Duck Rescue

Ducks are entertainers.  Aflac knows this and exploits it so well that no one can say the IMG_7379company name without quacking.  Ducks are fun to have around.  Watching them waddle brings a smile – watching them run is hysterical.  So we have added to the duck flock this spring.  14 new little peepers back in March.  They arrived by US Mail in a precious peeping box and have grown faster than the weeds.

To accommodate the new ducks, we changed Duckingham Palace from a permanent domain to a mobile version.  The house got a lift kit and an open concept layout.  And we added electrified poultry netting to give them a big backyard – with a pool.

The first pool worked well for out existing adults, but it turned out to be too deep for the IMG_7574adolescent ducks to exit.  Most of them were coming and going fine, but one got stuck.  I had just come from a bee swarm collection in Garner.  Before installing them I made a quick trip to check on everyone on the farm.  That’s when I noticed her huddled and shivering in the pool.  Without a full set of adult feathers, a long soak in a cold tub is deadly.  Not good.

I don’t know how long he had been there but IMG_7572
she didn’t protest when I picked her up.  Highly unusual.  I wrapped her in my jacket and she laid her head on my arm.  I hurried her to the house.  Even though the farmhouse is still under construction, we had heat & air.  I cranked up the heat and held her wet and shivering over an air duck, um, duct.  She dried fairly quickly but I kept her indoors for a little while to make sure she was ok.  When I found her strolling through the kids bedroom I knew she was ready to rejoin the group.

We have since upgraded the pool to a bigger but shallower model.  Everyone seems quite pleased.  Now they have a shady yard and a bigger pool.  Party time!  Alas, the older ducks still refuse to associate with the enormous group of teenage ducks who must seem like a nervous herd of preteen girls.  But soon enough, those teeny boppers will be turning the heads of our 2 drakes.  Summertime is calling.

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Baby Blitz

Most animals choose to have their babies in spring.  So this time of year nature is deluged with baby fever.  We have had the great pleasure to receive our share of little ones recently too.

charlotte broodCharlotte, one of our oldest hens, went broody in March and stayed committed to her post on the nest.  A few weeks ago she hatched out several Buck Naked babies.  Last year, another veteran Lily hatched out our first on farm chicks – who all turned out to be roosters.  Tough choices to be made.  We aren’t quite sure who is who in Charlotte’s brood this year but it does look like proud papa Patton has fathered a full blooded Buff Orpington cockerel (baby rooster).  Spaghetti wants to name him Ike.  But there appears to be a couple of pullets (baby hens) in the mix too.  Yea!!  Homegrown Buck Naked Ladies!  These little ones are growing up old school, free ranging on the farm with mama.  Dangerous (we lost 1 early on) but all natural.

egg hatchAs Charlotte sat on her nest, other hens would drop by to visit and leave an egg with her. I cleared most of these out but after a communication lapse, we ended up with 6 eggs in Charlotte’s nest that had started developing but were no where near hatching when she got up to care for her newly hatched babies.  What to do?  I candled the eggs and could see movement.  There was life there.  Left alone in the nest, the embryos would die.  So I took them home.

I don’t have an incubator.  Just haven’t gotten around to spending the money.  But I had read some vague stories online about the possibility of using a dehydrator to incubate eggs.  An incubator has to hold a steady temperature (around 100 degrees) and a high humidity (50%+).  A dehydrator can do them temperature but it removes humidity.  Not an exact match.  But I was desperate.  The eggs couldn’t cool off for long.  So I make-shifted a setup – covering the fan, adding a pan of water, and surrounding the eggs with wet towels.  And waited.  2 weeks.

2 weeks of waiting, refilling water pans, turning the eggs, and wondering what nonsense I had started.  I was up early one Saturday morning typing away when I heard a bird sound, nearer than a wild bird should be.  Couldn’t be…..  A very confused floppy chick fumbling about in the dehydrator.  I was elated!  It worked.  The darn thing worked.  I tapped the other eggs for sound or movement, but nothing.  But the eggs didn’t smell rotten so I kept the faith.  And sure enough, for the next 3 days, 4 more little ones hatched out of those eggs.  Against all odds.  Against all the rules and standards in the books.  Life found a way.  I was floored.

