Sunday, April 28, 2013

Beekeeping 101 - City Slickers enjoying some Country Life

What an exciting weekend it has been for the Smith family!  The three of us have been talking about getting some honeybees, so we took a couple of classes and we did it!  Bees are fascinating creatures and it has been such an amazing experience.

Yesterday, Carl and Amelia went to swimming lessons while I drove to NE Portland to pick up the "Nuc".  We then drove a little over an hour to Clatskanie, our special place in the country, where we planned to locate the bee hive.

All went well until we entered the gate and parked at the farm, and then things began to get interesting!  Right when we arrived, we noticed that two calves had been born!  They were staying very close to their mommas, maybe only a day or two old and were so very lovely.

Carl prepared the location for the blue Nuc box while Amelia and I suited up in the white bee suits.  As we were moving the hive out of the car, the lid shifted a little bit...just enough for hundreds of bees to the car.  It was crazy!  Carl quickly put his white screened bonnet and gloves on and carried the swarming Nuc about 100 ft to the permanent spot.  Most of the bees were just crawling around on the outside of the box.  Many of them were flying around us, but seemed to follow us as we walked.  Here is a little video of the Nuc, once we placed it in the permanent location:

We were concerned that the bees might swarm and leave us.  In addition, we were also really worried that the Queen may have been lost en route.  However, by dusk, all of the bees had found the entrance to the box and had made it inside for the night.  Whew.  Here is a pic of Amelia in her kid-sized bee attire!

We spent the night on the red bunk beds, all cozy and warm with the wood stove roaring.  The bottom bunk was a little too cozy and sweaty with Beatrix (dog), Amelia, and myself all in a row.  Not much sleep.

In the early morning, as i snoozed, Carl and Amelia discovered that a new calf had been born.  It was all wobbly legged and amazing.

They inspected the hive and everything looked great.  The bees were coming and going through the entrance, just as we hoped.  We moved the blue Nuc aside and placed our "deep" on the base in the exact same location.  We placed three new frames in the Deep, then ever so carefully moved the five frames from the Nuc to the Deep, keeping them in the same order.  They were thick with bees, comb, and eggs.  Finally, we inserted the last two new frames and closed the lid.

 This photo shows how the Deep looked just after we closed the lid.  Amelia found a bee amongst a cluster of bees on the grass in front of the hive, which was larger and had longer wings than the others.  We think that she was the Queen.  Carl picked her up and placed her next to the opening on the front of the hive and she made a "bee line" into the hole!  Maybe we saved the Queen-who knows!!

The bees will be drawing out their comb, filling the new frames.  We will keep checking them and when they have filled 7 of the frames we will add another Deep on top.  We may not get much honey this summer because the new colony is working hard to produce all that comb.  So we wait!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Official hatch announcement - seven baby chicks!

Whew--it has been busy over here with the new chicks and they have finally settled in! 

Wednesday, 5/9/12 the eggs started making 'peep' sounds and a couple of them starting moving a little bit as the babies tried to peck open their shells.  On Thursday 5/10/12 (day 20), we had 2 or 3 shells crack and the first baby chick hatched.  It was amazing to see the wet, weak little hatchling bust open the shell, stagger around quickly and blindly, stumble and sumersault!  Within about 24 hours, 7 of the 8 eggs hatched.  Amelia (and a couple of the neighborhood kids) were able to see a couple of them emerge from the shell--we were all so enchanted. 

We kept the little fuzzballs in the incubator more than 24 hours from the time the first one hatched, until all of the chicks became dry and fluffy.  Amelia was anxious to feel them and see them up close.

We set up the brooder in the upstairs bathroom in order to contain the dust that they create with all the scratching.  Lluckily, our housemate, Kristin, will tolerate sharing the bathroom with animals.  We will see how she likes it when they start flying out of the box, right?  The temperature under the heat lamp is supposed to be 95 degrees the first week and reduced by 5 degrees every week thereafter.  This seems about right.

Although we continued to run the incubator for an additional day, the eighth egg showed no movement and no signs of cracking.  Sad.

