Tuesday, May 8, 2012

And Then There Were Three...

As you recall, we were planning on re-queening our surviving hive.

And then it died.

And on Easter Sunday, we repopulated both our hives with new packages.

But that left us with a spare queen bee. We had already ordered her--what were we going to DO with her?

But we had a spare hive body.

So we talked to an acquaintance from BUMBA, who was able to provide us some bees from a crowded and queen-less colony. Yesterday, we drove from Baltimore to Columbia to Frederick to Columbia to Clinton and finally back home, collecting bees. The bees that escaped in the car found our virgin queen in her little cage and were trying to get to her, even before we got them all out of the car!

We put the queen and the bees in the empty hive. It's something of a long shot, but it's worth a try! We'll post updates.

Tonight, we have three hives. Tomorrow, who knows?

Friday, May 4, 2012

Ancient Buried Treasure!

Well, there's not much of it. And it's not gold, it's rock. And it really isn't worth all that much. But it WAS buried! And we dug it up as we were putting in the furrows to plant the garden.

It's a stone point, about 2.5" long, bifacially worked in what looks like quartz. There's no way to date it, since it was in the top 6 inches of the soil. It has probably been disturbed many times.

But it is a neat reminder that we are not the first ones on this land. There is history here, going back hundreds of years. And now we can hold a little bit of it in our hands.

Monday, April 30, 2012

And The Garden Is IN!

We planted all our trees: 3 pear, 3 cherry, 2 apple, and a fig. Fig? Fig.

We have yet to stake them, but they're all more or less upright, and we have the stakes.

We put up a fence around the garden plot: 150' of green plastic mesh on 3 sides, and the existing boundary fence on the 4th. The mesh is stapled to 5' oak stakes.

Lesson #1: Don't skimp on the staples.

Lesson #2: Put the fence on the UPWIND side of the stakes.

Lesson #3: Wrap the fencing AROUND the end stakes.

Lesson #4: Don't put up the ends first, then the middle. The fence WILL sag. Put up one end, and work toward the other, pulling the fencing taut as you go.

Lesson #5: It won't stop the deer. It might discourage them a bit, but they'll walk right through. That's why I'm using more staples. I hope they learn to walk around.

On Sunday, we opened furrows and dropped in seeds. I did the first 5 by hand, then gave up and Debbie's son, David, brought down the rototiller and re-tilled the rows before I opened the furrow. MUCH easier.

Most of the last 2 of 12 rows is our leftover seeds from years past. We put them in THICK, and we don't really expect much to grow. Some of the seeds are 2009! I figure that 1 in 10 might germinate. If anything grows, it's a plus.

We are growing lettuce, okra, beans, peas, turnips, parsnips, carrots, salsify, cornsalad, arugula, parsley, tomatoes in beefsteak, roma, and cherry varieties, some peppers, collards, kale, winter squash, butternut squash, buttercup squash, spaghetti squash, pumpkin, and who knows what else. We tried for heirloom varieties this year, but some of the older seeds may have been hybrids. I think we planted the squashes too close together, so if we save seeds and replant, we're going to get some interesting hybrids ourselves. Of course, in a 50'x50' plot, we weren't going to get them far enough apart, no matter what we did.

Then we pulled the hoses down from the house, about 300 feet, and put out a sprinkler. It's not much, but it will help. Now I need more hoses to replace them on other parts of the property.

This is my third garden. It's about 100x bigger than the first. My success rate has been--disappointing--so far. It's a learning process.

Sunday, April 22, 2012


Did I say the parts would soak in the oil for two days? I MUST have meant SIX.

Nothing this week went precisely as hoped.

Tuesday evening, I started mounting the auger on the tractor. The Leinbach L7100Jr model seems to be too big on a Cub Cadet 7275. Or maybe the hydraulic arms just aren't lifting high enough...

Wednesday, I fiddled more with the auger. This is one HEAVY tool. Never did get the thing to rise high enough. Debbie made a suggestion that saved the day--how about an assist? Ratchet and strap webbing, from the end of the boom, over the ROPS, and hooked on...Now that I had it vertical, I was finally able to oil and grease it.

