Archive for the 'Wildlife' Category


Birds that Eat Bees

Author: Meera, August 18, 2016

 

Lately, I’ve noticed a scrub jay visiting my apiary. The bird most often lands on the bubbling water fountain near the front of the hives, but it visits other fountains in the yard as well. A favorite spot is the pink birdbath near the Pyracantha bush and stand of bamboo.

 

 

The bird eats its fill of bees corpses on the gravel path in front of the hives. Occasionally, I’ve seen it snatch a bee out of the air–something I don’t like. After washing down its meal with water, off it goes.

 

 

 

 

Blue jays are omnivores and eat nuts, seeds, berries, and insects, including bees

Western scrub jays are omnivores and eat nuts, seeds, berries, small rodents, reptiles, other birds’ eggs, and insects.

 

 

 

While bees aren’t the primary dietary food of scrub jays, the birds will eat bees that are dead or alive.

 

 

Purple Martins, the largest type of swallow in the United States, eats bees in flight, too, provided the insects zoom high enough to enter the Purple Martin’s flight zone.

 

 

 

Other birds that eat bees include flycatchers, tufted titmice, swifts, and shrikes (because of their feeding habits, some shrikes are known as “butcher birds” because they impale prey on thorns). European beekeepers must deal with Bradfield’s swift and the Green Bee-eater; both eat bees that are flying about to forage or mate.

 

 

The majority of bee-eating birds belong to a relatively small group of twenty-four species that feed mainly on honeybees but also devour bumblebees, dragonflies, wasps, ants, butterflies, hornets, beetles, and moths as part of their diets.

 

 

 

But back to the scrub jay–these birds serve a custodial function for my apiary. With dead bees attracting hornets and yellow jackets, the scrub jay is doing me a favor by cleaning up around the hive entrances. This is especially true in the autumn, when the worker bees preparing their hive for winter, push out the drones (male honeybees) to die.

 

 

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If you enjoy reading about farmette topics (including gardening, beekeeping, and delicious recipes), check out my cozy mysteries A BEELINE TO MURDER and also THE MURDER OF A QUEEN BEE in the Henny Penny Farmette series (from Kensington Publishing).

 

 

 

These novels are available through online retailers such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo Books, and Walmart as well as from traditional bookstores everywhere.

 

 

The first novel in the Henny Penny Farmette series

See, http://tinyurl.com/hxy3s8q

Now available in mass market paperback, this debut novel launched the Henny Penny Farmette series of mysteries and sold out its first press run.

 

 

 

 

The second cozy  mystery in the Henny Penny Farmette series, available Sept. 29, 2016

See, http://tinyurl.com/h4kou4g

The second cozy mystery in the Henny Penny Farmette series, available Sept. 27, 2016, is now available on Net Galley (netgalley.com) for professionals and readers who write reviews.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Obama administration has proposed new animal welfare standards that ban common practices governing chicken farms. Currently, an organic chicken farm may allow chickens outside to roam on concrete. The new rules specify the chickens  must have access to the outside and to soil.

 

 

 

 

Young chickens free-ranging

Young chickens in the outdoor chicken run on the Henny Penny Farmette in N. California

 

 

Currently, certified organic farms allow chickens to have a specific amount  and quality of outdoor activity. But that doesn’t mean access to dirt for scratching, pecking, and dust bathing that are instinctive behaviors for chickens.

 

 

Under the proposed new rules to be certified organic eggs, the chickens producing them must be allowed 1.5 square feet of space per hen indoors and 2 square feet of space outdoors. Outdoor space must be at least half soil and not have a permanent roof or flooring.

 

 

 

A hen from a neighbor's farmette that flew onto our property.

Egg laying hens are happier when they can free-range forage on grass and dirt all year round

 

 

The new rules means chickens can scratch, peck, and bathe in soil instead of being caged where they do not necessarily have access to soil.  Current egg producers will have five years to implement the proposed changes that also specifiy no de-beaking of chickens.

 

 

Already, McDonalds and other large food corporations have advised that they’ll be making the transition to certified organic along with Walmart.  Certified organic eggs under the new rules will mean more humane and better life for the chickens producing those eggs than for chickens whose eggs are labeled “cage-free.”

