Saved

Our forecasts out here in the boonies, in the winters, are horribly off. In summer, we can simply count on the high temperature being higher than what they say and be done. It’s summer. It’s hot. It doesn’t really matter if the high is forecast to be 94F and it turns out to be 100F, relatively speaking. In winter – what passes for “winter” here – we do count on it being cooler than the forecast, but the measure of cooler-ness varies wildly. That matters, greatly.

Sunday: the forecast was for the low 40s (all temps are F, for those of you in C lands). Here at the ranch, actual overnight low: 31. Half the tomatoes and peppers took hits.

Monday and Tuesday forecasts were for 34F and 37F, respectively. I had decided on Sunday that I was not going to go through the routine of covering any of the second round of plants, because (frankly) it is exhausting, and I actually did not have the things I needed to do it. But, me being me, with my tilting at windmills and all (corn!), Monday morning I decided that I would, in fact, cover them.

The big orange supply store. Two trips. Lots of plastic sheeting. Lots of cursing from me because my body, post-cancer, is not the same body it was – fuck you, cancer! But, with a bit of help from my mom, I got the peppers (40′), broccoli/cauliflower (32′), and one 50′ row of tomatoes covered. The other two row of tomatoes (one 50′, one 32′) were left to their devices, as I was exhausted, having run through all the calories I’d taken in. Since I can’t eat like a normal person any longer, my daily intake is pretty damned small. After Monday’s dusk work to get covers in place, I came in, laid down on the dog bed with the puppy, and promptly fell asleep for an hour.

Actual temps at the ranch overnight Monday and Tuesday: 31F and 29.8F.

I don’t mind that the forecasts are off, but I would love for them to be in the same general vicinity.

As it stands, most of the peppers are unlikely to make it, along with most of the tomatoes – many of both plantings had fruit set on them. The broccoli and cauliflower don’t seem to have minded any of it – there were about a dozen plants that wouldn’t fit in the main rows I had designated, and these were not covered. They’re fine.

In addition, I lost one hive to the freeze. I knew this would happen, as the weather well into October was unsettled, and we still had 90 degree days. There simply were not enough bees in the hive when the weather started to slide, and I had no more bees to give them to populate the box. I looked in it yesterday, and found the queen and her tiny clump of bees frozen on a patch of honey on one of the frames. There are two other hives that are iffy: the late swarm I caught from someone else’s beeyard that clustered in mine, and another one that simply does not have enough bees. A third is on the edge – I killed a ton of yellowjackets trying to rob out that hive, and reduced their entrance to the smallest possible to make things easier to defend with a light load of bees.

Overall, the sum of it pissed me off and made me terribly sad at the same time, and I started beating myself up for not being better at taking care of both of these things. We generally  hold ourselves to higher standards than we do other people, and I think I probably do this to an even higher degree than most – it’s a “perfectionist/you can never fail or have a setback” mindset that I’m working on (not very successfully – ironic).

It’s all a work in progress. I have to remind myself that I am, too.

 

Snapping

As in cold snapping.

Yesterday and today, we’ve had a taste of what passes for winter here. Not by the forecast, no. That was more spring- or fall-like, with the forecast in the low 50s overnight. Last night the low bottomed out at 38.8F at the ranch. Not ideal, especially since in the past two weeks I’ve made up some nuc boxes for the bees, and had made no real preparation for them for cold temperatures because the forecast seemed to be rather mild. Now, I’m dreading what I’ll find out there a bit later as it warms up and I head to the beeyard to check them. Worse, I also had several new queens out there, and if they’re goners, that’s going to be a shame.

On the plus side of things, at least it didn’t freeze. We are trying to sneak a second harvest in, and if the temp had dropped further and zapped the tomato and pepper plants I have out there, it would have just added to the overall disappointment at not mentally adjusting the forecast lower – which is something I do during the winter, as we are in the boonies and our lows are always lower (and highs, in the summer, generally higher) than the forecast. I usually don’t have to start that until the time changes – have I mentioned lately how much I don’t like the “fall back” routine? I hate it. But, the weather has been weird all year, and I suppose adjusting my expectations will have to be a year round thing instead of a seasonal one.

Here, have a video of a honeybee emerging from a cell. The bees are booming, with the queens still laying non-stop and filling frames. This temporary dip in the weather may slow them down, but we’re going right back to 80F degree days, according to the forecast, so we’ll be anywhere between 76-86F by my estimate, and that will probably get them going again at a higher rate.

