Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Duckling Update

    Its officially over. Both hen ducks have abandoned the nest.  There are just three lonely eggs left in the clutch. I probably should do a disection and see how far along they made it.  At this point I believe Beatrix Potter had it right.  Jemima Puddle Duck appears to be the rule when it come to hen ducks. Most ducks are insufficiently serious to set on a nest and hatch their own ducklings.  Its sad, but the next time I want some ducklings I will either have to incubate them myself or just buy them.  The only up side is that the runner duck hen has started to lay again so we have fresh duck eggs again.  I was so hoping to have some cute little ducklings for the grandkids to enjoy.

    How does my garden grow?  The potatoes are doing great as well as the 55 cabbage starts I planted.  Other than four tomato plants and a few winter squash plants that is the is the sum total of my garden thus far.  I still have about eight planting beds I need to weed and plant.  Not that I've lost much by being late this year.  With the wet cool spring we've had its been a perfect year to plant cabbages and potatoes. I would still like to get some carrots, beets, and rutabegas planted in keeping with the cool summer theme as well as some zuchini, cucumbers, and more winter squash.  I would like to be able to can some saurkraut and pickled beets by the end of the summer.

    My bamboo is taking off pretty well.  At least I finally have a couple of full  size culms growing.  They are up to 12 or 15 feet right now and look like they will make it past 20 feet.  Technically the bamboo is part of the vegetable garden and I hope to be able to harvest at least a meal's worth of bamboo shoots next spring. I didn't expect it to take so long to get the bamboo established.  I've had it over three years and I've yet to harvest a shoot and it hasn't gone anywhere near the barrier I worked so hard to put in place.

    I started off my morning by visiting my barber, Paul Barber, in Everett and doing the usual swap of a jar of honey for a haircut.  He was happy to give me a serious buzz cut rather than the usual.  I ended the day by going to Becky's little buzz party and was surprized to find my wife getting her hair buzzed.  I think Becky was impressed with the show of support and fortunately, it will grow back.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Duckling Update - Day 16

   The Rouen  duck is still sitting on the eggs, but we are down to just seven eggs, five blue and two white.  I still don't know if the duck is merely getting rid of the bad eggs or if the rats are stealing them. I put out more poison out for the rats just in case they are the problem.  Rats seem to be a perpetual problem in the vicinity of poultry feeders. I haven't seen the runner duck taking a turn on the eggs in over a week so the Rouen duck has sole claim at the moment.

    My little water garden is doing well. The large water lily has a flower that is starting to bloom.  The three smaller water lilies have all sent up miniature lily pads, each new leaf slightly larger than the previous one. The irises are also starting to bloom. The miniature cattails are growing.  I have three feeder goldfish still alive after a month or so. Initially they were eating the mosquito larvae. I'm not sure what they are eating now. I probably should start feeding them.  I have some fertilizer tablets for the water lilies which I put in with each plant when I divided them a month ago. I'm supposed to give each lily a fertilizer tablet each month, but I've procrastinated putting them in. The package claims they won't hurt the fish, but I'm suspicious.  This is my practice water garden.  I'd like to have a much larger one some day. I took a photo of one of my bees (ear tag C-27,119)  foraging for water on a water lily of all things. OK, I don't really know that its one of my bees, but I think the odds are pretty high that it is.

    My bamboo is growing well this spring.  It only sent up four new culms, but two of those are much bigger than last years.  I expect that next year It will finally begin to spread out.  I put in a serious 18 inch deep bamboo barrier soon after I planted the bamboo.  I didn't realize that it would take several years for the plant to finally get its root system established.  Technically the bamboo is part of the vegetable garden as I picked a variety with edible shoots.  Maybe next year I'll get my first harvest of bamboo shoots. The variety I planted is aureasculcatis "Spectabilis".  I got the start for free from someone who was moving and had a lot of bamboo in their garden.  I had a chance to get a free start of black bambo, but I was too busy to dig it up at the time of year when it was best to do that.  According to the folks at the American Bamboo Society March is the best month to do divisions or to transplant bamboo.  March is a pretty busy time at the bee store.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Duckling update: Day 11

    The mother duck who started sitting on the nest (the slate blue runner duck) appears to have lost some of her interest in the eggs.  Fortunately she has been replaced by the Rouen duck so the eggs are still being incubated.  I've seen them sitting on the eggs together several times so it may be that the larger hen duck has crowded out the smaller hen duck.  I suppose it is also possible that they have a schedule written on the wall inside their little shelter and its the other duck's turn this week.  Personally, I'm suspicious that there may be a basis in fact for the Jemima PuddleDuck story by Beatrix Potter. I think hen ducks as a whole are somewhat less dedicated sitters that your average banty hen. 

