Showing posts with label simple living. Show all posts
Showing posts with label simple living. Show all posts

Sunday, April 20, 2014

PROCESSING WOOL: PART 2

I finally moved on to washing the raw wool. The first bag was pretty clean. I wish I knew who I bought that particular bag from because that person takes immaculate care of their sheep. The second bag was pretty awful in terms of lanolin - maybe it has to do with the type of sheep??? I have no idea.

So... part one: pick through raw wool to get rid of particles like hay or poop. Part two: wash wool. 

I thought I ruined my first bag of wool because it looked felted when I removed it from the wash basin but once it dried it was absolutely fine. A few felted spots but not too bad.  The second bag I didn't poke at as much so it didn't felt at all but I have to admit that I really don't like the color. I wanted wool I could dye and the second batch doesn't seem suitable for that.

First bag of wool washed


I used a mesh bag to put the wool in. I learned quickly that I put too much wool into the mesh bag, should have just used a few ounces or else a larger bag. 

I filled the basin with water at a temp of 130 F and added the fleece scour solution.  Lastly I added my little bag of wool and watched as the water turned fro clear to a yucky yellow. The whole house smelled like sheep butt thanks to the steam coming off the water. That's ok though because I love sheep butt :-)

I turned the bag a couple times in the 30 minute soak and then transferred the wool to another basin full of clean water and fleece scour and turned once in 15 minutes. To finish I put the wool in a clean rinse basin and pushed it around a few times until I felt the wool was free of the fleece scour solution.



When done I just let the bag sit in the sink and drain out, when it drained as best as it could I dumped the wool onto a towel and let it sit until it was no longer wet. Once dry I pulled it apart. Now, I have no idea if pulling it apart will make it difficult to card since I am new to all of this but I'll soon find out.

Carding will be part three :)




Friday, April 11, 2014

I DID IT! I MADE MAPLE SYRUP!

After 30+ years thinking about it, I finally made some maple syrup. Don't laugh but here it is:
This came from a silver maple tree in the city so we get the added taste of pollution too. Haha!
I boiled down nearly 2 gallons of silver maple sap and what you see above is what I ended up with (there would have been a little more but I ruined the 2nd half I boiled by getting distracted on the telephone - note to self: don't answer phone when boiling sap). 
My husband drilling a hole for the spile.  If you look closely you can see the clear sap rushing out of the spile as soon as we put it into the hole that was drilled.
I don't really care about the quantity this time around I'm just excited that I was finally able to do it. The syrup came from a single tap of my sisters silver maple so if I were to tap that thing several times I'd probably have had a whole bottle. This year was just a little experiment to see how the whole process went, next year I'll be on the hunt for sugar maples and I'll extract much more.
It took one week to get the bag as full as you see it in the picture. It would run ok for a few hours in the day (mostly dripping) but it was just too cold of an early spring to really get going. On the right I'm boiling it down. Next year I'll do it outside.
Since I only had about 2 gallons to work with I boiled the sap inside the house on my electric stove. It took a couple hours but it was fun. Aiyana was the first to sample the end result and her response was "it needs more sugar." My husband was the second person to sample and all he said is "it sure tastes different than the high fructose corn syrup version." LOL! 
This is my disaster. I'm starting to think disasters are a common theme of my blog. LOL! Of my life. LOL! With every new adventure I start off with a disaster. I thought today was going to be perfect, I should have known it was too good to be true. Second batch of syrup smelled good but turned out yuck and I wasn't sure how to keep going with it to turn it into maple sugar. For the record, I've learned to love disasters... it helps me learn quickly what not to do next time ;) 
I'll be eating it (not the burnt stuff) over french toast this weekend :) 
Happy Friday Everyone!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

RAW FLEECE: PART ONE

I admit it, I'm a fiber hoarder.

I'm also a book hoarder, a yarn hoarder, a soap supply hoarder, a card supply hoarder and... ok, you get the point. 

Problem with raw fiber is you really can't hoard it for very long or else the moths move in so... after stashing this stuff away for nearly a year I decided it was time to deal with it.


Now... just in case you didn't know, this is my first time working with raw wool. I've been spinning fiber for a few years and decided last year while shopping around at the Shepherd's Harvest Festival that it was time to learn to process wool on my own.  It's fun buying fibers that are already prepared for you but I think doing it all myself will give me a whole new appreciation for sheep.  

Luckily, this batch didn't have any moths fluttering around inside.  Being the squeamish person that I am I begged Maya to take the bag outside and inspect it before I'd even touch it.  Yay! No moths! In fact, the wool had lost most of its sheepy smell and took on the scent of our house and that's nice, now I'm just working on picking out the poopy parts, which is called "skirting the fleece".  This batch of wool isn't very dirty so I'm thinking it was cleaned up pretty good before they sold it to me but it still needs to be plucked over, the short fibers removed and then washed to get rid of most of the lanolin. So when I call this "raw wool" it isn't anywhere near as raw as the stuff that would come straight from the skirting table right after the sheep is shorn.

