An Unseasonably Cold Weekend, By the Numbers

If you’re like us, you planted your flowers Mother’s Day weekend. Even with Colorado’s unpredictable springs, that date is generally in the clear for a hard frost. It has snowed as late as Father’s Day, but you have to live your life and try not to think about snow in June. We planted our winter squash, corn, and beans on May 1st because the forecast looked warm and damp. Flowers went in the ground and indoor-started veggies moved outside on May 7th or 8th. Yesterday it was 88°, but today, May 20th, we could get 3-5 inches of snow and the forecast calls for an overnight low of 28°. Tomorrow, the low is 30° and then things start to warm up to the mid-50s by Monday and 70° by Wednesday, with lots of rain between now and then. The precipitation is more than welcome, but the cold makes us worry about the garden. We take comfort in data, so we went in search of how cold is too cold for our plants. 

Here’s the breakdown of how cold affects our homestead, by the numbers. 

Bees

Our honeybees pulled through the winter, but we just split them into a second colony about ten days ago. We’re a little worried about the queenless hive being able to keep all the brood and queen cells warm enough, but the split, which has the queen and a smaller nest, should be fine. 

  • 41°: the body temperature at which a bee will die.
  • 93°: the average temperature at the center of the winter cluster, with brood present.
  • 57°: the temperature at which bees form a tight cluster
  • 45-50°: the temperature at which bees enter a state of torpor 

Dampness and wind are more likely to harm bees than the cold is.

IMG_20220520_141604464Garden

Germination and seedling growth are highly dependent on water and soil temperature.

  • 25°: hard freeze
  • 28°: for 5 hours: the temperature at which most plants will freeze
  • 32°: the temperature at which most seedlings will die. 

Evaporation will help raise the air temperature around the plants, so watering deeply in the evening can help, as can covering plants before the colder air sets in. We are using the alpacas’ pool, beach towels, tarps, outdoor blankets, old sheets—basically anything we can find—and I’m running the clean towels and sheets through the dryer first for good measure. And then I’m saying a prayer. 

I feel really lucky that I decided to plant peppers, tomatoes, and eggplants in the patio garden because I can move these more heat-loving plants inside for the weekend. I just have to keep the toddler out of them. 

IMG_20220519_200512260Orchard

Our apple and pear trees are beyond the flowering stage and it looks like many of the blossoms have been pollinated (thanks, bees!). Julio found this guide to critical temperatures for fruit trees. It looks like our trees should be okay, for the most part, and enjoy a drink from all the precipitation. 

  • 28°: the temperature at which 10% of buds will die.
  • 25°: the temperature at which 90% of buds will die.

Alpacas

  • 2 inches: how much fleece each alpaca has grown on her torso right now. 

IMG_20220520_123540163They’re wet, but probably enjoying a break from being hot. Alpacas can tolerate very cold temperatures, provided they have a windbreak.

I was in the middle of writing this when the snow started, so I had to run outside and cover the babies. Now, I’m sipping stress relief tea and praying for the garden while taking deep breaths. Best wishes to you, fellow Front Range gardeners. 

We will update here with how the forecast played out and if our plants survived.

IMG_20220520_142028894

Our Favorite Eco-Friendly Swaps for Earth Day

Happy Earth Day! On our homestead, one of our goals is to reduce waste and take good care of our land and animals in a way that is healthy for the ecosystem that we live in. To that end, we are moving toward renewable energy as much as we can, trying to buy less stuff, and continuing to eat a meat-free mostly plant-based diet. We are certainly far from perfect, but we try to keep striving to do better. 

I do think that it is important to remember that the idea of an individual carbon footprint was a marketing strategy to distract people from the damage done by big oil companies. To fight climate change, we have to hold companies and governments accountable for their role, vote accordingly, and keep the pressure on. I also subscribe to the Future Crunch newsletter to help with my climate anxiety. 

Nevertheless, we are not off the hook for reducing our own impacts as well. Here are some of our thoughts on reducing our impact this Earth Day. 

