My LAB making rendered a lot of whey, and even more curds. I was planning on turning that into cottage cheese, but after straining and pressing it remained too crumbly. So this morning, for Father’s Day, I got experimental and after a couple of trials put some yummy curds/egg/gluten-free flour/salt and sugar “pancakes” on the table. With homemade blueberry jam they reminded everyone of blintzes, only better. Crunchy and melted, salty and sweet, with a hint of sour, it was a hit!

And just as I wrote how “my” creatures were doing so well, our little runt, Pebble, who had held her own and was doing so well, got a wing torn off, through the wire fence of the chicks’ extra run, in broad daylight. We isolated her, and I looked at the wound as best I could on my own. She seemed alright, roosting, eating, drinking. But then chickens never want to show they’re hurt or in pain; the flock weeds out the weak links instantly and viciously  (we’ve seen it). Still, foolishly we thought, “let’s give her a chance.” After a while I was able to look at the wound, with DH helping, and she was smelling bad already. I sharpened my cleaver, speaking gentle words took her to the back of the garden, laid her down on a tree stump, and without thinking about it took off her head. Amie and I buried her in the pet cemetery. RIP, Pebble.

The Little Coop they’re in has a coop (box) and a run made of welded wire, impenetrable by predators and their claws. It is getting too small for them, so I had made an extra run out of some garden wire staked into the ground, a garden wire ceiling. Not knowing what got Pebble (we thought a cat), I let them in their extra run and stuck around, reading a book (Alphonso Lingis, The Imperative, in case you’re wondering). After an hour or so I looked up to a commotion near the big chickens’ run: it was a racoon. At 3 in the afternoon! Aren’t they’re supposed to be nocturnal? Then I realized  he/she was inside the run, but how? I was sitting right in front of the only entrance. My exclamation of surprise sent it scurrying through the hole he/she had made, giving it away: a narrow gap between the fence top of the run and the coop. So that’s why I was blasting through chicken feed so fast: each evening before dusk we closed the run, but this raccoon had been partaking of the buffet, night and day. And yesterday I also took Pebble’s wing.

So we’re somewhat stuck. We’re letting the big chickens out, hoping they can fend for themselves, but we also closed the gap and now that racoon may be getting hungry enough to go after them. The little chicks are cooped up in their too-small run, except when I am in the chicken yard with them, reading books (not a bad thing). It’s not sustainable. Stay tuned.

I checked on the nucs we took off the big Sam hive and one after the other they turned out queen right with laying queens. 100%! One hive became seven, just like that. The chickens are robust and healthy and laying too many eggs to keep up with, and the six chicks are thriving too (and starting to croak instead of cheep!). The garden is perking up now that the weather has shifted to warm. The ferments on my counter top are abounding.

Big jar of LAB, and the five ingredients for OHN, fermenting in their brown sugar.

You can imagine the smell of the cinnamon bark just by looking at it’s color.

These milk curds are so rich! They’ll be paneer tomorrow.

After building my Air lift Mini Microbulator, I checked out these compost tea recipes. At the aforementioned candy store I bought some Coast of Maine Stonington Blend Growers Mix, a complex “super soil” nutrient blend with mycorrhizal fungi, kelp, fish bone and alfalfa meal, as well as worm castings, peat, coir and lobster compost. Yum! But I didn’t use it, yet. Instead I went with Mr. Tim Wilson’s recipe for a fungal brew.

For 1/2 gallon of water, the recipe is:

Fungal dominated compost 1.5 fluid oz
Black strap molasses 1 tsp
Fish hydrolysate 1 tsp
Alfalfa meal 2 tsp

So for my 5 gallons of tap water that stood around for a couple of days to dechlorinate, and some greenish rain water from the barrel, that made:

Fungal dominated compost (1/2 cups from deep down underneath my leaf mulch pile,and 1/cup from a garden bed I haven’t planted into yet) 15 fl.oz  = about 2 cups
Black strap molasses 10 tsp = 1/8 cup
Home made FAA 10 tsp
Alfalfa meal 20 tsp = 1/4 cup

I also added 1/4 cup of worm castings (also Coast of Maine). Couldn’t help myself.

I turned on the pump at 9:45 am. It’s not too loud. The splashing and gurgling is actually louder than the pump.

