CategoryFarm and Garden

First honey of the year

We harvested our first frame of honey this week. We’re not ready to do a full harvest of the main hive yet, but since this frame was completely capped, we took it inside to harvest it.

Stephen’s initial thinking was to wait, but I asked him if we could harvest a frame so I could have some honey to take for allergies. Nothing like fresh, local honey from your own back yard to take for seasonal allergies!

cuttingcomb

It’s not that difficult to cut the comb off the frame, but it does become a sticky mess.

cutcomb

The cut comb is so pretty though – I love looking at it.

We just bought a 5 gallon bucket for straining the honey this year. It is SO much easier than the mason jar method we’ve used in the past. We both agreed it’s money well spent.

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Tulip poplar honey – nice and dark with a spicy flavor. I love it.

The one frame had enough honey in it to fill two pint jars, plus a little left over. It’s nice to know the amount of honey we’ll be getting from each frame once we do harvest it later this summer.

We’ve waited 3 years to be able to harvest our own honey. Although we’ve done a few frames at a time from our old hives, none of them have done as well as the one we have now. We’re really excited to see how they’re doing.

Hive inspection

Our bees have been doing so well lately that Stephen has been doing inspections weekly to keep up with them.

Foundationless comb

The new comb is so white – a far cry from the really dark comb we had when we first started years ago.

Foundationless comb closeup

I keep thinking of what pretty candles the wax will make once we remove the honey. We do the crush and strain method so there should be plenty of wax left over.

We have started experimenting with letting the bees draw their own comb lately. For some reason, the girls do NOT like the foundation from a local farm supply store – they just won’t build on it. The other places to get it are either pretty pricey or quite the drive, so we’re experimenting to see how this goes.

Until recently, I was never that interested in doing hive inspections. Now I’m out there frequently with Stephen, just watching. We only have one bee suit though, so I don’t get as close as he does. :O) That’s ok. One of these days we’ll get one for me. . .

This post is linked to the Homestead Barn Hop.
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Moving a beehive

Both hives
Here are our two beehives. The one on the left is the hive Stephen picked up last week (our hive equipment, new bees). The one on the right is our main hive that we have had since last summer.

We moved the main hive Friday. We did have it behind our shed, and while the location wasn’t terrible, it wasn’t the best for the bees because it was too shady (which in turn encourages small hive beetles – a pest we’d rather avoid if possible). Since we placed the new hive in a more open location last week, we wanted to move the older hive to the new location as well.

We decided to go ahead and move it Friday morning. Stephen had the hard part of dragging the hive on a pallet. I had the scary task of steadying the hive. Even though it was strapped together, we didn’t want it to fall over. Once we got it to the new location, we picked it up and placed it on the supports. Stephen had told me it was heavy, but I was really surprised at the effort it took to lift it.

It didn’t help that we wanted to keep the hive as steady as possible, and that we could hear the humming of the bees inside. That was definitely unnerving. Normal, but still unsettling to be holding it.

It rained most of the day Friday, so the bees really didn’t come out much. Saturday, they definitely came out. Stephen placed a branch in front of the hive opening (as well as an entrance reducer) so that they would orient when they exited the hive and familiarize themselves with the new location. Then on Saturday he removed the branch and the entrance reducer.

Bees orienting at main hive

We can see the new location of the beehives from the house, so we have really enjoyed watching them. They oriented (as we expected) pretty much all day. There was been a huge cloud of sorts around the hive entrance most of the day. This video clip shows how many bees were flying around the entrance – I was standing about 6 feet from the hive when I took it.

There were quite a few bees that went to the old hive location, so we really enjoyed observing them there too. We have a swarm lure back there (the small brown hive box in the pictures), and the bees were very curious about it.

Swarm lure

Swarm lure

Swarm lure
You can see a drone (male bee) in the top left corner. Look how much bigger he is than the others. There were some really BIG drones flying around this box.

Swarm lure
Even yesterday there were still quite a few bees at the swarm lure. Stephen’s Monday schedule is fairly unpredictable, so he’s hoping for an opening some time today to be able to go in the lure and check the bees in there. We’re hoping it is a new swarm, but with the timing, we’re thinking it’s just a remnant from the big hive.

These bees are gentle
Honeybees really are gentle creatures and generally only sting when provoked. I have to admit – it still took a lot of self-control for me to just stand there, even though Stephen was obviously a lot closer than I was.

I have teased Stephen so much lately that he is really getting me hooked on the bees, but it’s true. They are absolutely fascinating to watch, and I love being able to have them!

More bees

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Moving the entrance reducer so the bees could get out after the trip home

Saturday Stephen went and picked up some new bees. We’re really excited. Our one hive has been doing amazingly well this year, and we estimate that there are close to 40 pounds of honey already in it. We won’t take the honey until at least June (don’t remember if he said June or July), so we’re pretty excited to see how much there will be by then.

We’re hoping this new hive does as well. It’s out in the open where we can watch it more than we can the other hive. The other hive is farther from the house, but we’re in the process of moving it to be with the other hive so we can have the hives all in one place.

Last summer’s storm brought down some of the trees you see that are down in the picture. We haven’t had much opportunity to work on cutting them up and moving them until recently because our chainsaw has been broken. Since they’re down though, it has made the perfect spot for us to keep the bees. And now that our chainsaw is fixed, hopefully we’ll be able to clear out the woods more this summer.

I don’t do the hive checks with Stephen, but sure do enjoy all the other benefits of keeping bees!

Baby bees

Stephen had to remove a frame from our hive on Friday because of the way the bees had built the comb. We had a lot of fun examining it, tasting some of the capped honey, and watching some new bees hatch.

