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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Fruit Fly Wars

 

The farm house is under attack. I know I say this every year, but its true every year.  I also know I say that “this is the worst year ever for fruit flies”, but that’s also true. I swear each generation of fruit flies is learning from the previous ones and getting harder and harder to kill . They are getting more prolific and talented in finding new ways to torment me.

 

Some of you who follow our adventures on Facebook may remember during our first year on the farm a dear friend took pity on me (or got tired of hearing me whine) and bought me a fruit fly trap. It appeared to work well and when we used that and used boiling water in all the drains 2x a day we seemed to hold the enemy at bay.

 

Then the next year dear daughter and I had a contest. We made two fruit fly traps, which basically consisted of a glass bowl partially filled with bait and covered with plastic wrap that had a few holes punched into it. I filled mine with apple cider vinegar and she filled her trap with wine. They both did well and those were my weapons of mass fruit fly destruction for the year.

This year we are being completely overrun. I have removed all vegetable and fruit produce from the counters and keep everything in the fridge. We dump boiling water down the drains at least once a day and I have made my new and improved fruit fly traps. At first I filled them with my tried and true lure of vinegar but we didn’t catch anything. Not even one bugger! So I emptied them out and added wine….waa–laa now I’m in business. Apparently fruit flies prefer good red wine. I can’t say I blame them or that I’m surprised. I do too! You know things are getting bad if I’m willing to donate some of my wine to the cause. Anyway, even with these tools of war craft I am still losing the battle…..until I found a new weapon.

It happened quite by accident. I had gone to the sink to wash my hands. I had gotten my hands good and soapy when I reached my limit of frustration at the little buggers flying around my face. I waved my hands in front of my face to shoo them away (and hopefully keep them from flying into my mouth and up my nose) …… and the fruit flies stuck to my soapy hands! I immediately thought, “Ohhhhhh, this just got interesting!” and a new form of entertainment was formed.

 

Now, several times a day I soap up my hands well and then go wave them wildly through the kitchen, around the fruit fly traps, the fermented foods and sometimes, if I’m feeling particularly evil, I’ll leave a banana peel out just to tempt them. Hey, I never said I play fair. I play to win!

I am probably enjoying ‘bug killing soapy hands’ way more then I should. It’s a cheap form of entertainment for me and so incredibly satisfying. I got 7 at one time yesterday!! Today my limit was 4. Maybe I’m making headway in the war and as an added benefit my hands have never been cleaner!! One day in the future they will one day refer to me as “The Great Fruit Fly Killer”…… okay, so maybe I’m getting a bit carried away. Whatever, you’ve got to appreciate the simple pleasures right? Excuse me while I go wash my hands!

Motherhood and Goats

Viney headshotWe’re under attack from the blackberry bushes. No, that’s not a metaphor, nor am I being overly dramatic. They are truly trying to take over. They’re encroaching into the yard, across the driveway and slowly but surely gaining ground toward the house. I dream about them at night. More like nightmares really. That one day we’ll wake up and find that they’ve completely encompass the house and we’ll become prisoners in a blackberry vine cell. It’s not pretty.

Yesterday while I was out watering and weeding the kitchen herb bed and flowers I decided to pull out a goat or two to help with the blackberry problem. After all I have goats, they view blackberry leaves as a form of goatie crack cocaine. I figured it’s a treat for them and saves me some work. Win-win!

I pulled out a couple girls and Murphy laid down close by to keep an eye on them (I’m not sure if he’s guarding them or keeping them under surveillance because he views them as suspicious) and I went back to weeding . It was during this perfect moment with the sun shining brightly, a slight breeze that floated over the skin and the buzz of fat, lazy bumble bees that I had a deep bonding moment with my goat, Viney.

She had wandered behind the shed, out of view from the rest of the goats in the pasture. Personally, I think she was hiding from her kids. They were yelling to her and she was quietly ignoring them as she munched away contently on her blackberry bushes. Watching this I immediately flashed back in my memory to a time when my kids were small and I would steal downstairs while they were playing and sneak a bite or two of the hidden “good” chocolate. I think I had the same content look on my face as Viney did munching on those blackberry leaves. As I was thinking about this Viney glanced over at me and our eyes met. Just then I connected with her on a level I never thought possible. We were both moms who hid from our kids while we raided the secret stash. It was a profoundly bonding moment…..and then she went after my roses and I had to chase her away from the flower beds pretty much killing the moment.  But for that brief moment we connected as only mothers can. Sharing the struggle of deep love for our children…..and the desire not to share our snacks. Motherhood really is a sisterhood that stretches across all boundaries.

