The new bees arrived today.
Lots of them. More bees than you would ever want to see in one place at the same time.
As of this morning, we had five established hives of Italian honey bees.
Each hive produces, on average, about 50 pounds of honey per year. We found that demand for our honey far exceeded our supply so we decided to add a few more hives.
O.K., maybe a few more than a few.
Today, we added 12 more hives to the beeyard, giving us a grand total of 17 hives.
Bees are purchased in packages of about 10,000 bees, along with one queen.
The queen is inside the cage, in the can suspended from the top of the cage. She is protected because the colony has not yet accepted her as their queen. They have to get used to her before she can rule the hive.
This is the queen cage that is tucked safely inside that metal canister. At the bottom of the cage is a piece of candy we have to insert before we hang the queen in the hive.
After the queen cage is attached inside the hive, we can dump the package of 10,000 bees inside.
The bees are attracted to the queen's pheromones and they begin to eat the piece of candy at the bottom of the queen cage to release the queen. By the time they finish the candy and the queen is free to leave the hive, the bees have accepted her as their queen and all is well and good within the hive.
That's the queen cage, attached to a leaf, hanging from one of the frames, and the newly released bees at the bottom of the hive.
Each hive has its own queen. The bees in this hive will stay specific to this hive. In other words, bees from hive one will never enter hive two or three or whatever. They would either be chased away or killed by the guard bees of that hive. Once a bee of colony number one, always a bee of that colony. They do not mingle.
The queen is busy all season long laying eggs. At the height of the honey producing season, each hive will have about 50,000 to 60,000 bees.
We will let the hives settle down for a few days before we open them up to see if they are accepting their queen.
We're hoping to get a small bit of Spring honey from our five established hives sometime in June and then by Fall, we should have 17 hives of raw, wildflower honey.
After a four day return to late Winter, we were firmly back in Spring territory today.
Can't blame this chicken for hanging out by the lilacs. They smell fabulous.
The poppies in front of the farmhouse are starting to bloom.
The chive blossoms are beginning to pop open.
But the bees were angry today. I don't think they liked being cooped up earlier in the week due to the freezing temperatures. They were not happy and wanted no part of having their picture taken. They chased me out quickly.
When a bee tells you to leave, you leave. I guess I should have read our own sign before entering the bee yard.
The potatoes are beginning to show themselves.
And the garlic is growing like crazy.
We still have work to do on the bridge that washed out during one of this Spring's many storms.
But when the trees are blooming, even bridge repair seems like minor work.
Welcome back Spring. We're happy you're here.
This weekend, we traveled to Columbus for the ninth annual Buckeye Alpaca Show.
If you've never been to an alpaca show before, think of it as a dog show on steroids.
Farms from across the country bring their best animals to compete for "Best in Show" type ribbons.
The animals are judged on how they move -- if their form is correct.
Their overall appearance -- are they built correctly. Straight back, or top line. Is the animal wide chested or narrow. Is the head shaped correctly.
Then the judge moves on to the fleece. Is it dense, fine, and does it have good staple length. Does it have a lot of crimp. Are there a lot of guard hairs.
Then the animals are placed in order and given ribbons. The combination of best form and best fleece usually makes for the blue ribbon winner in each class.
It really is like a dog show, just for taller "dogs."
If you bring multiple animals to the show, it's important to know what time they are going into the ring and which ring. I'm sure there are many scientific ways to keep track of all this, but Marilyn has her own method.
Write it on your hand. After all, your hand isn't like a slip of paper you can leave behind someplace. Your hand goes with you everywhere you go so it is the ideal place to write down ring numbers and show schedules. It's working for her so far so who's to argue.
The husband and wife team of Mimi and Jim Foster of Melody Lane Farm had the fun of going up against each other in one class.
Mimi was sure she would take the blue, but Jim edged her out. To his credit, Jim did not gloat.
In addition to showing animals, the show held a fleece competition with beautiful suri and huacaya fleeces entered in many color categories.
You could have your alpacas shorn.
84 Alpacas Fiber Mill was there to take any of your newly shorn fleece back to the mill with them for processing into yarn or roving.
You could even bring in a picture of your pet, be it dog, cat, alpaca, goat or llama, to have it drawn in chalk.
At last week's Mid-Atlantic Alpaca Association show in Harrisburg, Pa., Mr. Big, one of That'll Do Farms alpacas, did very well for himself. He won the Reserve Color Champion banner.
And he did not disappoint today, earning a second in his class as well as combining with his brother Clint to win the Produce of Dam class. Produce of Dam is a show class where two alpacas with the same dam and two different sires are shown together as a pair. The judge is looking for consistency in the influence of the dam.
Showing season is over for the farm until the fall when we do it all over again. If an alpaca show is in your neck of the woods, stop in to see these beautiful creatures. Who knows, one or two, or a dozen, may be in your future.