Baby swarms are still swarms

And even baby swarms can be a massive pain in the ass. Case in point: yesterday while I was out feeding some of the hives (as they are getting established), I noticed some oddball behavior in front of a couple of the hives. It was getting toward dusk, and at first I thought it was just all the troops returning for the evening. Looking around, though, I saw some flying activity about 25-30 feet east of the hive stands near the Japanese maple in the beeyard. I wandered over to take a look, and at first didn’t see a thing, but closer inspection revealed a baby swarm, no larger than a grapefruit, hanging from a branch just barely over my head. Hooray for easily reachable swarms. Boo for swarms that are very small and thus unlikely to survive if they are too late in the season. It’s still hot as the surface of the sun here, and we have a long season anyway, so I decided to go ahead and drop them into a box. Then the weirdness began.

As I was setting up, I noted that there seemed to be a great deal of fighting going on within the little cluster of bees. I pulled the branch toward the box I’d put on the ground, gave the branch a quick shake, and dropped them. I followed up by gently brushing the bees that didn’t fall off on their own. But, alas, they all flew right back up and I knew then that I had not caught the queen in the drop. I gave them a few minutes to recluster, and then dropped them again. This time, they stayed put in the box and I started to hunt for the queen. Then, more weirdness: the fighting because even more brutal and there were a ton of bees swirling around – far more than could be accounted for by the swarm alone. It seems to have been some kind of war, or possibly attempted robbing (as I’d put some recently extracted, but cleaned, frames into the box), and it was just like a war zone.All this time, I was hunting the queen, and finally found her in a ball of bees trying to kill her – another oddity, and nothing I’d ever seen before in this particular situation. I managed to catch and mark her, and put her into a queen cage so as not to let any of the bees kill her, because who wants to just give up on a queen?

I wound up moving the frames with the comb away from the swarm box itself, but they showed no signs of slacking up, so I covered the swarm bow and kept the top cover braced open just a tiny bit, hoping the attacking bees would go home, and the swarmed bees would join their queen in the box. Just before real darkness got here, I moved the swarm box over to the area in front of the barn, to try to stop the battling that was simply leaving an enormous number of dead bees on the ground. I closed them up for the night, and left them.

Today, first thing (before I had to haul off to the NOC) I checked the queen: she was still alive, with perhaps two dozen bees left, hanging out with her. I couldn’t do anything with them just then, and it was not until this evening that I managed to get back out there, thanks to work. Since it was quite clear the queen would not have enough subjects to hive them by themselves, I pulled two frames of brood and workers from another hive, put them in, got the queen and the remaining attendants over to the top of frames I’d put in a second box above the brood box where the transferred frames were, put some feed on, and buttoned up the hive for the night. I’m hoping the transferred workers will simply continue to do their jobs in taking care of the brood on the frames, and in a couple of days, I’ll release the queen manually as they should be used to her pheromone by then.

Did I mention that it was in the upper 90s(F) both yesterday and today while I was out there, with a heat index of 104-108F?

I hope they stay. And I hope I’ll be able to figure out which hive of mine that little ball of bees came from, if they are indeed from mine. I checked some of the more active hives after I had gotten the queen into a hive with the rest of the hives on the stands, but none of them seemed to be in any dire need of more room, they had plenty of stores, and in general seemed fine. I will need to do a deeper inspection on some of the hives – actually, it’s time to do a full, deep inspection on all of them as we head toward fall – to gauge their relative health, and perhaps find which of the hives had this tiny swarm emanate.

Where have you been??!!??

It was a long July and the first part of August has been as well. We’ve been rearranging servers t the NOC, trying to stay ahead of the weeds (and failing badly), and yesterday I had 15ml of fluid sucked out of my face under my right lower jaw because I have a huge lump there. It doesn’t sound like much, but that isn’t a very large area, and even 5ml would be a huge amount. Not nearly the same as the almost 2L I had aspirated from my right lung a few years ago, but just as painful even with some lidocaine. On the plus side, it was an ultrasound-guided aspiration, and I got to watch it on the screen, so that was pretty cool.  I can tell the fluid was adding some padding to the bulge, because now I’m left with hard lumps instead of kind of squishy ones. It will be back to the doc to see where to go from here. I’m really hoping to not have to have myself sliced up again, but if that’s how it goes, that’s how it goes.

