Wednesday, November 5, 2014

We were so unprepared...

As many of you know, Maine was the beneficiary of a pretty big snow storm on Sunday, Nov. 2.  We had been out of town, and we were actually driving home during the storm.  Anna completely missed the turn off Rt. 1 because the blinking light wasn't blinking.  We made it home, though we were far from prepared for this storm.

Ways this storm kicked our asses:

We had no power.

Our French doors had blown open, there was snow in the house, and it was 30 degrees inside our house.

The barn isn't done.

The fence for the chickens in the barnyard isn't done -- and they need to be moved up there before the winter really sets in.

The chickens are still in the field, and their fence was buried in the snow (not very effective).

We haven't planted our garlic or the rest of our bulbs -- hopefully the snow will melt today, and we can plant it tomorrow before the next cold snap, rain/snow mix this weekend.

Firewood isn't stacked inside.

Wind blew the door off the high tunnel.

High tunnel still has tomatoes in it -- we need to plant greens in there.

Road hasn't been graded -- at least we have piles of gravel ready for this.

Big trees fell down all over

Ways we were prepared for this storm and winter in general:

Fruit orchard has been winterized.

New duck pond has been dug and filled and fenced in.

Well, that's better than nothing...

What have we been doing all summer?!?!  More on that later...

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Reachwood perfect.

Pretty early on in our time here, we knew we were going to want/need a greenhouse of some sort. It was pretty obvious that we weren't going to build a state-of-the-art glass greenhouse, so we opted for the next best thing -- a Reachwood-perfect high tunnel.  Reachwood-perfect is a phrase we've coined to describe something that might not be made perfectly or the most beautiful by most standards, but it functions, looks okay, and is a job that's finished.  I think the chicken tractor falls into this category.

At any rate, we found a NH based company that supplies you with a kit to build your own high tunnel.  Sounds easy, right?  Buy the kit, get the kit, put the kit together.  Simple. It shouldn't take too long (this phrase is no longer allowed to be uttered on our farm).

Here we go...

The building site -- alllllllllmost level.  It has to be level from side to side, but it can be on a slope end to end.  You can see that we started building this in the fall (2013).

All of this + some wood + a LOT of time = high tunnel.

First order of business, pound the posts 2 ft into the ground. The kicker -- they have to be plumb in all directions.

Get it!  The board is a guide to help us keep the posts spaced correctly and (hopefully) plumb.

Procedure -- post driver to get it started, sledgehammer to finish it off.

Naturally, we were well supervised.

We've squared the corners (at least 3 times), and marked level with the carpenter string.  All lined up and ready to be put in -- piece of cake....this shouldn't take too long. 

Son of a #$)@%*#!!!!!! We wanted to double check to make sure everything was spaced as it should be.  This happened at least 2 times.  By the time we got all the posts in and squared, we had pounded them in, removed them, and re-pounded them in at least twice.  

To get to this point, it is supposed to be a simple putting together of the pieces. You simply put the tops of the bents together, then slide them into the larger posts (the ones in the ground) and secure them with bolts.  Here's the kicker.  In all of our driving in, removing, driving, removing, driving we managed to dent one of the big posts in the ground (how this happened still escapes us).  As a result, we were unable to get one of the bents in all the way....this will come back to haunt us for the duration of high tunnel construction.

Ridge pole is up -- and clearly some time has passed since we started.  With the amount of snow we had this winter, it was almost impossible to get any work done on the high tunnel -- not to mention that we were busy plowing our road and cutting firewood in the snow.

Aaaaannnndddd....we're back!  Spring has sprung, and we're itching to get the tunnel done so we can plant seedlings in it.  We've framed one wall, put on the hip boards (shoulder height, why hip boards?!?!), baseboards, and we're ready to finish the walls and get the plastic on.  We are feeling so confident about the speediness with which we're going to finish the high tunnel that we got 2 yards of greenhouse compost so we're ready to plant!  Right.

One wall is done (save for the window at the top -- we want ventilation).   Yes, the door is purposely off centered....though I honestly don't remember why.  I'm sure it was totally logical.

