Author: Mary (Page 2 of 6)

Chicken Little

The new chickens have arrived and are settled in.  We got four pullets (8 week old chickens) to build up our flock which had gone from four to two.  The two older chickens are three years old now, so they are well established and didn’t appreciate the new upstarts showing up.  The new chickens were confused, scared and didn’t appreciate the older ones bossing them around.  We tried to keep them separated for a few days so that the new chickens could get settled in, but we don’t have two separate chicken coops and we found that containing four chickens for several days without a proper coop is just about impossible (see chickens in the barn rafters, below).

We finally gave in and just put them all together with the hope they would all work it out.  To ease the tension, we kept the new chickens in the coop for a couple of weeks and let the older ones out during the day, which was their routine.

Marilyn, one of the older hens – and the only one that is still laying eggs, went into full protest mode.  She refused to lay her eggs in the nesting boxes anymore and resorted to laying them in a corner of our hay storage area in the barn.  Although that doesn’t seem like it should be an issue, Hazel, our barn cat had a big problem with  it!  Suddenly, she started guarding the hay and would chase Marilyn out of the barn whenever she would go in to lay her egg.  There was an awful lot of squawking going on.  Marilyn, refusing to be deterred, just kept on trying to get into the barn until Hazel either lost interest in chasing her out, or was taking her daily nap.  After about a week of this, Carly, our adorable Lab, realized that every day there was an egg on the floor in the barn and she soon began racing down to the barn to see if she could retrieve it (and eat it) before I got down there to pick it up.  REALLY Marilyn, can’t you just lay your eggs in the nesting boxes???  Apparently not.

After about two weeks, I decided that the new chickens would be bonded with the chicken coop and know that it was home, so I started letting them out during the day.

Getting them back to the coop those first few days was a challenge.  Gator got pretty good and walking around the yard with a long stick herding them back home.  After about a week, they started to learn the routine and they now come running when I call them in the evenings.

Now that we’ve had them a few weeks, everyone is getting along just fine.  Marilyn is still laying her eggs in the barn, but she and Hazel seem to have worked out a truce.  I have to keep an eye on Carly – she continues to run down to the barn to look for eggs.  The new chickens have started laying eggs too, and thank goodness, they are laying in the nesting boxes!




Back in the Saddle

Now that spring has finally arrived (kind of), Gator and I are back in the saddle and riding again.  Although our riding is usually significantly reduced during the winter, this year it came to a grinding halt.  Gator’s horse, Banjo, was injured last summer and he wasn’t completely healed until late in the year (see my Silver Linings post from December).  About that time, I was injured and had to take a couple of months off.  By the beginning of March, everyone was certified as fully recovered and we put together a plan to get horses and riders back in shape and out riding again.

Part of the plan was to go to a ranch riding clinic.  I did a little competing with Max last year and Gator decided that he would like to give it a try this year with Banjo.  Just for the record, we are purely recreational riders.  Nothing fancy going on here.  We both work and have a lot of other things going on, so we don’t have the time to commit to going to more than a few local shows each year.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with ranch riding, it is a class in a horse show where each horse and rider complete a set pattern consisting of about a dozen different maneuvers that show things they would encounter in a typical day on a ranch .  I won’t go into all of the details, but the foundation is having a willing but relaxed horse.  Max is typically very willing but not so relaxed and Banjo is usually relaxed but not always willing.

We signed up for a clinic at the end of March with well known clinician, Steve Meadows, who was hosting a two part clinic that suited both Gator and me.  In the morning, the schedule was the basics of ranch riding – specifically the different gates, then in the afternoon, the plan was to cover a couple of patterns and the things that the judges look for.  We got up early and headed out before dawn to the state fairgrounds where the event was being held.  It was one of those lovely March days where the temperature was in the low 20s when we headed out and as the sun came up, so did the wind.  All in all, it was pretty miserable – and of course, we were riding outside!

