Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Our First Honey Bee Swarm

On Thursday, April 23, Robin and I were working in our yard around noon, Robin with her hay bale garden and I was working with my chickens. We noticed there was more bee activity outside the hive than bees flying to and from gathering pollen.  I took the video below.  Later the sky was filled with thousands of bees, see the picture above.

When a colony swarms, it divides to make two due to overpopulation and occurs normally in April and May.  The swarming bees engorge themselves with honey before leaving.  A queen bee from the hive landed on a nearby tree branch about ten feet above the ground.  The worker bees finally started to surround the queen who releases mandibular pheromone that draws them to her.

After about thirty minutes the bees were in a well formed cluster about the size of a football. We contacted Jimmy Odom, Robin's bee mentor to see if he could help us with the swarm. We knew it was in a location where it could be captured before it headed out to a new location.  Bees normally remain in this cluster for between 24 and 48 hours before moving to a new home in a tree or someone's house so we had to move quickly.
Jimmy arrived late morning on Friday, April 24 to remove the swarm to give to his ten year old grandson that wanted his first bee hive.   Jimmy used a swarm bucket to move the bees to an empty hive he brought with him.  He put the bucket around the swarm and hit the top on the branch around the swarm a couple time then quickly closed the bucket with the attached lid.  He poured the bees on the top of an open bee hive.  The bees started to move into the new hive but some returned to the branch.  Since the bees are not defending their colony, they are very docile so Jimmy did not need to wear a protective suit.
After the bees settled down a little into the new hive, Jimmy put on the inner cover, a cover with an opening in the center, over the bees .  Many of the disturbed bees returned to the branch during the next few minutes.  Swarm buckets were used a couple more times to guide the remaining bees to the hive.  The branch was removed to discourage any bees to return to the location since it has the strong odor of the mandibular pheromone. The hive was left until the next day before the bee were delivered to their new home.
Jimmy guided Robin as she checked out the bees that were left. She found that a good number were left so she added a shallow honey super with a queen excluder in hopes that we will get our first honey from the hive.    

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Getting Started with Backyard Chickens - Part 6

Once again I have learned so much since starting with the chickens earlier this year.  As 2014 ends, I am taking time to update on where I am raising chickens.   I am learning by trying new things.  I started with shredded paper in the nesting area then went to wood shavings, and now I am trying shredded leaves.

As the year passed, I found that I did not need to cap the food at night or close the door to the coop.  I saw no signs of any critters doing anything at night.  However, things changed this fall the night before I came home from working out of town.  I found one of my Dominique chickens had her tail feathers ruffled  and torn away and was visually stunned.  I just knew she was going to die any minute.  She could barely reach down when I tossed in treats they love.  After two days she was getting back to her normal behavior.  Before this traumatic event she would stay right in front of the door. Afterwards and still today, all the chickens stay in or near the nesting boxes opposite the door side of the coop. 

I started closing the door at night and covering the feeders.  I thought I forgot to screw on the top of one of the feeders since it was off in the morning.  After the second night I discovered that the critter was unscrewing it to get the food.  I reinforced the pvc piping tube on the top of the run with black plastic U shapes I screwed down and used Velcro strips with the barb and loop connection point under for the free sides of the screen.

I found that the critter was still getting in so I boarded up the top and sides that connect to the coop.  The first night the side board was ripped off which was a sure sign of how the little guy was getting in.  I reinforced the board so it could not be removed.  I was amazed to see that the feeder was being turned around and unscrewed but from outside the run.

I decided to invest in a trap.  The first night I put the food on the trigger which was not far enough back so the critter escaped.  The next night I put the food in a clay dish on the back side of the trap and finally caught one of the animals, an opossum pictured above.  My neighbor Rick released it in a natural area several miles away.

Earlier this fall I raked leaves while Isaac mulched them so they would not take up so much space.  I put them on the floor of the run and found it was an excellent idea.  The chickens love to scratch thought it and it blends well with their poop.  After 3-4 weeks as the floor cover, I remove it, add it to the raised beds, throw in some additional earth worm, and cover with landscape cloth. 

