Checking the New Hive


Truthfully I’ve been poking around the bees every day since they arrived. Mostly just to do things like check the feeder, replace an old cover, straighten a super, remove the metal strapping (got a nice sting on the nose for that!) And of course, just observe them doing their thing, bringing resources back to the hive.

I like to think that they are getting to know me. I don’t want to disturb them overly, and I know that bees are inevitably crushed each time I pick through the hive, so I forced myself to wait as long as I could. The weather has been gorgeous and sunny, but oh so windy. Too windy? Bees can fly up to 15mph, so anything greater than that is probably a bad idea. So yeah, I opened them up anyway.


Hello new hive!

I haven’t used my veil or gloves since the day I installed the nuc. I like the freedom of no gear but I also don’t know my bees all that well yet. If I plan to learn from my hives this year, it means figuring out exactly what makes bees mad. Therefore I have ordered a full bee suit and plan to use it. Except maybe the gloves.

The sting on the nose was a nice tension-breaker, and it truly made tears well up in my eyes! But I had no reaction other than a lingering pain for maybe 30 minutes and a tiny zit right on that spot the next day. I realize now I was stung because I was causing a lot of vibrations with the metal strap against the hive, at dusk, on a recently transplanted colony, with no gear on. Lesson learned.


Looking good ladies!

Some people say bee venom helps prevent cancer. According to some guy who stung himself all over the body for science – the nose is the most painful spot, so take it from me, the worst pain possible is not really that bad. Kind of like an extra fierce onion fume shoved right up your sinus. Bee venom is acidic, so a paste of baking soda and water should give instant relief when you do get stung.


Squashed bees… Do I spot the queen?

So yeah, I’ve opened up both hives briefly and there are a few things I know I need to do.

First I need to get my bee suit in the mail. Then the hives need to come off the pallets, as they are currently too high off the ground to work comfortably once they grow. I’d like to build a narrower custom stand for them to make them easier to work around. I also need to do a thorough check of each hive to identify queens and brood and the overall state of affairs.

The new hive hasn’t touched their sugar water, and I’m hoping that’s because natural resources are plentiful. My inspection today showed capped brood, honey and lots of pollen, but I chickened out before checking all the frames. My recent check of the top box of the more established hive showed pretty much the same thing.


The established hive shortly before the metal strapping came off

Projects include fixing the old hive cover, making some ventilated top quilts, building nuc boxes, painting and assembling supers and frames, building screened bottom boards and attending a bee workshop next weekend. Yay bees!

My First Bees!


The selection of nucs for sale

I drove three hours today to pick up my very first nuc of bees not far outside of Victoria. Boy am I excited!


Close up of some of the nucs

The gentleman who sold them to me was very knowledgeable and told me he’s been keeping bees since 1974. Apparently he used to work for a large apiary in southern California for over 27 years. I was glad he knew what he was doing, as I didn’t ask many questions before committing to the trek. He was also kind enough to allow me to snap a few photos.


The main apiary

I needn’t have worried, as he had a nice little selection of nucs that were made from his strongest overwintered hives. He was on a good varroa treatment schedule using oxalic acid and thymol which he explained to me. He recommended the oxalic treatment during the winter when there is less brood (since the treatment can’t penetrate the cells) and the thymol treatment around the end of August after the honey harvest. (Thymol needs hot weather to work).

He said that he breeds for honey production, colony strength and gentleness. He admitted he doesn’t breed for hygienic bees per se, but that his colonies were all very strong and so he might as well be. (Hygienic selective bred  bees  are much better at keeping themselves clean of varroa mites.)





Opening up my nuc

He showed me his active hives and then got out the smoker to show me the nuc. It’s a four frame that is positively chock full of hard working little ladies. It must weigh about 30 pounds. He secured the four frames to one side with two nails to avoid shifting, and the top was nailed on as well. The entrance was sealed with a little block of foam. Once I got them home I was advised to allow them to sit for an hour to let them settle, and then remove the foam. Since it was dark when I arrived home, I will wait to do the transfer into the hive until tomorrow.




