Monthly Archives: July 2014

DSCN2521It's quiet when I work with the bees, I work alone. Every move is choreographed ahead of time. The bee suit is too hot, the veil makes my head sweat, and I will NEVER wear gloves again.  So, I wear shorts, a t-shirt, and worn out tennis shoes. I'm not brave, actually I'm afraid of getting stung, but with everything you enjoy there are consequences. Getting stung is one of them.

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The best weapon is a calm attitude and a heavy plume from the smoker. One of my hives isn't as strong as the others. I had to re-queen it. Earlier in the spring I was installing a second package of bees and I made a mistake. I lost the queen. Well, she wasn't really lost, she flew away. Worried about getting stung, I wore a full bee suit complete with thick gloves. After shaking the bees into the hive body I got the queen cage ready. I carefully removed the plug end and stuffed a mini marshmallow into the opening. I placed my gloved finger over the opening and moved two frames apart, hung the cage, and removed my finger. Looking down I noticed the marshmallow stuck to the glove, "Damn!" I tried to push it back into the cage, but before I could get it back into the opening the queen moved to the end and lifted herself into the air, "Damn, damn, damn!"  I watched, dumbfounded, as she flew higher and higher until she disappeared from sight. I let out a desperate cry, "Oh no. Stupid marshmallow!"  I thought, there goes my queen, $90.00 just flew away because I was afraid of getting stung. Fear, a glove, and a mini-marshmallow brought my hive's production to a halt.

We covered this in beekeeping class. The instruction was very clear; "If your queen escapes stay very still. She won't recognize her new surroundings. She won't know the bee yard, or hive. She doesn't know the workers, who've surrounded her cage on her trip north, they only met a day ago. Sometimes, if you're lucky, she'll fly in a circle taking a mental picture of the area. The queen will view you, the beekeeper, as a fixture of that area. In her mental picture you belong where she belongs. It's very important to remain still and leave everything as it was when she flew off."

I waited.  No queen in sight. Two minutes - no queen. Three minutes, still no queen. Five minutes, no queen, just sweat running into my eyes and trickling down my back. Bee suits are incredibly hot. Keith was headed to town. He saw me standing still in this ridiculous outfit and called from the truck, "Hey, was there a nuclear accident at the plant?" he laughed and drove off.  I'd have given him the finger, the gloved one with the marshmallow stuck to it, but I was standing perfectly still waiting for the queen's return. Lucky for him I couldn't move for a few more minutes.  After ten minutes I gave up. I remembered one last piece of advice from class, "Never, EVER, let your queen escape."  If she does its goodbye, queen!

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Walking of the Bulls

Forget running with the bulls. A slow ambling stroll through the pasture, to reunite the bulls with the cow herd, is relaxing. They grazed their way through the valley, when they got closer they picked up the pace a little, but they were still moving slowly. There's no sense running the bulls, they have a job to do, they need to conserve their energy. The younger bull will service the heifers, the older one the cows. Given today's date calving should start around May 1, 2015.

My life's no picnic, it's a vacation!

Keith got home from a soil building conference and pasture walk which featured a speaker who ranches in the Dakotas. Last winter they fed four hundred cattle on 300 acres of cover crops and stockpiled forage. They didn't feed a single bale of hay. They also run a lodge which is a hunting, fishing, and working cattle ranch for vacationers.

Garrett and CT
Garrett and CT

Keith and I looked through their vacation packages. We were getting excited about all the activities offered. This vacation would just be for the two of us, Cookie will be in Peru, Garrett in Germany. Part of the all-inclusive vacation package is allowing guests to choose their adventure and incorporate it into their stay. Keith loves to fish, I like working with horses and cattle. Keith could spend his day's fishing and I could ride, work cattle, and experience a REAL ranch. As we searched through the website we became even more enthusiastic; jeeps and ATV's are available for the guests to use as they explore the ranch.

We looked through the price guide for each vacation package and started setting a budget.

Garrett and Fancy
Garrett and Fancy

Then I looked out my window where three perfectly beautiful, well broke, horses were grazing. “You'd like to work with the horses and calves,” Keith said. I glanced out the window in the other direction and saw a few calves running together. A couple of days ago, when we moved the cattle, one calf ran in the wrong direction. After trying to get it headed in the right direction Keith decided to rope it so it would move along with the herd. Garrett was reaching for the calf at the same time Keith was casting the rope, he caught Garrett's arm along with the calf.

Keith and Cookie fishing
Keith and Cookie fishing

“The fishing would be great for you, you haven't gone fishing in a while. It would be relaxing,” I said. Again, from our window, I looked across the hills where the Turkey River winds through the valley. It has some great fishing spots. The Big Springs Trout Hatchery is just around the corner from our farm.

“We could go on daily hikes, or drive jeeps or ATV's. We could go exploring every afternoon and at night they have a great restaurant featuring grass-fed beef,” I let out an audible sigh, “although, no one produces better grass-fed beef than us.”

"That's true,” Keith nodded, “You know, we're surrounded by hiking trails. Pikes Peak State Park and the Effigy Mounds aren't far away. We could go boating on the Mississippi River anytime we choose, it's just a few miles away. There are tributary rivers to kayak or canoe or we could use the bicycle paths, ATV trails, or drive our old jeep on any adventure we'd like.”

Suddenly I had an epiphany, “Your right! People pay money, a lot of money, to go on a vacation to experience how we live our daily life. Our life is a vacation!” Some days it's no picnic, but, apparently it is a vacation!"