A fowl deed

Another chicken down, sadly: mom informs me after she’s collected eggs that one of the chickens is dead (because I am the dead chicken collector). She didn’t take a close look as she doesn’t like to look at them too closely after they’ve died and won’t watch if I have to put one down. So, my sister happens to be here, and goes to dig a hole while I go collect the girl for burial. Through my extensive and sharply honed detective skills, I find the cause of death: the chicken’s head has been ripped off. The most likely culprit? Raccoon. I picked up the poor girl, gently placed her in the hole my sister had dug, and we covered her up. I checked the perimeter of the fence on that side and found a gap in the gate that a raccoon may have been able to fit through, and a section of the wire above the fence that is not as high as the rest but also bowed outwards – something I’ll ask my bro  to address when he’s up next (as well as asking him to walk the full perimeter to check for other gaps/necessary repair locations). In the meantime: RIP, other red chicken.

You can’t spell beekeeping without “hope”

Last month, I created two new split hives. A split, for those unfamiliar with such things, is when you take a frame or frames of brood and bees from an existing, strong hive, and put them in a new hive, either with a new queen (which is what I did) or by taking our brood that contains eggs that were recently laid so the bees will create an emergency queen for themselves.

I also had a third hive I had split previously, without a queen, which was going nowhere, but which had bees in it. So I also added a queen to that hive as well. About a week ago, I opened this hive to find it completely empty of bees: a failed split.

Today I visited the bees to feed them, only to find one of the attempted split hives completely empty: abandoned, including a queen with clipped wings who would be unable to fly. I think this one is on me. Last week, I had removed some frames that wax moths had gotten into but that I had cleared, because the bees were not drawing any comb on them. This change may have thrown a wrench into things and either pissed them off that they drifted to the other hives or they just left, in which case they’re all dead by now, having no queen. So, I’ve ordered another queen, and this time will take two frames of brood from the very large hive, and beyond those two frames pulled from the other hive, the other frames will be brand new. Hopefully that will allow them to build up as we move into winter. If it works, I’ll do the same with the original split attempt. Overall, it’s disappointing this one left. However, the second split I did at the same time as this one is still working itself up: I found the queen, the workers are drawing comb, and I think they will survive. Or I hope. Beekeeping is, at its most basic, a lot about hope.

In other news, the three new package hives seem to be doing fine, and one of them was really aggressive and pissy when I opened it to have a quick peek inside – it was still rather early and slightly foggy, so the foragers were not all out foraging. Full bee suit FTW!

Later this week, I’ll go into the supers on the really string hive, and the second hive that is making a fairly nice go of things, and see if there is more honey to pull. But I’ll bring the smoker when I do, to keep them a bit more sedate than they were today.

It’s been such a long time…

Song lyrics notwithstanding, yes it has. My apologies to that handful of faithful readers checking in, only to be disappointed by the lack of content. The one good thing about facebook I can put here is that it makes posting small snippets of things, or commenting on something or other, very easy – too easy, in fact: there’s often not a lot of substance in all the shares, little opinion from the poster, and some of the things of the “this will blow your mind!” variety get tedious and annoying after awhile. Between that, the data selling, and the constant changes in privacy stuff, it’s enough to say it’s time to step back from that and get back to basics, plus get into some other things that need to be done (like working on some work-related side things and writing). No doubt this will lessen my irritation with incredibly stupid people – at least a little.

 

 

Why raised beds

“Why,” people ask, “if you have so much space available on the property do you grow in raised beds instead of directly in the ground?”

This is one reason.

Layers

Really, when it gets down to it, it is THE reason. This is a cross section of the soil here. This picture was taken when I was digging out holes for the new grapevines to be planted. What you can see is a thin layer of sandy soil, a large layer of clay, and at the bottom is an even larger layer of thick sand – think wet beach sand. If I had dug a bit further down, I’d have hit the hardpan. There are problems with this sort of ground: there’s little in the way of nutrients for plants, and most would be unable to break their roots through the layer of clay. This means you can start something from seed or even a small transplanted seedling, but it will reach a certain size and then stop, not being able to get the food it needs or get its roots deeply into the ground. The other issue is water.