This is my first ever real ACT – Aerated Compost Tea. I’ve made brews with a tiny little aquarium bubbler before – those would have been pretty anaerobic brews. I can’t wait to try different recipes. How to judge them, without a microscope, though?

In the meantime, here is some further reading on humates, another great resource, and info on spray equipment that won’t shred your fungal hyphae and larger micro-organisms, and a PDF on foliar applications.

{IMPORTANT UPDATE 6/9} The pump cannot handle the difference between the intake/output ratio if you eliminate the brass adapter. It becomes MUCH louder and the short-circuit-like noises it makes indicate it’s not working properly. At first I thought it was the pump malfunctioning, but when the second one also did this, the store cleared up the mystery for me (thanks, guys!). So, the brass nipple went back in, and I went back to the hardware store for the 3/8″ ID hose…

I had ordered the KIS aeration compost tea brewer ($290 + $30 shipping), having read the glowing recommendations by Dr. Elaine Ingham and Jeff Lowenfells of Teaming-with fame, but unfortunately something is up with their manufacturing process and they’re on back order until July (or indefinitely?).  I cancelled my order and settled on Mr. Tim J. Wilson’s new and improved Mini Microbulator. Also check out his website, full to the brim with info on brewers, brewing, complete with microscope assays (this one for the mini microbulator).

Here is his Mini Microbulator – love that name! – at work.

This one is also for sale, but I just bought the plans ($7 – thanks Mr. Tim!). I got the Elemental O2 Commercial Air Pump (951 gph) from my local hydroponic store – this cool place, it’s like a candy store! In the end it cost me: $7 for plans, $33.43 for the pump, $38.08 for the fittings and hose (and tax) = $78.51.

Though in his plans Mr. Tim uses a 3/8″ ID (inner dimension) hose (with a 3/8″ barb) I followed the advice he gave in a comment on this video:

Your airlift will run with extreme more efficiency if you use a larger diameter airline. Just eliminate the little brass nipple which screws into the pump and use an airline which goes over the nub on the pump, * score the nub with a hacksaw to create something for the airline to grip * clamp the airline securely,  * use a similar size air input nipple into the base of the airlift. This way you will get full efficiency and higher capacity dissolved oxygen from the bioreactor.

So I used a 1/2″ ID vinyl hose (and a 1/2″ barb) instead. I didn’t score the nub on the pump because it probably voids the warranty. I clamped it tightly and will keep an eye on whether it pops out.  HOWEVER

{IMPORTANT UPDATE 6/9} The pump cannot handle the difference between the intake/output ratio if you eliminate the brass adapter. It becomes MUCH louder and the short-circuit-like noises it makes indicate it’s not working properly. At first I thought it was the pump malfunctioning, but when the second one also did this, the store cleared up the mystery for me (thanks, guys!). So, the brass nipple went back in, and I went back to the hardware store for the 3/8″ ID hose…

The base of the airlift fits very tightly (almost not) into my bucket, but it’s a good thing. It makes it super stable and wedges everything together, which means I don’t have to glue any of the fittings together and will make for more through cleanup after each brew.

The riser sits in the middle of the bucket, which prohibits the formation of that vortex everyone likes (Mr. Tim’s 50 gallon microbulator does create a vortex). From what I could see from my first test runs, a lot of air gets pumped into the water/tea, though. Mr. Tim writes that “the dissolved oxygen (DO2) of a finished batch has been over 7 ppm for us with water TDS at around 75 ppm but as high as 9 ppm DO2.” Elaine Ingham writes (here for  a pdf of the best scientific primer on compost tea ever) that the tea should remain in the aerobic range at all times, that is, above 6 ppm or 70 to 80% dissolved oxygen. At some point I’d love to buy an oxygen probe to do my own tests. After I get my microscope!

But first, I can’t wait to make my first brew {UPDATE: I did!}. But I’ll have to find a good place to locate this operation first. The pump is pretty loud, as well as all the splashing, and as a brew usually take over 24 hours, preferably 36 hours, I’m not sure I can get away with it in the basement under our small, one-story, house…

The six chicks are now 6 weeks old and last week I put them outside in the Little Coop. The dust from their food was driving me up the walls while they were inside the house! It hasn’t really warmed up yet, so I had the heat lamp on in there at night. But yesterday it was 50, so I didn’t turn it on: their first night in the dark. The little ones seem to bear it well. They are fully feathered out, growing fast, eating lots, and the Easter Eggers are growing their whiskers. But they still pip-squeak like little chicks.