Friday I continued trying to get the auger lifted off the ground. Hydraulic oil level was low, so I added hydraulic oil, but NOW I couldn't get the tractor started. Online to do research...

Saturday, I bled the air out of the fuel lines. Don't forget to open the fuel valve when you run the tractor! It's a nuisance. Then the tractor started right up. The added hydro oil made NO difference at all. I put Debbie's idea to work...

I was worried about the ROPS. It's the roll bar, and I wasn't sure it was going to take the weight. Then I realized that it had BETTER be able to take the static weight of the auger--it was supposed to take the DYNAMIC forces of a ROLLING TRACTOR. It did, just fine.

Suitably jury-rigged, I dug my holes. Attach strap. Lift auger. Move to new hole. Remove strap. Start drilling. Lower hydraulics, auger drills into ground. When deep enough, raise auger (this works fine--it's not too heavy for the hydraulics, it's too long). Stop the drill. Repeat.

Then it was OFF with the auger (I need to come up with a good way to store it...), and ON with the tiller! The PTO coupling has been soaking in old motor oil now for six days, and it's messy. Add grease to both halves of the telescoping shaft, slide them together, and...

Slide them together, and...

Why is nothing ever simple?

Fiddle and push, scrape and slather. Previous experience (see the entry about the crowbar...) has taught me that if it is hard to put on, it will be HARD to get off. More fiddling, and suddenly it's free! It slides in, slides out--it FALLS out, if you let it.

Back the tractor up. Put in the pins. Attach the PTO. THIS time, it's easy. Hook up the top bar. Lift and lower--hydraulics are fine for this. While it is up, engage the PTO and see it spin. Nice and quiet!

And now to till!

First, the raspberry patch.

We had bushhogged a batch of brambles, which we intend to replace with berry-bearing brambles.

Then, the garden!

I tilled our 50x50 space in about 10 minutes. So I went over it again for good measure, UNTIL...

THUNK! Whangity-whang-whang...

I stopped quickly. The top bar had vibrated loose at BOTH ends. The turnbuckle was missing, but easily found on top of the tiller. I took everything off the tractor and reassembled it. I apparently had not adequately engaged the lock nut. I'll remember that.

Finish the tilling, drive into the barn, and head for the showers. It's NICE when things finally WORK.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


Now, this is what our property looks like:

You can see, we have a LONG (1/4 mile!), skinny driveway. Based on the markers we've been able to find, and the description of the lot on the deed, we have about 10' by 750' on the west side of the driveway. That's 250 YARDS.

We decided that the best use of that space would be as a linear orchard. That way, we have trees along the drive, and we start growing our own fruit. Since most trees want to be planted about 10 yards apart, we can put in TWENTY FIVE fruit and nut trees.

We ordered our first 9 trees from Miller Nurseries. They include apples, cherries, pears and figs. Figs? Figs.

Now I have to start digging holes--which is why we bought the auger for the tractor. So this evening, I am going to fill the gearbox with oil, put grease in all the joints, and mount it on the tractor. Hopefully, I will be able to dig the holes tomorrow, plant the trees Thursday, and get the auger OFF and the tiller ON the tractor Friday, so we can actually TILL on Saturday.

Plus, I need more peat and compost for the potato barrels--the potato plants are several inches high, and we need to raise the soil level to encourage MORE POTATOES to develop.

Monday, April 16, 2012

TOYS!, Part 2

Getting the bush hog OFF the tractor was almost as hard as I expected. In the end, I used the motorcycle jack to lift the bush hog to where we could find enough slack in the lift arm to get it OFF the lift arm pin. Now I've turned that pin IN, so we have a foot of slack we didn't have before.

It WAS like this:
-|   |-
Now it is like THIS:
|-  |-
And it may be like this in the future:
|- -|
Now, I had previously decided to NOT change the oil in the tiller's gearbox. It was cloudy, but not terribly discolored. Then I ran across a reference to white grease coming out of u-joints, and how this was caused by an emulsion of the oil and water. My oil looked like caramel milk, which didn't seem good. So, I changed the oil. I probably need to replace a gasket somewhere, too. But before I can do that, I need to know what MODEL my tiller is...