Finally home!

I also have a lead on a full, three box complete hive with bees and drawn comb for a good price, and I think I may pick it up so I have two hives to compare. I’ll keep you posted!

New Wood Chipper

I was joking around in a previous post about how hard it is to find cheap wood chips around here this year, and how I was pretty close to buying my own wood chipper and putting up an ad for tree services!


Well it turns out that is exactly what has happened. Today I bought myself a used chipper and soon I will be pestering neighbors for their tree trimmings. Can’t wait!



Well, no actual bees yet, but my order for a nuc (nucleus of bees) has been put in and should be ready for pickup in a few weeks. (A nucleus is a box containing a few frames of worker bees and a queen, kind of like a mini hive.)

What I do have is my very first beehive!

I’ve wanted to start raising bees ever since I got my own property, and was pleased to note that my city allows up to three hives per urban lot. I’ve been busy for a few years getting the rabbits, chickens and other creatures coming along, and I decided this year it was time to start the bee adventure.

I’ve been a member of the local beekeeping club for a couple of years now, and this weekend there was supposed to be a beginner beekeeper’s course hosted by them that I signed up for. Sadly there was not enough interest and the course was cancelled. Since my entry fee was refunded, I decided to use it to buy my first hive.


My starter hive is a Langstroth, obtained from Flying Dutchman in Nanaimo. It consists of a slanted bottom board to keep out rain, a deep brood box filled with ten waxed plastic frames, an entry reducer bar, an inner cover, and an outer telescoping cover topped with sheet metal.  All the wooden parts have been hot wax dipped at the factory, so no paint or other finish is required.

I also picked up a hat with veil (veil not pictured), and some gloves. I already have a hive tool, so I should have everything I need to be ready for my first bees. I will be buying or making another deep brood box and a medium honey super in the next few weeks, so I’ll be prepared if everything proceeds as planned and my bees need more space.

I often say I’m excited on this blog but this time I am REALLY excited! Stay tuned for more bee news!


Fermented Grain for Chickens 2.0


I wrote some time ago about fermenting grain for my chickens. Back then I was doing it in a large glass jar in my kitchen. Yeah, that was never going to last.

Last fall I started getting serious about fermented grain. I tried so many times to grow fodder for my hens over the winter, but nothing I did could prevent mold from taking over every tray. I wanted the girls to have something ‘alive’ to eat during the cold months, so I set up a 5 gallon bucket beside the coop and dumped in a bunch of different grains and covered them with water. That’s about how hard it is to get started.

Currently I use whole corn (it’s crimped in the photos because the feed store gave me the wrong stuff last trip), whole wheat, whole black oil sunflower seeds, whole millet, whole oats, whole barley and some wild bird seed that the wild birds couldn’t care less about.


It worked great. I read somewhere that you could add layer pellets to the bucket too, but when I tried that I soon had a case of moldy top scum on my hands. I dumped that batch out and started over, and now I don’t put regular pellets or crumbles into the mix. I haven’t had any more issues with mold.


After a while I got adventurous and started adding things. I got some kelp powder, turmeric, garlic powder and cayenne. Now each time I add new grain to the bucket a tablespoon of each supplement goes in too. It smells great and the birds love it. Not simply the chickens but also the pigeons, ducks and pheasants.

The cayenne keeps rats away and was the trick to jumpstarting my Ameraucana hen into laying again this spring after she seemed a bit ‘stuck’. Did you know cayenne is one of the ingredients in the special red-factor ‘color enhancement’ food you can buy for canaries?  Birds don’t have the ability to taste capsaicin so to them it’s just extra delicious.



Easter Bunnies Update

The first spring litters are now almost three weeks old and everyone is doing great. All kits are fat and happy and just starting to foray out of the nest boxes. Soon they’ll be munching fresh greens alongside their moms.


