Sunday, May 30, 2010

Brooding Turkeys

Our Naragansett hen has finally gone broody. She's sitting on about 5 eggs which should hatch in a little less than a month. She's been exhibiting some nest building behavior in recent weeks but she finally plopped down and began incubating in earnest about two days ago. If you approach her or the pasture shelter she puffs up like a balloon and hisses at you. I ignored her warnings last year to my peril and tried to reach under her to check on the eggs. I got pecked hard enough that she broke the skin. Dumb me! I've done it so many times with chickens that I was on autopilot and didn't take into account that I was dealing with a bird 4 times the size of a chicken.

If you look carefully in the picture you can just see her eggs beneath her at the right front.

This photo shows our two tom turkeys. Albuquerque (in front) is the older of the two and is the father of the one in the rear of the photo. The younger tom is the product of Albuquerque (a chocolate tom) and the Naragansett hen. It's our hope that he'll pair up with the chocolate hen in the background of the photo and raise some poults of his own.

This final photo is of Albuquerque. I love his blood-red wattles and combs. He's also growing a pretty significant beard. For those who don't know a turkey's beard is the little tuft of hair that grows out of his breast. Usually the older and more mature a tom is the longer the beard.

We'll follow up with the turkeys in a few weeks. Hopefully we'll have some new poults to introduce to you. It's so much easier raising turkeys when momma does all the work. If it's too cold she covers them up. If they need food, she shows them where to find it. Our hens co-mothered the last batch and did a pretty good job of it. Doting mothers!

Enjoy the photos.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Garden Goodies

We are now entering the time of year I love most. Things are starting to happen in the garden in earnest. You go out and see what's ripe and ready and plan dinner accordingly. Tonight we had beets and asparagus with our pork chops. I sauteed the beet tops in some bacon fat until they were quite limp. I then sauteed the sliced beets and asparagus in the same and topped them with diced bacon bits. There's one way to get a 5 and 8 year old to eat beets and asparagus and that's to do it with bacon. Mmmmmm.

I also harvested snap peas and a few carrots. The snap peas and the asparagus are two things that have a problem making it from the garden to the house. Many are lost to impulse moments after being picked. The snap peas will likely make to tomorrow's salad but the carrots are doomed once the boys find out they're in the house. We also have lettuce, bok choy, and pak choy coming in. The corn is getting some height to it and the little beans I planted next to each corn stalk are up and looking for support. The sunflowers are all up and tracking their namesake across the sky quite studiously. The sunflowers are mostly for show. I usually leave the heads on them for the goldfinches. You've never seen a happier goldfinch than one perched on a head full of sunflower seeds. By that time the males have lost most of their summer (display) plumage and are starting to look a little drab. Oh well.

We got THREE whole cherries off of one of the trees in the yard. I came home to find the central leader broken and hanging. I assume a bear visited during the day since all of the other cherries had been taken. I pruned the tree below the cut and I think I'm going to need to cull all fruit in the future until the tree is of sufficient size to deal with large mammals leaning against it. I could wrap those trees in electric fencing but the amount of electric fencing I have here is getting excessive. I joke with friends that the only place that has more electric fencing than our place is the Supermax prison at Wallen Ridge.

Speaking of bears I hustled home yesterday to get my oldest boy off of the school bus. I was reading the mail when I heard his bus round the corner and when I looked up the bus was swerving a bit and then stopped. When it finally pulled up to the driveway the driver asked me if I'd seen the bear that had just crossed the road in front of him. He stopped the bus so the kids could watch the bear as it marched up the hill. I hadn't seen anything. After the bus departed my son and I drove up the neighbors driveway to see if we could find it. Sure enough....there was a small bear standing on his hind legs looking at us. When he saw his chance he darted across the driveway and into the woods. I'd have to say that judging by its size that it was a fairly young bear. Perhaps a young male newly away from his mother.

Finally the sweet potato slips arrived and I have them planted in the greenhouse. I got a dozen Beauregard and 6 Vardeman. I have them in the greenhouse because they LOVE heat and the deer can't get to them in there. Last year all of my slips were eaten to the ground. Dang! We'll see how they do.

Enjoy and good gardening.

Friday, May 21, 2010

In the Bees!

I got into the bees this afternoon primarily to see if some nucs I had intended to raise for this year's beekeeping students were making progress. Sadly they are not. I haven't gotten a single nuc (out of the 10 or so I started) that's made sufficient progress that I'd be comfortable selling it to someone. Not to worry though. There are other club members who can likely supply bees to the students.

The first photo show me dusting the bees with powdered sugar. You dust the tops of the frames and then brush it gently down between them so as to get onto as many bees as possible. The bees don't like the sugar and begin grooming themselves furiously which knocks loose a lot of varroa mites. They eat the sugar and all is well.