IMG_7667-1I’m sure I couldn’t do it again: beginners luck for sure.  And it wasn’t all glory.  One egg failed to hatch and one hatchling died.  Gripping sad stuff.  But I took a lesson from Charlotte.  She knew when to sit patiently and when to move on to care for her brood.  So I am delighted to announce that Buck Naked Farm has had 2 successful hatches of Buck Naked babies this spring.  (For those who care: 1 Buff, 1 Welsummer, 1 Speckled Sussex, 1 Ameraucana, and 1 ????  All crossed with either Taco or Patton.)

IMG_7663If all goes well, these new additions should be grown and laying by August.  Maybe even some new egg colors for the cartons.  And while all this is going on in the coop, another group of babies hatched out on the pond.  Our annual Canada Goose visitor finished her nest sitting with 6 baby goslings.  With another goose nest in the pasture, the babe keep rolling in.  A real spring baby blitz.

Food on Parade

farmtourtomatoiconlogo-2017-outlinesThis weekend is your chance to see your food up close.  This is as local as it gets.  Baby goats, chicks, cows, cuteness and farm fresh air.  The CFSA Piedmont Farm tour is this weekend Sat & Sunday from 2-6.  35 Farms all over the NC piedmont are opening their gates to visitors to see the diversity of NC’s locally grown goods.  NC Bison?  Check.  Llamas?  Yep.  Mushrooms, produce, pigs, & honey?  All on display.  Did someone say honey????

Last year we got to be tourists and visit other farms.  This year, we work.  We will be at the Central Carolina Community College (4C’s) in Pittsboro on Saturday.  The Chatham County Beekeepers maintain 4 educational club hives at the 4C’s.   We will be there this weekend along with our other bee loving friends talking bees, discussing plants, & selling honey.

The CFSA Farm tour is a one price per car admission ($30) to as many farms as you can visit in one day.  Stuff some friends in the vehicle and see just how many farms you can take in.  They even make it easy by mapping out routes of nearby farms.  It’s a great way to meet the folks who grow the stuff you put in your mouth.  Kinda important.  Lots of the farms like us will have local goods for sale too.  Check out the CFSA webpage for all the details.  Buttons can be bought ahead of time, online, or at the first farm you visit.  Grab your boots & get outside!

Bonus Points (Swarms Part 2)

Last post I mentioned that we caught 2 swarms this week: one was from my hives, one wasn’t.  Full confession on my swarm is posted here.  Recovering your own swarm is like getting the rebound from your missed shot.  A second chance.   But a feral swarm?  Like getting 2 free-throws and the fouled bucket.  Bonus!

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Swarm is the dark shadow in the center of the bush

The Wake County Beekeepers Association is an active group of hobbyist, backyard, and sideline beekeepers.  They educate new beekeepers, do community outreach, and field swarm calls.  I was the lucky recipient of such a call this week.  Sauce was packing up to head out with Grammy & Gramps for a week at the beach when the call came in.  If you want the swarm, you have to go immediately.  Swarms congregate on a raised surface (fence, tree, your mailbox) for 1-24 hours debating their new home before making a decision and flying off to settle in.  Once they land on that surface, the clock starts ticking.

So I hugged Sauce a few extra times and hurried him off with grandparents while I took off for Garner.  Swarm reports are notoriously suspect.  Some people report wasps or yellow jackets.  Sometimes they are 40 feet in the air.  In someone’s gutters.  Or sometimes you get no info at all.  A good Samaritan called the Wake County Beekeepers to politely come get these bees.  This particular swarm had been parked in a bush in a suburban neighborhood for at least 24 hrs already.  Tick tock.  Luckily I keep all my swarm gear in the car for just such occasions.  Off I went.

The swarm was a pretty easy capture.  Just a few feet off the ground, tightly clustered.  I

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Swarm in box awaiting the slowpokes

moved them into my transport box and waited for them to settle.  A neighbor walking her dog eyed me suspiciously and turned around.  I don’t blame her.  I was dressed all in white, resting on my car bumper checking my email surrounded by confused, whirling bees.  Any thinking person would turn around.  But the bees in the box fanned their pheromones and drew the confused outliers back in.  In 15 minutes we were ready to roll.

I carried them straight to the farm, far away from any potential homesite they were considering and installed them in a fancy new place.  In the drive from the swarm to the farm, they had already built comb on the roof of the box.  These girls needed a home.  The most curious part of the morning was a forager bee loaded down with pollen in the swarm.  Pollen is collected to feed babies.  They had none.  Pollen is stored in comb.  They had none.  Was she out foraging and got caught up in the tide of swarming bees?  Or an uber prepared forager just waiting to unload the groceries?  Either way she would have to wait on the house bees to build some new comb so she can unpack her pockets.

