We all have a button, some kind of trigger, that immediately catapults us back in time to a moment from childhood. One of mine is peas. For two glorious weeks in the summer, nature aligns and a garden will give you all of the sweet […]
The goats are here! The goats are here! And guess what??
Goats are hard.
Okay, goat milking is hard. Especially when your milk stand doesn’t arrive before the goats do. But once again, I am getting ahead of myself.
We picked up Lucy (black) and Tess (bebe) on our way back from a wedding in Taos (congrats, Mark and Jill!!) this past Sunday, thereby ensuring that the goats trumped the papas on Father’s Day this year. Whoopsie. (Sorry Dad and Gabe!!)
This is me, making kissy faces with Tess:
And me again, full gum smile, as we both bleat our hellos.
After a quick milking/hoof trimming lesson from the incomparable Elizabeth Ahola of Lil’ Bleats Farm, we loaded up the car with Lucy in a crate in the back, and Tess in my lap wearing a baby diaper. The front seat looked a lot like this, with Lucy chiming in from the back:
You can tell it’s early in the trip, as I am smiling and the diaper is fairly intact. The inside of our car sounded much like this:
You can’t see Gabe, but he looked a lot like this:
Somehow, we made it home alive, with at least 87% of our hearing. Win.
And then it began. What was so easy with Elizabeth coaching, in the barn Lucy knew, with hands that were skilled, on a milk stand created to make this task easier, was suddenly a barnyard version of WWF. But no one was faking. These wounds were real. After MUCH trial and error, Gabe and I came up with a system whereby I was the human milk stand and Gabe found himself playing the role of champion milkmaid.
I give you, Goat Yoga.
|Gabe demonstrates Crouching Teat Squeeze while Danielle masters Goat Stanchion One. Namaste.|
We hold this position for 5-8 minutes on each side, while Lucy bucks, yells, kicks and bites. Who can blame her? We are farmers in training…with no training…which basically makes us idiots. Lucy sports a constant WTF/FML expression from the moment we enter the pen.
But we are making progress! What took over an hour the first time now, on day 5, only takes 20-30 minutes.
|Tell me the truth – does this goat make my butt look big?|
And what do we get, for all of this work? For all the angst we are causing poor little Lucy? For the thigh cramps (me) and achy crabbed milk hands (Gabe)? Milk! Fresh, raw, healthy goat milk.
|This is a 2 Qt milking can. For those who failed Math 101, that is 8 cups.|
Yep. Tablespoons and tablespoons of milk. That we can’t even drink yet as it’s so full of dirt and goat feet that it isn’t worth it.
But the milk stand arrives today (come on UPS guy!) and we’ll start sanitizing the equipment so that we can drink the milk. And increase Lucy’s production since we’ll be in a better position to actually milk her out before we all just give up and poop in a corner (Lucy, not us). And when we’re not milk wrestling, the girls are really adjusting well. Lucy is a little more reticent (wouldn’t you be?) but warming up, and Tess loves us all. The boys are enchanted and the neighbors are supportive, so what more could we ask for?
Hell yeah, we are farmers! (But don’t tell any real farmers I said that.)
I am a liberal, progressive, humanist, Democratic Socialist. These are not monikers that I use every day. Why? Well, I live in one of the wealthiest, most conservative counties in Colorado. It’s difficult to make friends if you start a conversation with “Hi, Jesus isn’t […]
Bees. I’m finding them to be like children – just when you think you know something they pull the rug out and you’re back at square one, doing your best and putting money into the therapy jar for their future.
Remember when I wrote the Cherokee Girls off as dead? Well, somehow they survived the bulk of the winter. Two weeks ago, there were signs of life in the hive, and their fuzzy brown bodies were all over the place. I think that by giving them only one full deep to heat throughout the winter, I inadvertently helped prolong the life of this tiny colony.
So it was with great sadness and dismay that I opened the hive this past weekend only to find the colony clustered in a small, fresh-dead bundle. The most recent freeze did them in.
And I couldn’t even steal the remaining honey because the EXPLODING population in the neighboring hive was already busy with the same idea. (Note to self, figure out how to harvest the vast amounts of leftover wax.) We cleaned the hive, and moved on. And by “we,” I mean my little brother and beekeeping buddy, Kris.
Next, Kris and I popped the top on the Great Grand hive, and the bees who weren’t out foraging for the day filled 3 deeps. It’s always been easy to tell the two colonies apart, as the Cherokee Girls were light brown, and the Great Grand Girls have a brighter orange body. And those orange bees were everywhere!
The top deep was 90% full of capped honey. And bees. The second deep had capped honey, larva, and capped drones. And bees. The bottom deep was so packed with bees that we didn’t pull any frames. The ladies were calm (initially), but the volume was high with that many residents packed into such a small space.
Next came the tricky, hope I don’t regret it, hastily made decision. There were a lot of bees, loads of capped honey, and the nectar flow is officially on. Conditions were ripe for a spring swarm. Why wait and recapture half the colony when I had a perfectly good hive that was now clean and empty? So we did a split. A winging-it, didn’t plan it, Googling-as-we-go split. I’d done one before, but that was with Bee Mentor Don and over a year ago.
