Soul eating babies and other fun stuff

Good morning, peeps and rancherinos! Yes, we have pushed our way right into morning here at the ranch, and my apologies for not providing you with some kind of witty or snarky or funny commentary yesterday.

The soul-eating baby was on the premises yesterday morning, with her chauffeur. We had quite a blast: ate caramel bread french toast, played catch with the dogs, watched the bees fly around, found a teeny frog to pick up and look at, and watched a small spider make its way across the front porch to a location more suitable for peace and quiet than where we (and the dogs) congregated. I managed a few work-related things, but priorities are what they are.

It was a beautiful afternoon, and still around 80F or so, so the bees were quite happy. They got some fresh syrup, and a couple of hives got a quick check. Twice now, I’ve been unable to find the queen in the swarm/queenless hive combo. I know she was there, because I did see her, and there were fresh eggs and larvae in the box, but last time and this time, I could not find her and can’t see any evidence of new eggs – although there were more larvae. It’s a quandary with that hive: consider it’s gone queenless again, and combine it with another hive, or give it another check or two this coming week. Something to think about while I continue my quest to get everything weeded and the monstrous wisteria hacked back.

In the evening I took a drive to the airport to pick up the hurricane reentering the greater Jax area. I probably didn’t mention this when she first arrived, but on my way to pick her up when she was coming from Germany, it was rush hour, and on the ramp back to the expressway where we would normally exit to head to the ranch, there was a huge backup. A pickup truck, and the trailer attached to it, had obviously caught on fire, because they were both burned out. It was right at a chokepoint, and we wound up taking the long way around to return to the ranch.

On my way north last night, I saw an accident on the southbound side: a semi had not just overturned, but overturned off the road into a fairly steep embankment. Traffic southbound was once again backed up, as rescue crews worked to get the rig righted. Once again, we took a long way back to the ranch. So, I’m thinking that perhaps the hurricane on inbound flights is bad luck for southbound travelers. Luckily for them, there will only be one more airport trip for this visit, and that outbound. Breathe easy, travelers!

Whatever you did yesterday, and whatever you do today, I hope you’re enjoying life.

“With the new day comes new strength and new thoughts.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

Fall is here…sort of

Good evening, peeps and rancherinos! A bit of a last hurrah from Mother Nature today of early summerlike weather as we start slinking into fall, every so slowly, like a child told to go it its room after being bad. It’s one of the better times to be working outside getting things prepped and off the list until the new season, which no doubt will be upon us before we expect or are ready for it.

It’s been a long day from an early trip to the airport to drop off departing passengers to getting to a doctor’s appointment a bit later to taking care of business and various things around the ranch, like checking the girls and getting them fed. One of them, alas, killed herself by stinging me in the shoulder right through my suit, which was rather a waste. But you can’t really tell them what to do with their lives most of the time, just as you can’t do the same with people.

A quiet day, all around. Not hectic, no truly unpleasant people to deal with, and a lot of driving to let the brain cells churn through storylines. And since the day is over, and we’re all still above ground instead of under it, a pretty decent day.

I hope your day went well, folks, and if not entirely well, then not entirely a disaster, either. Be well.

“The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.” – Anna Quindlen

Putting the gardens to bed

Good evening, peeps and rancherinos! The day began wrapped in fog at the ranch today, and slowly burned away the last wisps of it toward noon, turning it into the sort of spectacular day that makes me glad to live here.

The quiet of the fog is different than the quiet of a normal day, but both are welcome – and one of the reasons we moved out here. It’s easy to lose yourself in the silence and allows the mind to wander even while pulling weeds and cutting down asparagus fronds to continue the process of putting the rows to bed as Mother Nature slowly embraces the change of seasons. That runs right up to and includes a scene for a novel unrelated to the one I am currently working on that now needs to be jotted down to have it for that future work.

A pileated woodpecker kept me company this morning, pounding away at the trunk of a tree with which he was obviously familiar, given the various holes in the trunk. I checked on the girls in the beeyard, and they were enjoying their sunshine, darting away in all directions on the hunt for nectar and pollen to collect and return to the hives.

Whatever you did today, folks, I hope you enjoyed it.

“True silence is the rest of the mind; it is to the spirit what sleep is to the body, nourishment and refreshment.” – William Penn

We’re cooking with gas now!

Good evening, peeps and rancherinos! A gray day at the ranch with the threat of more rain than the three inches we got dumped yesterday, but nothing significant here. Once again, our breakwater caused the small fronts to go right around us. Our forecast says that in a few days, we will be dropping into fall, finally, with highs in the low to mid 70s and lows in the low to mid 50s. It will be an excellent time to finish pulling weeds, digging potatoes, harvesting any peppers that will be left as the weather cools to temps they don’t like, and putting the gardens to bed for rest before we need to reawaken them for the new season.