I also made a chicken poop box and placed it below the nesting boxes.  I add to it each day when I clean the coop.  I have added earthworms to help decompose the materials.

Getting Started with Backyard Chickens - Part 5

This fall I decided to add three Hy-Line Browns to my flock.  I ordered the pullets from Southern States for $7 each and picked them up on November 17.  I thought it would be good to phase in chickens each year.  Little did I know all the drama there would be when I added these girls.   I first put the four in the mobile run until right before dark then placed them in the permanent run with the other flock.  Aggressive attacks took place and had the Hy-Line Browns running for their lives!  I had to place an iron screen in the coop so the new additions could sleep in the coop.  I did this for two days before they would all sleep together without fighting.  The four older ones did not like being behind the screen so I think this helped in its removal and their peaceful nights.

I thought out the steps I would take to integrate the and worked the plan. 
  • The first couple of days I took the three from the coop in the morning and placed them in the mobile run which was next to the permanent one.  
  • On day three I let the girls out of the coop and found I had to physically remove the three and put them in the permanent run and then close the door so they could not get back in.  I found them mainly in under the coop in a small area, coming out only when I gave them treats.
  • I found that it was important to cut up the treats in small pieces and distribute them throughout the run so the new girls could eat instead of being pecked at by the older four.  I was surprised to find that the chickens ate the feathers they plucked from each other.
  • After a couple days I blocked off access to the coop so all the chickens had to be in the run.  This worked since the hens had already stopped laying eggs to molt and for the short days of the year.
It took eleven days but at that point I could say they were integrated.  The "birds of a feather, flock together" is so true with chickens.  Pecking order was obvious.  After another week there was very little fear from the Hy-Line Browns and nothing more that the normal social pecking order behavior.

I think it may have been easier to start with a whole new flock.  It will be interesting to see how many eggs the older chickens will lay this spring. 

The favorite green food the chickens enjoy is chick weed, a very common cool weather weed.  Here is a pictures of chickweed to help in the identification process.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Mobile Device Document Camera Stands

I use mobile devices in schools and during seminars.  I have found that a mobile device document camera can be useful, especially when a dedicated document camera is not available.  Devices can be projected using VGA/HDMI adaptersApple TV, Chromcast, and AirServer and Reflector software.   I put the document stands I make on white surfaces and use sheets of color 8" x 11" paper so I know where to place the object I want to project.

Top view of document camera, 14" wire grid, and zip ties with cutter. 

I have some storage units in my garage composed of cubes made of 14" metal wire squares.  There are corner connectors that hold them together.  A few years ago I purchased two sets at yard sales for a few bucks each.  However, some of the connectors were missing so I had eight single squares.  Using zip ties and some plastic clippers I connected four pieces to make my first my first homemade document camera.    

Once again when I went yard sale shopping yesterday,July 26, 2014, I found the unit above that was missing all but eight connectors.  I purchased it since I knew I could make three document stands.  It also included five cloth boxes, all for $3.00. When I arrived home I discovered the grid sizes were different that the white ones in my garage.

I now have three different grid sizes in the 14" frames.  The white is 9 x 9 and blacks 5 x 5 and 8 x 8. 

 I found that when using the corner connectors I only need three frames.  Smaller grid sizes on the sides and the larger on the top so the iPad can be moved without a grid line blocking the view.  It is easily disassembled and stored when not needed.

Getting Started with Backyard Chickens - Part 4

I have learned so much since starting with the chickens this winter.  All four chickens are doing well and enjoy the treats I give them throughout the day.  They thrive on eating leafy vegetables when I pull them up at the end of their growing season or ones that insects have started eating.  I am finding what they enjoy eating and often give them treats.  Since I have chickens and worms I have a lot less to compost.  

My dad picked up some pallets and shared how nice they were and his vision for a chicken run.  He removed one side of the boards and brought them over.  I assisted as he put them together in the back yard.  It consists of one 5” pallet wide two long.  I temporarily added 2' chicken wire around it and used pallets for the top.