Flooded March 2014

If it rains quite a bit – 3.57 inches in 24 hours in the photo here (March 2014) – the water has nowhere to go. It can’t filter down into the ground because the clay layer refuses to let it pass. If we planted directly in the ground, every time there was any significant rain, we’d lose whatever was in the ground. So, we use raised beds for planting. The water may flood some of the walkways, and we may need to wear our muck boots to work, but the plants themselves, save the random sweet potatoes that escape and decide to grow in the ground outside the frames, are safely above it.

 

Deep freeze

The first of two nights that we will feel more north than south: lows in the 20s, which likely means upper teens here inland. That means putting the headlamp on and heading out to the far reaches of the property to get the taps started. Inevitably, you’re going to get wet as you make the trek to each one, then go back after getting them all on, to make sure they’re flowing hard enough to keep the wellhead motor cycling and keep the lines from freezing, but low enough that you’re not spewing a hundred gallons an hour on the ground. In an hour or so, go back out and recheck to make sure they all have a good flow still going. Tuesday is not supposed to get out of freezing until around noon, and then only for a couple of hours before plunging again in the night, but at least here we only have to live with this for very short bursts, and not months and months at a time. If I wanted to deal with that sort of thing for extended periods, I’d just move up north instead of (impatiently) waiting for “winter” to be over.

Begin again

The cycles of the ranch remain the same, no matter how many years come and go. We’re in the strange holding pattern of “winter” in Florida, such as it is: too chilly, and too close to the infrequent freezes we get over the span of a few months to plant out anything that is tender. So, we (or I, rather) work on the things that keep our seasons and our production moving: cleaning up, creating new rows, hauling dirt and poop, planning when to start flats and what will be put where, fixing irrigation lines, checking timers, pounding t posts in as permanent fixtures, repairing fences, and so on. In particular, all the little things that can be done/addressed/repaired that can be will save time and aggravation later, so it’s good to get those done and out of the way so we can focus on the growing and harvesting.

Happy new year, everyone!

Down at the ranch

During the pregame shows, they’ve been showing Green Bay, where it is practically a blizzard. And 20 degrees (or so). Here, it’s been a lovely, if overcast, day, and it’s about 80 degrees with a bit of a breeze as we await a cool  - not cold – front to come in. That means it’s a perfect time to get a few chores done!

I ran the irrigation to the new row I built and filled last week, so it is ready to go.

Ready for action.
Filled and awaiting the irrigation lines.

Since the weather here is incredibly unpredictable, I put some test seed down:  about half a row of kale and at the near end, carrots. We are unlikely to see any freezes during the remainder of the month, based on the forecast, and hopefully they’ll germinate by the time we move into the heart of our winter, where we are likely to get at least a couple of freezing nights, and the question is: will they be able to stand it, and bunker down to ride it out? We’ll see.

Also on the list for this morning: hauling some sorghum stalks out to the chickens to let them scratch up and break down, and general cleanup duties – including repairing the kitchen faucet, which suddenly decided NO WATER FOR YOU!! and stopped working. Fortunately, it was just gunk from the aerator that needed to be cleaned from the screens in the bell, but that also added another chore to the list: figuring out a way to clean the aerator outside and repipe it. That’s going to be quite the job.

For the remainder of the day, it looks like I’ll be taking it easy and watching football, because the spasms in my side are keeping me from moving too much. That just means working on the redesign for the sites of the companies we’ve absorbed, and planning out the spring garden/planting/seeding schedule. Not a bad way to relax a little.

A good start

It’s another gorgeous day at the ranch. Perfect for pounding in t-posts to begin the redo of the rear garden fence.

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That’s seven today, which is indeed a good start, especially on this side of the garden where the fence was looking a bit ragged and beginning to lean terribly. The spasms I’m subject to started yammering at me toward the end, so I called it quits at that bunch for the time being so as not to set off anything really terrible that would sideline me for the rest of the day. A little later, I’ll test the waters again and see if I can get one or two more in the ground and the fence drawn to them from the existing poles.