They still don’t have the hang of going inside the coop when it gets dark. When I turned on the red heat lamp after dark, they’d all skedaddle in, but now I need to coax them in with a flashlight. I thought it might be the lack of a roost, so I made them one out of Amie’s IKEA toddler table (the one in this picture, where has the time gone?).

You were wondering why I kept it for nine years?

But nope. I still need to haul them in. They’ll get the hang of it, I hope, because the raccoons come a-prowling not long after the automatic coop door opener on the Big Coop closes. Any stragglers are shut out and had better hope the humans get there to correct the situation first!

Amie loves playing with the little ones. I created a quick fence around the back of the Little Coop so that when we open the back door and they run out, they’re contained. For one, they’re fast and small, hard to catch. Second, if they get out they’re at the mercy of the big hens, who have somewhat gotten used to their presence in their yard, but who might still give a mean peck to any that come within range.

The picture to the right is of the runt, Pebble. She is holding her own, she’s just smaller. Compared to her, Jiggle, also an Easter Egger and the biggest one of the lot, is a giant.  It makes sense they hang out together.

Unconventional way of carrying a chicken. She does this with the big ones too! An upside down chicken is paralyzed. Amie says “hypnotized” but I wonder

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And then there is other fowl.

 

We’re not used to seeing wild turkeys in our neighborhood, but one day two came strolling through our front yard on their way to the aquaduct (which runs behind our house). We’ve seen them a couple more times. They bypass the veg garden (thank goodness / so far) and go via the bee hives.  The female goes first, the tom follows ten feet behind. He tries to get her attention by displaying and calling when she doesn’t deign to look back (which is mostly). He is quite handsome but it looks like something took a bite out of his tail feathers. We’re careful around him – I’ve seen wild turkeys go after people and it isn’t pretty.

 

 

 

 

Today I was finally happy with the seedlings planted in the garden. The lettuces, for instance, have been in the ground for three weeks and in those weeks hardly put on any weight.  The peas are pathetic. The cold and rain would be fine for those, but for being followed instantly by heat wave weather. The up-and-own has been holding back everything, except for the weeds. (And the mushrooms have all turned to sludge.) But on my morning tour of the garden today, everything looks perked up. Must be yesterday’s perfect 70F, perfect mix of sunshine and clouds, a not-too-cool night and this dewy, overcast morning. And yesterday’s dose of this KNF!

Hail the ugly Homer Bucket! In went harvested rainwater, OHN (Oriental Herbal Nutrient), FAA (Fish Amino Acids) and FPJ (Fermented Plant Juice), the inputs for stimulating basic vegetative growth during the plant’s consumptive stage and egging new organs towards maturity. At 500:1 dilution (FAA) and 1000:1 dilution (OHN and FPJ), these went into each 5 gallon bucket at respectively 2 tbsp + 1 tsp  and 2 tsp. A little goes a long way.

I also added a tablespoon of micronized Azomite, a splash of liquid kelp and of EM1. Six buckets of this went out onto the veg garden as a foliar and soil soak. I still have three “unsettled” garden beds waiting for the squashes, zukes and cukes to harden off. Once those are in, and once the plants are bigger and need more, I’ll need to figure out the irrigation. I enjoy the watering and face time with each seedling in this perfect weather, but when it gets to 90F, I’d rather open a valve. More on irrigation soon!

My KNF/biochar trial partner and I also planted tomatoes and peppers into our Community Garden beds. I tucked in some lettuce, chard, celery, and scallions. We ran out of time to apply KNF (same as above) to half those beds, but I’ll run over there and do it today.  The sun exposure int that plot is out of this world, as are the massive amounts of worms. And weeds and pests… can’t have it all perfect. Those seedlings were the same batch as the ones I planted here. I’m curious about the difference between the trial beds and the difference between the Community Garden plot and my own garden, where I apply biochar/KNF throughout.

 

My inspection of the big Sam hive in my Home Yard revealed a massive population occupying three full mediums and getting honey bound or rather, egg bound. Capped brood was intermixed with nectar, though not much. Possibly whatever is brought in and processed is instantly consumed by this massive population.  The weather has been conducive to lush plant growth: rain and sunny days and the wildflowers at least are happy. But not the bees. On the rainy days they can’t fly out to get the bounty, and beekeepers are reporting the loss of the first honey crop, for starters. It’s also been hard on queen rearing. Though there are a lot of drones, and this hive had drones galore (it’s a sign of a strong colony that they are willing to support that many drones), the virgin queens can’t fly out to mate in rainy weather.