 

Ground Hogs and Other Spring Predictors’

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERASpring is officially here. I knew it was on its way despite Mother Nature doing her best to convince me otherwise. Spring is a usually looked forward to by most people but to a farmer it’s a major event . Some people use the traditional ground hog to predict if we’ll get any early spring, some watch for animals that seem to lose their winter coat early or listen for the first song from the frogs. I have an early prediction system too.   It’s more reliable than any ground hog. It’s my sickness. Yes I have a spring sickness and every year a few weeks just prior to spring’s arrival my ‘illness’ presents itself.  Some people herald spring with hay fever and allergies, others with March Madness, me? I get spring cleaning fever.  Yes, I said it. Spring cleaning fever.

Every weekend I clean my house, not because I particularly enjoy cleaning. In fact, to be quite frank, it’s one of my least favorite things to do. However, I have heard far too many people label farmers as being filthy to want to contribute to the ugly stereotype. I remember once inviting someone over to eat and having them make a joke asking if they would have to ‘sweep the chickens off the table so they could sit down to eat.”I’m sure they thought they were being funny. I was not amused. With that being said, I am in no way a neat freak and anyone who has ever visited my house can attest to that fact. I just make sure to clean up once a week and try to keep the dog hair and dust bunnies from taking over in our sleep.

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So I knew spring was on its way a few weeks ago when I was dragging myself through my weekly cleaning and felt the sudden compulsion to climb under the sink and take out the P trap and clean it. I mean it gets filled up with hair and pipe gunk too and probably should be cleaned at some point right? I started the process and when Hubs walked by and observed me testing out my non-existent plumbing skills by approaching the project with the same trepidation that an explosives expert might approach a bomb, he decided to help me out. Whatever, as long as it got done, was what mattered to me. Strangely enough I didn’t question or find anything odd about my sudden desire to scrub the bathroom pipes from the inside out.

Then a week or so later I found myself scrubbing the baseboards throughout the house and mopping the basement stairs. Mopping, not sweeping, but mopping and with a bleach solution to make sure they were good and clean, the basement stairs. Yes, that’s right, I sanitized my basement steps. (I’m so ashamed)

Today, I found myself bleaching and scrubbing the grout lines in my bathroom floors and it finally occurred to me that my spring sickness is out of control. Unlike allergies there is no pill I can take to give me some relief, I just have to suffer through it. After I finished the bathroom floors I happened to notice that the grout through the kitchen, laundry room and halls all needed some attention. God help me! This is a cry for help to my friends. I’m obviously in desperate need for an intervention to save me from this behavior.

On a positive note, at least spring is here and the weather is bound to start getting better. Hopefully I’ll get to be outside more and won’t even notice the floors…….or the overflowing file cabinet.

Winter Struggles on the Farm

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Winter brings a whole new set of challenges on the farm. The routine chores suddenly take an even more adventurous turn. No, I’m not talking about the difficulties of navigating the manure slip and slide that we call a pasture. I’m also not talking about lugging extra food and bedding out to the animals to help them  keep warm or even the frequent trips out to bust up the ice in the water troughs.  Those are all standard struggles around a farm in the winter.

I’m talking about the bigger and more important issues we wrestle with, such as just how many layers do we need to wear to stay warm but not cross over into ‘bundle bound’ where you can’t move those necessary appendages to do chores.  There’s a fine balance between warmth and mobility.

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Even Murphy bundles up when it gets cold.

 

Here’s my winter tips:

First, always try to sucker, err…. convince, your spouse, partner, friend or other gullible victim to do the chores for you. You’ll be surprised at how many will believe you when you tell them about the joys of doing chores in the crisp, winter wonderland will bring you closer to nature. At least, they’ll believe you the first time. Be warned, you usually won’t get a second run with these people.

Second, if you can’t sucker anyone into doing your chores, you’ll need to keep a set of clothes a size or two larger than you normally wear. This will be necessary to fit your layers of long underwear on under your regular clothes. Trust me trying to squeeze yourself into your regular clothes with several layers on under them is like trying to cram yourself into a sausage casing. It’s quite the workout, frustrating and really not a pretty picture. To be fair this great effort might be just slightly exacerbated  just a tad by over indulging during the holidays…..but nothing good can come from dwelling on the cause. Trust me, just buy some bigger clothes.

Lastly, once you are bundled up enough to stay warm outside, good planning is imperative. Truly…..*IMPERATIVE*. There are some “personal matters” that continue despite weather, how bundled up you are or how much effort it takes to get unbundled…… are you following me? Just remember that it takes much longer to waddle yourself to the house and unwrap all those layers, so be prepared for these delays or be prepared to face the consequences.

Those are my winter tips and just remember the better you are at tip #1 the less you have to worry about #2 and #3. You’re welcome and stay warm my fellow farmers!