Once I'm done picking through this batch I'll separate out the good stuff and then wash, card and dye it.  Stay tuned :D

Anyone reading this post ever process raw wool? Tell me about it! I want to know what your experience was like. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

YUM! PASTAAAAAA

I am not one to share a lot of recipes, only because I really don't know how to cook that well.  I pretend I know how to cook and my family pretends to like what I cook but I'm really not that awesome.  BUT... I do have this one meal that I cook pretty well, the entire family loves it and we eat it way too often so I thought it was the perfect meal to share :-)

I got it out of the Food Network Magazine back in 2011 and I love it because not only is it super easy and fast to make it tastes wonderful!  You can make it into an almost all organic meal for very little cost.  I say almost because I'm not sure if there is organic vodka (???)

Just know that my sloppy cell phone picture taken in my dimly lit kitchen doesn't do the meal justice.



Ingredients

Penne Pasta (Bionaturae Organic Penne)
2 Shallots (from our garden)
Butter (organic valley)
Garlic (from our garden)
Crushed Tomatoes (we use whatever  organic brand Valley Natural Foods has available).
Vodka (whatever brand is the least expensive - can you tell I know nothing about vodka)
Heavy Whipping Cream (organic valley)
Parmesan Cheese  (organic valley)
red pepper flakes (optional since I've tried with and without and not noticed their contribution to the taste) 
Basil (on the list but I don't add it because my hubby hates basil)

Cook 2 minced shallots in a skilled with butter over medium heat until slightly softened, 3 minutes.  Add 1 minced garlic clove and a pinch of red pepper flakes; cook 30 seconds.  Remove from the heat.  Add 1/2 cup of vodka, a 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes and some salt.  Simmer, stirring, 7 minutes.  Stir in 2/3 cup heavy cream and simmer until thickened, 3 minutes.  Stir in 1/2 cup grated parmesan and a handful of torn basil.  Toss with 12 ounces cooked penne.

I've changed the recipe a little, I add about 4 small shallots and I use about 4-5 cloves of garlic (we love shallots and garlic), which creates a stronger taste and a chunkier sauce but either way (my way or the original recipe) it tastes very yummy!


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

STRAWBERRIES!!

If you can't grow your own do the next best thing... PICK SOMEONE ELSES!!

The family and I drove over to Sam Kedem's  Farm in Hastings yesterday and picked over 12 pounds of big juicy organic strawberries.  Sam is the only one I know that grows organic PYO fruits, at least within driving distance from my house so we visit his farm several times a summer to get blueberries, raspberries and strawberries.  Since I didn't get started until later in the evening I only canned 3 jars of strawberry jam.  As you can probably tell by my photo collage my jars have that ugly foamy swirl in them.  I've read in one of my Ball canning books that the foam can lessen the shelf life of the jam so I'll make sure to eat them in the next month.  I should have spent some time scraping off that frothy mess but I was just so darn excited to making jam again that I didn't pay attention to that last step.

Anyone have an opinion on the foamy stuff that appears when boiling the strawberries?  To what extent does it shorten the shelf life?



For anyone else that would like to try making strawberry jam I have two recommendations:

My friend Teresa turned me on to this ebook by her friend Robin.  It is very informative!  I've always struggled to find good canning books that are easy to understand for the beginner but also contain recipes that even the experienced canner will enjoy (once I get there); Robin's book is perfect!

The other "very easy" go to source for canning strawberries is this video:



I don't recommend the video for those wanting to learn about canning per se but more for those who just want to whip up a small batch of strawberry jam quickly without getting into all the details about canning.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

STRAWBERRY FAIL

I can't help but be envious of my friends who have a bumper crop of strawberries this year.  I planted strawberries 5 years ago and it seems, once again, that I made an error.

My friend Teresa (domestic goddess, writing genius, homesteader extraordinaire) over at Homestead Notes is my go-to person when I struggle with gardening (and pretty much everything in life) and I've learned from her hubby that my crop of strawberries are just too old to give me the bounty that I really crave *sigh.  So, it seems I may have to start all over.



This year I was so pleased with myself for actually getting my butt to the garden store to pick up some hay.  It took me 5 yrs to learn that hay needs to be spread below the patch of berries (if they are as sparse as mine are) to keep the berries clean and to help avoid rotting.   In years passed we'd get an ok amount of berries but either the birds would eat them or they'd rot immediately.  Well... the hay is in place but I highly doubt we'll get any strawberries since my patch is too old.  Just look at them, 90% of these were planted 5 years ago... they should have multiplied by now.




I did have them in raised garden boxes which I don't think helped very much since the runners had nowhere to go, so I did remove those this year.

If anyone has any advice on how you started up your patch and made them flourish, please let me know.

I've also planted a variety of strawberry plants together and wonder now if that was a mistake :(



Wednesday, May 29, 2013

I HAVE A LOVE HATE RELATIONSHIP WITH DEER

I like deer, I really do but they seriously are destructive little suckers and even though they have their place on this planet like every species does, I don't understand why they are one of the few species besides ourselves that we allow to flourish beyond what is ecologically healthy.

Last year I counted 12 deer in my backyard at one time, this year I counted 15, seems they are multiplying pretty quickly.  The number of deer would be understandable if our home backed up to a gigantic forest but we only have an 80 acre public park behind us and apparently the coyotes we're always being warned about are too small to take the deer down.

