Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Vernal Equinox Snapshot

Even though there's still snow on the ground, Spring is in the air!  I can tell it's on it's way not only because of the rising thermometer, but also by the number of daylight hours we are enjoying and the position of the sun in the sky.  The vernal equinox is indeed nigh, as the sun has presented herself due east, right in front of our window at the kitchen table.  Now a bad way to wake up in the morning, I'd say :)

Our hens are enjoying the warmer Spring like temperatures and are happily relishing in being out of doors all day.  Gone are the days of being "cooped up" for winter!   We've got a large compost pile going in their main scratch yard (which they are making light work of turning for us).  With a nod to the guiding principles of permaculture, we are currently making plans to install perimeter fencing this year so that we can easily (and safely) rotationally graze the hens through our tree windbreaks, giving them more foraging opportunities and us the opportunity to work the hens' natural abilities to our distinct advantage.  By having the hens return to the scratch yard for a few days every couple of weeks, this invites them to do what hens do best - scratching and turning over soft soil in search of bugs.  They'll turn compost FOR us and then (at our direction and control) move on to other purpose seeded or natural forage areas.   We can easily pile up the compost again (which will heat up further with the addition of the nitrogenous manure over those few days of scratching and turning).  I think this plan will shorten the cooking duration of the compost in addition to feeding the hens vital insects and grubs in the process.  On paper it all sounds great but let's see how that fleshes out this year :)

If you look below, you can see the outside south facing edge of the greenhouse on the left and the snow load on the garden (to the right behind the fence).   We have a good 12" - 18" left to melt and I'm sure more snow will fall between now and when we plant out in May.  It's a waiting game now...

Inside the greenhouse (below), in the left bed, I've been busy turning under what survived of the fall seeded rye cover crop.  I'm watering it all in with effective micro-organisims to kick start decomposition and prep the bed for Spring seeding of this side in a few week's time.

On the right side, I've prepped the bed that was dressed with fall leaves (an experiment to compare the soil with the side that was cover cropped in rye).  As well, you can just make out the top edge of one of my 3 cold frames - all three are currently seeded to early winter greens, giving me a little extra frost protection in my uninsulated, unheated greenhouse.  I was careful to choose cold hardy varieties (winter lettuces, kale, radishes, spinach, oriental and mustard greens, etc) and hope (if all goes well) to be harvesting micro greens in late April.   Prior to seeding, each cold frame was amended with worm castings from our worm farm and the soil was lovely and warm 8" down, so fingers crossed, we will have good germination.  I'll keep you posted! 

Our cat is certainly enjoying spring's arrival and I'm appreciating his hard work.   He is a skilled mouser, deftly catching any rodent that dares to show a whisker!  The greenhouse is a prime feeding ground and nesting spot for mice (warm and full of seeds!) but this cat is so good at hunting, he's kept the greenhouse and our house completely free of those little pests.   He is treat trained to come in at night (major coyote predator load at night) but for the most part, Squeaker is out "working" all day from early Spring until winter sets in again.   Without him, we'd have a huge rodent problem on our hands.

Happy Vernal Equinox!  Let the season begin :)

Sunday, 9 March 2014

The Hives

It's been frightfully cold and windy for weeks on end which has provided plenty of opportunity for indoor project work.  Hubby has been busy making top bar hives for our property.  I have requested 2 packages of bees but am attempting to catch at least one swarm (2 would be amazing).   It's too early yet for such theatrics, but I'm getting ready for when the time comes.

Here's a good look at the top bars (this one is actually upside down - the flat side goes up and the triangle tip points down into the hive).

If you look in the picture below, you'll see how the bees attach and run comb from the tip down.  Again, this picture shows the bar upside down.  The comb would be formed DOWNWARD into the hive as the bars rest on top of the hive walls.

Here's a good pictures to show you how the top bars sit and how the comb runs DOWN into the hive.

We need quite a few bars if we plan to have 2 hives and possibly supers for each one so hubby's been making lots of bars.   He bought 2x2" fir stock and cut it himself - plenty of angles!


Here's a picture of the follower board (used to compress the hive/guide development). 

And the top bars being placed...

 Side view with the window placed - I'm so excited to watch the bees at work!  Note that the window will be covered when we aren't actively checking on progress inside.

I need to prime and paint the exteriors and Kelly's currently making the lids (2 standard and 2 with queen excluders to facilitate supering).  Still lots to do, but we ARE inching closer thanks to my amazingly talented and patient husband :)

*******Edited to add*******

I've been asked quite a bit about the choice to build Top Bar Hives vs. using a Langstroth Hive.  Truthfully, because we have not yet kept bees, I have no personal experience on which to draw from.  I only have my permaculture education/training and my experience in the garden to reflect upon.   Right angles aren't found typically in nature, whereas The Golden Mean IS found all over the natural world in every living thing, in particular, bee comb!  It only makes sense to create an environment for the bees that is patterned off shapes found in the natural world.   The bees will teach us a great deal and we are more than ready to learn.