Sow it begins

(Feb 8)Tray #1.

February.  This is the beginning of the growing year.  Then there will be two trays, then five, and eight…

Soon every windowsill be be filled, and the shelves will come out, until all the available glass real estate in the house is occupied by trays in early April.

I have calculated  the current maximum seed tray load of the house is 14, unless I evict the aloes from the other picture window, and then I could bump it up again.  I hope it doesn’t come to that.  I need some limits.Outside, winter.

The bird breakfast buffet

It’s the Great Backyard Bird Count weekend, this weekend.  Right now.   You can watch the map pinging with bird checklists being submitted.

I had something cool happen.  I was using the eBird lists to see if I could identify this one bird that’s around almost every day, only ever one by itself, and I glanced out and it was here!  I feel like it can only be a pine warbler, although he looks much more orangey than yellow.  Not a pine grosbeak, though, bc he has the delicate beak.   I’ve taken lots of bad pictures, but they’re never v helpful.

pine warbler?

Then two purple finches showed up, and two sparrows, that must be song sparrows.  I see them far less often, so then I had to stay on the job for the minimum 15 minutes to make another GBBC report.

I failed to count birds in ’19, but against my 2018 notes, the change is clear.  Sparrows and Juncos and Purple finches and even Nuthatches are now rare for me to see, while goldfinches and grosbeaks have tripled in numbers.  I get about 150 Grosbeaks and 80 goldfinches every day, like clockwork after dawn.

Every morning they come and clutter up the treetops shrieking for a while deciding if it’s safe.  Made it real easy to count them this morning, all waiting, watching me watch them.  Then they descend in a squabble of bird drama, carpeting the snow and crowding the lids of the beehives, which double as bird tables.  I assume the bees aren’t bothered by the tap-dancing on their roof all winter.  I can’t get over how the winter goldfinches look like identical miniatures of the Grosbeaks, and they all mix up. 

Highest winds ever, worse than Dorian

Friday night we had a heck of a storm.  It was strange that it was all over so fast, from onset to back to complete calm in 12 hours, with the storm blast lasting about four hours long.  However, it was the highest winds we’ve ever experienced here, stronger gusts than Hurricane Dorian brought not too long ago.  I know, because it blew over a beehive, and that’s never happened before.

The wind was the kind you don’t sleep though, jostling me on the bed and making the lamps swing as it shook the house.  I was concerned about the “new greenhouse” that hadn’t yet been tested.  After the big gusts that sounded disturbing, I’d walk out to see if the plastic was tearing off of either hoop house.  It wasn’t.  There was a lot of strain on the ends, and the door on the small house ripped off.

I came back in and happened to glance outside… horror!  A beehive was missing!  I rushed back out, and Violet was thrown over, lid off.  The bees were slowly oozing out and permeating the fallen-out hay that had been insulating their eke.  I tucked the hay back in, stood the hive back up, and hugged it to shift it into place.  That was a mistake.  There were plenty of bees pooling around their door on the outside that transferred to me, and started crawling up my sleeves and stinging me though my pajamas.  “I’m helping you!”  I shouted at them over the wind.  About a handful of bees were lost, spilled out and dead of exposure.  Another half dozen had to be plucked off me and flicked back inside.

Retrieving Violet’s lid is when I noticed that the lids had blown off all the other hives, also never happened before.  It wouldn’t have affected the bees more than causing a draft.  When I got everything reassembled, weighted down, and  propped up, the peak of the storm had passed, and I could sleep.    Good to know everything can hold up.

Autumn

A quick catch-up – the birds are all sleeping in the greenhouse now, so if I need to leave I can secure them in there and take off with my mind at ease.  I’m drunk on the new freedom and am doing that quite a bit.

When I’m home, they are released and I watch over them (there have been no losses since I went full sentinel), but they gravitate back into the warm greenhouse.  They LOOOOVE the greenhouse for about two months, or half of winter.  Then they start to get bored and demanding.

Egg production is suddenly and precipitously down, after an egg boom in October, even though the weather is lovely.  They don’t seem to like disruption.  Cheeks and Ketchup are both offline and molting, just when everyone else has finally leafed out again for wintertime.  Velvet is gorgeous and Cleopatra is feathered again.

Only one set of chicks is still being parented, and I’ve got some good stories about them.  About seven Silkies are still trying to sit on eggs, even though most of them never have an egg to sit on, it just looks like the thing to do, I guess.

I harvested a small amount of honey, and the bees are mopping up the drawn frames in the warm afternoons.  I haven’t got my garlic in or the garden put to bed (ha!).

I’m cleaning and gathering, doing some of the fall things, although still flat out working.  This Christmas will be lean!

As much as I enjoy Fall Back, Daylight Savings Time is dumb!  Just leave it one time all year like sensible regions do!

Chicken sitting, and an accidental week off.

I had no intentions of taking a week+ off blogging, but I had a real week from hell.  A book deadline, two books released, other time-sensitive obligations, and a side serving of serious stress which led to far too many nights working past midnight, so I’m just coming up for air now and seeing what else really needs to be done.

The bees got reduced on time, they’re happy.  The chickens, though, are under siege.  A predator grabbed a chick.  A chick!!!  How dare they!?  Right out of the inner chicken zone.  “Luckily” it was one of Velvet’s, so they both have two left – each still has a sibling.  Only chicks are so sad.   All the birds were so upset by this nearly all of them decided to sleep somewhere else, which is a story for another day.

