Ice storm: generator, chickens, ducks, bees

Our electricity is still off due to the ice storm a couple of nights ago. Fortunately we have a portable generator, and fortunately I recently got it serviced so it actually works. I had it running most of the day yesterday, and expect to keep it going all day today (I turned it off overnight). It is providing power to our kitchen fridge/freezer, and currently slowly recharging the UPS for our internet router and Wi-Fi, and can be used to recharge other devices as needed:

Generator

Since we’re on a well, when the power is off, we don’t have any water, so we are using water jugs:

Water jug

Though weirdly when we flush a toilet it does refill; I know there’s some water in the pipes and pressure tank, but I would have expected that to be exhausted quickly, but hasn’t been yet. Upstairs, what’s more. Could water be coming up from the well without the pump?! We don’t want to push our luck, but are glad we don’t have to refill the cisterns the hard way yet.

Ice on a tree by the chicken runs:

Ice on tree by chicken run

Ice on the chicken run roof netting; it’s survived much better than the old netting I had previously:

Ice on chicken run roof netting

Chicken coop icicles:

Chicken coop icicles

The chickens are quite happy to stay inside, thank you very much:

Chickens

Chickens

I took a look at the beehives this morning:

Beehives

They each have a sheet of ice on their roof, which could be concerning, as the heat of the hive should have melted it, though the feeders on top of each hive may have insulated the roof from them:

Beehives

Levitating ice:

Beehives

There are a bunch of dead bees on some of the hive entrances, which is actually a good sign — it proves there are some bees active to clean out the dead ones. There are thousands of bees in each hive, so a few dead ones is normal and not concerning. I did see a live one walking around, too, probably on the cleanup crew:

Bees

More on the ground:

Bees

The chickens reluctantly came out for their treats:

Chickens

I refilled the food for the ducks, and tossed some over to them to enjoy:

Ducks

The pond isn’t frozen; after starting to get slushy yesterday morning, it hasn’t been quite cold enough to maintain that:

Ducks

Ducks

Ducks

Bee shed: design

Having recently finished the duck island project, I will of course take a break from building… nah! I’m already designing my next homestead project: a shed to store beekeeping equipment.

I’ve actually had a plan for this for over a year, and received delivery of building materials for it and other projects back in April last year. But this project has finally bubbled to near the top of my queue. 

Here is a stack of building materials waiting in the hoop house:

Building materials

And more lumber (only about half of these will be used for this project; the rest are spare):

Building materials

Beekeeping involves a fair amount of equipment, which we currently store in the back of our workshop (along with other stuff, e.g. a cider press):

Beekeeping equipment

Beekeeping equipment

There’s plenty of room back there, but it’s a bit of a trek from the shop to the hives, so it’d be more convenient to have the equipment closer at hand if we need to add a hive box or something. 

And hey, we have this old potting shelter that we inherited with the property:

Shelter

Shelter

It is conveniently near the beehives:

Shelter

Shelter

Shelter

So I plan to enclose it with more 2×6 boards and corrugated galvanized steel panels, with clear corrugated panels for windows, and double doors. Inside, it’ll have U-shaped wooden shelving in the back half, weed mat and rubber flooring on the ground, and even a mirror and coathooks for our bee suits.

Yesterday, I took that photo above as a background and sketched the boards and panels onto it using Linea Sketch on my iPad Pro with Pencil. The perspective isn’t quite right, but close enough to indicate the design:

Bee shed design

Imagine clear corrugated panels in the gaps of the walls, and U-shaped plywood shelves on top of those supports.

Here is a time-lapse GIF of the drawing process (warning, there are quick flashes of blue as I hid the background layer while drawing, if you’re sensitive to that sort of thing):

Shelter

Since this is an outside construction project, it is weather dependent — with the big snowstorm we’re expecting over the next few days, I likely won’t start for a week or two. But I’m looking forward to it. Stay tuned for updates!

January snow and aerial photos

Last night it snowed a little for the first time this season. Less than an inch; just enough to give a winter wonderland feeling around the homestead.

So this morning I flew my drone to capture the snowy landscape from the sky, plus some ground-level pictures on my morning rounds.

