A common black rat snake

Snake time

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A common black rat snake

We have a lot of snakes around our farm and we like them. Either garter snakes or larger black rat snakes. This fine fellow showed up a couple of days ago and he was quite friendly. Joni moved him about 100 yards from the house, but he will be back. Normally, we would just leave him alone, but because the baby ducklings were due, we didn’t want the snake to think we were offering up any snacks. We have now moved the ducks into a more secure coop that a large snake could not get into, so he is welcome to return. We have found a couple of large snake sloughs recently, so this guy is not the only one in town.

Horseshoe crab close-up

Horseshoe crab trip

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Sampling at the Dogfish Head tasting room.

The trip to Delaware was great. Our friends Scooter and Erinn came with us again this year. We did most of the things that we like to do every year like visit the Dogfish Head Brewery for some sampling and souvenirs, and lunch on Sunday at the Dogfish Head Brewpub in Rehoboth. The beer was good and, as always, interesting.

The actual counting of horseshoe crab hung in the balance as a large storm front was sliding up the coast from the south. The count was to start at 10:35 and at 10:10 there were a few bolts of lightening visible to the west and we really weren’t sure if we should go ahead with the count. We waited about 10 minutes and decided to go for it. The protocol was a little different this year – same number of samples, but only a half a Kilometer instead of a full one. We thought this was due to hurricane and storm damage to the beaches, but we saw very little change from previous years. Good news, but we don’t know why the protocol changed.

Counting horseshoe crabs

The grid used to count Horseshoe crabs

As we started the numbers were very low – mostly zeros in our measurement grid, but by the halfway point the crabs seemed to start to show up. We finished in only about 30 or 40 minutes, which is about half the time it has taken in past years. In the middle of the count, the sky opened up and it poured and we all got pretty wet. It was cool, so being rained on was not so much fun, but we all had our rain gear, so we were ok.

This was our tenth trip, and we are already looking forward to next year. The Nature Conservancy recently published an article about the census and the volunteers who help with it each year. Joni was interviewed for the article.

Horseshoe crabs on a Delaware beach

Horseshoe crab census

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Horseshoe crabs on a Delaware beach

This weekend Joni and I are heading to Delaware to count horseshoe crabs. We are part of a team of volunteers who help to count the crabs when they come onto the beach to lay their eggs during high tides in the spring. This is part of a long term research project that is, at least in part, trying to assess the trend in the crab population. This is our 10th year of participation. We really love the experience and hope to continue to be part of the census for many more years.

This spring there is an article on The Nature Conservancy website about the count and many years ago there was even a cover article on TNC’s magazine.

Our beautiful Ellie in her younger days

Lost our beautiful Ellie

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Our beautiful Ellie in her younger days

 

It was too difficult to write about the loss of our Ellie when it happened, but she did leave us on 12/4/2012. She was struggling the last year with mobility problems but we were very glad that she still seemed happy and ate well.

Eliie died at home late one night. I think her heart just gave out. Our dog, Bob, woke us because he knew something was wrong as Ellie was having trouble breathing and making some strange sounds. It was only a matter of minutes, as we were saying goodbye to her, that she slipped away.

She was such a sweet and gentle dog – and we miss her very much. I like to think that now she is happily running and chasing her tennis ball, free from disease, and my Mom and her are taking care of each other.

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Meet the Raven

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We bought a new tractor, it came yesterday, and it’s called the Raven. It is a hybrid. It cost a little more than a standard garden tractor, but it’s cool. It’s also a new product which is a risk. Let’s go over the pros and cons.

PROS

  • hybrid – uses less gas, fewer emissions, more efficient
  • comfortable and spacious
  • drives like a car – accellerator and brake, variable speed
  • generator
  • ATV mode goes 17 mph
  • small cargo area in back
  • easy to remove mowing deck and blades
  • no belts
  • large front tires

CONS

  • more expensive than garden tractor
  • only 46 – inch cut
  • new product, unproven

The last ‘con’ is a big one. Doing some research on the internet revealed some problems with the initial release (only about one month ago). For instance there was a cheap seat detection switch that had given some owners a problem. To their credit, the company, Denver Global Products (DGP), came up with a better switch and better mounting to eliminate that problem. My Raven, only a month later already has this modification installed.

It’s had to know how well the electric motors will hold up. The drive train used a motor as do the two mower blades. The engine is really just a generator which charges a 48V battery pack which in turn drives the tractor and blades. How long will these motors last? Will they work well in 30 degrees or 100 degrees?
The generator function is interesting. I haven’t tried it yet, and I don’t think this is a major factor for us, but it is a nice option to have.
On the first test run, I was able to cut some grass for about 10 minutes and the blades stopped. I tried to restart the blades but they would not turn on. I let it sit for a couple of minutes and tried again and the blades started back up, but quit again after another 10 minutes or so. My best guess is that some thermal overload stopped the blades, but I’m not sure. It was only about 65 degrees, but the grass was pretty wet and long (first cut of the season). The drive motor was fine, so I could drive it around to the garage. I put more gas in the 5-gallon tank, leveled the mowing deck (which was a couple of centimeters off front to back), and went back out for some more cutting. I was conscious of not going too fast and not pushing it too hard and i was able to cut another 20 minutes without a problem.
I have 30 days to try it out. I can return it if I really don’t like it. Joni will need to give it a try as well. I felt that the steering was particularly still – definitely harder to steer than our old tractor. This will be a problem if we want to cut for an hour or more.
I was generally please with the comfort and ride and the power. I cut a path through the ‘meadow’ where we have not cut for a year or more, and it did pretty well. I went pretty slow, but it seemed to have plenty of cutting power. This was one of my main concerns and it passed the test. I don’t know what if anything can be done about the steering, but we will keep testing the Raven to see if we like it.
Dee Dee setting