The clinic was really good though.  Actually the horses were terrible!  We haven’t hauled the two of them together away from the farm for well over a year, and this was a strange and scary place, so they were hoping to  stay attached at the hip for safety – the exact opposite of what they got.  From the minute we started saddling up they were fussing, so Gator and I decided to separate them as much as possible during the clinic.  Ugh, not really a lot of fun to have not just one, but two sassy and misbehaving horses while we were trying to learn something.  Steve was awesome, though.  As he pointed out, a clinic was the best place for this to happen and he helped us work through it.  By the end of the day, both horses ran through a complete pattern without any mistakes and were well behaved.

We came home with a plan.  I had been separating the horses when they are out during the day, but I usually put them in fields right next to each other for my convenience.  I was more concerned about just having a fence between them so that they wouldn’t be rough housing.  Now I put them as far away from each other as I can get them.  Thank goodness I have four fields to work  with.  They can see each other, but no standing around socializing!  We have also  started riding at separate times, so that one gets to go out and one has to stay home.  It wasn’t very pleasant in the beginning, but it is definitely getting better.  Now that the weather is finally improving, we hope to do a lot more riding this year on willing and relaxed horses!


New Beginnings

Spring is on the horizon and I, for one, will be glad to put winter behind me. We’ve had some crazy weather, from an extremely cold January to a very wet February to horrendous winds this month.  Our old trees are taking a beating and we have lost branches from most of them.  The oldest trees are hollow and just crumble in the high winds.


At least we didn’t lose power or have any damage to any of the buildings but this is getting old and I’m ready for some nice weather!

We also suffered another huge loss this winter.  Both of our beehives died.  Gator and I were devastated.  As I posted last fall, we had our “bee mentor” come out and inspect the hives with us.  He was confident that we had two good, healthy hives with lots of honey to get the bees through the winter.  As we found out from the state apiarist (aka head bee guy) at the Virginia Department of Agriculture, the bee losses in Virginia this winter have been “alarming.”  Two main factors appear to be the major causes.  First, we had several weeks of very cold weather early in the winter.  The cold causes the hives to contract and cluster to stay warm.  Well, it was so cold that the bees on the outside of the cluster couldn’t get to the honey to bring it back before dying.  Even if the hive had enough honey, if it wasn’t right where the cluster of bees was, the hive could still starve or be significantly weakened.  The other factor that was discovered was that the deadly varroa mite population has exploded.  Normally, it is recommended that first year hives not be treated for parasites because it usually takes a year or so for them to become a big enough problem to justify using pesticides in the hive to control them.   We hear so much about pesticides killing bees, but most people don’t know that nearly all beekeepers use pesticides to save their bees.  It’s a delicate balance, and it will be interesting to see what the recommendations will be this year to control parasites on bees.  We will be starting over this spring with new bees.  We have lots of honey and comb that we were able to salvage, so hopefully that will give the new bees an extra boost.

We also have four new chickens coming next month.  We are down to two chickens and they are three years old now so we decided it was time to supplement the flock.  Only one chicken was still laying eggs last summer and she stopped in the fall which forced me to have to buy eggs this winter.  Even the organic, free range eggs from the grocery store can’t compare to home grown eggs from my own chickens – they just don’t taste as good.  The week after I ordered and paid for my new chickens, she started laying again!  Hopefully when the new chickens arrive and start laying, we’ll have so many eggs, we’ll be giving them away again.

I have also gotten my garden started.  That always gets me excited for spring!  I’ve started heirloom tomatoes from seed again, along with jalapeños, bell peppers, eggplant and herbs.

I’ll also be planting, lettuce, spinach, sunflowers, lavender and numerous other herbs.  Since I have two gardens, I almost always have extra space, so I’ll just have to see what the local garden center has that I can use to fill in.

We just have to get through the next couple of weeks and spring will come with it’s new beginnings!

