Late Fall – Northeastern Minnesota (Photos)

Late Fall – Northeastern Minnesota (Photos)

Closing Down The Hives

Closing Down The Hives

_DSC0140We are not going to be getting much honey this year.  I mentioned this already in a previous post.

No honey from the southern hives, actually. None.

This is not a huge infliction monetarily on its own.  Honey from these hives never sold as well as the honey from our hives in St. Paul.  We still have a pile of the stuff from 2014.  People seemed like the more complicated floral taste of the St. Paul honey.

Not getting any honey from these southern hives is a monetary hit, none the less. Particularly, when you factor in that we should have had at least six hives in southern Minnesota.  Instead, we ended the season with just two.  That’s $80 to $120 per hive.  Gone.

The one hive, in the photo with tar paper wrapped around it, is a bit of a rare bunch of bees.  Actually, it’s probably just a strong queen.  This was the queen’s third season.

There probably short list of whys on the loss of four hives – the crappy Georgian/Wisconsin bees, the hotter-than-accustom-to Russian/Iowan bees, or just mites.  The list could go on.

It is actually some what late to close down the hives – the first day of November.  The hives are usually all closed down by this time of year.  It has been an odd fall, though.  Indian summer, no less.  We had late summer temperatures much of October.

Hives are closed down, now.  Wrapped in tarpaper, with an insulated moisture quilt on top.  The remaining hive of Russian bees (in the above photo, it is the hive with the smoker atop), although the bees did not produce any harvestable honey, all the available frames in the deep boxes was filled out with stock for winter.  If they overwinter successfully, I’m optimistic that they will produce a harvestable quantity of honey for us.

Wind and Weather

5-in-1 Weather InstrumentIt was around mid-February of this year (2015) when the Acurite Weather station and associated things arrived.

I had waffled on whether to purchased one – it was not inexpensive, but, it is also not the cost of an entry level professional unit.  I also really only one initial use for it, too.  I wanted to answer a question that had been ruminating in the back of head for a bit over a month.  The question had come up after the solar panels went up on the chicken coop.  The solar panels only generate electricity when there is enough sun light – often poorly during the day in winter, and never during the night any time of year.  The only other obvious alternative energy generation method was wind. But, it is not as simple as buying a turbine system.  A turbine is useless without wind.  A turbine is also useless even with a small of amount of wind.

Was there enough wind at the house to generate electricity?

We mounted the outdoor part of the weather system on a fence post near the chicken yard; the indoor receiver (with its fancy colorized screen) sits in the kitchen and the Internet bridge lives in the basement.  The Internet bridge is a device that connects via a network cable into a network switch; the indoor receiver wirelessly sends weather readings to this device, and, subsequently, forwards those readings to Acurite’s My Backyard Weather service.

Acurite’s service has limited analytical capabilities.  You can produce simple line graphs of individual readings – wind speed, temperature, barometric pressure, and so on.  But, you cannot produce fancier things like a wind rose, or pull apart temperature readings into night time lows plotted against daytime highs.

Through a bit of a virtual Rube Goldberg setup, I started collecting the readings in a database of my own.  I now have readings, on average, every 20.36 minutes, from February 21, 2015 to the present1.

Using some statistical and graphing tools2,3,4,5,6, I came up with some answers to the original question.

The short answer is it’s unlikely that from six to twelve feet above the ground, there is enough wind to generate electricity.

Let me explain a bit more.

I narrowed the focus of the question to the end of winter.  I only started the collection of data at the end of February, that left March as being the closest month to a true winter-month.

marchwinds-hist2The wind turbines that I had been looking at have a wind cut-in speed of 4.2 to 6.7 MPH.  Below that speed but above 0.0 MPH, the turbine blades and head may slowly rotate, but it is not enough rotation to generate electricity.  The wind rose, above, was quite helpful in coming to an answer.  It shows that we get our dominate wind from the west — seems obvious in retrospect, as there is an enormous bluff/hill to the east.  But having direction of the wind is likely not necessary.  Plotting the March data has a histogram, you can get a very simple yet informative picture; the majority of the wind is under four miles per hour.  That’s well under what is necessary to make a turbine useful.