Isaac and I worked together to pain it. He rolled the slats while I painted the sections at the top and bottom.  He worked nonstop until we had finished.  I put chicken 3" wire around the outside leaving an opening for the chickens to get into the coop and a door for them to get out to free range.

This is the finished run.  I made five 2' X 5' PVC screens to go on the top of the pallets which can be removed for access.  I normally have landscape cloth on the front and some of the top to provide shade.

I use the PVC run as my modified free ranging that I use on the days each chicken lays an egg.  I normally am working in the yard and move the cage every 15 minutes.  The chicken rush in when I link the doors and are normally quickly return to their permanent home when I re-link the runs.

I buy food and supplies in bulk due to the price.  Chickens need extra calcium for the eggs they lay so it is good to have a continuous source available. Crushed oyster shells sells for $8.95 for five pounds or $12.99 for fifty.  I needed a holder for the oyster shell and found a small strawberry pot and filled with oyster and covered with a PVC 3” couple and lid.  It works well since the chickens just consume it when they fill a need.

I use diatomaceous earth to keep down the insect population.  It looks a lot like flour and I use a plastic ketchup holder like you see when you go to a hot dog stand as my sprayer.   I dust under their wings by holding each chicken by her feet.  When I change the bedding, I spray their coop with the dust.  When larvae come in contact with this substance, it is like glass and cuts holes in the insects but do not harm the chickens.

I decided to try wood shavings for the nesting instead of shredded newspaper and found that it works better and easier to clean. A large bail is around $5 and lasts for a long time.

I also found that the chickens like cracked corn better than whole.  They will eat the whole corn from your hand when feeding but prefer cracked when given a choice since they leave the whole corn in the scratch mixture.  Grace is watching the chickens eat after being fed by Isaac and Elise.

The four generations that built this chicken coop are pictured here.  We all enjoyed doing out part so we could enjoy raising chickens and eating their eggs.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Getting Started with Backyard Chickens - Part 3

I decided to add a base to the chicken coop to prevent the bottom wood of the structure from rotting and to make it sturdy to hold up to strong winds and large animals.  I left the center open so it would have an earthen floor.  Once I knew that the chickens were coming earlier than later,  I spend hours reading books and webpages and viewing YouTube videos to learn about backyard chickens and how to make feeders, water suppliers, and runs.  I settled on these as the best of the best I found during my research.  

My first construction was water containers.  I made six from juice bottles and poultry nipples.  It took less than five minutes from construction to handing in the coop for each one.  I purchased 50 poultry nipples for $15.00 which were more than enough but something I could share with other backyard chicken farmers.  I was amazed how simple it was to create.  To make each one I drilled: 

  • a 5/16" hole in the lid then screwed the nipple in making sure the nylon washer was tight.  
  • a small hole in the bottom of the container and ran nylon string through it out the mouth of the container. 
  • a little hole in the cap of a drink bottle plastic cap and tied the end of the string to it and pushed the cap inside the bottle.  I could have used a washer or just about anything that would fit in the mouth of the container.
Finally I tied a loop in the string and hung on the wire in the coop and on the PVC pipe on each corner of the run.   I used small S hooks in the coop and used old plastic shower curtain hangers for the water bottles on the run.  I also used the hangers to hold wire on the cage in areas where I did not want permanent holds with zip ties.  I also used Velcro cable wraps to hold the chicken wire on the run where I wanted a temporary opening to drop food into the run.

On the same trip when I went to pick up the chicken feed I stopped by Lowes and purchased the parts to the feeder.  I used 4" PVC pipe since they only had WYE in 4" with a 3" opening.  This worked out well since it holds more food and a filling last for almost a week.  There has been no waste and the chickens have no problem sticking their heads in to it to get the feed.  I purchased materials to make another one that uses a WYE 3" with a 3" opening for use in the run.  I was encourage to do this when I found several parts on sale and my dad had the 3" PVC pipe ;-)

I spent much time thinking about the run that I needed to add to the coop.  I decided to make it three feet tall, five feet wide and eight feet long with supports in the middle and an opening that would match the door to the coop.  It has worked out well.  I make sure they stay connected during the day with mini bungee cables.  I secured the wire with zip ties and at the ends where I had to cut the wire I allotted enough wire to wrap around the PVC pipe and over lap which allow it to "lock in" to the side wire.  This is something l learned by doing and pleasantly surprised that it held into place.