The second photo shows a frame of ripened honey that the bees have begun to cap over. The snow white capping wax you see here is the newest and finest beeswax there is. Just a beautiful sight. The frame full of honey weighs about 4 lbs. When the box is full it'll weigh nearly 45 lbs. A lot of weight and most of it's honey.

Photo number three shows a frame taken from the brood nest where the queen lays eggs and young worker bees are raised by the thousands. Note the ring of uncapped honey around the outer edge. Next closest to the center are cells of pollen. Pollen is the bees source of protein and mixed with honey makes a type of 'bee bread' that's fed to the developing larvae. If you look closely into the individual cells you can see the young worker larva laying in the bottom of the cells in a 'C' shape.

This last photo I included because it just looks cool. Quite often when you pry up the inner cover you find that they bees have built comb between the cover and the tops of the frames below. This wax is usually just scraped off and melted down later for candles, etc. I always take a second to just appreciate the work that the bees have done.

Enjoy the photos.

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Monday, May 17, 2010

Garden, Shrooms, & Turkeys

As is typical for this time of year things in the garden have already gotten away from me. I can't resist trying new plants (especially tomatoes) and I always find myself trying to find room in the garden for the seeds I've started. For the past couple of years I've been using a soil blocker to create little soil cubes for seed starting. The first blocker I bought was the 2" model which is perfect for almost everything. Later I purchased a 1/2" mini-blocker for starting flower seed.

So far in the garden I have tomatoes (about a dozen different varieties), garlic, 3 kinds of corn, 4 kinds of potatoes, various cabbages, carrots, onions, brussel sprouts, broccoli, zucchini, cukes, lettuces, beans, sunflowers, PEANUTS, peas, asparagus, and various herbs. This is my first year trying peanuts. I bought seed peanuts through another member of SSE ( and planted them. All are up and running.

The fruit trees are doing well this year. I bought 10 M-7 rootstocks from and I'm going to grow them out for a year and then graft different varieties of apples onto them. My plan is to bud graft 4 different apples onto each rootstock and then espalier them onto a trellis system. I have 5 rootstocks in the ground and 5 in 'pots'. I hope to get the rootstocks in the pots started and then donate them to my son's Montessori school's garden.

The shiitake mushrooms logs are beginning to fruit. I've been collecting the shrooms and drying them for family and friends. So far I haven't gotten any of the oyster or lion's mane mushrooms I plugged last year. That's ok. Shiitake are good, meaty mushrooms and go great in salads, stir fry, and as a meat substitute. Mmmm good.

The turkeys are laying pretty well. Right now we have a clutch of seven eggs in the pasture shelter that we hope our Naragansett hen will soon begin to set on. Last year she hatched 5 poults but only one of those survived to adulthood. We'll see. Both of our hens co-mothered the poults and the Tom (Albuquerque) was an excellent father. I watched him many times very gently handing freshly plucked grass clippings to his poults. He obviously dwarfed them in size but he was very careful to step around them when they wandered underneath him.

Enjoy and good gardening.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

May Swarms

Update Spring 2010!

Well I have finally gotten around to updating the blog. We're starting out with photos of our second swarm of the season. The bees exited one of the colonies in the yard and perched on a branch on one of the cherry trees. We came home from Jake's soccer game to find 10,000+ bees hanging out.

Swarms are a colony's way of dividing themselves. Once a colony reaches a certain size the worker bees collectively decide that it's time to split the colony in half. They begin to make queen cells inside the colonies on the bottom of the frames (or combs in a wild colony) and they begin to 'slim down' their queen so that she's able to fly. Once the cells are capped about half of the colony exits the front door in a massive swarm of bees. They usually settle down on a nearby structure (could be a tree branch, fence post, car, etc) and hang out while the scout bees search for a suitable new home. Once a new home is found the swarm lifts off of the temporary perch and heads for their new digs. Although menacing in appearance swarms are usually totally docile. They have no honey stores or brood to defend and they are usually stuffed to the gills on honey. It is this honey that will give them the ability to draw new combs in their new-found home. Swarms are comb drawing machines.

I got a nuc box together with 5 new frames of pure beeswax foundation. Holding the box underneath the swarm I shook the branch sharply and dropped the majority of the bees into the box. You don't necessarily need to get the queen (but it would help). Once you have a 'critical mass' of bees in the box the others will follow. I checked the bees 3 days after shaking them into the new box and found that they had drawn almost all of the foundation into new combs.

After work yesterday I stopped over at a buddy's house to check on the colonies I keep over there. Harvey and his wife Ellen have a very interesting property and what they have going on there is my vision for my retirement (or post lottery winning) days. You can check out their website at

It was my intention to substitute the honey super I had placed on the colony over there with a super designed for Ross Round comb sections. When I opened the colony I discovered that they were in post-swarm mode with imminently hatching queen cells everywhere. I removed two cells and could feel and hear the sounds of queen bees that are about to emerge. Then, while I watched one of the queens chewed her way out of the cell I was holding and emerged into a queen cage I held over the end of the cell.