Here’s my DJI Mavic Mini drone hovering in front of me on our deck:

Drone

An overview of much of the snowy homestead:

Snowy homestead

Angling up a bit to capture the lightly dusted trees and mist:

Trees

Closer to the trees:

Trees

Our pond from above the back lawn:

Pond

Another angle of the pond, and a better look at the ducks:

Pond and ducks

Looking straight down:

Pond and ducks

From further back, you can see the pond, back lawn, and flowerbeds:

Pond, back lawn, flowerbeds

Back a bit more, adding the shop, hoop house, veggie garden, and chicken runs:

Pond, back lawn, etc

Looking down on the white gazebo and dormant flowerbeds; the cat house is also visible in the top-left corner:

Flowerbeds

The back lawn, brown gazebo, grove, and veggie garden:

Back lawn, grove, veggie garden

Down on the ground, here’s the greenhouse, with a sheet of snow sliding off the roof:

Greenhouse

Our beehives; they’re all huddled inside, keeping themselves warm. We’ll see in a few months whether or not they all survive the winter:

Beehives

By the pond:

By the pond

The duck house and pond — the water maintains its temperature well; it needs to be cold much longer to freeze:

Duck house and pond

The white gazebo and flowerbeds, with a glimpse of ducks on the back lawn in the background:

Flowerbeds

Finally, looking across the fountain garden towards the cat house:

Cat house and fountain garden

Beehives re-treatments and feeding

We did a quick half-hour visit to our beehives today, to swap out the mite treatment strips and add “bee juice”, a syrup of sugar water to help the bees build up their winter stores, since there aren’t many flowers blooming at this time of year.

We were a little concerned that the bees may have evacuated from all the wildfire smoke, but they’re all still there. They may have eaten a bunch of their honey stores, though — fun fact, that’s why beekeeping smokers work; the smoke makes the bees go down into the hive and eat honey, in preparation for flying away from approaching wildfires. I guess they decided the wildfire smoke wasn’t intense enough to justify leaving, for which we are glad. Or maybe their scouts told them it was just as bad everywhere.

Here are a couple of pots with 1:1 sugar water and health additive (we should switch to 2:1 next time; that’s a lot of sugar):

Sugar water

The old treatment strip, about to be removed:

Old treatment

The new treatment strip (it’s pretty smelly stuff):

New treatment

The top feeder, with the fresh bee juice (and some floaters; sorry about that):

Feeder

That’s it for this time; we just swapped out the strips and added juice for all six of the hives.

We shouldn’t need to open up the hives again till next spring, other than adding more sugar syrup as needed.

Beehive treatments and feeders

Today we added mite treatments and top feeders to all of our beehives, preparing them for fall and winter.

I didn’t take many pictures today, since we were doing the same thing to all of them. Here’s a top feeder (the white box); it contains a trough where sugar syrup can be added (1:1 sugar and water currently, with a health additive); the bees can access it from inside the hive via a mesh in the middle:

Adding feeder to beehive

Behind the scenes:

Behind hives

All hives with the top feeders, ready for fall and winter:

All hives

All hives

Cedar, Hot Pink, and Orange hives:

Cedar, Hot Pink, and Orange hives

Purple, Turquoise, and Yellow hives:

Purple, Turquoise, Yellow hives

Flow honey harvest and removing supers

On Friday we harvested honey from our beehives.

We currently have two Flow honey supers, which are a special kind of honey box and frames where one can crack apart the frames and pour out the honey without disturbing the bees.

Here Jenn is using a big metal key to start the flow:

Starting the flow

Three tubes open:

Three tubes open

Honey starting to flow:

Honey flow

Meanwhile, we swapped out the jar-style top feeder on the Orange hive for the trough-style, as the jar-style didn’t really work well, since it wasn’t possible to refill the jars without bees coming out, while this trough-style can be topped up without a bee suit. The white stuff is some frozen sugar water with a supplement added:

Feeder

We also removed a couple of other honey supers. The bees for one of them had been a bit over-enthusiastic in their building, resulting in broken honey comb attached to the queen excluder; you can see what the inside of a honey comb looks like:

Broken honey comb

Nice frames of honey for us:

Honey frames

Checking in on the Flow again; we had to keep an eye on it to swap out the jars as they got full, and rescue bees that decided to go for a swim:

Flow

(We keep talking about a solution involving a bucket with a lid and flexible tubes, but keep forgetting about it until it’s too late.)