Today, we're starting to shear our CSA alpacas.
We invite anyone who has purchased the fleece of one of our animals to come out for the day and watch their animal getting its haircut. Sort of a, "See your yarn before its yarn" day.
This morning, Katrina, who purchased Annelise's fleece, came to help her girl on her day of beauty.
We shear our animals a little differently than most farms because we tranqualize them.
We think it makes it easier to do their toes,
trim their teeth and give them a nice even haircut, including a dust removal session with a shop vac.
It's all about sending the nicest fleece possible to the mill to get the nicest yarn back.
And Annelise has some really nice fiber.
Our next step will be to skirt the fleece, which means removing all the lesser quality fiber and debris from the prime quality fleece. After skirting, the fleece is shipped off to the mill where it will be washed, carded and spun into yarn.
With the fiber CSA, the owner of the fleece gets to pick what weight they would like their yarn (worsted, lace, sport, etc...) and if they would like to mix in any wool or have it spun as straight alpaca.
This is the closest non-alpaca owners can come to designing their own yarn without actually owning the animal and having to do the day-to-day animal chores.
Plus who wouldn't want a picture of themself with a silly, shorn alpaca.
Yesterday was my long awaited wool Breed Study class with Beth Smith of The Spinning Loft.
If you haven't been to Lebanon, it's worth the trip.
It's a very pretty little historic town that looked exactly like a Spring postcard.
The event was held at the Golden Lamb, Ohio's oldest inn.
That's right. I was hanging out at the same place as Charles Dickens did a century or so earlier. Except I've never called Mr. Dickens "Chas". It doesn't seem quite right that the author of some of the greatest literature ever written would go by Chas. I'll continue to call him Charles.
I knew it would be a good day as soon as I entered the lobby amd saw the large sheep above the fireplace. It was an omen of sheep things yet to come.
Class started right at 9 a.m. and we had 12 sheep breeds to get throught by 5 p.m. That's a whole lot of wool to learn about, flick, comb, card and spin in eight short hours.
Not being the world's fastest or best spinner, I soon gave up on the spinning part of the day and just concentrated on learning about preparing the various types of wool. I was not alone. Wheels and spindles were pushed aside by us mere mortals while the super spinners in the group managed to not only prep their wool, but spin it up too.
First we learned about flick carding some of the fine wools, such as Cormo.
Flick carding is very easy and goes quickly. You tap or lightly "flick" the ends of the fiber to open up the locks to prepare them for spinning. It works well on clean fleeces with little vegetable matter in them.
After working with three different fine wools, we moved on to combing the long wools.
Wensleydale may be my new favorite wool. Plus, check out what the sheep look like.
Wouldn't you love to have this sheep greet you from the pasture each and every morning. This can't possibly be a real animal.
I'm going to have to look into this.
After flicking and combing, we worked on hand carding.
This was my least favorite method of fiber prep. I kept thinking of my handy duty drum carder back at the farm and wondering why I would hand card when I could drum card.
So there will be no hand carding in my future. Only drum carding.
And finally, we then worked on the primitiave breeds which we would prep by hand, pulling apart the dual coats, leaving only the finer wool.
This is Navajo Churro wool and I am not a fan. But I have four fleeces, which for some silly reason I bought a year or so ago, and I need to process it.
Navajo Churro is a rougher wool, usually used for rugs or horse blankets. Today, I will force myself to work on my fleeces and get them the heck out of here. Maybe if I were a weaver I would appreciate the fiber more, but as a knitter, it's very coarse.
I did like working with the Shetland. It, too, has longer, coarse fiber that needs to be separated before it is spun.
But unlike the Navajo Churro, its is easy to see and pull out and then you are left with beautiful Shetland wool for making all those Shetland sweaters.
I came home with my head swimming with new-found knowledge. Today, I will spin up what I couldn't get to yesterday.
Then I think it's time to look into Wensleydale sheep.
We have to cancel this coming Wednesday's (4/24/13) Sit-N-Knit/Spin/Hook day. Once again, conflicting schedules make it impossible to be there.
But, please join us this Saturday, April 27 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. for another open Sit-N-Knit/Spin/Hook day.
It's the start of shearing season here at the farm.
We started with four alpaca, and then all the sheep and goats got their haircuts.
Shearing days are long, either really hot or really cold, hard, boring, fun, rewarding and challenging all rolled into one.
We spread out shearing over five or six days because there are only so many hours in any given day that you can stand at a shearing table without spending the next month at the chiropractor.
Professional shearer Mary Jane Fox came out yesterday. We always have a good time when Mary Jane is shearing because she tells the most unusual stories. They are never dull and they are never repeatable. But they certainly are funny!
She has been shearing the goats since they were tiny. But they still don't show her the respect she deserves.