Don’t Fall for Greenwashing

Early this week, I started to get emails about Earth Day sales. Although I am not one to sniff at a coupon for a product I already use, the very idea that there is something “green” about a sale is kind of laughable. One of the biggest ways that we can live more sustainably is by buying less stuff

It reminded me of a struggle I had recently over a body wash we were using, but which I discovered had been “Green Washed.” Green Washing is when a company uses marketing smoke and mirrors to appear more eco-friendly than they really are. My complaints with the body wash in question were that it is produced by an “eco-friendly” company owned by Unilever, which tests on animals, and that it contains palm oil, a nearly ubiquitous ingredient linked to deforestation of tropical rainforests. Certainly, this product was “greener” than some other options, but in trying to find a body wash that did not include palm oil, I just ended up switching to vegan, palm-oil-free bar soap. That also meant no plastic bottles. I’ve been happy with the switch, but the experience was eye-opening. 

Fast Fashion, Worn Slow

The fast fashion industry is terrible for the environment and relies heavily on fossil fuels not only for production but also for shipping. The whole business has been built on releasing more and more styles in shorter and shorter seasons, and making clothes less durable so that they have to be replaced more frequently, making the cycle hard to break for the average consumer.  This rapid increase over the last century has been really bad for workers and the planet. 

One idea I’ve seen that I really like is “fast fashion worn slow.” The idea is to buy clothes that you need, or really love, but to buy much fewer (perhaps 75% fewer) garments overall and wear them for longer, moving away from the idea that you can’t repeat outfits, even for big events. It’s also important to take good care of the garments you have, washing them in cold water, and line-drying the less durable fabrics.  And thrifting helps too, of course.

IMG_20210803_081806030Become a St. Kateri Habitat

We are proud to be a St. Kateri Habitat. This program, run by the St. Kateri Conservation Center, encourages Catholics, Indigenous people, and “people of good will” to use the land they own (homes, businesses, schools, etc.) as healthy habitats for people and wildlife, with an emphasis on native plants and ecosystem services, as well as religious expression. Making your property a habitat is not as hard as you might think and it has been really rewarding to us, helping us think carefully about what we plant and how we care for our habitat. 

The Zero Market

923A24A3-ADA4-4668-951C-E8748D88216FIf you are local to Denver, check out The Zero Market (at Edgewater Market or Stanley Market). It is a good place to get products to replace single-use options, but it is best for buying household and beauty products in bulk, refilling your own containers to keep them out of the landfill. While not necessarily cheaper than buying soap, etc. in single-use packages, the quality of their refills is excellent, and you save those plastic containers. I take my own glass jars and get refills of hand soap, dish soap, air fresheners, tea, dental floss, and rosewater. Their rosewater is the best I’ve ever tried and I also really like the smell of their Sweetgrass room refresher spray. My mom loves their save soap. The Zero Market has a rewards program in which you earn a point for every container you save from a landfill, but they also regularly send out coupons, which helps with the cost/benefit equation. Recently, I was really excited to buy half of a shampoo bar from them for $3.50. I have wanted to try that switch for some time, but I have long hair and didn’t know if it would work for me, so the low investment was great. So far so good!

Compost

I am still struggling to get composting just right, but in the meantime, our food scraps are decomposing in two compost tumblers instead of releasing greenhouse gasses. Composting is an easy but impactful way to reduce waste in your home and there is a ton of information about how, why, and where to do it, as well as urban composting services (even in Denver) if you want to get started, but don’t want to manage the pile. Right now, I am a little compost obsessed, so if you want to talk about it, hit me up!

Reusable Cotton Rounds

D20466CD-D981-4377-8140-5EFB1D6C7702An easy low-waste switch is to use reusable cotton rounds. I bought my set off of Etsy years ago and they’re still going strong. Now, you can find them everywhere. I wash them in a lingerie bag that gets tossed in with my other laundry. I also got reusable nail polish removal pads from Zero Market and they were a game-changer. One side is slightly scrubby and so the nail polish comes off so much better than with disposable tissue. (Ella + Mila is my favorite cruelty-free brand of nail polish, by the way.)

