Saturday, May 30, 2009


Dave -

I believe the fencing project is coming to an end. I refrain from claiming completion since these type of projects tend to have one more little task that needs to be done - just ask any farmer. Shirley and I installed the last two sections of fence; both came with problems - oh, why can't projects just go as planned?

My first challenge was to find something to anchor the come-a-long that I use to stretch tight the wire fencing. Since my neighbor was not home, I solved my problem by tying a borrowed rope to his tree about 60 feet away. After securing the wire fence to the corner posts, I proceeded to set the metal posts. Here is where I ran into a stone wall. More accurately, it was not a stone wall, but rather a stone hill. I was able to drive one of the posts only a foot deep. Shirley's fixation on uniformity dictated that the post needed to be driven down another three inches to match the others. I flailed away for what seemed like an hour (okay, maybe five minutes...but remember that this is in the middle of the day under a scorching sun) trying to drive that post three...two...even one inch deeper. No way! Seeing the sweat pouring down my face, Shirley resigned herself to the fact that this post was going to be a couple of inches higher than the other two. With that, we called it a day.

Yesterday we stretched the last section of fence into place and secured it to the wooden corner posts. Uneventful - and this is a good thing. This morning we schlepped the metal posts, the pile driver, and the level up the hill and prepared to drive home the last three posts. Our hill is so steep (truly, about a 45 degree slope) that each step was a challenge. Fortunately, the underlying rock that more or less defines our hill was covered with enough dirt that we were able to drive the posts without encountering the problems of the day before. Job done. Time to head to the house for a cold beer. At the bottom of the hill - at the corner of the fence - the 4x4 corner post looked like it was leaning, not standing straight like it was the day before. Upon a closer look, the problem was obvious. The post had a knot and the tension from the fence was causing the post to crack. I realized that replacing the post would be a huge job requiring me to remove the post along with the 75 pounds of concrete anchoring it as well as splicing in two sections of fence so that the fence could be re-tensioned. Bottom line, this meant that my fencing work was NOT done.

I found a two foot length of heavy gauge uni-strut and screwed it to the post using five hefty 2-1/2" lag screws. This band-aid approach straightened the cracked post and I deem that the post is now stronger than before it cracked - at least I have convinced myself of this since I have a clear understanding of what the alternative holds.

So, is the fencing project really done? Well, I guess the answer depends on who you ask. Ask me, and I will give you a definite "Yes!". Ask Shirley, and she may also say "Yes" but in the same breath also mention that she would like the original 5' high fence removed. Ack! Did she say "remove" a fence?

Friday, May 29, 2009

Overview of Our Fencing Project

This photo is rather small and gives a distorted 'fish-eye' view of our yard. Dave made it by connecting several photos using a special panoramic landscape feature on Adobe Photoshop. The red line shows the outline of our new fence. As you can see, our chickens have plenty of room to forage. On the far right are our two beehives.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Fencing on the Brain

It has been a while since our last post. This is because Dave and I have embarked on another chicken project entailing lots of physical labor. By the end of the day, neither of us had any energy left to write about our doings. Dave sent several photos to his father last night with the following comments. This will give you an idea of the changes we are making to our yard:

Dave -

I felt that our chickens needed more room to roam given the fact that we have been telling everyone that we are raising "free range" chickens. The chickens had pretty much decimated all of the grass in their initial 75'x20' chicken run so I decided to extend the fenced in area to encompass most of the hill that makes up our yard.

Shirley and I set four of the six corner posts on Saturday. When I put in the original fence, I simply dug two foot holes and tamped the dirt around the posts. This time around, I opted to set the posts in concrete. Using concrete simplifies the job considerably. The downside is lugging 50 pound bags of concrete mix to the top of the hill...phew!

I watched several YouTube videos to learn how to install field fence. I learned a new technique for wrapping the fence around the fence posts and making knots.

The chickens are happy in their expanded space.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Hen House Frustration

When our neighbor expressed concern that feathers and the smell of chicken poop might contaminate his yard, Dave recruited several friends yesterday to help him move the hen house up the hill.

This was no easy task. Dave built the structure assuming it would stay in place forever so he did not use lightweight materials. When Dave went out to level the house, he realized that in order to do so one end would have to be planted in the ground, and the other would be up in the air. Notice the car jack in the first photo!

This was not acceptable. At the new height, I can barely reach inside to clean the hen house. So, as soon as we find another gullible group of volunteers, we will move the house back to its original spot. In the meantime, we will extend the fence we 'completed' the other day inside the hen pen. This should reduce any odors and flying feathers.

