Update from the Farm – The New Russian Queen

My bees are not happy. They were so unhappy, half of them up and left.

I shouldn’t say they weren’t happy. Its not like I speak the “buzz” language and asked them. As a matter of fact, it could be that they were TOO productive for their own good and had to leave the hive to prosper.

What the heck am I talking about? I’m talking about what’s called a swarm. In everyday language, we say ‘swarm’ when we mean a large group gathering. But in bee speak, a swarm is when the bees actually form a whole new colony – queen and all – and leave the hive for another spot.

This could be for many reasons. Perhaps the queen is old and the bees need to start a new colony. Sometimes it happens when there isn’t enough room in the hive for all the bees to prosper. Or when there’s a lot of nectar flowing, meaning lots of food to go around, the bees may split to get their share of the good stuff.

I’m no honeybee expert, so I don’t know why they split, so I’m sad to see that they did. And there’s another problem that occurred with this that’s far more detrimental to my bees than them swarming.

My bees have no queen.

Nope. Nada. No queen. No leader of the pack. No one to tell the hundreds of worker bees what to do. No one to lay eggs to help the hive get through the winter.

How did this happen? Again, I have no idea! But I have found a solution.

I bought a Russian Queen!

The Queen is the one with the visible wings…her body is almost double her wing length!

Queen bees, much like dogs, are breed based on their temperament. Some varieties show resistance to disease, others are gentler or produce more honey. Some are just breed for looks (JK! It’s not a beauty contest with these ladies!)

My bees now are Italians. I’ve done a little research on the difference between the two, and the Russian variety has all positive attributes for life in New England. You can see an article explaining that here.

The biggest problem may be introducing her to the hive. This may sound funny, but bees are incredibly particular to scent. A Russian Queen has different hormones than an Italian Queen, and they may not accept her.

Beekeeping is hard. It’s like adulating – a lot of the time, we wing it or use Google to get by. (Yes, seriously, I google everything! It drives my DH crazy!)

We put the new Queen in yesterday in hopes that the bees accept her and they make it through the winter. At this point in the year, it’s a slim shot, but it’s worth a try. I will keep you all updated on how it goes!

Would YOU ever try beekeeping?? Let me know in the comments!

One of our honeybees pollinating a Clematis flower

 

5 Life Lessons I Learned from my Garden

They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds ~Mexican proverb

My garden is my sanctuary. As I wander down the stone path, through the trees to the garden, I always get a feeling of uplifting calm. The quiet peace allows me to breathe and absorb life in a whole new way. I can sit and reflect on the day, do some mindfulness meditation while watering, or even take my frustrations out on those darn weeds in the tomato bed. Many days, I look on in awe as I create life through the simple ingredients of light, soil, water, and seeds.

The simplicity of my garden helps me to reflect on life on a deeper level.  What does it all mean? Why are we here? And over the past few years, I’ve learned many a life lesson from my garden (sometimes the hard way when nothing grows!) They may open your eyes to the simplicity of life in a whole new way.

My happy place

1 – Things grow faster with a little rain

Bad weather always seems to last forever. When it rains, it pours, and it feels like the sun will NEVER come out again. Winter in New England is like this…it drags…and drags…and draaaaaaaaags on forever.

But you know what? Seasons change. Even though it’s raining now, it will not rain forever. If you hunker down and hang on long enough, the sun will indeed show its happy little face again.

Weathering a few storms only helps us grow. Personally, professionally, and spiritually you can’t grow unless you have some challenges along the way. My melanoma was a HUGE challenge for me – and I can honestly say it was probably the best life-altering challenge I could have asked for. It changed my whole outlook on life and I am a happier/stronger/better person now because of it.

Did I think that way during the hailstorm of treatment and doctors’ visits and scans and sickness? Heck no! I just hunkered down and rode it out. But I never let the rain bring me down.

2 – Keep pulling those pesky weeds!!

Every gardener will let you know how much they HATE weeds. Weeds are nothing but pesky little nutrient-suckers that steal the life out of whatever else you’re trying to grow. They create an unnecessary competition for your plants that will overpower them if you don’t keep weeds at bay.

Weeds don’t seem that harmful on the surface, though. Cute little baby sprouts around your plants don’t seem all that imposing, so what’s the point? Or maybe you don’t have the time to pull all those darn weeds, so you leave them to grow. You’ll get to them next weekend.

But before you know it, these weeds have stunted your garden. They compete for nutrients, sun, soil space, water, everything – and before you know it, your tomatoes all have blossom end rot and your daises are crowded out by the dandelions.

This happens in life, too. Every person has that one friend or coworker who just seem to suck the life out of you. It’s always a competition and you feel like you’re being suffocated. They feed off of you, always take, take, take and they never give back.

You just gotta pull those weeds, people. Pull them out of your life and don’t look back. Cultivate your garden of relationships and don’t let in those pesky weeds. You are much better off letting your real self shine through.