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Casper realizes the funny box is now occupied

We welcomed this new hive to live in our feature hive on the farm.  The pretty English garden hive in my fledgling pollinator garden.  It’s great to finally see the hive buzzing for the first time this spring.  New life lifts the spirits.  Especially when it’s bonus bees.  But just as I prepared to rest on my laurels (I actually don’t have any of those) I noticed a nearby duck emergency.  But that’s a story for next time.

Now at Standard Foods

We are delighted to announce that you can now find Buck Naked Farm’s honey, select soaps, jam, and lip balm at Standard Foods in Raleigh.  Among the foodie and farm scene Standard Foods is an icon in the Raleigh market.  Their grocery side offers a one of a kind  assortment of local, small farm goods that are obsessively searched out.  Both their menu and grocery selection changes frequently with what is local and available.  There is an amazing  butcher counter assortment, fresh produce, eggs, and snacks you won’t find anywhere else.

If you plan your visit right, you can join them for dinner or a weekend brunch.  They are located right next to the Raleigh City Farm and use local, seasonal ingredients in one of a kind dishes.  Keep an eye out for their upcoming news about expanded service.  It’s the perfect midtown spot for any epicurean aficionado!

All The Single Ladies

This week has been busy.  It is bee season (and baby season in general on a farm).  New chicks, new ducks, new geese, new cows (soon!), and new bees.  This week we had the great adventure of capturing 2 honeybee swarms.  1 was mine, 1 was not.  Shame and pride all in one week.

Swarms are an amazing thing.  20,000+ bees & their queen streaming out of a hive all at once and setting off to find a new homeland.  They are mostly harmless at this point.  No home = no sting, usually.  It’s a sign of success to the colony (Yea! we survived winter and can head off to find our own place.) but a sign of potential loss to the beekeeper (Boo! $125 worth of bees just flew away.).  So during swarm season the enterprising beekeeper is ready; carrying all your gear around in the car ready.  Swarm calls can happen at any time: during a funeral service or as you’re saying goodbye to your child for a week at Grandma’s.  Both happened this week.

My hive that swarmed was at our bee yard at Ninja Cow Farm.   I had just removed that

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See the shadowy lump  waaaaay up there?

hive’s old queen just 20 days earlier in attempt to head off the swarm instinct.   But these girls were so gleeful about spring they raised a new queen who hatched, mated, and swarmed all within 20 days.  Amazing.  Want to see the swarm & me in a backhoe bucket?  You can see the video and read Dan’s wonderfully witty writing here.  The swarm retrieval was pretty easy despite my kryptonite: heights.  But it couldn’t have happened in a better place.  At Dan’s farm you say “This would be easy if only we had a ____.”  Whatever goes in that blank, Dan has it.  Cool big kid tools make light work.
As the swarm on the tree settled into their temporary box, the real work started.  I approached the bee yard and audibly asked “Ok, Who did this?”  Much buzzing.  I checked several suspect hives until I found the culprit – the recently queenless hive from weeks earlier!  Despite the swarm leaving, the population of bees was booming and still preparing for more.  I encountered no less than 7 virgin (unmated) queens running amok in the hive plus an additional 8-10 unhatched queen cells.  Whoa folks – 1 queen per hive is the standard.  These girls were planning to keep casting off swarms until there was no one left at home.

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Bees in need of a realtor?  I know just the person…

Seizing the opportunity for free, fresh royal ladies, I set to work extracting the spirited

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Queen cells galore

virgins and cutting out the remaining unhatched queens.  Many beekeepers replace one or two year old queens in the spring/fall to keep their hives humming.  Queens cost $25-45 each with shipping.  So you can understand my glee: swarm captured and new leaders in the wings. Pun intended.  Dan walked by hours later and said “You still here?”  As I explained the queeny windfall, I spied a cluster of bees on my pants – another queen.  Some days you search for hours to find a queen.  Today they were everywhere.

The upside of all these mini colonies I’m creating with the new queens is that they are resource hives for us.  We can pull frames from any of the nano hives to bolster production colonies just before a nectar flow.  Like now.  The swarmy hive at Ninja Cow who just lost a good portion of their forager force in the swarm wouldn’t usually produce surplus honey.  But I’m planning to call up some reserves from the single lady hives to beef up our production colonies and hopefully make the big girls ready to roll for the spring flow.  Now the honey supers are on and waiting for it to rain – nectar that is.

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Growing the bee yard at Ninja Cow Farm