As it goes, we discovered that the rooster, Ricky Glisten, an Australorp (black with dark glistening green tail feathers), only mated with Amelia's hen, Fern, a Barred Plymouth Rock (basically black and white striped).  There are slight differences between all of the babies, but they are mostly black or dark grey, with cute fuzzy white bottoms, white tips on their wings, and some white on their faces.  They will look totally different (like teenagers...not so cute) when their feathers come in.

How do we find out which chicks are roosters?  Well, the best indicator is the type of feathers, which will not usually show any noticible difference until about 12 weeks.  These are the shank feathers along the bird's side, toward their back end (roosters are pointy, hens are more rounded)  However, other indicators include overall size, spurs, brighter and larger comb, crowing, etc.

We are feeding the babies organic non-medicated feed.  We went with non-medicated because they are offspring from our own hens, and were not exposed to a hatchery environment.  We want to use medication only if absolutely necessary.

Thanks for following our adventure!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Preparing eggs for hatching - three more days!

The eggs are meant to hatch on Friday (day 21), so it is time to prepare them for the big day!  We have stopped turning them (we have been doing this 3x per day), so the chicks can move into the pipping position.  Apparently, moving disorients them. 

In addition, we have added an extra dish of water at the bottom of the incubator (below the mesh) to increase the humidity.  The humidity should be increased from 55-60 percent to 65-75 percent at this time, which is meant to help the little peeps break through their shells.  We don't have a hygrometer, so we will just do our best on this.

The incubator instructions indicate that we also need to remove the two red plastic vent hole covers on the top of the unit to enable more air circulation.  We did this and then taped them to the top so they do not get lost :) 

As difficult as it may be, we must resist the urge to open the incubator at this point, in order to keep the temperature and humidity constant.  Will the water in the trays will evaporate before the eggs hatch?  It is not possible to see this through the viewing window.  We will have to just wing it.

We wait!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

After 11 days of incubation, we "candle" the eggs again.

We want to confirm the number of live embryos, and compost the ones that have not developed.  WE HAVE 8 live, active baby chicks developing!  We are thrilled that all of the 8 eggs which we thought were good on day 7 are actually doing great!

Here is our candling video of an egg that is a "dud", you can see it is very transparent, with the yolk coming up to the top of the egg, leveling itself.  Apparently, eggs with very porous shells, like this one, usually do not successfully hatch.

This one is also for the compost bin...

And here is our candling video of an egg that is developing....

Now we is so hard to be patient!

Friday, April 27, 2012

After 7 days of Incubation, we "candle" the eggs.

Today is day 7 of incubation and it is the day to "candle" the eggs.  The objective is to see how many eggs are developing normally and how many eggs are infertile (or are fertile but no longer developing).  Using our bicycle headlamp, which is amazingly bright, and a cardboard box with a hole cut for the egg to sit in, we did the test.  With squeals of delight, we discovered that 8 of our 18 eggs showed a spider web-like veining, and 5 of those 8 actually had wiggly little embryos inside!  The remaining eggs, which we were unsure about, were either very transparent, with the yolk leveling itself at the top of the egg, or they were cloudy and did not have any visible veining. 

Instead of waiting until the recommended 14th day to candle the eggs again, we plan to do it sooner to avoid any smelly eggs or egg explosions inside the incubator.  At that point, we will probably compost any eggs that look like duds.  The incubator is actually made of Styrofoam, and an egg explosion may just ruin it.

Here is a photo of our candling process.  The photo does not really show much.  The eggshells are brown and some were very hard to see through.

Here are some examples of what we actually saw, although these are just copied from the Internet.  You can see the veining, and the little dark area is the embryo.  The YouTube video shows movement like what we saw with the 5 eggs.

Thanks for following us--we will keep you updated on our incubation!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Carl made a plywood scarecrow and Amelia scantily dressed it with a bandana loincloth, work gloves, safety glasses, straw hat and a lacey white tanktop.  Hopefully the neighbors don't call the police :)
Our three ladies each layed an egg.  They usually each lay one per day.  Millie's is the darkest one.

Friday, April 20, 2012

This is the moment when we introduced Ricky to our three hens.  The girls were brave!