 

 

Currently, cage-free eggs mean the chickens producing those eggs do not necessarily get access to the outdoors as the new O’bama administration rules propose.

 

 

There will be a sixty day comment period before the rules can go into effect. But for animal protection advocates and supporters of the organic food movement, the new proposed rules are a welcome change.

 

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If you enjoy reading about farmette topics (including gardening, beekeeping, and delicious recipes), check out my cozy mysteries A BEELINE TO MURDER and also THE MURDER OF A QUEEN BEE in the Henny Penny Farmette series (from Kensington Publishing).

 

 

 

Both are available through online retailers such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Walmart as well as from traditional bookstores everywhere.

 

 

The first novel in the Henny Penny Farmette series

Now available in mass market paperback, this novel launched the Henny Penny Farmette series of mysteries and sold out its first press run.

 

 

 

 

The second cozy  mystery in the Henny Penny Farmette series, available Sept. 29, 2016

The second cozy mystery in the Henny Penny Farmette series, available Sept. 29, 2016

 

 

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Eggs Don’t Get Fresher Than This!

Author: Meera, June 13, 2016

The chickens were making a ruckus this morning just after sunup. They often do that when one of them is occupying a favorite nesting box and another wants in. Finally, I got up and trudged out to the chicken house.

 

 

My Black Sex Link hen, Blacky

My Black Sex Link hen, Blacky

 

 

 

When I let the chickens out of their house into their run today, one of them–the Black Sex Link hen (Blacky)–hadn’t quite finished laying her egg.

 

 

 

But as they always do, the hens made a run for it when the door opened. Blacky included. They hopped out and followed the Rhode Island Red in the pursuit of grass and worms and other things chickens like to eat. That’s when I noticed Blacky waddling along, trailing the other hens. That’s unusual for her.

 

 

 

The Black Sex Link hens lay brown eggs

The Black Sex Link hens lay brown eggs

 

 

 

It soon became clear why. She had a fully formed brown egg halfway out. I’ve seen some strange things since raising these hens from when they were baby chicks housed in a big tub in my kitchen. But this was the strangest.

 

 

 

I reached down to see about giving the egg a bit of pull when Blacky decided to push. I caught the egg before it hit the ground.

 

 

 

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First book in Meera Lester's Henny Penny Farmette series of cozy mysteries

First book in the Henny Penny Farmette series of cozy mysteries

 

If you enjoy reading about gardening, keeping bees, raising chickens, and creating delicious recipes, you might want to check out my novels from Kensington Publishing.

 

 

The Henny Penny Farmette series of cozy mysteries are available online and in tradition bookstores everywhere, in hardcover, kindle, and mass market paperback formats.

 

 

Novel #2 in the Henny Penny Farmette series, available Oct. 1, 2016

Novel #2 in the Henny Penny Farmette series, available Oct. 1, 2016

 

 

The MURDER OF A QUEEN BEE will be released in hardcover October 1.

 

 

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Sleuthing Egg Loss and a Nest’s Destruction

Author: Meera, June 3, 2016

What a difference twelve hours makes. When we retired last night, the mourning doves were on their nest atop our tall ladder next to the cherry trees.  It was day twelve since the birds built the nest in our garden, so we expected to see babies hatching any day now. Alas, this morning the dove family had fled and there was no sign of eggs or babies.

 

 

 

Mourning doves build rather flimsy nests; this one on our tall ladder shelf

Mourning doves build rather flimsy nests; this one on our tall ladder shelf

 

 

I believe something raided the nest. It should come as no surprise. Building it on that site seemed like a foolhardy proposition from the start. And to position it on the shelf of the ladder, exposed and near a hole big enough for a chicken egg to fall through seemed a little ridiculous.

 

 

And yet, the dove pair dutifully took turns  incubating the eggs, even when the mercury hovered at the hundred degree mark on the outdoor thermometer.

 

 

In the spirit of helping the family, I kept the fountains filled with fresh water and threw handfuls of birdseed along the stone retaining wall so the pair would have a ready supply of food. Each morning, I’d hurry out to check on the doves before tackling more chores.