No Paper Towels or Napkins

514D0020-9362-4A0D-AFB9-45BC9EE17FA3Back in 2018, I bought a couple of packs of cheap washcloths and have been using them, washing in hot water, and reusing them instead of paper towels since. Some of them are starting to get tattered, but I set them aside for really bad messes or for cleaning up things like paint. We also use cloth napkins instead of paper. Once (or twice, depending on the toddler) a week, I wash and dry them, which does use energy and water, but less than producing new paper products does. Back when we made this change, I was worried that it would be a heavy lift, but, even when we had a shared apartment laundry room, it was not a big deal, and folding the cloths and putting them away (we use a basket in the kitchen) is actually a meditative task for me. Between washes, we put the cloths in a bucket under the sink, out of the way. We do keep a roll of paper towels for emergencies such as dog barfs, but that’s it.

Bamboo Toilet Paper and Toothbrushes

FE00CFCD-2B79-457E-B2DA-DA18C4100D53We have a subscription to Who Gives A Crap and it lasts us a loooong time. We were set during the great 2020 toilet paper rush, too. 

We also switched to bamboo, biodegradable toothbrushes. A plastic toothbrush basically lives forever. I have one I reuse for cleaning tight spaces, but I don’t like the idea of our household putting at least 8 in a landfill each year. Not only do these babies take care of that issue, but they also look and feel chicer than a plastic toothbrush. I was even able to find some for our toddler. 

Biodegradable Floss 

In the same vein, I looked at the pile of floss building in our bathroom wastebasket and didn’t like it. At the Zero Market, I got us each a roll of biodegradable floss. They came in the cutest little glass vials with a screw-top lid that makes it easy to replace the roll when it runs out. This switch wasn’t as cheap as our old floss, but the biodegradable floss lasted longer than I thought it would, so I felt okay about it in the end. We ran out when I wasn’t planning a trip to the Zero Market soon, so I found a similar product at the grocery store. Reducing waste is getting easier and more popular! I still like the glass vial better though.

What are some of your favorite eco-friendly tips, product swaps, or resources? Let us know. Happy Earth Day! 

Alpaca Dryer Balls: How to Make Them and Why Use Them

Not all of the fleece that the alpacas grow is suitable to spin into yarn. When alpacas are sheared, typically three cuts are done. The first cut, the torso, is the best fleece, perfect for spinning. The second and third cuts include the legs, neck, and chest, and have a shorter staple length. Although this fleece can be spun, the shorter staple length makes it harder to do so. Even still, the fleece is soft, durable, and worth using for other projects. One such project is making felted dryer balls. 

Why Use a Dryer Ball

 A dryer ball is used for the same reason you might use a dryer sheet. The balls tumble around the dryer with your clothes and help wick moisture away from them, cutting drying time. While they do that, they also reduce static and help clothes come out of the dryer less wrinkly. 

Unlike dryer sheets, however, wool dryer balls can be used for years, eliminating the waste of a single-use sheet. If you like the fragrance of your dryer sheets, you can even add essential oils to wool dryer balls to give your clean laundry a pleasant aroma. 

How We Make Alpaca Wool Dryer Balls

IMG_20220416_122334_773 (1)First, we wash the fleece. For this batch of dryer balls, I used Theodora’s seconds. I washed the fleece twice until the water ran clean, then plucked any remaining hay out with tweezers. This batch of fleece was good for making felt balls because it started to matt as it dried. I suspect that the water got too hot while I was washing it. 

Next, I rolled balls from the fleece. Each ball is approximately 1 oz of fiber. Because Theodora naturally has some white spots and different shades of brown in her coat, I played with the colors so that there would be some variation on the outside of the balls. 

Once each ball was formed, I placed it into a nylon stocking, tying a knot between each ball. I was able to fit five dryer balls in each stocking leg, or three in a kneehigh. For pantyhose, I cut the pair in half, but later I used kneehighs, which was a bit easier.IMG_20220416_122338_358

Next came the felting process. I tossed my maternity overalls and a bit of detergent in the washing machine and ran the string of fiber balls through a hot cycle. I checked on them every few minutes to make sure the balls were not felting to the stocking, until the rinse cycle, at which point my top-loading washing machine lid locks. 

