*** see the overgrazed patch? That paddock was too small; but thus we learn! ***
It is finally and truly spring, as the silver chiming of the hylas infallibly attests. The old pond has been dredged and refilled, and seven large frogs have taken up residence. The verges are twined with slimy ropes of frogspawn, and the parent frogs have added their voices to the treefrogs’. We are not always so liberally blessed with frogs, but the endless rains of this spring are obviously very much to the liking of the local amphibian population.
The year-old steer have all gone to Cadiz for the summer, to spend the hot months on fifteen acres of stripmined land being returned to the state of nature with the assistance of a small flock of sheep, and our steers. Our friend Dale, he of the off-grid woodland shack, keeps them for us there, his sheep being not able, in the summer months, to keep up with the forage. Our own west hill clearing is in better shape for the grazing the steers did there last week; we walked up today — the logging trail is steep! — to assess how soon it will need to be grazed again. The north hill pasture is still running with water in many places, but Isabel and Bridget have been moved to new paddocks daily. Right now paddock size is about fifty by twenty feet, depending on where we put them, but as the sward thickens, the paddocks will get smaller.
We were gratified to see that the hens have ventured even as far as the bottom of the field to scrap out the grain from Isabel’s flops. Small is beautiful; when your pasture will fit on a postage stamp, it just makes it easier for your chickens to help with cleanup duty.
We got into the hives this afternoon, and traded hive #1 five frames of drawn comb (left from the hive that didn’t make it through the winter) for five of honey. #1 is the colony with three hive body boxes, and we felt justified in robbing them, partly because the honey flow is good right now — we could see the workers putting new honey in comb — and partly because we got a second-hand extractor on Monday, and we wanted to try it out. We will no doubt get more efficient, but for a first time, we thought we did very well. Previously — as in, for the last fifteen years or so — we have harvested by what we have seen called the “crush and strain” method, cutting the comb from the frame, crushing it, and straining the wax from the honey. This works, but has among others the disadvantage of requiring the bees to construct new comb before they can store more honey. With an extractor, you simply cut the caps on the cells, run the frames through the extractor, and return the frames to the bees, cells intact. Big improvement, and we expect the bees like it, too. There was a little wind storm and shower while we were running the extractor, so the bees didn’t bother us much, but later in the evening the bees were up there in droves, cleaning out the honey left in the extractor. It looks like we got about a gallon and a bit from the five frames, but I will weigh it tomorrow to see exactly what is there. This is old honey, from last year, that they didn’t use up over the winter, and we would venture the opinion that it is mostly black locust honey, which is very dark and strong.
Before they were shut down by the rain, some of the boys milled six beautiful two-by-tens for barn rafters, and stacked them with shims to dry. The loft, as it has emptied of hay, has been filling up with lumber destined to become the new barn.