Deep Litter Bedding

A couple of people have asked me about the deep litter method and so I thought I would put my thoughts on paper. I always hesitate to write these types of blogs because it just goes against what I believe. People have approached us about interning on the farm and my response is typically, “dude, seriously? I’m like the farming version of the adult that’s faking it until someone more adult-ish shows up.”

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Truly though, I have an issue with the ‘right way’ to do things. I believe that farming is like making chicken soup. Pick any two families and they will not  have the same recipe. Yes there are similar parts….like most will have chicken and some form of vegetables  in the recipe, but how they cook it and what else they add are really very different. Farming is a lot like that. It depends on your situation, your animals, your soil, your available funds and resources….it really just depends. So I hate to tell someone how to do things, I can only tell them what has worked (or not worked) for me. On that same thread,  I really find I have a problem taking advice from more experienced farmers who approach advice as if there is only one way to do things for the same reason.  of course there are always those that want to argue their point because it seems that some people just really have a difficult time with other’s opinions. With all that being said, I’ve also agreed to share my experiences on the farm with you guys. So with some trepidation, I’m sharing my deep litter experiences, keeping in mind that this is MY experience.

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We’ve used buckets as nesting boxes in this coop. They’re removable and easier to clean.

 

Our first couple of years on the farm I used the deep litter method for the goat barns. For those that aren’t familiar with the term deep litter, it simply means that you only rake and remove the heaviest of poop areas on a regular basis and then add more bedding over the less dirty, used bedding to make sure the animals have a dry, clean area. This goes on over the winter months with the ever growing, thick layers giving more insulation from the cold ground and the dirty bottom layer of  bedding are buried and beginning to break down in compost putting off some natural heat.

There are some definite advantages to this method. If you have limited manpower most of the year this allows your animals to have a clean bedding and a well insulated area with minimal work. Of course there is the once a year (or more) heavy duty cleaning where several feet of used bedding is removed from the barn, but this can usually be done in a day with the help of others. The idea of thicker insulation really appealed to me and made me feel better about our goats being in the drafty barn. Also when my husband was traveling a lot for work and having just moved to a new farm that needed a lot of work, the lack of weekly barn cleanings was also a huge plus in my book.

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With all the dust motes from the straw visible in this picture, it’s no surprise that air quality needs to be a concern in barn care.

 

The other side of the coin is that using the deep litter method works best with a smaller herd in a well ventilated structure. The ammonia emissions from animal waste can build up causing air pollution concerns and resulting health issues. We have one doe that has had a chronic cough and after much testing and work with our vet, we believe it’s allergies. However, I do have to wonder if the winter air quality in the barn is aggravating her lungs making her cough worse.  This year we’ve decided to switch over from the deep litter method to bi-weekly cleanings and see if her cough does better.  Yup, it’s going to be more work, but the herd has grown and the barn has not, so the bedding is building up quicker than previously and the air quality is poorer. We’ve added more vents and cut in a back door to help with the air movement, but we’re still going to try a more traditional method and see if it helps with her cough.

Some things to consider if you’re thinking about going this route include the size of your herd, how good the drainage is in your barn, air movement in the barn and overall health of the herd to start. So in summary, yes the deep litter method worked for us. During a particularly difficult time the simplicity really saved my sanity while allowing my animals a warm and clean shelter. It was a great idea…….for a while. But like I said, times change, herd’s change and whether it’s the right method for you, just depends……

Fall on the Homestead

Fall is a beautiful time on the homestead. The leaves are changing colors, the air has a crisp quality that begs to be perfumed with wood smoke and hot cider. Fall is also fickled, because as beautiful as it is, there is so much to do that it’s often hard to find time to enjoy the beauty. There’s lots to do before you can put the homestead to bed for the winter. Barns need to be cleaned and prepped for the upcoming cold and wet weather, gardens need to be pulled and planted with a cover crop, animals need to get bred and of course all those half done projects need to get finished up before the weather completely turns nasty.

One of my favorite parts of fall is the bonfires. There’s something primal about them that attracts my inner caveman…or rather, cave-woman. There are few things in my book that can top working hard on the farm all day and then when you are bone weary, lounging on the back of your tailgate while having your dinner. Except maybe catching a little nap, before getting back to work.

If you aren’t familiar with bonfires there are a few things that you should know. The first is to always wear a hat. Trust me your stylist will thank you for not making her create some wild and new post-singed hairstyle. Secondly, if you happen to be a girly tom-boy and enjoy wearing make-up (like me) you should be aware that if you stand too close to the fire the heat will make your mascara melt. If you aren’t going for that ‘one giant  eyelash look’, you probably want to take a step or two backward. Lastly, and maybe most importantly, there is always going to be that one person at the fire that will be a smoke magnet. No matter where they go, despite the direction the wind is blowing, the smoke will magically follow them everywhere. Don’t be that person! Now that you know the basics, kick back, sip some cider and enjoy.