Friday, May 23, 2008

Visit with Dad

Yay! I can post photographs again! Thanks, Blogger!

I visited my Dad in Tennessee last week. This was the view I woke up to each morning (click to view larger version). I remember when I was a little girl and my grandparents owned this property. Nobody lived on it but I'd go with my grandfather to check on the cattle and I'd skip flat stones on the pond. The pond developed a sinkhole a year or two ago, but after significant effort involving (I think) boulders, bags of cement, and bentonite, it's beginning to hold water again.

My Dad keeps a small herd of Angus cattle. Last year, due to the drought, he sold off all but four cows and a juvenile female. This spring all four cows calved. I love seeing the calves frolic. It's amazing how playful and energetic they are when young, and how slow and complacent they become when they're mature.

Whenever I'm at my Dad's, I end up taking lots of photographs of "the view". Here the cattle are heading to the pond with "the view" in the background.

We had some good adventures while I was there. I look forward to posting about them next week.


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Grrr :(

Went to Tennessee to visit my Dad. Came home with pics and stories. Blogger is not letting me upload pics.

Dag nabbit.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Baby Chicks!

Well it is certainly Spring here at Palazzo Rospo. Last Thursday we had kittens and today we have chicks. I find it SO exciting.

For the first time in the two years we've been keeping chickens, we had a hen go broody. For a couple of nights in a row, when I locked up the chickens at night, she was in the nest box (plastic cat litter-box, the kind with a lid) rather than on the roost. In the morning, though, she'd get up and run grab some food along with the rest of her flock. Then on about the third day she didn't run grab food. She sat in that nest box and for three weeks I NEVER saw her leave it.

This morning when I went to give the chickens their food and fresh water, there was a dead chick on the floor of the chicken coop. I expect it had hatched and gotten out of the nest box but been unable to get back in, so it got chilled and died.

I put the nest box, with hen and eggs in it, in the brooder box I made for brooding incubated chicks. I put a nice thick fluffy layer of wood chips down and built a little ramp of wood chips going up to the nest box entrance so if any chicks do get out, hopefully they'll be able to get back in.

I also put the chick waterer and feeder in the brooder box, and turned on the heat lamp in the corner opposite the nest box. This way the chicks have something to eat and drink (though they'll be okay for about three days with no food or water), and if they can't get in the nest box or don't want to, they can hang out under the heat lamp. That's the way I raise my incubated chicks and they do great.

I don't know how many chicks have hatched. I counted seven (plus the dead one) but they're all hanging out in the nest box. I don't even know how many eggs she was sitting on. She's doing a great job. I can't wait to see them all running around being busy little chick babies. The hen growled at me when I took these pictures. I'd never heard a hen growl before.


Friday, May 09, 2008


Meccie (pronounced MEK-ee) had kittens yesterday! She was VERY agitated yesterday morning. She attacked the dog, stayed underfoot everywhere we went, and was generally acting very weird.

She sat in my lap or my husband's lap until about 2:00 p.m. Around 11:30 or 12:00 you could see she was having contractions. She panted a lot and her ears got really hot.

Her first kitten, the gray one in the bottom left corner, was born about 2:00 p.m. and the black (and orange and white?) one was born about 4:00 p.m. Here she is cleaning up the black (and orange and white?) one. You'll be able to see them better if you click to view a larger image - but even so it's not the greatest photo. Too much black, too much wiggling, too much busy Meccie to see the kittens very well.

By the time we went to bed she'd only had the two, but we could tell there was at least one more kitten in there.

This morning there were three kittens. The last one born looks like it's solid black, just like Meccie.

Here's the black one, less than 24 hours old.


Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Installing Packaged Bees

When we decided to get bees, all I knew about them was that they lived in those square wooden box bee hive things. I didn't know how to get the bees in there though. Do they like the white boxes and move in on their own? Do you have to catch them in the wild? As it turns out, you can buy packaged bees complete with a queen. They generally come in 3 pound packages, in a wooden box with screened sides.

If your packaged bees are not hanging happily in a cluster as in the photograph, mix 1 part sugar to 1 part water and use a clean paint brush or pastry brush to brush the sugar water on the screen. Don't worry about getting some on the bees, they'll clean it off of themselves and each other. Keep painting until they begin to lose interest. When their bellies are full they'll calm down and cluster together.

Just leave them in the box and wait until late afternoon or early evening to install them. This way, as darkness falls, the bees are inclined to settle into the hive rather than run off exploring. In the morning, they'll make orientation flights and figure out where their new home is located and how to get back to it.

Use a screwdriver to pry the lid off of the packaged bees.

Beneath the lid you'll see two metal circles. The small one is attached to the queen's cage. The large one is a can that has sugar water in it and tiny holes on the bottom that allow the bees to eat in their journey to your home. Most bees are raised in warm climates such as Georgia, the Carolinas, or California. They sometimes travel a long way by truck before reaching their final destination.

You'll want to don your beekeeper's veil and possibly some gloves before you go any further. Pull the queen's cage out, using your hands or the screwdriver. Bees will start crawling out of the package; don't let that rattle you.

The queen's cage is a little piece of wood with an indented area for the queen and her attendants. The indented area in the cage shown is made of three circular areas drilled into, but not through, the piece of wood. There is a screen to provide ventilation and to keep the queen separated from the new hive until they've become accustomed to her pheromones. If you introduce a strange queen to a hive of bees, they may kill her. So you let them get to know one another over the period of a few days.