The hot cycle followed by a cold rinse cycle shocks the fibers, causing them to stick to each other. The once loose balls of fiber become hard balls that won’t fall apart in the dryer. After one wash, the balls were hard enough to remove from the stocking. At this point, I went over each ball again, plucking stray pieces of hay out with tweezers. (Before the next shearing, we are going to give our alpacas a good brushing so there will be less hay. Rookie mistake!)IMG_20220416_122346_759_2

I set the balls aside and, to save energy, gave them another felting once I had the next string of dryer balls ready to go. If you wanted, you could felt multiple strands of balls at the same time, but I imagine they would get quite tangled with each other. 

Alpaca Fiber Dryer Balls

I was mostly pleased with how the dryer balls turned out, although some are more oblong in shape than others. I plan to keep making them with leftover fiber. I think it will be neat to make some with scraps from various spinning projects so that they will have a wide variety of colors, but that’s a project for later. 

IMG_20220416_122949_159Alpaca Dryer Balls will be available at our market days for $15 for a set of three. Any balls that do not pass quality control will be available at a discounted $3/each. We think they’d make nice toys for your cats or dogs. Follow us on Instagram @solhomestead to stay up to date on Market Days this spring and summer. 

Alpaca Etiquette Basics

IMG_20210220_150736488If you’re in our area, you’re welcome to pull over and say hi to the alpacas at the gate. They spend a lot of the day behind the barn eating, but if they’re out, Theodora and Clementine are likely to greet you. We have some tips to help you not scare them off.

Alpacas look sweet and cuddly, but they actually don’t like to be touched very much—not even by each other! If you have visited our herd, Theodora probably sat down for you to pet her. That’s not actually typical behavior; she’s unusually friendly. If an alpaca doesn’t let you pet them, don’t take it personally. When making friends with an alpaca, calmness and patience are key. 

Our tips for petting an alpaca:

  • Get down on their level. 
  • Let them sniff your face. Scent is part of alpaca communication and smelling you is a way for them to get to know you. 
  • Approach an alpaca from the front or the side. 
  • Extend the back of your hand. Grasping fingers can be alarming to alpacas. 
  • Stroke the alpaca on the side of her neck or body. 
  • Do not reach for the alpaca’s face or top knot. They don’t like being touched there.
  • Do not stand behind an alpaca or pet their bums. You could get kicked.
  • Use your ears. Alpacas hum for many reasons to communicate with each other. One reason is that they’re stressed. They also make a clucking noise to warn you that they might spit at you. And a dinosaur-like sound when they’re really annoyed. Back off if they seem annoyed with you.

Don’t Stand Behind An Alpaca

Naturally, alpacas are vulnerable to predators like deer are. Their primary defenses are their herd dynamics, spitting, and kicking. They are always on alert to potential danger, so it’s generally not good manners to walk up behind an alpaca. It startles them.

Our girls weigh between 100-150 lbs, so they’re not likely to really injure you, but it’s possible. Our biggest concern is a child chasing behind an alpaca and getting pegged. So, always remember: 

Do not walk, stand, or chase behind an alpaca.

You don’t even have to be bothering them to get kicked. Several times, one of the girls has gotten annoyed by another and we got kicked just for being nearby. 

We learned on shearing day that if you have to bother an alpaca (for example, to get them on the scale or in a halter) the closer you stand to their back legs, the less they can hurt you because their kick won’t have enough velocity at that short distance. Physics!

Still, it’s best to just give their back ends some space. 

Don’t Feed the Alpacas

Unless given explicit permission by their human, it’s not good etiquette to feed an alpaca. Not all of the foods in the video are bad for them, but you see, they don’t recognize a lot as food. 

Alpacas are lean-mean fluff-producing machines who only need to eat 2% of their body weight to stay healthy. They are modified ruminants who have three compartments to their stomachs and keeping a neutral PH and a healthy gut microbiome is essential to their health. Putting on too much weight is also bad for them, particularly for pregnant alpacas.