Dee Dee setting

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Dee Dee's first egg

Dee Dee's first egg

Our little call ducks did great through the winter. The cold really didn’t seem to bother them. If I broke through the ice on their little pond, they would jump in for a swim. Deuce would almost always be interested in making ducklings and Dee Dee was always willing to participate. Come warmer weather, Dee Dee would often be the one waiting for Deuce. She would jump in the water and stretch her neck out low and long to give Deuce a nice wide, flat landing pad. He would jump on and mate and hop off in just a few seconds.

We were hoping that we would get to see Dee Dee raise some young, but we didn’t know if she would be a good setter. We read that they often are not good at setting or not good at sticking it out for the whole 26-ish days.

A couple of months ago, Dee Dee didn’t come bounding out of her house after Deuce the way she usually did. She came waddling out slowly and lethargically. I know something was wrong. Joni got home from work around 2:00, I think, and examined her. Joni’s first thought was that she was having trouble passing an egg. She hadn’t starting laying, but was about due, so this was a good guess. We headed back to the clinic to see if one of the doctors could tell if she was egg-bound. One x-ray later and it was very clear. She had an enormous egg that she couldn’t pass. After a lot of work the egg was puctured, sucked out, and partially collapsed (using all the proper technical terms, I’m pretty sure :-), the egg was removed and Dee Dee was, once again, a happy quacker.

Dee Dee setting

Dee Dee setting

After that traumatic day, she took a few days off, but then started to lay pretty regularly until she had a nest of about 18 eggs. This seemed like too many to sit on, and as she was not yet showing any signs of setting, we decided to remove all those eggs and let her start again. She and Deuce continued to mate regularly, and she laid another 9 or 10. I was about to start pulling more of those eggs out, when she decided it was time to sit on them (called setting). It has now been about five days into the 26 or so days it takes to hatch ducklings, so time will tell whether or not Dee Dee continues to set and hatch them.

Deuce standing guard

Deuce standing guard

Dee Dee setting close-up

Dee Dee setting close-up

Close-up of dropped wax and pollen

April mite check

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I did a mite check last weekend. I used the whiteboard and sprayed it with some cooking oil. I think petroleum jelly probably works better but is messier and takes longer to apply. After three days I pulled out the board and observed almost no mites. I did this check on the hive that overwintered. I didn’t even test the new hive. Maybe I’ll do that one in a couple weeks.


There is one mystery about it though. There is a blank circle (lower right corner of picture) where almost nothing collected. I will inspect the hive again in a couple of weeks to see what is going on in the box. My best guess is that there is burr comb built across some frames, but I’m not sure.

Double shell

Double egg shell

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Double shell

Double egg shell

I’ve never seen this before, but I guess it occurs¬†occasionally. This egg has two shells. There was a hen in the nest box, but it was probably laid by a hen before her. We have six boxes, but usually all the eggs (about a dozen now) are in just two boxes. This one looked just like this when I removed it. I’m not sure why the outer shell was half gone or why they are such a different color. That kind of suggests that the brown color is something that happens only shortly before the egg is laid.

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Early spring flowers

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It is a week into April and it is ‘yellow’ season. We have daffodils and early tulips up, and the forsythia is fully in bloom. Our little magnolia tree looks better than it has in several years. The boxwoods are in bloom, but the blossom is small and green and hard to notice. I only notice it because on a warm midday my honeybees really seem to like it.

I am eager to have to quince in full bloom (which is just about now), because my bees really love that. The quince is about three weeks behind last year from what I remember. Walking around the property, I see that the native honeysuckle is leafing out. There has been a real explosion in the last week, but that is what happens when it is warm and sunny. A couple of days ago it was almost 90 degrees! 

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March honeybee package

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Boy do I have some catching up to do. My last entry about bees was about nine months ago. I do want to summarize what has happened since then, but for now I just wanted to make a note that I installed a package today, March 30. It was from Georgia, naturally, and hope to be able to replace the queen later this year, but I hope it will give me an early start on the year. Unlike last year, this time the package is going into a hive with comb and a fair amount of honey. I have one medium of mostly empty comb and another medium with five frames of honey and the can of syrup. I even put a top feeder box on top of that with some honey.

I don’t think I will give them sugar syrup in the feeder box for a few more weeks. We will still get temperatures below freezing for a while and I have more candy, so I’ll go with that for a few weeks. I do want to stimulate their foraging instincts, but then I will have to give them 1:1 syrup until there are good nectar sources available.

I noticed today that the quince along my driveway has tight red buds showing, so they will be out soon. It feels like early spring to me now. The forsythia isn’t out yet which always seems to me to be the first real explosion of color. The crocuses and daffodils are out, but no other bushes or trees that I can see. I checked last years posts and noticed that I had pictures of quince flowers on March 23. That is a full week ago. I am guessing that the quince might be another week yet this year. Could it really be two weeks behind last year. Last year was the crazy short and warm winter, so I guess spring could have been two weeks earlier.

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