So I changed my habits.  I have to do a substantial amount of work daily on my computer, and this cat/fox/mink isn’t bold enough to attack while I’m outside with them, so now I bring my internet with me and work outside in the afternoon:

sitting on chicken coop with laptop
My new office.

It’s cold, the wind blows my papers around, my fingers freeze, but it works.  No casualties since I started playing sentinel.  The smallest coop is a perfect size on the perimeter of Chickenland.

It is a wonder Nosey hasn’t hopped up there with me yet.   What’s really nice is being furniture in the midst of the chicken society, and watching them operate once they forget about me.  Serene, relaxed scratching, grooming, resting, and a constant murmur of communication.  It’s very quiet.  They have a nice casual circuit of exploration.  Looking for new bugs, I suppose.  Even the Brahmas drift by together.

Usually I’m the disturbance they’re responding to, squawking, running to, running away, announcing, but it’s a very slow pace of life in chicken world when I’m not doing anything noteworthy.

Except for the chicks.  They still zoom around.

Beehive reduction

It’s that time, time to reduce the size of the beehive stacks in preparation for winter, and steal their honey.

I hate it.

I don’t like taking their honey, and I don’t like the degree of disruption it causes, nor the death.  In the process of taking the hives all apart, robber bees come from the other hives and there are disputes and battles to the death.  Bees are very good at killing each other and the bee bodies pile up.  I don’t know how to mitigate this yet.

It has to be done, though.  The hives need to be in a compact space packed with full frames of honey for the winter.  It’s not heat efficient to be in a silo.

Pansy:Late afternoon, not finished sorting frames, and a bridge for the bees to get back to their door.They aren’t interested in going home though, they are in a frenzy of emergency cleanup operation, trying to save the honey that is suddenly outside their house.  It’s mayhem.

After taking the frames I’m keeping and sweeping them free of bees (time consuming, multi-stage process), they had three partials to clean up and move the honey back inside.  They will probably be at that most of today.

Pansy has the most vitality of the hives.  Despite swarming twice (and I lost one), she has been reproducing like crazy and building fast.  Marigold and Sunflower, this year’s swarm/split hives, all done.  They adjusted well, minimal death.  Marigold is maybe a little frustrated, bearding on the front like they don’t have enough space (they do), and they aren’t letting go of that completely empty frame yet, even at night.

Three down, one to go:I saved the doozy for last.

Today I get into the skyscraper.  This is Violet, my oldest hive, who has never swarmed (I split her to Sunflower this year).  Pansy is swarmy, Violet refuses, no matter how big she gets.   She’s also a bit crankier than the other three hives, less patience.  I expect she’ll winter in three supers, but I guess I’ll find out today.

The weather is perfect this week, warm enough at night for bees caught outside on salvage missions to survive.  The long term forecast says this is my last chance.  Now the bees will be contracting, working closer to home on final stockpiling, and producing their last brood for their winter population.  I hope there’s a warm spell in October too, but you never know anymore.

They grow up so fast

I’ve lost track of all the sets of chicks.  There are around five that are almost indistinguishable from grownup chickens, the “big chicks”.Overnight, they are  all legs and big bodies.  If I don’t look twice, they look full grown.   These have all graduated to living in the “big coop”, although I’m still plucking at least one out of the tree every night.  No, not the coop!  They aren’t nice to me in there!Hello, I’m a Cheeks junior!  The “middle chicks” are still distinct – they are the five that Ghost and Velvet are raising.  They are perching pros, but still attached to their mamas, who have a nice bond with each other.   Once they ditch their moms, they’re easier to lose track of.

Then there are the “little chicks”.  They had a good week living in the greenhouse undisturbed, but naturally, they grew discontented with the daily manual transfer to and from in a box, and one morning, there was an escape.

You can’t put the chickens back in the box, so at that point, they were out in the crowd.  What is adorable, is that she led them through the fence into Silkie land, where she stays with them in the taller brush.  She remembers where she lived.Although the Silkies and big chickens generally don’t mix, the fence is permeable.  When the “big chicks” were tiny, they learned how to go under it in one spot there’s a three inch gap.  They remembered, even as they got bigger, and still go to the spot, poke their heads under, and slither through.  So they come and go, very nosy, have to see everything for themselves.  I think this Silkie mom is using the same spot.  Sometimes she seems to get stuck inside.   These little ones just started perching practice too!

The Brahmas are joining Team Mooch

The Brahmas are joining the chicken clique that hangs out around the house, which is really nice.  It’s the safest place for the chickens, and the most social.

Naturally the most vulnerable chickens, moms, chicks and adolescents, range the farthest, giving me palpitations, while the old girls homestick.They’re always together.  The Brahmas are so sweet, they’re the big feather pillows of the chicken world. One of them is in a half-molt state.  Feathers falling out everywhere but also new ones growing back- a whole new set on her feet; she’s got whole patches growing in, but is still dropping feathers.  She’s not going for that whole naked stage.   Too cold.

Now they’ve joined the House Moochers, that leaves only two retirees that still linger close to the retiree coop (coop nearest house).
Dozing, here with Cheeks.  

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