Fact: Minnesota has 900,000 deer and prior to the wolf hunt and predator control killings which resulted in some 600+ dead wolves, we had about 3000 wolves in the wild.

I'd give my right arm to live in wolf country right now.



Today I found my brand new North Star Cherry tree (plum full of cherries two days ago) half eaten by deer.  Previous to the buffet had by those annoying pests my neighbor tried to get me to spray the tree with this stinky concoction of rotten eggs and coyote urine to protect it but like a fool I opted to let it be because I was hoping to eat the cherries once they ripened.  BIG MISTAKE! I should have sprayed the tree this year just to give it a chance to grow large enough so that the deer couldn't reach the branches in the future.



All I can say is that I'm a slow learner.  I have two 3 year old apple trees that haven't produced a single fruit, thanks to our deer.  One is finally reaching a point in its growth that the deer are no longer able to reach the branches but the other looks in need of a funeral.

So... wish me luck on saving what is left of our little tree.  My husband has made an attempt this evening to protect it so I'm keeping my fingers crossed.  If there's nothing left tomorrow we'll know it didn't work :(


Deer devoured the left side of tree








Tuesday, September 18, 2012

WHO COULD HAVE KNOWN...

That my creative energy would return and I wouldn't even realize it.  Since August I've felt like a new person.  After turning 40 last year I fell into this nasty little funk and had no energy to write, craft, or even spend that much time in nature.  My summer began pretty poorly but before I knew it I was busy making cards, knitting, baking; all of a sudden I feel good again.  All I want to do is spin fiber, knit, poke around the garden - is it some kind of weird rebirth?  Who knows and who cares right?  As long as I am being productive and enjoying myself.

So my blog share is really just about what I've been up to.    Let's start with my garden:

PEAS: didn't turn out due to the insane heat we experienced this summer.

TOMATOES & ASPARAGUS:  stolen by one of natures creatures, likely deer and rabbits.

CUCUMBERS: due to my raspberry bush being grossly overgrown it swallowed up my cucumbers so I couldn't get to them without being attacked by a hoard of wasp (I learned my lesson about how closely I plant things).

STRAWBERRIES: looked healthy but didn't produce a single strawberry because of the early spring and refreeze we had.

APPLE TREES: still not producing apples.  I learned from an organic farmer that it's because I purchased the large apple trees and not the dwarf.  Apparently it may not produce for 3 more years.

PEANUTS: didn't grow - don't know why

BLUEBERRIES: deer ate them all down to little nubs.

LAVENDER: one bush died and the other is doing ok.

So what did turn out perfectly?  Shallots,  beans and raspberries!  This is the first year to plant shallots and beans and I've planted a raspberry bush a year for the past 4 years.  Thanks to my friend Teresa over at Homestead Notes (growing, writing, creating) and her advice on what book to buy I learned when to harvest the shallots and beans so not only did they grow well I was able to harvest them before they rotted.  My raspberries were in a happier mood than last year, producing and producing and producing lots of yummy fruit.  They must love heat!


And speaking of feeling creative, productive and having such an awesome friend, Teresa sent me a wonderful little package of goodies this past weekend.  The package included a recipe for pumpkin pineapple muffins, 3 little cloth bags with gifts inside, a pretty handmade card and this:


Colorful, interesting fiber to spin!  The pinkish fiber is cotton and the silky looking blue fiber is tencel.  I've never spun either so I'm looking forward to seeing how it spins.  

Thank you so much Teresa for the wonderful package and for knowing what I enjoy so well.

Now I'm off to knit :-)










Thursday, September 6, 2012

FIBER COMMUNITY SUPPORTED AGRICULTURE



I meant to blog about this sooner but...

While I was at the Shepherd's Harvest Fiber Festival in May I learned that Minnesota had one Fiber CSA and of course I wanted to join immediately.  I like the idea of having raw fiber mailed to me every couple months for two reasons:

1. I can learn how to process the fiber from beginning to end.  I got the spinning part down but now I can learn how to wash the wool and card it, all without the need to own any sheep.

2. I get to experiment with different types of wool, different colors, and in different stages.  Some of whats been sent to me is raw and some is all ready to spin.  

I received my first bunch of fibers in June (also included was a nice knitting pattern for a wool sweater).     One bunch of fiber was a wool/mohair mix, colored beautifully and ready to spin.  The other bunch was raw lincoln long wool.  

If anyone is interested in a Fiber CSA the one I signed up with is Kindred Spirit Farm.  They send a variety of fibers (some dyed and some not) every two months beginning in April.  I missed the April deadline so I was sent my April and June portion of fibers together at the end of June.  Generally the fibers arrive at the end of the month (April, June, August, October, December, February).  Right now I'm waiting for my August shipment.  I've been pretty busy with other things so I haven't processed or spun any of the fibers but I'll be working on that next week :D

Does anyone else have a fiber csa near them?  I'd be interested in signing up for others - the more variety of fibers I can work with the better.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

MASON BEE?

