Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Inside the machine!

Guess where I was this morning?

Inside the combine harvester! Now, that may not be such a thrill for country folks, but for someone like me who grew up in deepest, darkest Scarborough (suburban Toronto, aka Scarberia), this was something very exciting!

I discovered that the combine has right hand drive. Perfect for you Brits!

There's a fire extinguisher on board.

And floor-to-ceiling windshield!

 The wheat is separated from the chaff as it goes up to the hopper. I had a good view through the rear window...

Blades up as we turn the corner!

Time to shoot the wheat into the trailer. When full, the combine holds six tons of wheat. Six tons! All separated and ready to go. And because it has been so dry here, the moisture levels, which are automatically measured as the wheat goes through the combine, were a perfect 12.5% or thereabouts. The wheat won't need to be air-dried in a silo.

Here's a pic I swiped from the internet of a team of horses pulling a wheat reaper sometime around 1900.

After that, of course, it had to go through a thresher! And no air conditioning on that machine, unlike on this one...

A/C and stereo in the cab, smart phone in the driver's hand, and a fully computerized on-board system, not to mention hydrostatic gears! This combine cost slightly less than our entire farm (86 acres plus house, barn, granary, and garage!)

 Andrew, the farmer who kindly let me into his cab, has been driving these things since he was 12. He patiently answered all my questions and I really enjoyed my time in the combine.

Off to harvest another field of wheat.

Here are more facts about wheat farming if you're interested!

Most offensive spam-comment to date!

I don't use word verification on my blog comments because it drives me insane, and the Blogger spam filter works very well anyway. But today I got the most offensive spam-comment yet. On a post I wrote awhile back about my father-in-law's death, some jackass left the comment below. I have removed the links here, since I don't want to give him any free advertising:

"James Leer has left a new comment on your post "Bye Dad...": 
That is so sad! I'm sorry that he had to go. :( it is never a good day when someone dies. I hope that you were able to find good funeral homes Toronto. My grandpa recently died. It was super hard, but the funeral home took great care of him. Glad that they were able to help. "

Really, you arsehole, do you think I would take your funeral home recommendation because of some fake spam comment you left on my blog post about my dead father-in-law!? I reported your sorry-ass Google profile for spam. May karma present you with a flaming bag of llama poo on your doorstep!

On a brighter note, I got a
ride in the combine harvester this morning. Pictures to follow asap. It was AWESOME!

And speaking of word verification, am I the only one who sometimes has to type in those things three or four times before getting it right? Drives me to distraction!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Wheat harvest

Today the farmers who rent 50 acres of our land came to combine the wheat...

I went out with my camera and took lots of photos. I think wheat is the most beautiful crop around here.

I wonder where this will eventually end up? In a loaf of Wonder Bread? Or a Montreal baguette?

Harvesting wheat is  a dusty business.

I love the stripey fields. The lighter-coloured stripes are the wheat stalks that will be baled into straw tomorrow.

The tractor in front was ferrying wheat to the big truck up by the road...

There's a lot of wheat in our front field.

The combine also deposits the wheat directly into the truck.

This combine holds a lot of grain.

I am fascinated by all the farm equipment around this area. I would just like to own and drive a small tractor some day.

Beautiful wheat in the sun. It was 31C today and very hot. Good thing the combine harvester has air conditioning!

I also realized that the west side of our metal roof is due for a paint job.

The sky was pretty over the wheat fields.

We are officially in drought conditions here, but the wheat was planted back in March and has done extremely well. And compared to what's going on in the US, it could be a lot worse. There's a hay shortage and the corn is stressed, but other crops are coming along okay. We'll see how the soy and otebo beans in our back fields do this season.

I'll miss seeing the hay waving in the fields now that it's cut!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

I'm in love with a bug...

...or more precisely,  a couple of hundred thousand bugs! Gordon gave me a hand with my beehives today. I put on some bee escapes so I can extract some honey this week. It was stinking hot in our bee suits, but we had the sense not to shower until AFTER we did the inspections.

There is no bee suit on earth that is flattering to the female figure! I do, however, LOVE my new Paul Kelly Bee Belt. LOVE it. I don't lose my hive tool anymore; it attaches to the belt with a magnet and is always right where i Need it. And yes, I need to paint that hive box two down. As per usual, things got ahead of me this season and I needed to slap on another super before I had time to paint it! I'll sort it out soon. Some people never paint their boxes. I'm branching out into some new colours. This year it's lime green!

And here's my trusty helper...

Gordon always wears gloves because he's more comfortable that way. He also reacts to bee stings much more than I do.  Two years ago he got stung on the lip and channelled Angelina Jolie for a week.  He gets a lot of swelling with his stings, although he is not allergic. I hardly react at all.

Beekeepers all have different opinions on gloves. I can't stand them, because I feel that they inhibit the dexterity of my fingers and I'm more likely to squish a bee (which makes the other bees angry!) But then, I don't blow up like a balloon when I'm stung. I do always remove my rings before going in the hive, in case something happens and I get stung on the hand. I wouldn't want to have to have my wedding ring cut off a swollen finger!

I sucked Gordon into beekeeping because I need someone to help me with the heavy lifting. A full shallow honey box can weigh 30 lbs or more. I can lift 30 lbs, but lifting it to the level of a booming four- or five-box hive is more difficult for me. Plus I've had a lot of back problems this year, so I'm trying to take better care of my lower spine. With the two of us, lifting boxes is no problem.

I use shallow boxes for honey as they are lighter. Some people use mediums. If you look at the hives in the above photo, you can see that the bottom two boxes (deeps) are quite a bit taller than the shallows. The queen stays down in those two boxes laying eggs, and that's where the brood develops and hatches. They also keep some pollen and nectar down there, but that's strictly for the bees to consume. They need food too, so I don't steal all their honey!