Then we mounted the tiller.

That is, we TRIED to mount the tiller.

We couldn't get the drive shaft mounted to the PTO. It didn't work.

So, we tried separating the halves of the drive shaft and hooking it up, then sliding the two ends together. It didn't work. The tiller just rolled away from the slowly-backing tractor, and the telescoping part of the shaft, wouldn't. Even after we oiled and greased it some more.

So, we tried to take the drive shaft back OFF the tractor. It didn't work. It was well and truly STUCK.

What to do?
Off to the local home improvement store, where we bought a 36" Stanley Ripping Bar. It is -just- too short to make a good cane for me. Too heavy, anyway.

Then, wedge the crowbar between the tractor and the neck of the drive shaft; pull back the collar of the drive shaft; and LEAN HARD into the end of the crow.

I've got about 6" below the fulcrum (the pin for the top bar), and about 30" above it. That means if I put 100 lbs of force into the bar, I should be putting about 500 lbs of force against the neck of the drive shaft.

At first, nothing happened. The CROWBAR was actually visibly flexing. Then, with a PING!, the drive shaft popped off the PTO, right out of my hands. I think it took somewhere between 500 and 1000 lbs of applied force, which I would NOT have been able to get any other way.

At this time, the neck and collar of the PTO are soaking in motor oil. They'll be there at least two more days, because WE GOT OUR TREES.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Sadie the Dog

As promised! According to the vet, Sadie's kidney values are the lowest they have ever seen them. She is absolutely normal! Our next follow-up appointment will be in early OCTOBER!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Potato Barrels, Part 2

Here is evidence of life in the potato barrels!!

Happy Easter!

It's been a busy weekend here at Honeyhill...

On Saturday, we got to try out the bush hog, and it WHACKS down weeds and brambles. If you set it too low, it's a pretty good plow. There's a section I scalped so well, I'm thinking we'll just till it and plant flowers.

But it is a BEAR to get it on and off the tractor, and I intend to make some unapproved mods to make that easier--pointing the lift arm pins in the other direction, mostly. They're so wide, I had to take one lift arm OFF to get it in place, and I'll have to reverse that to get it off again.

I started Saturday mowing down the grass around our 2 existing peach trees. We've lived here over 2 years, and have yet to taste a peach! But the Japanese beetle grubs have had a wonderful time! (Well, so has Sadie the dog--she discovered the wonders of fermenting peach juice, and it was all we could do to keep her away from the fallen fruit...) So after mowing the grass about 30 feet in all directions from the trees...

...we spread Milky Spore all around them. Lucky for us, the previous owners had left us both a lawnmower and a drop spreader...but after pushing them around, it was time for a break.

We bought the bush hog and the blade at Marlboro Trading Post, and they were so helpful, we went back and bought a Leinbach L7200 JR auger from them as well.

They even took a look at our "new" tiller, pointed out most of what was wrong with it, and GAVE us a can of ZAP45 spray penetrating oil. In short, it's a hunk of rust, but we might be able to get it to work, they said.

Well, the tiller end of the PTO shaft seems permanently attached. I haven't made any progress on it. But we got the telescoping shaft free (I danced around the yard, waving the freed piece over my head like Beowulf with Grendel's arm), and got the tractor end loosened up, including the bearings INSIDE the PTO connector (get a piece of 1.25"x.25" welding steel, and a hammer. Use your imagination). Soaking the PTO connector in kerosene for 3 or 4 days may have helped...

We greased the u-joints and topped off the oil on the bush hog, then mowed us a patch for our garden. That pretty much finished Saturday.

Easter Sunday began with a beautiful sunrise. Christ has risen!

We attended Easter services, and then went to pick up...


This afternoon I reassembled the tiller, greased the PTO, and checked the oil. It's ready to go, I think. Sometime this week, we will have tilled the garden.

