“Burn down your cities and leave our farms, and your cities will spring up again as if by magic; but destroy our farms and the grass will grow in the streets of every city in the country.” William Jennings Bryan

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

January 27, 2010

It’s official!

Yesterday I got my first bee sting of the year- that’s right! On January 26! She got me good too, driving her stinger into the soft part of my left little finger, a bit below the knuckle! I was able to out maneuver all her friends by quickly walking away and brushing off the few that caught up to me.

The last few days around here have been sunny and unseasonably warm with temperatures in the low 50’s which is about 10 to 12 degrees higher that the historical norm. With the warm-up, some of the honey bees of each hive have gotten active – they are cleaning the hive of dead bees, wrestling weak bees out of the hive, and taking short flights. All in all, each hive has had about 20- 30 bees outside at a time. Compared to the thousands in the colony, this is not a lot, but it is a lot when the bees are supposed to be all balled up in the hive.

Beekeepers here worry about such activity because, they say, if the bees are active, they will use up their winter stores faster and then they may not have enough to last them until spring when the flowers begin to bloom.

I was able to save a frame of honey from the hive that was lost to mites (which I took apart and cleaned up two weeks ago), and I thought that on this warm afternoon, I’d very quickly check in on the “log” hive, and drop in this frame of honey.

I took off the top cover, and then gently tilted up the inner cover and moved it over to reveal the empty slot where the frame would go. I looked across the top of the frames and saw quite a few bees on the top bars about three frames down, so I lifted the inner cover a bit more for a better look. The bees were fat and looked pretty healthy. I lifted a little bit more to get enough room to slide in the new frame.

That’s when a few of the fat bees lifted off the top bars to get a better look at me! So I dropped in the new frame, and lowered the inner cover. But I was a millisecond too late, or they were a millisecond too quick. Either way, they got an extra frame of honey and I got a sting and driven off. I waited a few minutes for the bees to settle down before going back to put on the top cover, which I did without another fight.

I felt good about the log hive after this was all said and done. The bees looked healthy and acted healthy. It seemed that most were in the “ball” between frames, and there were plenty of stores left to get them through. And now they had an extra frame of honey for insurance. I am rooting for this colony – it’s the one that was saved from a tree that was cut down and soaked with wasp spray.

These gals are definitely survivors…

Monday, January 25, 2010

January 25, 2010

Kath and I just returned from the Maryland Horse Expo held in Timonium, MD. It is a four day event held at the MD State Fairgrounds and features some of the country’s best horse training experts who give demonstrations all day long in almost every horse discipline that one can imagine. There is also a “trade show” where one can find anything to buy – anything from a “ten horse” horse trailer to a sparkling trinket that juices up a halter.

I bought a rock for $5. And I bought it for Louie. Actually it is a rock, mined in Utah that is mostly salt but also contains about 35 other trace minerals that a body needs. It replaces the man made “salt lick”, that is far from natural. The rock is placed in the stall, fed free choice, which means that when the horse wants it and chooses to lick it, its there. I thought it was pretty cool to buy a rock for Lou to eat. Lou thinks its cool too – he gave it a few huge licks this afternoon…

Kath bought Patrick a new halter that has his name engraved on the nose band. And I finished up by buying Zippy an “itching brush” which I can scratch all his favorite spots with, like his back. It seems that everyone likes their presents.

We were able to meet a few trainers, and I even got asked to come out of the bleachers to help with a demonstration and get my fifteen minutes of horseshow fame. The trainer, John Lyons, pulled me and four other caballeros from the crowd to come into the round pen and try together to push his horse’s hip against the direction he was reining him. This was to demonstrate how the horse could obey the touch of the rein against our combined physical force. The rein won all three times! I wasn’t as impressed with the reining as I was that the horse didn’t try to kick us all in the head! Hear that Louie?! Patrick?! Zippy?!

But the thing I really learned from Mr. Lyons was not so much about horse training. He was talking about how one trainer may train a horse this way and another may train a horse that way, yet he was not going to judge who was right or wrong. To judge would be egotistical he said. Things aren’t right or wrong, but instead, they are simply different….

I wish that I could always look at things that way – as things being different rather than as right or wrong. I wonder what the world would be like if we all could look at things from that perspective. More forgiving? More tolerant? Peaceful? I think we’d all get along better.