Needless to say, Dave is not happy by all of this extra work. He dug two post holes in 100 plus degree weather yesterday. His brain was boiling by the time he was done especially since he had to dig one hole twice.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Friday, May 15, 2009

Fencing Frustration

Dave and I went to Home Depot yesterday to pick up supplies to build a second gate at the top of the hill. By using this gate we would no longer have to walk in front of our neighbor's property, affording them a modicum of privacy. As we entered the warehouse, Dave realized that it would be easier to give in to my demands - and less expensive in the long run since I would get my way anyway - to build a 6 foot tall fence in front of the neighbor's property and be done with it. Climbing our steep, slippery hill is no easy feat and would require Brant to come through with his idea to build step stones to the top. Brant doesn't have the time or the desire to do this grunge work.

Dave dug the holes and planted three posts. The middle hole proved especially challenging because there was a huge slab of concrete exactly where the pole needed to go. After removing the slab, Dave found that the ground turned to solid rock - not the shale that breaks up into pieces with the crow bar. We used a bag of Quikrete to set this post. Needless to say, Dave's heart is not in this project. Perhaps you can sense his frustration in the photos.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

More In-sights into Beekeeping

Robert Madsen -

The yellow glob you see on the bee's hind legs is pollen from the flowers and is most interesting. This picture shows what a bee looks like when returning to the hive with a full load.

This picture clearly shows the pollen deposits as well as cells containing larva. The worker bees take pollen and nectar to the developing larva. They deposit the 'meal' on top of the larva and it gets absorbed. The youngest fully developed bees perform these chores. In a few days they will join the other bees in work outside the hive. The naturalists speak of 'division of labor' and it is really apparent here.
Also present is capped honey.

Larva beneath the word 'THESE' are more developed than the larva to the left. It would appear that this is a very good queen as the 'larva circle' is quite compact.

The above caption tells the story. This hive appears to be quite active so it will be only a few days before the bees will be covering this frame too.

If I am correct in what I think I am looking at can see a few cells where the fully developed bee will soon emerge. They are those cells that have a dark body in them.

For the finale I wish I had a nice bottle of honey.

Immediately outside the hive some bees do a 'wiggle-waggle' dance. This dance tells the other bees the direction and distance to a nectar source. A Nobel Prize was awarded to Karl Ritter von Frisch who deciphered the wiggle-waggle dance.

Karl Ritter von Frisch (Note: Ritter is a title, translated approximately as "Knight," not a first or middle name) (November 20, 1886 – June 12, 1982) was an Austrian ethologist and zoologist. His research revolutionized our understanding of the sensory perception of fish and insects. His most distinguished discovery was that honeybees communicate the location of a food source to their hive mates by performing a complex dance, known as the "waggle dance." Frisch received the Nobel Prize in 1973.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

In-Sights into Beekeeping

My father-in-law kept bees when he lived 'out on the farm' in Spencer, Iowa. Here are his in-sights into beekeeping.

Robert Madsen -

One of the fun things I did years ago was to keep bees. Now, one of my kids, David, and his wife are giving it a shot.

He just sent me these pictures...they are the best pictures I have seen of what goes on inside a beehive.

Inside that regalia is son Dave. He and Shirley decided that they would like to include bees as a hobby. He has taken the lid off the box (called a 'super') and he is checking over things. You see a jar of sugar water have to feed a new colony until the bees build up their numbers and are able to support themselves from the area's flower nectar and pollen. There are ten 'frames' with a sheet of foundation (wax with imprinted 'cells' that the bees "build out" to make full cells).

The legs of the beehive are immersed in oil to prevent ants from climbing into the hive.

That other 'box' is also a brooder box that will have ten frames set. It will sit atop the one Dave is working in. There is no partition between the boxes so the bees can move into it as their numbers increase.

Since this is a new brooder box it is nice and clean. After a few weeks, the bees deposit propolis which they produce as the 'glue' that sticks everything together...a dark yellow color.

A good close up. Here the bees are putting the nectar into the cells. The bees 'build out' the cells from what was just a little ridge on the wax foundation into what you see here. All are six sided.

Dave has lifted out a couple of frames so he can see inside the hive. Long ago bee keepers (apiarists) learned that bees always build their natural hives with spacing that is a specific distance (3/8" or 7.5mm +/- 1.5mm for you metric people) so the manufacturers' of hives use these same tolerances. It seems to be just the distance a bee requires when carrying a load of nectar or pollen.

Dave has removed two frames to show how things look inside the hive. At this time you will find most of the bees located in the center of the hive. Actually, the bees form a 'ball' that sits right in the center of the box...with the greatest density being between the fifth and sixth frames and lessening in numbers as you move to the sides of the box. The central part of the hive is the first part that the bees develop. In the winter, the bees bunch to maintain their body heat.

Can you spot the queen in the upper right-hand section? She is about twice the size of the worker bees. She deposits fertilized eggs into the empty cells. The cells that appear "shiny" inside have developing larva. The queen flies on a mating flight and is chased by a number of drones...of which only one will mate with the queen (he, the drone, is rewarded by immediately dying - giving us guys something to think about, huh?). This one sexual encounter provides the sperm to fertilize the hundreds of thousands of eggs she will lay during her lifetime. These bees are of Italian stock, the most common variety used for pollination and honey production in the U.S.