All posts by Selka

I'm a Canadian woman living in an off-grid tiny house on a small organic orchard farm in Nova Scotia, always aspiring to a "better"- more conscious, ecological, and organic- life. I blog to keep my family and friends up to date; to share things I've learned and discovered with difficulty so that hopefully, it will help others who internet research to proceed with less difficulty; to maintain a practice of writing; and to create an illustrated journal of the arc of my life. I try to post every second day. I write about my garden, my travels, Iceland, my chickens, dog, bees and other pets, books I read, and stuff that I build and make. My husband is passionate about bicycling and he sometimes pipes up with stories about bikes and bicycling. Sometimes I swear. You can follow on Facebook too, but all I ever do there is put up my blog posts.

My first swarm!

and boy, they did not make it an easy one.

There’s another awesome advantage to having your hives right outside your front windows. (I love having the hives so close to the house; it’s often not recommended, but there’s much to be said for it).

When you glance outside, five minutes after seeing normal bee action, and see that they’re swarming!

It was sensational.  I knew right away, because I’d never seen anything like it, and I could hear them roaring, too, from inside.  I ran out and took a couple pictures.I always imagined a bee swarm was like, a cloud of bees, grouped together, like a thing you could point to.  No.  They’re zooming around in straight lines in all directions, buzzing loud like they’re angry, and they just fill all the air.  They filled the visible sky.  You’d have to zoom out quite far before the swarm entity would appear like a cloud.

Then the air full of bees started to move.

All I remembered was that I would have to follow them, so I quickly grabbed a roll of flagging tape.  Because of course they headed out over the densest, awfullest brush around here.  I flagged my way in, thrashing after them, though they were easy to follow by ear – so loud!!

Seriously, ten minutes from “no unusual bee behaviour here”, to gone.  Now if I’m going to be retroactively honest with myself, I think maybe one of my hives has swarmed before to vistas unknown.  If they can go that fast, entirely possible.

They didn’t go too far.  I got under the epicentre of their sound, looking up at them.  They seemed to be concentrating.  Their thousands of bodies in flight made a distortion like heat shimmer. And then, sure enough, I saw a crowd of bees starting to form on the trunk of the big maple I was under.  That’s where they were choosing to stay.  Ok.

Time to go home and google!  I found out some things (first I pulled a couple physical books, just sayin’).  Things like that they don’t initially go too far, they just make a temporary stop and send out scouts from there to find a new home.  A little like committing to move by selling your home and moving all your stuff out before thinking about where you might go next, or calling any real estate agents.  So the cluster of bees in this current temporary location could stay there a few days (settling arguments comparing the great view in option A to the third bathroom in option B), or… maybe just an hour.  Act fast.  Don’t smoke them, do mist them with water (this was so clutch!).  They’re full of honey, and docile.

I went back to the tree.  The silence was striking, like the bees had turned off.  They had all landed, and were quiet.  I’d have never found them, visually, if I hadn’t followed them when they were noisy.  They were way up on the maple, wrapped all around the trunk in a two foot band, like you might collar a tree to keep squirrels out of it.  A band of bees instead of metal would be very effective against squirrels.

I got my long ladder, and climbed it, and learned that I needed another ten feet.  Then I made at least six phone calls, to everyone I knew who might have an extension ladder, and a marginal interest in bees.  No one answered.

Ok, time to work with what I got.  I took apart my 3-way ladder and dragged a section of it up the first  ladder, and lashed it to the tree for a second flight.

Not Worksafe approved.

Just as I started rigging that, I heard a distant clap of thunder.  Are you joking?  Are you f#$%ing joking!!?  (I was answered by another thunderclap, just in case I hadn’t heard correctly).   And Really, bees?  You picked a rain day?  We’ve had a series of thunderstorm squalls the last week, and they move in fast, and dump sudden torrential amounts of rain.  Because my heart wasn’t already pounding.