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Uncapped honey

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Capped honey

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Just hatching

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Newly hatched

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Samuel trying to get a newly hatched bee to walk on his finger

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These newly hatched bees are too weak to sting, so we allowed Samuel to hold one. We all really enjoyed getting such a close look at the bees.

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Beekeeper in training

This post is linked to the Homestead Barn Hop.
Barn-Hop

I love how God works

This winter, our lawnmower died. Monday we picked it up from the shop. Tuesday, Stephen mowed our lawn for the first time this spring.

Today, Stephen started it and the engine completely locked up. He called a mechanic friend of ours to see if he knew anyone selling a motor that would fit our mower. Our friend just “happened” to have one at his house. He said he’d been trying to sell it for two years and hasn’t been able to get rid of it. It’s the same brand we have in there already, and is a bit stronger too.

Stephen and I just stood there laughing. Moments earlier we had been trying to figure out how we were going to buy a new mower. We talked about getting a push mower, but with the size of our yard and the amount of other hauling we do it just isn’t a practical option. Then, with one simple phone call, we learned about a motor that was better than the one we had was pretty much waiting for us.

I just love how God works. Yes, it’s an expense we weren’t planning on, but this repair bill sure is better than trying to figure out financing for a lawn tractor with a price tag of $1,000 or more! It probably sounds like a “little thing” to anyone reading, but to me, it’s just exciting to see how it worked out.

New chicks

We discovered today that one of our hens has hatched three chicks. A couple weeks ago, this hen went broody. We figured we might as well let her sit on some eggs, so Stephen put her up in a separate pen and collected eggs from some of the other hens for her to sit on.

We’re not exactly sure when they hatched, but from looking at the chicks it was probably yesterday or the day before. They’re pretty fluffy to have hatched today, but they can’t be much more than 2 or 3 days old. Stephen checks on this hen daily when he feeds the other birds, but today was the first day he noticed the chicks.

The pictures I took really didn’t turn out very well. Those little chicks run so quickly that most of the pictures just have little blurs in them. Here’s a short video clip though. . . My favorite is the grey chick.

While we were outside, we decided to take advantage of the 70* weather. Stephen and I started digging up our strawberries to move them to raised beds. They multiply so quickly. We only got about three feet of one row dug up, but there were enough plants from that to plant two 8×4 raised beds. We’re hoping these raised beds will be better for the berries and will produce a better yield. We’ll see.

It was so beautiful today and it was so nice being outside. I just love this warmer weather we’ve been having!

Beehive inspection

The weather has been so warm these past few days that Stephen opened up the beehive today for an inspection.

Hive Inspection

This hive is a swarm that we caught last year. We’ve lost several hives to Colony Collapse Disorder, so this winter we’ve been extra careful with this hive. It appears to be very healthy and is doing very well.

Hive Inspection

When Stephen built the swarm lure, he needed to use old comb. The only old comb he had available was on shallow frames. The lure worked and he transferred the bees to a deeper box. It looks funny the way they’ve built the new comb but it is good to see that they’re building it.

The hive had a good bit of honey in the frames. The queen was busy laying and the workers had been bringing in pollen. I’m very curious where they were getting pollen in February – I’m not aware of anything blooming nearby but apparently something is.

Queen
You can see the queen here. I’ve often wished I could see the queen during an inspection but I never have. Today Stephen brought the frame over to me so that I could see her. It was so neat to watch her for a moment.

It was very encouraging to see how well this hive is doing. Hopefully we’ll be able to harvest some honey this year!

Chicken tractor

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Stephen has wanted to get a chicken tractor for years. We talked about making one but just never got the chance to do it.

This week, we bought several chickens from some friends. Today, they brought us their chicken tractor since they’re no longer using it.

The whole idea of a chicken tractor is that it’s a bottomless pen that is moveable. We’ll be putting ours in the garden over the winter because the chickens do such a good job breaking up the soil.

For now though, they’re in the back yard. We’re really enjoying watching them, and the extra eggs are nice too.

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Canning tomatoes

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Today I was able to can 7 quarts and 4 pints of tomatoes. It probably doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s more than I thought it would be. It was quite the surprise to discover that there was enough for a double batch instead of the single I anticipated. This particular recipe is from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving book I mentioned in a previous post. It’s tomatoes with mixed vegetables. We really like the combination of veggies in it (tomatoes, celery, onion, and green pepper), and it was nice to be able to can more this year. Our tomatoes haven’t been going crazy yet like they have in the past, but they’re still doing well.

In the past, we’ve always grown a hybrid variety like Better Boy. This year we grew almost all heirloom varieties. The one we grew the most of was called Rutgers – I wanted Brandywine tomatoes but we couldn’t find them. We also grew Yellow Pear (they look really strange – I’ll have to pick some and take a picture) and Mr. Stripey. The Yellow Pear have good flavor but are more of a salad tomato since they’re so small. The Mr. Stripey tomatoes are some of the biggest I’ve ever seen, but we haven’t gotten many off that plant at all. My favorite this year though was the Sweet 100 – it’s not heirloom but those tomatoes are so sweet. They’re marble-sized and I eat them right off the vine when I’m in the garden. They taste amazing. Those are definitely on my list to grow again next year.

Usually we just buy half a flat or so of the same variety, but this year we changed things around quite a bit. We followed the garden in a day plan so Samuel could have his own garden, and let him pick what tomatoes he wanted (he picked Better Boy and Sweet 100). For mine I picked Yellow Pear and Better Boy because Samuel wanted another one. That raised bed garden (we doubled the garden’s size and then split it) did really well and was fun to plant.

The majority of our canning tomatoes are in the main garden with everything else. We changed that around too – we’ve been reading and experimenting with intensive gardening and raised beds. We are absolutely thrilled with the results. Our garden isn’t much to look at this year, but we’re getting more produce out of the same amount of space as before. What a blessing!