A sticky bee, having been rescued from falling in a honey jar:

Sticky bee

We stacked up the removed honey supers, with a bee escape on top:

Honey supers with bee escape

The bee escape lets the bees leave, but not go back in:

Bee escape

Next I added shelf brackets to the Yellow hive:

Adding shelf brackets

The shelf brackets installed:

Shelf brackets

The door of the Flow hive then becomes a shelf:

Shelf

Jars and tubes in place:

Jars

A couple of tubes flowing, and one more just starting:

Flow

Even while the honey is flowing out, the bees are safe and happy (if a little confused) inside:

Bees inside

Honey flowing:

Honey

Bees are attracted to the honey. Some are clever like this one, perched on the end of the tube, sipping some honey:

Clever bee

After removing a tube, a little honey leaks, so a cleanup crew takes care of that:

Cleanup crew

Some bees are not so clever, trying to fly into the stream:

Not so clever bee

Another clever bee:

Another clever bee

We also added entrance reducers to the hives, to make it easier for them to defend against robbing by other bees:

Entrance reducer

The hives now have had their honey supers removed in preparation for fall and winter; the bees have completed their service to us, and now can work on building up their stores for the winter. We left the queen excluders out so they can scavenge honey from them:

Hives

Hives

Hives

Hives

Super stack:

Super stack

Harvest total: about twelve quarts of honey from the two Flow supers, plus eight frames from the other super:

Honey

The next morning, we suited up again, and went back out to collect the supers, now that most of the bees have had time to leave:

Hives

We put the box of honey frames in the shop freezer, to kill any bugs that may be lurking, and store until we decide how to extract the honey (e.g. via a spinning extractor, or cut into comb honey):

Honey frames

Yesterday was very hot, so the bees were hanging out outside:

Hot bees

And drinking from the pond:

Bees drinking from the pond

Ducklings day 53

Today’s the day! Today I opened the pop door of the duck house. But it didn’t go quite as expected.

As mentioned yesterday, I didn’t expect them all to go into the pond… but I didn’t anticipate what actually happened: instead of the new ducks joining Bert in the pond, Bert joined them in the duck house!

We began the day the same as usual, opening up the duck house and refilling their waterer and pool:

Ducks

And the usual treats:

Treat time

Sven, Sonja, Cora:

Sven, Sonja, Cora

Then I opened the pop door, that little door that leads to a ramp into the pond; here it’s partway open:

Opening pop door

Looking in through the pop door at some surprised ducks:

Looking in through the pop door

Almost immediately, Bert hopped out of the pond onto the ramp and into the house. He really wanted to be with them. Here he’s to the right of Betty:

Betty and Bert

Bert in the duck house:

Bert in the duck house

Bert in the duck house

Bert’s the one at the back:

Bert in the duck house

Bert in front:

Bert in the duck house

Bert

Looking through the vent of the duck house:

Looking through the vent of the duck house

Bert is on the ground, Betty on the steps:

Pool

He didn’t show any aggression towards them, or vice versa; they seem to have successfully gotten used to each other through the fence.

I decided to add more ceramic pots to the pond as islands, anticipating the new ducks sleeping outside (in due course); these are three spare pots:

Pots

I added two of them near the existing one (the square one on top of a concrete block):

Pots in pond as islands

And the third in a shallower part, since it was smaller:

Pots in pond as islands

While wading in the pond, I took some pictures of the ducks; here Bert is watching me from the pop door:

Ducks from pond

Ducks from pond

After lunch, back at the duck house, I noticed lots of bees drinking from the pond; it’s a hot day today (95° F), so the bees are extra thirsty:

Bees drinking from pond

The ducks still hadn’t ventured into the pond, so I opened the run fence on the pond side, to see if that’d help. Spoiler: nope:

Opened run fence on pond side

The ducks watching from the house:

Ducks in house

View from across the pond:

View from across the pond

View from across the pond

As I write this, the new ducks still haven’t ventured into the pond. We’ll see if they do later, or maybe another day.