Then we installed the new bees. This time, the queen is marked with a white dot, so she'll be easier to find. We have cleaned out the hives, and we're hoping first, to have bees that MAKE SOME HONEY this time, and second, to keep them alive and unpoisoned.

At least one bee went up each of my pant legs. I came back inside to write this blog entry, and at least one came in with me. Now I am experiencing phantom creepy-crawlies. No stings, I think.

And now Debbie is ordering fruit trees. We'll use the auger to make holes to plant them. We're getting more done this year than last--partly because Debbie is feeling so much better, and partly because we have more of the TOOLS we need.

It has been a VERY busy weekend here at Honeyhill.

Tomorrow is Sadie's follow-up appointment with the vet after her kidney failure in October. We'll let you know...

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Potato Barrels

We've started playing in the dirt again!

Debbie has started 128 pots of seeds in the house. Steven has been buying toys to plow the fields. And we took the advice of Mother Earth News and started 2 Potato Barrels.


We bought a couple plastic garbage cans at our local big box hardware store, drilled some holes in the bottom for drainage, and put down a layer of soil. Then we added seed potatoes (Yukon Gold, Red Kennebec, and something purple and exotic), and another layer of dirt.

We'll let you know how this goes!


Steve got an unexpected bonus at work last month. Debbie said, "Go buy yourself something fun! You never spend money on yourself!"

So he did.

He went out and bought himself a KingKutter L-60-40-P-Y bush hog:

And a Woods RB60 blade:

And a John Deere 5 foot tiller of unknown model:

And now he gets to ride the tractor some more!

Bees, Redux

And then there were none.

They had food in the hive which they never touched. They just...died, shortly after it started to warm up.

So now, we have NO hives of bees. We are going to remove ALL the old wax, all the little bee bodies, and clean the interior of the hives. There's nothing apparently wrong with the bees in the hive, except for being dead. Again, we suspect poison.

And behold!

Honeybee Deaths Linked to Corn Insecticides

What was killing all those honeybees in recent years?  New research shows a link between an increase in the death of bees and insecticides, specifically the chemicals used to coat corn seeds.

The study, titled "Assessment of the Environmental Exposure of Honeybees to Particulate Matter Containing Neonicotinoid Insecticides Coming from Corn Coated Seeds," was published in the American Chemical Society's Environmental Science & Technology journal, and provides insight into colony collapse disorder.

Colony collapse disorder, or the mass die-off of honeybees, has stumped researchers up to now. This new research may provide information that  could lead to even more answers.

According to the new study, neonicotinoid insecticides "are among the most widely used in the world, popular because they kill insects by paralyzing nerves but have lower toxicity for other animals."

Beekeepers immediately observed an increase in die-offs right around the time of corn planting using this particular kind of insecticide.

Pneumatic drilling machines suck the seeds in and spray them with the insecticide to create a coating before they are planted in the ground. Researchers suspected the mass die-offs could have been caused by the particles of insecticide that were released into the air by the machines when the chemicals are sprayed.

The researchers tested several methods to make the drilling machines safer for bees. However, they found that all variations that used the neonicotinoid insecticides continued to cause mass die-offs of bees.

Honeybees are critical for pollinating food crops. Scientists say the disruption of pollination could dramatically affect entire ecosystems. In addition, as the researchers wrote in the study, "In view of the currently increasing crop production, and also of corn as a renewable energy source, the correct use of these insecticides within sustainable agriculture is a cause of concern."

Pets, Part 3

After 2 years of collecting, we finally loaded BAGS of aluminum cans into the car and took them for recycling. On the way home, we stopped by the local Animal Services center. We picked up forms for licensing and registering our pets (finally!), and decided to see what the available dogs looked like.

BAD idea.

Some of them were EXTREMELY well-behaved, sitting quietly to gain your attention and praise. Others were EXTREMELY shy, and would cower away if your hand twitched (poor things!) Some were quite loud, although on the whole it was the quietest shelter I've ever been in.