Then I gathered my stuff.  Bee brush, string, squirt bottle.  A bucket?  I went with a nuc box.  (spoiler- should have used the bucket- it would have been easier to tie to the tree and to carry down on my arm, or lower down).

Last, I made one more call, to leave “the message”, saying, Umm,  if I don’t call back by 4:30, the place to look is at the bottom of a tree, follow the flag line from the beehives.  But this time someone answered the phone, and ground support was mobilized:)

Up in the tree, at the top of my ladders, I was quite comfortable.  Nice view.  I dragged up all my stuff in a couple of trips and stationed it in the branches.  I tied the cardboard nuc box securely to the trunk of the tree below the cluster, and started scooping bees and dropping them into the box.

So, this is the good part, and there are no pictures, because trust me, none of this situation screams “Selfie time!”  I had lots of things on my mind and God I wish I could take pictures of this! only passed through fleetingly.  I really wish – but it was out of the question.

Standing on the top rung I could just reach the bees with my bee brush.  Although they were thickly wrapped all the way around, the heaviest mass of them was on the far side of the trunk from me, so I was reaching around and trying to shake chunks of them loose and quickly scoop them into the box.

Bees hate the bee brush.  They hate it with a fiery passionate fury that supersedes their much touted docility when swarming.  I don’t know why they hate the bee brush so much;  maybe it tickles.  Or pokes.  But it incites them to wild rage. It’s actually funny to watch them attack the brush so viciously, but impotently, seething with hate, stinging the brush hairs with all their might.  But I was attached to the brush – guilt by association, and I took a few stings. The squirt bottle was amazing.  I’d feverishly mist around my head when I got a cloud of buzzers mad at the brush, and they’d go placid like they forgot all about it, and settle back down.

After I got a few stings, I went down and got out of tree-climbing-appropriate wear, into my bee suit.  Because limited visibility and loose snaggable fabric will be just the ticket!  Back up in the cloud scooping bees, my friend arrived at the foot of the tree. I could hardly hear him for the bees humming at my head, like standing next to a big diesel.  The ground support was really helpful, though, because he could see the other side of the trunk that I couldn’t, and report if I was making headway (“What?”) , and “Up!  Down”, (“What!?”)  to get remaining clumps.

It seemed to go pretty well.  I was getting bees into the box.  Only thing, they seemed to want to come out of the box.  It was like a really slow boil over.  I’d dump bees in, they’d flow back over the top of the box.  I’d scoop them back in with my hands.  The upper trunk was mostly cleared – blessedly, they did not move away upwards.  They were teeming out of the box and wrapping the tree again lower down.

I went down tree for a break.  I was shaking, dripping with sweat, suit soaked, feet sore from the ladder rungs, but exhilarated.  Seems I was exerting myself to balance and cling to the tree and work.

Back up, now the air smells like rain, the wind is coming up (still thundering) and there’s more bees out of the box than in, and I’m getting reports from the ground that masses of them are clumping on the back/trunk side of the box (that I can’t see).  I figure the queen must be in the vicinity now, no longer up on the original spot (good!), and I decide I have to untie the box from the trunk and move it down, so that I can sweep bees into the box again.

I have to interject for a moment how awesome this all was (while also being risky and sketchy).  All these bees!  Individuals, but together, a fluid mass.  You never get to experience the hive as an undiluted entity.  Unlike when you handle a frame covered with bees, now, the “thing” is the bees. You can hold a handful, a baseball sized chunk, of bees! They’re hot!   And vibrating.  There is a penumbra of potential energy around them, a considerable power, humming, vibrating my arm.  Amazing!

I had to get a grip on the box now, and untie the strings I’d lashed it to the tree with, using knots that I’d tied without the untying in mind.  It was all neater than this in my imagination of how it would go.  But the box is covered, inches deep in bees, as are the strings, and there are multiple random little maple branches dipped into the box that are disappearing into the flood of bees-  I had to snip those off.  I had to reach into the bees to hold the box, and again to expose my knots, and untie with one hand, while supporting the box.  The bees are heavy, too!