Super sweet cedar door for $30 from a local junk shop -- love the hooks on the back.  We'll find good use for those.

Second wall is framed -- we're going to use plastic on this end since it is the sunny side of the house (not south, but the sunnier end).  Waiting for the greenhouse plastic set us back a bit, but it was worth it.

Plastic is on!  We got an old sliding door that we're going to put on hinges and on this end.

Baxter is inspecting the area for planting.  As the spring presses on, things are growing and growing in the tunnel -- and not the things we want to be growing in there...

Weeding has happened, extra earth has been added in the low spots, and we're ready to spread the compost.  

Spreading compost....and the door hooks are already coming in handy. :) 

More and more compost -- so delicious!

Warm compost on a cool day = oh yeah!

A little nest dug into the dirt just your size = oh yeah!
Compost is spread and ready for plants....almost.
Paths are lined with shavings to help fight off weeds.

Life is good -- and my hair is a situation.

Tomatoes were so desperate to get in the ground, we couldn't wait for the plastic.  We were repeatedly thwarted on putting the plastic up by crazy windy days.  Wielding 36 ft of plastic in high winds = recipe for disaster.

Planting peppers -- one particularly small seedling (attacked by...ahem...a certain dog with lots of grey fur) needed special attention and some TLC.
Giant roll o' plastic -- farm manager is ready for the challenge.

Are we up for the challenge?  Our faces aren't very convincing...
It wasn't that scary -- we like working together. It actually went way more smoothly than any other aspect of the high tunnel -- and way more smoothly than we thought it would.  It actually didn't take that long.
I love this shot.  My dad took all the photos of us putting on the plastic, and he totally nailed it with this one.
Almost done!
Roll the plastic down, and as quickly as you can, attach it to the hip board.  Another aspect that went relatively smoothly and quickly. :)
Attach the plastic to the ends, trim off the excess, and voilĂ ! 

It's a thing of beauty.

From another angle...

OK, just one more.
They're so happy -- if only I had a photo of them now! They're practically at the top of the tunnel.
The high tunnel will allow us to grow greens all winter long, and we'll get a jump start on the growing season early in the spring. There you have it.  We started last fall and finished this spring.  It shouldn't take too long....and it's totally perfect...for our standards.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

When bees ruled the world

They kind of do rule the world, but that's a different post for a different day.  Here's the saga of how our bees hijacked our productivity for 3 days....

It started as just a typical Wednesday, I went to teach yoga, and Anna went to work at the clinic.  After meeting Anna for lunch, I headed home. As I was walking up the front steps, I could hear the lovely, familiar hum of bees, and I immediately started looking for the flowers that they were so obviously enjoying.  I saw many many flowers around our front steps, but no bees.  That's when I looked up to the left....shit.  I immediately knew that one of our hives had swarmed, and they decided that our house was a great place to live. Of course this happens when Anna's at the clinic.

Bees swarm when there isn't enough food, or if they population gets too big for the current home.  They make a new queen, and half the hive leaves with the old queen when the new one is about to hatch. Bees are pretty amazing.

This is where the bees were heading in and out of our house.  Bad picture, but you get the idea.

Four ladies hanging out on our kitchen window.  There were probably 20+ bees on the window, but only 4 stood still enough for this photo.  The bees were all gathering around windows in our house.  

Because the bees were new residents of our house (less than 4 hrs), if we made the environment undesirable, there was a chance they would leave on their own.  I chose Deadmau5 -- I enjoyed it, hopefully the bees did not.

The music was pretty loud in the house, so when Anna got home from work, I was ready with a gin and tonic and front row seats to the bee exodus.  Anna's talking to her beekeeping mentor about what we can do if/when they don't leave on their own.  

This is how Baxter feels about the whole ordeal despite being stung at least 3 times while trying to catch bees in his mouth -- he deserved it.

This is how Olive felt about the whole ordeal.  She's so sensitive.  Maybe she got stung?  Maybe it was just the bees swarming that freaked her out.  She was in pancake mode hiding by her bed.
If we were going to try to catch these bees, we needed to put some hives together.  So, we put all the frames together, but Anna had left the box down by one of our other hives.  When she walked down there to get it, this is what she saw....