But here now was an opportunity: I found tons of swarm cells in the making, with around twelve of them occupied and being filled with royal jelly. This original Sam Comfort queen is too good to lose to a swarm, as are all her queenly off-spring (the first new queen that hatches kills off all the other ones). Time to act!

Easier said than done.

In a rush to get this fixed before cold and rainy weather was due, my option was to go in on a heat wave day. I waited till the bees started flying (not wanting everyone home – I did want to find the queen in there) and already it was too hot. Subconsciously I must have thought, “Hey, let’s not close this suit all the way!” Great idea, subconscious! Too many bees got inside and stung me in the neck and throat and in my scalp.  It’s the worst when they’re trapped in your long hair and you have to grab them with your gloves and squish them. I ran from the hive, which was wide open by then, stripped off the suit, ran inside (somehow having lost any pursuing bees), pulled the still living bees out of my hair and from my neck with tweezers, then pulled the two stingers that I could see (of the seven), popped two Benadryl, threw on the suit and gloves, ran out again and closed up the hive – during which operation they stung me twice more, in the leg (a doozy!)

Now this was truth time for me. I have bad local reactions to stings which hurt for days, so I am a very careful beekeeper who had not been stung for over two years. Who knows what my reaction would be! I lay down, watched the hives break out all over my body, then after a minute recede again as the Benadryl  kicked in. That stuff makes you sleepy, and it was so darn hot, but I kept myself awake for an hour, monitoring the swelling. Then I took a long nap. All in all it was a good experience: now I know I can handle that many stings, albeit with some medication, and that my beekeeping career can continue. And I got right back on the horse again.

On my next try it was cooler and I took care to fully zip up the darn suit. It was also a week later and I found many closed swarm cells.  I pulled two frames, each with two closed cells, and stuck each in a medium for a nuc, along with a frame of brood and a frame of honey, some drawn comb, and bees. And no queen, of course. Had I spotted her I would have done an artificial swarm (moved her), but she was not to be found. I’m sure she was still in there, though. I could spot a few eggs (not many).  I also stuck a frame of brood and a frame of honey in a small nuc box and shook in some bees (again, carefully looking for the queen).  A friend had given me an extra  Russian queen in a queen cage, and she would be their new queen.

The bees were very mellow. I love this hive, so prolific, well-organized, and friendly (except when trapped inside a suit with a human, and in her hair). I brought all these guys to our Common Yard. Here they are to the left of the two Russian hybrid packages, one of which is pulling ahead of the other. I actually pulled a frame of open brood from that 3-medium one to give to the nuc next to it.

The queen in her cage went into that cardboard nuc box. I kept that box closed up so the bees inside couldn’t get out. Released them the next day. They were feeding her but had not yet released her.

This was all from the top medium box of the Sam hive and there were still at least 6 closed swarm cells in just that box! I asked my friend Arthur, a much more experienced beek, for advice. He came over the next day – chilly, drizzly – and said, “Let’s make more nucs!” He had brought a medium queen  castle for three more nucs with one queen cell each, and one 5 frame medium nuc box which we packed to the brim. These too went to the Common Yard:

The leftovers stayed home, with one more closed queen cell and one open one. But we suspect the old queen is still in there – I’ll know for sure tomorrow when I check on them. The Queenless Roar will tell me.

So now I suddenly have twelve colonies:

  • 1 overwintered Russian, with queen (3 mediums)
  • 1 Russian hybrid package, started on 4/7, with queen (3 mediums)
  • 1 Russian hybrid package, started on 4/7, with queen (2 mediums)
  • 1 Russian hybrid package, started on 4/7, which superseded a whi;e ago – I’m waiting for the queen to lay (patience).
  • 1 Sam Comfort colony with queen Sam (probably the one in the Home Yard)
  • 1 nuc with Russian queen, not yet released.
  • 5 3-frame nucs with swarm cells
  • 1 5-frame nuc with swarm cell

We don’t expect all of those virgin queen nucs to make it.

Arthur was very impressed with these bees and proposed we breed from Sam (if we find her) or from any of her surviving daughters. More fun to come!