I lowered the box a couple feet, and then I had to tie it on again, because I had to hold myself on the tree with one hand and use the other to scoop bees.  I never had two hands free.  My second tying, one handed, tree swaying now, was much less secure than the first, and I worried the string would give suddenly, and the box drop.  I swept the bees in.  I was seriously tired now.  Almost two hours in, and the soles of my feet were asleep, I was shaking like hard shivers, it was imminently going to rain, and it had just occurred to me that I had NO IDEA how I was going to bring this box down a ladder that I absolutely needed two hands to climb, as it was straight vertical.  Not a clue.  And I’m watching my string around the box slip further with every movement of the tree.

I was definitely making an effort to keep my priorities straight:

  1.  Don’t fall out of the tree
  2. Don’t drop the box of bees
  3. Don’t hurt any bees.  In that order!  (it’s easy to flinch from a sting or when you grab a branch and find bees were there, and flinches can become slips).

I was hugging the tree and box together, it started to rain, and wanting to cover the box, I realized the lid was out of my reach!  I’d moved down, and it was still lodged in the branches above us.  I could just touch it  using my bee brush.  As I was frantically whacking at that, trying to dislodge it, the rain started to come down in big thumping thunderstorm drops.  I realized I had a very limited window left, and I had to get down, with the bees, now.   With the combination of desperation, fatigue, and the bee magic, I kinda blacked out a bit and don’t remember any thoughts or “hows”, but the lid came loose and I set it on the boiling-over bees, balanced the box on my shoulder and upper arm with my head (ear to this magical radiating box), and got down.

The rain didn’t last long.  The remaining clumps of bees in the tree  came into the air, confirming that the queen must be in the box, as the bees appeared to have changed their minds and direction, now headed into the box.  Yes!  When  I came back after rain, they were almost all in.

Doesn’t look like it’s all that exciting, does it?  The bucket is for the rain- there’s a big screen window in the top of these boxes.

WOW! So exciting!

On the bright side, I’m sure swarm catching events can be much harder than that, but really, I think they are often much easier.  Location, location, location!  So this epic event was one heck of a beekeeper threshold experience.

And it’s not over.  They still have to get into a hive at dusk, and I manage that just about as elegantly, but, that will be part two.

The bee swarm managed to eclipse not only Cotton and chicks first going out on the grass (old hat for Daisy) and Foxy’s fourth chick (it’s a mom-sitter), but also the arrival of NEW BABY GUINEA KEETS!  Galahad will be so excited;  he hasn’t seen them yet as it was almost dark and they stayed in their box.

It was a huge day!  And to think it started out with me thinking “I think I’ll call this a day off.  Just do what I feel like, maybe get in a nap.  ”  Ha ha.  Ha.

 

The look you get when you walk in on someone in the bathroom

I didn’t know she was in the bath.  I thought this pine tree was unoccupied and I walked right up to fill a water bowl.  I was definitely interrupting.  I think I got the bigger start.

She had the pine tree spa all to herself and was enjoying her privacy with wild abandon.She got over it though.

*Foxy has four!  Her last egg hatched a couple hours after I was taking pictures of the three new chickc, making the ugly clucking the first 100%-er of the year – the first broody hen to hatch all her eggs.

Three new chicks

Foxy has managed to hatch 3 of 4 chicks.  She somehow broke all her first eggs, and I gave her a second batch, so she has been setting longer than usual.

She’s used her confinement productively to start regrowing her moulted feathers.One. Two. Three! They’re full size eggs and chicks, looks like two Ameracauna crosses and a Chanticleer.Seems like the danger zone.

Foxy is notably the least good-looking of all the Silkie hens, always grubby and making no effort at all.  Just a slovenly chicken.  It’s funny how different they are.  Most times setting hens will try to shit away from their eggs, so they aren’t sitting in it for days on it.  Makes sense, right?  At least they direct it all in one pile not right under them, and at best they get up and go outside the box to relieve themselves.  Not this one.  Nope.