3 – Sometimes you need a change in perspective

I tend to be a shoot-from-the-hip flower gardener. I swoon over the wild-flower “English Garden” look. So I grow a bunch of flowers from seeds and when they are big enough, I go plopping them around the garden all willy-nilly. It’s a bit of organized chaos, but when it comes to flowers, that’s the look I love.

Plopping things randomly may look great, but it often doesn’t come out the way I expected. Most importantly, it doesn’t always work for the flowers. Flowers, just like humans, tend to grow best under very specific conditions.

So as my garden evolves, I try to help things along the best I can. Many times, the plants just need a little change of perspective. A transplant from a shady area to one with full sun. Or maybe from the rocky hill to the soil-rich bed. Sometimes they look better clumped together, other times they look better spread out.

What’s the magic combination? I have no idea. Every flower has different likes and dislikes, and sometimes a little change in location is needed to help them get along with their neighbors. Its like Jimmy Buffet’s “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes” – you gotta keep trying until you find the right fit for your attitude!

One of our honeybees pollinating a Clematis flower

4 – The secret’s in the soil

I’m going to continue along those same lines and go a little further. Some plants in my garden have it all – great sunlight, perfect amount of rain, living near neighbors that they get along with, good vibes going their way, the whole deal. And yet, SOMEHOW, they refuse to grow.

I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what they wanted. No amount of questioning or moving helped me figure it out. Until I added a little nitrogen to the fertilizer.

You know what I discovered? The secret is in the soil.

Any plant can grow with just the necessities. But to flourish – to really grow beyond belief – the secret is in the soil. Tomatoes love nitrogen and calcium. My cucumbers love Epsom salts. Every plant will blossom under the certain circumstances.

And humans are the same! Take any one person and transplant them somewhere else. Maybe it works out, maybe it doesn’t. For example – put a gifted writer in a computer coding class and they will flounder. Send that same writer to a fiction writing summer camp, however, and they will absolutely blossom.

You need the right conditions to grow beyond expectations. Keep on trying until you find the perfect mix for you!

5 – You harvest what you sow

Last year, I didn’t plant a single head of lettuce. You know how many heads of lettuce I harvested?

Zero. (Of course!)

Last year, I also planted about 10 lupines. You know how many blossomed last year?

Also zero.

But you know how many blossomed this year? Three.

Gardens take some time to grow. They take time and energy and effort to get going, to grow stable root systems and blossom. You simply cannot expect to put 10 seeds into the ground and get 10 gorgeous plants within a few months.

So why do we do this with life?

If we move into a house, we expect everything to be perfectly decorated – immediately. When we get a new job, we get frustrated if the first week doesn’t go well. Or when we put in extra effort to get that project done and no one noticed.

We all want a first class life on a shoestring budget. And we expect 100% success rate from every little effort, with immediate results. One day of extra effort doesn’t guarantee you a life of luxury. Months and years of extra effort? NOW you’re adding that secret ingredient to the soil!!

Gardens take lots of TLC – just like life. With gardens, you take the time, put in the energy, and reap the rewards. We need to transfer this into our own fast-paced lives and slow down. Put in a little more TLC to the area we want to get more out of. Maybe that’s your family. Maybe that’s your job. But don’t be afraid to spread the love.

Enjoy the journey of life. Take the time to let your garden grow. Then reap the rewards of a VERY plentiful harvest.

 

All The Newest Buzz

We interrupt your regularly scheduled program to bring you this very important announcement.

…Drum roll please…

WE HAVE BEES!!

Yup, that’s right. We just picked up our new hive from the bee supply place. (If you’re interested in where we get our bees and supplies, you can follow this link here.) They usually have 2 deliveries in the spring and we signed up for the first possible delivery!

When we arrived to pick up the bees, it was like “Move-In Day” at college. There was a line of cars to pull into the small parking lot and no open spaces, two lines to check out and people getting irritated with the wait.

Bees all packed and ready for transport!

But, as with all things in life, everything that’s worth having is worth waiting for. And bees are always worth the wait!

We plopped the bee carrier in the back with a few other supplies we purchased. Once we got in and shut the doors, I realized that we were in the car with a few hundred bees.

A FEW HUNDRED BEES!! Buzzing away right behind us!! Ahhhh!!

I had to take a few deep breaths and remember that they’re locked into the bee carrier. But still, it was a few seconds of panic. I’m usually in a hood with the ability to run away (if necessary). There’s no running away in the car!

We all made it home safe and sound. And while we were opening the container, OF COURSE it began to sleet/snow.

So we tried to hustle the ladies into the hive before they got wet. Unfortunately, we lost a fair number that either hit the wet deck or couldn’t find the hive before it got cold that night. I hate to see all the dead girls on the deck – I feel responsible for the ones who didn’t make it.

But I know that nature has to take its course. And the hive will bounce back (much) bigger and better than ever. We just have to give it time and the best fighting chance to survive.