This picture isn't sideways -- that's one of our tiny apple trees being totally bent over by a huge swarm of bees.  

It was pretty amazing. When bees are swarming like this, they're less likely to be aggressive so I felt fine getting really close without wearing any protection.  Bees sting to protect their hive, and since they're looking for a new home, they have nothing to protect.

It was awfully nice of them to swarm so low to the ground so we could easily catch them!

Here's Anna putting them in our hive:


See all those bee butts up in the air?  They are looking for their queen.  They stick their butts up in the air to try to smell the pheromone of the queen -- they have a scent gland on their abdomen.  Pretty cool!

Here, you can clearly see the bees all marching in one direction toward their queen -- and into our hive!


Here they are....marching towards their queen and into our hive. :)
After collecting this swarm, we went back to check on the bees having a dance party in our house.  No change.  We decided to go get some dinner and make a plan for the morning.  When we got home -- the bees were still rocking out --- and still in our house, but they had tucked themselves in for the night so we decided to do the same.

The next morning, we devised a plan by which we would tear down the sheetrock in our house and extract the bees.  Anna's mentor let us borrow his bee-vac -- a special vacuum that you can use to suck them all into a cage without killing them so you can keep the swarm.

Listening for the swarm -- we can definitely hear bees in there.

We made a plan for where we were going to start demolishing our house, and we set up the surgery table.  All possible tools at the ready.

We drilled a hole, then started cutting away.  Yikes!

Turns out, we have a lot of insulation up there....not anymore...

When we finally got all the insulation out, this is what we saw.  Some bees, but not enough to be the colony we were looking for.  Crap.  Useless hole in our ceiling #1.  We could see that all the bees were headed in one direction -- up.  This isn't too shocking since bees like to go up.  So....we followed.
We went up to the highest point they'd be able to reach.  When we looked through the hole....nothing. No bees. WTF. Useless hole in our ceiling #2.

This is what most of our house looked like yesterday afternoon -- at least we had a tarp downstairs.
At this point, we were feeling pretty defeated by the bees so we decided to get out of the dusty house and regroup on the deck by putting some frames together for our eventual capture of the swarm in the house.  While we were working, I noticed that the swarm we had put in the hive the day before had a lot of bees on the outside of the hive.  Bees often do this to cool down, so we figured that was probably what was happening, but since it was a new hive, we wanted to walk down there to check.  When we got down to the hives, this is what we saw in the tree above the hive.

Are you freaking kidding me?!?!  

This is what the hive looked like, and when we peaked in the cover, they were all still in there.  So, could this be a 3rd swarm?!?!

We donned our bee gear again, and headed down to catch this one.  This one was a bit higher in a tree, so we climbed up, cut the branch down,  and carefully lowered the branch over the hive.  Once there, Anna shook the bees into the box.

New bees in our hive.
So, since we were catching all these swarms, we were rapidly running out of boxes and frames.  After 2 trips to the bee supply store, we had enough to catch all three swarms.  This, however, meant putting more frames together.  So, we parked ourselves on the deck to get back to hammering.  While there, Anna glanced over to the lawn to see what Baxter was so interested in.  Lo and was our tortoise.  Over a month ago, one of our tortoises escaped our outdoor enclosure, and we've been searching for her since.  Yesterday, she just strolled out into the middle of the lawn.

This is seriously the craziest day on record.

After all that, we decided to call it a day and pick up again in the morning.  When we woke up on Friday, it was pretty cool, so there was limited bee activity from our house swarm.  We decided to wait until the day warmed up to make sure they were still in there and to see where they were coming from.  As the day got warmer and bees. So, it turns out they left on their own accord.  We like to think it was the Deadmau5 and the hammering, drilling, cutting, etc. that drove them away.  At least then our efforts weren't for naught.

We're guessing that the second swarm we found on the cherry tree was the swarm from our house and they just left when we were demolishing our house.  Admittedly, we weren't paying too close attention to the bee traffic outside the house.  We are happy they're gone from our house, and we hope they like their new home.

Today, we put the house back in order -- except for those blasted holes in the ceiling...