I was so excited to find this itty bitty bee in my garden working really hard on one of my bamboo poles that I'm using to stake my raspberry bush.  I immediately thought it was a mason bee.  Some of the other bamboo poles in the raspberry patch have mud plugged holes already (possibly from last year).  Anyway... I took some pix and a video to show my daughter Maya but when she saw the video she insisted that it wasn't a mason bee.  She thinks it looks like a wasp but the video is a little deceiving when it comes to seeing the bees size.  It was really tiny, about the size of my fingernail.  I don't think any wasps are that size.  Are there wasps that size????




Wednesday, May 9, 2012

MUST MAKE DO

I figured if I can't have honeybees right now it doesn't mean I can't have another type of bee.  According to my beekeeping friend Dave  it is a little late in the season to get going with Mason Bees so I'm going to give bumble bees a try.  A while back, after my beekeeping course, my oldest daughter decided she wanted to try keeping bumble bees.  She's always had a fascinating relationship with bumbles.  When she and I took a class at a local nature center 14 years ago we learned the difference between bees, wasps and hornets, which ones are aggressive and which ones aren't, etc... After that time she's always handled bumble bees.  She mostly likes to stroke their backs when they are busy working a flower.  Since she is so brave and had a real interest we ordered Marla Spivak's book: Befriending Bumble Bees.




Maya, my daughter, caught a bunch of bumbles initially but we were unsure in our ability to determine which ones were queens so she'd always let them go.  Well, since I'm bee-less I've decided to give the bumbles another try. With bumbles I won't have to worry about swarm management and worried neighbors, I'll just be able to still enjoy having a relationship with bees.

Now all I need is a bumble bee to show up.  They are late this year.

Wish me luck! :D

Sunday, May 6, 2012

BYE BYE HIVES :(

We said goodbye to our hives yesterday.  It was actually pretty sad.  I didn't care so much about the yellow hive but I was really attached to the pink one (the one you see being carried away).  That was my very first hive after I took the U of M beekeeping course and we've managed to get it through two winters and this was our third spring having them, they were also our mild tempered and happy bees.  My husband said I looked pitiful, like a lost child watching them from the window being carried away.We discussed just keeping the one hive because they really were a great bunch of bees to have but we just couldn't get past the possibility that, even if we managed them well, they could swarm again and next time it might not turn out so great.  I kept having visions of them swarming during one of the neighbors many dusk til dawn lawn parties.

Hubby and I are already discussing other options.  We have a couple friends that live in the country and we might approach them about keeping our bees.  One of them has wanted to have bees but wasn't so sure she wanted to do the management part of it, so we're thinking she might be a good option.  Otherwise, we do plan on moving so we might wait until then to get another hive, we'll see.

For now, Jim at Natures Nectar took our babies away.  I feel good that he was the one to take them since he's the guy I orginally purchased my packages from.  Who better to have our hives than the man I bought them from, right? 

So anyway...a couple pictures to share:

Jim getting the hives ready to be hauled away.



and then carrying my favorite one out.


Middy (my middle child) is pretty mad at me.  She loves the bees.  We have spent every day since spring of 2010 checking them out each morning, watching them fly in and out throughout the day (aside from winter).  I didn't realize she had grown as attached as I did.  She kept trying to think of reasons they didn't have to go.  She thinks people around us should "suck it up and get with the program." lol!  She's already asking when we can get some more.  I guess her nagging will get me moving on finding someone to let us keep them on their property.

Did I ever mention how much I hate living in the city?

Thursday, May 3, 2012

ANOTHER SWARM BRINGS MORE STINGS

Today our second hive swarmed. We really didn't anticipate this one. Our neighbor came by around 1 pm to tell us that our hive was swarming and it was in her backyard AGAIN! I don't know what it is about her yard that they love so much but they do. I ran over to see where it landed and this time it was attached to a tree trunk about 7 feet from the ground smack in the middle of her backyard. I told her that I'd get someone to remove it right away.

Well, I made the usual round of calls and not a single beekeeper could come out to get the swarm. One beekeeper was nice enough to walk me through the process so the hubby and I decided we would retrieve it and keep the bees in a box until someone came to get them. Just before we set out to get the swarm I made a call to the MN Hobby Beekeepers Association to see who might want the bees once I boxed them up and a member told me that he had a list and would make calls. I got a call from a beekeeper that wanted to remove the swarm himself (it was his first time), so he came right over. Unfortunately, being a newbie at swarm removal, he wasn't quite sure what to do so he placed his hive body below the tree, climbed the ladder, and shook the thick branch. Bees didn't exactly fall into the box, they sorta tumbled and then started flying. This fiasco went on for about a dozen more tree shakes and each shake would create lots of angry bees, lots of flying, and an eventual return to the tree. The guy finally left and planned a return in a few hours.

In the meantime my hubby and I were talking to the neighbors about 20 feet from the swarm. The swarm had mostly calmed itself but one lone bee came flying over and hovered above my husbands head (thanks to his black hair the bees are really really attracted to him.) He tried walking further away but it followed and stung him right on the eyelid. Needless to say, my husband was NOT happy. He has had his fill of bee stings lately and right now I'm not really sure what he's thinking about our little insects. (the first picture is at urgent care.  I made my hubby go in to see if the doctor could at least give him something for the swelling.  He swells pretty awful when he is stung and I was afraid it would put pressure on his eye.  The doctor agreed and prescribed prednisone but now my goofy husband won't take it.)


