Bees and Bunnies

Quail waterer in the beehive to feed the bees.

Because it is still rainy – although not cool, at the moment it’s like a sauna out there! I have been feeding the bees sugar water. We use quail waterers to give the hives a solution of one-to-one sugar and water. I did notice that the bees were flying today, which is a good thing, and they aren’t going through the sugar as fast. Today I spoke to our farmer friend who leases them every year and he told me he wants them for his big pumpkin field next month. The bees will increase his yield enough to make our lease fee well worth his while. Beekeepers like the arrangement where they can get honey and get paid for the girl’s works.

Sugar and warm tap water make fine bee food.

This hive has a mason jar with slits in the lid for a feeder.

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We took a closer look at the baby bunnies today. Michael moved fluff and I took a picture, and we were delighted to find we have six in there. As Michael says, they have wee little ears, and round tummies. Although we never see Mama in with them, she’s obviously feeding them. She’s a first time mother and doing pretty well, considering. They are half New Zealand but they are all black or dark grey.

Fat little baby bunnies! They are so cute!

One of the old apple trees on the edge of the garden.

We have a number of apple trees on the property, but most of them are seedling apples, which usually means the apples are small and very, very tart. We have one tree by the house that actually has sweet apples. They look beautiful in the spring covered with pale pink blossoms. I like to stand under them, inhaling the sweet scent and listening to the bees humming in the flowers. If we pay attention perhaps this fall we can harvest some to make apple jelly with, or to mix into the apple cider. We normally let them go and concentrate on the orchard up at Toad Hall, but they are planning to sell this year.

The greenhouse is filling up with green.

We have much work to do in the greenhouse, it’s only about half-ready for plants, but the tomatoes and herbs in there are doing really well. The decked center path will be lined with plastic and filled with water eventually. Dad says that will hold about 1200 gallons of water and may extend our season to almost year-round with the thermal mass. The little wood stove just visible in the foreground will help with that, too. We may try to grow fish in there, eventually. Long term we want to try a polyculture of fish, crawdads, and plants. Dad plans another trough on the North side of the greenhouse that will be pumped up into gutters full of plants. The fish poo will fertilize the plants. We might not manage it all this year, but most of the infrastructure is in place, I just have to follow Dad’s plans. Along with about a dozen other projects. It’s good, though. The farm is happening, inevitably as the grass grows.

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The Villain of the Piece

Patiently waiting for his lunch

Lunching at leisure on birdseed

Black bears may look fluffy and cuddly, but they are still wild animals. They can move much faster than you would think, and are amazingly powerful. The bear in the pictures is a second year cub that has been appearing regularly at my grandparent’s bird feeders since his mother brought him as a bouncing ball of black fluff. He showed up yesterday afternoon, casually knocked down the feeder, and lay down to lap up the high protein snack with his long pink tongue. We all stood on the deck and watched him eat.

My Dad has been keeping bees here in Sanbornton, with hives in New Hampton and elsewhere on occasion, for twenty years now. He’s lost a lot of hives to bears. A black bear will casually tear apart a hives for the honey and larvae inside it. We use various methods to keep the bears away from the hives. The recommended method in New Hampshire is to use electric fence, the mesh sort is best. Once the bear has zapped his or her nose, they will keep their distance. Dad also uses a bee house, a sturdy wooden shed. For hives in a fixed location this is ideal. The last method we’ve used I don’t recommend at all…

One morning bright and early Dad woke up to a ruckus in the bee yard. He jumped out of bed, grabbed his pistol and ammo, and ran toward it trying to load 38 slugs into a 44 revolver. That not working, he remembered what he’d been told that a bear will be intimidated if approached by a bigger bear, so he put his arms up in the air and ran toward the yearling bear yelling. He got close enough to plant a good solid kick in the bear’s backside, and then he says the bear “Ran away a little bit, then turned around and looked at me as if to say why’d you do that?”

I don’t think I need to tell anyone they should never approach a wild animal that closely, especially one as large and dangerous as a bear. But Dad gets called Bear-Kicker to this day and he admits rather sheepishly that he wasn’t quite awake and was mad about the bees, or he wouldn’t have done it.

A new colony of bees, sleepy and chilly in the morning.

These bees were not happy to be awakened so early in the morning, even if I was feeding them!

Planting trees

This week I have been planting a lot of things. Yesterday it was raining and I was hurting, so I didn’t do much. Dad and Uncle Mike came down and walked around the garden and farm with Mica and I. Uncle Mike hasn’t seen it in years, as he lives in Wisconsin and visits rarely. Dad had been gone a week, which seems like forever. He was moving a little slowly, but true to form, he wanted to open the beehives and check to see if the queens had gotten out. When you receive a shipment of bees, the queen is kept separately in a tiny cage plugged with candy. Normally it takes 3-4 days for the workers to release her. One of our hives hadn’t gotten the queen out, and it’s been a week. So Dad pried the mesh off one side of her prison and let her free. Now, I had gotten him his veil, but when he started moving beehives I jumped in to help, as he’s not supposed to lift. I got stung right on the upper lip, which made my eyes start to water up a storm. I retreated and got a veil. Bees don’t like being disturbed in the rain, even a light rain!

Christmases yet to come. Planted in an area tilled by the pigs.

I wanted to put some pictures up I took earlier this week, of the trees we were planting. It is soul satisfying to plant trees. They look like sticks now, but I can’t help picturing them when I’m an old lady, tall and stately. I may not be here in NH then, but they will be. The sugar maples won’t be tappable for 20-25 years. Johann will be all grown up and maybe with kids of his own when he taps them some spring. The Christmas trees will see us through all the kids growing up. We got 15 Balsam Fir, and plan to put in another 5 every year to keep our house and a few others in trees each holiday season.

Baby tree... All those rocks came out of the hole I dug for this tree.

The roots of the sugar maples were much bigger than the twigs on top. Pippa had fun helping water the trees and herself!

The pig tractor experiment has been working beautifully. We move the pigs every other day, and in 48 hours, they leave behind lovely turned ground we can plant in. We’ve been using field peas for cover crop and nitrogen fixer. I need to go buy some more seed, actually. The pigs get so excited when we move them they will leap about and frolic, which is funny to see. I don’t know what they are finding under the grass, but I know when we move them to a spot where there’s a rotted piece of wood or log that’s the first thing they go for, crunching it up with those strong jaws to get the grubs that live in the wood. We all like to lean on the fence and watch them work.

Happy pigs in new grass.

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