Something else done today: a haircut for my hippie cover crops, which are enjoying the rather pleasant weather we’re having for “winter” here – they survived the couple of random freezes we’ve had as well, and some of the beans in the mix even began to flower.

Like this
Like this
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Get a haircut, hippie!

But I’m really not growing these for any harvest, so I got out the hand trimmers and started chopping off the tops of the crops in two rows as a test – mostly to see if they will grow back or if they will die back, at which point I can pull the irrigation lines out and use the stirrup hoe to chop everything down for mulch through the winter. I am finding the odd weed here and there, but pulling three or four that were likely left behind at the last mega weeding session is better than having to pull weeds everywhere out of a row.

Get a haircut, hippie!
Better!

 

 

Travel time

I went to the NOC today, and I-95 was jam packed with people on the move for the holidays. It wasn’t quite as bad as rush hour, more like that period juuuuust before rush hour when things start building until they slam to a complete and utter halt. What is interesting about being stuck in traffic, though – especially traveling I-95 through downtown Jax at the I-10 interchange during the morning rush hour, at the point where the lanes pincer down just across the Fuller Warren (and btw, Jax residents, I read somewhere that they’re looking to expand the Fuller Warren with more lanes by 2017, what a joy that process will be!) – is that sometimes you see the strangest damn things. No, I’m not talking about generic accidents. I’m talking about things like this, which I saw while waiting to move the next few feet. Why is it there? Who thought that would be a good place to hold it while they did whatever they were doing? Did someone just slam it through the panel out of rage or frustration? These questions will never be answered, I’m afraid.

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Pulling the vines

Today I started pulling the sweet potato vines – the earliest ones have leaves that are turning yellow, and the nights are getting cooler, which means it’s time. We probably should have started digging them a couple of weeks ago, working from the earliest vines and moving toward the newer vines, which have taken over the rows on either side, but other things took priority. The end of the season is nigh, however, and the time has come.

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The thing about sweet potatoes is that they can be invasive, for lack of a better word. As you pull the vines from the frames themselves, you’ll find the tips of potatoes where they’ve started to heave themselves out of the soil.

Heaving sweet potatoes

 

This is, incidentally, how to determine where to start digging for the sweet potato bonanza: the potatoes will create mounds in the soil as they grow and displace the dirt. They’ll grow elsewhere too, of course, but the mounds are like the ancient Indian burial grounds that people build houses over: you know there’s something there, only in this case, it’s much more benevolent and will not suck your entire neighborhood into the netherworld a la Poltergeist.

Bonanza!

Because the vines have run rampant – why not, since we really had nothing else in that area? – when the vines crawled out of the rows in which the slips had been planted, snaking into the walkways and then into the rows on either side, a slow but steady takeover, they rooted down into the walkways as well as the rows. Leave them there, and they produce tubers in the walkways just as well as they do in the rows, as sweet potatoes don’t seem to care all that much about where they grow. As I pulled vines, the lumps in the walkways revealed themselves to be potatoes, grown right through the mulch and the plastic barrier. Some of them came up with the tugs on the vines.

Walkway potatoes

 

Some had to be cut out from the plastic barrier, as they’d grown too fat after the neck of the potato to come out easily.

Walkway rescue potatoes

 

Still others wound up growing sideways under the plastic, requiring a complete excavation.

Excavation potatoes

 

Keep in mind, this is just the beginning of the preliminary vine pull, and all of these potatoes were pulled from the walkway only, not the frames. In fact, these all came from the walkway two rows over from where the sweet potatoes were originally planted. Before it started raining, I’d pulled a pile of vines and came away from about 10 pounds of potatoes that were useless – they’d heaved out of the walkway and were scalded by the sun, rained on then dried, or eaten into by critters – and sixteen pounds of usable potatoes just from one area of one part of one walkway.

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This is going to be a banner year for the sweet potato haul, and that’s saying something as they’ve always done well here, even in poorer soil than this.