June 11, 2016
Unreasonably hot weather can really suck the life and joy out of things.
For most of the week, temperatures were in the upper 90s; as miserable as it gets. Nevertheless, the team of students worked in the scorching sun all day, and nearly every day. Claire, Mike and Jacob’s projects are all moving ahead full steam now. In what is likely one of the more revolting experiments we have devised over the years, Jacob gathered fresh cow poop (and we mean VERY fresh), froze it, thawed it, divided it into 1 kg packets, and put it out in the field under different conditions. The phrase “Oops, I got poop on the ______” (fill in the blank; it is probably true in some areas of the lab) was heard pretty frequently. But through using exclosures with different sized holes, we will for the first time ever get a clear picture on how insects contribute to dung degradation in the field. It will be a really cool dataset. Mike got the rest of his intercrop into the plots, after having some struggles with the planter last week. The corn is still at around stage V3, so things are still good for his objectives. By the end of the week, he was thinking that the peas and legumes he planted late last week in one of the replicates were poking their heads through to greet the heat. Claire’s project occupied a lot of time this week, as setting things up for her season long examination of soil insects on corn production. The hot sun baked the team as they pounded PVC cylinders to exclude insects from areas of the field, took soil cores to characterize soil qualities as well as insect communities, and sucked up all insects on the soil surface in quadrats using little mouth aspirators. As each milestone was met during this intense week, we were consistently reminded that we have an amazing team this summer.
Honey bees. Despite our best efforts, and good will from our supporters, it doesn’t look like any of the new queens that we put in our nucs took. Indeed, many of the weak hives had consolidated into a few stronger hives. Some are making queen cells, so this may end up being the route that we have to take. But to be here in the first week of June with only 15 hives, only one or two of which are reproductive, is discouraging. I had hoped that they would have been building up much quicker. I don’t think that I am alone in this matter with slow hive establishment this summer. In an unexpected event, we had a visit from our neighbor Jim (we met only a few days before at the Dakota Rural Action meeting), and he wondered whether I wanted a new bee colony: he found a swarm near his pasture. Within an hour, Claire and I were suited up (suits were not necessary, but better safe than sorry), and were driving over to gather up a new colony. 10,000 workers had made a swarm around a queen bee, and were looking for a new home. This is an important way that hives reproduce, and when searching for a new hive location, the bees are extremely docile. The swarm unfortunately fell off of their branch and into the grass, and Claire and I scooped up thousands of bees with our gloved hands and put them into a Rubbermaid tote. We drove them back, and put our new colony into a hive box, which they instantly took over. It is by far the strongest hive that we have on Blue Dasher right now. Looking forward to watching it grow.
Cropland. Not a lot of news out of the crops this week. Both the borage and the hubam really liked the heat. Last week, I was a little worried about the borage fields: germination was sparse. But I recalled our experience last year with uneven germination with this crop, so all hope was not lost. By Friday of this week, the borage was looking like a nice stand, assuming that we get rain when we need it.
On Thursday, the front vent started to make a thumping sound in Humphrey the truck. To solve the problem, I figured a bit more umph would solve the problem, so cranked up the fan speed. Now the whole dashboard was vibrating, so I turned it back down and turned the radio up. Chalk it up on the “to be fixed” list. The next day, Jenna and Gabby cut through the 95 degree heat with Humphrey, and quickly texted that a foul smell was coming from the truck. A stop by the repair shop revealed that a mouse had been eviscerated in the passenger side van, and now was getting nicely warmed up. The repair shop managed to get the vehicle in at 4:30 PM, and I took the opportunity to get it fixed before the hot weekend hit. With a bill for $120 in hand, and little consultation, we decided we should get some cats to act as mousers. Three kittens showed up by Saturday. Despite my attempts to explain these are expendable farm cats, intended to do a job, the kids have become attached. Toys, collars, and numerous hours of constant attention have been showered on the kittens. I have a feeling that hard lessons will ensue. Oh, lay wondering aside: the duckling have largely been replaced.
One of the highlights of the week was that Jenna and I attended the Dakota Rural Action meeting in for the Deuel County Chapter. It was terrific to spend a great night meeting some likeminded folks that are our neighbors (both figuratively and spatially). Folks from different ages and walks of life that are committed to sustainable rural development. Looking forward to spending more time with these guys in the future.
The renovation to the laboratory facility made some real progress this week. We got the rooms all framed up for sheetrocking, and the guys did such a good job and for a reasonable price that we asked whether they could install the windows and doors to the buildings. I ran over to the Habitat for Humanity REStore, and bought some great pre-hung doors for $25 a piece! And we discovered two pretty heavy duty windows in the pole shed that seem like they are still in pretty good shape. We will see what the contractors say regarding their condition (from a professional point of view). The framing process revealed that the bathroom floor concrete was not laid down properly, and the plumbing drains missed the walls, so the previous progress with these two facets of the renovation remain to be completed. Now I just need to put up some 1 x 4 strappings along the ceiling to hold up the sheet rock, and try to get the electrical taken care of. Hoping to get it all done by the end of the month.