Alpacas eat grass, hay, alfalfa, and we also give our herd just a little bit of Equine Senior Feed to fill any gaps in their diet, like a multivitamin. Alpacas are browsers, though, so they will taste whatever they find. We have to keep the pastures clear of debris and harmful plants for this reason. We’ve gotten really good at using Google Lens to identify weeds so that we can pull any that are poisonous to the alpacas. And just like with dogs and cats, some foods that we eat are toxic to alpacas. 

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Preparing the Backyard Bees for Winter

Winter Bees

Often, when talking to people about our bees, I get asked what the bees do during the winter. The answer is pretty amazing, really. 

A bee born in the spring will generally live for around six weeks, but a bee born in the late fall can live for up to four months. The reason for this is that over the cold months, the bees’ metabolisms slow down, preserving their energy and, as a result, slowing the aging process. 

Bees are experts at regulating the temperature in the hive. In the summer, that means bearding and fanning to cool things off. In the winter, that means sealing the hive with propolis (bee glue) and forming a cluster. Bees cluster when the outside air temperature dips below around 57 degrees. (I have sometimes seen the bees out flying when it is slightly cooler than that.) The cluster keeps the queen and any brood present at the proper temperature, between 85 and 93 depending on the status of the brood nest. The cluster needs to maintain contact with the stored food or they can starve to death even if there is plenty of honey in the hive. If it gets really cold outside, the bees may enter torpor, a sort of suspended animation in which their metabolism slows down so much that they require little fuel and look dead. Their are plenty of videos out there of people breathing bees “back to life” by bringing them out of torpor. 

Winter Hive Setup

Since temperature isn’t really a problem for bees most of the time, the really issues are 1) mites and 2) moisture. 

The Varroa Destructor Mite is the probable cause of many colony collapses because the parasitic mites deplete the nutrition vital to winter bees and also spread disease. It is vital to get the mite situation under control before the queen is rearing the winter bees so that the cluster is as healthy as possible. I treated our bees with Apivar and Formic Pro during the year. Before closing the hive up for the winter, I also did an Oxalic Acid Drip to try to get rid of as many mites as I could. I feared that the extended bit of warm weather we had, which lead the queen to keep laying a decent sized nest, meant the mites would keep breeding too. Having a large cluster is great, but as the bee population starts to decline, the mites could overtake them. So, I hope that worked. 

Colorado is a pretty dry climate, so I am not very worried about moisture, but too much moisture in the hive can be disastrous to the bees. When they generate heat for themselves, some condensation is created and some is needed. Bees, like all living things, need water. But if too much builds up, it can drip on the bees and/or lead to mold, both of which are very bad. To control moisture, I put a quilt box on top of the honey super. The quilt box (purple in the picture) has a thick layer of pine shavings from the chicken supplies that will absorb moisture. It also features screened vents to allow ventilation, another form of moisture control. Under the quilt box, I have a feeding shim (blue), which will allow me to add a layer of dry sugar (Mountain Camp Method) later in the winter as emergency feed. The dry sugar will also absorb moisture in the hive. If I put it in too early, though, the bees will just haul it out like trash. Many beekeepers tilt their hives forward about 5 degrees to allow water to run out of the hive, but I cannot figure out how to do that with my hive stand. Given the dry climate and the quilt box, I hope that this setup works.

Finally, there’s a mouse guard and it’s all strapped to gether with a ratchet strap with some heavy rocks on top. This setup held it all together during 85 mph winds yesterday!

 It’s our first winter with the bees and I have so enjoyed them this year. I really hope that they make it through the winter. The requeening late in the season made me nervous, but the long stretch of warm weather gave them a leg up, I think. I fed them 2:1 syrup along the way so that they didn’t have to break into their stores. At the last inspection, I estimated that they had about 100 pounds of honey stored, plus plenty of pollen. I’ve seen them out taking “cleansing flights” (to go to the bathroom) and dragging out dead bees on each warm day, and I get a little thrill every time. 

