Here’s a photo opportunity that doesn’t come along very often…

Rainbow to the east!

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The bees are buzzin’

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Of 20 hives that arrived on May 11, we now have 18 strong hives with additional supers on them. We hope for a good honey season.

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White dutch clover is one of the honeybees’ favorite pastures. Notice the dandelions, which are also popular with the bees.

Yesterday the beekeeper came out to check the 20 hives he had placed here on May 11. He found two bad hives and the rest were fine. Some were making serious honey already. We thought that White Dutch Clover and Dandelions might be in the mix. He added two more supers to each hive so now we have 18 active hives with at least three supers on the base of each one. When you look at the hives you will see each one has a total of four boxes sitting on the pallet (except for the two pallets with a bad hive). Each of those bases has three supers on it. The two bad hives got put on top of other hives, so two of my hives are six boxes tall.

Unfortunately, my apple trees did not bloom at all this year so the honeybees did not have them to pollinate and harvest from. The only fruit tree that did bloom was my pie cherry tree which now has fruit on it. I have heard that after one good strong harvest (like last year) apples sometimes take a year off, so I guess that is what is happening. The best bee pasture here at home is dandelions and White Dutch Clover. Since bees range 2 miles and more for flowers, they have a lot of wild blossom options along the creek and in windbreaks in this area. I am considering planting American Basswood trees in my windbreak to replace the ashes that may fall victim to the Emerald Ash Borer in the near future. American Basswood, “bee tree”, is a favorite of honeybees and should also provide good shade and windbreak protection.

Soil erosion on farm ground in Iowa

Topsoil in Iowa is probably the single-most valuable ingredient in our agricultural economy. We raise our crops in it and our livestock feeds on the grain and hay that we produce from it. Between 12,500 and 14, 000 years ago, the last glacier receded from central Iowa.

Since then our topsoil has grown prairie plants and grasses. Then, about 150 years ago when European settlers, including my ancestors from Norway, Germany, and England, began plowing up the prairie sod, we began to expose the rich topsoil to wind and water erosion. Today, most of Iowa’s top soils are exposed in varying degrees to the wind and the water. At Iowa State University now there is a research project that is attempting to gather more accurate erosion data than we have had up to now.

What’s in your ditch?

We went out for a walk this afternoon. There were so many bottles and cans in the ditches that I drove back later to pick them up since here in Iowa we get a nickel for every returnable container we take in to the recycling center. Check out the data below and keep in mind that I picked these bottles and cans up in one mile of road, checking both the east and west ditches. Nearly all of the bottles and cans were in the east ditch (on the north/south road), which makes sense since the prevailing winter winds in the country are west/northwest.

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Are you surprised by the large number of Mountain Dew bottles & cans? I expected more beer than pop, but my assumption was wrong. With our 5 cent return policy in Iowa, the 63 bottles and cans would yield $3.15 at the recycling center in Ames; however, 13 of those bottles are not refundable (the Snapple and the water and Gatorade), so $2.50.

The main question, however, is why? Why is there so much junk in the countryside? How does it get here? Blow out of pickups? Get thrown out the window?

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Photovoltaic array output for 2014 so far

My 1.5 kWh (theoretical maximum output-it actually maxes out at 1.35 kWh) PV array is steadily increasing its production so far in 2014.

Power production from my 1.5 kWh solar array is steadily increasing so far in 2014

We have recently set the PV array angle at 45 degrees since the sun is higher in the sky these days. We plan to re-set the array angle four times at year to accommodate the changing position of the Sun in the sky visavis the Earth.

Spring chicks and shearing the ewes

In about the 3rd year, my laying hens go into semi retirement, so I have to buy replacement hens. These 2-week old chicks are the replacements for my Black Australorps. These Red Sex Link birds should start laying eggs in late July or early August.

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These are two-week old chicks under a red heat lamp. They need some additional heat and protection when they are small. We keep them in the basement for the first few weeks.

 

The other spring time task is shearing the ewes in preparation for lambing. We sheared on March 15 this year.

Interesting to note that even though the local wool market stinks, there is a new woolen mill in Fosston, Minnesota that is paying a decent price for wool and it is finding a market for its woolen products.

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Sheared and unsheared or is it shorn and unshorn?

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The fleeces go into the wool bag. All 10 fleeces fit into the bag. The fleeces were probably around 5-8 lbs each. The wool market stinks right now. I just got my check for the 2012 and 2013 fleeces: $51.82. That doesn’t even pay for the shearing costs.

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Half shorn. That is a nice looking fleece.

 

Ancient flyways, glaciers, and indigenous people

We drove five hours west last weekend to watch the Sandhill Cranes. They stop along a 75-mile stretch of the Platte River in Nebraska to rest and feed in preparation for their flight to their northern nesting grounds. We arrived on Saturday evening and then woke up early the next morning, drove to Wood River, Nebraska, and parked at a bridge over the Platte on Alda Road. The view to the east was spectacular as the Sandhills swarmed out of the river to glean from nearby corn fields. You can watch the cranes online as well, in season, of course, on the Rowe Sanctuary Crane Cam.

These cranes have been migrating back and forth between their nesting grounds and wintering areas for millenia. In fact according to Volz (2003) this species has lived on Earth for about 2.5 million years.

Interesting to note also that the last glacier covered north and central Iowa about 12,000 to 15,000  years ago; the first humans appeared on the scene about 13,000 years ago so the first Native Americans would have been in Iowa while the last glacier was receding from our area.

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