Wind > 4 MPH22.32%
Wind <= 4 MPH77.68%
Average Wind (MPH)2.49
Max Wind (MPH)10.90
Average Temperature (F)36.07
High Temperature (F)71.59
Low Temperature (F)-7.20

A wind turbine is out of the question.  There are other locations in the yard that could have more wind, but it is unlikely this would be convenient to move the generated power from that location to the battery bank at the chicken coop.  A more plausible scenario is to add both more batteries and more solar panels.  We would be able to capture more energy when it is light out, and have more storage capacity to drawn from when it is needed.

  1. data sample
  2. Jupyter Notebook is a web application for interactive data science and scientific computing.
  3. matplotlib is a python 2D plotting library.
  4. windrose (license)
  5. anaconda implementation of python3
  6. jupyter notebook with sample graphs and calculations

Hive Checking

_DSC9936Over the weekend, I decided to check the hives we have the back of our property.  I also planned to put escape boards on; there is honey to be harvested.

It had been a while since I had last opened the hives for inspection.  I had last been to the hives a few weeks prior to fix one of the supports under the pallet that two hives reside upon.  Moles had borrowed under the chunk of concrete supporting the back, right corner.  The tallest of the hives was resting against the chainlink fencing that surrounds the hive area.

It has been a fickle year for bees for us.  We mixed things up a bit this spring and got bees from a couple different suppliers.  One in Wisconsin with bees via Georgia.  The other, from northeastern Iowa where they were raised.

I say fickle because we lost, almost immediately, two packages of bees that we picked up in Wisconsin.  We had had plans to hive them in southern Minnesota, and had put the packages of bees into nuc boxes.  By the next morning, all the bees in each nuc were dead.  We subsequently had two hives swarm.

_DSC9951The Iowan bees faired well enough.  There is one quirk with them, though — two of the four hives (two in St. Paul, and two in Racine, MN) failed to move up into the honey boxes.  In the above picture, there are bees in the two bottom deep boxes, but there is very little activity in the top box.  No honey packing in the top box.  The two deeps on that hive are full of bees and honey; it’s like they just did not want to move up one more layer.

The tall hive in the photo – on the right – is loaded with bees and honey.  Three deep boxes for brood and three boxes of honey.  This appears to be the only hive we will get honey from this season.  Not much honey on the other hives.  No honey in the boxes on the other hive; the fourth hive swarmed or collapsed.  No trace of bees in that hive.

The one thing that I was very annoyed with was finding small hive beetles.  I have never had them in our hives before.  I suspect the Wisconsin bees carried the beetles.  I have no evidence to prove this, but those bees were simply unimpressive.

I think next year, we will go back to our previous supplier of bees — even though they will be priced much higher than the Wisconsin bees, they have been much more reliable in previous years.


Addition to the Coop

_DSC9979I kind of feel that keeping chickens is a fairly thin-veil for needing to build things out of doors.  It is an excuse to fire up the earth auger, drill holes into the dirt and put in supports and fence posts.  It is an excuse to use power tools – drills, impact drivers, pneumatic nailers, miter saws, and so on.  In the end, however, we get a nice structure that can be home to a one or a few birds.

To say we overbuilt this coop-addition is probably spot on.  Insulated 2×4 construction, ventilated, concrete floored, and complete with a winch-powered liftable roof.

We never really intended to make another coop structure.  The converted dog house (beyond/next-to this new coop in the photo) was thought to be enough.

Earlier in the year, at the end of spring, we placed our last-of-the-season orders for meat birds.  Along with the fifteen cornish roasters, we added a silver laced polish chick to the order.  Melissa is fond of the white polish we had included with an earlier order of egg layers.  We figured, we would deal with getting her acclimated to the rest of the flock when the time came.  She could be brooded with the cornish roasters in the garage.