This first litter is out of Caraway and they are half Champagne d’Agent, a quarter Standard Rex and a quarter Creme d’Argent. Half the kits came out agouti with a little white spot on their foreheads, and the other half came out looking like black otter Rexes (which is what their grandsire was), with some frosting on their bums that is very similar to Silver Marten markings.




The next litter is out of Esther, and they are the Creme d’Argent/Champagne d’Argent crosses. They all came out agouti colored but I’ll be interested to see if they develop any white frosting as they mature. The one white kit in the nest is a Californian baby that was transferred as a day old to even out the litter sizes.




Litter three is out of Samphire, and are our pure Californian bunnies. These little guys are just starting to get their dark points coming in.




And finally, litter number four is out of Fire Opal and are the purebred Standard Rex buns. She only threw three bunnies this time, so I took four bunnies away from Caraway (she had 11) on day one and transferred them to Opal’s nest. They are the agouti and solid black colored ones.


It looks like the solid Rex kit is an opal like mom, which is a blue coat with a reddish undertone and cream belly. Very pretty.



Kit number two is either a broken blue otter, or a broken opal. Also very pretty with a nice pattern.




And lastly, the third Rex kit appears to be a broken black otter. You can see the snips of tan around the nostrils, eyes and ears that give it away.



DSC_0069.JPGHappy Easter everyone!

Seed Starting


I think I can say that this is the first time in my life I’ve started my seeds on time, and properly. I now have a seedling heat mat, and was happy to find small greenhouse flats at the dollar store for a buck each. I made free plant markers out of plastic yogurt lids, and the seaweed snack trays I’ve been saving fit perfectly six to a flat. Let’s go!


First to sprout was the curly endive and broccoli in less that 24 hours, followed by the marigolds, okra and thyme at about 48 hours. I have my tomato and pepper seeds going, as well as some herbs that I’d like more of. I go through thyme so quickly and it grows so slowly!

The tomatoes I have started are Aunt Ruby’s German Green, Prudens Purple, Black Sea Man and Green Grape. A couple of the seed varieties are older so I may have to start more. The Prudens Purple are from 2008!

For peppers right now I have Jalapeno, Poblano, Sweet Banana (thought it was hot),  and New Mexico 6 Chili. Planning to also do Habaneros.



I went seed shopping today and got a bunch of fun stuff. Seedy Sunday is next weekend but I just couldn’t help myself.

Starting from top left we have mixed Iceland poppies, mixed violas, variegated nasturtium, tarragon, edamame, rhubarb, borage (I know it’s a weed!), rainbow carrots, daikon radish, collard greens, castor bean, shallots, scallopini squash (pattypans), golden beets, crystal apple cucumber, lemon cucumber, brussels sprouts, celery and bergamot. Phew! Did you know that some people hide seeds behind other seeds at the seed store? They do!


I also picked up a flat of Winterbor kale since there were no seeds available and it’s a variety I wanted to try. It’s the curly green kind most often found at the store.

Last I grabbed some elephant garlic and a canna since I’ve never grown one and I find them lovely. It will need to be lifted in the fall and stored in a frost free area for the winter, but I canna see that being much of a problem!

Second Raised Bed Filled


Things have been moving along well with the beds, the middle bed now has a deep layer of aged compost and manure, topped with some chicken coop flooring, and finished with topsoil/decomposed mulch from the existing garden. I hardly know where to start planting!


While I was emptying the compost pile to fill this bed, I uncovered another rat’s nest. I knew they were hanging out in there. A couple more wheelbarrows in and a huge momma rat jumped out and ran off. We were too slow to get her. She’s still been too wily to step into a rat trap, but she sure doesn’t like the cayenne pepper I’ve spread around the perimeter of the coop where she used to dig in every night. I’m also putting it into the poultry feed itself.