In the meantime, I’m trying to tend my bees – a very small hive I was babying along vamoosed at some point in the past week – and with my sister’s help, trying to get the weeding done everywhere and plastic down to solarize the rows and not have to spend half my time yanking up weeds. For years now I’ve tried to come up with some kind of mulching system that is not hideously expensive, is easy both to maintain and plant through, and that would not cook the roots of the plants when we have three straight months of 100F weather. My thought is to pull back the top layer of soil in each row, maybe six inches or so, throw a layer of hay down, cover that back with the soil, put black plastic on top of that, and then a heavy layer of hay on top of that. The plastic should keep out the humongous numbers of weeds that don’t care what the weather is like, I can punch through plastic easily enough to plant/transplant, the under layer of hay will act as a water wick and retain moisture for the plants,  and the top layer of hay will keep the plastic from becoming an in-frame broiler and help retain the underlayer’s cool/moist combo. This is the theory, anyhow. I hope it works, as it would make life much easier around here.

I have five flats in the barn under the lights: primarily tomatoes and peppers – the peppers took a direct hit from pests while I was down with pneumonia over Memorial Day and they never recovered – some onions, leeks, and brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower). The latter will go under some shade cloth after I get that rigged. I’m also working on rigging shade barriers for the height of the season to go along the frames to help with the insane heat we’ve been having down here. A check of my weather station records, and the notes I’ve kept from before I had a weather station tells me each summer is getting hotter, longer, than the previous one. This year, we hit 100F before the end of May, and that has lasted right to this week, where we are averaging about 93F. The issue with such high heat for things like tomatoes is that we also have high humidity. This causes the pollen to clump, so the plants may grow, and often will also flower, but fruit set is poor, as pollination is more difficult in these conditions. Rigging some shade to take the brunt of the west/south sun may help that (at least I’m hoping it will – only testing will show if it does, so that’s what we’ll do).

My hiatus from social media is still on, and life is much better for it, I must say. I’ve also stopped going to various news-related web sites to avoid getting into time-sucking, useless commentaries with people I don’t know (and in many cases, wouldn’t care to). This has also been a good thing, and I’ve stuck to reviewing headlines at Google news and just zipping in to quickly read an article without getting drawn into commenting on anything.

Life at the ranch continues: the world spins, and we with it, doing the best we can with what we have.

Things that bug me, part whatever

“Nothing more detestable does the earth produce than an ungrateful man.” – Ausonius

Being ungrateful and disloyal – not blindly loyal, mind you, but disloyal to people who have treated you beyond well – are two things that annoy me considerably. Some days (or weeks), I really do question why in the world we go out of our way to do all the extras we do for people when we get those things chewed up and spat back out at us as people give lip service to thanking us for everything we’ve done while they sail out the door without ever bothering to discuss options with us before doing so, even when they have been perfectly happy for a decade or more. It is disheartening and depressing to go through, and very stressful in some ways.

Exploring Planet NoSocialMedia, Day 6

I’m closing in on a week without the usual social media haunts of mine, and I have to say: it feels pretty damned good. I hit up the headlines on a handful of sites just a couple of times a day, and STAY AWAY from the comments.  Today I didn’t actually check the news until mid-afternoon, and that felt pretty fine, too. I’m quite happy to have avoided all the gnashing of teeth and rending of garments over the last few days especially.

What have I been doing instead? Writing! Mostly. I’ve also pulled a bunch of weeds, sorted out some things on my desk, cleaned out my inbox piece by piece, done some reading, worked (of course – something has to pay the bills until the writing does), and in general have been quite productive without the whirlpool of suck that is social media.

If you have it in you, and you want to get more done without the stress various social media outlets create (yes, they do) or just want to relax and do nothing, you could do worse than significantly scaling back the time spent on those. That isn’t to say there should be none in your life – after all, most people are not like me, content to live in their own heads most of the time – but I bet if you timed how long you’re on, you’d be astonished at the reality of the amount of time spent there versus what you think you spend there. I was. Real life is much more delicious with less of that particular seasoning.

 

I am not a Scorpio

I’m a Pisces, astrologically speaking, if you’re into that sort of thing. But I had a visit from a member of that group. An actual member.

Scorpion, now deceased

The most common one we see at the ranch is the Hentz striped scorpion – that’s the critter above. It’s the most common of the three types found in Florida, as it happens, and none of the three are lethal. Their stings can be painful on the scale with a wasp or hornet sting, though. How do I know this?