 Good luck, bees! I hope to see you in the spring.  -Kasey

Further Reading

Scientific Beekeeping: Fat Bees Part 1

Honey Bee Suite: Temperature regulation in a winter cluster

The Saga of Queen Leslie Knope II

IMG_20211005_101958753_HDR (2)I mentioned briefly in an earlier post that my beehive lost its queen after a Formic Pro treatment. I had suspected for a few weeks prior that the queen was getting weak, but as it’s my first year, I wasn’t sure if she was slowing down because it was summer dearth or if it was a problem. The hive had made moves to replace her before, and I thwarted them. Because she was unmarked, I did not know how old she was. Looking back, I should have either requeened the hive earlier in the summer or let them requeen themselves. When I removed the Formic strips and did a hive inspection in the last week of September, I found many supersedure cells. I stopped counting at 12. That late in the season, however, it was too late for them to raise a new queen and get her mated. Thanks to the advice of a couple of other local beekeepers on Instagram (Thank you!), I moved quickly to find a new mated queen. I couldn’t find one locally anymore, so I was able to get one shipped from California. Thankfully, she arrived safely. 

218588164_220137973309461_8289507509243728274_n

Queen Leslie Knope I

While I was waiting on Queen Leslie Knope II to arrive from California, I had to deal with the mess in the hive. I inspected the frames to cut out the supersedure cells. I saw a lot of eggs, but at the bottom of a few frames, there were multiple eggs in a cell, all at the back. It was perplexing. For some background, the presence of the queen’s pheromones suppresses the ability of worker bees to lay eggs. If a hive has been queenless for a bit, some of the workers may start to lay eggs. The problem is that they are unmated and so they can only lay eggs for male bees—drones—whose only job is procreation (and sometimes heat regulation) so in the fall they are so useless that before winter the workers evict them entirely. A laying worker bee also doesn’t have the long body needed to lay an egg in the back of a cell, where it belongs, and she generally lays multiple eggs per cell. Once the eggs hatched and the workers capped the cells, I saw that the hive was full of drone larvae. But it had looked so good when it was in the egg stage. It is also possible that before a queen bee dies she runs out of stored semen to fertilize eggs and only lays drones. I wast not sure if what I saw in the brood nest was a laying worker or a dying queen. 

IMG_20210927_094740441 (1)

Supersedure Cells.

Either way, I had to find and dispatch Queen Leslie Knope I before introducing her successor. If the queen was already in the hive, the bees would most likely reject the new queen, killing her. Or the two queens could do battle, possibly leaving me with the failing queen again. Queen Leslie I was on the smaller side and unmarked. I had not been able to find her in previous inspections, although I did find her in a couple of photos over the summer. I did careful searches for her on consecutive days and never found her. I also never found fresh eggs, which told me that she was likely dead already. 

Then, there was the question of the laying workers. If I had laying workers, it also increased the likelihood that the hive would be hostile to the new queen. I still wasn’t sure if I had laying workers or not. The absence of new, messy eggs leaned toward not. But, to be safe, I thought I should intervene. I read that one way to deal with laying workers is to shake the frames of bees out about 100 feet from the hive. Laying workers are usually, but not always, nurse bees who have not left the hive to forage yet. The theory is that if you shake a laying worker out away from the hive, she won’t be able to find her way back. It felt kind of mean, but the hive is really a superorganism and it’s not worth risking the whole colony for a few bees. So, I shook out the brood nest away from the hive. I don’t really know if that did anything other than making the bees angry. Based on subsequent reading I did, though, I am pretty sure that I had a drone-laying queen, not laying workers.

IMG_20211005_102708275By the time Queen Leslie II arrived, I was as confident as I could be that Queen Leslie I was no longer in the hive. Even still, I spent some time observing the bees’ attitude toward their new queen before I left her in the hive. When you order a new queen, she comes in a little cage with a few attendant bees who are there to care for her. One end of the cage has fondant for the bees to eat and the other has a candy plug that the bees will gradually eat through to release her into the hive. This slow-release mechanism allows the queen’s pheromones to circulate through the hive before she is loose, helping the hive to accept her as their queen, and not immediately ball and kill her. Usually the candy plug is reinforced with a cork, which you pull out before putting the cage in the hive. When Queen Leslie II arrived, I set her on top of some frames for a while and watched how the bees approached her. They were not at all aggressive. Workers came up to the cage and crawled around it, but none were trying to sting her through the mesh or trying to ball her. So, I left the cage suspended between two frames in the brood nest. (Full disclosure: I accidentally hung it upside down, so I had to go in the next day and flip it. If one of the attendats had died in the meantime, it could have possibly plugged the exit. Oops.) Some people encourage beekeepers to remove the attendant bees before placing a queen, as the presence of strangers can cause aggression in your workers. I read that the queen’s pheromones cover these workers too, so it shouldn’t really be a problem. Additionally, as a new beekeeper, I didn’t want to run the risk of losing or injuring the queen while removing the attendants. 