I had to go to Publix today to pick up a few things. As I rolled my way out to unload the stuff into the car, I noticed someone had left a shopping cart in one of the parking spaces two away from where I parked. Two more  spaces from where I parked, on the other side form the lonely shopping cart is a cart corral. Someone was too lazy to walk the cart to the corral, which strikes me as rather silly. It isn’t terribly far away, the cart itself was not in a handicap spot or even near one, so presumably whoever used it did not have any particular physical issues. That sort of thing always makes me wonder about some people. Have we become so lazy that even giving the cart a shove in the general direction of the cart is asking too much? After I loaded my bags in the car, I grabbed the abandoned cart, pushed it into the cart I’d used, and put them both in the corral. Thirty seconds, give or take, to take some pity on the folks who have to go wrangle them to return them to the store, and to avoid having someone not be able to see the cart if vehicles were parked on each side of it. Not a bad deed for the day.

Whatever deeds you tended to today, I hope they turned out favorably.

“Kindness can become its own motive. We are made kind by being kind.” – Eric Hoffer

The distance to illness

Good evening, peeps and rancherinos! It has been quite the day and a half at the ranch: my little brother drove up last night to join the fam here, bringing with him an infection under a crowned tooth. So, last night, my OTHER bro, also in town, hauled little bro to a seven-day-a-week dental place, and several hundred dollars later, little bro has one less tooth and meds to take. Problem solved.

Fast forward to this morning. Oldest little sister and her wee one came in from Germany on Tuesday. This morning: mom has to cart them both off to a clinic, as said sister thinks she has strep, and the wee one is running a low grade fever. Result? Strep. Both of them. Yesterday, those three, plus younger little sister and her two wee ones, plus a family friend and her wee one were out for some time, visiting the market. If anyone in this circle gets sick, we already know our patients zero.

Now, why these guys felt the need to travel quite some distance to get sick or have a tooth pulled is anyone’s guess, although I suppose if you have to get sick, or have some kind of emergency, you may as well do that when you’re around family.

A gray, rainy day at the ranch, and no visiting with the bees today. But tomorrow will be another day, and we will all face it as we are able.

I hope your days were enjoyable or relaxing or productive or were successful with whatever it was you had planned to do.

A man’s homeland is wherever he prospers.” – Aristophanes

On duty

Good afternoon, peeps and rancherinos! Another fine, warm fall day at the ranch. The fog has lifted and the sun is shining. That makes the bees happy, which makes me happy, even as I know the number of things in bloom continues to dwindle as fall stalks us, creeping along and staying hidden in the tall grasses, waiting to pounce. There is a simple beauty in the short lifetime of the bee: they focus on their jobs as they move from nurse to guard to forager, only complaining when something disrupts their routine, like a beekeeper inspecting the health of the hive. Once that is complete, they are happy to return to their duties – almost all are happy. There are usually a couple of them clutching to the keeper, sorting out intent. A gentle push returns them to their day, to go about their business.

Earlier today, I popped something in my back, thanks to a rather nasty round of the chronic cough with which I now live (insert another hearty fuck you, cancer! here). I did the same about two weeks ago. It hurts like hell, and when the spasms start, either on their own as they usually do or because of the cough, it makes me pine for the fjords. Or at least something more heavy duty than slugs of the kiddie advil I have to take because I can’t swallow pills – and believe me, since I have to crush and drink all the other meds I have to take, I can state with certainty that advil (or any coated pill – nothing against you specifically, advil) crushed, mixed with water, and then swallowed, is like drinking tiny daggers. What’s the point of this? That the bees don’t really care how my back feels. They need to be fed because we are heading into the dearth, and because it has been so stunningly warm this deep into the season, they are eating through their stores because they do not understand – as everyone on Game of Thrones knows – that winter is coming. So, every day means a trip to the yard to replace or refill feeders, check activity on the landing boards, and just do a checkup on the girls, as we would do with any other livestock. If you refuse to do the jobs necessary related to something you have chosen, perhaps you should rethink your choices.

Such is life at the ranch: duty beckons, and you must answer.

Enjoy your weekend, folks. Make it a good one.

“How can you come to know yourself? Never by thinking, always by doing. Try to do your duty, and you’ll know right away what you amount to.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Foggy morning at the ranch

Good morning, peeps and rancherinos! It is Friday – not that any particular day of any particular week has any particular meaning for those of us who generally work every day of every week – but there is still something about reaching the end of another week on the calendar that is satisfying. A bit foggy this morning, but I’m sure it will lift, and the weather has been so warm that one of the single body bee hives I thought wouldn’t amount to much actually needs another brood box on it. I’m of two minds on this, as the temps are supposed to moderate, but I suppose if they don’t build up enough in the second box and don’t have enough bees to stay warm through our short winter, I can always reduce them back to a single box and then make sure they’re first on the list for spring expansion so they don’t get any nutty ideas about swarming.

