Adventures in Bee Keeping

 

IMG_0520Some of you remember that last year we embarked on a new venture for the farm. Bees! To be honest this is mostly Hubs’ adventure. I’m a big fan of honey and the process of pollination for all my garden plants and fruit trees, but being highly allergic to bee stings, I’m slightly less enamored with the little winged friends of death. However, Hubs really wanted to do this and so with the funds from one of my soap sales we got his first hive.   

Fred with beesI’ve tried to be very supportive….from very, very far away. Which probably explains why in one of the few pictures I have of Hubs working with the bees he’s about the size of an ant(and that’s using the zoom on my camera to its full capabilities).  He reminds me of the man on the moon in that get up, but maybe that’s just me.  

 

It doesn’t help alleviate my concerns when Hubs seems to get stung almost every time he has to do anything with the hive. This is not reassuring to me. In fact the last time he went into the hive to take out a couple of trays he was stung on the neck as he took his suit off. Then…….. <WARNING: this is truly gross so if you’re squeamish stop reading now>  after he removed the hood a bee flew into his ear. Yes, his ear!! He could feel it wiggling around and could hear it buzzing but couldn’t get the bee to come out. It just kept going deeper and deeper into his ear canal. You know the saying, “if you find yourself in a hole the first thing to do is stop digging?” well, apparently no one told the bee.  Hubs finally had to come up to the house and use a ear cleaning thingie to get it out. Oh my! I swear my heart started beating faster and my palms started sweating just listening to him tell the story. Nope, nope, nope! No bees for me.  

I do have to admit though that the honey that Hubs gathered from the hive was excellent. It was so dark it looks like black strap molasses and the flavor is amazing. From what I’ve been able to research dark honey has better health qualities, including higher levels of antioxidants and a higher mineral content than the lighter colored honey. Awesome!  So it looks like I will need to try to overcome my concerns and be extra supportive  because Hubs is buying a couple more hives. Me, I’m buying him a pair of ear plugs. God help me!22627379_10213977725654646_1250656608_n[1]

 

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When Life Attacks on a Farm

The week started with a bang and hasn’t slowed down yet.  Let’s see, my first indication that life was planning to mutiny against me was when I sat sipping my coffee and getting ready to call my mom on Sunday morning. It was a peaceful morning and I had settled down next to the open window , enjoying the whiff of the fresh morning air. Then a sudden racket broke my tranquil moment.

 Apparently Crack Shot had gotten his horns stuck in the fence. He’s never done that before and he was crackshot 0116bawling like a baby. I yelled for him to hold his horses and I would be right out. With a sigh, I set down my coffee, grabbed some shoes and went out. I wandered out in my PJ’s thinking it wouldn’t take me but a minute to free his horns, however just as I was getting close I saw him give a giant heave trying to free himself, unfortunately it backfired and I saw the fence act as a slingshot, whipping his body around. When he landed with a hard thud I was horrified to see that he looked like something out of a bad horror movie. His head faced one way and his body another. Since he wasn’t related to anything in the owl family I was convinced he had broken his neck. I ran into the pasture double time and was so relieved to see him breathing. However, with the odd angle he was contorted into his breathing was labored. I tried to free his horns but he had somehow woven them into both the layer of cattle panels AND the fence. I tried to calm him down and then ran for tools. Of course the tools I needed were going to be in the shop on the other end of the property. I grabbed keys on my way past the house, jumped into the jeep and broke the land speed record getting to the shop. I rooted around until I found the giant bolt cutters and a crow bar and raced back up the house. I went into the pasture and began the task of trying to position the giant bolt cutters between the two layers of fence while Karma was playfully head butting me the whole while. I felt like I was suffering from multiple personalities as I gently coo-ed to Crack Shot trying to keep him calm and then turning slightly and yelling for Karma to ‘”knock it the heck off!” I freed him fairly quickly and he jumped up and shook as if brushing off the whole event  and he was even sweet to me for about a whole minute.  I sat back trying to get my heart back into to somewhat of a normal rhythm,  covered in sweat, my pajamas splattered in  mud and other things and thought that this was my allotment of excitement for the entire week…… I was wrong.  I was just getting started.