Zee Bear Zapper fence!! And yes, we unfortunately still have some of the white stuff 🙁

And to help give them a leg up against the bears this year, we put up an electric fence. The fence is literally called the “Quick Bear Fence” from Premier 1 Supplies. We also purchased the solar energizer so no crazy car batteries that may run our of juice at the worst time.

We had a wooden fence up last year, and I walked out of the house to see a bear chowing down on the pushed-over hive in November. I scared the bear away using the car (which is a story unto itself), but the damage was done and the hive flew the coop. Fingers crossed that the electric fence keeps those bears’ sticky paws out of the honey this year!

Mindfulness in the Garden

When I moved back to New Hampshire after being diagnosed, I really wanted to change my lifestyle. I knew I needed to decrease my stress level (a proven primary cause of inflammation) and boost my immune system. Before the move to New England, I was living in Florida, with organic fruits and vegetables everywhere you looked.

But in New Hampshire? Not so much!

Growing up, we always had a garden and I used to LOVE LOVE LOVE eating tomatoes and beans and strawberries right off the vine. There is something so delicious and satisfying about growing your own food. Taking a seed, seeing it sprout, and nurturing it to flourish gives you a new perspective on life and what living really means.

I don’t always wear gloves. But when I do, I’m in my happy place.

So a greenhouse and three raised beds later, we have a garden! It has been such an awesome learning experience. My garden is my happy place and a great place for me to practice mindfulness meditation. Every moment I get a chance to play in the dirt is a moment well spent.

What the heck does gardening have to do with mindfulness? Everything! I’m a tactile/kinesthetic person, so getting my hands in the dirt is incredibly relaxing for me. Getting my hands in the ground is like becoming one with the earth. I don’t need to think about anything…I can just be.

I never see the garden as work. I see it as a place to relax. A place I can absorb the beauty around me from every angle. A place I can breathe.

My happy place
My happy place. And yes, those are tomatoes growing out the vents of the greenhouse!

My tomatoes don’t care that I’m not wearing makeup. My beets don’t judge me or cause any drama. It’s a place I can put my hair up and let it all go. I can be myself, flaws and all, and create a beautiful world to surround me.

My garden, just like life, is what I make it. The more effort I put in, the more it grows. And the more it grows, the more I grow…emotionally AND spiritually.

Plus I get to reward myself with strawberries 🙂

How do you practice mindfulness meditation? Let me know in the comments below!

The Homestead’s been Ransacked!

By CRITTERS!!

Living in New Hampshire, we get a LOT of interesting animal situations. Bears, moose, deer, crazy birds, raccoons…you name it, we got it. Sharing the neighborhood with such wild animals helps remind us that we humans are in THEIR backyard, not visa versa. Mother Nature is an amazing thing to be respected. And boy, she sure demands respect!

A teenage bear strolling through our driveway last fall
A teenage bear strolling through our driveway last fall

Two years ago, we had a mama bear (with her 3 cubs) destroy our grill. We’ve also had a family of broad-winged hawks nesting in our back yard for the past few years, and they help keep the chipmunks and squirrels in check. The chipmunks are awfully cute, but they still get feisty. And they just ransacked my greenhouse!

I had LITERALLY just started my pumpkin and spaghetti squash seeds yesterday. I like to start things from seed for a few reasons…I can be as organic as possible, using heirloom and non-GMO seeds. I can also control the amount and types of pesticides (none) and fertilizer (all organic). It’s also very therapeutic to get your hands in the dirt and watch something grow and flourish. Gardening is a huge mental and physical release for me, and starting from scratch is the best way to get the most out of the hobby.

So I planted these seeds in my small compostable peat pods in the greenhouse. Yesterday. JUST yesterday. And this morning, I come out to a disaster!

The chipmunks dug out the seeds and had a midnight snack! They also dug holes in the strawberry containers, making me believe they tried to find a good spot to bury the seeds they didn’t eat. Are they already getting prepared for fall?!? I mean, seriously! These are MY seeds, you darn buggers!

WTF!?!? CHIPMUNKS!!!
WTF!?!? CHIPMUNKS!!!

Just last week, we had an invader at the honey bee hive, too! The bee feeder (a sugar water liquid feeder) was tossed down the hill one morning, broken into pieces and the top was punctured. A new large scratch at the front of the hive shows that they tried (and failed) to get in – thank goodness!

The bees were safe, but shaken up. They were a little more reactive than normal to our presence at the hive the next day. Based on the holes, the critter was bigger than a squirrel, but smaller than a bear. Our best guess is that it was a raccoon. Stealing our bee’s sugar water!

Raccoon scratches?
Raccoon scratches?

Message: received. So now, we have a nightly routine to share our homestead outdoor space. Every day at dusk, we close up the greenhouse completely, checking for any stowaway critters, and bring in the sugar water from the hive. The living, breathing homestead has nightly needs…a nightly “get ready for bed” routine. Who would have thought?

Mother Nature. Coming to get ‘cha.