We have had our chickens now for half a year or so. They are a lot of fun and offer a great source of stress relief. Abigail in particular has found that sitting in the yard reading a book while they hens roam about is a great bit of fun. Aside from the fun part, of course, they give us eggs.
I never realized all of the oddities of fresh, home-grown chicken eggs. Many of you chicken experts probably know these things, but we have found interesting tidbits from having the birds. For instance, did you know that hard-boiled fresh eggs are dang-near impossible to peel? The protective coating on the eggs keep carbon dioxide inside. As eggs age, the coating wears off (or, with store bought eggs, is washed off) which makes the shells more porous. Carbon dioxide leaves the eggs, the pH increases quite a bit and the inner membrane separates from the shell making older eggs easier to peel. There are all sorts of alleged magical ways to make fresh eggs peelable but I haven’t seen them work yet…so we let eggs age some if we want to hard boil them.
Did you know that eggs vary A LOT in size and shape? We have seen monster eggs, nearly spherical eggs, double yolks, tiny eggs, elongated eggs. It’s always a lot of fun to see what the hens lay day-to-day. We average 4-5 eggs per day from our 5 hens…one Easter egger (or maybe both) are not 100% layers but the brown egg layers are super reliable.
The color of the yolks in fresh eggs (at least in our coop)are deeper yellow, larger and firmer than in store bought eggs. Their shells are harder to crack and feel heavier in general. There may be breed differences and there are certainly dietary differences between my birds and factory birds so who knows what really is the cause, but it is a striking difference. Some people say the fresh eggs taste a lot better. I know mine are better because my chickens are never given shots of medicated food or anything that a big chicken farm might give their birds to eat.
Mine get to stretch their wings and run around and act like chickens act…which is crazy…I never really understood the phrase, “You’re a chicken” until I watched the hens jump at a gust of wind or run from a falling leaf. So maybe it is the surges of adrenaline they get running from their shadows or maybe it’s the diet or maybe just the breed that makes their eggs different, but different they are.
I dig my chickens and am delighted to learn new stuff about both the chickens and their eggs!
I guess they aren’t technically horns, but check out the protrusions on these buggers I found!
I am definitely a live-and-let-live kind of person. That basically applies to my dealing with creatures as well as people…I think I like critters better, but I am willing to leave people or critters alone to do as they please as long as it doesn’t hurt me or my family. I don’t think it hurt these guys, though, when I picked them up for a little inspection.
The grasshopper actually sort of hurt me a little…I picked him up and he wandered around on my hands for awhile…and then he bit me! It wasn’t a big deal, but I saw his tiny mouth reach down and just take a taste! I didn’t fling him off or mash him but I figured that maybe it was time to set him free! I know I am sweet and all, but he wasn’t my type!
I’ve seen things…strange and wonderful things. Well, I wish it was really that dramatic, but I was just leafing back over some old pics the last few evenings, and I came across a few pics that I thought were cool. We have been running so much lately with band and cross-country and soccer and work stuff. It feels like there hasn’t been time to do anything …I almost said fun, but of course, all of that running is fun. Sometimes it’s pretty easy, though, to lose sight of that.
Anyhow, a month or so ago, we were at my parents house visiting. They like flowers and have a really nice flowerbed out front. I took a few pics of the crop they had around there. Pollinators were about gathering what pollen they could. I love yellow flowers so their Black-eyed Susan’s were exquisite. Yes, I just said that…shut up.
I was messing in the bees awhile back and this time of year is interesting. After spring and summer blooms pass and before fall blooms start, bees and hornets and wasps and yellow jackets all compete for limited resources. I always see bunches of yellow jackets in particular, “make a go” at the beehives to try and steal a little of the honey they keep inside. In a healthy hive, the bees keep the yellow jackets away easily. In one hive box that was empty, but in my apiary, I took a look in to see if any bees or other critters were collecting any of the wax scraps that were about…Imagine my surprise when I saw these lovelies…They were not aggressive so I just put the lid back on and walked away…that’s how I roll.
I did find another nest in other bee stuff I had at the house and found a really cool looking nest. It showed all stages of waspers inside…capped brood, larvae, and eggs. You can kind of see them if you look hard and use your imagination.
This stuff fascinates me…I am always amazed at the wonders that are right under our noses!
It’s that time of year again. Each year around tax day, I add honey supers to my hives. It’s no exact science, but I like to keep honey supers on my hives from, roughly, Tax day to Independence day. The bulk of the Spring and Summer blooms occur during that time period so my bees get an opportunity to work the best blooms and store away honey. Usually this process works well and I harvest several hundred pounds of honey. I see some variance as you might expect…some years I get 200 pounds, some years I get 500+ pounds…either way, a good bit of honey
I harvested the honey last weekend with high expectations as the grass around me was green and trees and things seemed healthy. Unlike my friends elsewhere in the country, we have had a good deal of rain so things are growing well here in WV. Imagine my surprise then when I cracked the first hive and found only a frame or two of capped honey. I repeated this same scenario in hive after hive. The bees seemed mostly in pretty good shape but I found very little honey.
A sudden mini-panic set over me as I closed up the last hive….something is wrong! As I pondered it, my only conclusion is that our late frosts, cool spring and abundant rainfall came at the exact wrong time on my ridge top apiary and it left me with a poor honey crop. As confirmation (I need this now…it hurts my heart you know…), none of my fruit trees bore a single piece of fruit. My sorghum crop flopped. In general, it was just bad I think. As I mentioned, the bees look good so I have to blame it on the weather. That line of thought settled me down. I was so frustrated though, that I barely took any pics of the harvest this year. Instead, please enjoy this picture of my cat…the internet loves cats, right?