 

 

The ladder is a tall one for picking cherries, but it works as a platform for a nest constructed by a pair of Mourning Doves

Her nest is exposed for all the world to see and yet the dove chooses this site as home

 

 

When  I noticed the nest today and realized it was empty, the eggs were gone, and there was no sight of the doves, I began sleuthing. On the ground near the ladder lay a single long black feather and lots of leaves, knocked from the cherry trees. Not many clues but enough to make a supposition.

 

 

I recall that a flock of crows flew in to roost in nearby trees just before dusk last night. They’re both smart and predatory. They’ll raid other nests and eat eggs. I surmised that either they or a local cat or racoon drove away the dove pair and laid waste to the eggs. And yet as I write this, I can see beyond my garden window that a pair of doves are eating the seeds I cast upon the stone wall. Mourning doves can build a nest and lay a set of eggs six times during spring, so there’s still hope.

 

 

 

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If you enjoy reading about wildlife and other topics (including delicious recipes and gardening tips) related to farmette living, check out my cozy mysteries from Kensington Publishing. The first two in the Henny Penny Farmette series are available online at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Walmart, KOBO Books, and other sites as well as in traditional bookstores everywhere.

 

BEELINE TO MURDER, see http://tinyurl.com/jo4cxy

 

 

First book in Meera Lester's Henny Penny Farmette series of cozy mysteries

First book in Meera Lester’s Henny Penny Farmette series of cozy mysteries, 2015

 

 

MURDER OF A QUEEN BEE, see http://tinyurl.com/zu8s7pf

 

 

Novel #2 in the Henny Penny Farmette series, available Oct. 1, 2016

Novel #2 in the Henny Penny Farmette series, available Sept. 29, 2016

 

 

 

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Cool Ideas to Help Animals Beat the Heat

Author: Meera, May 31, 2016

Whenever the mercury starts flirting with the century mark on the thermometer, I head for the freezer and take out frozen vegetables and berries to thaw a little before I put them out for the chickens and the wild birds.

 

 

The silver-laced Wyandotte (black-and-white) hen in the foreground succumbed to the extreme heat during the night

One of my silver-laced Wyandotte (black-and-white) hens succumbed to the extreme heat a year ago

 

 

Another treat is corn or peas frozen in water in ramekin dishes and offered to chickens on very hot days to help them keep cool. They’ll also like chilled lettuce or spinach leaves, diced fresh zucchini, and crisp cold strips of cabbage.

 

 

 

Short-hair dogs may not be hypoallergenic

Short-hair dogs need to be protected from the heat, too

 

 

 

For pooches, ice cubes made from frozen beef or chicken broth can provide a tasty, cool treat. Chilled carrots, or a frozen ball made from mashed banana and peanut butter can refresh a pooch on a hot day, provided the animal has no peanut allergy. Make sure animals have plenty of clean, cool water to drink always, but especially on hot days.

 

 

If you walk with your pet, it’s best to go in the cool of the early morning or late evening and avoid the heat of the day. I take my Siamese on a leash for a walk in the garden each day but will wait until the evening.

 

 

 

She's intensely curious and loves slipping into the cave with the hole in her cat tree

To protect her from the heat, I keep my cat inside the air conditioned house on super hot days

 

 

 

Cat paws are sensitive to the heat in stones and concrete surfaces. It’s best to steer clear of those heat-trapping surfaces. Stick to grass. Take your cat out in the early morning or wait for a walk until evening after the mercury starts dropping.

 

 

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If you enjoy reading about keeping bees, chickens, and other farm animals or learning about growing heirloom vegetables and fruits or making delicious farm-to-table recipes, check out my newest cozy mystery offerings from Kensington Publishing. Chocked full of all kinds of farmette tidbits, these mysteries are available online through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Walmart, KOBO, and other online stores as well as traditional bookstores everywhere.