But she was determinedly broody, so I let her work, even though I had to muck her out in a way I usually don’t.

Next door, Daisy is a determined digger.  She must have legs of steel.  She goes all day, preferring the greenhouse  where she can dig deep holes to the outdoor grass.  She kicks dirt and straw against the fence with a thump, thump.  Then she fills in the last hole digging a new one next to it, all the while clucking enthusiastically, like what could be better that this!  The chicks are always spattered with dirt.  I assume they’ll inherit quite the work ethic.  At least two weeks old now,  these Silkie babies are not substantially larger than the day-olds next door, although they are clearly more developed, with the tail “spray”, wing tip feathers, and longer legs.

I forgot, harvest starts at the beginning of August

Had a very promising canteloupe, despite the vine leaves being all weird, like they’re blighted.  But then I opened it, and it was green, green, green.  Pretty, though.  Pigs and hens enjoyed it.There’s a couple little watermelons coming.

The tomatoes have hit stride, so there’s 1-2 gallons ripening every day.  I’m so not ready to start canning already.  Too soon.  I wondered if I’d get any of these.  Exactly what the song sparrow couple in the next shrub was also thinking, watching me pick.  She’s taking ALL the ripe ones!!  But I think there’s enough for us all, provided a whole flock doesn’t move in. I’ve been getting a bowl a day. Chamomile flowers!  I’m excited to harvest some of my own.  Itðs something I usually buy. And loads of chamomile seeds, so there will be even more flowers next year.

Baby beefin’

Staredown!The little roosters are beefin’ again.Until one of their sisters runs up, then they’re suddenly and unconvincingly casual. Pepper’s found a new perch. She’s not going to miss any water fountain gossip. Cream Puff jumped up in the walnut tree for some alone time.  Way up in the tree.  Fluffing herself up, walking back and forth on the branch.  Higher than chickens normally go.

Chris got nervous.  She came down in her own time, just when he started to look like he’d go up after her.

And what the heck is this??!  It’s huge, nearly two inches.

Grub generator reboot

(mild gross factor warning for very sensitive – grubs)

My “new and improved” grub generator wasn’t working.  The original buckets were better.

YouTube instructionals notwithstanding, the grubs don’t walk up the vacuum hose.  They don’t negotiate the ridges very well.  What they do do, is crawl around that flat ridge near the top of the Rubbermaid, and they have no trouble crawling straight up the sides of the plastic.  They really make time too, it’s sort of amazing.  They’re on a mission.So I bored a couple holes along that flat ridge on either side for them to fall out,And put on a little tray to catch them.My biggest “move” though, was physically moving the thing out of the edge of the woods, to right in the middle of things at the corner of the greenhouse.  The biggest downside is smell.  It’s not as bad as you might imagine (I don’t think), and the smell comes in phases (as do the grubs).  It smells the day before a “shipment” of grubs come, and doesn’t smell while they’re  productive.  It doesn’t smell, it smells…I can live with it. Smell and inherent grossness on one hand… vs. recycling, free chicken food, and high quality protein supplements for my birds – it’s a good trade.

Moving the box of death into the middle of everything is mostly so that the chickens use it.  And boy do they.  They are always around it, keen eyes out for any escaping grub.  Little Pepper is a real addict. Always at the box.  She’s gonna be healthy.

Even in the pouring rain – I was out there slinging water – I saw the teens running over periodically to check for grubs.Grubs teeming out into the tray. Perchick partaking.  I removed the vacuum hose after the drilled holes proved effective.  Not quite there yet, but closer.  It’s an evolution.

And now, something cute:Chicks (teens) cashed out in the heat.