Silver Lining

Looking back on 2017, it was definitely a mixed bag.  We had a bumpy start with the bees, losing one hive right away because the queen didn’t survive.  Our mentor was kind enough to give us some bees that he had split from one of his hives and we were quickly up and running again with two hives.  We were diligent about feeding our bees all summer (using almost 300 lbs of sugar!) and going into the cold weather, both hives were four boxes tall with lots of honey in them.


Winter is a very risky time for beehives, but starting with two strong hives increases their chances of survival.

I also had better luck with my garden this year.  I grew heirloom tomatoes from seed for the first time this year, and not knowing how well they would produce, I went ahead and planted 16 plants.  I  planted cucumbers for pickles, several varieties of peppers, edamame, tomatillos, squash and lots of herbs as well.  We had a very strange growing season with heavy rain followed by weeks without a drop, so not everything did really well, but I had lots of fresh produce and plenty of tomatoes and cucumbers that I was able to can salsa and pickles and freeze spaghetti sauce.  We had a big crop of peaches and I did manage to get them picked and frozen too.


On the down side, our animals had a really rough year.  It started in June when I brought the horses in one morning to find that Banjo had a 6 inch gash on his shoulder.  It was too late to stitch it – it had already swollen and would have pulled the stitches out when he lowered his head to graze.

It took nearly three months of daily cleaning and dressing the wound, but it has healed up very well.  We haven’t been able to figure out exactly what happened, but I had a feeling that Max was responsible.  Although they love each other very much, they play way too rough and they were continually getting injured (minor injuries to this point) and losing shoes.  I decided to separate them and they have stayed injury free since then.

Things went down hill from there, however.  In one week, we lost two chickens and our darling cat, Martha.  We had some sort of predator that just reeked havoc on the farm.  One chicken was attacked right in the middle of the day.  I’ll spare you the details, but it appeared to be a bird, possibly an eagle or a hawk because she was injured on her back (as opposed to being drug off by a fox).  A couple of days before, Martha had a traumatic injury to her leg and spine that left her paralyzed.  We were never able to determine exactly what happened, but it sure seems like she was attacked by something as well.

I was devastated.  Although I know that these are the risks you take when you have animals, it was really tough to deal with all of these losses.  As it turns out, there was a silver lining to all of this.  One day when I was in the vet’s office picking up some medicine, the vet tech (with whom I was now on a first name basis) asked me if I was going to get another cat.  I said we probably needed to start looking for one, but I just couldn’t bring myself to begin the search.  She mentioned that a client had brought in a kitten that had been dumped off at their business and although they were taking care of it, they really didn’t want to keep it – would I be interested?  Sometimes things just have a way of working out and less than 24 hours later, Hazel entered our lives.


I still wasn’t over losing Martha – it had only been a few weeks, although  I should have known nothing could replace her.  Martha was calm and sweet but not at all playful.  Hazel is rowdy, fun loving and into everything.  She loves to play in running water and wrestle with the dogs.  She has been a joy to have around and all of the other animals love her.  Except the chickens.  Hazel loves to chase the chickens.  The chickens do not loved to be chased.  Oh well, she doesn’t hurt them, so they will have to deal with it.

After all, Hazel is the silver lining in what has been a rough year at Glenmore!

Fitting In

I went to my high school 40th class reunion a couple of weeks ago.  I haven’t been able to make it to any of my previous reunions but this year thanks to social media, I found out about it months in advance and was able to book a trip back to Wisconsin for the weekend.  I must admit, I went with a little trepidation.  I never really felt like I fit in while in high school.

St. Joseph’s Academy was an all girls school and is no longer in existence.  The building is still there – parts of it are over 100 years old, but it has been sold a couple of times and is now being used by the public school system.