    A few of the eggs have been culled by the ducks so we are down to 9 eggs in the nest.  I think the ducks can tell when an egg isn't progressing as it should and its a good thing that they can eliminate the "bad" eggs.  That would be like sitting on a ticking stink bomb.  An incubated infertile egg will eventually explode. You wouldn't want to be around when that happens, much less sitting on it.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

A Tale of Two Bad Goats

       Last Saturday (May 8th) I worked at the bee store until about 4:30 p.m., then hurried home for a family dinner and combined birthday celebration for our May birthdays ( My son James, grandaughter Abby, and grandson James, aka Boo). We had children and grandchildren visiting and it promised to be a good time.  However, the party was literally crashed by our two goats who picked that particular day to discover the weakness of the old green gate to their pen.  At some point earlier that day they realized that the gate was on the verge of failing.  They then spent the next several hours butting the gate until it finally gave way.  I arrived home with dinner ready and our two caprine escapees tied up in our former raspberry patch. 

      After a somewhat short family dinner and singing of happy birthday I spent the remainder of the waning daylight hastily constructing a new gate for the goat pen.  Fortunately I had on hand a fairly stout pallet made of inch thick plywood and 4x4 oak.  As the daylight turned to dusk I was putting the last few screws in the new and improved goat pen gate.  The only down side to the new gate is it's lack of a few coats of bright green paint like the old gate had.  I think the pallet had been used for some heavy piece of machinery as it seemed to be very stout.  After I had re-installed the goats into their pen, their first order of business was to test the strength of the new gate.  After each goat had given the gate of few butts, they reached the conclusion that the new gate was no pushover and went back to eating the bark off the trees in their pen.

    The goats' confinement in the former raspberry patch, now overgrown by blackberries, was intended to keep them from further mischief until such time that I could replace the gate.  Left to their own devices goats have an unhealthy inclination to eat things like rhododendrons that are poisonous. From a goat's perspective their confinement in the erstwhile raspberry patch was actually a nice reward.   They are perpetually hungry and always act they haven't eaten for days.  By the time I finished the new gate, the raspberry patch was somewhat less overgrown by blackberries. We've started staking the goats out during the day so they can do some blackberry removal for us. They are so enthusiastic about this activity that we literally have to drag them back to their pen at the end of the day.

      I'm currently working on enlarging the goat pen to several times larger than it's current size. I have several goals in this. My first goal is to harness their ravenous appetites in the removal of the blackberries on a portion of our property.  My second goal is to spend less time and money feeding the goats. I purchased 100 yards of appropriately strong fencing material a few weeks ago, but I haven't had sufficient free time to get the job done.  About all I've done so far is to set a few of the fence posts. The goats require fairly strong fencing as they like to place their front hooves on the wire in order to gain a bit more altitude. A good part of the fencing I used in the goat pen is some welded wire that I got on the cheap at a garage sale.  The welded wire tends to separate when the goats place their hooves on the horizontal strands of wire. The new fencing material is a thcker gauge wire that is twisted rather than welded.

Busy day at the Bee Store

We had a busy day today with the recent arrival of queens. We also received a shipment of three pallets of bee boxes from Shastina Millworks. I spent the last two hours of the day unloading the pallets and stacking the new inventory in an easily accessable place.  The three pallets totaled almost two tons of woodenware. The labor was lightened by the presence of Lance and Luna. They sat for a while on top of two of the pallets while I unloaded the first pallet. Then Luna started giving me hand signal directions like they guide in airplanes as I moved each dolly load of boxes into the store. I ended up giving them dolly rides back outside the store.

All Hail the Queens

    Today (June 2) was a busy day at the bee store.  Although things have slowed down somewhat since the package bees, it is still a struggle to keep up on assembly orders.   The big deal today was the arrival of a shipment of 55 queen bees this afternoon from Wooten's Golden Queens, located in Palo Cedro, California.  We've been anxiously waiting for them as they were supposed to arrive last week and several customers are anxious to get new queens.  Several of them have to be shipped elsewhere, but they arrived too late in the day for me to be able to get them sent out today.  I did manage to get them transferred to two queen banks.  I put them in a small 5 frame nuc box that has a few frames of bees with a fair amount of capped brood.  As the capped brood emerges over the next 12 days it will provide a constant source of young bees to act as nurse bees for the queens.  The queen cages are placed in a modified frame that keeps the worker bees from chewing through the candy plugs and releasing any of the queens.  The queens stay healthy longer in a queen bank and allows us to provide a better product to our customers.