Not everyone uses queen excluders. I didn't last year, but I get tired of removing brood from my honey frames before extracting. The excluder is just a sort of screen that the worker bees can fit through, but the queen can't. So she can't go up and lay eggs in the honey super. As a result, you just get nice honey up there.

Some people call queen excluders "honey excluders", and I think it's true that you probably get less honey than you would without them (the bees don't particularly like them) but for me, I'm happier not having brood to deal with in my shallows. There are ways to keep the brood out without a queen excluder, but I find it easier just to use them!

Some of my beekeeping friends (and most commercial beekeepers) use deep boxes for honey, but when they are full, they can weight 90 - 100 lbs, and that's just too much for me to lift, even with Gordon's help. I don't like to lift over 40 - 45 lbs and even then I'm very careful.

When I took the cover off today, some of the bees had built burr comb under the lid. This is just extra honeycomb they like to fit into odd spaces. The stuff in the picture below was being filled with honey. I scraped off some and we chewed the wax and enjoyed the wonderful honey inside. YUM! I did take the bees off first. :)

This comb is very white because it's very new and clean. The bees have just made it in the last little while. As honeycomb is used it becomes darker, first taking on that yellowy-brown shade we think of when we hear the words "beeswax", then finally turning almost black with the detritus of hive life. When comb gets too old, a beekeeper removes those frames and melts them down to render the wax. 

It's good to get rid of old dark comb regularly. As the junk builds up, the cells become smaller, which eventually means you raise smaller bees, because the eggs have less space to develop in the cells. It's smart to ditch old, dark comb and get rid of all the residues and crap in there. Much healthier for the bees!

I love this next photo...

Worker bees around the table! The comb broke open when I took off the top, so they are all busy drinking back the exposed honey. They store it in their "honey stomachs" and regurgitate it into cells in another part of the hive. Someone called a honey stomach a "nectar backpack" and I really like that description. It's the place where they store nectar and honey while they move it from place to place.

There's a lot going on in this photo. I especially like the two girls on the lower right chatting to each other.

I have a lot of affection for my honeybees and I want them to do well. I love to sit by the hive and watch their comings and goings on a sunny day. Honeybees really are not aggressive unless you are threatening them or their hive directly, and even then, they tolerate an awful lot (unlike wasps and hornets!) I get stung very rarely at the hive. I've been stung more in the garden, doing things like accidentally stepping on a honeybee.

And this always makes me smile...

...a frame full of honey! They have almost finished capping the cells, which means they have dried the honey to more or less the correct moisture percentage. 17-18% is usually what we aim for. If honey has too much moisture in it, it can ferment! Usually capped honey is at the correct stage, but not always. This year I bought myself a good refractometer so I can accurately check the moisture level of my honey.

THis has been a great summer for bees around here and my local fellow beekeepers are getting great harvests. I'm going to have possibly 300 lbs of honey by the end of the summer. We'll see!

Be kind to bees and they'll be kind to you. :)

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Mucho Monarch

I followed a Monarch butterfly around the yard the other day, stalking it like I was the paparazzi...

They love the echinacea!

Beautiful creatures.

My favourite butterfly. I like them so much, I put them in the Bug Rug I hooked a few years back...

Monarchs are in trouble and need all the help they can get. Here are some tips for planting flowers that Monarch butterflies love. We have a lot of Monarch-friendly flowers on our farm, including milkweed, swamp milkweed, butterfly weed, bergamot, black-eyed Susan, common yarrow, New England aster and Canada Goldenroad. And as you can see, they enjoy echinacea (coneflowers.)

And check out eButterfly where you can help by recording the butterflies you observe.

Let's do all we can to keep this beautiful butterfly around for many years to come.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Ducklings, a new generation!

Well, the co-parenting mamas hatched out five ducklings Monday night!  I've been slow about getting everyone moved into the "duck nursery."  Yesterday I went down to check on them and all the ducklings had disappeared. I freaked out until I realized that Eugenia (left) and Maria Andretti (right) had just taken the babies outside for a walk...

Two watchful mothers! Eugenia is the one who was attacked by a fox this spring. The fox broke her leg, but I splinted it, it healed, and she's a mama again. Maria Andretti is her daughter from last summer. I named her "Mario Andretti" when she was young, because she had racing stripes on her head. Then I realized she was a girl, so Maria it is! A very nice name. :)

A little grooming session in the sun.

The little family is adorable but now I've got two mama ducks who want to kill me. They aren't laid back like Mama Ronna-duck, and I have the beak imprint on my forearm to prove it! I liked the brown one on the right with four yellow spots on his/her back.

Maria wants me dead.

Meanwhile, the other five ducklings are now huge, but Mama Ronna still hangs out with them. They are two months old now.

Ronna's a much better mama than Emma the Muff-hen, who has abandoned her babies and left them to their own devices. She went off and made another nest in the barn, but we took away the eggs, because   we do not need 800 chickens. Her chicks are doing very well. They are amazingly self-sufficient.

This is Ducky Duddle, the first to hatch back in May

We have had a little duckling cannibalism, but not as bad as last year. Still, they do love to nibble on each others' wingtip pinfeathers. Sigh.

Jim, who I named after my Dad, is looking fine!

I'm pretty sure these are girls, but time will tell. I've been wrong before, which is why I have a rooster named Lord Gaga. He was Lady Gaga until he crowed!

And Tristan wants some air time. We had a nice walk yesterday and he took a dip in the pond, which he loves...

Stay tuned for further duckling cuteness!