Getting Started with Backyard Chickens - Part 2

The next morning the girls were ready to come out of their sleeping area early morning.  I brought them some treats from the kitchen  since I did not have a chance to pick up feed.  I set out shortly afterwards to pick up some food and materials for a feeder.   I found Mt. Holly Farm Supply to be the closest location for feed.  I decided on the pellet feed since I read that chickens pick out what they like in the scratch and the other parts are wasted.  I was pleased to find that 50 pounds was $13.50. The staff was most helpful and found they were having a Chicken Workshop that we will all attend. I made sure I was aware of what chickens can and should not eat by locating information on the Backyard Chickens website.  I found they will eat almost all kitchen scraps except for raw potatoes/cooked non-green are fine, citrus, under-cooked or dried beans, avocado skin/pits, and salty foods. 

I found they love watermelon, chickweed, and whole kernel corn.  Their favorite by far is the corn and eat it out of my hand.  They will ignore all else when corn is around.  They are trained that went a metal container with coins is shaken corn is coming soon!   I pull up a couple hand fulls of weeds several times a day.  The chickens run up to me each time they see me in hope for more treats!

Betsy, Isaac, and Elise came to see the chickens that afternoon and found they had layed two eggs.  I had not checked earlier so we all were surprised and delighted!  Later on that day they would lay two more.

I decided to use shredded newspaper for the nesting material in the boxes.  It works out well and go right into the compost bin when I clean.  Pictured here are the first two eggs we received the day after they arrived.

They took the eggs home and Isaac cooked the first one and noticed that the yoke was larger than the other eggs they had been eating.  The girls layed four eggs the first day and two daily for the next week.  I enjoyed my first fried egg still warm from the nesting box, you can get any fresher than that!  Recently, we have started to receive 3-4 eggs daily. 

 Pictured are our firsts... the first two eggs, the first, dozen eggs, and the first fried egg! 

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Getting Started with Backyard Chickens - Part 1

Our family members have been discussing raising chickens and bees for a couple of years.  This fall we finally took the first steps to do more than just talk about our vision; my wife, daughter, and son-in-law enrolled in bee school and I purchased of a small chicken coop when I found an excellent deal online.

The coop came and was stored in the two boxes it arrived in until Issac, Steven, and I decided to put it together shortly after the big snow of 2014.  The family stayed at our house during the week it snowed.  This took place several weeks before I had planned so things were moving fast which required immediate reading and learning about chickens.  So while the others were learning about bees I was learning about chickens in a self study through books and Internet sites.  I found the website Backyard Chickens most helpful.  I also used Google Image searches as a place to start for ideas for feeders, water containers, and runs.

Betsy purchases her meat from Farmer Art and shared with him our desire to raise chickens and that we already had a chicken coop and wanted his advice for our next step.  He shared that he works with Farmer Tim who was needing to thin his flock in preparation for new chicks that would arrive soon.  We contacted Farmer Tim and set up a time to visit his farm and bring home our new pets.  The weather was perfect and it was so exciting for us all to be on a real farm that had cattle, goats, and chicken.  We were able to see so many different breeds of chickens.

We took quail and pet cages to house the chickens on the way home.  Farmer Tim had picked out two Rhode Island Reds and two Dominique chickens to start our backyard flock.  Since all this happened faster than I expected, I had to used a makeshift run that I created out the plastic fencing we used to keep Isaac and Elise from going into the street and some plastic netting for the top.  Isaac, Elise, and I wondered how we were going to be able to get the chickens into the coop. 

I finally pulled the run away from the coop and put the chickens into the coop.  Farmer Tim said it would be best to leave the chickens in the coop for a day or two so they would know it was their home.  This was wise advice and the chickens quickly made the coop their home.  Isaac and Elise fed the chickens their first meal.  We all were surprised that the chickens started eating as soon as the vegetables hit the ground.  I was not sure if the chickens would know how to get the water out of the bottle so we put a bowl of water inside and left them alone.

