Category Archives: Critters

Stories and photos of encounters with various animals, wild and domestic

Grey Winter Days

Not My Favorite Color

Grey winter days can be challenging. I hate grey. It doesn’t matter if it is the color of a comfy pair of corduroy pants, grey depresses me. Grey skies that go on for days at a time, coupled with extreme cold that keeps me in the house, will eventually drag me down.

For this whole first week of January, not only has it been grey, but the night time temperatures have been down in the single digits, as low as -1 degree Fahrenheit yesterday. During the day it has been hovering in the teens. One day there were winds gusting to 40 MPH from a storm the weather people were calling “the Bomb” which dumped snow all along the East coast. It brought snow to Florida and Georgia, with Charleston, South Carolina getting a foot. We only got about 2 inches of the (at least pretty) white stuff, mostly we just got grey.

Out in the Barn-Chickens

It is amazing to me that my chickens do not seem too bothered by this cold. They have heated water buckets, and I spread hay for dry bedding, but still. I feel my nose hairs freeze as soon as I walk outside to do chores and I have to breathe through my fleece collar. When I open the barn door, the younger chickens are all spread out like a down filled, 84 piece, patchwork quilt.

Live Feathered Quilt

They are all talking up a storm as I wade through them and refill their feeders.  Barred Rocks, Araucanas, Buff Orpingtons and Golden Comets all scramble  over each other as I toss some yummy 5 grain scratch on the floor. Then all grows quiet as they work on scarfing it all down. The pan of sprouted wheat and barley I give the laying hens disappears faster than water drops on a hot griddle.

The chickens prefer the long pulls of water they can get from open water, but the one-gallon plastic ice cream buckets quickly freeze solid. The heated waterers have little metal nipples the chickens have to press in with their beaks and they only get a drop or two at a time. Water is better than ice at washing down breakfast though, and the clicking sound of beaks hitting nipple waterers tells me they are drinking.

A Natural Type Horse

My horse, Mara, comes and goes in the barn as she pleases. Her meals of hay and grain are served there, and she has her own heated water bucket, but she mostly prefers to be outside. Her favorite spot is out back with her butt parked up against a big multiflora rose bush.

Mara Near Her Bush

The morning sun, if there is any, can reach her there and the bush blocks the west wind. She grows a thick coat of fur every winter which does a good job keeping her warm. The only time I lock her in the barn is during  ice storms or when we are expecting rain and then a quick deep freeze. There have only been a few times when she stupidly stood outside in the rain, right before a cold wind storm, and I needed to dry her off with a towel so she would not get cold. Usually she regulates herself fairly well, moving naturally between the shade of trees and the sunny open pasture.

I have seen Facebook posts declaring it cruel to not put winter coats on horses. That is ridiculous and must be coming from people who have no actual experience tending livestock. A horse blanket, or coat, prevents a horse from growing a good natural coat of fur and can do more harm than good. Imagine what it would feel like to wear a soggy, wet coat outside in the winter. Supplying a run in shed where your horse can stay dry and out of the wind is what works.

I can see using a fresh, dry blanket to warm them if they occasionally manage to get wet just before a sudden temperature drop. In that case you need to rub them down, dry them off, and get them warmed up quickly. That is why you have to sometimes lock them in the barn until the wet stuff stops falling. I don’t think a blanket should be substituted for shelter.

My horse will occasionally stand outside and get covered in snow just to see if I care, I think. She knows I will go out and brush her off and give her extra hay in the nice, dry barn if I see her at risk of getting cold. She does not like to be locked up in the barn though, so unless it is really bad outside, I let her decide. Last year when we had 42 inches of snow all at once, I locked her up, and the snow sliding off the roof created walls on the open south side. I had already stapled plastic up on the east side, because the storm was blowing in from that direction, so the extra snow wall made it nice and snug in there. Usually our winter weather comes in from the  northwest and the barn has solid wood walls on those sides.

White Snow v. Grey Skies

The bad thing about a deep, deep, snowfall is worrying about the weight of all that snow on the roof. A wet snow can be really heavy and could collapse the barn, or the house. I keep a ladder out by the barn so I can get up on the roof and shovel it off if I have to. In the last twenty five years, I have only had to do that twice, but I slept better knowing the barn would not crush the critters overnight. So far this winter we have not had a substantial snow, but we have a ways to go yet.

Light Snow

Today, it is not only a dreary grey, they are calling for freezing rain. The temperature has gone all the way up to 26 degrees F and would probably feel almost balmy, if the sun was out. So I am inside, by the woodstove, doing inside things like cooking, writing, and drinking hot tea. It is not windy and I am starting to see a few snow flurries, which would be way better than freezing rain. Maybe we will have a fresh layer of bright, white snow and the sun will come out tomorrow highlighting a clear blue sky. Here’s hoping.