IMG_20211029_151027184

Queen Leslie Knope II at work in the hive

I installed the new queen on Wednesday, October 6. Because it was so late in the season, I wanted to get her laying eggs as soon as possible, so on Friday, I went back to check how things were going. The bees were still not aggressive toward her and they had started to eat through the candy. I spent some more time watching them. I tested their response by brushing them off the queen cage—the brush test. They were easily brushed away, which was the result I was looking for. So, I took a small nail and punched through the candy plug. She was out. 

A week later, I did a hive inspection and there were a few eggs, but not many. I felt so anxious about the hive at that point. I was afraid that they couldn’t get a good cluster going before winter. But, the next week, my hive inspection revealed many more eggs. The drones that Queen Leslie I left behind were hatching out and Queen Leslie II had the beginnings of a healthy nest of workers. Now, a month later, the hive is booming with bees. This warm fall has helped, no doubt.

IMG_20211018_141426793_HDRIt is not unusual for hives to try to replace a new queen. During that first hive inspection after installing her majesty, I again found supersedure cells. I cut them out, and scolded my workers a bit. During the first weekend of November, I was doing a hive inspection on an unseasonable 70-degree day, and found a swarm cell—with a larva in it—on the bottom of one frame. That there was only one, and that it was there so late in the season was confusing, and frustrating to me. Before I could even decide what to do, I accidentally smashed it while moving the box it was in. My latest, and last, hive inspection showed no signs of them trying to replace Queen Leslie II, who is still laying like a champ. I expect that as the temperature drops, she will slow down. In the meantime, it has been an absolute treat to have a marked queen. I can always find the queen now and I am delighted every time I see her. 

Long live Queen Leslie Knope II. 

Helpful Resources on Re-queening

Barnyard Bees: How to Tell if Bees will Accept a New Queen

Barnyard Bees: How Bees Act When They Reject the Queen

Bee Culture: Laying Wokers. It Happens. Fix It. 

Honey Bee Suite: How to Fix a Laying Worker Hive

Backyard Beekeeping: How Many Days after Requeening Should I Expect to See Eggs

Welcome, Luna!

IMG_20210914_111420767 (3)Our newest alpaca, Luna, is two months old today. She’s growing so fast and has more than doubled her birth weight. Miss Firecracker delivered her in an uncomplicated birth, thank goodness! You can watch our video about the birth at our YouTube Channel.

Luna kind of looks like her aunt, Theodora, who is Miss Firecracker’s half-sister. The herd was so excited when the new cria arrived and Miss Firecracker is a wonderful mother. Her temperament also changed a lot after she gave birth, she’s still not exactly outgoing, but she is much less aloof and seems vastly more comfortable. After a 50 week pregnancy, that figures. 

Baby Luna enjoys running around with the herd, taking naps while her aunties eat, following her mama everywhere, and nibbling at hay. We are enjoying watching her grow! You can follow along at our Instagram page

 

Lessons We Learned In Our Second Year

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We are having an unseasonably warm autumn where we are, with temperatures still consistently in the upper 50s. We’ve even had some days in the 70s lately, which has been great for the bees and for giving us a little leeway as we break things down for the winter. 

As we work on winterizing the garden and the beehive, it has been natural to think about what we learned this year, primarily by making mistakes or making things harder on ourselves. So, here are the big lessons we’ve learned. 