(This second picture was taken 2 hours after the doctor visit.  He still won't take the meds nor will he take anymore benadryl. He's a glutton for punishment I guess).



On top of that, my neighbors were feeling a little put off as well. It turned out that both they and I have been thinking the same thing: what if our bees swarmed one day, none of us notice, and they let the dogs out to play? What if no one notices the swarm sitting on our fence, or on their table, or in the bush next to the house and they bring their 3 yr old granddaughter outside to run around? I live my life according to the Golden Rule so my neighbors weren't really thinking anything that I hadn't thought myself. They didn't tell me to get rid of my bees but I know I have to think about it. We do plan on a move to the country soon so we may just have to hold off on the beekeeping until we have more land.

About three hours later the beekeeper returned to try once again to remove the swarm (some of the bees were already in the hive body from his previous visit). This time he used his bee brush to scoop them up and dump them into the hive body. Once he felt he scooped enough he sat and waited but again, the bees that were flying kept returning to the tree and not the hive. He decided to take home the thousands he scooped up and left the chunk on the tree behind. We have no way of knowing if the queen was in the hive body or in the tree since it seemed the bees were divided on where they wanted to stay. All I know for sure is I hope the bees find their way back to my hive or else leave because if they don't I'm afraid they'll end up being exterminated in the morning :(


We did get some honey out of it all.  The guy who retrieved the swarm was a little confused by me.  He couldn't understand why someone would keep bees without the need or desire for honey.  I tried to explain to him that honey would be awesome but it really wasn't what drove me to keep bees but he just couldn't wrap his mind around that so when he returned the second time he brought me this big jar of honey and said, as he handed me the jar "this is why you become a beekeeper." 


I still don't agree with him but... lol!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

ANOTHER SWARM EXPERIENCE...

but this one was far more interesting. I had just finished emailing Jim from Natures Nectar about the divide I was about to do, it was the perfect day for it; sunny and warm. Our bees were in a great mood. I was standing in front of the hive that we knew needed to be divided the most. The pink hive is our oldest but the yellow newer hive had a prolific egg laying queen. At the end of winter it looked as if the hive hadn't lost a single bee, it was insane. Just as hubby and I were standing in front of the hive discussing our plan of attack (we are new to this dividing business), the hive decided to swarm. Um... there they go not following the manual again. Minnesota bees aren't suppose to swarm until late June, early July but apparently these girls didn't get the memo. We watched as they moved around the yard, up into a tree, and then settled on our fence.

Needless to say I was in full panic mode (readers: you do sort of see me as the high anxiety type already don't ya?! - cuz I am). I hate having to tell my neighbors that they can't let their dogs out to potty because my bees are on the move again. I feel like I'm being rude... I am rude. Sorry, but your annoying neighbor purchased a bunch of bees and because they like to swarm all the time you need to keep your dogs stuck inside until the bees move on and who cares if you pooch piddles on the carpet. It's rude, it really is.

When I told the neighbor how I was feeling about the swarm she told me to calm down and stop worrying. Apparently she and her husband think the bees are interesting and a worthy cause. That's a relief! Sadly though, we are getting rid of one hive. There have been waaaaaaay too many bees in the yard. Aside from the swarms making me nervous when it comes to neighbor relations the bees have gotten a bit territorial. The girls in the family (ours, not the queens) have to tie their hair into a bun and wrap a scarf around their heads to keep the bees from getting caught while outside playing (we have that many bees flying around the yard). We are keeping our pink hive though because I've grown attached to that one :)


Onto the swarm.


I called about 5 beekeepers to come and get the swarm and the lucky winner was the man who said he'd be at my house in less than an hour. He came, gathered up our little bunch that attached themselves to the fence and he left.


Funny how smart bees are. Once he boxed up the bees and put them in the van he came over to talk to me, which was 30 feet from where the bees were and the buzzy girls still managed to find him and bop him in the head. I was standing in front of him, no further than 2 feet away, and they didn't mind me at all. They wanted to get the guy who stole their sisters and mother. Smart little suckers.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

HIVES ALIVE!



My third spring without treating my bees for ANYTHING and they are still going strong. I've read where other beekeepers have gone 7-10 years without mite treatment and their bees did just fine so I'm going to keep doing what I'm doing and hope for the best.

Since both hives survived the winter I have to decide what I'm going to do about the splits. I cannot have four hives. My neighbors were really patient with me when the hives swarmed last year but I fear that patience runs thin. I know that if a swarm of bees attached itself to our home back when I knew nothing about bees I wouldn't have been a very nice neighbor so... I have to "do unto others...."

Since splitting hives in two is a swarm management system and I don't want four hives I decided to split both hives and give the bees away. The good thing is, there is no shortage of those who want bees. After posting that I wanted to give the bees away on beesource I received a bunch of private messages from people who wanted them. Problem is, most of the requests came from people who do not have an established presence on the forum, therefore it made me a little nervous. My nervousness comes from my wanting the one retrieving the bees to do the split for me. I figure if I'm giving them away and not selling them, the least they can do is the split. But... I'm nervous about letting someone dig into my hives when I have no idea how much they know about beekeeping. Luckily, one of the very experienced beekeepers on the beesource contacted me. He happens to live one state over and is willing to take the bees if no one else will. He suggested I look locally first so I contacted Natures Nectar (my bee supplier), and Jim (the owner) said he'd take them if they are still going strong at the end of April. I haven't heard back yet on whether he'll do the split though.