Much of it has been renovated, there has been a big addition put on and the old convent is gone.  As part of the reunion, we were able to take a tour of the school led by one of our classmates who works there now.  What a blast from the past!  It’s amazing how many memories came rushing back as we walked down those halls.  Teachers’ names and classmates that we hadn’t thought of in years suddenly came back to us as we walked around the building.  The 10 cent popcorn at lunch, the phone booth in the basement that we used to call home, and the horrible gym uniforms we had to wear had us in stitches as we reminisced.


We had a pretty good turn out – the best since our 10 year reunion.  After our tour, we all got together for lunch and each one of us spoke about what we are doing and where we live.  There are a few members of our class that nobody has heard from in years, but I was surprised how many of the people who live in town have run into former classmates and were able to give us an update.

What I found so interesting was from our common experience in high school, our lives have taken such different paths.  We have gone on to become doctors, nurses, journalists, actors, accountants, stay at home moms, social workers, educators, pharmacists, entrepreneurs – I can go on and on.  We may have been with the same company for decades, or just beginning to work outside the home after raising kids, or may have recently retired.  Some of us married high school sweethearts right out of high school or college, some married later, some never married, others are widowed or divorced.  We have classmates that don’t have any children, some have one or two, some have many children.  Our children may be middle or high schoolers, college age or grown and living on their own (or at home with us!) or already married with children of their own.  People from our class live all over the country, from Arizona to New England and Florida to California – in the middle of cities, suburbia and on farms.

It’s funny, I think back to that group of 150 girls all wearing navy blue skirts and white blouses, and I look at the women we have become with the diversity in our lives and I realize I always fit in!

Thank you Joyce Davidson for allowing me to use pictures that you took!

Crisis in the Hive

We have an amazing beekeeping mentor who has been so helpful in making sure that we don’t go into the hives too often, yet often enough to detect problems soon enough to take corrective action. Every time a hive is opened, damage is done to the comb and usually several bees are killed.  At the very least, it is disruptive to the hive.  We specifically planned to open the hives and inspect the frames three weeks after we installed them, giving the queens enough time to get established and start laying eggs.

On the designated day, our mentor came over right after work so that a lot of the bees would still be outside.  He showed us how to properly smoke a hive, which calms the bees down and how to get the hive top feeder off the hive with a minimal amount of damage.

Once we got the first hive open, our mentor immediately knew something wasn’t right.  First of all, there weren’t enough bees.  By this time, the hive should be growing and the bees should be drawing comb on 5-6 frames.

When we pulled a frame out to look at it, his fears were confirmed – no queen.

How did he know that by looking at this first frame?  I certainly couldn’t tell, and I didn’t know what to look for.  This is precisely why all of the first year beekeepers in our class were assigned mentors.  We would have questioned why there weren’t more bees, but we didn’t know enough to figure out we had lost the queen.  By the time we would have realized that, the whole hive would have been dead.

OK, back to the frame.  It’s hard to see in the picture, but the comb is very uneven and there were several eggs in many of the cells.  What this told us was that because there was no queen, the worker bees were laying eggs and they are only able to lay drone eggs and drone cells are bigger than regular worker bee cells.  Usually there only a few of them on a frame – off to the side or at the bottom.  These were all through the frame.

Now, what to do?  Well it all depended on how things looked in the second hive.


As you can see from these pictures, things look a lot better.  Not as many bees as our mentor had hoped for, but we found the queen (the supplier marks the queens with a colored dot on their backs for easy identification) and she was busy laying eggs.

The healthy hive gave us the best option for saving the queenless hive.  We took a frame from the healthy hive that had newly laid eggs in it, making sure not to take the queen with it, and moved it to the queenless hive.  The idea here is that there are good, healthy worker bee eggs in the frame and the bees would grow a queen from them by feeding some of them a special food. It is a slow process and at best, this hive will be a full month to six weeks behind the other hive, but if all goes well, we will get this hive thriving and built up enough to get through next winter.

At this point, there is not much we can do but wait.  In a couple of weeks, we will check both hives again. In the first hive, we will look to make sure there are queen cells developing and in the second hive, we will be just making sure that it has recovered from losing a whole frame full of eggs.