Robin and Steven came to see the chickens when they arrived home from work.  Steven really wanted to hold a chicken so he decided on one of the Rhode Island Reds.  Robin petted the girl while Steven was holding her.  We were all amazed that the chickens knew to go into the coop's nesting and roosting area at dark.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

My Journey to Raised Bed Gardens

This picture is of my first garden in the late 1970s in field between Nana's and Uncle Gary Thornburg's houses.  We were successful in our gardening experience.   Gary plowed the garden for us to use. The top picture was shortly after planting and below is the garden at harvest time.
In 1981 I read Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew which encouraged me to start gardening at my house using raised bed.  From that point I never turned back from using raised beds for my gardening method of choice.  I am currently reading the All New Square Foot Gardening e-book on my Kindle.  For a better idea of the square foot gardening technique, view this presentation.   The picture below is my first attempt of gardening in raised beds in the late 1980s. 

Benefits or raised beds include:
  • Better drainage
  • More useable growing space
  • No soil compaction from walking on it
  • Easier to keep weeded since your focus is just one raised bed at a time
  • Soil is warmer than surrounding ground making for a longer season
  • Soil that has basically a neutral pH unless you add something to change it 
  • Less soil erosion

Each year I learn more about how to best garden.  I plan my beds thinking how to go from crop to crop.  You can see in the picture above how I planted the lettuce between my tomato plants that will take over towards the end of the lettuce season. Recently I learned that most of the bulb of the onion needs to be above ground for them to grow large.   I could really tell the difference in the 2012 and 2013 onion crops.
The process is simple...
  • Locate a sunny flat area
  • Secure 2x8 untreated lumber that can form a rectangle, for some of my beds I used concrete blocks
  • Cardboard boxes to cover grass for the bottom of the bed if starting on a lawn
  • Soil mixture consisting of 50% screened topsoil and 50% high-quality compost that are mixed together as you add them to your bed.  For the top 4-6 inches I use Mel's Mix developed by Mel Bartholemew - 1/3 coarse horticultural vermiculite, 1/3 peat moss, and 1/3 blended compost.  I have also used Miracle Grow Garden Soil to top the bed off at the start of the season.

  • Composting goes hand-in-hand with gardening.  I have three going all year.  One is a large compost bin 3' x 3' for large yard waste.  I have a tumbler that is making compost right now from Fall 2012 scraps and a large ball tumbler, pictured above, that I am putting kitchen and some small yard scraps in at this time.  Pretty soon the compost from one will be ready for the garden.  Once emptied, I will start filling that one with new kitchen waste and let the ball tumbler finish the composting process.
  • The Internet has a vast collection of raised bed websites and YouTube contains videos that can help you get started!
Here are pictures of my 2013 gardens.

This is my newest raised bed of the dozen I have in my yard.  This one consists of three side-by-side beds.  I have tomatoes on the back row, cucumbers in the middle bed, and pepper in the front bed.

This was the first raised bed after moving and has cinderblocks for the sides.  I normally plant an onion in each opening.  The ones pictured here will provide seeds for next year's crop. Tomatoes are in the background and the small plants between the tomato plants will be late season peppers.

This raised bed was added this year.  It is in the transition period from lettuce to tomatoes, egg plants, and peppers. 

These cucumbers replaced the arugula and mesclun mix that filled this bed during early spring. 

The center bed of this raised bed trio is filled with yellow squash.  You have to be careful to not fill up the beds too much with starter plants.  Always think about the final size they will be when they mature.

In the fall I planted some collards.  My daughter's dog tore up the bed when living with us for two months.  I distributed the plants that survived and the box was filled in the spring.  These were pulled up in April and now is filled with zinnias.  

We even have some raised bed containers on our deck.  These two are filled with herbs and lettuce.  The boxes need to be large and deep.

The ultimate goal is to have some fresh produce year-round for us to eat!  Below is the last bowl of lettuce from the 2013 season that was picked on Father's Day, June 16.  Most of the season we had 2-3 times this amount that was picked daily so we were able to share with family and friends.