Because that critter there got me, twice, the other night when I went to bed. Somehow, it got into the house. Then, somehow, it made it to my room. After that, somehow, it managed to crawl up into my bedsheets. When I laid down, it went under the sleeve of my shirt, near my armpit, and, feeling threatened at that point by the motions of my arm and the tightness of that space, proceeded to sting me. Twice. I couldn’t figure out what the hell was going on at first – I thought perhaps I’d carried a bee with me all day long and she’d finally had enough, but when I hit the flashlight app on my phone and looked, there it was. I flung it on the floor, and let me tell you this: those things can move fast.

It was just shy of three inches long. Was is the operative word, as that scorpion, like the parrot, is no more. But it did give me the creeps and now when I finally get to bed, at whatever oddball time that is, I have to scout around to make sure no other visitors from that particular clan are looking to abuse my hospitality by invading my house.

 

Exploring Planet NoSocialMedia, Day 1

Some months ago, I told myself to pare back on the timesink known as facebook. I’d been doing really well, too, although I’d not gotten around to doing some of the things I planned to do, which was the reason I dropped facebook in the first place.  I don’t count this as a total fail, because I did get some rather deep introspectional type stuff done to clear up some things in my head that will help me forge ahead with these other things I want to do.

However, I wound up back on facebook as a place to vent after a few events (one of which was the horrifying massacre of 49 people and the wounding of scores of others at a gay nightclub in Orlando) and got sucked in again, resulting in more and more time there, wasted.

But! During the last few days of June, I made it known that I was going to live on Planet NoSocialMedia for the month of July, and perhaps even longer.  It’s slightly easier for me, as the only ones I actually participate on are twitter (not much), instagram (not much except pics from the ranch), and facebook, the ultimate alien-like, face-humping, time-wasting monster.

Today is (still, as I type this) July 1. I have not ventured off Planet NoSocialMedia today. I also have not written anything today. I think this will be all right, though, as I had to get some other things cleared out of the way after having a couple of days of forced rest thanks to some physical issues that cropped up.

Now, we head into Day 2. The goal: continue to work at things that need to be done at the ranch, but also meet a very basic step in the workout to rebuild those writing muscles. A mere 250 words, or about one page of a typeset book, is the target. We all learn to crawl before we can walk, and walk before we run, after all. I firmly believe that trying to start off with some huge goal, right off the bat, after years (ok, decades) of not pursing my art would be like the people who make resolutions to go to the gym, show up on January 2, vastly overwork themselves even though they are not used to working out, then find the next day they can barely move, so they wind up not going to the gym as they resolved to do, slipping back into old habits, only to do the same thing again the next year. I don’t want that, so that is not the way I’ll pursue it.

More to come, my dear readers who swing by every so often. Take care of yourselves.

Connected

As many of you know, I moved out to the very edge of the biggest city in the area – technically, just across the county line into a town that is both unincorporated and unknown to most people even if they live around here. Now, while I love life at the ranch, with all the ups and downs that go with it, there is one thing, above all else at this moment, that I miss dearly about living closer to civilization.

High speed internet access.

Now again, as most of you know, I run a business that is internet-based (well, one of the businesses is). While satellite is ok, it is definitely not high speed. It is also terribly unreliable, and in a place where we receive reasonable amounts of rain, generally speaking, it leads to signal loss. There is also the problem of the satellite just deciding to cut out for no apparent reason at all. We have endured outages when there isn’t a cloud in the sky, and when there is a stronger than usual breeze, as if the signals are blown out of alignment by the wind.

Over the years, we occasionally check to see if any of the usual providers have made it out here. We know that Comcast has a loop on a pole about 700′ from the house. So we went on their site to determine if service was available, and while the first guy said there was “nothing remotely” in our area, the second guy who called a day later said what we knew: there’s a loop 700′ away from us. Happy day!

He was quite interested when we said we wanted the largest business package (that runs about $300/month, give or take), and that other people in the small development here had also expressed interest in high speed access. We went back and forth for a week, only to be told, in the end that no, they would not be able to do it, because the loop at the road “already had too many people on it” and it would cost Comcast $200K to roll it out to us. Mind you, this is already after we had polled the people here – some of whom, like me, run their businesses from their properties – and almost to a person they wanted some form of service, whether it was internet only (us) or internet plus tv (several), and all were agreeable to having a multiyear contract. It seemed, when we reported those results, like a win-win, but someone on the chain knocked it down.

It’s rather unfortunate because it is so close to us since we run up against the main access road. The upper level business account dude suggested we contact one of the local offices and have them call their corporate overlords to talk about it. I’m not entirely sure what difference that will make, but it is on the list of things to do. The tiny candle of hope still flickers in the darkness of slow internet service here.