 

 

 

First book in Meera Lester's Henny Penny Farmette series of cozy mysteries

First book in Meera Lester’s Henny Penny Farmette series of cozy mysteries

 

 

 

Novel #2 in the Henny Penny Farmette series, available Oct. 1, 2016

Novel #2 in the Henny Penny Farmette series, available Oct. 1, 2016

 

 

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Attracting Mourning Doves to Your Backyard

Author: Meera, May 24, 2016

Despite its drab brown coloring with pink legs and round eyes, the Mourning Dove (also known as the Turtle Dove, Rain Dove, and the Carolina Turtledove) is one of the most easily recognized backyard birds in America.

 

 

 

The ladder is a tall one for picking cherries, but it works as a platform for a nest constructed by a pair of Mourning Doves

The ladder is a tall one for picking cherries, but it works as a platform for a nest constructed by a pair of Mourning Doves

 

 

 

We welcome them to the farmette with the lure of seeds, the type of food that makes up most of their diet. My hubby and I place seeds in low-hanging feeders or on the stone retaining wall. Sometimes, we even cast birdseed near the outer edge of the garden.

 

 

These birds also need a source of water. Because we keep chickens and bees, we have fountains running year-round. With an ample supply of food and water and plenty of fruit trees, tall grass, bamboo, and berry bushes for habitat, it’s no wonder the doves and other birds hang around here to mate in spring.

 

 

What surprises me is that one Mourning Dove couple has made a nest on top of the ladder I left out while picking some ripe cherries. The nest didn’t look too substantial, but I guess it works for them. I climbed up on a chair nearby to see the two white eggs after the dove left the nest. Within seconds, she dive bombed me and I nearly fell off the chair.

 

 

Mourning doves usually lay two eggs that are incubated by both parents, taking turns. In one spring season, they can repeat the process up to six times. This accounts for their population numbers staying strong in the face of being hunted for sport by humans and stalked as prey by other species. The baby doves are called squabs.

 

 

I love the lamenting call of these birds, often at sunset. I also appreciate that they are believed to mate for life. The squabs feed on crop milk–regurgitated secretions from the lining of the crop of the parents.

 

 

Attracting these doves into your backyard is easy if you put out a feeder and some seeds. For the July-August issue of GRAND online magazine, I’ve created a birdseed hanging saucer with directions so anyone can make it.  Ours has attracted several doves who forage for food morning and evening.

 

 

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If you enjoy reading about farmette life, check out my mystery novel series from Kensington Publishing, New York. The books feature a farmette milieu, farm sayings, tips, and facts about animals and bees as well as delicious recipes to try. The books are available from online sources such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Walmart and others as well as traditional bookstores everywhere.

 

 

 

First book in Meera Lester's Henny Penny Farmette series of cozy mysteries

 

 

BEELINE TO MURDER is the first book in Meera Lester’s Henny Penny Farmette series of mysteries.

 

 

Novel #2 in the Henny Penny Farmette series, available Oct. 1, 2016<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />

 

 

 

 

Novel #2 in the Henny Penny Farmette series, available Oct. 1, 2016

 

 

 

 

 

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Buffo’s Gone Broody

Author: Meera, May 17, 2016

My Buff Orpington hen won’t leave the nest. I’ve taken to putting out a bowl of crumbles and a canister of water so she’ll have nourishment while she sits on a a pile of eggs.

 

 

 

Broody Buffo sm web

 

 

 

 

I’m beginning to think that with her this broody period is going to happen about every six months–at least that’s been the case so far.

 

 

Ruby the Rhode Island Red, the Wyandotte sisters, the Black Sex Link, and my two white leghorns are being de-laned into the two other boxes. And I have to practically crawl into the chicken house to reach the last nest box to retrieve their eggs.

 

 

 

Our town doesn’t permit us to keep roosters. Ergo, those eggs that Buffo is trying to hatch will have to be tossed at the end of her broody period. They’re not fertile and will never hatch. But I haven’t the heart to tell her.

 

 

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If you enjoy reading about farmette life, check out my cozy mystery novel series from Kensington Publishing, New York. The books feature a farmette milieu, farm sayings, tips, and facts as well as delicious recipes to try. The books are available from online sources such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Walmart and others as well as traditional bookstores everywhere.