 The next morning as I was doing chores in my usual pre-coffee stupor I kept thinking I heard LadyButt crying. I went back and checked the chicken coop, thinking I had locked her inside, but didn’t see her. I checked the hay storage and didn’t see her….and then I looked up. From my last incident, I knew what this meant, and I was right. She had somehow gotten up on top the barn roof and was stuck. What proceeded was pretty much an exact duplicate of the blog I wrote earlier this year (see: Adventures of LadyButt  )

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LadyButt in all her fierce glory.

 At this point I should have seen the writing on the wall and known that the week was cursed. A smart move would have been to wrap everything that would hold still in bubble wrap, fortify my coffee with a healthy slug of Bailey’s Irish Cream (or a shot of whiskey)and hunker down.  But I’ve never claimed to be particularly smart. So we decided to tempt the fates and take the hay truck and  pick up a load of local grass. As we were driving around the field, tossing bales of hay up into the back of the flatbed we must have hit a high spot. I say that because as we were getting ready to leave the field Hubs looks over at me and says mildly, “the brakes are feeling a little spongy”. This is never a good thing to hear, especially not when you’re away from home and hauling. I thought I did the appropriate thing and just ignored him. I have a theory that  if you ignore things then they won’t really happen. We got out of the field and then Hubs crawled under the truck and saw the brake fluid happily running out of the back brake line. Apparently we had tore open part of the brake line when we hit the high spot. Damn, another theory blown.  I wish I could say I was surprised but really the way things were going, I kind of expected it, losing our brakes, getting hit by lightening, I mean something was going to happen.  Hubs examined the damage and pronounced it un-repairable with the tools we had with us. He used a wrench to pinch the line shut as best he could, and the guy who’s field we were in gave us a couple bottles of brake fluid. We topped off the reservoir and we headed off for home with a wish and a prayer. It was a quiet,  white knuckle drive and Hubs mostly relied on downshifting, avoiding the brakes all together,

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Unloading a truck load of hay from last fall.

when possible.  Thankfully, we were able to make it home without any other major incidents. By Wednesday and Thursday I had learned my lesson. I was in full on survival mode and just doing what was necessary. Those days eked by with no loss of life or limb.  Sheesh, some weeks are just more exciting than others. I always wonder if this is some type of cosmic payback for something I did  in my wild and crazy teen years. If so I probably have quite a few more of these weeks coming to me. But that’s ok, even with everything going sideways I’m still so blessed to get to live this amazing life.

 Confession: I wrote this post on Tuesday night but didn’t want to post until I was fairly sure I was going to survive the rest of the week.  I still have a day to go but I’m taking the gamble and posting. Wish me luck.

Spring: the Hair Raising, Aromatic, Pud Kind of Season

 

Spring is on its way, or at least that’s what I’m hoping (insert my little plea to Mother Nature). It’s the time of year when the  weather finally starts to warm up and things begin to thaw. That means it’s time for mud, lots and lots of mud. Well, I call it mud but in truth it’s probably a lovely mix of poop and mud, or as I like to affectionately call it, pud. For my peace of mind as it ends up all over me and everything else I try to think of it as just good old, fashion and clean mud.

This is also the time of year when things begin to stink again. No truly! When everything is frozen manure doesn’t have much of a smell. During the driest part of summer everything is shriveled up like a mummy so there’s also not a lot of smell, but spring……well, it’s downright aromatic. Of course with the return of all the smells we will also have the return of the flies, insects and other creepy crawlies. From now till the return of the first hard frost it’ll be important to keep your mouth closed while working outside if you don’t want to enjoy an unintentional high protein bug snack. I always forget this early in the season but somehow I remember after a few ‘snacks’.