    The queens arrive in a "battery box" which has a bunch of little queen cages in neat little rows all covered with lots of loose bees.  I spray them down with a little thymol scented sugar syrup to ease their addition to the queen bank.  The thymol is supposed ot mask their scent and make it harder for the bees in the queen bank to discern that the bees from the battery box are not from their hive. I also spray thymol scented syrup on the bees in the queen bank.  Apparently I didn't spray quite enough today as I still saw some combat between the workers.

     In order to prepare queens for shipment  I have to add at least three worker bees to their cage so that they have some attendants to care for them until they are installed in a hive. This involves grabbing worker bees by their wings and stuffing them business end first into the queen cages. This is a bare-handed job as it requires some dexterity to catch bees by their wings as they crawl around on the queen cages. The amazing thing for many people is that I can cover the hole in the queen cage with my finger and never get stung.  I have taken an occasional sting when I wasn't able to secure both pairs of wings to prevent the worker bee from stinging.  The bees are quite agile and can easily bend around to get me if I don't get both pairs of wings. I've gotten reasonably good at this so I usually don't get stung.  Once I have added workers to the queen cage, it is simply a matter of preparing a priority mail box with a screened vent hole, adding several hot pink warning labels ("Live Queen Bees" "Keep Ventilated" "Keep Away from Insecticides" "Keep at Room Temperature") and transporting the package to the post office.

    Obviously selling queen bees is a fairly big hassle.  We are usually lucky to break even on queens by the end of the year as they are a very perishable product.  When customers complain about the price of queen bees I advise them that if they really knew all that went into producing, handling, and shipping queens, they would be amazed that they are so cheap.  However, it doesn't feel cheap when you pony up $27.13 after tax for a relatively small bug.  We mainly sell queens as a service to our customers.

Local goats working hard

    I'm trying to expand my goat pen to provide them with a little more pasture.  I've bought the fencing and I think I have enough of the metal posts.  As I was contemplating cutting a path through the blackberries I had the bright idea of letting the goats do the work for me.  All I have to do is drive in a metal post where it want to expand the fence and tie one of the goats the post.  Within a few days of work the goat has eaten back the blackberries to the point where I can drive in the next post.  So far it has worked fairly well.  The only glitch is that the goats have a tendency to get themselves tangled up after two or three hours.  Otherwise we're making good progress and the goats have taken to the work with great enthusiasm. In fact they complain very loudly if I don't stake them out in the morning.

   I can't think of another creature that is so ruled by its appetites as a goat is.  They live to eat and their stomachs are a bottomless pit.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Duckling Update

   While the mother duck appears to be doing fine sitting on the eggs, four of the eggs in the clutch disappeared.  I'm not sure what happened, but I think rats are the most likely suspects.  Fortunately, I had collected eggs from the nest about five or six days before the mother duck started sitting.  I had taken them down to the bee store to give them to a friend with a broody hen.  Since the friend didn't come by to pick up the eggs, I added about 7 of the newer eggs to the nest.  I was concerned that if any more eggs disappeared the mother might give up.  In the mean time I put out some more rat poison.  The duck pen is fairly secure so I'm not sure what else could have gotten in the pen to take the eggs.  Anyhow, we now have ten eggs in the clutch, with June 28 being D-day (duckling day) for the seven eggs I added.

     Rats seem to be a perpetual problem when you have poultry feeders.  I seem to have to poison them off on a regular basis.  I usually put the poison down their holes and put a rock over it to make sure nothing else gets a hold of the poison.  I was hoping our new barn cat would make a big difference, but I've yet to see him bring in a rat.  I put his feed out in the goat barn to make sure he visits the barn at least once a day. I haven't seen any rats at the goat barn, but he hasn't made much difference around the duck pen.

     Rachel worked at the bee store today so I spent the day weeding, mowing lawns, and painting bee equipment.  At the end of the day our strawberry beds are pretty well weeded and the lawns aren't in bad shape.  However, there is still a lot of beehive parts that need painting.  Lance helped me paint for a while, but he is only good for about ten minutes of painting when it isn't raining.  I'm trying to get all of my stuff repainted as we are hosting the bee club picnic at our house this year. I don't want my beehives to look junky.  The reason we are holding the picnic at our house is that Rachel decided we needed to have a beebeard contest at the picnic.  It sounds like a fun time, but they frown on activities like that at public parks.

  I also drove up to Marysville this afternoon with Lance and picked up an elk hide from Quil Ceda Tanning.  The untanned hide was a gift from Bob Hazelbrook, a bee store customer who is a serious hunter.  I paid to have it tanned with the plan being to make some moccasins with it.