First, Kris moved the Grand hive over a few inches to confuse the returning bees. Then we set up the vacant hive right next door.
We left the bottom deep on the Grand hive alone, and took most of the second deep – keeping the brood frames in order – and gave them to the split. Honey from the top deep was divided, and a 5 new frames with no honey or drawn comb were divided between them. Why did we not just put the second deep, as is, onto the bottom board of the empty hive and call it good? Well, that’s a really good question in hindsight, but the bees were crazy mad, the frames were already out, and shut up. Live and learn.
Finally, since we were still really close to the 7/10 threshold of full frames in both hives’ upper deeps, and since there was plenty of honey in both hives, I added excluders and a super to each hive. Maybe a misstep, but one that we risked. This is the year for honey, dammit!
So now we wait. I’ll check the ladies in a week or so, weather allowing, to look for signs of queen cells and determine where the resident queen ended up. All things considered, it was a good day. No stings. Potential for a new colony. And the imperfect forgiveness that is nature. Even with all of our blunders, both hives have food, brood and bees. Come on girls, do your thing!
Six days later, and things are looking okay from the outside. I am seeing activity in both hives, but the original is definitely busier. I am doing my best to chill out and follow the advice on Honey Bee Suite:
It happens. I know it happens. But the Cherokee Girls (white hive) are on their last legs, and I am deep in mourning for the loss of my industrious little bugs.
|The hives. Cherokee on left, Great Grand on right. Giant shadow courtesy of the beekeepers and a late afternoon sun.|
I haven’t been in the hive for 2 months, but on last inspection they were killing it – brood, bees and honey galore. They have always had a fairly large dead bee yard in comparison with the Great Grand Girls (green hive). And I have noticed fewer bees at the entrance over the last month or so at the Cherokee hive.
Then on Sunday the hive just had a feeling of desolation. It was a warm day and the Great Grand Girls were out and about, and I could see them checking out the Cherokee hive. The GG Girls are more of a vibrant orange color, and the Cherokee Girls are a more subdued brown. I quickly popped the top of the Cherokee hive and there was no sign of life. A quick look into the top of the GG hive and and bees were spilling out of the inner cover. Something was wrong.
Yesterday was what appeared to be the last warm day of this oddly warm fall, so it was time to dig deeper. Kris, brother and bee apprentice extraordinaire, came over and we started our investigation. I still don’t know what happened, so I’ll lay out the clues to you as we found them and see if anyone in the ether has a better idea of what happened to my lovely bees.
First, a panorama of my bee setup. The hive openings face SE, with a wind block directly behind them. They are surrounded by pines and scrub oak, so they are protected, and receive adequate sun in the mornings. They are shaded in the later part of the afternoon.
And here are the dead bees in front of the hives. First, Cherokee. The bees look as if they have baked in the desert, and this has always been the case. But now, there aren’t any bees that look “fresh dead,” if you will.
The dead bees at the GG hive are almost alive in contrast. (Poor drones – it’s a rough time of year for those fellas.)
When the Cherokee hive was opened, there were no bees in the top deep but it was totally full of honey. When we removed the upper deep, the lower deep looked deserted.
We found tons of honey but didn’t hit signs of potential brood, or see the remaining handful of bees, until we arrived at the fifth frame in the center. The bees who are still alive were clustered at the bottom of the frames in the lower left hand corner of this picture. They were lethargic, listless and could have all fit into a large coffee mug.
This was the scene when we popped the top on the GG hive. Very different.
We started digging into the lower Cherokee deep for clues. As a novice beekeeper, I couldn’t quite tell what was uncapped honey and what was possibly dead brood. There were random dead baby bees who seemed to be mummified right before they emerged. We did not spot a queen, or recent signs of a queen, on any of the frames.
|Gummy brood here on the bottom? There was capped honey at the top of the frame. This frame does not have cell starter, so this is all bee-made honeycomb.|
|It’s hard to see, but there are 4 mummified bees in the chewed out looking holes in the bottom right of the picture. The spotty pattern of the filled cells doesn’t look healthy or normal to me.|
I did poke into one of the ambiguously glossy cells and it was a white goo. Not “ropey” as some of the worse foul brood diseases talk of, just mush. You can see it in the destroyed upper left portion of comb. I also popped out one of the mummified bees, which is on the end of the stick. There was no distinctive smell of yeast or rot to the hive or the frames.
And that’s where we stand. What happened to my bees? Maybe chilled brood? There are definitely not enough bees to cover a substantial amount of brood. Did the queen die somehow and now we’re just watching the remaining bees die of old age? Do the mummified bee remains hint at chalk brood? I just hope it’s not something contagious since I added the Cherokee Girls’ upper deep of honey to the GG Girls in order to help them through the winter. Whatever the cause of the Cherokee Girls’ collapse, the freezing weather this week is sure to finish them off.
Bees. All of the prep. The books. The classes. The care in selecting hive locations and placement. And still I can’t control the loss of a colony. It makes me sad. I hope to do better next year.