And finally, it’s shedding season. You can’t walk anywhere on the farm without getting covered in someone’s cast off hair. For us winter may mean hatchet season but spring is heart attack season. I’m forever finding clumps of hair on the ground and thinking I’ve come across some dead animal. My heart jumps in my throat as my mind races to identify which animal it is by the hair color and then I realize it’s only  part of that animal. The hair pile left behind is usually rather massive, it’s almost like someone unzipped and took off their outer wear and staged it on the ground for me to find. I swear they do it just to see my reaction. Great, I can see that I’ve become cheap entertainment for my animals.

Hmmmm, when list it all out like this I’m not quite sure why I look forward to the season so much….. but I do. Probably because for me, spring means hope and an awakening of the earth. There is hope for warmer, sunny days, where the air kisses your skin rather than assault it, when there’s the smell of fresh cut grass mingled with windflowers, the sound of fat, lazy bumblebees working hard to pollinate my garden and lots of time to play outside. Just thinking about it puts a smile on my face, maybe that’s why I look forward to spring every year. ❤

Her Flame Burned Briefly but Brightly

I really didn’t want to write this blog. In fact I argued with myself and tried to justify why I didn’t need to put all this out there, but in the end, I had to face the fact I promised myself this page would always be honest. I promised to include it all,  the good, the bad and the ugly.

ursa kid 2This year has been a challenging one right off the bat. We didn’t keep good records on our breeding dates for the goats….mostly because we didn’t set up ‘dates’, instead we just put the does in with the buck and let nature take its course, which is not the best idea. This isn’t something we have ever done before and now I know why I usually keep such meticulous records.

So here we are in spring wondering when we should start planning for kidding season. When do we do the pre-kidding vaccinations and supplement injections? When do we set up the kidding area and separate the pregnant doe? And of course when do we try to schedule time off work to be here in case they need us?

We had some idea on dates for one doe and she was the only one to kid so far. Everything went well and we thought we were on our way to a smooth kidding season. These things lull you into a false sense of security, something I won’t fall for again. A few days ago Hubs called me while he was out doing chores (this is never a good thing in case you were wondering. Good news can usually wait till he gets back inside, it’s only bad news that requires an immediate phone call). Anyway, he called to tell me that one of the babies had died. The littlest girl, who we called Cottontail, had crawled into the warming box at some point, went to sleep and didn’t wake up. We were totally baffled since she had been fine earlier in the morning, no signs of any problems so the only thing we can figure is that she had some kind of trauma, possible being head butted or stepped on, went to her favorite place (the warming box) and fell asleep for the last time.

It can be incredibly hard to lose a baby, or an older pet, for that matter. With babies you see the loss of potential, things that they never had a chance to experience, so much life lost; with older animals you’ve had a chance to get to know them and cherish their personalities. Either way just sucks. Life in general isn’t easy, nor is it fair, this is a lesson most of us learn at some point. Life on the farm just gives you a up close and personal look all that life has to offer, both the good and the bad, on a very regular basis.

Rest in peace Cottontail. Your flame only burned briefly, but it burned brightly.

Adventures of LadyButt

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Most of you who follow my Facebook page are familiar with the story of Ladybutt. She’s a feral cat who was adopted from the Humane Society Barn Cat program by a local farm. When that farm closed we took her in. Her name was LadyBug at that time but over the last few years she’s earned her new name. LadyButt is still semi-feral, and some days she is sweet and purrs for attention, some days she attacks without provocation. Her mood depends on the way the wind is blowing, the day of the week and the flip of a coin from what we’ve been able to determine.

Lately, we’ve been having a little problem with LadyButt getting locked in the hay barn. The first time it happened I found her during morning chores and I really gave Hubs some grief about leaving the cat locked in the barn all night. Then he found her in there again that evening and gave me grief for leaving her there after my morning chores. In the marriage game point scale we were tied in a dead heat 1-1 and the pressure was on. The next day we were both super careful  about making sure she was out of the way and no where near the hay area before we closed up the barn, but we still found her inside again. Obviously, the only answer was that she had found a way to magically teleport herself into the barn but couldn’t get back out. Barns are tricky like that. Hubs decided he needed to put in a cat door so that after she did her Houdini trick disappearing into the barn she could just walk out the kitty door in style. Easy peasy, right? Except he hasn’t gotten around to it yet.