We processed the honey and all-told, we got around 60 pounds of honey. That’s 10-20% of normal so you can see the problem here. Unfortunately, that means I am already sold out of this year’s honey crop. Not a great way to pay for hive repairs or new queens. Alas, that is the life of a beekeeper I suppose…
The only other thing that is noteworthy is this cool Marbled Orb Weaver spider I found outside one of the hives. He was a pretty thing. I tend not to mess with stuff around the hive. I figure everything has a purpose…well, except mosquitoes and ticks…those things just suck. Anyhow, a pretty spider always goes a long way to brighten my day too! Next year, we’ll hope my new spider friend brings me good luck and a better harvest!
This is a baldfaced hornet’s nest. It turns out that these things are not really hornets in the official definition, but are a type of wasp in the same genus as the yellow jacket…of course, both creatures are mean and kinda suck.
I took a few pics before we sprayed this nest. I like most critters and leave them where they are when I can, but making a home on the back porch which my parents use all the time wasn’t a good choice!
Not much to say…just a few pics that I though were pretty cool.
It is only early August but it feels like Summer is over. School starts on Monday and the temps feel like late September. This has been the weirdest Summer! Anyhow, we are still alive and kicking here in WV!
Way back in 2008 (that’s 6 years ago…seems like last year), I was digging potatoes and found a big brown wormy thingamabob…I asked, what the heck is this? Someone answered it was a tomato hornworm. We often plant tomatoes and potatoes and sometimes they are fairly close together…no big deal.
I thought it was weird the other day, however, when I dug this year’s potatoes and found another big ugly brown larval whatchamacallit. Granted, the potatoes are near the tomatoes again this year, but maybe tomato hornworms which eat tomato plants like to grow up near taters rather than maters.
Just like last time, I decided to pick this guy up and torment the kids with it. Emily is desensitized enough that she doesn’t even flinch around me any more but the kids are still subject to my weirdness. I probably should have mashed this one since they ruin tomatoes, but I do not often mess with much of anything if it isn’t directly necessary. It took brazillions of years to evolve the way it did; why should I mess with mother-nature?
So last night at 12:11 am, we witnessed the first honey moon (also known as strawberry moon) that happened to fall on a Friday the 13th, in almost 100 years. I stayed up until around midnight to try to take some pics of the moon hoping to see its yellow tint, the reason it is called a honey moon.
The full moon nearest the Summer Solstice is at its perigee or the time when it is closest to the Earth and lowest in the sky. Since it is low in the sky, it appears to be much larger than normal, due to a trick that our brains pull on us…it’s called the moon illusion (see possible explanation here). Add to that the effects of pollution and dust in the atmosphere which reflect light differently, and you end up with a larger-than-normal yellow colored moon.
So I wandered out late last night in my boxers and gum boots to take a few pics. They aren’t high def amazing shots, but I think they came out pretty neat in a creepy-cool kind of way.
The other fun fact is that today, Emily and I are taking a sort of get-away weekend to celebrate (a little early) our 20 year wedding anniversary…so we have a honey moon kicking off a second sort of honeymoon! It must be a good omen!
I mentioned last time that there was more swarm news over a very busy weekend. Of course, the first swarm settled itself in a tree and I captured it in the usual fashion. During a part of the process of catching the first swarm, I witnessed two other swarms leaving two of my other hives simultaneously!
Rats! I failed in preventing uncontrolled swarms! I had looked in on each of the colonies several times in the weeks prior to the fateful weekend and saw no clear evidence of crowding, queen cells, lack of new eggs…the stuff that sort of signals that a swarm is eminent. I supered up the hives with extra honey supers and went on my way without splitting the hives that eventually swarmed. You see, a split is a sort of controlled swarm where I take a number of the bees, brood, honey and pollen and start another colony. Typically, a split will open up some room and avoid wild swarming. I usually have pretty good luck in catching the right conditions and avoid swarms…but not his year.
So, as I trudged across the yard, I watched as two hives poured forth bees in great number. A swarm coming out of a hive is pretty impressive. Imagine 10-20 thousand bees per colony in what appears to be flying chaos! I watched as the swarms buzzed around and settled nearby and low.
The first swarm settled in a pine tree 20 feet from the apiary in a pine tree about 4 feet off the ground…easy-peasy. The second swarm was just a few feet from that swarm, but they were far more gravity-challenged. It’s fairly weird, but the second swarm plopped right down on the ground under a bush.
Now I have talked about getting swarms out of trees by shaking them into a hive box and that’s how I handled the pine tree swarm, but how does one shake a colony off of the ground? Well, I didn’t…luckily I had a screened bottom board with large screen in place such that the queen and bees could crawl up through the bottom board (floor of the hive) and into the typical white box. I just set the empty hive right over the swarm-on-the-ground and let them be for a week. When I returned, the swarm, queen and all had migrated upward into the hive body!
So, while I am not thrilled that three colonies swarmed, I am always delighted when I get a chance to catch swarms and I would rather catch one of my swarms than let it get away. Assuming they do well, I will have more colonies than I have ever had before which may make things interesting…and may make a lot of honey…next year!