Introducing My New Rex Herd Sire

DSC_0003Up until now my Standard Rex herd sire has been Timmy. I got Timmy a year or so ago from a couple that had him as a pet rabbit and couldn’t care for him anymore. He didn’t like being handled and they wanted to concentrate on their friendlier bunnies. While he is a very nice rabbit, type-wise he is terrible. He also has no pedigree and no tattoo. Since there are only a few Rex breeders on the Island, and most of their stock came from the USA, I think it’s safe to assume that Timmy was someone’s cull and it’s easy to see why.

It was time for me to get a proper Rex herd sire. After one debacle with a disreputable local rabbit breeder (who has since had all her rabbits seized by the SPCA), I located a breeder who seemed to be doing everything right. She was extremely kind and helpful and has a herd of the most beautiful and happy rabbits.

Yesterday I drove to her little farm and picked up the most gorgeous 13 week old Broken Castor buck: Moonstruck’s MR16. Once we get to know each other a little better I’ll give him a proper name. A big thank you to Jody Mitchell and Moonstruck Meadows!

DSC_0005This little guy is just the most handsome little buck I have ever seen. He has beautiful fur and body type and a full pedigree. This means that with Tuna’s full pedigree, I am on my way to producing fully pedigreed Rexes. Since he is a broken, this also means that I can start producing broken kits, which is a very fun prospect. Timmy will be retired and probably Bluefin will be also, as she is Timmy’s daughter and not very easy to work with. Unfortunately with limited space and cages I have to trim my herd aggressively.

DSC_0007Just look at that cute little face!

Backyard and Container Garden Progress + Cats


Parsley (the cat) in the container garden

I was a little on edge using the pure organic fish compost I had purchased, unamended in my giant container garden, but so far tests have been positive! You can distinguish it as the very black stuff in the photo above as compared to the lighter material which is my homemade compost. I think potting soil is a bit of a ripoff so I’m looking forward to the results of this experiment.

I was initially worried about drainage, so I added a 4-6 inch layer of homemade compost to the bottom of each pot, since it’s really light and chunky. It’s pretty much a mixture of kitchen and garden waste mixed with wood chips and rabbit and chicken/quail manure aged for about a year. I have two piles going and I alternate between piles; one gets emptied while the other gets filled. I don’t mind using compost that is a little unfinished, or chunky; but sometimes that isn’t ideal for seed starting.

So far I haven’t noticed any problems with compaction or burning or anything with the fish compost and it’s been a week or two since things were planted. I’ll be interested to see how the growth compares to my homegrown compost pots. Those pots have some fresh chicken pen floor as their bottom layer. Pure folly? We shall see.


My tomato garden

A few tomatoes are in. These are my first attempt at cold sown tomatoes, so I have big expectations of them. Ideally, they should be as vigorous as any volunteer tomato in the compost pile. I will have a few in the ground and a few in pots. Maybe a total of about 15 plants. It’s a good thing I restricted myself this year because inevitably I found another tomato plant I wanted at the farmer’s market. It is a Striped German and is reported to taste like candy. I also picked up some Moroccan Tea Mint, Chamomile and a Mouse Melon plant. Not to mention a giant Black Bamboo and Sunset Glow Bamboo which will be used for privacy hedges.

I recently got out my shiny, beautiful, All American Pressure Canner to can some rabbit meat and I’m raring to go on the tomatoes, once they arrive. Tomatoes are one of my favorite things to can, they taste so good. There are a few flowers already, so here’s hoping for a bountiful harvest this year. I plan to try to keep suckers pruned and keep things tidy.

DSC_0031My arugula, started from seeds I collected last year, is growing like crazy. It’s ready for harvest after just a week or two. I’m glad these were the seeds I brought to the swap this year, I love imagining other beautiful plots of arugula all over the island. My red and yellow onions are getting big and my leeks no longer look like invisible blades of grass. Beets and carrots are coming in, although some creature (slug) has been helping themselves to part of the rows. Volunteer potatoes are huge already and calendulas are threatening to bloom. The yacon is bursting out of its pot and there are jalapenos and eggplants sprouting. It’s going to be a busy month!


Mushrooms (the cat) in the container garden