 

 

First book in Meera Lester's Henny Penny Farmette series of cozy mysteries

First book in Meera Lester’s Henny Penny Farmette series of cozy mysteries

 

 

 

Novel #2 in the Henny Penny Farmette series, available Oct. 1, 2016

Novel #2 in the Henny Penny Farmette series, available Oct. 1, 2016

 

 

 

 

 

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Lemon Oil for Luring Honeybee Swarms

Author: Meera, April 15, 2016

 

Call it my sixth sense at work, but after my bees acted aggressive (which they usually are not) as I cleaned the water fountain, I prepared the swarm catcher and put it in the apricot tree nearest my office window. Mid-morning on Wednesday, I got my first swarm of 2016.

 

 

April 13, 2016 bee swarm on Henny Penny Farmette

April 13, 2016 bee swarm on Henny Penny Farmette

 

 

Lemon oil is often the ingredient that lures the honeybees to a swarm catcher. I mix the lemon oil mixed with water and spray the swarm catcher with a pump sprayer. It usually works better to capture the bees in the swarm catcher than having them coalesce en masse on an inconvenient limb in a tree, say, fourteen feet up.

 

 

 

You can use lemon oil as a salve or in the oil form–apply the salve onto the swarm catcher around the opening for the bees or use the oil in a small plastic vial that gets inserted into a swarm catcher orifice.

 

 

Bear in mind that not all lemon oils are equal. Some are more “lemony scented” than others. Lemon oil is cold pressed from the peel and contains 3 to 10 percent citral (considered the most powerful of components that contribute to the lemon scent). Lemon myrtle contains 95 percent citral and, if it’s the scent you want, lemon myrtle is superior to all others.

 

 

So, when I realized my bees were swarming, I suited up and prepared a hive box with ten frames, eight with wax from previous honey harvests (where I left the wax intact) and two that I had in the kitchen where I was draining honey from them. It would provide an immediate source of food for the bees in their new home.

 

 

Today, I visited my favorite shop for all things honeybees and stocked up on a couple more hive boxes, just in case of another swarm, although the bees are quiet and non-aggressive again.

 

 

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Swarming Season 2016 Has Started

Author: Meera, March 29, 2016

My beekeeper neighbor was working in his backyard this morning as I typed away on my novel. My office overlooks the garden and the fence between our properties.

 

 

A honeybee alights on a fountain, searching for water

Italian honeybee

 

 

Then . . . I heard the familiar clanging of a spoon against a pan. I leaped from my desk chair and ran to the kitchen. There, I grabbed a pot lid and wooden spoon and joined the banging at the fence between our properties.

 

 

I could see the brown cloud of honeybees in the air swarming near his apricot tree.  We banged away for a while. It’s a bee-disorienting action that compels them to alight in a nearby tree or bush. “Have they landed yet,” I yelled. He replied that they had.

 

 

Thus begins the 2016 swarming season for the environs of the Henny Penny Farmette.

 

 

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The Bees Won’t Wait

Author: Meera, March 1, 2016

With so many flowers in bloom now, it’s time to add supers to the hives.

 

 

Search for the tubular circles and you've found the queen houses

The tubular circles are queen houses; a queen lays the eggs that become bee babies.

 

 

 

I can hear the buzzing from my patio, about twenty to thirty feet from the hives. My bees want to make honey, raise babies, and swarm . . . I know it.

 

My neighbor and I are opening hives tomorrow, but I worked out in the apiary today getting extensions (known as supers) ready. These have shorter frames and the bees use them to build wax cells and store honey.

 

I’ve got two active hives and extras. And I have several supers, complete with the shorter frames ready to go.

 

There are about ten frames I can use in a super that are being housed in the outdoor freezer. It’s where I put frames to kill anything that could live over on them that I don’t want in a hive, like a wax moth. The cold kills.

 

I also cleaned the bee glue off another hive box with larger frames in the event the bees decide to swarm sooner rather than later. The bees won’t wait. They’ll need a new house ready when they swarm or they’ll fly away and find one elsewhere.

 

 

 

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