Beehive tweaks in July 2020

Yesterday we did some tweaks to the beehives: adding a top feeder to the orange hive, a queen excluder to the hot pink hive, replacing the base of the turquoise hive, and replacing a few temperature sensors.

Here are the components we brought to the hives:

Hive bits

We replaced the Boardman front feeder on the orange hive with a top feeder that consists of four glass jars in a frame. The sugar water (1:1 ratio) can be accessed by the bees through a hole in the inner cover below:

Top feeder

The feeder is enclosed in a box; we use white boxes for feeders:

Top feeder box

Here’s the orange hive with the feeder box from the front:

Orange hive

As previously mentioned, we ordered a base for the turquoise hive, but it was the wrong size, so we got another one. Here’s the hive with the temporary base:

Turquoise hive temporary base

And with the new base:

Turquoise hive new base

From the front; much better (you can also see Jenn with her bee jacket, which will be relevant later):

Turquoise hive new base

We peeked at the yellow hive while replacing its temperature sensor, and noticed a little comb under inner cover; not approved, but not a big deal (this shows the inner cover hole like I mentioned above):

Yellow hive comb under inner cover

The hives:

Hives

Hives

Last night at sunset we added an anti-robbing entrance screen to the orange hive, since it is the weakest hive, and has the feeder. This screen has an entrance hole at the top, with a second one in the normal place that is closed. The idea is that this unusual arrangement prevents alien bees from invading the hive. We added it at sunset so the bees would be home, so they learn the new arrangement when they leave in the morning:

Anti-robbing entrance screen

Anti-robbing entrance screen

This morning Jenn cracked a couple of hives to add temperature sensors that had to be reset, and was rewarded with a couple of stings on her legs (as she was wearing the bee jacket, as above, instead of full suit). One of the joys of beekeeping.

Beehive inspection in July 2020

A couple of days ago we did a beehive inspection. Jenn was rewarded with a couple of stings through her glove, though fortunately she appears to have only got a little of the venom before dislodging the stingers, since they didn’t swell up too badly.

Cedar hive: we checked on the Flow super; it is fairly empty, so we didn’t harvest it. We’ll do one harvest when we remove it next month:

Cedar Flow super

Cedar honey and brood frame:

Cedar honey and brood frame

Cedar honey and brood frame:

Cedar honey and brood frame

Cedar brood frame; adequate capacity:

Cedar brood frame

Cedar brood frame:

Cedar brood frame

Hot pink hive: a very nice honey frame:

Hot pink honey frame

Hot pink brood frame; look closely towards the top in the middle, you can see a baby bee emerging from a cell:

Hot pink brrod frame with bee emerging

Hot pink brood frame:

Hot pink brood frame

Orange frame:

Orange honey frame

Purple honey frame:

Purple honey frame

Turquoise hive: a nice honey frame:

Turquoise honey frame

Turquoise brood frame:

Turquoise brood frame

Yellow honey and brood frame; the yellow Flow super also didn’t have much honey, so again we’ll harvest when removing it later:

Yellow honey and brood frame

Here are all hives; the pink and turquoise hives were looking a little near capacity, so we added a Ross round super to the pink one, and regular honey super to the turquoise one; they probably won’t have time to do much with those, but that should relieve any pressure to swarm:

All hives

All hives

The left three hives; the orange hive is still looking weak, so we’re continuing to feed it. They better get a move on if they want to survive the winter:

Left three hives

The right three hives, all with honey supers. We still need to add a proper base on the turquoise hive; we got one, but they sent the wrong size (10 instead of 8 frame), so we’ll have to get another one sometime. The temporary base is fine for now, though:

Right three hives

The grass was getting rather long around the hives, so after the inspection I mowed while wearing my bee suit, and used shears to cut the grass under the hive stands:

Mowed around hives