Spotting Queens and Picking Peas

It’s been over a week since we brought the bees home, so we inspected all of the hives over the weekend to make sure that all three queens were released successfully. We are pleased to announce that we found eggs in all three hives which is the definitive sign that there has been a healthy queen present within the past few days. The only real way to confirm that a queen is present is to actually spot her, but with unmarked queens this can take a lot of time and effort and also lots of frame manipulation which could lead to displacement, injury, or accidental squishing of the queen. So for our general inspection purposes, our typical practice is to confirm that eggs are present during each inspection as a sign of queen presence. Of course we always keep our eyes out for the queen, but oftentimes she’s hiding or just too sneaky to spot, especially once the colony is heavily populated. With all that being said, we were able to spot one of the queens cruising around a frame during our inspection and man was she fat and sassy!

It was interesting to see the difference between the hives being fed sugar syrup versus the hive being fed honey frames. The two hives with the sugar syrup had filled almost the entire super full of nectar made from the syrup whereas the hive with the honey frames had eaten the majority of the honey and only had a small amount of nectar stored. The main difference here is that the hives with the sugar syrup had an overabundance (about two gallons to be exact) of readily available food to turn into nectar for storage. The hive with the honey frames had enough honey to eat, but not an abundance to use to make more food for storage. Luckily we received our new hive top feeder in the mail before we inspected the hives, so all three hives now have hive top feeders full of sugar syrup. The hive with the honey frames also seemed to have a smaller population most likely because the bees drifted to where there was an abundance of food (the two hives with the feeders on them) during the installation process. We spotted the queen along with a bunch of eggs in the hive with the smaller population so we aren’t really worried about their slow start. With the addition of the hive top feeder and the sugar syrup, they will raise their brood and the population will start to grow in approximately 18 days. More to come on this topic in a future post.

We are currently in the midst of an early season heat wave with temperatures that are supposed to reach nearly 100 degrees multiple days this week. The hot weather has caused our garden to really pop. We’ve noticed quite a growth spurt in most of our vegetables over the past few days, and we just harvested our biggest batch of peas yet. We still have a lot of peas left on the plants, so we are hoping that they have a chance to grow to maturity and that we can harvest them before the plants burn up from the heat. We’ve also noticed the early and unfortunate arrival of powdery mildew on the peas which is always a sign of their impending demise. Pea season doesn’t last long here because of the heat and humidity, but we grow them every year as an early garden crop. Our peas this year have grown so tall that I have to use a step ladder to pick them, which is quite sketchy considering the slope of the pea mounds. Our radishes have also suddenly taken off and popped up through the soil, so we went ahead and harvested them, weeded and turned over the raised beds, and replanted for a second round of radishes before it gets too hot. 

With the hot weather, we always pay close attention to the animals. We’ve added electrolytes to some of the chicken waterers and we’ve moved the chicken tractor to a cool shady spot next to the goat pen. We are careful not to offer the chickens many scratch grains or treats when it gets really hot to try to decrease the chickens’ chances of overheating due to the passive heat created by digesting things like corn and grains. We also like to throw some lettuce or chilled fruit like watermelon, berries, or grapes out there for them to add another source of hydration. As far as the goats and Maya are concerned, we just make sure that they have access to plenty of fresh cold water. Thankfully the goat pen is in the woods, so in the summertime the trees make a canopy over the majority of the pen and it stays nice and cool in there. When the weather gets really hot, Maya digs down underneath the goat barn and wallows in the cool dirt. So far everyone seems to be adjusting to the jump in temperature pretty well.

Speaking of the goats, we (and by we I mean Doug) finally built milking stands after nearly four years of having the goats. Hoof trimming has always been somewhat of a pain without a milking stand because Doug would hold one of the goats in his lap and we would both work on their hooves at the same time. Although this sounds like it would make the task go by quickly, the goats would almost always move and kick and one of us was bound to get hurt eventually, especially now that the goats are completely full grown. We have been talking about building milking stands forever, but it was a project that always got bumped to the bottom of the list or booted off the list altogether because our hoof trimming system wasn’t that great but it worked. Well, not anymore with our two new beautiful milking stands! The goats’ first experience having their hooves trimmed in the stands was interesting – Winston and Birch both thought they were dying whereas Gizmo and Penelope seemed to not care whatsoever. One thing is for sure though, hoof trimming was overall quicker and easier and less of a pain. Especially for Doug’s back. With more training and practice, we are confident that Birch and Winston will get used to the milking stands and that hoof trimming will be a breeze. In retrospect, we should have done this a long time ago, but here we are. Better late than never, right?!

In other news, we have four broody hens right now. That’s right, FOUR. That means there are four angry dinosaurs pecking at us every time we open the nesting boxes to collect eggs. Because of the broodies and one chicken that we recently lost due to old age, our egg numbers are down just a bit which has actually been a good thing because we have been drowning in eggs. We have been trying to pawn them off to friends and family and to whoever will take them really, and I’ve also been making some delicious crustless quiches (frittatas?) before we go back to work each week. We’ve still got a pantry full of dry storage eggs, and we are reminded every day of how fortunate we are to have our hard working chickens despite their destructive and sometimes broody tendencies. 

I think that’s it for this week’s update. We will be off the farm for a few days over Memorial Day weekend, but we will be sure to check back in next week.

6 thoughts on “Spotting Queens and Picking Peas

  1. Love your updates. And that egg is crazy!!! Love the fist stands too!! One of these days we have to come up and see your place. Enjoy your weekend!!!
    Laurie

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  2. This was a wonderful update! I really, really want bees, but I literally know nothing about them. I’m slowly learning more. I think it would be a nice addition to the garden. Maybe next year. I’m totally done with updating the garden for now. Maybe add a greenhouse this fall, but other than that, I just want to sit back and enjoy it for a hot minute.

    Tell me more about dry storage for eggs!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I could totally see you as a beekeeper, you should go for it! There is definitely a steep learning curve, but the more you read the more it will all make sense. My all time favorite book that has been the most helpful is Beekeeping for Dummies. Highly recommend! And of course I’m here to help too if you decide to get bees.
      As far as our dry egg storage goes, it is nothing fancy or even anything really at all. We just package up our eggs into cartons and write the packaging date on the carton and put them in our pantry on a shelf. We allow them to stay out at room temperature for up to a month in “dry storage” before we wash them and put them into the fridge. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have any room for food in our fridge because of all of the eggs!

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      1. I definitely want bees! I’m thinking it would be a good project for next year though. I think this fall I’m going to add a greenhouse. I’m really tired of struggling with my seed starts each year. Or really, starting all those seeds just to see them die before I can get them in the ground.

        As for the eggs, do you sell your eggs or just give them away? And if you keep them for a month on the shelf, do you then use them yourself or give/sell those eggs? I think PA regulates how you have to store them in order to sell them. Just thinking about the future egg business here on the homestead!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Sorry for the delayed response here, but we mainly give away our eggs to my parents and we have a few friends and neighbors who buy eggs from us. But we don’t officially sell them at a market or a store or anything. We do make sure that the eggs that we sell or give away are the newest and cleanest, and we keep the older and dirty ones which get washed. We also advise our egg customers to wash their eggs before using them. However, our practices certainly would not meet regulations for a legitimate egg business.

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