IMG_0663A week into September, the silver laced polish, now named Agnes, was injured.  We had introduced her to the greater flock a few days prior.  She is not the most cunning chicken; she ducks her head and runs straight into things — namely, other, larger, more aggressive hens.  She got stuck in the fence once, which resulted in the other hens pecking at her.  By the end of September, she was effectively a house chicken.  We brought her into the house to recover.  She had been pecked on at the base of her tail feathers, and had also gotten cut up by getting stuck hardware cloth covering one of the windows.  Missing lots of feathers, having cuts and pecks all over, she took up residence in a modify dog crate in the dogs area in the house.

Chickens are dusty creatures.  And they poop…a lot.  And their poop smells.  Agnes was on the mend, and we were tired of the dust and smell (even though we cleaned her cage twice daily, the general area still smelled).

Agnes needed her own coop.

We started with scoping out how to build on to the existing coop structure.  The only free-of-obstruction side was the east side.  The south side has the green roof-covered run area, the west side has the covered run exit into the main chicken yard area, north has the man door entrance to the main coop structure.  East side it was.

Two support posts sunk into the ground, secured with concrete.  The insulated-plywood-on-each-face base was next.  Insulated walls, complete with an opening out of the front for a chicken door, were next.  Tile backer board with concrete poured over the top, then the insulted and hinged roof was built.  Roof vent and shingles followed with cedar shake siding (to match the existing coop) rounded out the bulk of the build.

We could have stopped there, but the roof proved to be a bit over built, and because of the weight, impossible for Melissa to lift.  The roof needs to be liftable to get into the coop for cleaning, and, once Agnes starts to lay eggs, we will want to retrieve them.

I noodled on the problem for a couple days.  Hand crank winch – like the ones used to pull a boat onto a trailer?  No, I need something with a bit more control when letting cable or rope out to lower the roof.  I imagined losing my grip on the crank handle and having it whip around quickly as the roof dropped.

_DSC9978Hydraulics crossed my mind, but, a bit over kill for this project.  I would need a reservoir tank for hydraulic fluid, pumps, and possibly more power than what we have available at the coop (remember, the coop is solar powered).

Garage door springs and other sorts of assists crossed my mind, too.  The winching idea kept coming to mind.  Maybe a 12 volt winch could be a solution.
We started to investigate winches.  Price seemed to be driving factor at first — what’s the cheapest winch on the market that has received decent reviews?  A number of winches fit this criterion.  A bit more reading and research revealed that many entry level winches have power in (pull), but no power out (push).  We needed both power in, to lift the roof, and power out to lower the roof back down.  A bit more reading, and having a brake on the winch would be ideal.  No brake, and the load of the lifted roof might just pull the winching cable back out.

Brake. Power in. Power out.

These were the must haves for the project.  Superwinch’s UT3000 model fit the bill.  We also probably ended up spending almost as much on random pieces of hardware – heavy carabiner clips and chain for a safety line, threaded long anchor eye bolts, steel quick links, self-tapping lag bolts, a couple pulleys, and so on.

The pulley system we arrived upon puts an anchor near the outer corners of the roof.  Looping through the two pulleys, the end of the winching cable is attached to the existing coop structure just above the east side’s window.  The winch is mounted at the upper, outer corner of the existing coop structure.

James R. Barker – Photos

The James R. Barker, leaving Duluth at around 7:00 am on October 3, 2015.

Lake Superior Shore

I’m in Duluth, MN, for a couple days; attending events related to folks we knew from when we lived and worked in the area.  I had some time before the first event, yesterday, and, so, I drove up the shore of Lake Superior a little ways.  A stop at Lester River, French River, and Two Harbors.  I took a few (or many) photos at each stop.  It was quite enjoyable to stop at the French River on the shore of Lake Superior; it is one of the old fishing spots I used to frequent.