-Wendy lee, writing at Edgewise Woods Gardens and Critters

 

No More Bees

Giving Up On Bees

I have finally decided to give up on ever becoming a decent beekeeper. I have taken numerous classes, tried various methods, spent all kinds of money on equipment, food and new queens, and I am now officially done.

Some people find caring for bees to be relaxing. I am not one of those people. Stress is not something I handle well and the bees have done nothing but stress me out. I am tired of feeling guilty for not being a better beekeeper. I was always wondering if I was doing the right thing at the proper time. When I asked other beekeepers, I got conflicting answers. I hate feeling incompetent.

I had wanted to keep bees so I could supply myself and maybe a few friends with good healthy honey and enjoy the benefits of their pollination as well. It turned out I could not do that organically because of the mites and beetles that attack them.  I tried. This year I managed to get all six hives almost through the winter, and then lost three to Nosema disease, just before Spring arrived.

Heavy Lifting

I had to re-queen one of the hives in May and was still hopeful that they would be able to make me some honey. Then one of them swarmed and I had to re-queen another hive.  It all seems kind of pointless when the queens can’t even seem to survive. I gave them each a deep body full of honey that the three dead hives had made, thinking that would enable them to draw new comb for a honey super. I think it worked, but three deep boxes are too high and heavy and hard work to move when I needed to check them.

 My Hot Bee Suit

The idea of having to suit up and go out there in the summer heat again was beginning to weigh on my mind. Plus I got stung a few times and each time the swelling seemed worse. Then we set up our swimming pool and the bees decided to take it over as their private water source. They could have continued getting their water at the water garden, or in the bucket I provided right next to the hives, but no. It is hard to enjoy cooling off in the pool when you are being harassed by honeybees flying at your head.

Bees Anyone?

I thought about donating everything to the Wounded Warriors Project, which helps Veterans get set up with beekeeping, but the tax deduction would not be worth much. I messaged a fellow beekeeper family who has had good luck with their bees and they offered to take the whole shebang and give me a better deal.  It is a super good deal for them because they were already able to split my three hives into five today, and amazingly enough, one super is full of honey. Tonight, they are coming back to pick up all the hives and take them to their new home.

The Bees New Family-It Takes Three

It is such a relief to find people who know what they are doing to want to take these bees. Plus they will give me some honey back, which makes me happy.

 

Room For New Projects

It is ridiculous how much space  my beekeeping equipment had been taken up in the garage.  Summer feeders, winter feeders, honey supers, extra hive bodies, screened bottom boards, and hive beetle traps were all stacked up in my pottery studio area.  I would rather have the space to make pots and now I do.

Goodbye bees, goodbye stress. Hello to more time for fun and maybe even some relaxing projects.

Wendy lee, writing at Edgewisewoods, Gardens and Critters

 

 

Foxes, Chickens, Dogs and Veggies

Blue Ridge Cabin in Springtime Fog

It can be hard to find time for all the springtime chores and harder yet to write about it, especially when the weather and my thoughts turn foggy and gray for days on end. I am much more productive when the sun is shining.

Wild Critters v Chickens

Our resident Mama Fox has six babies this spring, and they are more than the usual degree of hungry. She usually only takes about three chickens each spring before the babies learn how to hunt on their own, but we have lost seven hens, a duck and my rooster, who I have had for many years. He was such a good boy. The hens don’t seem to miss him but I do.

Baby Foxes
Baby Fox

The electric fence around the chicken pasture works great as long as there is no long grass zapping it’s energy away. It also helps to remember to plug it back in after clearing the grass off the bottom. The fox was able to dig under the fence because it was not plugged in. My fault. I feel so guilty when I fail to protect my flock.

Electric Fence for Hens

Meanwhile, I am feeding the fox kits cat food over by their den in an attempt to stave off their hunger and hopefully prevent more chicken losses. The babies roll around and tussle with each other just like puppies and are fun to watch. I just hope they learn how to eat rabbits and mice soon.

Baby Fox
Who Me? Eat Chickens?

Yesterday I was finally getting around to cutting down the last dried Miscanthus grass and discovered a bird nest with five eggs in it. I had to prop the cut grass back up to protect it. The eggs were blue with brown speckles. I walked close later when I did chores and the mama was back on the nest but I did not get a good view and am not sure what kind of bird it is yet. I was glad she came back though.

Divided Hostas and Miscanthus

I managed to divide two of my Big Blue Hostas and the other giant Miscanthus grass recently and potted them up with compost from last years barn cleaning. Two Hostas yielded 12 extra plants which I can trade.