IMG_20210825_135914620_HDRBrush the Alpacas Before Shearing Them

During the first week of June, our alpacas were sheared for the first time at our homestead. They were so ready for a haircut! Before we sent the prime cuts of their fleece to a fibermill to be spun into yarn, we had to skirt the fleece—that means picking out the hay, debris, and matts. I don’t know if you know this about alpacas, but they like to roll around in the dirt and hay. They were pretty dusty and dirty and skirting their fleece was a nightmare. Kasey is still working on getting their second and third cuts ready to spin and it is just so full of hay. 

We contacted our mentor to ask him if there was anything that we could do to keep them cleaner. Some really serious farms keep their alpacas in coats so that they can’t get hay, etc. stuck in their fleece, but that is too hardcore for us. And Moira is always hot enough as it is. We also knew that brushing them could destroy the structure of their fleece, which is meant to have a beautiful crimp to it. We visited our mentor during Alpaca Farm Days and he showed us a bucket full of different brushes that we could use before shearing. If we are shearing them to spin the fleece into yarn, it is okay for us to brush them then, because spinning destroys the crimp of the yarn. Of course! So, we hope that next year that will be less of an issue for us. 

Get Beekeeping Timing Right

IMG_20210616_134653790One of the biggest disappointments we had this year had to do with the beehive. Kasey keeps our bees and this is her first year. She got the bees on May 2nd and now wishes that she had immediately tested the bees for mites and treated them, but she was new and nervous about it and it took a few weeks to get used to working with them before she was ready to check for mites. She did so the third week of May and the mite count was really high. If she had understood her options better, she probably would have used Formic Pro, but she didn’t understand that the temperature restrictions were just for the first three days. Knowing that it would soon be really hot, she instead used Apivar, adding it May 25 and removing it on July 20th. 

Apivar cannot be used with the honey supers on, because the treatment creates residue in the honey and the wax that is not safe for human consumption. When the treatment was added, there were no supers on, but there were two deeps. It was a killer honey flow this year, though, and so supers were needed after a couple of weeks so that the bees didn’t run out of room. Long story short, they filled two medium honey supers with honey, none of which was safe for human consumption. It will get fed back to the bees, but by the time the treatment was done, the honey flow was over and summer dearth had set in. So many mistakes. 

Kasey feels pretty annoyed and let down by this mistake. She didn’t plan on harvesting honey this year, but with such a good season, it would have been nice to be able to harvest a couple of frames to give as Christmas gifts. Then, in late summer, she did use Formic Pro, and the queen ended up dying. More on that in another post. The most important thing is that the bees make it through the winter, but this was a steep learning curve and the mite treatment was the only part that was really frustrating.

Gardening Lessons 

IMG_20211009_152353403 (1)The garden grew SO. MUCH. BETTER. this year overall. We grew a delicious assortment of winter squash and pumpkins, patty pan squash, zucchini, greens, some tiny carrots, green beans. The Harvest Moon Squash was a variety we’d never tried before and it was delicious when stuffed and baked. 

But there’s still room for growth (pun intended). We realized that we want more room, so next year we are most likely building four more raised beds to create a natural buffer in front of the beehive and extend the garden’s footprint. 

We also learned that our watering strategy was insufficient. Although we got many, many squash and pumpkins, our Jack O’Lanterns and corn were puny and we think that was in part due to shifting too late from the type of watering we were doing to encourage the seedlings to grow to the deep watering that the plants needed to form fruit. We will also be watering the orchard more. 

IMG_20211009_114345683_HDRWhen we cleaned out the barn, it produced a giant mound of old, old horse manure. We were able to give a lot of it away for people to compost, but Kasey also used a lot to create a base layer for flowerbeds around the edge of the horse run. The plan was to grow wildflowers there to support pollinators. Her dream is to have lush perennial wildflower garden that takes not that much maintenance. She planted lavender, sunflowers, apache plume, Veronicas, and cone flowers there. The lavender was really the only thing that grew. Everything else scorched. She needs to test the soil, but it seems like the soil is too hot. The plan is to mulch it over the winter to draw out some of the nitrogen, but it was a good lesson in checking soil PH. 

There were so many lessons this year, but these were the biggest ones. What did you learn this year through trial and error? Let us know below.