I've been told I should do the split, create nucs and just sell the bees myself but honestly, I have no idea how much to sell them for or how I even go about marketing that. I've never even seen a nuc before other than in a supply catalog. How do they work exactly? Can they be transported once the bees are inside?

Well... I have at least a month to sort it all out. Right now the bees are doing great! These warm days should make them happy.

Monday, January 30, 2012

BLOG GIVEAWAY: BEESWAX CANDLE

When I took my beekeeping course two years ago there were a few beekeepers on hand to show us treasures from the hive. One man and his young daughter had a tiny beehive candle that I fell in love with. I asked if they sold the mold, which they did not, but they said I could purchase one from a bee supply company and make my own once my bees started giving me some wax to use.

Well, I've waited ever so patiently for my honeybees to create a surplus of honey and beeswax for me to take but we've gone another year without any extras. Am I sad? Not really. Our bees know what they are doing and why they do it so I just have to make do with other people's extras :D

The other day I drove over to Natures Nectar, our honeybee supplier, and picked up 4.5 lbs of beeswax to make candles with. There is nothing better than beeswax straight from the hive, except, of course, HONEY! Beeswax from a local beekeeper is the best! I have to keep my kids from pawing all over it, wanting just one last sniff because it smells so amazing!

Here is our lovely slab of beeswax:



But... beeswax in slab form doesn't do me any good when I'm about to make candles so I had to break it into chunks.



Once the beeswax was cut up I had to get my mold ready. I purchased this cute little beehive mold from Mann Lake, the same company we buy most of our bee equipment from.



I heated up the wonderful beeswax in a double boiler.



Poured them into molds.



and what did I produce?



The cutest little beehive candle ever :D

Now for the giveaway. I've not been the best "blog giveaway" person but all of that is about to change. I'd like to start 2012 off right by sending one of these cute candles to someone in the blogosphere to say THANK YOU for reading my blog. The only thing you have to do to qualify is post in the comment section on why the survival of the honeybee is important to you.

The winner will be determined by random number generator (online) and announced on this blog February 10 :)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

DID YOU KNOW, BEES GET SICK TOO

It has been a while since I talked about my bees so I thought I'd share something new about my awesome girls.

MITES.

Honeybees get mites. The actual term is Varroa Mites.

What are they?

They are itty bitty insects that attach to and weaken honeybees by sucking hemolymph from their bodies, which serves as both blood and intestinal fluid. Once the honeybee has been weakened they become susceptible to certain viruses.

Varroa are destructive and can destroy an entire hive. If infestation is caught early the hive can be saved. Treatments vary depending on the preference of the beekeeper. Some treatments are more effective than others.

We were told in class that ALL bee hives get varroa mites and research has shown that some types of honeybee are better at protecting themselves from infestation than others. Example: Africanized bees tend to protect themselves better than Italian bees. MN Hygienic bees have been raised to defend themselves better against certain illnesses, diseases, etc... including mites.

The key to controlling the mite population is #1 testing your hives mite count and #2 checking for hygienic behavior

(there are other ways to check for mites)

If you know how many bees were in your sample, you can
estimate the number of mites per 100 bees. If there is
brood in the colony when you sample, you should double
this number to factor in the amount of mites in worker
brood. For example, if there are 5 mites / 100 bees, the
total infestation is probably 10 mites/100 bees. If your
colony has over 10-12 mites/100 bees, you should consider treatment. ~University of Minnesota


So... that is the mini scoop on varroa mite.

I have not treated my bees for mites and yes, I may live to regret it. My first year keeping bees I decided to see how well they'd do "naturally" over the winter. They survived and flourished. I have a new hive that I did not treat but I believe it won't do quite as well. Ya see, we were told something in class that makes me worry. Marla Spivak said "if you can see mites with the naked eye then you have a serious problem." Well, I scraped some brood from between hive bodies and this is what I found:



Now, I know not treating the bees probably isn't the best choice I've made as a beekeeper but I have two issues with treatment. #1 is I would only use a natural treatment like Thymol but the problem has been getting the thymol and the weather (beekeepers will know what I mean about the weather). #2 I've wanted to see how well my bees do (or how long they live) without treatment. Is that wrong? I've read where other beeks have had hives survive years without treatment and I'm hoping mine do the same. Although the 2nd hive being so obviously infested has me worried.

The only option now would be a treatment I'm not comfortable with so I'll wait out another winter and see how they do.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

THE CANNING EXPERIMENT, PLUS!

I haven't found much time to blog lately but I hate just leaving the place to gather dust so I thought I'd post a quick one. I've been pondering the idea of deleting the blog again. The reason being, I think if I have to struggle to organize time so that I can get on here and write something then maybe it just isn't something I'm passionate about anymore. The only thing that keeps me coming back to the blogs is other people's writing. I like reading what others are up to on their blogs plus the connections I've made and honestly, right now, that is the only thing that has kept me from closing the blog. Blogging for almost 5 yrs has made for some great friendships :)

With that said... I'm just not sure, so...