Debbie fell in love with what had to be a purebred yellow Lab male. Stray and already under a contract, she wanted to bring him home. By the next day, she had already named him "Ben".

But "Ben" went home with the earlier applicants. Now Debbie is looking at ALPACAS.

Maybe I should have got her the dog...

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Firing the Kiln!

Debbie has been throwing bowls in her spare time. She's starting to get REALLY excited about firing them!

Last Saturday we fired up the kiln for the first time. This was not to fire any pots, but to:

A) Burn off oils and water on the elements and bricks, as recommended by the manufacturer; and,
B) See how hot the room will get.

The outside of the kiln didn't start to get really warm until about 3 hours in, and the kiln interior was about 2000F. There is a vent hole in the top, and newsprint held to the vent hole would FLASH into flame. But you could touch the firebrick, which was only uncomfortably warm. Impressive stuff, that firebrick.

Of course, with the kiln as a point source of heat, unless we ventilate it the room will eventually get to the same temperature as the interior of the kiln. So we have a box fan blowing OUT the window, which will pull air through the room to keep the temperature below the trigger point for the sprinkler. It will also make the kiln room a negative pressure zone, keeping the fumes from dissipating into the house.

It still got into the mid-80s by the time we were done. I'm not completely convinced that we won't have problems with the sprinkler head. After all, we are going to be running the kiln much longer, and not much cooler (Cone 6 instead of Cone 10). That's really only about 150F difference, which ain't much stacked up against 2345F.

I'm going to insulate the sprinkler head with a small box of styrofoam peanuts for the first firing. I just don't see pumping 300 gallons of water into the room to try to put out the "fire".

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Pets, Part 2

At Christmas, Debbie asked Steve to help her daughter Rachel pick out a dog.

Steve replied:

"Actually, the thing I'm MOST worried about is that I'LL find a dog I just HAVE to save...

"But Debbie! He NEEDS me! Just look at those EYES--and he's WAGGING HIS TAIL!"

NO! I will be ruthless! I will be HARD-HEARTED! My WILL shall DOMINATE these adorable little fluffs of fur--oh, look! He's smiling!


I must be STRONG! NO. MORE. DOGS. Two is enough! Or maybe just one more, if it's not TOO large--maybe Sadie's size or a little bigger...


You understand my dilemma? ;-)"

Steven did NOT get a dog, although he wanted to save one named "Atlas".

Rachel got a bull terrier named "Skuka".


In early October, Steve's dog Sadie began acting--strange.

On Friday, 2 October:

"Now, to top off my weekend, my dog is
    A) Throwing up everything she eats;
    B) Refusing food.
She hasn't eaten anything successfully since Friday night.

We suspect that at some point in the past week, she has eaten:
    2 hot peppers from the garden, and
    A blister/foil pack of 15 slow release iron tablets.

That large a dose of iron may be toxic; the blister/foil pack may be causing an obstruction; the hot peppers may be disturbing her digestion. And if she doesn't keep something down tonight, I'll probably need to take her to the vet tomorrow."

We tried to give her all those things she usually loves to eat: eggs, chicken, pizza bones...

On Tuesday, 4 October:

"Sadie still is not eating. I'm taking her to the vet."

was followed by:

"They are keeping Sadie for the day.

They are going to Xray her stomach to look for the foil and other obstructions; they're going to test her for "exocrine pancreatic disorder"; they're going to test her for Addison's disease.

And they'll give her a shot to reduce her nausea for 24 hours or so, to help keep her hydrated.


But it wasn't the foil, and it wasn't the pancreas, and it wasn't Addison's.

"Her blood creatine and nitrogen are so high, she probably feels really lousy. And that's a sign of kidney failure.

The vet said to take her, IMMEDIATELY or ASAP, to the internist at VCA Southern MD in Waldorf. So I need to make some phone calls. And then I'll probably be leaving work for the day.

And we need to be prepared that this could be fatal. There may not be any possible treatment."

And later:

"If this is acute kidney failure, then by flushing the kidneys we have some chance of recovering partial function. However, her kidneys have been damaged. Prognosis: 6 months to 2 years.

