While I was in Chicago last Wednesday I got a phone call at breakfast. It was from the vet clinic whose pasture I use for my chickens and bees. They had gotten a visit from animal control because one of the neighbors whose yard borders the pasture had complained of seeing bees in her pool.
I assured the vet’s office that I would take steps to eliminate the problem and that I would reach out to animal control as soon as I got home. On Friday I spoke with the animal control officer who was very nice and professional.
Here is what I think happened. Remember last weekend when I moved around a hive? Remember how I regretted having done it during the day because that mean that the bees who were out foraging didn’t know where their hive was? Do you also remember how I put a layer of newspaper between the two hives? Well the existing hive was on the top. So, the bees from the existing hive who were out foraging wouldn’t have been able to get back up to their home when they returned even if they did find it. They would have had to enter through the new (lower) hive and a) they just wouldn’t have done it and b) if they had the bees down there wouldn’t have allowed it.
So, I think there were a number of very unhappy bees wondering around for a few days. I suspect that that is what the homeowner witnessed.
Another couple of points. Animal control didn’t go to the home of the homeowners, and I certainly haven’t been there, so for all I know they weren’t bees at all. Additionally, I have no ideas if there were three bees, thirty or three hundred.
All of that said, I decided to use this as an opportunity to conduct an expirement. I did some research about various ways to attract bees to a water source. I’m trying four different water sources to see where the bees go. Three of the four are in orange Home Depot five gallon buckets. The fourth one is the baby pool that I fill with ice on hot days for the chickens. As it turns out, the chickens do most of their drinking out of that baby pool as well. I have had lots of wine corks floating in that pool for a while because bees were drowning. I added more wine corks today for additional bee support.
As far as the three Home Depot buckets, they are as follows:
Original Bucket with Plain Water: I poured out the somewhat stagnant water that was in there and put in plain fresh water along with additional wine corks.
Additional Bucket With Sugar Water: I put a couple of inches of the sugar syrup I feed the bees in the bottom of the Home Depot bucket along with a layer of wine corks. I filled it most of the way up with water.
Additional Bucket With Lemongrass Oil: Again, a layer of wine corks, filled the bucket with water, and put 10 drops of lemongrass oil.
We’re only one day in, but so far I still see bees busy at work in the baby pool, and no bees in the other three buckets. I’ll come back and update this blog post periodically to share what happens. So, stay tuned!
A couple of weeks ago I was at a family reunion and my very own uncle was surprised to hear that I still work full time and travel extensively for work. My husband and I own a retail travel agency and we each are elite travelers with American who traveled at least 75,000 miles in a calendar year. I am on the road a lot.
He thought I all do was play with my bees, my chicken and my garden. I suppose that’s what my life looks like to him via social media. I immediately set him straight. Some of the other people at the reunion were asking how I work so much and still do what I do outside of work.
Here are some tips to consider if you want to dabble in the various aspects of urban homesteading and maintain a very busy life.
Regular watering is time consuming and really must be done regularly to avoid stressing plants and impacting your crops. This is also a fairly easy thing to automate which frees you up for other activities or to be gone altogether. You can use drip hoses and timers, or you can install a fancy drip irrigation system. Either way, free yourself up from daily watering.
Mulch Mulch Mulch
Mulch is your friend that helps you three ways. To start with, mulch helps supress weeds. This saves time weeding. Also, it preserves moisture which saves time watering. (Or, if you have automated your watering, it at least saves water.) Finally, as it breaks down on top of the soil it provides nutrition to the soil. One of my favorite mulches is grass clippings. Grass clippings are a fantastic mulch and, best of all, FREE!
Let your standards go (a little).
I always want my garden beds to be weed and grass free. I want my chicken coop not to smell. I want to be on top of everything. The fact is, though, during seasons when I am out of town a lot something has to give. For instance, I was out of town starting August 3rd till the 12th. I cleaned the coop the day before I left and today is August 14th and I haven’t been able to clean it since I got home because it’s been raining. It is messier than usual, but I think most chickens live in much less clean environments. I’m not suggesting neglecting them on a long term basis, but missing one cleaning probably won’t hurt anything.
The same thing translates to other parts of your urban homestead. Your bees will probably survive if you don’t open up the hive every single week (although you may think YOU will die not checking on them!). Your garden will live (as long as your irrigation system is watering it) if you don’t pull the grass and weeds out for a week or so.
So, allow yourself to relax and live other parts of your life when you need to.
My spoiled hens really prefer when I bring them freshly chopped herbs and flower petals from my yard to mix with their dried mealworms and chicken feed. However, the fact is that they are chickens and can certainly eat plain chicken feed. To that end, I do have a large poultry feeder underneath the coop in the run (protected from rain). If they have to, the girls have several days of feed available to them. Also, I have a five gallon waterer and now that the weather is cooling off that is an option also.
Likewise, I have several different sizes of syrup feeders for the bees. I’m not needing to use them at the moment since my bees got honeybound from me feeding them too much!