It is interesting how we find the things we need by free choice. The examples and the words we need are always there if and when we choose to see or hear them…they are even there at a horse clinic, in a plain place called the “Cow Palace”.

Leaving Maryland I carried away things that I could use to make my horses better horses, and an idea that could make me a better me…

Saturday, January 16, 2010

January 16, 2010

There’s just something about a few warm days in the middle of winter to renew spirits around the farm. It’s most evident in the horses, but all the animals seem to be charged with extra energy and lifted moods!

Yesterday got to 54 degrees and we let the horses out in the side pasture that we had over seeded late last summer, which now supports a pretty good cover of ryes and clovers. They were out there bucking and romping together before settling down to graze on the dormant grasses. Louie was maybe the most excited – he was “pacing” in a trot here and there, and sort of acting like a colt. I decided to get his lead and walk him around the yard and back field so he could graze and I could spend time with him, so I went back to the stable for his halter and lead.

When he saw me coming back towards the pasture with his lead in hand, he came running towards me from over a hundred yards out, head high, tail flagging, and did a four legged sideways sliding stop at the gate, finishing with brightened eyes and a whiny! It was as if he was saying “did you see what I just did!?!” His motions were beautiful and athletic. The sun and warm temperatures must have soothed the inflammation in his arthritic joints and released his pent up energy! He was all full of it and ready to go! And a lot of his energy transferred right into me…

Lou and I spent the rest of the late afternoon in the yard, moving from one patch of grass to another. We wound our way up through the bare branched apple trees that seemed to be reaching out to us with crooked fingers, and then over to the bee hive where the grass still had some green in it. We wandered back and forth along the fence line, and over near the house. Lou grazed while I shared my thoughts with him…and every once in a while he’d pick up his head and lean towards me quizzically as if he wanted to answer “yeah, I understand”, or “that’s pretty stupid!”, just as honestly as any other friend would answer.

Today I am re-living those moments from yesterday afternoon – it was just so great to see Lou so energized, and to have the chance to share so much time and so many glances with him…

Sunday, January 10, 2010

January 10 2010

Some stories you just can’t make up…

Living on a farm, we get a lot of field mice that make their homes in the stable, hay barn, chicken coop and garage, living off the various animal feeds and stored seed. We never did mind it when the mice would only take a bit here and there, because we don’t mind sharing a bit, but when the mice began to take everything they could, leaving us nothing, we changed our minds.

Kath and I set off to the animal shelter and adopted two cats that the people there said were unadoptable cause they bit and clawed people, making them perfect specimens to roam the barn and put some meaningful balance into the ‘mice give and take’ problem.

We set the cats up in the tack room as their new home, and let them roam as they saw fit, which was mostly at night. They did their job, and did it very well through the summer and into the fall. By that time, we had a new balance of more cats than mice.

But then it began getting close to winter and Kath got to worrying that the cats would get too cold in the barn. So, she brought them in the house. One wouldn’t come in the house on her own so I was dispatched with a burlap bag to catch it with and bring it in! And so I did. I do what my wife tells me. It saves trips to the hospital.

At first, Kath was only going to bring them in for a few hours to warm up. The next day it was for only going to be for the night. That turned into every night. Then nights turned into days, and days turned into… well they are house cats now, and I have to catch them with a burlap bag to get them outside.

Fast forward a year and it is summer. (Actually it is last summer.) In the garage the pasture and buckwheat seed I store there have become an eternal Thanksgiving Day for the 43 living generations of field mice who are casually multiplying there.

So Kath gets a bright idea. She waits for a few mice to crawl over the lip of one of the seed bags, reaches in and catches two, then places them in a small glass aquarium. Then she brings them in the house. Why? “So the cats can watch them!” and then “Later I will let them go a few miles up the road”.

“Later” did not come soon enough, as one mouse escaped from the aquarium Alcatraz and made a dash for freedom and safety under the recliner. Of course, the cats didn’t miss the sprint, but being fat and out of shape, they collapsed winded at the side of the recliner, realizing that their only chance at closing on this opportunity was to wait and paw at the chair. And meow. All day long. And I mean all day long…

It was then that the realization hit me like Victor trap!

We’ve come full circle! Two years ago, we were bringing barn cats to the mice, and now we are bringing the barn mice to the cats…..

Like I said, you can’t make this stuff up.