Itty bitty feather slippers

The little Silkie chicks are ridiculously cute.  There’s five of them; these two and Daisy has three, including the late silver arrival (who’s doing very well).  It’s nice to have Silkie chicks under Silkie moms;  I got used to seeing them with the fast-growing, out-sized “regular” babies.  The moms are so doting, and fierce!The five are all still tiny fuzzballs, even ten days old, and you can see their feathered feet.  I can already tell that this little brown one comes from the “extravagantly feathered feet” stock.  Daisy’s been outside, but we had a big rain day (another one!) and they went back under cover.  Just like yesterday, a thunderstorm rolled over suddenly and torrentially.  SO loud in the greenhouse. I got wings!This silver one is so special.

What the heck are these bees doing?

I took a look at the hive and got a bit of a fright that they were swarming (on foot?).  That clump hanging off of the landing ledge…?

But then I looked at the other hive:How similar is that!!?  My theory is that it had something to do with the heat and the time of day.  In another hour, they were all in the hive for dark.

I was looking forward to going in the hives today, but then there was a sudden (glorious) thunderstorm!  Good thing I wasn’t in the hive thing -the catastrophe would be hard to overstate.  The storm appeared fast and dropped a quick deluge and a breath of cool air relief, and passed by fast.

The chickens all got dampened, to various degrees.  The lightning was still about two km away but the thunder cracked so hard, while I was out feeding the chickens, that the hens all simultaneously started running, flapping, and screaming, but they had nowhere to go to!  Very funny.  They just reconvened a minute later under the trees and coops when the rain came down.

Premature vocalization

THIS little guy was crowing today.

Is he an Oscar, or an Orlando?

It sounded like someone stepped on a squeaky toy.   I think he was appropriately embarrassed and  didn’t do it again.  Hope he puts that project on the back burner for a few months. I wouldn’t have thought it possible if I weren’t looking right at him.

Exactly two months old today

I’m like, You!  You are barely 12 inches tall at your full stretch.  You have nothing to crow about yet!

The teens are so cute!! Bright yellow, big feet, that they have yet to grow into, like puppies.  The teens have a set of baby sibling tag-alongs- the four young chicks of Ursa’s, and they (teens) tag along on the Family (Philippe and the Cheeks etc).  Galahad escorted them down the path to the house the other day (And here, at times, there are snacks), and now they show up daily, but they feel better if the Family is already there.  Moochers of the future.

But which is which?

That would be Oscar and Orlando up front.  I don’t care how tall you stand, you’ve got no business crowing about it.  Clearly, Toffee’s offspring. Philippe was finding it warm today.  Another record setting hot one, and most of the chickens were adopting Airplane Pose.Ursa Minor’s four chicks have been on their own for a week.  Surprisingly early!  I haven’t looked if they’re still cuddling in the coop, but during the day, there seems to be no further attachment, except to each other.  They’re a little peeping squad.  They seem to be role-modeling on the teens these days.

It’s really something: now I’ve got chicks that were born here, that were born to chickens that were born here, and their behaviour is remarkably different from the first gens.  They’re so confident. So early – still tiny, miniature chickens still fuzzy around the neck- and they project Yeah, I got this, world!  No questions or hesitancy.  I’m a chicken!  Hear me r–!   Oh, wait…”

So it’s come to this

I knew it was a thing.  I didn’t know it was an industry. (Totally worth the click). 

I missed my calling as chicken seamstress.

I have a couple hens who would be really into that tutu (I’m thinking of you, Cheeks).  I believe hens have enough self-awareness to have a sense of pride in appearance, and it would feel like an extra nice tail.  I remember clothing changing the demeanor and status of Jean Jacket.

I could use a couple chicken saddles, too, for Cheeks and Puffcheeks, who are both getting ragged from being Philippe’s favorites (he likes his ladies bearded).  It’s not like they run from from him, though; they are both constantly at his side, from day one, so I didn’t think there was anything I could do for them but perhaps a protective mantle of some kind…  that I’ve been designing in my mind…but of course, it’s already been done, and done big.

Enjoy the chicken accoutrements story:)