I’ll keep you posted!

Beekeeping beginnings

At long last, our bees arrived last week!  We’ve been looking forward to this for several months.  When we started this process, I had no idea how complicated beekeeping would be.  Actually, I knew practically  nothing about it, which is why Gator and I decided we better take a class through the local beekeeping society.  As we learned how complicated it is, we also learned how important it is.  I knew that honeybees were on the decline, but I had no idea how fragile their existence is.  The more we learned, the more we got excited about working to increase the bee population in our area.

So here we are.  The bees arrive in wooden boxes, otherwise known as packages, each with 10,000 bees.  Sounds like a lot, but they all fit in a package about the size of a shoebox.  Included in each package is a queen in a cage with a couple of attendants (no joke!) as well as a can of sugar water with holes poked in the bottom for the rest of the bees to feed on until they get into their hive.


The bees come in packages of two and are shipped from Georgia.  Our bee club orders them in November for April delivery, and they are delivered to a central location where we pick them up the day they are delivered.  By the time the bees arrive, they are pretty unhappy.  In two days, they are pulled out of their hives away from their queen and regular jobs, dumped into the package, put on a truck and shipped half way across the country.  In order to calm them down, we put them in the cellar, which is cool and dark for a couple of days.

We are lucky enough to have a mentor through our club and when we were ready to install the bees in their hives, he came out to help us with the process.


The first thing they did was to get the queen cage out of the package and hang it in the hive.  The queen eats through a piece of candy from the inside and worker bees eat their way in over a few days, while they adjust to her scent and learn that she is their new queen.


Once the queen was all set, then the rest of the bees go in.  It’s called “shaking” the bees and that is exactly what happens.  Gator did the honors.  There are quite a few dead bees in the bottom of the package, but any that fall into the hive will be cleaned out as part of the regular housekeeping process.


After letting the bees work their way down into the hive, the feeder full of sugar water goes on top and the lid goes on.  Then it’s just a matter of checking on them every couple of days to make sure they have enough food.  I didn’t realize we’d be feeding the bees, but this first year, they will need some help getting their numbers built up so that the hive will be strong enough to get through the winter.

Today we went out to check the hives and the queens have worked their way out of their cages!  So far, things are going according to plan.  Other than keeping food supplied, we will leave the hives alone for a couple more weeks.  Then our mentor will come out and we will go into the hives to see if the queens are laying eggs.  I’ll keep you posted!

Signs of Spring

March came in like a lion and went out like a lion – not the way it’s supposed to happen, but spring is finally here.  April has been a bit bumpy as well so far.  We’ve had some beautiful days and we’ve had several big storms with torrential wind and rain, even tornadoes!  We just don’t normally get tornadoes in this part of Virginia.  It is spring, though and anything goes.

We’ve had to pick up branches,

deal with mud,

shedding, and lost horse shoes.


Even though we are still getting some cool days, they are progressively getting warmer.  Our peach tree had just started blooming when the cold weather hit, but it recovered nicely.

IMG_7514 IMG_7515

The daffodils my sister and I planted a couple of years ago are having their best bloom yet!


Gator has been working on the bee yard.  Bees will be here this week.  I had no idea how complicated beekeeping is.  After finishing our seven week course, I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed at the prospect of getting these hives up and running.

In spite of the challenges of spring, it is an exciting time.  We’ve got some very busy weeks coming up.  I’ll keep you posted!



The Birds and the Bees

We’ve had some interesting experiences with birds over the past several months. One is the injured buzzard that has been living in the old dairy barn just across our property line. We noticed it out on the dirt road that runs through the farm last fall. It would flap around but never could get off the ground. Then after the corn was cut down, we would occasionally see it out in the cornfield. I thought this was one of those cases where after a week or two, Mother Nature would take its course and either a fox or some other critter would be able to take advantage of  the buzzadrd’s inability to fly, but it has managed to find food and keep safe all winter. I guess they don’t call them tough old buzzards for nothing!

