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Riley Walker

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since Feb 28, 2017
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forest garden fish bee
Grimes County, Texas | Zone 8b
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Recent posts by Riley Walker

Thanks Tel - you're right, the density is a bit much, and I think ideally I'll be looking to limit the 8'x8' area in the photo so that it contains only 4 hives, 2 per platform. I intend to make a second 8'x8' area in the same manner on a nearby site (around 100-200' away) and house the remaining 4 hives there.

I haven't had a chance to read your link yet, but I'll definitely add it to my bee reading list - I appreciate it!
3 years ago
I didn't want to post until I had some real progress to report - while the family has enjoyed a few fun weekend camping trips (and I've enjoyed catching some big fish) since my last post, none of them seemed post-worthy. However, I have now got a few things checked off my list:

  • Picked up a john Deere 1020 tractor with brush mower, grader, and loader - oh, the things we will do!
  • Installed 6 beehives with starter packages (discussed in more detail HERE)
  • Conquered the Jetta Trap puddle by upgrading to an AWD VW Touareg - off-road mode, but comfortable
  • Got a 2000-lb capacity single axle trailer for supply runs and equipment moves
  • Cleaned up the campsite and expanded it a bit

  • The bees were an essential part of my long-term tax strategy for the property, so I made them top priority and reluctantly sunk 2.5k into getting them established this month. I also just about killed myself working in the Texas afternoon sun in a full-body bee suit getting the hive site constructed; I'm thinking I need to switch my land working hours to mornings only.

    The tractor now opens up the next wave of improvements I have in mind:

  • Grade the road to camp
  • Mow the areas I want to develop and reveal the lay of the land
  • Start carving small swales with the tractor blade to control drainage paths in key areas (campsite!)
  • Dead tree removal and hauling - potential hugelkultur fodder

  • I still want to lay some brush dams, but I need to observe a rainfall event to figure out the best places to start doing that.
    3 years ago
    It's taken a while, but in a flurry of activity over the weekend we got 6 new hives set up and populated - in the end, I dropped around $2500 at a local apiary supplier for 8 hive structures, 6 bee packages, and all the tools/suit to work with them.

    I wanted to do this more cheaply, but time is against me and I see it as an investment in my property's future. Five more years, and I'll qualify for drastically reduced property taxes! And of course, I won't be complaining about all the honey...

    The attached photos show the hive site on day 1 (far from perfect), and then as I left it on day 2 after removing the package boxes and installing better syrup feeders. I also upgraded the stands from some spare bricks to a pair of cinderblock-mounted doors. This was driven by the fear of fire ants invading, so I set inverted grease-coated baking trays on top of the blocks to form ant barriers, then set the doors on top of those.

    Also, on day 2, I found one hive almost cleaned out by some sort of predatory wasp. It had created a macabre pile of bee corpses inside the hive, and made a mud nest for its egg(s) in a corner - needless to say, that wasp is no longer with us. Thankfully, the queen survived, so I did what I could and "donated" a frame of healthy bees from my strongest hive to the casualty. I have no idea if it will work, but I had to do something.

    3 years ago
    This is going to get to be a big post if I keep adding plants that are new to me - every time I walk my land, I find something that's a mystery!

    I'm pretty sure the first picture below is a dogwood, and we have a few of them growing as small trees in a copse. The remaining two pictures are a plant that grows along my driveway - sparse, growing individually, in amongst wildflowers. Any ideas?

    3 years ago
    Those were two great web resources there from Cody and Rodd, thank you both - and Cody nailed it as a plantain!

    The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center had a page for this particular species, the Groovestem Indian Plantain, which I'm very confident is a match for my mystery plant. See the attached image below, and tell me that's not the same!

    To narrow it down, I had to study up on garden-speak using a simple graphic of leaf morphology over at Wikipedia - a few google image searches eventually got a hit on the Lady Bird Johnson image.

    Case closed on this one, thanks again for the assistance - I'll have another new ID query up after my weekend visit to the property...
    3 years ago
    Hello all, I am hoping to get assistance in verifying the identities of the various wildflower and plants that are thriving on my property in the Blackland Prairies ecosystem of Texas. In the interests of centralizing my future ID requests, I am going to keep adding my ID requests to the end of this thread as I find them; this should allow anyone in my area to reference this thread for all their plant ID needs (at least hopefully, as info is added over time by knowledgeable folks). I also intend to include a post-ID information dump for each plant, showing what uses the plant has, how it should be planted, likes/dislikes etc. so that I and others can refer back when planning out our wild gardens.