The Veggie Garden

The week of April 15, it was still getting down in the 30’s (F) and 40’s at night, but getting up in the 70’s and 80’s during the day. Frost was still possible, so tender plants needed the protection of the hoop house .

Little Hoophouse

 

I worked some compost into the beds and sowed tomatoes, basil, cauliflower,  lettuce, and peppers for transplanting out later. After covering them with a protective layer of cloth (a recycled wedding runner) I watered them in. The hoop house is open on both ends but I attached some cloth near the bottom to keep a little wind out.

My grandson got the tiller working again (rusty magneto) so I finally planted potatoes April 17th. I usually try to plant them around St Patricks Day in March but we had snow that week. I planted 6 short rows of Yukon Golds and Norland Reds leftover from last years bumper crop where I had buckwheat last year. This plot is outside the garden fence but deer don’t like potatoes, so it should be OK.  They are up as of April 26th.

A few days later,I planted two rows of pole beans along the insides, figuring on removing the plastic after frost danger, allowing the vines to climb all over the frame. The tomatoes and cauliflower are all up as of April 26th.

Remay Over Corn

The ground was a still little  cool for planting corn April 18th, so I covered the whole area with Remay cloth to help warm it and also to keep the crows from eating the sprouting seeds.

We are eating a little asparagus from the bed I planted last year along the fence and we are still eating the Kale that overwintered really well. The garlic that was planted last fall is also doing well.

Wintered Over Garlic and Kale

If the blossoms on the blueberries and strawberries all turn into fruit we will have a great crop. Last year frost damaged the blooms and we did not get as much as usual. I actually had to buy 🙁 some frozen strawberries this winter for Jeff’s morning protein shakes.

 New Dog Fence

After finally cleaning out the front barn, I set up a new solar powered, electric, woven fence for visiting dogs to play in. I ordered the 160 feet of poultry netting, the 10 watt solar panel, a 12 volt, 18 amp hour battery and the Hotshock charger ( uses either 110V or 12 volts) from Premier 1Supplies. I recommend this company. They answer all kinds of questions via chat so you can figure out your best plan, such as,  how big of a solar panel and what kind of battery are needed for your job.

Solar Fence Charger

I am using a ladder as the people access until I make a real gate. I take care of other peoples critters  and bringing the dogs home with me can make it easier to give them outside time. They are safely away from the chickens and have shady trees, grass,  sun and barn space.

Ladder as People Door

Spring is one of my favorite times of the year but there is so much to do before the hot weather sets in. In the meantime, it is gorgeous just walking around the yard and enjoying the flowers.

Phlox divaricata
Tree Peony

On the long rainy days, I must remember the lush green growth and flowers that will emerge because of the dreary days.

Fog on the Blue Ridge

 

 

Wendy lee Maddox, writing at Edgewise woods, Gardens and Critters

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nosema and Varroa Mites Killed My Bees

Diagnosis

I mailed a small plastic container of dead bees to the ARS (USDA Agricultural Research Service) Bee Research Lab in Beltsville, Maryland on January 14 and have been waiting for the results. Our new president slowed things down by telling the ARS they could not communicate directly with the public. That made me so mad that I took part in a demonstration for the first time in my life. Thankfully, some of that nonsense has now been lifted and I received the PCR results in my e mail today.

It turns out my bees were infected with Nosema, which is a fungal disease, to the tune of 61.5 million spores per bee. They also had 5.3 Varroa destructor mites per one hundred bees. Together, they had no chance.

What I don’t know, is why the Apivar Miticide strips I applied on August 22 did not kill the mites. Hive number 2 did not get treated until Sept 29, and I removed the strips in that hive after only 37 days, instead of the 50 they should have remained, but the other 5 hives all had the strips for 53 days. It should have worked.

I have no idea why they got Nosema but there does not seem to be a good treatment for that. I am not sure what I will have to do to disinfect the two dead-out hives stacked on my porch. They are full of honey, which might possibly harbor Nosema.  I was hoping to use them to start new hives with in the spring but do not want to infect the next batch. I can do a heat treatment but am wondering how to prevent melting all the honey and wax together. I have a small greenhouse that may be able to get up to the required 120 degrees F for 24 hours but I will have to monitor it closely as beeswax melts at 144 degrees.

A 50/50 bleach water solution can disinfect empty combs and wooden ware. Maybe I will have to remove the honey from the frames so I can reuse them the combs.

Guess I will be experimenting yet again.

Who needs a science based job when my whole life seems to be an experiment?

 

Please, let the other four hives be healthy. I am doing all I can.

-Wendy lee, writing at Edgewise Woods, Gardens and Critters