I've been trying to focus on quite a few things recently. #1 Writing More. #2 Country Home Hunting. #3 Preparing for said life in the country (canning, knitting, gardening, etc...) and #4 reading more books.

#1 Writing
Well, I never talked about my writing so I won't start now.

#2 The House Hunting
Not going as well as I expected. My hubby and I are planning an "eventual" move north and thought now would be the perfect time to buy a home, with the market being what it is. Turns out, the people up north haven't noticed the down turn in the market yet. Actually, it isn't really the people up north, it is the people here in the cities that own the homes up north that we went to look up. I can't say I blame them though. If we had to sell our home right now I certainly wouldn't want to take a loss on it. The market is scary and after all the work we've done on our own home it would be heartbreaking just to sell if for pennies. So we are waiting for the perfect opportunity to present itself so we can have our life in the country that we always dreamed of.

#3 Preparing for the Country Life
Years ago when I told my mother I wanted to be a farmer (I was a child), she would laugh. Not a rude laugh, my mother was never rude, she would giggle and remind me that farmers would wake up at 5 a.m. and I couldn't manage to crawl out of bed before noon. Ok, not quite that late but you get my point. When I got older and managed to drag myself out of bed when the birds began to sing my mother rained on my parade once again by informing me that country life was much different than city life (she grew up like Laura Ingles so she knew what she was talking about). I knew country life was different but it took my purchasing the "Countryside Magazine" to figure out just how different it was. Canning foods for long winters was the first thing that caught my attention. I would talk about canning, read about canning, think about canning, but didn't get the courage to actually CAN until last year. The reason being, because no matter how much I learned about canning I could never shake all the horror stories I heard as a kid. My grandmother passed on a story about how a pressure cooker blew up in someones face and then of course there were the stories drifting around about getting botulism from improperly preserved foods. YIKES! So last year I canned my first batch of strawberry jam and after about a month I tossed it all out because I was too afraid to try it. How is that for neurotic.Well, I decided to try again. This year I thought I'd attempt dill pickles. I planted my garden, got a great bunch of cucumbers. The dill was ready long before the cucumbers so I ended up buying the dill at the store. Found a "how to video" online (I'm a visual learner) and gave it a shot.

My harvest:



Of course, it didn't go so well.

I THOUGHT I had the right size pan for the size jars I was using. Turned out I was wrong. Ya see, there is a label on the pan that states what size jars it fits and you'd think I would read that but nooooooo, that would have been way too easy. Instead I just guessed and my guess turned out to be wrong. After canning several jars of dill pickles I had no pan to place them in. I made a mad dash to a local store but they didn't have a large enough pan either. It was already late in the evening and everywhere else was closed. The dill pickles were trashed. So I tried again.

Got the right pan this time:

And made some pickles:


I've since learned again that I didn't do them exactly right but I'm getting closer to perfection. I will open these in 6 weeks and see how they turned out.

#4 Reading More Books

Right now I'm reading two books. Alternating back and forth, which my kids think is weird but I like it. "On Writing" by Stephen King. I read it when it was first published and here I am reading it again. The other book I'm reading was a title suggested to me. I'm actually enjoying it, which is a surprise because I'm not a big fan of fiction. (which you are now probably scratching your head at considering I'm reading ANYTHING by Stephen King). The book is called Miss Peregrines Home of Peculiar Children. It isn't even adult fiction, it came from the teen section, but when two adults suggest it, why not, right?

So that is what keeps my mind busy right now. Along with the bees, which are doing well. The bunnies, one of which is really really sick and probably won't make it. The children, getting ready to return to school next week and quite a few other things in between but I won't bore you any further with the details.

Before I sign off I want to say thank you to DixieBelle over at Eat at Dixie Belles for her generous blog award. I promise to post about that one soon. I'm compiling a list of bloggers to share it with :)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

LET PROPOLIS CURE YOU: TINCTURE



Last year I read the book "Bee Propolis: Natural Healing from the Hive" and although I was eager to make a propolis tincture after reading the book my bees weren't cooperating. They weren't making much propolis. This year I bought another package of bees and they are propolis crazy. I was able to go into the hive a couple days ago and scrape a generous portion off the side of a hive body.

Propolis is messy, sticky stuff that is composed of resin and wax and bees collect the resin mainly from trees, the poplar tree being a favorite source.

Contents in propolis: resin, wax, essential oils, pollen, other organics and minerals.

Here in Minnesota propolis is a yellowish brown color but the color varies in different areas of the world. Propolis is used by the bees to seal up cracks/space in the hive. Usually they stick it anywhere the drafts come in. They also use it to wrap up intruders like mice. Propolis is antibacterial so encasing a mouse in propolis would prevent the spread of disease within the hive. It is also antimicrobial and is being researched as a treatment for HIV

But I'm interested in its ability to treat winter ailments. So on to the details on how to make a tincture. A tincture is a medicine made by dissolving an herb or a plant in alcohol, glycerin or vinegar. I use 80 proof vodka. I took the following tincture recipe from the book listed above.