    First up, a plant that is all over my land, and that I really hoped was some variety of Comfrey. I'm certain after doing some research that it is not, but I can't positively ID it based on web searches - I'm leaning towards a Milkweed variety, but the stem coloration and leaf arrangement (particularly the veins that all seem to run lengthwise from the base) are throwing me off. It would be nice if it was a Wild Quinine, but the leaves are not serrated. No plants have flowered yet, so I took pictures of the 5-pointed buds for now. I'll update if they bloom before this is resolved.
    3 years ago
    Thanks Miles, we're pretty pleased about closing the deal, and really enjoyed our first experiences camping out! Hopefully our laundry list of fixes and upgrades translates into some useful posts here. I trust your stewardship of the forum to place this thread where it is best-suited; I'll be happy to continue adding my projects here as I work through them! If I undertake something that warrants a more detailed explanation in a separate thread, I may post a dedicated thread and link to it from here.

    Anne, thanks for your interest - we're from Spring too (Klein area) and commute to the property on weekends. I'm hoping to spend more and more time there as we go through the improvements, though!
    3 years ago
    Well, I'm still tractor-less. I'm also still unable to drive my car to the campsite due to the mud puddle - I'm hoping a tractor with a box blade will let me deal with that problem, though...

    I got a family-sized tent set up as our base camp, and it's doing well as storage and overnight shelter. I need to make a cinderblock-and-plywood foundation for it to sit on, so that we get a little elevation off the clay soil and a base to put some padding down onto.

    We're still trying to get a hold of enough bees to establish our tax exemption, but I have no idea what I'm doing in that area yet.

    I wrote in the original post that brush dam erosion control was one of my priority items - pending a tractor, the plan is to uproot a few of the mid-sized juniper (red cedar?) evergreens that we have on-site, and secure them in the erosion channels. I want to make some baffles out of stakes and woven brush on the drainage channels to slow and redirect water, as we have a few straight-down channels developing.

    I'll get some fresh pictures this weekend. I'm thinking of starting a new projects thread for this development, so this one might only last until I fix the road and fell some junipers; I'll link to any new threads as they're made.
    3 years ago
    Good point Michael - I've not examined the local crops, but we're in an area of pretty good tree and wildflower coverage in the valley. I'd still be seeding flower mixes for my own enjoyment as well as the bees, but there's no doubt it wouldn't make it as a primary source of forage.

    Any ideas how to more accurately evaluate the local "hive capacity"?
    3 years ago
    Hi there Rodd, thanks for your advice - I do have neighbors with goats and cattle, so I'll definitely look into the possibility of leasing out for the minimum head of livestock to qualify! I think I found your tractor guys on Craigslist, and they have an incredible selection of makes and models - I'm going to keep my eye on their postings and see if that perfect deal pops up.

    I was hoping to edit the original post and update my diagram with a better one I worked one, but I'll just have to do it here - looks like posts over a certain age can't be edited.

    I did a bit of research looking for LIDAR images of my area after reading about how to improve your contour maps over at another thread (Contour Maps For Cheap) and was disappointed to find that none existed. But, I persevered, and found a dataset from TNRIS (Texas Natural Resources Information System) that had 5ft contour data in downloadable .shp shapefiles for use with GIS mapping tools. I downloaded the free ArcGIS Explorer tool from ESRI (ArcGIS Explorer Desktop) and imported the .shp file. Once I figured out how the tool worked, I was able to play around and map out my land pretty well!

    I've attached the current status map, and it shows the issues I'm dealing with on the northern half of the property. We have a campsite near the pond on flat, drain-free land, but three main runoffs drain directly over the only access road, right at the eastern end of the pond. That section of road is an impassable clay mud pit, and I need to bridge it so that we don't have to lug everything to camp by hand. I'm still researching that, and will either do a proper culvert with fill material, or build a low bridge about a foot over the water level, spanning the 8ft section.

    The rest of my priority work is to clear the drainage ditches and place brush in eroded gullies to act as baffles for heavy flows - I'm losing a lot of soil in those waterways. Later I'll look at installing swales and harvesting the water efficiently.
    3 years ago