be birthing as they may need some help (the kids always come front feet first, followed by the nose), and that on top of everything else that usually goes on. Most goats have anywhere from 1 to 3 kids – sometimes 4 or even 5 – at a time. And unlike cows, it can be any sort of combination of boys and girls. For our milking we’re really hoping for girls, but we raise the boys just the same and try to sell them as quickly as we can. This year has gone really well, with 25 girls and about 15 or so boys, not including the ones we unfortunately lost. Like they say, if you have livestock, you’ll have deadstock; it’s just one of those things you deal with in any sort of business like this.

Overall, the ones we do have are full of energy. Within minutes of being born they are trying to walk and looking for something to eat. Within a few hours they’re on their feet and bouncing around like little rabbits. Now, a week or so old, they’re bouncing off the walls and getting more energetic each day.

Other than babies, We’ve been getting a start on the gardening, planting carrots, beets, potatoes, onions, and beans. With the planters and tractors we’re able to get a LOT done quickly, including weeding. At this point I’d like to reference the EcoWeeder, with which I have spent – and will continue to spend – plenty of quality time; but without a goofy straw hat like the guy in the picture. It is very fast. When I think about hoeing the amount of ground we EcoWeed… I just can’t, it’s ridiculous. Between gardening, kids, and cowboying with a neighbor on some of my days off (working cows, riding fences etc. sans hat, horse,  or spurs) things stay busy and interesting. For sure I never thought I’d be where I am now, but I like it a lot.

P.S. I’ll try and update this little thing a little more frequently now that… I feel like it :) Also, dang has it been wet. SO wet and muddy. I really can’t emphasize this enough. For a while there you couldn’t plow or plant or anything, and only recently can you get out there – if you have a 4WD tractor. A lot of farmers in this region are late with their corn and other crops, we’ll see how that pans out in the long run. Being here, a part of everything that goes on outside the city, it’s becoming obvious how much the weather determines so many things. We can try to trick nature or work around it, but most of the time it’s just not possible. So yeah it’s been cold and wet, I guess i’ll have to carry an umbrella and coat to work, is what I thought before, not really knowing what it meant for other people; can’t carry cows hay for all the mud,  calves dying from overcrowding on the dry spots, crop failure, flooding and washouts, wormy livestock… so many ramifications.

What a winter to be living here, record snowfall, several consecutively freezing days, and so much rain and mud. So wet. Every day there are tractors and trucks getting stuck everywhere. I think we had about 9 inches here, and I know the D/FW area got it a lot worse than we did. It really makes me wonder about farming up in Ohio and the rest of the north, something I never took the time to find anything about. It’s easy to forget that anywhere you go will have its own diverse ecology and economy, a lot of factors that make it different from every other place, and TX is no exception I suppose, just what I know the most about.

They get into everything. Everything. Turn them loose in 100 acre pasture with one little loose board on a barn or one stray wire on the fence, and they’ll find it and poke themselves in the eye or knock it off or something. Despite that though, they’re neat animals to work with, some of them were raised on the bottle and so are extremely friendly, just like big dogs.

This is where they’ve knocked a window out of a little shed, shattering glass everywhere that took some time to pick up.  You can’t really blame them though, it’s just their curious nature. In sort of unrelated (but I think interesting) news, demand for good quality square bales has skyrocketed in this part of Texas. Whether they didn’t put up enough this year or the demand has just been higher, I don’t know. The thing about it is, a lot of the horse people want Coastal hay, without any johnson grass or anything in it (although for goats it doesn’t matter). Apparently people are willing to pay anywhere from 5-$10/bale! Yowza.  Luckily though winter is about over.

We’ve been framing the fruit stand lately, and since i’m only still learning it’s a lot to take in, but it’s fun and hard work and a skill for a lifetime for sure.

So the New Year rolls around and I find myself continuing here in Texas. New Years 2009 one year ago, I never would have imagined i’d be where I am now; the person I am now. But i’m back in Collinsville after a trip back to Columbus, OH for the holidays to see family and friends – it was a nice break since it had been so long since I had been back; lots of memories. Especially memories of the cold weather. Ironically though, TX is having one of the coldest winters in a long time so I wasn’t spared the winter…

On the upside of that this is turning out to be a good time for me to learn how things work around here, in preparation for the busy spring, summer, and fall months. When all the kids come, the milking swings back into full production, the strawberries and rest of the garden explodes – I’ll hopefully know what to do by then so these people don’t have to waste their time telling me what to do while I follow them around. When I think about all that we’ll be up to, it really will be busy so i’m excited for it.

I’ve been learning a lot about dairying and farming and work in general I suppose. Before I never would have imagined there was this much work involved in running a dairy (or a farm for that matter). Sure you hear it’s hard work, but the money and time and energy that needs to be consistently invested in staggering.. but hopefully worth it, definitely not for the unmotivated or idealistic.  More and more I can see my future and what I would like it to look like, but I’m also seeing that in order to make it happen, I need to let go of a lot of things – a lot of bad habits, etc

With the cold weather a whole new dimension of life here has unfolded. The livestock need somewhere dry and out of the wind for shelter, the water in the troughs need to be kept running or someone needs to go by and bust the ice a few times a day, a little extra feed put out, equipment looked after, hats and gloves put on… Apparently the strawberries over in FL, GA and the rest of the south (which have already set their blooms) are really getting wiped out by this cold weather. Some farms are able to get frost blankets, or sprinkler systems that coat the plants in ice and insulate them, but that can only do so much. Ours here should be ok as they have not yet bloomed. Another symptom of the cold (and of Alpine goats) is that our milk production is slowing waaay down. They are all ready to kid and mostly dried up, so we’re only getting about 2 gallons a day, compared to 15+ at full production. Some goats (Nubians) have year-long breeding patterns and so can milk through the winter, but not ours. It’s funny because this is the time of year people really want milk, next to a roaring fire with a plate of warm cookies and a book – and so on.