Today was the topper. Hubs wasn’t home to do evening chores so I did them when I got home. I was trying to get the horses fed and stuff the hay bags for tomorrow and I heard LadyButt yelling. I yelled back, “the barn door is open, come on out.” but she didn’t. After listening to her yowl in obvious distress I started getting worried that she had fallen in between the bales of hay and gotten wedged in place. I stopped what I was doing and went digging around the hay but couldn’t find her. She was pretty much constantly meowing for help at this time and I was more than concerned. I shut off the farm truck so that I would be able to hear what direction she yelling from. At first it sounded like she was in the woods down below the chicken yard and I started walking that way. As I crossed the driveway I heard her again, but behind me. I turned and looked up and low and behold…..she was on the roof of the barn! She had really outdone herself this time.

Grumbling to myself the whole time about how these things only happen when Hubs isn’t around, I went looking for a ladder. We have a ridiculous number of ladders on the farm but somehow I couldn’t find any of them, save for a rickety old ladder that was in the dump pile. Still grumbling, I climbed the ladder to go rescue the Houdini cat. By the time I got to the second rung from the very top of the ladder it was listing a little bit, causing me to feel like I was trying to balance on a teeter totter. I called out to her and she ran over to see me. She seemed pretty excited to be getting rescued but she was apparently a bit irritated too. As I was trying to figure out how I was going to scoop up and carry a half-wild and more than slightly annoyed cat all the while balancing on a swaying ladder and of course, not fall off, she lost all pretense of patience and took a few swipes at me for keeping her waiting. I jerked back trying to avoid getting scratched and that’s when the ladder gave up even pretending to do the job and started drunkenly swaying side to side, worse than when I try to country line dance. I figure I needed to act quickly (before I could chicken out) so I made a mad grab for the cat and scurried down the ladder before she could freak out and start dismembering me with her razor blade claws. With self preservation high on my priorities, I’m pretty sure we broke the sound barrier in our rush down the ladder. Once on the ground I set her loose…..only to have her to run back into the hay barn and burrow into the hay. So now you know a bit more about LadyButt and can probably understand how she earned her name.  *sigh* Hubs had better get that cat door in ASAP.

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Making a Homesteader

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Lately the thought of homesteading and dreams has been on my mind. I’m part of an online group of homesteaders and one of the questions I see asked most often is “how do you get the money to start a homestead?” followed closely by the second most frequent statement of “I’m giving up, because I will never have the money necessary to start a homestead”. These types of questions and the giving up of dreams has really got me stewing. So, I’m going to share my two cents and I won’t even bill you for it.

fresh-baked-breadThere seems to be some misconception that homesteading is defined as having a huge piece of land, going off grid and being totally self sufficient. Let’s just cut the crap out of that myth! Your homestead is whatever you chose to make it. I’ve seen people do remarkably self sufficient things in an apartment and those that have large pieces of land that do very little. How you chose to define your homestead lifestyle is a personal and unique choice. Plus, there is a lot that can be done before you ever get your land. From making your own clothes, buying food in raw, bulk form and preparing it, grinding your wheat for bread, making cheese and canning your fresh bought produce. Also learning to make wine, soap, candles, spin wool, make salves and even identify native plants and herbs. These skills can all be part of the learning process and will serve you well in your journey to becoming more self sufficient. Yes, we would love to start off with a few hundred acres, a solar powered well and all their outbuildings and fences ready to go. However, most of us don’t get that luxury and like almost all things in life you have to walk before you can run. We accept this constraint in other parts of our life but for some reason we refuse to accept it for the dream of homesteading. Most adults have had enough life experience to know that you have to approach any major task with a series of small steps and goals. Yet when it comes to idea of homesteading there is a misconception that you have to go big or give up, and for too many people they chose the latter. 