You probably have friends and/or neighbors who want to garden / homestead like you do. Let them try it temporarily while you’re gone! I have a dear sweet friend who has been lovingly taking care of my hens when I’ve been gone. I have also established the daughter of a friend who is in FFA (Future Farmers of America) who is experienced with livestock available to take care of the girls in the event my friend isn’t available. You may have a family member who can be trusted to do basic tasks that can’t wait for your return. Look for help.
Timing / Planning
In a perfect world, I would have planted things like broccoli and brussels sprouts a couple of weeks ago. But, I was about to be gone for most of that two weeks, so I made the decision not to put in new plants or start seeds when I was about to be gone. Yes I sacrificed two weeks of growing time, but I knew I wasn’t going to be able to take care of them like they would need.
It’s all about planning and knowing what you can do. (And what you can’t)
Accept that you won’t produce as much as if you were home all the time.
To everything there is a season. If you are in a phase of life when you are working a lot, or traveling a lot, it’s just a fact that your endeavors won’t be like they would be if you could devote all of your time to them. Your garden may not look like the photos in Mother Earth News and that’s just going to have to be okay. You do what you can, when you can.
Remember the goal
I assume you are gardening, or keeping chickens or bees, or whatever, because you enjoy it. It’s supposed to be fun. You probably live near a grocery store and you won’t starve if you don’t grow enough food. Remember, gardening is fun.
Don’t over plant
Northaven Gardens is my favorite local garden store. Usually when I go there, I’m there for something specific. It isn’t very close to my house, so I’m there for a specific purpose. But, I can’t help wandering around and seeing everything. To guard against overbuying, I always start out not getting a cart. So far, every time I have ended up getting a cart. Do as I say here though, and not as I do. If all you have time and space for are 6 broccoli plants, don’t buy 20. Remember you’re going to have to find time not only to get those plants in the ground, but also water, fertilize and harvest.
Go with nature.
There are things that grow well in your area. There are things that don’t. With lots of time and intervention, you may be able to coax other things into producing but if you are short on time, go with the sure things.
Basically, you have finite resources. Just like in all other areas of life, success with gardening within a busy life is a matter of planning and intentionality. You can do it!
We all know I love visiting gardens when I travel, and this one is near and dear to my heart. The greenhouse at El Dorado Royale is, I believe, the only place of its kind. I’m not aware of another hotel that grows so much of it’s own produce. If you know of one, please tell me in the comments because I will go visit!
This 75,000 square foot greenhouse provides produce for all of the Karisma hotels in Riviera Maya, as well as providing produce for staff members to take home for personal use. A fully outfitted processing center is onsite to prepare produce for use or for delivery to the other hotels.
As a Rainforest Alliance certified greenhouse, they must agree to the following:
- We do not mix our own products with other products.
- We preserve and protect the environment.
- We respect the local flora and fauna.
- We keep our water sources clean.
- We are inclusive with our workers and visitors.
- We do not hire workers under 18 years old.
- All the greenhouse workers receive a salary above the minimum wage.
- We always use the personal protection equipment for each laborer.
- We do not cultivate genetically modified organisms.
Those all sound like things we can get behind, right?
The greenhouse is operated with an extensive system of tanks, water lines and computers that regulate the amount of nutrients and water that flow to each plant.
The growing medium they use is coconut coir. This is an infinitely renewable resource, especially in this part of the world. I use it for my worm boxes. It’s perfect in this application since all of the nutrients come from the irrigation.
Workers are busy in the greenhouse every day harvesting, planting, working on keeping the greenhouse healthy and happy. In the big greenhouses they grow primarily tomatoes and cucumbers.
The greenhouses themselves are only part of the growing operation here. They also have smaller greenhouses where they grow mint, basil, cilantro and other things.
Even abandoned bathtubs from a recent hotel renovation get into the act!
I love seeing different situations where food is produced. I love seeing people and organizations take advantage of their assets to produce food. This is a perfect example. The hotel has the land, they have the climate so they went for it! It’s been tremendously successful. The guests love it and it plays right into the other “green” aspects of the hotels. They also have solar hot water, and extensive recycling program and even a compost operation.
Loved visiting the El Dorado Greenhouses. If you’d like to arrange your own visit, contact Legacy Travel at 866-329-7157
On yesterday’s post, I explained that I got my hives “honey bound” by overfeeding them. My task since then has been to figure out how that happened. Here is what I have figured out. If you have some feedback, I’d love to hear it in the comments.
I signed up for the monthly program at Texas Bee Supply where I get an email that tells me what I need to be doing in the bees each month. I read that I should be feeding them, and I am nothing if not diligent, so I was feeding them as much as they would take.
From what I’ve been able to figure out, the advice they were giving was based on me having harvested honey in early July. Since I only got my hive in late May, I did not have any honey supers and did not harvest.
So, my hive had every bit of the honey they had produced…and how I was feeding them unlimited syrup. It makes total sense that they went overboard and filled up all of the space which left our poor queen with nowhere to do her work.
So, I guess the answer is to keep an eye on your frames. If the honey stores are low, pitch in. If they’re okay, let them bee!