Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Winter Recap

So we're into March already, and I've gone all winter without an update.  I'll try much better this year to keep this up to date.  This has been a rather rough winter for my livestock, not just my bee's but my horses, chickens, dogs, and saltwater fish.

I lost my 10 year old chocolate lab, he was my best friend but considering the vet said he wouldn't live past 3, the additional 7 years of life he had made him an extremely pampered puppy.

He was never one to hold still for a picture but here's the kids hoarding the bed leaving me wondering where I'd get to sleep.  The two labs at the back are his kids, Princess (black) and Dusty (Yellow), Wrangler is the blue healer they were good buddies.  Comanche will be missed greatly but he's moved on to a better place.

I've kept a small flock of chickens for a few years and always just let nature take its course to get a few new hens each year.  Except this year it went all haywire.  I went into October thinking I had 7 new hens, plus the 4 original and the rooster.  Turns out the roosters were just extremely late bloomers.  So well into winter when they're cooped up having 6 roosters and 5 hens is a terrible mess.  I ended up loosing 2 hens to the roosters fighting and then the cold took out another 2 hens and a rooster.  So we decided to just finish off the rest of this batch and I've placed an order for 17 buff Brahmas, 5 White Brahmas and 3 Amerucana's to start fresh.  They'll be arriving the first week of April hopefully.  If not it'll just mean buying store bought eggs this summer.

I have 2 saltwater aquariums a 55 gallon, and a 90 gallon, which took their fair share of losses this year. I've always ordered my saltwater livestock online because I usually get a decent price and I can get my hands on aquacultured pieces instead of things ripped from the reef.  Well with the crazy weather somehow one of my orders got messed up in shipping and arrived frozen solid 2 weeks late, the company took good care of me and replaced the order but I hate loosing livestock to shipping errors.  We also experienced a couple days of no power and a -10 degree windchill.  The battery backups I had lasted for the first day but didn't make it through the second day.  I ended up loosing the male of my breeding pair of Maroon clowns, and two small coral colonies.  Its next to impossible to re-pair maroon clowns because they are incredibly aggressive so I'm not sure what I have planned for her at the moment.

My horses while they didn't fair as badly as the rest of the livestock are extremely grumpy.  We had a fairly severe drought last year so the horses were a bit hard on the pasture.  To give the pastures a good chance to recover we pulled the horses up to what was a nice dry dock.  Unfortunately by the end of December the dry dock had pretty much turned into a mud pit which has steadily gotten worse leaving them confined to the barn and put them in a cranky mood.  Then February has brought tons of rain and snow and now the barn is starting to turn into a mud pit leaving me with a great deal of work come spring.  To keep the horses from having to stand in water too much when we get the gushes of rain they've been force to stand in the horse trailer as its really getting to be the last dry spot around.

Now for the bee report which is what this blog was supposed to be for.  As you remember I went into winter with 2 full size hives which I'm going to name Cherry Blossom and Peach to give them an official name, and 2 nuc's.  The nuc's did really well until January when we had a period of extremely warm moist weather (53F) followed that evening by some bitter cold (-4).  By the weekend when I could check on them they no longer had the slight hum of a cluster when I pressed my ear up to the hive.  The Peach hive has the queen from the original nuc's I bought last year and going into winter I wasn't feeling extremely strong about it.  The hive had built up some and had a fair amount of stores I still didn't think it was as strong as it could have been, that queen had been wacky not laying for a couple weeks off and on through out the summer.  I've fed it a couple times with sugar disks and its still going I have no idea how strong it is but at least it's still alive.  Cherry blossom is the hive that swarmed and re-queened itself with a locally mated queen.  I had the highest hopes for this hive it had 1 - deep body full of honey and a good sized amount of bee's and a second deep of brood.  It didn't need any feed in December or January, but by February the bee's were starting to cluster at the top so I gave it some sugar discs.  Now we're into March I've been able to peek in on it and I'm not sure if its dead or alive.  The bee's started on the sugar disc's but have gone back down into the hive bodies, and when I knock I only hear the faintest hum of a cluster.  So only time will tell whether it will make it to the dandelion bloom.

I had planned on coming into spring with 4 hives but since I lost 2 and possibly a third I went ahead and placed an order for some nuc's from Long Lane Honey farms.  They're about 3 hours east of me and they raise their queen's locally so they should have a better chance in this climate instead of Georgia raised queens.  Unfortunately they don't arrive until May which by then a big portion of our spring flow is well under way so they'll have enough time to build up but will most likely only produce a small amount of excess honey.

My plans for this spring are to try and get my apiary up to 6 hives, so hopefully Cherry blossom survived because that hive built up very strong and it would be great to get some splits off of it.  I've got new chicks coming next month and I think they're going to get a new hen house because the old hen house has had numerous problems and it'll be better to get things tightened up for them.  We have a ton of spring barn work to prevent future barn floods so that'll mean lots of concrete work.  Then there's the saltwater tanks  I think it may be time to consolidate down to a single tank and if I do it'll mean a minor upgrade to a 6' 240 gallon tank and we'll retire the 55 & 90 to the basement for coral grow-out/ oversize refugium.

Also as side hobby I've taken up making wine and beer.  Wine seems much more simple than beer and I've bottled 2 batches of wine the first batch a rose Zinfandel seen to the left here.  I ran out of new bottles and had to put a bit in reused bottles which was fine it was still tasty.  The second batch was more of a merlot and beyond potent.  I mixed up my math somewhere and ended up being close to 26% alcohol content.  One glass is more than plenty, and thankfully it only amounted to about 18 bottles I've put a few away in the cellar to try it after its aged a year.  Right now I've got 6 gallons of mead fermenting which will get bottled in 2 more weeks, and another 4 gallons of wine from grapes out of my grandparents backyard when I sampled it earlier I wasn't sure what to think of it.

My beer brewing hasn't been so successful.  The first batch had to be dumped down the drain as it was horrid.  It was either contamination from a blow up fermentation, or I screwed up the sparging.  Beer is super complicated compared to wine.  It takes like 8 hours to make where wine takes less than an hour before its fermenting.  The second batch was ok but rather bland.  I've held off on anymore beer as its a really short turn around and I'm out of bottles, and my 12 week diet and work out plan doesn't allow for beer.  Only 8 weeks left then I can give beer another go.

I know the start of this made it sound incredibly depressing as much has gone wrong but, I have high hopes for this year.  The bee's will flourish and the new chicks will be a nice addition, and we'll get the horses out of the muck, and with luck the tanks condensed.  I haven't thought about a new dog, I'm content with Comanche's kids for now.  I do swoon over pictures of chocolate lab puppies, however I think I have enough going on in my "zoo".