The key in beekeeping, as in farming, is thinking of it as a game of chess. You’re attempting to stay several moves ahead that span several months, and that are dependent on a huge external factor: weather. Tonight – while watching whatever football I can find, of course – I’ll be starting on plans for spring, both bee-wise, and crop-wise. This past season’s crops were pretty much a lost season for various reasons (primarily extended sickness in the family) but next year is a new year, and thus a chance to begin again. It’s one of the better things about working in the soil: a crop may fail, either due to circumstance after some time, or by never growing in the first place, but you simply note what went wrong, learn a lesson from that wrongness, and endeavor to do better the next time around.

It’s much the same with the bees, of course, although a loss of bees is worse than the loss of a set of plants. They are living creatures, after all, and it’s more time consuming and more expensive to replace them than it is to replace plants or seed. So, it’s imperative to be the best caretaker possible, checking on them often enough to ensure their health, but not so often that they are constantly irritated by your presence. Balance: it is not just for gymnasts.

Whatever you’re up to today, folks, do it well, and do it safely.

“Henceforth I ask not good fortune. I myself am good fortune.” – Walt Whitman

The saga of hive number two

So, do you want to hear the saga of hive number two? Of course!

As you might recall, a small, late season swarm emerged from that hive, and was subsequently captured. Why they swarmed will forever remain a mystery (that is, no infestation of mites or beetles, plenty of food, plenty of space, etc.). But the small size of the swarm, and the fact that I believe there were actually two (given all the fighting going) was a problem: with so few bees, it’s difficult for a colony to defend their home and keep other bees from launching incursions to take pollen and honey away as prizes back to their own hives. On the plus side, I was positive I had at least one queen in the captured group of bees, as I had spotted her the next morning when I checked on them.

Hive number five had gone queenless, and had not, after two tries I gave them, created a new queen. I combined small swarm from number two with number five, putting a couple of sheets of newspaper between the bodies so they could all get used to the new queen’s pheromones. This worked out nicely, the bees ate holes through the paper, and soon enough, both the queenless bees and the captured swarm with the queen were mingling without trying to kill one another. That gave number five a decent number of bees to work with, and the very warm weather gave the queen a chance to fly out and meet some drones for a booty call so she could get to laying.

Checking in and out on the hive, but not seeing any eggs, larvae, or capped brood was a tad disappointing. But, you have to allow time for that. In the meantime, hive number two, where the swarm had originated, also failed to make a queen, and there were not a lot of bees left. So, a handful of days ago, I put down some newspaper, and moved to combine them with number five as well – where the swarm they had tossed was now located. I’m sure the irony was lost on them. They are not, after all, great thinkers.

Today, while feeding the hives that needed feed, I checked in hive number five, and what did I find? All the bees from the three hive bodies on the stack were just fine. I also found (drum roll) capped brood, larvae, and eggs, and the queen roaming around safely.

From two different hives, one of which swarmed, I now have a single productive hive, with the swarmed hive reunited. That is a first on the ranch. For those keeping track, that means we have thirteen active hives from the fifteen we had at the height of summer, after starting with six in the spring: number one hive absconded completely, and number two hive – well, that is their story up there. I considered doing some late season splits, but next weekend the forecast looks like fall is actually arriving, and it’s too late now. Instead, we will hunker down for “winter”, and do early spring splits as soon as feasible, or as soon as the bees decide for as, as they did this year with a February swarm (that I caught).

Never ending tasks

This morning in the humidity, I pulled three bags of weeds out of the rear garden. The strangle weed – a vine that grows, well, like a weed – is absolutely everywhere, and it’s important to get it down before it seeds out and then dries. That’s the problem I’m having right now, because last year, some of it went too far along, seeded, dried, and gave me the masses of it now. The weeds in the raised rows themselves are the usual assortment of that vine, plus garden spurge, with its little puffballs of seeds, mimosa weed, with its chamber of seeds on each leaf, nut sedge, and other grasses. It seems each year I get behind although I tell myself I won’t, and each year I wind up with overrun rows toward the end of the season. It isn’t that I mind weeding per se: it’s a great, mindless sort of job to do while thinking over plot points and scenes for whatever I’m writing. I do mind that I can’t quite seem to stay on top of it better. That has to change, and it will be on my mind as I continue my quest to make this month the one where every bed is weeded in a timely enough fashion that by the time I reach the end, the ones done earliest will not once again be completely overrun.

There are some tomatoes still out there, buried under the weeds. We did not have a good tomato (or cuke) season this year, but some of the indeterminate tomatoes are alive and flowering. I’ve no idea which varieties they are, given all that have died or were pulled out. It will be a nice little surprise for us, assuming any of their fruits make it to maturity.

And from here? Well, I make plans for next spring, and make it a mission to keep on top of things better than this year.