If this is chronic kidney failure, then she won't respond to flushing.

The flushing process is also stressful. If she goes into fluid overload, then the fluid could back up into her lungs.

I marked the form, 'Do Not Resuscitate.'

So, that's where we stand."

Steve told Debbie:

"You don't have to leave early, but don't dawdle on the way home. I need you. I'm WAY past worry. 'Panic' and 'Grief' are more accurate."

By October 6:

"Just talked to the vet. Her creatine levels have come down a point, which is good, but she's going to be there at least 2 more days. Prognosis at this time: Guarded, because we really don't know anything.

Vet suggested we bring something she might like to eat. Since she's talking about BLAND foods, and Sadie's favorite is pizza, I don't think this will work..."

But we DID go visit her that night. On the way, we were RAMMED by a deer. Yes, we did not run into IT, IT ran into US.

Sadie didn't eat.

After two more days, her kidney levels were low enough for her to come home with us. She still wasn't eating, and we had to give her subcutaneous fluids and antibiotics twice a day. She also had no energy, and walked very slowly. And we started offering her the new, kidney-friendly prescription food.

Sadie didn't eat.

Finally, we took a big blob of peanut butter and smeared it on the roof of her mouth. In the slurping and smacking and licking that followed, Sadie realized she was HUNGRY, and started eating again.

Then began the endless round of follow-up appointments: Every week into November, then every month into January.

        Creatine    BUN
10/5     5.7         86
10/6     4.4         57
10/7     3.5         39
10/8     3.0         36
10/10    3.1        34
10/17    2.4        19
10/24    1.9
11/7      1.9        12

Each time, the creatine levels came down. The blood urea nitrogen levels came down. The phosphorus levels came down.

On 24 October, Steven wrote:

"Creatine down to 1.9, 1.8 is "normal". We are to keep on the SubQ lube-job until we run out, and then it's just the kidney friendly diet and living with the knowledge that her kidneys have been compromised and the next time might do for her. Check up in 2 weeks."

At Sadie's last vet appointment on 9 January 2012, all her kidney levels were in the NORMAL range. Her next appointment is 9 April 2012.

Meanwhile, she got an impacted anal gland, requiring a trip to her regular vet, and another round of antibiotics.

Then she finished off 2 loaves of bread.

Then she ate a 1/4 bag of chocolate chips, requiring another emergency vet visit.

Then she dug into a pot where we had planted lentils, eating dirt, and lentils, and all.

Then there was the black oil sunflower seeds.

And the block of suet.

Yup. She's normal, again. We just need to KEEP her that way.


We're back down to ONE hive. The hive that had died, died again. No sign of disease, no sign of parasites--just dead. And the hive that had all the honey ate it in late summer, so we're feeding them for the cold weather. Next spring, we're going to pinch and replace the queen with one that tends to produce more honey and save it for the WINTER.

And we're going to install another package of bees, after we clean out the dead hive.

Two years, and we've not had a DROP of honey out of our hives.

Meanwhile, our friend in Baltimore has 4 hives that gave him 500 POUNDS of honey, and he ignores them...


Debbie has always wanted to throw pots. Living with Steve gave her the opportunity!

(It's a joke ;-)

We bought a Brent wheel from a private school, and a kiln from a private construction contractor who had received it in lieu of payment. Debbie is practicing and is frustrated that she can only make bowls.

We had a 220V, 40A circuit put in the spare bedroom where the breaker panel lives. Now we just need to make sure we don't run the oven, dryer, water heater, kiln and well pump at the same time...

We need to replace the fire sprinkler head in the kiln room with one that will stand slightly higher temperatures.

When we have enough items, we'll fire the kiln and see how it works.


We waited. And waited. And kept waiting.

The hens were apparently in no hurry to produce eggs.

Finally, Steve began to suspect that they weren't producing eggs because of the quality of their feed. They had been eating the bagged Purina Layena for a while. Instead, we bought them a fresh new bag of the Southern States Crumble for Layers.

Two days later, we started having eggs.

Purina needs to pay attention here...