One end of the queen's cage has a fairly large "candy" filling and the other end is blocked with a very small cork. In the picture, the candy is white and fills the entire circular area on the left-hand side of the queen's cage. Remove the metal piece from the candy end, and hang the queen's cage in your bee hive between two frames. My hive currently has a deep box on the bottom and a shallow super; I placed the cage on top of the frames in the deep and removed a frame from the super to make space for the queen's cage.

Over the next few days, the bees will eat into the candy, eventually freeing the queen. By the time she makes her grand exit, the hive will be accustomed to her and they'll all get along swimmingly. I'll check the queen's cage in a few days and if she hasn't gotten out I'll remove the cork from the non-candy end of the cage. Once the queen is out, I'll remove the cage from the hive and replace the frame I removed from the shallow super.

Now remove the can of sugar water. The bees will begin exiting the package. Just move slowly and deliberately. Honeybees are curious, not aggressive; they generally don't sting unless they feel they're threatened.

Many folks say you can just set the package of bees, opening down, on the frames. They will exit the package and enter the hive in search of the queen. I did this, and balanced the hive's outer cover over the package to prevent dew from getting into the hive, on the bees, and chilling them.

When I went back after dark to remove the package and close up the hive, there were still a lot of bees in the package, so I resorted to the more common method of shaking the bees out of the package. You don't shake the package back and forth like you'd shake a ketchup bottle; rather, you raise it aloft and bring it down rapidly and stop with a good hard jerk, which causes the bees to fall out in a big clump. Two or three of these strong shakes and most of the bees were out of the package and in the hive.

I put the shallow super, the inner cover, and the outer cover in place and left the package near the hive entrance so the few remaining bees could make their way out of the package and into the hive.

I have another hive waiting on a package of bees that won't arrive for a couple of days. Like the hive I'm working with, the waiting one has drawn comb with some honey and pollen in it. I put an old towel over the entrance of the waiting hive, to prevent this new batch of bees from going next door and robbing it.

Early the next morning I went out to check on my bee hive. Most of the bees had left the package but a few remained motionless in small clusters; the overnight low was 41F.

There was lots of activity at the hive entrance, as bees took orientation flights and got ready for life in their new digs.

I went out again at noon when the temperatures were in the 70s and happily my "dead" bees had all thawed out and exited the package. While I probably won't harvest any honey for my own consumption until next year, I'll enjoy greater production from my garden, berry bushes, and fruit trees. I'll also get the enjoyment of watching these fascinating insects go about their daily activities.


Monday, May 05, 2008

Egg Incubator

I had the flu or something that knocked me totally on my butt for about two weeks. I've been playing catch-up (frighteningly behind on seed starting, garden prep, and transplanting!). I'm still not 100% but I'm good enough.

Last month, in April, I received some hatching eggs I'd ordered. I ordered 20 and they sent 24, probably in case of cracked eggs or duds. In fact, one egg was cracked slightly despite the eggs being VERY well packed in sawdust, egg cartons, and then newspaper.

I have a little incubator made out of styrofoam like one of those inexpensive coolers. When we got it, I got the egg turner, too, because I KNOW I'll forget whether or not I turned the eggs, or have a couple of evenings in a row when I'm not home due to bee club meetings or something like that.

The egg turner is six rails with soft plastic "cups" that look like upside-down tables. They rock ever so slowly from one side to the other, about four times a day. This mimics the hen turning the eggs in the nest so that the chick develops well inside the egg.

The incubator came with a hygrometer, which measures the humidity. I didn't realize until I took this photo how filthy my little hygrometer is. It came with the incubator. If the humidity is in the shaded area, everything is good. When the humidity drops, I pour a little bit of water in the bottom of the incubator (it has a plastic liner with a little trough where I can put the water - impossible to photograph though, as it's all white).

The incubator also came with a thermometer. Eggs like to stay at about 99.5F and this thermometer has a nice extra-wide marking at 99.5. The thermometer rests on a bent piece of metal so that it's elevated about egg-height off the floor of the incubator.

Here are the eggs after being placed in the incubator, in the egg turner, big end up. The big end goes up because that's where the air pocket is. The chick's head will develop in the big end. The eggs have a "B" on them that's not really visible in the small picture but they show up if you click to view the large picture. Anyway, the "B" is where the seller marked them. They are Buckeye chicken eggs and he raises several types of chickens.

This is the incubator when it's closed. It has a couple of little windows to look into. It has two red plastic air vent plugs. In the photo, one is still in place and one has been removed. You can see the ventilation hole near where the power cord comes out of the top of the incubator. When the eggs start hatching, you increase the humidity and remove the second plug.

Unfortunately, not ONE of my eggs hatched! I candled them (get in a dark room and hold a flashlight to the back of the egg) and most of them never even started developing. A few developed but none of them hatched. I used this incubator successfully last spring, so I figure it's bad eggs.

I've been told that if the Post Office X-rays eggs, most of them won't develop at all, as if they hadn't been fertilized. Those that do develop will probably develop poorly. So it's possible my eggs were X-rayed.

It's also possible the seller has a rooster with fertility problems, and/or he sent me eggs that were very old or had gotten chilled. Because he was so careful with the packaging, though, I tend to think X-rays might be the problem.

So, I've given up on Buckeye chickens (again) and I'm saving some of my own Speckled Sussex eggs to hatch out. I'm down to five hens, thanks to foxes and hawks. I have three roosters so I need to butcher a couple but, well, it's so easy to just put that off.


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