They have come to accept her.
But I'm not sure goats respect anything or anybody.
The sheep, once we were able to haul them over to the barn for shearing, stood still and allowed Mary Jane to work her magic on them. We did have to talk her out of leaving them with a "Lion Cut."
They have some beautiful wool which we will be selling as raw fleece and roving.
The alpacas are much more docile and accepting than their sheep counterparts.
They wait quietly, watching, as if they were all in the on deck circle.
Cinco was the first to go.
He has a ton of beautiful fleece.
Plus, he looks darn cute "naked."
Cinco's fleece had to come off ASAP because he is moving to California on Saturday. Sweet, gentle Cinco has been sold and will now become a west coast alpaca. It would be way to hot for him to travel in full fleece, let alone arrive in California in his Ohio Winter coat.
The shearing continues next week with more alpacas.
The goats are done until Fall, when they go through this all again.
Last year was the drought.
The year before, floods.
Really, what's left -- locusts?
The answer appears to be we are going back to floods.
Just once, just one teeny, tiny year, I'd like normal. Normal amounts of rainfall. Normal temperatures. We have yet to have a "normal" year. I don't think normal exisits.
Things were going along just fine in the herb garden earlier in the week.
Clean-up was progressing. Seeds were being planted.
But then all the rain we didn't get last year found us in just three days.
I'm pretty sure all the seeds I planted have been washed out of the rows, through the fence and somewhere, perhaps out on acre 15 or so, we will have an abundant crop of beets and lettuce.
But it won't be in this row.
Now all we can do is wait for the ground to dry out and replant.
This small patch of garlic, while soaked, is holding its own. Some of the other patches weren't so lucky. But we planted more than 50 pounds of it last fall so we should be fine.
There is a little creek that runs across the farm, about half way back.
On Monday, it had a small bridge over it.
That is no longer true.
Time to invest in hip waders.
Normally, this new river wouldn't be so bad. The back of the property is woods. No pastures. No gardens.
But I'm giving you one guess as to where the bee hives are.
If you look closely, you'll see them on the other side of our new river.
Makes checking the hives and feeding the girls a bit of a challenge.
More rain is coming tomorrow, but then we dry out until Tuesday. After that, I think we'll have hurricances, snow, sleet, monsoons and a small tornado thrown in, just for fun.
But what we won't have is "normal".
Calling all crafters. It's that time again.
This Wednesday, April 10, we will be knitting, spinning and hooking the day away at the farm.
Bring any project you're working on and spend a few hours working on it. The farmhouse studio will be open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. so feel free to drop in any time.
I will be working on my chicken rug. The rug itself is 100 percent hooked. It just has to be bound. Binding involves sewing of some sort.
I hate to sew.
This is not going to be a labor of love. But, hopefully, by the end of Wednesday, I can say I have a completed project.
Finally, the weather is cooperating and we're able to start working in the gardens. It's nice to shed the heavy Winter Carhartts and insulated gloves and work in a sweatshirt and real gardening gloves.
Soon, it will be t-shirt weather and the farmer tan begins!
I can always tell the true beginning of Spring by what I carry in the back of my car.
Yesterday's haul was goat food and coffee grounds. Bet you don't have that combination in the back of your car!
The goat food is self explanatory. But the coffee grounds might need a little background info.
We add coffee grounds from a local coffee shop to our compost, or sometimes directly into the garden itself. It's a great, natural soil amendment and adds a bit of nitrogen to the carbon/nitrogen mix of compost. We have more than our share of carbon from the never-ending manure/straw pile.
Most coffee shops will save their grounds for you. The coffee shop I stop at piles the plastic containers full of grounds and filters at their back door. I just stop by in the morning, fill up the back of the car, and off I go to compost heaven. It's the ultimate in recycling.
Yesterday was the first day to work in the herb garden.
Most of the lavender made it through the Winter. We will have to replace a few plants, but for the most part, it's starting to green up nicely and we'll soon have lavender for the bees.
The chives made it, too. But it's darn near impossible to kill chives.
I found a lot of worms in the garden, which is a good thing. Worms in your garden tell you you have healthy soil. The trick is keeping our eagle-eyed chickens out of the garden because they think worms are nature's delicacy.
The herb garden is fenced in to keep the chickens out but sometimes they break in, which is a bad thing.
Annie, a known chicken killer, was in the herb garden with me yesterday as a chicken deterrent.
We can either have free range chickens or a free range Annie, but not both. So Annie spent the day with the herbs while the chickens had the run of the rest of the farm.
Once clean-up is finished in the herb garden later today, we will begin to plant some cold-hardy herbs and vegetables.
It's been about five months since we've been able to really work the garden and it is wonderful to be back at it.
Remind me of that statement at the end of October when the last thing I want to do is work in the garden!