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAI’m going to go out on a limb and state the somewhat obvious….. if you can’t make it through this very first (and relatively easy) hurdle of how to begin homesteading maybe this isn’t the life for you. No offense is intend. Let me explain. As I said earlier, homesteading can have a lot of different definitions and if you look at a hundred homesteaders you would see a hundred different ways to do it. However, one thing ties them all together, an attitude of perseverance. Interestingly, you get a bunch of us in a room together and start talking about any farm or homestead topic and you will see arguments break out all over the place about how best to complete the project. This is a group that can’t seem to agree on much of anything.  The one thing I have seen in common in all of these people is that homesteaders don’t quit. They will face incredible challenges and keep going. To me homesteading is less about what your living accommodations look like and more about your spirit, determination, inner grit or whatever you chose to call it. 

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I get the fact it can be incredibly frustrating and emotionally challenging to want something and to feel each set back is a permanent barrier. However, if you can’t get through these road blocks how will you pick yourself back up when you go down to the chicken coop and found a weasel has wiped out most of your flock? Or when you lose your best doe during kidding complications? Or when your entire year’s garden is lost to weather and pests? Or when you are so physically ill you don’t have the energy to make it to the bathroom down the hall, but have to drag yourself outside to care for your animals? Wanting to get started on a big piece of land and jump into whatever you envision the lifestyle to be is just the beginning of many frustrating homestead tests. You see, there will always be challenges on a homestead, it is the one thing you can count on. Yes, you can cry, scream and rail against the injustice and unfairness of it all and then you have to pick yourself back up and do it again. So when I hear people say they are going to quit their homestead dream, I feel a sadness for the death of their dream but I don’t push them to continue because this lifestyle is not for everyone. You have to have the fortitude to be able to keep putting one foot in front of the other despite heartbreak, illness and unimaginable trials if you want to live this lifestyle. You see, homesteaders aren’t born, they are made, painstakingly etched from buckets of their own blood, sweat and tears.

Winter’s hatchet weather

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We’ve had a unusual late fall here in the Pacific NorthWET. We’ve got snow! I’m guessing that someone has been praying just a bit too hard for a white Christmas and overshot their target date. Don’t blame me because 1) my prayers don’t usually have such an immediate and  direct response like this and 2) I hate driving in the slushy, white stuff. We’re not even two weeks into the month of December and we’ve had snow twice already.

The first snow was beautiful…..until it turned to ice. Oddly enough most of the west side of the state didn’t seem to have much snow accumulation or the resulting ice and people thought I was exaggerating until I showed them pictures from our area. While the snow fell for a few hours that day the bone chilling cold lasted for days (*disclaimer: We (meaning, “I”), are total weather wimps out this way and “bone chilling cold” is usually anything in the mid to low 20’s. Yes, I am fully aware this is almost bikini weather for some of our more frozen states……but not for this gal!)

tank-in-snow-120916-editAnyway, I digress, so while I appreciated the beauty of the white stuff, I have to admit I was slightly less than thrilled when it started snowing again late last night. Seriously?! We live in the land of rain and gray skies, this snow stuff doesn’t happen very often and rarely in the fall. More often than not our cold spells result in what I call broomstick weather. I call it that because I can take a broom out to do chores and brush off any frost and then flip over the broom and use the handle to bust up any ice in the water troughs. The last few days we have slipped into hatchet weather. Yup, you guessed it, the ice is so thick in the waterers that it laughs in the face, er….. handle of the broom. No, hardcore weather calls for hardcore tools….time to break out the hatchet! That’s right folks, it’s hatchet weather at the farm. As brutal as that sounds it really just means that I use the hatchet to break up the ice, but it sounds way cooler if I don’t explain it.

Snowy days on the farm can be difficult. It means that chores take a bit longer  to ensure everyone has enough food, that ice is broken up from the troughs and having to run out and check on the animals more frequently. However, it also means roaring fires, baked goods and comfort foods, soap making and maybe even trying my hand at knitting. Stay warm my friends.