IMG_7495  IMG_7497

We have also been seeing a pair of bald eagles flying around. Of course they never seem to make an appearance when I have my camera handy.  I did get one quick picture with my cell phone one day, so this is the best I’ve been able to do.


Hopefully they will hang around and I’ll be able to get some decent pictures. I have no idea where their nest is but we have seen them in the trees along the creek. I need to do some reading up on eagles – I really don’t know much about their habits. They sure take my breath away every time I see them.

Another interesting bird we’ve come across is a little owl that sits in the middle of the driveway at night. I haven’t been able to get a picture of this one. We’ve only seen it four or five times but all the other owls I’ve seen are BIG. This one doesn’t appear to be any bigger than a robin, only with a head that’s much bigger in proportion to its body.  Once agin, I need to do some reading up on owls, because I don’t know if this particular one is a baby owl or just a little owl. Anyhow it sits in the middle of the driveway and it’s hard to figure out what it is until you get right up on it. It just looks like a rock or some debris in the dark. The first  time we saw it, it didn’t fly up until we were almost on top of it and then it came right over the windshield – oh boy, was that a surprise!

Now for the bee part. I’m happy to say that Gator and I are starting two beehives this spring! This is one thing I have been reading up on.  We’ve been taking a course with the Northern Piedmont Beekeeper’s Association. I must say, there is way more to beekeeping than I ever imagined. Our bees won’t get here until mid-April at the earliest, but we are getting our hives and other equipment ordered, so I’ll keep you posted on how all of this goes.

Going Solo

Gator and I have done a lot of projects together over the years – we make a pretty good team.  We are both usually off for ten days to two weeks over Christmas and New Years, so we often take advantage of that time to knock out a big project now that we don’t have kids at home anymore.  Last year, we fenced in two pastures, other years we’ve done painting, bathroom remodels – the list goes on and on.

This year, I had in mind that we would replace the kitchen floor.  It’s really been bugging me.  I would say that the floor in the kitchen is probably the the thing I dislike most about our house.  As I’ve talked about in a previous blog, our kitchen cabinets are made from hard to find wormy chestnut wood and were taken from an old cabin that the previous owners of our house had purchased and dismantled. It definitely has a rustic look.  The floor, however, is red and green vinyl composition tile, which in my opinion, screams retro – not rustic.


Besides the look, the maintenance on VCT is lots of work.  A couple of times a year, the finish needs to be stripped, it needs to be resealed and then refinished.  And the only way to get it done right is to rent a floor polishing machine.  I don’t have time for all of that.  After the last time Gator and I spent a whole day refinishing the floor, he finally caved and said “never again!”  YAY!!!  That was my signal to start shopping!

I finally settled on a slate look porcelain tile and I even convinced Gator to get a price from the flooring store to have them install it.  That didn’t last long – as soon as we got the price for installation Gator decided that we would install it ourselves and save 65% of the price.  OK, it looked like the holiday project was all lined up for this year.

Gator threw me a curve ball though.  As it turned out, he decided that he didn’t want to do any big projects over the holidays.  He wanted for the two of us just to relax, have fun and since he has time off between jobs, he volunteered to do the project himself when I went back to work after the first of the year.  I skeptically agreed, knowing that I could help on the weekends but also knowing this project was going to be a major interruption to the functioning of my kitchen for several weeks.

So we ordered the tile and got to work on demolition.  The ceremonial “ground breaking” –


and the real work beginning


It took the better part of three weeks, but Gator came through once again!


What a difference!  He did an amazing job – he even made all new thresholds and transitions out of old barn wood.  The only problem is that now the green paint doesn’t go with the new kitchen.  I guess I’ll just add that to the project list.  I bet Gator doesn’t volunteer to do that solo….



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