The process:
When I scraped the propolis from the hive two days ago it was warm and sticky and I did it with my fingers which was a big mistake. I spent the entire day trying to get it off. Today was a much cooler day so it hardened enough that I could handle it again. I could have put it in the fridge to harden but that would have been too easy, right! :D

Step One:
Gather supplies
(vodka not pictured here)
You need a bottle with dropper. A little funnel (unless you want a big mess) a marble size bit of propolis and a small bottle of vodka (about 2 oz will be needed).



Step Two:
Put the propolis in the bottle. (Now the book recommends cutting the proplis into little pieces and then putting it into the bottle, I chose not to follow that step).



Step Three:
Fill the bottle with 80 proof alcohol (vodka). Cover. Shake. Keep bottle in a cool dark place. Shake once a day and leave for one week before using.



I've done things a bit differently than was suggested in the book. Our family will not be taking this as a preventative so we didn't want a large amount. The book suggests taking a few drops per day to boost the immune system or prevent colds and coughs (which goes along with their larger recipe). Small amounts are recommended at first due to the fact that nearly 1% of the population has been found to be allergic to propolis.

I won't list all the things that propolis is good for because I don't want someone reading this blog and then thinking that propolis can cure their ailment. I'm not a doctor. I just trust what I've learned about my bees and their gifts and wanted to share a bit of that information with my readers. Please do more research if you are interested in using propolis.

Here are some of the things propolis has been used to treat (not all of these can be treated with a tincture. Some require propolis creams, ointments, tablets, etc...):

Dental Problems
Coughs & Colds
Flu
Fungal Infections
Fever
Immune Support
Back Pain

Wondering where you can get propolis? Contact a local beekeeper or check at your local farmers market. I would avoid buying it at the store since commercial varieties come out of areas like China and reports warn of the possibility of contamination.

Monday, July 18, 2011

I AM AT A GARDENING CROSSROADS

and I'm not sure what to do. I know herbs. I spent years reading about herbs and perennials, planting and experimenting, but veggies and fruits... not so much. My first attempt at gardening a little over 5 years ago turned horrible. My carrots didn't grow, my tomatos were consumed by some unknown creature, and my gourds were planted incorrectly so they turned to mush. After moving to our current home 3 years ago I planted strawberries and it went well (no pests, no stealing, great production, easy to harvest). Year two I graduated to lettuce, broccoli, onions, raspberries, corn and cucumbers. That is when it hit me. I had no idea when to harvest anything. I asked and read what I could but I still didn't know how to recognize when something was actually "seeding" or "flowering." What one would call a flower, I didn't. Sorta like beekeeping... I don't know what is normal and what isn't. Our corn was destroyed by earwigs, the cucumbers turned yellow because their vines had nothing to attach themselves to, the brocolli ended up flowering, the lettuce was great but I didn't know you could cut it down and keep using it so instead I pulled it all out *sigh. The onions never grew very well and the raspberries were fantastic!

Year three. I decided to plant more raspberries and strawberries (easy to grow, don't have pests (not yet anyway), can recognize harvest time). We now have 4 raspaberry bushes and 16 strawberry plants. We also planted cucumbers (we have a wire for the vines this time), pumpkins, watermelons, dill, basil, gords and luffahs.

As of July 9, 2011The cucumbers are doing great.

The watermelon... not so much. It just isn't growing very well.

The pumpkins flourished.

The raspberries and strawberries are fantastic.

The gords and luffahs are amazing.

Dill and basil look healthy and big.

STOP!

I checked on things today after being gone for a week and what did I find?

The pumpkins have been taken over by something. I think it is a squash bug. The plants are still alive but I imagine not for long.

The rasberries and strawberries... well... the plant looks great but there are no berries to speak of. In fact, the birds are so bold they come down to eat them right in front of me.

The luffahs, gourds, cucumbers... all look fine and hopefully stay that way.

The dill and basil looks ready to be harvested but again... I'm not sure.

Here is where I'm confuzzled. (yes, that is confused + puzzled). I never know when to harvest things, how to preserve them, or how to prevent pests. I'm not giving up on gardening. I think I can get this but I need some help.

1. Is there a way to prevent squash bugs?
2. Is there a way to keep the birds from eating the berries?
3. How about harvesting... I want dill for pickles (yup, that's what those cucumbers are for) but I'm not sure when to harvest the seeds or how to save them for use when I can the pickles.
4. I want the basil a homemade sauce but do I harvest it now and freeze it for when I make the sauce? Can it be frozen?

The crossroads I'm at is deciding whether or not I just give up on the veggies. I find the berries much easier and of course, I can tell when they are ready for harvest and I know of numerous ways to use them but the veggies I'm not so sure about. Any suggestions are greatly appreciated because I will tell ya, having an entire family chearing on the pumpkin growth just to find out we failed just doesn't feel very good. The kids were not happy when I said they'd be getting their pumpkins for Halloween from someone elses garden patch again this year :(

Some pictures:

Vine base of pumpkins



Raspberries


Basil


Cucumbers


Dill